Betrayal, the prelude to foreign invasion
Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa was interviewed by
ITN on its program ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ on March 3.
Q: Higher vegetable prices have dropped sharply. Is it due to the
market dynamics or due to a targeted program launched by the Government?
A: President Mahinda Rajapaksa since his ascension to presidency had
implicit faith in two things. He believed that joint action by the
people, government and its officials on a determined effort always
produced the desired results. It was such a frame of mind which
culminated in heralding lasting peace for the country by President
Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Security Forces.
Food prices began to escalate daily from the time of national
President Rajapaksa launched a National People’s Movement to resolve
this problem. He enlisted the services of public officers such as former
Grama Seva Niladaris, Samurdhi Officers, Agri-Research Officers and
Family Health Officers.
It was with the participation of all these officers including a
number of ministries that Divi Neguma was launched under one Senior
Minister in the agricultural sector. This led 1.5 million family units
to contribute their mite to the production drive. The process was
accelerated with the fertiliser subsidy being extended to vegetable
cultivators and other sectors such as tea, coconut, rubber and export
crops. Domestic poultry farming too was encouraged. The campaign became
a success with the direct contribution by the Government in providing
seeds and other agricultural inputs.
Q: As a leader of this campaign are you happy with the public
A: Yes, I am fully satisfied since we have reaped good results. The
Opposition harped on green chillies and spoke about it at local fairs.
Today they are talking adversely about the reduced prices. Those who did
harp on coconut prices in the past are today deaf.
People have responded to the government positively. Despite the
criticism levelled at the public service, its members dedicated
themselves to advance the cause of Government programs and Pensioners,
students and teachers participated.
Q: Has the Government taken any measures to cushion the effect of
price reduction in vegetables in the interest of vegetable cultivators?
A: Yes, steps had to be taken to protect the interests of the
cultivator. High prices was one reason for the good public response.
People will not take pains to cultivate if the prices remain cheap.
It is something universal. That is why globalisation has its impact
on us. The Government should help bring down the cost of production, to
enable us to continue our program.
The government on its part provided the fertiliser subsidy, organic
fertiliser in place of chemical fertiliser, seeds and plants,
greenhouses too were constructed to withstand the ill-effects of the
environment. Production increased and the need for a lucrative market
Self-sufficiency in vegetables
The prime target of Divi Neguma is individual self-sufficiency in
vegetables which will encourage people to grow fresh vegetables and
fruits apart from improving the intake of nutritious food. We need to
provide a market to secure higher prices for the produce of the farmers
who cultivate paddy on a commercial scale.
We helped them to export these produce and where possible to supply
them to tourist hotels. This program needs to be further expanded.
Action has also been taken to accelerate the import substitution
process. Our priority should be to cultivate vegetables to cater to the
domestic demand and if there is any excess, it could be exported.
Despite our being self-sufficient in rice, the carbohydrate intake
necessary to maintain a healthy body has not improved. Even in
Anuradhapura and Hambantota which are predominately rice-producing
districts, the demand for wheat-flour is increasing.
It is time for Sri Lankans to depend on rice for their three meals
daily as we have plenty of rice.
Q: What action has been taken by the Government to facilitate the
purchase of paddy and also to maintain a stable price for paddy?
A: Rice is our main staple diet. Over prime aim was to achieve
self-sufficiency in rice which epitomised national pride and
sovereignty. It was in this context that President Mahinda Rajapaksa
directed that the fertiliser subsidy be provided to farmers at Rs. 350.
The plight of paddy farmers was such that they were forced to commit
suicide as they could not sell their produce. Paddy lands were filled
and the Paddy Marketing Board was closed and garment factories had been
set up in abandoned paddy stores. We took action to renovate tanks and
anicuts and ensure a regular supply of water to the farmer. We revived
the Paddy Marketing Board and purchased paddy from farmers. Fertiliser
sold at Rs. 3,500 was brought down to the concessionary rate of Rs. 350
which helped cut down the costs of production and alleviate the farmer’s
The guaranteed price for a measure of paddy was fixed at Rs. 18, in
the interests of the consumer. The demand for rice has increased in the
World Market and, therefore, the price of rice has to be maintained
without leaving room for consumers to switch to wheat flour. Any
increase in the price of paddy will have its effect on the market which
results in lowering rice prices and increasing the demand for wheat
flour to the detriment of the paddy cultivator. The Paddy Marketing
Board cannot purchase the entire harvest since its capacity is limited.
