Private sector plays big role in Higher Education - Minister Lakshman Kiriella | Sunday Observer

Private sector plays big role in Higher Education - Minister Lakshman Kiriella

Leader of the House and Minister of Higher Education and Highways, Lakshman Kiriella said, even the former Government endorsed private education and it was during their tenure that the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) was set up, and furthermore, the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa allocated Rs.600 million for this educational project and nobody ever raised any objection. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, the incumbent Government is more committed than its predecessor and strongly believes that the private sector has a role to play in the sphere of higher education and provide every incentive to make it a success. When this Government came into power, the first batch of students of SAITM had passed their final examination. So, we have an obligation towards these students because SAITM had been started by the previous Government. The Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) medical faculty too was started by the previous Government, but hardly any voice was raised against it.

Q: What is the present situation with regard to SAITM ?

A. The court has given a judgment and we should all abide by it. The aggrieved parties can further explore legal avenues for redress.

Q: Can any external factors, like demonstrations, influence the court decision on SAITM?

A. No. They can’t. We are a Government committed to the rule of law and democracy. So, once the court gives a judgment, all the citizens of the country must follow the judgment to its letter, with no exceptions.

Q: Why do you think there is an agitation only against SAITM when there is a medical college attached to the KDU, and numerous other private institutions offering everything, including engineering and law degrees?

A. The SAITM and the KDU medical faculty were started during the tenure of the former Government. No one objected when they started them. If they had objected at the time they were created, it would have been halted then and there. Even the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave Rs.600 million to start SAITM, and no one objected. When the new Government came into power, the first batch of SAITM students had passed their final examination. So we have an obligation towards these students because SAITM was begun by the previous Government.

Q: What is the Government’s policy with regard to private higher education? Will there be any changes in the short term?

A. Definitely not. It is not only us, even the former Government endorsed private education. That is why they started SAITM. We are more committed than the previous Government and we strongly believe that the private sector has a role to play in higher education and we give incentives for that. For example, for the first time in this country, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has started a scheme where teachers will get a degree from private higher educational institutions. Basically, they will get a degree, but they will be taught the techniques of teaching.

The Government will provide Rs.800,000 to that institution for training teacher students. They have to repay that money after they get a job. The job will be guaranteed in Government schools. For the first time, we are using private higher educational institutions to train teachers to obtain a degree, and a good training on the methods of teaching.

Q: There is a strong anti-SAITM lobby backed by the GMOA and other trade unions and a pro-SAITM lobby too. What is the solution for both parties without allowing the issue to drag on?

A. It is not a strong lobby. The media has blown it out of proportion. There is no pro-SAITM lobby either. If you search the internet and websites, you will observe that everyone wants private education in Sri Lanka.

Q: What is the present status with regard to the Central and Ruwanpura Expressways?

A. The Central Expressway is under construction now. Its first part has been given to the Chinese and the second part to local contractors, while the third part will probably be given to the Japanese. So, the first two parts of the Central Expressway are under construction.

A Cabinet decision on the Ruwanpura Expressway was taken and the contract awarded to three contractors. But, there is a sealing on borrowings. We can’t borrow anymore this year, so that the construction of the Ruwanpura Expressway is halted now.

Q: There are allegations that unsolicited offers have been entertained in awarding contracts for the expressways. What is your comment on this?

A. Even if it is unsolicited, the important thing is the cost. When the previous Government gave unsolicited contracts to build the Southern Expressway, it was 30 percent more than the engineers’ estimate. But, the contracts we have given to build expressways are only 15 percent more than the engineers’ estimate. Therefore, we have cut the expenditure of the Road Development Authority (RDA) by nearly 21 percent.

Q: The Kandy Expressway is a costly operation due to the heavy terrain. So, would you expect to complete it before the end of your tenure?

A. We hope to complete it as envisaged. According to the agreement, they have to complete it before December, 2019.

Q: Civil organizations protest that the Government has failed to prosecute offenders who plundered national wealth, despite the pre-election promises. What have you got to say?

A. We are a Government committed to the rule of law. The due process of the law has to be followed. We can’t abduct or shoot the people and make them disappear. So, the course of legal action takes time.

In instances where there is solid evidence, we have filed cases. As the Prime Minister said, not hundred percent, but two hundred percent evidence should be available for prosecution. Wherever we have found evidence, we have filed action against the important people of the previous regime.

Q: Would you expect the Joint Opposition (JO) to perform its role as a true Opposition or indulge in a manner to come back to power again?

A. The problem with the JO is that they can’t believe they are in the Opposition. It’s like a dream. They thought they would win the last Presidential and Parliamentary elections handsomely, but they lost. So, my advice to them is, stay in the Opposition for five years, reorganize the party and come back after some time.

Q: Do you see any deliberate attempt by the JO to disrupt the proceedings of the House?

A. Definitely. We witnessed it over the past few months. The JO was in power for20 years and now they are out of power. So they are mentally imbalanced. They are so used to power, so that now they can’t be without power.