“We should have acted more prudently on SLMC issue’
by Saman Indrajith
Responding to criticism on moves to hand over the East Terminal of the Colombo Port to India’s Adani Group, Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, said that the government has not opted for the outright sale of national assets, but it should be borne in mind that many types of companies have to be considered when it comes to foreign investment.
“There are companies which provide management services and also firms that come as partner companies. We have not gone for outright sale of assets. We try to protect what we have and maintain our existing market, but we have to look 20-30 years ahead to remain globally competitive”, the Minister said in an interview with The Sunday Island.
Deals such as signing of the Hambantota port agreement by the previous regime would not happen under this government, he assured.
Asked about the controversial sacking of the president and four members of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), the Minister said: “I think we should have acted more prudently. It is one of those institutions manned by leading members of the medical profession in the country. We, as a party, had disagreements with the SLMC, but we never approved the way the members were removed”.
Q: However, the government stands accused in some quarters of doing exactly what it vehemently opposed when in the opposition.
There are ways to look at these issues. Take the withdrawal from the UNHRC resolutions, as an example. If we had given into pressure, it could have resulted in losing almost everything, but we stood up against it. Then it was said that our stand against it would distance Sri Lanka from the international community.
Nothing of the sort happened. Take the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement issue as another example. We opposed it. Now, the US has announced that it would not proceed with it. Even the leader of the opposition now says he’s against it. These things will take their own time but at the end nothing detrimental will happen to our national interests. We are reviewing some projects that are stuck in the state sector. We have also suspended some projects.
There are some limitations to progress. The President has made a decision that we must end the sin of producing thermal power. The losses incurred have been a huge burden on the treasury. We have options now to move from hydro power to other renewable options to generate electricity.
Q: What is your assessment of the current political situation?
The people gave an unprecedented mandate to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and our government because they have trust and confidence in our ability to deliver and our unwavering commitment when it comes to national security.
The composition of the opposition also changed because never in history have the people voted the UNP out of parliament. There were times when they voted out UNP governments but not the entire party. Some of those who had been in the UNP having realized the cardinal mistakes their party made left it to join other parties or to form new parties. The opposition missed the opportunity of working with the government for the sake of the country even after the President expressed his readiness to work with them.
When the new government came to power following the presidential election victory in November 2019, there were a lot of arrears to be settled and loan commitments of the former government to be honored. So we submitted to parliament a supplementary estimate for the purpose of cleaning up the mess they had created. Instead of supporting us, they plotted till the last moment to put the government in difficulty.
The President understood their intentions and decided to call for a general election as soon as he could. In that election, we received an overwhelming mandate from the people. The electoral results of the North also changed this time. The TNA campaigned as the ‘one and only representative of the Tamil people’, but the people of the North this time sent some elected members from new parties.
An entirely new situation has been created in the polity and we have a clear and strong mandate to solve any issue democratically under Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. We, as a government have identified our responsibilities and obligations, to develop the country in the next five years.
Q: The confidence of the people you once commanded seems to be eroding fast in the context of surging Covid-19 pandemic situation.
The masses have reposed tremendous confidence on us. That public confidence got a boost following both local and international accolades we won by successfully managing the pandemic. Coronavirus is a problem affecting the whole world. The world will never return to the pre-Covid-19 economy again. The post-Covid situation will be different from country to country and region to region on the basis of economic survival factors.
We faced the general election under the corona threat. At that time too, the opposition said we had lost the popularity we commanded. But, at the presidential polls, the government won impressively with a two-thirds majority. Once again, there is criticism against the government. While accepting the fact that there is criticism, we must also assess from what quarter such criticisms emerge.
The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government does not have wavering policies. Our policies on foreign relations and national security are not shaky, but are on firm ground. The criticism comes from those who did not have such policies. So it is reasonable for them to make statements that the confidence of the people in us is eroding, but the truth is far from it.
Q: The MEP is one of the very old parties in the ruling coalition. What is the role of the MEP in the present context?
The MEP in its long existence as a political force has always fought for upholding national interests. We gave priority to sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and to protect national interests. There is no change in that standpoint. Some parties now in the opposition did not accept the value of giving priority to national interests in the past but they too have been compelled to change their standpoints. We are a democratic party. We never took to arms. We, as a party, worked for the protection of all, including those who took up arms at one time and later abandoned it. We continue to stand for the promotion of an indigenous and local economy and local entrepreneurs.