It was during Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s tenure of office
when the late Hector Kobbekaduwa was the Minister concerned that the PMB
purchased the largest quantity of rice. That was the time when President
Rajapaksa representing the Beliatta electorate pioneered the setting up
of the PMB. The average purchase by the PMB was around 10 percent. The
Government did not release the rice stocks to the open market, but
supplied it to the consumer via ration books. At present the PMB
purchases around seven percent of the harvest which is more than
sufficient. Apart from the PMB, the Finance and Economic Development
Ministries too through its network of Government Agents continue to
Despite shortcomings, this system works but it has its ups an downs.
When the price of paddy in the Ampara district dropped, we purchased the
harvest through the Government Agent and improvised a government-owned
vacant factory to store it. We have launched the ‘one project for each
village’ program in 14,000 Grama Seva divisions by which priority was
given to construct paddy stores and fertiliser storage facilities in the
village itself, so that the village-based farmers’ organisations could
purchase the paddy harvest.
Q: The Government maintained that the decision to provide the
fertiliser subsidy at Rs. 350 was a public investment. Is it so even
A: Certainly so, the moment you withdraw the fertiliser subsidy, the
cost of production goes up affecting the paddy farmers. This in turn has
its impact on increasing prices of rice and vegetables which eventually
retards the production process. We call this a subsidy, other countries
operate it under different names. This time we had the soil tested for
its effect on cultivation.
Development of village
Q: What was the rationale behind ‘One Project for Each Village’
A: The development of the village is the focal point of the Mahinda
Chinthana program when president Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office in
2005. Over 80 percent of the population live in villages and, therefore,
we felt that infrastructure facilities have to be upgraded. During my
visits to India and Japan we were cautioned against urbanisation which
would result in a myriad of environmental problems such as contamination
of waterways, slums and other concomitant social problems. President
Rajapaksa resolved this complex problem under the Maga Neguma program by
giving pride of place to the village. Basic infrastructure facilities
such as electricity, water supply and roads and telecommunication
development were provided. Today a Sri Lankan could communicate with
anybody in the world through the internet and other media. Potable
water, development of schools, rural health centres, small playgrounds,
children’s parks, pre-schools and community schools were the other
amenities provided. We will also set up small jungle parks in villages
to preserve the ecological balance. The ‘one project for each village’
introduced by the President as a mega development program through the
national Budget was aimed at dissuading inhabitants from leaving the
village and abandoning it to wilderness.
The President was made aware of the problems faced by the village
when matters such as waning population, loss of preferential votes, and
the non-representation of the village, led to its isolation. He
responded by allocating Rs. 1 million to each village totalling 14,000
villages in the country. This allocation was made exclusively for the
particular project meant for the village. Some people entertained doubts
about such a village re-awakening project! I personally examined each
and every village development proposal after discussing it with people’s
representatives and public officers.
Q: The Government hopes to ensure community participation for the
development of the village-based project. How could those interested
form the project?
A: From the very beginning of the Gama Naguma program, the President
gave priority for community participation. We enlisted the support of
the local organisations, people’s representatives, Public Officers,
Divisional Secretaries, Samurdhi Officers, Cultivation Officers, and
School Development Committees. The proposals became people-oriented and
it had its fair share of weakness. However, we decided to give effect to
Secondly, from the concept to the formulation of the project
proposal, community participation is guaranteed. What is most important
is that the people should identify the project as one of their own to
ensure its quality and proper implementation. Ultimately the people
themselves feel a sense of relief and derive satisfaction. The bitter
truth is that the private contractor does not welcome community
participation since he had overestimated the project for the sake of
Q: What is the progress achieved by Gama Neguma?
A: We received more votes from areas where the Gama Naguma had been
implemented. The Gama Naguma was originally launched by the Nation
Building Minister under President Rajapaksa. Karandeniya and Moneragala
were the electorates where we received a significant number of
preferential votes. The periphery was largely benefited by the Gama
Naguma program which provided potable water, irrigation facilities and
toilet facilities for schools in rural areas. There are altogether 9,700
schools in the island and 8,300 school toilets were constructed under
the auspices of the Gama Naguma
Q: March 2012 has been designated as the ‘month for household
economic planning’. What is a household economic unit?
