Ven. Rathana Thera should resign if he cannot abide by rules - Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka | Sunday Observer

Ven. Rathana Thera should resign if he cannot abide by rules - Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka

Interview with Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka coincides with the completion of ten years in politics as a Minister

Megapolis and Western Development Minister, Patali Champika Ranawaka says, though the Jathika Hela Urumaya, has criticisms on this government, as a responsible member of the Government they cannot talk as they wish, as they are bound to protect the government. He says, the decision by Ven. Rathana Thera to act independently in Parliament has no impact on their party and asks the thera to resign from the his National List MP post given to Jathika Hela Urumaya if he cannot abide by his promise to the party and its discipline. In an interview with the Sunday Observer the Minister says, the country should adopt clear economic policies if it is to move forward.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: As a Member of the Good Governance Government are you satisfied with the achievements of the government during the past two years? What are the things it could achieve and what has it failed to achieve?

A: The formation of the Good Governance Government salvaged the country from international containment and isolation. If the Mahinda Rajapaksa government continued we could have faced severe economic hardships. Even countries like Venezuela, rich in oil and gas resources could not face such international containment. We could do all these things without betraying national security and the hard earned peace.

The establishment of the Independent Election Commission helped us to set examples, in conducting free and fair elections, putting a stop to the misuse of state assets and accumulate power and wealth to win elections. The independence of the judiciary was established with the appointment of suitable and qualified judges. But yet, we have issues regarding impartiality and effective delivery of justice. We have taken considerable steps to put a stop to fraud and corruption.

Q: Do you think people are satisfied with the steps the Government has taken to put a stop to fraud and corruption?

A: I agree that the steps we have taken are not up to the satisfaction of the people. That is the reason why Minister Sarath Amunugama and I brought a new Cabinet paper to strengthen this process further. We expect to implement those steps soon. But, I must say, the level of social empowerment we effected was enormous. That is why a major corruption like the Central Bank bond scam was exposed within such a short period of time. But, sometimes I feel they are going beyond their limits in using the freedom given to them.

Q: You have made a statement in Parliament that those responsible for the Central Bank bond scam should be punished. Your comments?

A: We strongly say that the people responsible for this bond scam should be punished. The country must know how a business which had only Rs.310 million on January 8, 2015 increased to Rs.25, 000 million in September 2016. Before investigating the deals of Mahinda Rajapaksa they should investigate this. Otherwise, they have no moral right to investigate other scams. The newly appointed Central Bank governor has taken steps to streamline this process, and put a stop to such scams happening. Some people criticize him because they have been hurt due to his actions.

Q: Do you think the Government has adopted correct economic policies and strategies to direct the country towards development?

A: So far, the government has failed to make leaps in the economy. The absence of a clear economic policy is the main factor for this situation. Though we have declared that we are adopting an innovative economic strategy we have not acted according to these concepts. We are still trying conventional ways of attracting Foreign Direct Investment, based on factor driven economic policies, such as, cheap labour, cheap environment policies, and lenient labour laws. Though countries like Myanmar and Vietnam can attract massive FDI to their countries we cannot attract them as we have distanced ourselves from factor driven economic policies. We have not taken comparative advantage of our country. Its geographical location is the comparative advantage, which we have not properly utilised. We should also consider the changes taking place in the world when formulating our economic strategies. Many western nations are shifting towards protectionist economic policies, giving priority to their products and imposing surcharge on imported goods. We should consider this when formulating our economic strategies.

Q: There is an allegation that Sri Lanka could create an internationally favourable condition after capitulating to conditions imposed by the international community. What have you to say about these criticisms?

A: All these conditions were imposed on us by ourselves. No one has imposed conditions on us. We ourselves have created the conditions by way of formulating a Human Rights Action Plan, by a group of elite, who do not have an iota of knowledge on the ground realities. They are not aware of the difference between accepting social rights and fundamental rights, and the consequences we would have to face when we accept social rights such as, housing, electricity, as fundamental rights.

Q: There is a dialogue within society about legalising homosexuality, as per the conditions put forward by the European Union to grant GSP plus facility to Sri Lanka?

A: I don’t believe that the European Union has put forward a condition that we accept homosexuality in the country. Even the EU has not accepted this. Powerful Catholic countries like France, Italy, Spain have not accepted homosexuality. So, why should we accept homosexuality in Sri Lanka?

Q: So what is your opinion about accepting LGBT rights?

A: Have we taken any action against the LGBT groups? No, we have not. The LGBT group published a magazine, but Police has not taken action against that magazine. Nothing of that nature has happened. There is a relaxed policy towards them in society.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, there are some provisions to act against homosexuality. But, we are not implementing it. The Sri Lankan society has been tolerating all LGBT activities. If we make it a fundamental right, it would become a big issue. Being flexible is one thing but making them a fundamental right would cause a problem for the country.

Q: Do you think gaining GSP plus facility is important for the country?

A: GSP plus facility was given to us after the 2004 Tsunami. It was an assistance extended to overcome the tragedy caused by the Tsunami. Such a facility affects our competition in the international market but will not make major changes in our economy. If the European Union is giving us this facility after imposing conditions, we should not accept such facilities. Now, the EU understands the situation which prevailed in the country in the 2007/2008 period as they too are facing challenges of terrorism. Therefore, they do not need to put conditions to grant us GSP plus facility.

Q: There is no clear idea on the constitution making process. Do you think the new constitution will be a reality soon?

