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Letís put our heads together - Keheliya



Former Minister Keheliya Rambukwella

Former Minister and Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella, who is awaiting an important slot in the new Cabinet says that the priorities one, two and three of the new government is 'development'.

However, there were plenty of speculations, but none could be said for certain, as the President will decide only after the report of the inquiry into Nawalapitiya incidents, is tabled.

In an interview with the 'Sunday Observer' Rambukwella said though the Opposition, which is supposed to guide the ruling party of any country, has been rendered weak, it would not affect the UPFA due to the foresight on the part of President Mahinda Rajapaksa whose political experience spans over 40-years.

" He will guide the post-war Sri Lanka to a new heights. He knows what the country needs and he is the only leader who achieved the set targets within a given time frame", he said.

Rambukwella said that though he was confident that he would be offered a Ministerial post, he confessed that he was unable to predict the exact Ministry.

The elected parliamentarians from Kandy district including Rambukwella are waiting for the final outcome of the investigations over the alleged incidents that took place in Nawalapitiya which led to a re-poll.

He said that the new Cabinet and Parliamentarians need to work together with the President to achieve the common goal - 'Development' - the main target of the new government.

" I see fresh air in the Parliament this time with lots of new faces. We have professionals and experienced politicians in the new parliament and hope it will make easy for us to work hard to develop the country", he said.

Following are the excerpts of the interview:

Q: What do you have to say about the first post-war parliamentary elections that recorded a historic victory for the UPFA government?

A: People have responded well at the Presidential elections and the faith and confidence that they reposed in the President was again endorsed at the parliamentary polls. Those who suffered for over 30-years, which is half of their lives, have given their clear mandate to the UPFA government. People have shown their gratitude by voting to the UPFA. At the end of the war, people who enjoyed the freedom dawned upon them have responded well.

Q: You talked about the war victory and do you believe that this alone resulted in re-electing the government? What are the other factors that contributed to the UPFA victory?

A: Yes, I don't say the war victory alone brought the election victory. The expectations of the people and the peaceful environment have also contributed to this. On the other hand, people who entertained fresh hopes after defeating the LTTE voted for the government.

While fighting the LTTE the government did not neglect the country's development. Both ends progressed equally. The government achieved significant progress in all the sectors and completed several mega development projects in power, irrigation and ports sectors. The rural development was one of major areas on which the government focused.

People who witnessed the overall development were happy to enjoy themselves the development initiatives in their villages which had been neglected for years. They voted for the government with more hopes for future.

People of the North and the East never thought that their villages would develop so rapidly. But, even before the war was completely over, people of the East had witnessed development. Their lives were remarkably improved. All these resulted in this victory.

Q: What are the priorities of the new government as the war is now over and signs of economic recovery are looming?

A: Well, the priority one, two and three is nothing but, development. I don't think any one has bothered to calculate on a realistic manner on what we have lost on account of the war. It is a huge loss, not only the physical but also psychological and in many other ways as well!

If we can calculate this huge loss, I don't think any one would talk about other countries in Asia but Sri Lanka. But what has gone is gone and what is now needed is looking forward to. If we go at this rate this country will no doubt be one of the fastest developing nations in the region.

I strongly believe that if all of us put our heads together and work hard for the next four to five years, we can achieve all our development targets. Now the government had set its future goals. At the moment the ground and the mindset of the people are set to achieve that target and what is needed is a speedy implementation. There is a huge responsibility cast on all of us.

Q: The new parliament has several new faces and as a senior politician do you think that you can achieve the desired targets with them?

A: I see some fresh air in this parliament. This is a good sign and it is quite a mix. There are professionals and experienced politicians who have hailed from pradeshiya sabbhas to provincial councils to the parliament. I hope that we can reach our goal with this new blood. They have been elected by the people with some hopes. We have young energetic, professionals coming in and no doubt I think we can march forward with them.

Q: As a former UNPer what do you have to say about the UNP, which has faced the worst ever defeat in its history?

A: UNP is a political party with a strong foundation but it is now certainly shattered. I am not trying to put the blame on any body but the whole country knows what the main causes for its present plight are. They know what has happened! In principle, it is always good to have a strong Opposition but unfortunately the UNP couldn't maintain that status. It's pathetic.

Q: Does it mean the government will have a strong voice in the Parliament as the opposition is weak.

A: Theoretically any government needs a strong Opposition as a guide to the government. It clearly shows there is no strong Opposition in Sri Lanka today. But this will not affect the government as it is spearheaded by a leader who is gifted with a strong political maturity. President Rajapaksa, who is in politics for over 40- years, will guide the country on the correct path.