A: Nutrition, road security, additional income and reducing
cost-of-living are the four objectives to be realised under the Gama
Naguma program. We also decided to launch small-scale projects instead
of mega projects for the economic development. For example, it costs the
Government Rs. 5 billion to import chillies. If each family is motivated
to cultivate vegetables and other minor food crops in their plot of land
to meet its needs it would not only improve the family economy but also
contribute to the national economy.
Q: Proposals at grass-roots level were entertained for village
development. Has this helped win the confidence of people in rural
A: President Rajapaksa sought the views of the people, trade unions,
public officers, politicians and university dons before launching the
Mahinda Chintana program. This had helped develop children’s and
maternity homes. We have first-hand experience of the deplorable
situation at the weekly fair visited by the rich and poor alike. It is
unclear and stinking. Heaps of garbage remain uncleared. There are no
toilet facilities for the public. We have identified the shortcomings
and having gathered first-hand experience, we formulated the projects to
help people to overcome their difficulties.
Q: A developed economy and food security are indispensable for Sri
Lanka to effectively withstand foreign interference. Is there a special
program launched by the Government to realise these objectives?
A:Food consumption and the cost-of-living affect public life. The
country progressed at a rapid pace. Foreign exchange has to be allocated
to import machinery. Our foreign exchange earnings did not match its
outflow. Exports reached dizzy heights and there were heavy tourist
inflows. Expatriate earnings increased. Such earnings were insufficient
to offset the escalating oil bill.
Q: The President in the budget made proposals for export development
and incentives for import substitution. Have these proposals been
A: With the local cultivation of five food crops we aim at being
self-sufficient in food. At present we are self-sufficient in
Indian-corn. About 80 percent of Ulundu is cultivated locally in the
North and the East. Expo 2012 is held in Sri Lanka after a lapse of
about 20 years. Foreign representatives, buyers, tourists, foreign
companies, chambers and officials from foreign countries are due to
visit Sri Lanka for the Expo 2012 exhibition. It would benefit both Sri
Lankans and foreigners. The Government in collaboration with the private
sector will launch a program to export vegetables, fruits, ornamental
fish and flowers. This will certainly help farmers secure a good price
for their produce. Traditional craftsmen too get the rare opportunity of
meeting foreign experts.
Q: People have their misgivings whether the US resolution moved
against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions would hamper our roadmap for
A: We had received threats in the past. There were challenges thrown
at us whenever we took a decision or appointed a person to a post. When
we opened the Mavil Aru anicut there was opposition by certain countries
that we breached the provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement but we acted
without fear. We were denied the GSP+ as a result of restoring peace in
the country. We had to decide as to what mattered most whether we
safeguard the image of the country or dent the self-reliance of our
people or at last yield to the pressure of the Euro? We did not let down
the people. We faced GSP+ challenge and got over the crisis through a
Government-private sector integrated program. Our export percentage
increased. We could however conquer the market through the competitive
quality and price of our commodities.
Q: Has our past performance been helpful in meeting international
A: Not only today,we also faced threats in the past. Organisations
masquerading under different names threatened us. The foreign ministers
of some countries too did likewise when they were in Sri Lanka. Several
countries opposed our efforts to negotiate a loan from the IMF. Some of
them maintained that when negotiating loans the politics of the client
country would not be taken into consideration. What was important was
only the country’s economic performance.
Eventually, we succeed. Later, when the World Bank funds were
negotiated for Northern development we faced a similar situation. At the
UNHRC sessions too we fared well.
Q: You had represented the government at the previous Sri Lanka-India
deliberations. What is the government’s stand on India’s voting for the
US resolution at the recent UNHRC sessions?
A: This problem affects them more than us. India is in a quandary
over what it had not done, a thing with which their country is not
concerned. They had to face the big problem of getting their budget
passed in Parliament. Threats by some South Indian political elements
and America itself became a problem to India. In our region except for
India all other countries voted in favour of Sri Lanaka.
The Maldives and Bangladesh stood by Sri Lanka. Although Pakistan did
not have voting rights, yet in its capacity as president of the council
of Muslim States supported Sri Lanka. Japan though without voting rights
extended its support to Sri Lanka while China, Indonesia and the
Philippines also voted for us. India took a decision different to those
of all other Asian countries. India maintained its policy of not
supporting country-specific resolutions throughout. India was
internationally recognised not only as an independent Non-Aligned state
but also a major power opposing powerful countries trying to exert undue
pressure on smaller countries.
