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Sunday, 16 October 2011

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Development will continue unabated – Minister Susil Premajayantha

UPFA General Secretary and Petroleum Industries Minister Susil Premajayantha said that the results of the recently concluded Local Government Elections are a clear indication of the UPFA Government’s popularity. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the people have clearly endorsed the rapid development programs implemented by the Government. The aim of the Government is to expedite its development programs and ensure better living conditions for the people in urban and rural areas. The Government will face no obstacle to go ahead with its rapid development programs as the people have placed their faith in them.

Minister Premajayantha said he however regretted the comments made by some prominent UNP politicians that the UPFA debacle in Colombo is the beginning of its ‘collapse’, which he described as being ridiculous. If we analyse the results of the Local Government Elections held in 322 local government bodies, the UPFA alone has secured 271 local bodies. In addition, the UPFA’s constituent parties, the SLMC has won five local bodies while the National Congress has also won two local government bodies. Therefore, altogether the UPFA Government has won 278 local government bodies while the UNP has won only 10.

The Minister said the UPFA did not suffer a setback in Colombo. It failed to get adequate votes due to rumours spread by the Opposition that shanty dwellers would be evicted from the Colombo city. However, in certain electorates such as Borella and Colombo East the margin between the UPFA and the UNP could be narrowed down. However, in earlier elections, the UPFA lost these electorates by 9,000 or 10,000 votes. But this time around it was less than 2,000 votes. This shows that voters in certain electorates in the CMC area had considered giving power to the UPFA.

Q: Are you satisfied with the performance of the UPFA at the recently concluded Local Government Election?

A: Of the total of 23 local government bodies except Colombo and Kalmunai, the UPFA has won 21. The UPFA obtained the highest percentage of 74 percent votes in the Gampaha Municipal Council. When the total results are analysed, we are satisfied with our performance.

Q: What went wrong with the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC)election? Was it due to lack of coordinated effort or strategies?

A: It was not because of a lack of coordinated effort or strategies. At the last general election, we had a gap of 60,000 votes in the CMC area.

If we analyse past results, the maximum percentage of votes obtained by the UPFA at the last several elections was 32 percent. In some election it was less than even 32 percent. But this time it increased to 32.5 percent. Even in Colombo, the UPFA has maintained the percentage voter base.

Q: How do you explain the UPFA’s landmark victory in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya which were UNP bastions?

A: After several years, the UPFA has won these two Municipal Councils. It is important to note that not a single Local Authority was won by the UNP in Nuwara Eliya. There are mixed ethnicities in the Nuwara Eliya and Kandy Municipal Councils. We are very happy about the UPFA’s performance in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.

Q: The Government has its own development strategies for Colombo. The UNP says that the multimillion CMC budget could ensure speedy development of the city according to their plans. In this situation what will be the final outcome?

A: The UNP has to stick to the Government’s development plans. Because the income gained by the CMC is not sufficient for capital investment in the Colombo Municipal area for rapid development. For example, if the CMC is going to build 40,000 houses and if Rs.2.5 million is spent on a house, then how much money will be needed to construct the houses? In such a situation, the income for even four years is not sufficient. Therefore, the Government has to intervene and the CMC must cooperate with Government organisations like the Urban Development Authority and other institutions and make a joint effort to develop the CMC area.

Q: On the whole results indicate the UPFA’s overall popularity. The UNP however maintains that the UPFA debacle in Colombo is the beginning of its ‘collapse’. How do you explain this?

A: This is a ridiculous comment made by the UNP. If we analyse the total results of the Local Government elections held in the past few months from March to October 8 this year, the elections were held in 322 local government bodies. Of these,the UPFA won 271 local bodies. In addition, our constituent parties, the SLMC won five Local Bodies while the National Congress won another two local government bodies. Therefore the UPFA as a Government has been able to win 278 local government bodies. But the UNP has won only 10 local government bodies.

This is the situation at the moment. I regret the manner in which some prominent UNP politicians have commenced the outcome of the election results. I saw a cartoon in a newspaper which shows UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake covering the lower part of his body with a small piece of cloth or handkerchief while his pair of trousers and shirt were in his hands. Even the cartoonist depicted how the UNP was attempting to cover up its humiliating defeat with a ‘small piece of cloth’.

