Sri Lanka reinstates fired minister amid government tensions

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has returned to the Sri Lankan ministry nine months after his outspoken criticism of a government infrastructure deal saw him fired. (AFP pic)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday reinstated his justice minister, who was fired nine months ago for publicly criticising a billion-dollar deal to lease a loss-making harbour to China.

Former justice minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was sworn into cabinet with the higher education and culture portfolios in a reshuffle prompted by the resignation of six ministers last month.

Sirisena’s office did not say why Rajapakshe was brought back into the fold despite his firing last August.

Rajapakshe had been forced out of the cabinet after criticising the controversial US$1.1 billion (RM4.3 billion) lease of a loss-making deep-sea port to China.

He was also accused by his own party of delaying the prosecution of former government figures accused of murder and corruption under former president Mahinda Rajapakse, who led the country through the conclusion of a decades-long civil war until his ouster in a 2015 poll.

Sirisena won that election with the support of current prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe but the relationship between the two men has since broken down, with Sirisena accusing Wickremesinghe’s United National Party of corruption.

Wickremesinghe, who stared down calls for his resignation after a disappointing showing in February local elections, also survived an impeachment attempt last month.

Despite tensions between the two men, both kept their respective portfolios in Tuesday’s reshuffle, with Sirisena helming the defense ministry and Wickremesinghe retaining his economic affairs responsibilities.

Former president Rajapakse, whose family continues to wield enormous influence in Sri Lanka, won a decisive victory over members of the ruling coalition in the February polls and has demanded a snap general election.