Since its inception, our party we fought for the rights of the local entrepreneurs as we believe they should have a share in the national economy and that share should be increased. We also advocate the strengthening the public sector.
Q: It is claimed that cracks are appearing in the SLPP coalition as some of its partners are divided in opinion and unhappy particularly over the SLMC and the PUSCL issues.
We have a common program and a common objective. We have agreed on issues such as safeguarding national security, economic development, working for the betterment of the common man etc. For example, we will not let the national economy end up in the hands of a few. We have seen in the world how the economies of many countries similar to ours have been taken over by a few companies. Ours is a coalition government with many parties represented. They have freedom to make statements and express their opinions on various issues. It is a natural phenomenon the worldover. Many countries in the world today are governed by coalition governments. Member parties have the independence to maintain their diversity. It is democratic to maintain that diversity.
There is no issue big enough to break up this coalition. If you remember there were many disagreements when the 20th amendment was introduced, but everybody united in the end to see it through.
Q: There are concerns being raised about the provincial council election.
For any election, the existing electoral system has to be changed first. It has been accepted that the existing electoral system is a waste of public funds. There is consensus among all parties to do away with the existing electoral system. Apart from that, those in the government and the opposition mentioned in their manifestos that a new electoral system will be introduced.
When the time was up to conduct fresh provincial councils elections, the then (UNP) government brought a new bill against it. It also got the JVP and TNA to vote against holding elections. Following our opposition, the then speaker suspended parliament sittings to seek the advice of the then Attorney General, who is the incumbent Chief Justice. The Attorney General was of the view that if the government wanted to push ahead with some sections of the bill, then it would require two-thirds majority in parliament. The government of the day did not have two-thirds majority.
They waited till some MPs returned from abroad and rushed them to Parliament. The government also got the TNA and the JVP to vote with them. That was how they got the bill passed. Some of our new MPs do not know how this chaos was created. It was their creation. Now we cannot hold the elections as per the provisions of that bill. Scrapping that law does not activate the previous law. There is a need to bring about new laws which may take months.
Q: How do you see the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka, which was co-sponsored by then government?
While we were in the opposition, we said the resolution was detrimental to our national interests. The Yahapalana government used its vote against the country. It was against the constitution of the country. It also had an idea of contributing to the agenda to convert the country into a federal structure of governance. There are many inquiries from various countries and asking us what we have done after withdrawing from the resolution and results it produced. We have presented facts to support our decision.
Lord Naseby, the Honorary President of The All Party Parliamentary British Sri Lanka Group, said in the British House of Lords that the way the UK had acted with regard to Sri Lanka was wrong and if it continues to do so, that is also wrong. We have friendly countries; I think all countries are our friends.
Q: On foreign relations, where do we stand now?
The President, the Prime Minister and I visited India prior to the worsening of the coronavirus pandemic. The situation with regard to foreign relations is not what many have perceived to be. The Chinese Foreign Minister visited Sri Lanka followed by the Foreign Ministers of Russia. Japan and Pakistan. The US State Secretary also came here. The UK Foreign Minister spoke to us several times. All of them pledged their support to develop the country. The propaganda spread by the opposition is not the real story.
Q: There is speculation of a cabinet reshuffle in the offing.
I never worked for positions or to protect positions. We never engaged in politics with a power hungry motive. It is those who crave for power that somersault.
About Rs 3 bn paid as OT during past few months
Overtime gravy train for CPC refinery workers:
By Saman Indrajith
About Rs. 3,000 million had been paid as overtime for the employees of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation oil refinery, during the past few months, Parliament was told yesterday.
Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said that he had asked for a detailed report as to whom and on what grounds the overtime payments had been made and it would be submitted to Parliament.
Fielding a question asked by Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella, Minister Wijesekera said instructions had been issued to regulate overtime.
MP Kiriella demanded to know why overtime had been paid to employees of an institution that had been shut down. “There are reports that over Rs 4,000 million has been paid as overtime to the workers of the refinery that was not functioning owing to the non-availability of crude oil. This is a crime,” Kiriella said.
