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Sunday, 19 February 2012

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West wants to maintain political hegemony – Minister DEW Gunasekara

Senior Minister for Human Resources D.E.W. GunasekAra said the decision taken by the US to support the proposed move against Sri Lanka at the forthcoming UN Human Rights sessions in Geneva was not a surprise. The Minister told the Sunday Observer that the US was not concerned about the plight of the Tamil people here. They are only concerned about geopolitics and global strategies. So in pursuance of those strategies and geopolitical interests, they take a stand. Probably they may not be happy with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s foreign policy. Because we have formulated our foreign policy based on national interest and world realities.

The Minister said the strategy of the US to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the last Presidential Election was a total failure. Because they failed they are now trying to take other options and carry out a human rights campaign against us. This is nothing new. From the time of the Monroe Doctrine, they were keeping Latin America and all the other 33 countries under them for 200 years. Now all these 33 countries are not under their control.

Minister Gunasekara said in the 21st century, the balance of power has changed. The US attempts to maintain global hegemony, is being challenged by a number of emerging countries. After 500 years, Asia is leading the world economy. At present the US and Western Europe is in utter chaos and they have not been able to recover from economic recession.

They know China is mighty and it has become the world’s second biggest economic power. So they are thinking of probably using our country against China for their geopolitical interests and global strategies. Otherwise they don’t have any particular love for the Tamil people or the diaspora.

Q: Would you believe devolution of power is the only solution to the minority question? If so what kind of devolution would you propose as a left-oriented party?

A: I am one of the few Parliamentarians in the Government group who voted in favour of the 13th Amendment as early as 1987 when the bill was presented in Parliament. I am confident because being a Member of the Opposition, I voted in support of the bill during J.R. Jayewardene’s tenure. This is a continuing problem remains unsolved. There have been bilateral talks between the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike Government and Chelvanagayam, the Dudley Senanayake Government and Chelvanagayam. After July 1983, when the issue got internalized, about 700,000 people left our country. Then the Indian factor come into play and the Indian Government also got involved.

There were bilateral talks between the Prime Minister of India and the President of Sri Lanka. That is how the 13th Amendment came into being. There were All Party Conferences held by President J.R. Jayewardene and political party conferences by the late President R. Premadasa. There were bilateral talks between the People’s Alliance and the UNP Government under former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s Government. There was another All Party Conference led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. So at one level, we had bilateral talks at another level All Party Conferences and various other consultations.

The only solution which has been presented to Parliament and brought into legislation was the 13th Amendment. But the 13th Amendment has also not been fully implemented. This is the question which is now agitating the minds of the people. Now the 13th Amendment issue has come up. If it had been implemented, this question would not have arisen.

On the other hand, as far as Tamil parties are concerned, excepting the pro-left political group in the North, the others did not accept the 13th Amendment. The EPRLF, PLOTE, EPDP and EROS, are left-oriented groups which accept the 13th Amendment.

The right wing groups and political parties do not accept the 13th Amendment including the TNA as well as the LTTE earlier. Now the demand comes from the Right Wing. As far as the Left Wing is concerned, they say they are satisfied with the 13th Amendment and their problem is that it has not been implemented fully. Two main areas where the 13th Amendment has not been implemented with regard to police power and lands.

There are other grievances where power has been taken back by the Central Government, hospitals and national schools. But police and land powers are the two main issues that have come up.

As far as the land question is concerned, the people have imaginary fears about this land question due to lack of understanding on the nature of the problem. I can remember, I was a member of the All Party Conference conducted by former Presidents J.R.Jayawardene, R.Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. As the Minister in charge I also represented the All Party Conference called by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This land question is really related to state land. We have about 200,000 acres of state lands in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. In other provinces, there are no state lands and all have been alienated. Only some small areas are there. The problem is in view of the war against terrorists, these lands were not distributed. Now there is a feeling among the Tamil people that these lands will be colonized and that Sinhalese people will be brought or the land will be given to foreign companies, investors or Sinhala businessmen.

