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Govt confident of resounding victory at PC polls - Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva

Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said that the Government is quite confident of its victory at the upcoming Provincial Council polls.

The Minister told the Sunday Observer that during the past few years, the Government has implemented a lot of development projects to provide the infrastructure facilities in these provinces. Therefore, the majority of the people in these provinces will definitely give a clear mandate to the UPFA Government . However, the Government would also like to see a strong Opposition. Sadly, the Opposition is not fulfilling its national obligation today. Instead of doing so, it is divided into several factions.

Commenting on the prevailing drought situation in several parts of the country the Minister said it is not because of any bad water management or wrong planning as the JVP claims. Actually the drought did not occur only this year.

There was also a drought in 2002 and similar droughts had occurred throughout the history. These are baseless stories by the opposition parties. If there is no sufficient water, naturally the paddy cultivation will be affected. The JVP knows the truth, but they want to take political advantage and rouse the people against the Government. That is their political nature. The people are sensible and can understand the reality. So they have no confidence in the JVP. That is why the JVP is totally devastated and defeated politically. Farmers are also well aware that the Government cannot be held responsible for this is a natural calamity that has occurred. Therefore, the people cannot be fooled or misled by these JVP utterances.

Minister de Silva said it is wrong to say that there is a wave of crimes as there is no such wave. It is unfair to cite one isolated incident and say there is no law and order in the country. Even in Chicago or UK, Australia or any other country, crimes are committed. Sometimes, the Police canít apprehend some of those who are responsible for these crimes. That is nature. I must say in fairness to our Police, they have investigated certain difficult crimes and have apprehended the culprits.

Q: Addressing the Rio Plus on green economy and sustainable development, President Mahinda Rajapaksa introduced Sri Lankan economic model which gives the pride of place to the environment. What are Rioís benefits for developing countries?

A: Summits are held from time to time on environment. But the perception of the world community at large is that what is happening on the ground is not sufficient. Pledges made at the Kyoto conference have not been fully implemented by the most powerful economic giants. There is also the perception that the environmental concerns are only for the third world developing countries while most developed countries are ignoring the norms and parameters of environmental protection.

Therefore, I think even the Rio summit, emphasised the need to protect the environment and ensure low carbon dioxide emission to the space. When it comes to the question of the real action plan and the assistance which has to be given to the developing countries, I am sure most of the participants of the Rio summit will not be very happy with that position.

Therefore, President Mahinda Rajapaksa highlighted the need for sustainable development and the balance between the development and protecting the environment as a timely thought for the developing countries. At the same time we should not forget that we need to protect the environment but the environment laws and regulations should not be a stumbling block to the third world and emerging countries for economic development. So we have also to keep that in mind.

Q: Despite the Governmentís assurance that there wonít be a rice shortage, the continuing drought has its serious impact on paddy and other subsidiary food crops. Is there any blueprint to cushion the impact of drought and provide redress to the farmers?

A: The first thing is that we have sufficient paddy stocks. Even the paddy which were purchased before two or three years are still stored in warehouses. We all are aware of it. The other thing is that this year we have started cultivating about 7000 to 8000 hectares more than the last year. As a result of the current drought and if it if it continues, nearly 29,000 hectares of lands will be affected.

This will be only nine percent of the total land area which we are cultivating. If you take Gal Oya valley, Moneragala, Kathankudi and all such places, there is no water problem. The water problem is only confined to Mahaweli H system and some parts of Kurunegala, Girithale and Parakrama Samudraya. Therefore we are confident that our total production will not be adversely affected by this.

Q: The Government alleges that the JVP instigates the drought-hit farmers against the Government while attributing wrong planning and mismanagement to the current crisis. What have you got to say about this?

A: We have to analyse what the crisis is at present. The JVP always analyses in the wrong way with a wrong perception. What is the reason? If you compare the rains experienced in Polgolla and Kothmale areas last year and now, not even one hundredth of it is there this season.

All those are false stories being attributed as a cause for the drought. If there were sufficient rains, we could have collected water at Polgolla and divert it across Elahera canal to Kalawewa and then to Girithale and finally to Polonnaruwa.

That is a simple technique. If the water is not available, naturally the paddy cultivation will be affected. Actually the JVP knows the truth, but they want to gain political mileage and rouse the people against the Government. That is their political culture. But the people who are experienced donít have reposed any confidence in the JVP.

That is why the JVP is totally devastated and defeated politically. The people are sensible and can understand the reality. Farmers are praying for the god for water or rain, as they know the Government is not responsible and it is a natural disaster that has occurred. Therefore, the people cannot be fooled or misled by the JVPís utterances.

Q: The North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provincial Councils have been dissolved. Are you confident of an easy victory despite the Opposition making the natural calamities as a strong political issue during the elections?

A: We are quite confident of victory and we can win all the Provincial Councils. The Government has no doubt about that. During the past few years, the Government had implemented many development projects in these provinces.

The majority of the people in these provinces will definitely ensure a resounding victory to the UPFA Government at the upcoming Provincial Council polls. The Government would however like to see a strong Opposition playing its role. Sadly the Opposition is not fulfilling its national obligations. Instead of doing so, it has been split into several factions.

Q: The increased prices of kerosene, dried fish, vegetable and many other consumer items have its impact on the poverty-stricken people. Will this not change the pattern of voting this time?