A: If we are to go for a new constitution, unlike in the past, we should do it with the consensus of the general public. The 1947 Soulbury Constitution, 1972 Constitution and 1978 Constitution were made according to the will of the political party in power. Now, it cannot be done according to the views of the SLFP, UNP, JHU, TNA , SLMC or any other political party. It should go for a referendum. All parties should say so in one voice. Otherwise, the referendum will also be a confused one.

Q: Public is of the understanding that there is consensus on the basic structure of the new constitution. Have they been discussed within the Constitutional Assembly?

A: Nothing has been discussed regarding the new constitution. I am also part of the constitutional council and I can say that nothing has been discussed about the nature of the state, whether it should be a secular state or not, or about the electoral system.

Though individuals are having different opinions on these subjects, no consensus has been reached about these concepts. What we should do is, adopt whatever the issues agreed upon by the political parties, as we have already made changes to the 1978 Constitution removing the arbitrary powers vested with the Executive President. Next, we should decide on the electoral system. We cannot include each and everything in the constitution. It is not practical.

Q: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa leading the Joint Opposition says, he will topple the Government. Do you think he can topple the Government?

A: How can he form a Government with only 50 MPs supporting him in Parliament? They need 113 seats in Parliament. The UPFA has 95 seats in Parliament, and of them 82 MPs are from the SLFP. Of the 82 MPs, 45 members are with the President. Without the approval of the President none would join the other side.

So, how can they get other MPs to form a government? Will the UNP, JVP or TNA join them? No. No one would join them. Mahinda Rajapaksa made those remarks. Dilan Perera said Chamal Rajapaksa would be the Prime Minister. He is doing all these things to protect his family grip.

Q: People think the arrest of Wimal Weerawansa is also connected with this?

A: He should have been arrested long ago. The Government Analyst Department report on the youth who died in his house has not yet been released. The law has not been properly implemented.

Q: There is criticism regarding the leasing of state assets to foreign countries. What is your opinion on this issue?

A: There should be a policy regarding leasing out national assets to other countries. We should not be conventional thinkers. We should make use of the comparative advantage of the country. And, we should adopt an open procurement process, not give the assets to companies according to our wish.

I don’t have an issue about assets being managed by foreign companies. Dialog telecom is not a local company, but it has not created any issue to the country.

Colombo Dockyard was taken by the Japanese and they are running it efficiently. We should not work for personnel gain. Many issues have been raised regarding the leasing of these assets as we lack a clear policy framework.

Q: Isn’t it unfair to give them on long term lease?

A: Investors invest their money on a long term basis. We do not know whether these companies or those countries would survive the period of the lease. Though we have given them on a 99 year lease, they cannot take them from our country to another. But, we should make use of the comparative advantage to the country.

Q: Should we stick to one country for investment?

A: Europe and America are not investing in any other country. But certain private companies in America and the EU will invest in other countries. The Indian government is also not investing in other countries. Therefore, Japan, China and Korea are the capable investors we could attract.

Q: What is the progress achieved under your Ministry with regard to Megapolis development and what obstacles does the Ministry face in this regard?

A: We have commenced several projects under the Megapolis development plan. For instance, the port city or the financial city project that we expect to complete in early 2019.

Amid all protests we have been able to advance the project by a year. We, together with the Transport Ministry have expedited the feasibility study on the Light railway system.

We have called for Expression of Interest to have Multi Model Transport Systems. To resolve the waste management issue, we have initiated plans and submitted our proposals to the Cabinet.

We have initiated the project to develop Beira Lake as a Centre of Business District. To do this, we will remove all shanties around the Beira Lake and start developing the land. We have also initiated the Tech city in Homagama.

Q: Do you think the process is on track or is it facing problems?

A: We have failed to establish the Megapolis Authority due to disagreements among political parties and opposition from the Provincial Councils. Due to the foreign debt margin of the country, the government is not in a position to issue sovereign guarantees.

Therefore, we have to resort to public private partnerships when implementing projects under Megapolis development. We need to have feasibility studies to go for public private partnerships. It takes time.

Q: The Government is going in two directions. It has created a negative impact on the country. What should be done to resolve this situation?

A: There should be consensus within the government. The UNP and SLFP should remember that they have not formed this government with their party strength. The UNP had only a 2.4 million vote base. This happened because people wanted a change. They need to protect this government.

Q: The decision by Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera to act independently in Parliament has disturbed the politics of the Jathika Hela Urumaya. What have you to say about his decision?

A: In September, last year, we had our party convention and a large number of scholars joined hands with us. The decisions of individuals within the party have no impact on the party. When Udaya Gammanpila left our party in 2014 it was only him and his family members who left the party. No other party members joined them.

We appointed Ven. Rathana Thera as a National List MP on the promise that he would abide by the party rules and discipline.

If he wants to be an independent member, we have requested him to resign from the National List MP post and do whatever he wishes. He cannot act independently while holding the National List MP post.

Q: Do you agree with the policies spelled out by Ven. Rathana Thera?

A: His policies have no impact on us. They are policies that we also follow. We are a disciplined and organised set of people and we are part of the government, and we cannot say whatever we like. Therefore, we should protect the discipline. That is not an issue for us. As a member of the government we maintain discipline. We cannot attack the government soon after it was formed. We should act responsibly and with social discipline. We also have criticism against the government, but we will protect it, being a partner of the government.

Q: Has the UNP conveyed any message in this regard?

A: The UNP has informed us that the National List MP post was given to the Jathika Hela Urumaya, and not for an individual. They are against appointing Bhikkus as MPs.