Minister Wijesekera: “I made inquiries after I saw newspaper reports on payment of overtime to refinery workers. I inquired from the Finance Manager of the CPC. I was told that a sum between Rs 2.5 billion to Rs 3 billion had been paid as overtime. The refinery was not closed during the months of March and April. It was closed only during the last month. They had issued refined fuel on all seven days of the week continuously. When an institution operates full time in such a manner the employees would have to be paid for their overtime work. However, I admit that could have been done with some level of management in the payment process,” the Minister said.
Wigneswaran claims RW accepted all his demands
Head of the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), C. V. Wigneswaran told the media recently that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to all demands he had made, including the release of Tamil ‘political prisoners’, to secure his vote during last month’s Parliament election, to elect a President.
He made this statement following a meeting with the President in Colombo to discuss the establishment of an all-party government.
“We have made several requests and if the President is ready to comply with them, we will consider taking part in the all party government,” he said.
“We met him when he was Prime Minister. Before the parliamentary vote to elect the President, I made these demands and he agreed to them. That is why I voted for him. Now, it is for him to keep his promises. I am here to remind him of this,” Wigenswaran said.
Wickremesinghe, as the Prime Minister in the yahapalana government, vehemently denied that there were Tamil ‘political prisoners’ in the country. (RK)
MPs are not immune from country’s laws – SJB
By Saman Indrajith
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday that the MPs were not immune from the Penal Code despite the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.
Premadasa said Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardane had claimed that incidents in Parliament could not be dealt with under the regular law.
“This claim sends the wrong message to people. Aren’t the provisions of the Penal Code or the Offences against Public Property Act applicable to the MPs? There were incidents in this Chamber during the 52-day coup conspiracy; some MPs damaged public property. There were investigations by the CID and also by Parliament.
The Secretary General announced the cost of the damage. When the process was on to prosecute those MPs responsible for the damage, political influence was exerted on the CID not to file cases against the culprits. It is against this background that Minister Gunawardane, in his position as the Cabinet spokesman, makes this false claim. His statement is sending a message saying that there is one law inside the Parliament and another outside it.
“He also claims that the Speaker decides whether these laws are applicable to Parliament or not,” Premadasa said.
Colombo District SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman said that people were already against the MPs and this new wrong message would further exacerbate their anger against elected members. “The Cabinet Spokesman says that the MPs have a different set of laws while the people are dealt with by the country’s laws. That is wrong. We are also liable for criminal offences that we commit,” Rahuman said.
“The CID conducted an investigation and was prepared to file cases, but that was prevented through political influence. The Cabinet Spokesman’s statement is fueling public hatred towards the MPs. Please, request the Cabinet Spokesman to refrain from making such statements,” he said.
Minister Gunawardane said that he was only responding to a question raised by a journalist and the question was about fairness of cracking down on protesters for destroying public property, during anti-government protests, when MPs, who damaged Parliament, property under the former government, are yet to be apprehended.
Minister Gunawardane said as a public representative in Parliament for the last 33 years he had only explained that the law would be implemented against those engaged in violent activities during peaceful protests.
“I said MPs had Parliament privileges and the Parliament law. I also explained that MPs attending Parliament cannot be arrested as they are engaged in legislative activities,” he said.
Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella, said that the MPs had no such legal immunity. and Parliament privileges only cover MPs from being arrested while they are on their way to attend and when they leave Parliament. “Therefore, there is no law that says they are exempt from other laws of the country,” Kiriella said.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, agreeing with Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella, said that all other laws in the country applied to the MPs.
About Rs 3 bn paid as OT during past few months
Gallup polls and G-strings
Impact of security considerations on foreign policy crafting
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
News6 days ago
The brother’s saga according to Mahinda
News6 days ago
FSP vows to fight back
News7 days ago
SJB challenges clearing of MP on the basis of committee report
News5 days ago
Ranil claims some TNA MPs “voted for me”
News3 days ago
CPA survey claims JVP Leader most popular with 48.5% of those surveyed
Features4 days ago
National Defence College of Sri Lanka
News5 days ago
President hints at wealth tax
News3 days ago
Economic crisis: 100,000 families already starving