Q: Of the 542 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Indian Government has only
271 seats. The DMK party threatened to quit the government ranks with
its 18 MPs. The next general election will be held in another two years.
Was not this precarious internal political situation that compelled
India to make its controversial decision to vote for the US Resolution?
A: I think so. Let us reflect on our own position during the
humanitarian operation. We did not have a majority in Parliament. It was
a critical situation. What sort of a serious problem we would have faced
had we acted in the interests of the international community or yield to
the pressure of another country? We should consider the interests of our
own country first when we have to make decisions internationally. A
number of small and powerful countries stood by Sri Lanka. We should pay
tribute to these countries. India and other countries should understand
that Sri Lanka too feels the impact of both national and international
problems. Whatever decisions we make we should do so with the
concurrence of the people belonging to different races and religions.
This Government cannot ignore the people’s mandate and continue in
office. When we are called upon to make decisions, attention has to be
focussed on internal complexities. Interests in the international
community come second.
Q: As long as people remain inseparable from the government, the
international community would not be able to interfere in our internal
affairs. Therefore, the people’s support is the best insurance for the
government. Does the government command the sovereignty of the people?
A: Sri Lanka is one country which had been voted to power by the
democratic will of the people. Their support is a tremendous strength
for the Government to face challenges. The US moves a resolution against
a country if it makes nuclear weapons or chemical weapons. We do not
make any such weapons except perhaps, a Galkatas or a shotgun. We are
also not a member of any strategic alliance or a threat to the security
of another country. The US moved a resolution against Cuba on the
pretext that it was a member of the Socialist Camp. I am at a loss to
understand as to why they moved a resolution against Sri Lanka when we
have not invaded any country or made weapons.
Q: We faced many challenges during the humanitarian operation. Over
280,000 people had been relocated in the welfare villages. Most of the
areas have been demined. Life in the North and West was made easy via
Livelihood Development Programs. Around 11,900 LTTE combatants were
rehabilitated and handed back to their parents.
A: The families of LTTE leaders are still looked after by the
government while the leaders have been reintegrated into mainstream
Q: Did we not convince the international community of these
achievement, or do they pretend not to know what the Sri Lanka
government had done to improve the lives of those in the North and the
A: The problem is that those who are fully aware of the colossal
amounts of funds pumped into the North and the East, and the massive
development schemes launched to alleviate the misery of the people and
ensure a decent life for them either pretend not to know or else keep
silent. There was an instance when the OCHA representative questioned
several Western diplomats as to why they did not brief their governments
about what the Sri Lankan Government had done for the North, one of them
is reported to have said, “What Sri Lanka did was colossal’ while the
other said, “there are allegations by the South that more government
funds and foreign aid are pumped into the North”.
In fact, we have allocated only one million rupees for a village in
the South while as equal amount is spent on a single family in the North
to upgrade their infrastructure facilities and standard of living.
Some people who are well aware of these achievements remain
tight-lipped. It is difficult to enlighten or explain matters to such
No sooner President Rajapaksa received the UPFA ticket for
presidential election he was denied access to the party headquarters.
Nor was he permitted to issue a manifesto under the UPFA. The then
leader opposed the move. It was from that day that there were threats.
We need to face challenges when we begin to usher in a new era of
prosperity for the people.
the LTTE rump overseas, certain sections of NGOs and some Western
countries have got together and hatched conspiracies against Sri Lanaka.
Funds spent to buy military hardware are being used for their
disinformation campaign worldwide. Those who spoke on our behalf
including the media are now silent.
Q: How did the opposition parties respond to the challenges posed by
the foreign elements?
A: When the entire country stood by the President and the Security
Forces during the humanitarian operation for peace certain political
elements in the country made utterances to demoralise the soldiers,
incite the people and cause a rift among our supporters. Attempts were
also made to re-enact a ‘Black July’ to breach the unity among the
communities. Websites were used to disseminate false propaganda.
All these were resorted to force the international community to
intervene in our country. However, the people stood by us irrespective
of political differences.
Betrayal is the prelude to foreign invasion as borne out by history.
Sri Lanka was no exception. At times the media too turns a blind eye to