That is a genuine fear. As far as the other side is concerned, they say the lands should be handled by the Central Government. But this issue has been recommended by the LLRC report. If there is a land policy and land commission, all these fears entertained by the people in the North and East can be easily erased. The question here is that this is not related to private property and it is applicable only to state lands, barren land and uncultivated land.

When policies are formulated, if a decision is made that the lands should be distributed to landless people in the area, first priority should be given to the landless people in Kilinochchi district and second should be given to the people in adjoining districts. If we expect such a policy, the people on both sides, the North and the South and all interested parties will be finally agree. So this is not a complicated problem as far as land is concerned.

Police powers are already in the 13th Amendment. But it was not implemented by late President J.R. Jayewardene. Police powers to the people in the North and East areas could not be given during the security situation. That is impossible. There is a genuine fear about police powers being given to elected people the politicians either in the North, South or East. I am slightly disturbed if Police powers are given to some of our Chief Ministers because they will abuse it.

At the moment Police powers are with the President and they can be operated through Governors. When the time comes in another five or ten years, the people will come to an understanding without fear, distrust or suspicion and they will understand each other. Then at that point of time, it would be possible even to grant police powers through the Governors of those areas. But these are matters which can be solved amicably as far as the 13th Amendment is concerned.

Q: Certain political parties argue that there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, because the majority of the Tamil people live in peace outside the North and East, and it is only a handful of politicians who are protecting this claim. Would you comment on this?

A: I reject that position. If there is no ethnic problem, there would not have been a conflict, conflagration or a war against terrorists for 30 odd years.

Why did we sacrifice so many precious lives if there is no problem? I mean the conflict did not come for nothing. It originates from something. Only a microscopic minority in our community take up that position.

Q: The US says it would support the proposed move against Sri Lanka at the forthcoming UN Human Rights sessions in Geneva. Is there any justification for this?

A: Actually this is nothing new and nothing to be surprised about. Because we know what happened immediately after we won the war against terrorists. This issue came up at the UN Security Council and the Geneva based human rights organisations and we won the vote. So it will come back again. But we are not surprised at all. In my view, the US is not concerned about the plight of the Tamil people here.

They are only concerned about their geopolitics and global strategies. So in pursuance of those strategies and geopolitical interest, they take up positions. Probably they may not be happy with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s foreign policy. Our foreign policy is based on ground realities and world realities. In the 21st century, the world order has changed. The balance of forces has completely changed. After 500 years, Asia is leading the world economy.

Latin America with other 33 countries formed one economic organisation called CELAK in December last year. Russia is going to set up a Euro Asia Economic Organization with ex-Soviet States. The US and Western Europe is in utter chaos and they have not been able to recover from the economic recession. Today one thirds of the Dollar is in the hands of the Chinese Government and three fourth of the Dollar are in the hands of the developing countries.

At present the IMF and the World Bank have become ineffective. So the world’s balance of powerhas changed. Therefore we have formulated our foreign policy based on national interest and world realities.

They know China is mighty and it has become the world’s second biggest economic power. So they are thinking of probably using our country against China. Otherwise they don’t have any particular love for the Tamil people or the diaspora.

Q: The oil price hike has an adverse effect on the country. Is there no way out of this scenario?

A: There is no way out. In 2007, we had to face the global energy crisis. The price of a barrel of oil went up to $ 147. Still a barrel of oil is at the rate of $ 120 or less than that. Really we are facing a potentially dangerous situation.

We had to carry out the war against terrorists when the price of a barrel of oil was $ 147. We explained this matter to the people and they are not prepared to bear the consequences.

This is beyond our control. If the situation in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific area escalates, then the prices will go up. Unless some country comes to our assistance and gives us oil to lower price and if we don’t have sufficient foreign resources to buy oil, we will have to make some adjustment. There is no question about it.

