Sri Lanka justice minister fired for criticising China deal

The ruling United National Party accused Wijeyadasa Rajapakse of breaching the collective responsibility of the Cabinet by criticising the port deal and other government policies.

world Updated: Aug 23, 2017 16:25 IST
United National Party,President Maithripala Sirisena,Wijeyadasa Rajapakse
Visitors watch Chinese dredging ships work in Hambantota.(Reuters File)

Sri Lanka’s president fired his justice minister on Wednesday for his criticism of the government, including a decision to sell majority shares of a sea port to China.

President Maithripala Sirisena approved a request made by his United National Party to dismiss Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, the president’s office said.

The party accused Rajapakse of breaching the collective responsibility of the Cabinet of ministers by criticising the port deal as well as other government policies and some of his colleagues.

The party said it asked Rajapakse last week to correct his statements by August 21, but he failed to so and continued to criticize ministers and policies over the weekend.

Some party members also accused Rajapaksa of using his position to delay filing corruption charges against former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family, a key pledge of the Sirisena government that was elected in January 2015.

The dismissed minister, who is not related to the former president, has denied the allegation.

Sri Lanka’s government last month signed a long-delayed agreement to sell a 70% stake in a $1.5 billion port to China for 99 years in a bid to recover from the heavy burden of repaying a Chinese loan obtained to build the facility. The agreement has drawn public criticism and protests, with opposition parties and farmers saying it was akin to a sellout of the country.

Rajapakse also called the lease a sellout and said he would ensure that the port is taken back for the benefit of Sri Lankans.

The port is part of Beijing’s so-called string-of-pearls plan for a line of ports stretching from its waters to the Persian Gulf.

China’s influence in Sri Lanka makes neighbouring India anxious because it considers the Indian Ocean region to be its strategic backyard. Sirisena has been trying to balance both Asian giants.

Sri Lankan officials have repeatedly reiterated that the port’s security will be handled by Colombo in an attempt to allay the fears that the port could be used by Chinese as a military hub.

First Published: Aug 23, 2017 16:25 IST