Rajitha Senaratne

From TobaccoUnmasked


Nambukara Helambage Rajitha Harischandra Senaratne, born on 29th May 1950, is a Dental Surgeon, a trade unionist and a politician representing the Kalutara District of Sri Lanka. As of November 2020, he represented Samagi Jana Balawegaya, political alliance formed to contest the parliamentary election 2020.[1][2]Rajitha Senaratne obtained his formal education at Nalanda College and Ananda College, Colombo and his tertiary education from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.[3]

Image 1: Rajitha Senaratne. Source: Facebook[4]

Rajitha Senaratne entered politics while he was in the University becoming the President of the student union of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1974. He became a member of the newly formed,Sri Lanka People's Party (Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya) in early 1980s. Later, he joined the United National Party (UNP) which is the rivalry party of SLFP and was appointed as a Member of Parliament from the National list in 1994. He joined the SLFP again in January 2007, but was expelled from the party due to supporting common opposition candidate at Presidential Election held in 2015. In February 2015, Senaratne was readmitted to the SLFP and was appointed the Vice President of the party. In the Parliamentary election held in 2015, he represented United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) and in 2020 he contested through ‘Samagi Jana Balawegaya’, the new political party that spun off from the United National Party.[2][5][1]

Senaratne was awarded the World No Tobacco Day Award 2015 by the World Health Organization (WHO) “in recognition of his role in mitigating the ill effects of tobacco, particularly smokeless tobacco” and “for advancing the introduction of pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs”. Senaratne received the award from the then President Maithripala Sirisena in December 2015.[6][7]

Image 2: Senaratne receiving World No Tobacco Day Award from the then President Maithripala Sirisena. WHO Regional Director (South-East Asia Region) Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh and Dr. Sujatha Senaratne, the wife and the Private Secretary of the Minister Senaratne are present in the same image.[6]

Rajitha Senaratne is married to Sujatha Senaratne, a consultant medical administrator in profession, and is a father to two sons: Chathura and Eksath. Chathura Senaratne, the eldest, is also active in politics and served as a member of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka.[8][9][10]

Political Positions held

  • President of the student union of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) - 1974 [2][1][11]
  • Member of the Provincial Council, Western Province - 1988[2][5]
  • General Secretary of People's Freedom Front (‘’Bahujana Nidahas Peramuna’’) - 1988[2][11]
  • Member of Parliament - 1994 to date[2][5]
  • Minister of Lands and Land Development - December 2001 to April 2004[2][12][11][5]
  • Minister of Construction and Engineering Services - January 2007 to April 2010[2][13][11][5]
  • Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development - April 2010 to November 2014[2][14][5]
  • Vice President of the SLFP - February 2015[2][5]
  • Cabinet Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine - January 2015 to November 2019[2][15][5]

Tobacco related Activities

Positive influences

Opposing the decision taken to import Chinese cigarettes

In 2019, then Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera announced the government’s plan to import Chinese cigarettes to increase the tax revenue from cigarettes and meet the demand of Chinese workers. Senaratne publicly criticized and opposed the proposal stating that he would resign from the government if it gets implemented.[16] Further, Senaratne wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, requesting immediate suspension of the decision taken by the Finance Ministry to import foreign cigarettes.[17]

Proposal to ban the consumption and sale of betel, tobacco and areca nut related products in Government Institutions

Senaratne presented a Cabinet paper to ban the consumption and sale of betel, tobacco and areca nut related products in Government Institutions. The proposal was approved by the Cabinet on 12 March 2019.[18]Further, a cabinet approval has been granted to issue a public administrative circular on banning chewing considering the risk associated with oral cancer.[19][20]

Advocating for tobacco control in national and international forums

Senaratne, as the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine of Sri Lanka, advocated for tobacco control, highlighting its harm on several occasions, including the 71st World Health Assembly held in Geneva on 26th May 2018.[21]

Imposing highest tax on cigarettes

The highest increase of tax on cigarettes ever was reported in 2016 with the increments of the Excise tax in October and November 2016 and the introduction of a 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) in November 2016.[22][23] [24] The then President Maithripala Sirisena and Rajitha Senaratne presented a joint cabinet paper to impose a tax proportion of 90% on cigarettes in July 2016. The main aim of the tax increase was to offset and remove the VAT imposed on health services by the end of the year.[25][26]The Cabinet approval was granted to increase the tax on production in September 2016; however the final tax increase was 72% of the total final cigarette price.[27][24]

Senaratne, in a press briefing held on 1st November 2017, revealed that the British American Tobacco (BAT) high-rank officials attempted to interfere in the tax increase on cigarettes. According to him they met the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and tried to stop the tax raise. Further, he publicly accused the Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) of sponsoring publishing of media articles written against the tax increase via an advertising agency. Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) is the British American Tobacco (BAT) subsidiary with the monopoly of tobacco manufacturing and trade in Sri Lanka.[28] Please visit our pages on British American Tobacco Influencing Cigarette Tax in Sri Lanka and Ceylon Tobacco Sponsored News Articles against Tobacco Tax – Minister of Health for more details.