Q: The UPFA’s future mega development plans, and relocation of shanty dwellers in Colombo anticipated a shift of power from the UNP. What made the UNP to have an edge over its rival groups?

A: Though we lost power in the CMC, we won’t deprive the people living in the CMC area. Colombo is the capital of the country, belongs not only to CMC residents of the area but also to the entire population in the country. It is the responsibility of the Government to develop the CMC area irrespective of the outcome of election results.

Q: If the UNP block votes, eviction of shanty dwellers, internal political rivalry and escalating cost of living are to be identified as major causes for the UPFA setback in Colombo. What are your comments?

A: The UPFA did not face a setback in Colombo. We wanted to win the CMC. But it failed due to rumours spread by the Opposition that shanty dwellers will be evicted and various other canards spread by them.

I think it all depends on the voters’ mentality and how they absorb the rumours.

In certain electorates like Borella and Colombo East, we managed to narrow down the margin between the UPFA and the UNP drastically.

In some earlier elections, we lost these electorates by 9000 or 10,000 votes. But this time the margin is less than 2000 votes. This shows that the people who live in certain electorates within the CMC area have seriously considered to give power to the UPFA.

Q: The concept of the Metropolitan Corporation has been proved to be a success in many countries. Is the Government serious about proceeding in that direction?

A: Yes. We want to go ahead with it. Before the elections were held, various rumours were spread that the Government is going to hold elections in these areas and attempt to introduce a corporation.

This is not so. The people’s representatives will be there. But the thing is if we want to implement a development program or a plan for the entire metropolitan area, then the CMC, Kotte or Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal Councils can’t take individual decisions. It should be a collective one. In order to do that, we are going to form a corporation.

Q: Does the Government have any program to make local bodies more people-friendly and development oriented as against the present lethargy?

A: Of course. We are going to have many workshops at provincial and district level regarding this. Once these local government bodies are established, they will come under Provincial Councils.

Therefore, they can train them and supervise them. Most probably before the next local government election, we will introduce a new Local Government Act which will be a mixed system of the First Past the Post system and Proportional Representation system.

Then we won’t find any preferences among candidates of the same party and it will also prevent clashes among candidates. There will be a people’s representative for each and every ward so that we can expect equal development within that particular local government area.

Q: Has the UPFA already finalised the appointment of Mayors and Deputy Mayors to the 21 Local Government Bodies won by the UPFA?

A: Yes, the UPFA has already appointed Mayors and Deputy Mayors to the Local Government Bodies and their swearing in will take place on October 16. Except Negombo and Gampaha Municipal Councils, the appointment of Mayors and Deputy Mayors were based on the highest number of preferential votes they obtained. However, that criteria was not applied for Gampaha and Negombo Municipal Councils due to a policy decision taken by the UPFA.

Q: The recent tragedy in Mulleriyawa appears to be a result of internal rivalry. This type of unfortunate incidents is bound to occur in the future as well. What measures will be taken to prevent a repetition of similar incidents?

A: The UPFA has already taken several steps in this regard. For example, it has been made compulsory for all security officers attached to Ministers and MPs to wear their uniforms while on duty.

Thus enabling easy identification of those handling weapons. Other instructions too have been issued to security officers. The Government will take steps to eradicate the heroin menace from the CMC area.

Q: Apart from police inquiries, will the UPFA high command consider taking action against those responsible for this incident which has tarnished the image of the UPFA?

A: It is premature to comment on that. We are waiting for reports because the entire investigation is handled by the CID. So we have to wait until the investigations are completed and submit their reports to courts. Then only we can think of a party disciplinary inquiry.

Q: Attempts made by UNP dissidents to field independent groups to some local government bodies were an utter failure. How do you view this?

A: That is the nature of politics in this country. Any breakaway group does not have a place. The Government has two thirds majority in Parliament and it has won eight Provincial Councils.

In addition, the Government secured a 5/6th majority at the Local Government elections. The people have clearly shown their intention to continue for the next four or five years with the rapid development programs implemented by the Government. We want to expedite all these development programs and introduce better living standards for everyone irrespective of whether they live in urban or rural areas.

This is the intention of the Government and the people living in urban and rural areas have endorsed it.

The Government is now able to go ahead with its rapid development programs.

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