There is no immediate solution to this. That is why when the new UPFA Government came into power in 2006 we took measures to construct Norochcholai, Upper Kothmale and Kerawalapitiya projects by taking a long-term view. However, the alternative energy sources is a long-term process and that is impossible. This is not going to be a permanent issue. Because the US President said they are not going to allow Iran to start nuclear production. Then Iran reacted saying that they will not allow ships to go through the State of Hormuz. Naturally the reaction was the price hike. It may come down when the situation is turns to normalcy. So this is a temporary phase.

Q: The US-European Union backed “sanctions” against developing countries where their raw materials power their industries, have become a political weapon to punish countries. How would you look at this?

A: That is their policy. Still the USA is the biggest economic, political and military power. So they want to maintain their global hegemony. But its being challenged by a number of emerging countries now. During the past 10 years, China, Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil have come up.

That is why under the Bush regime both father and son, they had a policy of unilateralism in foreign affairs and pre-emptive-hit and run like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, President Obama has embarked on a new regime change strategy. That is the difference between the Bush and Obama administrations. Obama tried his first extortion in Libya and provoked some people in the Benghazi area and then got the US forces and NATO by changing the Government there in a devious way. When it comes to Bangladesh, they staged a coup. But it failed. In the case of Pakistan, they set the Army and the judiciary against the President and Parliament.

A new type of thing is developing in the Maldives. All these regime changes are through different phases with the help of sophisticated methods.

As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, they have a number of options. They tried their tricks at the last Presidential Election by nominating Sarath Fonseka. That was a Washington consensus nomination. I said this at the first press briefing held immediately after the nominations.

They prevailed and put pressure on Ranil Wickremesinghe to stay back and they miscalculated and thought a war hero will be able to beat the President.

This is a combination of hostile groups which got together. We have to understand the UNP, JVP, TNA and the SLMC, all four parties got together for a common purpose of defeating President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

It backfired and President Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidential Election with an overwhelming majority of 1.8 million votes. If the strategy of the United States was to defeat the President, it failed miserably.

That was not a UNP strategy. When their strategy failed they are trying other options.

They are carrying a human rights campaign against us, threat of sanctions and various other things. This is nothing new. From the time of the Monroe Doctrine, they were keeping Latin America and 33 countries under them for 200 years.

Now all of those 33 countries have gone out of their control. Now they are penetrating the Asia Pacific area in search of mineral resources mainly oil.

That is why they came to Afghanistan, Iraq and are also threatening to Iran as well.

They are also attempting to get into all the ex-Soviet States. That is why Russia is trying to set up a separate organisation as a reaction to it. So this is part of the game and it has been going on. It is nothing new.

Q: The neoliberalists argue that in many countries old Marxist parties have been relegated to the political wilderness, as they have outlived their usefulness. Your observations?

A: History has proved them incorrect. Today neoliberalism is in crisis. Neoliberalism was born, nurtured and brought up in the US. Its first experiment was Chile. They toppled the Marxist Government in Chile and tried that experiment.

Finally the people revolted and chased away the dictator. They imposed neoliberalism having staged a coup by killing the President and all the Heads of the three forces.

If the economy in Chile has improved, the disparity between the rich and the poor is high. The inequality and insecurity was so much, the people revolted and threw away that dictator.

The people democratically elected another Government. Today all 33 countries in Latin America have rejected neoliberalism. Here we have not completely removed neoliberalism because it is a global trend today. But we have been able to distance ourselves from neoliberalism by stopping privatisation and expanding our public sector and the economy. State intervention is there for various trade liberalization and other things. So we have contained it to some extent. That is why we survive the crisis. If Ranil Wickremesinghe had been in power during that year with neoliberalism, we would have been in the same position as Greece.

Q: If one says communism or socialism is no longer valid in the dynamics of the day, how would you react to this?

A: These are good theoretical academic exercises in universities. It is no doubt the Soviet Union collapsed. But Socialism takes its formation in various other ways. For instance, we can take China as an example. Because we also made mistakes.

After the October Revolution, the Soviet Union became the world’s second biggest power. But in the international market , they have no access to two third of the world.

That is why it is called iron curtained areas. That was the reason why that system did not work. Because they are unable to penetrate into other areas.