When you assess the performances of the last five years, this is quite evident. He has been able to achieve all the set targets in the given period. He knows what is right and wrong. He is armed with a comprehensive plan on how to develop the country in the next six years.

Q: According to your assessment what are the main factors for this once strong political entity to become weaker and weaker?

A: Well, principally it is the top level administration of any political party that should be responsible for its weaknesses. I am not going into the details. But, when you look at the UNP's Constitution you would observe it is dictatorial. Very few people know exactly what exactly the UNP Constitution is and they know that the Constitution itself is a total dictatorship. This may also have led to its present predicament.

If you assess the many things that happened during last couple of years, you would observe there is no participatory approach within the UNP. Decisions taking process was always centered around two or three individuals. Many of those adhoc decisions taken by the top level have also led the party to lose its popularity among its members.

Q: Are you confident that the UNP can have a better future and revert to its former glory?

A: During the last seven to eight years, the party had a very poor administration and poor co-ordination. These are the main causes for UNP's poor performance. People lost faith in the party. This is the lowest level to which the party has descended, in its proud history. But, I don't say that the same will prevail throughout. There will be good signs to say that the UNP is coming back to its former glory. It is only possible through a new administration as the UNP is not a political party disowned totally by the people.

Q: They talk about changing the present leadership of the party. Will this make a difference?

A: They have been talking about this for the last 10 years. After every election the UNP on its post mortem talk about changing its leadership but after a few days it dies a natural death.

The other main reason for the UNP to become so weak is that it has totally lost its common touch!

Q: Is it true that the UNP is going to join the government

A: I am not aware of it.

Q: You played a vital and challenging role as the Defence Spokesman and do you think this post is still necessary as the war is over?

A: Of course, war or terrorism is defeated militarily but not internationally. If we don't defeat them internationally it will further create problems for us. We cannot be totally happy that the LTTE is completely eradicated. The LTTE remnants are still haunting locally and mainly in foreign soils. There are signs that the LTTE is raising its ugly head again in some of the countries. It was a huge organization. Therefore, we need to be watchful. In such a scenario the post of Defence Spokesman could not be dropped and it still has a major role to play.

Q: Do you think still the Tamil Diaspora is active and also propagates the LTTE ideology? What do you think the new government should do to suppress their activities?

A: We need to look at this aspect very seriously. I am happy to see under the leadership of President Rajapaksa and with the energetic participation of Basil Rajapaksa who led a rapid development drive in the North and the East, a very positive picture was shown to Tamils here and abroad. Now they have been convinced by the development that they are enjoying.

Now the Tamil Diaspora cannot claim that the North and the East development is overlooked and Tamils suffer due to poor health, education etc. lacking in infrastructure facilities. The government has given top priority for developing these two provinces. Today they enjoy themselves better facilities far than the people in the South do. Considering President Rajapaksa's political acumen no one can say Justice was not meted out to the Tamils and the Muslims.

Every citizen of this country is equally treated. If you make an assessment of the performance of this government during this short period of time, you may certainly concede that no other government could match the progressed registered by this government!

Q: Though we have poured lots of money to develop the North and the East, still majority of them voted for the ITAK, the constituent party of the TNA, which was the LTTE proxy. Why?

A: I am happy to see the TNA getting support and they should be in the parliament to air their views. Then we can have an idea on the requirements of Tamils as they are solely representing those areas. On the other hand, we can explain to them why we cannot fulfill some of their demands if they are in the Parliament. They should not be driven out of the mainstream!

This time they have lost one third of votes that they got at the last elections. More than a quarter of the TNA voter base, which has accepted the government's policy, have voted for the UPFA and that is why the TNA could not secure more seats in the North and the East.

Q: How confident are you that you will be getting a ministerial post?

A: I am sure of getting a portfolio but not yet confirmed as the inquiry is still going on.

Q: It is said that you are to be offered the media Ministry. How true is this?

A: I also read this news in the papers and speculations are going around. But I really don't know whether I would get it. Let's wait and see.

Q: How long it will take to complete this inquiry?

A: I think it will take a week or so.

Q: The Amnesty International has called upon the new parliament to do away with the Emergency regulations and to abolish the Terrorism Prevention Act. They have also insisted on release of those detained under emergency regulations? Is it possible to accede to these requests?

A: Well, my response for them is that we should not be dictated by anybody. If the Opposition makes these demands in the Parliament, we can at least consider them as they are representing the people of this country.

If they asked me, I would have told them, "Look, you have enough and more problems at your doorstep. We do not want any body to direct us as to what we should do and we know exactly what we are doing". We are not concerned about any body that has no say. I also believe that organizations like them should make some comments now and then for their own existence.

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