Image 3: Ada newspaper reporting Health Minister publicly complaining stating "some Ministry of Finance officials acted as they are from the tobacco company during tobacco tax related discussions"[29]

Banning Smokeless Tobacco Products

A Gazette notification has been issued on the regulations on non-smoking tobacco products on 1st September 2016. According to the regulations, manufacture, import, or sale of smokeless tobacco products, e-cigarettes containing tobacco, and cigarettes that are flavored, coloured, or sweetened, are prohibited.[30][31]

Opposing obtaining Donations from Tobacco Industry

In 2016 budget speech, the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake requested a donation of Rs. 500 million from Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) to President’s Fund for anti-smoking campaigns.[32]Senaratne advocated that the donation should be immediately stopped from materialising as Sri Lanka is a WHO FCTC signatory.[33]

Implementing Pictorial Health Warnings (PHWs)

A cabinet bill was approved by the Parliament, which Senaratne was a member of, to amend the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Act on 3rd March 2015 enabling implementation of PHWs on 80% of surface area of cigarette packets, which was the original intention prior to the legal challenge brought up by the Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC).[34][35][24]

Senaratne made bribery allegations in two occasions mentioning that “Tobacco Company” offered Rs. 1 billion and Rs. 3 billion to the government to sabotage the process of implementing 80% surface area PHWs on cigarette packs in 2015.[36] For more details, please see our page on Implementing Pictorial Health Warnings on Cigarette Packs: Bribery Allegations.

Exposing the tobacco industry involvement in the illicit tobacco trade

Senaratne accused that CTC is directly involved in smuggling of foreign cigarettes at a public event on 19th January 2019. A national newspaper reported the statement made by the Minister Senaratne and CTC published a press release on same newspaper rejecting the allegation on a later date.[37]Please visit Ceylon Tobacco Misleading Shareholders: The Illicit Cigarettes Issue page for more details.

Proposals for new tobacco control measures

Although following proposals had been made during his tenure as Minister of Health, they were never implemented during his tenure nor to date.

  • To ban selling single sticks of cigarettes
Senaratne proposed to ban the sale of single cigarette sticks on 11th September 2018.The proposal did not receive the Cabinet approval based on the opposition of four fellow Cabinet Ministers.[38] For more details, please see our Proposed ban on Single Stick Cigarette Sales in Sri Lanka page.
  • To introduce standard packaging to tobacco products
Senaratne presented a Cabinet paper to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products and managed to effect the approval in April 2018.[39] However, this measure is yet to be applied.
  • To ban tobacco cultivation
In 2017, Senaratne declared that tobacco cultivation would be banned by the year 2020. However, by December 2020, no thereafter, no active measures were taken to enact or implement such a ban.[40][41]
  • To ban cigarette sales within a radius of 500m from schools
In 2016, Senaratne proposed to ban the sale of tobacco products within a radius of 500m from a school.[42][43][44]

Opposing the involvement of Bank of Ceylon (BOC) in a cigarette stockpiling issue

Bank of Ceylon (BOC) was accused of granting a loan worth of Rs. 3,150 million to D S Gunasekara Ltd to stockpile cigarettes prior to a potential tax increase and a price hike in December 2020. Please visit our page on Bank of Ceylon and the Cigarette Stockpiling Issue for more details.

Senarathne, alleged that D S Gunasekara Ltd paid RS. 600 million as a commission to get the approval for this loan. He further requested the government to appoint a presidential commission to investigate this ‘loan scam’ of Bank of Ceylon (BOC) at a press conference.[45]

Negative Influences

Justifying the appointment of a CTC Director as a Director of a hospital

The Dr. Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH) was initiated as a private hospital with the additional objective of providing clinical training opportunities for the medical undergraduates of the South Asia Institute for Technology and Medicine (SAITM), the controversial privately owned medical school of Sri Lanka.[46][47] Later, the government, giving into the public demand to shut down this private medical school, decided to take over the hospital in August 2017 to function under a board of directors appointed by the government.[48]In 2017, Dinesh Weerakkody, an independent Director of Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC), was appointed as a member of the very first Governing Board of the NFTH following a proposal presented by the Minister Senaratne to the Cabinet.[49] This appointment is a direct violation of the recommendations of the FCTC Article 5.3 on avoiding conflicts of interests in public health policies. Please refer to the post on FCTC Article 5.3 for more details).

Responding to the social media uproar against the appointment, Senaratne justified it by saying Weerakkody was a Chartered Accountant and an Advisor to the Prime Minister, in a press conference held in July 2017.[50]For more details, visit our page on Ceylon Tobacco Director Appointed to NFTH Governing Board.

Other Drug Related Activities

Proposing to cultivate cannabis

Senaratne publicly spoke about a plan to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes in three occasions during his tenure as Minister of Health. It received wide media coverage in mainstream national newspapers (Image 4).[51][52] Please see Movement to Legalise Marijuana and the Tobacco Industry for more details.

Image 4: Ada newspaper reporting Health Minister’s plans to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes[52]

Tobacco Unmasked Resources

The local language translations



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