Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena today sacked his outspoken justice minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe for criticising the government’s USD 1.1 billion deal with China to develop the strategic Hambantota port.
Sirisena removed Rajapakshe following a request from the United National Party (UNP) to dismiss the minister who had publicly denounced the government’s July 29 decision to sell a 70-per cent stake in the port to a state-run Chinese firm, a move that could raise security concerns in India.
UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim said that Rajapakshe was given a deadline till Monday by the UNP leadership to rectify his critical statement.
However, Rajapakshe had failed to do so and as a result the party has now decided he must be removed from his cabinet post, Hashim was quoted as saying by the Colombo Gazette.
Hashim also said that Rajapakshe continued to make critical statements against the UNP and the government’s decisions.
Rajapakshe was quoted as saying that the port deal was a betrayal of the country’s sovereignty and he would make sure that the port is taken back from China.
Under the 99-year lease agreement, China’s state-run conglomerate China Merchant Port Holdings is to invest up to USD 1.1 billion in the port and marine-related activities.
The accumulated loss from the port was more than USD 300 million and the money realised from deal will set off the debts owed to China, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had said.
Rajapakshe, who is also the minister in charge of the Buddhist order, was previously accused of aiding and abetting an extremist Buddhist monk who was promoting violence against the Muslim minority.
The UNP has also charged that Rajapakshe as the Minister of Justice had hampered the investigations against the family of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose nearly a decade-long rule was ended by Sirisena in 2015.
The UNP said that investigations against former strongman Rajapaksa and his followers on alleged misdeeds had taken over two and a half years, and Rajapakshe was responsible for deliberate slowing down of investigations.
Rajapakshe denied the accusation, saying it was not proper for the government to interfere in the judiciary.