A: I donít think so. The prices of vegetables and some other essential food commodities, have come down compared to those in the past. Therefore, people could purchase these consumer items at lower prices. At the same time, peopleís earning capacity has also gone up. I think the price hike of kerosene will not make a big impact on the election as it is not widely used by majority of the people now. At present electricity is used by nearly 90 percent of the population.

Q: There is the allegation about the law and order and rule of law break down and the inaction by the Police which is said to be the main cause for the rising wave of crimes. Is there any substance in these allegations?

A: I clearly demonstrated in Parliament even under the UNP regime, certain crimes had been committed. The rate of the crimes has not increased. There are criminals who are engaged in various crimes and there is also an under-world.

They commit crimes. If you take the Kahawatta incident, I think those who were involved in it have been apprehended. If we take some bank robbery or other crime etc, the culprits in many robberies and other crimes have been produced in courts.

So we canít take one incident in isolation and say there is no law and order. Even in Chicago or anywhere in the world, UK, Australia or any other country, their people commit crimes. Sometimes the Police canít apprehend some of those responsible for these crimes. That is nature. But I must say in fairness to our Police, they have investigated certain difficult crimes and have apprehended the culprits. Therefore it is wrong to say that there is a wave of criminal activities as there is no such wave.

Q: The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to resolve the problems of Tamils is yet to be appointed. Why is this still lagging behind with no signs of moving ahead?

A: We are ever ready to meet. But the TNA must send the names of their nominees to the Speaker to appoint the PSC. They have not yet sent the names. Even the UNP has not sent the names. So how can the Speaker appoint the committee? It is the Speaker who will appoint the committee. As far as the UPFA is concerned, we have already sent our names to the Speaker.

Q: Powerful countries have made it a habit to invade developing countries arbitrarily for regime changes under the pretext of protecting human rights as in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. How do you look at this situation?

A: That is the scenario that we condemn. The territorial integrity and the right of the people of a country to elect their own leaders and governments has been affected by this scenario. Sometimes they are going in search of oil, minerals and other resources.

Sometimes they try to show their strength and impose some of their own perceptions of democracy on other countries. It is entirely up to the people in any particular country to elect their leaders and decide on the form of government they prefer. We canít deny the rights of the people in one country and substitute the thoughts of another. Therefore this scenario must be condemned and resisted.

Q: Bribery and corruption have become the countryís bugbear. There are allegations of bribery and corruption even against some legislators. Could the Government ward off this social evil at all?

A: Bribery and corruption is in every society. If you take the case of Japan for instance, how many Governments have fallen as a result of allegations of bribery and corruption against the political leaders. So it is up to the Bribery Commission to ensure that all complaints are investigated. The other thing is that people should not make baseless allegations. Instead they should make credible allegations. Anonymous petitions wonít do. They must be supported with facts and figures so that the Police and the law enforcement authorities could investigate such allegations.

Q: The Government speaks of rapid economic progress while the Opposition and some professionals point out that the economy is in doldrums. What is the actual situation in the backdrop of recession and inflation in the developed world?

A: If you go into economic indicators and various theories relating to economic development, one could surely interpret things in different forms. For example, if you take an average person, a tea, rubber or cinnamon smallholder, he is earning a good income for his products.

The other thing is that can you get a rural labourer for less than Rs. 1000 a day now? I met a number of industrialists who said they find it difficult to get labourers for their factories. That is the position. At present the unemployment rate has dropped. At the same time, the Opposition complains that farmers have find it difficult to subsist as the vegetables and other commodity prices have dropped drastically.

That shows the cost of living has come down. There was a time where the vegetable prices dropped drastically and now it has stabilised. Even the price of paddy has stabilized. To gauge economic development, you have to speak to the common man without going into economic indicators. We have checked unemployment and cost of living index. In addition, lots of development work have been done in our areas.

I donít think people have anything to grumble. But certain shortcomings are there. The Dollar has gone up in relation to the rupee. But the exporters are doing well. So that is a boost for exports in view of high oil prices and the high export-import bill. There are certain issues associated with our balance of payment.

But our expatriate income is there. We have to ensure that we should export more and more goods. We should move forward for an export economy. We are also making progress in the tourism sector as well. So we have to struggle hard. Even in China, the export income has dropped. So is in India and US. But their domestic income has gone up. Likewise we have to diversify our economy. I think those challenges are there not only for Sri Lanka but also for all other countries. Despite those challenges Sri Lanka is moving forward.

Q: Time and again politicians of all hues talk of changes to the present electoral system, but nothing has happened so far. Your views?

A: I am also very disappointed since electoral reforms have not been implemented. This is my personal view. It is the need of the hour that the electoral system - local government, Parliamentary and other forms has to change. We have also the Dinesh Gunawardene report. It is time that we must get away from this preferential voting system which has made politics very much complicated and violent.

Q: What are your views on the question of Bhikkhus being elected to Parliament? Is their representation in parliament the interest of the country or for other reasons?

A: The Bhikkhus are also human beings. They should also have their own political rights and ideologies. We canít say Bhikkhus have no right to vote. That is not democracy. If the people wish to elect Bhikkhus it must be permitted. We canít deprive a person of his right to contest an election. It is up to the people to vote for a Bhikkhu or not. That is a matter for the individual voters to decide.

 

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