Our responsibility to prevent services being crippled- Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka | Sunday Observer

Our responsibility to prevent services being crippled- Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka

Regional Development Minister, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, has become the cynosure in the political as well as the media domain. Significance is added to this in view of the talk to appoint him to head a special unit to deal with any emergency situation.

Here are excerpts of an interview Tharaka Wickramasekera of our sister newspaper, Silumina, had with Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka:

Q. The talk of setting up a special unit has gone viral today. Could you enlighten us?

A. There is no such thing as an Army unit. What is expected is to prevent public utilities being crippled due to strikes, demonstrations, etc.

Q. Does it mean that demonstrations, strikes and picketing would not be permitted?

A. There are only three methods to deal with those struggling to win their rights or demands. Firstly, suppressing them through killing, threatening or shooting, as was done during the Rajapaksa regime. Secondly, conducting negotiations and where it fails to pursue action to prevent damage to the country, economy and the community. Negotiation has not been given up. Where negotiations fail, the Tri-forces will be deployed to ensure the continuance of public utilities. There is no such thing as attacking those engaged in demonstrations.

Q. There is however reference to giving orders to the Tri-forces?

A. Presidential orders supersede all others. Tri-forces have to be deployed to ensure the continuance of utility services. It is not an order to the Forces to attack or shoot. These canards are spread by the Rajapaksas and their henchmen who politicised the Forces and gave orders to kill the people. Could the Forces be ordered to attack and kill the Rathupaswala people who asked for water? Who ordered the Forces to be deployed at Rathupaswala? Who shot the Katunayake employees who walked out in connection with an EPF issue? The Rajapaksas deployed the Forces for such matters. That is their fear. The President inquired from me whether I could take the lead in mobilizing the support of the Forces to maintain public utilities during protests and strikes. This has given rise to the talk of setting up an Army Unit.

Q. It appears that most people have shown their dislike over your involvement in this?

A. That is wrong. Those who harassed the people shiver when they hear my name. They are afraid the government will avenge the wrongdoers. No, we don’t. What the JO, which I call ‘Ekabadda Malabddaya’, is out to topple the government. Even in the good things that the government does, they see something wrong. Should we also attack the strikers, send white vans and lift trade union leaders? That sheds light on what they were up to!

Q. There are ministries to deal with strikes. Why a new outfit?

A. They will do their job. My job is to prevent the services being crippled. I emphasize that we would not tread on trade union rights at any cost, but ensure the continuance of essential services.

Q. Despite your assurance, will not workers’ rights be violated? Strikes and work-to-rule are meant to win their rights?

A. For example, is it reasonable for 2,000 odd petroleum workers to topple a government voted to power by 62 million voters, by resorting to strikes? Don’t we have the responsibility to ensure the essential services from being crippled? What is the impact on the economy, the foreign investors and creating employment opportunities? Should we give in to the 2,000 odd employees?

Q. An important person said at the May Day rally, that the Forces wherever they go, get involved in brawls.

A. I also heard it. It manifests his hatred for the Forces and his meanness, too. Everybody knows, it is because of the Forces that people live without fear today.

Q. It appears that the JVP too has voiced its strong protest against your new appointment?

A. That the JVP spoke the truth and was a principled party was the public perception earlier. It is because of that they won parliamentary seats having countered under my leadership in 2010. If they descend to the level of other politicians, people will respond to them appropriately.

Q. Why are they against you now?

A. I don’t know why. We don’t tolerate racketeers and crooks. In what May Day rally was the IGP? Had it been the Rajapaksa regime, what would be his fate today? We admired the JVP policies, but if they tread the wrong path nothing can be done.

The SLFP is being well organised at present, since right people are put in the place of crooks and the corrupt.

Q. Why are there so much of protest if the proposed post is not one meant to deploy the Forces?

A. The JO is all out to capture power. They will leave no stone unturned. We will not permit the Rajapaksas to come back to power.

Q. Is it a threat?

A: No. If we permit the crooks to come to power, we will be traitors to the people.

Q. The Galle Face Green was proof of the pro-Rajapaksa people’s power?

A. About 50,000 would have been at Galle Face Green. It is not so difficult to get down thugs. A packet of lunch and a bottle of arrack would suffice.

Q. The Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Opposition asserts that the Local Government elections are not held due to fear?

A: People themselves know the reasons – the main reason being non-completion of delimitation and the delay in accommodating proposals by different parties on the new system.

Q. People are not happy with what the government does. It does not appear that the people’s aspirations have been fulfilled?

A. We were left with a debt-ridden economy and the country was on the brink of collapse. We have honour, have taken staff to develop the country. All can’t be given government jobs and as such the private sector has to be strengthened through foreign investments. Therefore, the need is to restore the country.

Q. Yet, those who ruined the country remain unpunished. What happened to Yahapalanaya which pledged to round up the crooks. Law and order does not appear to be functioning properly.

A. I too accept there is delay in enforcing the law. I have represented matters to the President and Prime Minister several times.

Q. Why not you take serious steps in this regard? Allegations are also made that crooks are defended.

A: We don’t interfere with the rule of law. The Police and the Judiciary are two institutions expected to function independently. There is a police commission too. Unlike the Rajapaksas neither the President nor the Prime Minister interferes with the judiciary, but things are not moving fast, I admit.

Q. You too grant that law does not apply to crooks fast. Is it due to shortcomings in the law or are there any other reasons for this situation?

A. Those officials who were in the legal and judiciary departments during the Rajapaksa era are still there. I believe they have allowed things to go slow. These cannot be accepted as explanations. The law should apply to all equally when they bring the crooks to book, else the people will teach us a lesson.

Q. Allegations have been made that assets such as the Hambantota Port are being sold to foreign countries?

A. The Port was built at an exorbitant cost. It is said that the actual value of the port project is US$ 1.4 billion but the Chinese company asserts that it is US$ 1.1 billion which means US$ 0.3 billion have been swindled. We are left with settling the Chinese loan by leasing out the port to China. Nobody ever talked when one terminal of the Colombo Port was leased out during the Rajapaksa regime.

Q. How would you manage time to accept the responsibilities of the new post? Will there be a problem?

A. This is not a big thing for us who fought tooth and nail to defend the country, it is simple for us to help our people. Whoever does this job whether a minister, secretary or army commander, it is in addition to his substantive post.

Pic: Rukmal Gamage 

Translated by: Michael Kittampahuwa