That is why by taking that as an example, Chinese very cleverly penetrated these area. Today they have economically expanded throughout the world. Today the Chinese Government has bought $ 900 million worth US Treasury bills. At present one third of the US Dollars are in their hands.

The Dollar is no longer a mighty weapon because it is being controlled by the Chinese. As long as there is poverty, insecurity and the disparity between the rich and poor, the situation will get worse. Finally it is the people who decide, not the system.

Q: As COPE Chairman you had issued a comprehensive report on the performance of public corporations. What is the present position of implementing your recommendations?

A: In the first instance that is not my job. As the Chairman of COPE, my role is a parliamentary role. As a Minister I have nothing to do with it.

It is not an executive role. Parliament gave me the power and I did it and gave the report back to Parliament. Now it is the duty of the stakeholders to implement it.

The Stakeholders are Ministry Secretaries because according to the constitution, they are the Chief Accounting Officers. So they must implement it. Then politically the Ministers in charge are responsible and accountable.

Then the Cabinet and the President are also responsible.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa forwarded the report to Cabinet and they decided to implement it.

For the first time in the history of our legislature that a recommendation of COPE was accepted by the Cabinet and is being implemented by the Head of the State.

You can’t find any instance where a COPE recommendation has been implemented in the past. All previous COPE reports have been relegated to the dustbin. Only my report is being implemented.

Q: What are your independent views on the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee(PSC)? Would it not be the proper platform to address any alleged grievances and produce a co-ordinated program to resolve the crisis?

A: As I said earlier, we have the experience of bilateral talks between Governments and various other political parties. We have the experience of All Party Conferences and other consultations. But they all failed.

Therefore President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided that the best thing is to have a PSC where all political parties represented in Parliament will be the members of that Select Committee and let them to sort out the question and find a solution. It’s not difficult for us to find a homegrown solution to this problem.

If political parties are sincere and committed to seek a solution, then they must be prepared not stick on to their party policies.

They must be flexible and try to accommodate views of others and collectively seek a consensus on the issue. That is the only way. If we can’t do that, there is no other solution. We have failed all other ways.

The LTTE and the TNA has failed in their attempt to have a separate State through the war. That is why now they are coming back for talks.

That is a positive sign. All Party Conferences and bilateral talks failed.

The 13th Amendment which was accepted also remained without implementation. Now there is the PSC. Actually this is also nothing new as earlier we had a Select Committee and we had good proposals and there was also a consensus.

If all political parties in Parliament can get together, there are very few issues to discuss and bring about. Otherwise what the LLRC reports says “politicians are either not willing or incapable of finding a solution”.

If we failed or if we are not willing, then LLRC Commissioner’s report will be proved correct.

I think this is a golden and historic opportunity given by the end of the war against terrorists and we must cease the opportunity without passing the whole burden and the responsibility on the next generation. During the last 50 years, two generations have failed to solve this problem starting from 1957 up to 2011.

If we fail, we will be passing the problem to the next generation.

Therefore taking the overall situation, I think it is nothing but fair in the interest of all Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people who suffered during the last 30 odd years.

Our economy, moral, culture, properties and lives were destroyed by the terrorists. So we must try to seek out a consensus. That is the only way to sort out this problem.

Q: The rising cost of living, price hikes, declining living standards are grist to the Opposition mill. Is the Opposition genuinely interested in these or is it to gain political mileage?

A: That is the part of the job of the Opposition. Let them to do that and there is nothing to be worried.

Q: Public transport is vital. In a matter of days, private bus operators can bring the country to a standstill. Why can’t the Government improve the CTB and the CGR fleet to meet such contingencies?

A: Being inside the Government, we had to carry out a big campaign outside Parliament and outside Government demanding that the CTB should be revitalised.

That is why former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga decided to establish the CTB.

Today the CTB has about 5,000 odd buses. By this time the private sector has over 18,000 buses. That is the reality as it is. These two sectors have to co-exist.

There is no other question. My personal view is unfortunately, except Anil Moonasinghe, all the chairmen of the CTB have not been to successfully fulfil their task to develop the CTB.

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