President seeks to dismantle National Economic Council

Former Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena

(Photo Credit: Eranga Jayawardena / AP)

President Maithripala Sirisena has sought to hurriedly dismantle the National Economic Council (NEC) after it has failed to achieve its objectives.

The main reason, he has said in a memorandum to the Cabinet, is that NEC Secretary General Lalith Samarakoon, drawing a salary of Rs 500,000 a month, was mostly away from Sri Lanka.

The NEC was set up in 2017 to replace the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) which was chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It came as tensions between the the President and the Prime Minister grew over various issues.

Prof. Samarakoon was selected personally by President Sirisena to handle matters related to economic development – a subject which is figuring almost daily at presidential election rallies. Now, President Sirisena has declared that the NEC Chairman “has failed to fulfil his obligations.” He has added that Prof. Samarakoon has been travelling overseas for personal reasons on a regular basis. He has pointed out that he had left Sri Lanka and had not returned to the country so far.

Presidential Secretary Udaya R. Seneviratne has now informed Prof. Samarakoon in a letter that his services as well as all those of other NEC officers have been terminated. The NEC had a staff of more than 50. He has been directed to hand over state equipment including computers to the Additional Secretary to the President.

When he sought to obtain approval from the Cabinet for the setting up of the NEC, President Sirisena described Prof. Samarakoon as a person having “wide experience, knowledge and competence” and is “eminently qualified to perform his role.”

Official sources said yesterday the closure of the NEC would raise serious issues over the implementation of government’s economic policy. Pointing out that no alternative measures had been adopted, they said, it would fall on a new President, to be elected on November 16 to choose a different course of action.

They also said that there was a need for a probe on how many government decisions or directives had been paid heed to in view of the chairman’s absence.

(Source: The Sunday Times – By Damith Wickremesekera)