UNP, ready to face any election - Public Enterprise Development Minister, Kabir Hashim | Sunday Observer

UNP, ready to face any election - Public Enterprise Development Minister, Kabir Hashim

UNP General Secretary and Public Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim says, the UNP gave an undertaking to the country that it would work on a National Government, and it will definitely stand by that commitment. We will however, wait and see in August how the SLFP faction in the Government will react to it. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, the UNP is ready to face any election against any formidable Opposition. The party is being reorganized to face any future challenges. He said the UNP will stand for the right thing even if it is unpopular, and take decisions in the interests of the country, even if it doesn’t bode well to face an election.

Q: How prepared is the UNP to face the forthcoming Provincial Council and Local Government elections?

A. Politically, the party is ready. The party’s reorganization work continues, while transformations, youth organizations and women’s organizations are proceeding and we are getting our training programs on the ground. So the party is ready. We have a few gaps to be filled and we are working on it. In the next few months, we will be ready to win any election against any formidable Opposition.

Q: Are there any talks underway to continue the UNP-SLFP unity consensus for the next four years, beyond 2020?

A. Of course. We believe, we made a commitment to the country at large that we will work on a National Government. The UNP will stand by that commitment. So we will wait and see in August how the SLFP Maithri faction would react.

Q: There has been a lot of criticism over the handing over of the National Lotteries Board and Development Lotteries Board to the Foreign Ministry, as well as some other subject changes, consequent to the recent Cabinet reshuffle. It seems to contradict the Government’s pledge to allocate Cabinet subjects in a scientific manner. What is your comment?

A. I guess, since it’s a National Government, some strange bedfellows get all what they want. Subjects have not been allocated in a rational way. But, it is the price everyone has to pay to keep a National Unity Government in place.

Q: Several Ministers have alleged that some powerful people could be providing a safe heaven to the Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary, Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera. Do you have any evidence on such allegation and what are the steps that should be taken to immediately resolve this crisis?

A. As usual, Sri Lanka is a country full of rumours and gossip and the people believe rumours and gossip, more than the truth.

Unless there is truth nobody can say who is doing what and where, so I cannot comment. But, the issue is more than the noise made by racists, the tragic part is the silence of the rational-thinking moderate intellectuals when people spread hatred, violence and racism.

All those who remain silent are guilty of the crime. When we compare our position with the United Kingdom where there was actually bombings and killings of innocent people by some extremist groups, the British public condemned the violence but they stood with the Muslim community.

They have a Muslim Mayor in London. So those are examples. We need to learn good things from different communities and countries. We need to make the world proud of our country. This is the time we need to stand together. It is not about targeting a single person, and arresting a person doesn’t merely solve the problem. We need to take collective action against all those who spread hatred.

Q: The Government was elected on a platform of reconciliation and equal rights for the minorities. However, there has been many attacks on Muslim and Christian places of worship during the past few months. Don’t you think that if this is not controlled, it would adversely affect the Government at the next election?

A. Certainly. It has to be controlled not only for the purpose of an election. It must be controlled on the ground that the Constitution provides the right to every person irrespective of religion, caste or creed, to be equal and live peacefully in the country. This country has a long history of Buddhism, of which we are proud. Buddhism preaches harmony and peace.

The people who attack religious places of worship send a wrong message out to the world at a time that Sri Lanka’s image is changing, and the people are beginning to be respectful and proud of the country. So definitely, this is a very serious thing where the Government should have exercised more authority to curb the incidents and the Government should have been more alert.

Q: There have been reports that some SLFP Parliamentarians have urged the President to retain the Executive Presidency. However, this Government was elected with the promise of abolishing the Executive Presidency. How do you plan to reconcile these views in the process of making the Constitution?

A. This is a thorny issue. We had a consensus among the groups that came together under late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera and he made a pledge. President Maithripala Sirisena made a pledge at the final rites of Ven.Sobitha thera that he will stand by his word and the Executive Presidency will be abolished. The issue is, some SLFPers who joined the President after the election were not part of the initial team who made the commitment and the pledge. They would not understand what civil society wanted. There are people who look at things from a narrow political view and they only look at how to come back to power at the next election and strengthen their position. These narrow minded politicians who have for the last 20 years been selfish and thought only about themselves, are once again power hungry. They will definitely try to stifle the principles, policies and structures on which this Government was built. So the UNP will stand for the right thing even if it is unpopular. We will take decisions that are good for the country, although it may not be good to face an election.

Q: What is the delay in holding elections for Provincial Councils and Local bodies. The Joint Opposition says the Government is scared to hold elections thinking it would lose?

A. I think the Government has a responsibility to hold elections as early as possible. These are local government representations. The delay is because we need to change the electoral system. The electoral system, presumably proposed by the former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, is not a transparent system. It was devised to support only one party.

The UNP , the minority parties and the small parties have rejected it. We recommend to go ahead with the old system for this election and then take time and bring in the new system. Some who say they don’t want change in the Presidential system are just hanging on to the point that the electoral system must be changed for the Local Government elections. We too think the electoral system needs change, but the issue is time.

If the electoral system is to be changed, it has to be inclusive. It must include all the small parties. We can’t leave out small parties like the JVP or the JHU. It would be depriving certain groups of people from being represented. Likewise, we cannot leave out the SLMC or the CWC because that will wipe out minority representation, which is dangerous.

Therefore, changing the system is rather complex. If we can’t reach a consensus with all parties, we may have this election under the old system on time, and then apply the new system for subsequent elections.

Q: What was the basis for the room dispute between you and your State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena? Are you working on a settlement to the problem?

A. I have absolutely no dispute with Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena. My dispute is with the President and the Prime Minister because they had appointed a State Minister without even informing me about it. I am the UNP General Secretary. But for two years, I didn’t have authority to run my Ministry because most of my Ministry appointments had been made prior to my taking over duties. The authority to appoint chairmen and boards is vested with another Ministry.

I couldn’t effectively manage the institutions or give instructions to the people, and the boards didn’t have any respect for the Minister because they had been appointed by some other Ministers. So for two years, my efficiency and output dropped to almost zero.

I don’t want to take state resources if I can’t deliver. Finally, there was a Cabinet reshuffle, and I was empowered to run my Ministry properly. This is the only strength I have as the General Secretary to deliver through the party to my district. The Kegalle district was won by me at the last election. The Kegalle district has not been given any projects, not even a poultry shed. The Ministry is my key to deliver to my people. If my powers are being diluted, I would find it difficult to continue my work. I have borne any humiliation as a Minister for the last two years. But I cannot compromise on the rights of my people that I represent. Then, the President strengthened the UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera who has a full fledged Ministry. The President added more subjects and gave him an additional Ministry. It is not about Kabir Hashim, it is about the General Secretary of the UNP. For two years, I have had a hard time with limited powers to run my Ministry. Now, I hope in the next three years I can deliver to my people. If they divide my subjects- I have very few institutions to manage.

There is no room for division with another person. When I worked with Eran Wickramaratne, he was the Treasurer of the party and we shared a common office space, a limited space, but we shared our resources well. We could work together because we had a perfect understanding. However, I wouldn’t want any bad luck with my friend Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena. So I have clearly told the President it will be difficult for me to compromise on the situation.

I am awaiting a decision from the President and the Prime Minister, so that some system will be worked out where my ability to work and deliver to my people will not be obstructed by any move.