by Zacki Jabbar
Former Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, stressing he has “no deals with anybody” said he is confident of forming a UNP government following the upcoming parliamentary election “This election will prove to be one of the most vital in the country’s recent past,” he declared.
Amidst a hectic polls campaign, the UNP leader spoke to The Sunday Island , outlining his future plans and vision for the country.
Q – The UNP has promised a monthly Rs.10,000 for the recently unemployed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and a further monthly Rs. 10,000 for families affected by a future lockdown. How many beneficiaries are you looking at and how soon would you implement the project, if elected to power?
A – Families will have to be helped if there is a future lockdown. We have presented our proposals and will negotiate with the IMF and others to get USD 6 billion. I think we can do the initial work within six months. In any case USD 850 million is due as a share of our quota.
Once we start, long term bankable bonds of 25 to 50 years can be issued. This is what the UK and USA did during World War two. But its important that we restructure the economy and attract investments so that the loans can be repaid within 50 years.
In parallel, we can start identifying those who have been displaced due to the Coronavirus. There will many applicants, but the minimum we can do is to look after the people who are out of employment now.
Q – How many beneficiaries are your looking at?
A – About a million. But we can go beyond that, if there is a mass exodus from the Middle East.
Q – Do you think the government would sign the MCC agreement with the USA after the election?
A – The agreement has been finalized. The government should without dilly-dallying any further, tell the people before the polls as to what the exact position is. It should also clarify if it was trying to mortgage Surakumpath worth USD 4,500 million with the U.S government and get a loan of USD 1000 million against it.
Q – What is the reason for the breakdown in relations with Japan?
A – The government owes an explanation on this as well. JICA has suspended assistance. Relations with Japan are strained. Wrong actions of the government have resulted in one of our oldest financial lenders losing confidence in Sri Lanka. We will revive this relationship through our strong and pro-active foreign policies.
Q – How do you think the UNP will perform at the general election ?
A – We are the largest party. It all depends on how many come to vote. No party is sure about that. If there is no fear of the Coronavirus, more people will go to the polling booths. We hope more people vote. The higher the percentage, the better for the UNP. The people who voted for Gotabaya are now fed up due to the problems they are facing on all fronts.
Q – Is there a possibility of the UNP and its breakaway faction linking up after the election ?
A – UNP is UNP. We have decided to go on our own. We have to re-establish the UNP brand. So we will go as the UNP. The Sri Lankan identity is associated with the UNP. We are the major party, the others came later.
Q – How do you view President Gotabaya Rajapaksa trying to run the country with Special Task Forces packed with former military officers?
A – Its not good for the country. There is no need for such extreme measures when there is a Cabinet of Ministers and a Parliament.
Q – The SJB says it would take over your party headquarters – Srikotha after August 5 ?
A – If anyone tries to use force they would be reported to the Welikada Police. What would become of the country, if everyone resorted to violence to acquire what did not belong to them.
Q – The UNP promised to abolish the Executive Presidency and Proportional Representation System. But your 2015 government didn’t do it?
A – Now it can be done only after the term of the current President, but the PR system can be scrapped if all parties agree.
Q – Who do you think was responsible for the recent demolition of the Assembly Hall of King Buvanekabahu ll in Kurunegala?
A – The problem is that there is a huge attempt to save the culprits. It has become a joke. It is those who shouted the loudest about preserving historical sites who are now unable to ensure law and order. The complaint states that the Mayor had approved of the RDA bulldozing the Assembly Hall. The police has to find out the truth. There are many questions that need to be answered . Did the Mayor inform the Archaeology Department and did it grant approval. But there should be no room to scuttle the investigations.
Q – Can you predict the result of the General Election ?
A – We are confident of forming the next government.
Q – With the support of other parties ?
A – I have not struck deals with any party or individual. We want to strengthen the UNP. We will form the next government.
Q – If the UNP wins, it will have to work with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ?
A – No, he will have to work with us. Under the current Constitution the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament have more powers than the President. He will have to consult us.
Outlining his economic revival plan, Wickremesinghe said that a UNP-led government would set out the basis to build a competitive platform similar to the Japanese model.
“We will strengthen competitive enterprises and promote new age industries and services. This will create the necessary foundation for us to develop a strong economy that could repay the loans. We will immediately provide relief to the people by improving their financial situation, safeguard jobs and income. The UNP has track record of raising the required finances through developing international relations.”
He said : the UNP will work towards strengthening the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and the various Independent Commissions that have empowered the public service including the judiciary and police and placed shackles on political interference. The recent practice of delegating functions of the Police to the military should stop forthwith and the military given its rightful role.
Economic mismanagement by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was the main cause for the suffering people were undergoing and not the Coronavirus pandemic. Leading figures in the government were pulling in different directions in an effort to cover the economic mess created in a short period of just eight months and have tried to avoid dealing with this crisis by hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic.
The people were facing many problems in their homes due to the economic downturn. With the onset of the financial crisis there is a shortage of jobs and many had reduced or no income at all. Daily wage earners and even businessmen and women higher up in the economic scale are feeling the pressures exerted by the financial collapse.
The people are facing reduced or an absence of any income. From the daily wage earners to the large businessmen and women, the pressures exerted by the financial collapse is being felt. It is important that we recognize that the cause for this economic collapse cannot be attributed entirely to the health issues in the country. It has been the short-sighted economic management by the government that has resulted in this precipitating state of the economy.
It is the home economy that forms the foundation of our day to day lives. The price increases that we have witnessed at every level of consumer goods, starting from the basic needs to the luxury appliances, has clearly demonstrated that the home economic situation is no longer manageable. People around the country are facing difficulties in providing three square meals a day for their families.
Businesses are unable meet the necessary monthly salary payments for their employees. The government chose to slash the allowances of the State Sector Employees who were then deprived of the festival advances that have been previously provided to them yearly. Allowances of private sector employees have been reduced and most businesses are finding it difficult to meet the salary bills.
The Industrial sector is grinding to a halt. The recently imposed import restrictions have taken many businesses to the verge of collapse. The self-employment sector is in danger. The incomes of those who are engaged in agriculture as well as other sectors of our economy are also declining. Many of the key export markets have been lost. The country’s foreign revenue sources are disappearing fast and the economy is facing a grave danger of falling down an abyss. The retrogressive aspect of this crisis is the unbearable increase in the cost of living that has resulted in a large number of families in the country facing financial difficulties. The country as a whole is recording a decline in the per capita GDP. It has been predicted that over one million will be jobless by 2021.
The level of unemployment is expected to sky-rocket with a drop in Middle East employment. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves are also depleting. Printing Rs. 450 billion is no solution to the crisis. We are falling from the frying pan to the fire. We must overcome this crisis and disentangle ourselves from the existing chaos created by this government. There are no short solutions to the problems that we face.
The UNP has on numerous occasions highlighted the importance of implementing a long term comprehensive economic programme that will cover all aspects of the economy. This is the only approach that can overcome this crisis. We have called upon the government to announce such a programme, but it is unable to formulate a strategy, because it lacks a viable economic vision. The government has already demonstrated in this short period that it lacks the capability to face the external economic challenges and build a strong national economy.
As a nation we are now faced with the gravest economic crisis since independence and it is only the UNP that has the vision, the plan and the capability to address the present crisis. We have a proven track-record time and again undoing economic mismanagement and reviving our economy. In 1977, 2001, 2015 and again in 2019 after the Easter Sunday attacks, it was the UNP that led the country’s economic recovery.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.