UNP’s coherent policy the forte at LG polls - State Minister Eran Wickramaratne | Sunday Observer

UNP’s coherent policy the forte at LG polls - State Minister Eran Wickramaratne

State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne says, the only way the country can move forward is by voting for the UNP which has a coherent policy and plan. Basically, the UNP is executing that plan stage by stage. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, State Minister Wickramaratne said, the UNP is managing this election campaign professionally and will perform strongly in the upcoming LG elections. The UNP’s professional approach will pave the way to bring the resources of the Centre to the Local Councils. When one looks at the things the party has done without the LG bodies, one could imagine what the UNP would do if it has the control of LG bodies in its hand.

Q: Will the UNP wrest the power of the majority LG bodies in the upcoming elections? If so on what basis?

A: Basically, we have been in Government for the past two and a half years. We have been there without having LG bodies. We had a very few across the country because the majority of the LG bodies have not been with us over the last decade or so. Without the LG bodies, we have been able to deliver a lot, e.g. in the education sector we increased expenditure on education from about 1.9 percent of GDP to 2.37. Before the end of our term, it would probably push forward closer to 3 percent.

We have spent on the “nearest school is the best school” concept, and provided insurance cover for schoolchildren between the ages of 5 and 19. No such scheme has ever been done before. We have expanded the number of university students from 24,000 in 2014 to nearly 30,000, and increased the number of hostel facilities for 24,000 students spending Rs.14.5 B.

Even in this Budget, we have announced three new medical faculties for state universities. We have separate funding for seven new technical faculties in the universities over the next period.

We have also done a lot in the health sector. The prices of drugs were drastically reduced, and considerably brought down the prices of cataract lenses and heart stents. Nearly 200,000 people have been benefited from our housing programs. When you look at the things we have done without the LG bodies, you can imagine what we can do if we had the LG bodies in our hands.

Therefore, we are asking a mandate for the local government so that we can take some central government resources and strengthen local governance. The UNP will perform strongly at the LG elections. I think the people understand that staying at home is also a choice. By doing so you are voting for the other side.

Everybody needs to exercise their franchise. It will give a mandate to connect the central government to the local government and to deliver further. So I expect a strong performance by the UNP.

Q: As usual, political crossovers have become a regular feature at this pre-election time. Your comments?

A: I can’t think of anything significant that happened recently. When there is an important vote in Parliament, people talk about crossovers, but we get a two thirds majority, in the end. One thing is certain, this Government is very strong.

There is a lot of noise, but the Government is extremely strong and we have completed two and a half years and we will go the full term. Individuals may have different views, but that won’t make a big difference to the stability of the Government. There is a President in place and there is a Government led by the majority UNP.

Q: Will the rifts in the SLFP and NFF strengthen the UNP vote base?

A: No other party is united like the UNP. Those others are in complete disarray and still fighting over personalities. It is sad to see their conflicts. So how can they agree on anything? The only way the country could go forward is by voting for the UNP.

The UNP has a coherent policy and plan which we are executing stage by stage. We are managing our campaign professionally. The other parties are built around personalities and depend on family connections. They protect themselves. Lots of educated young people with innovative ideas want to contribute to society, but they have no future in a patriotic kind of system and party. But the UNP is not like that and I am an evidence. I am a complete outsider and have no family connection in politics. This is where the future lies. We have put forward 9,422 candidates for 341 LG institutions, but not a single list of ours was rejected. We believe, this campaign is going to be fought on the ground, it is about local issues. The UNP is more suitable because of its professional approach and we can bring the resources of the Centre to the Local Councils.

Q: Do you think the overall results of the forthcoming LG polls would be a political indicator of public vote?

A: I would say it would give a sense of what the people are thinking. But the results of this election will not be comparable with the past because this is a new system. We haven’t had a Ward system coupled with a PR system. So this is a bit of an experiment as to how we would govern in the future.

Q: Will the increase of LG members under the new electoral system be a white elephant to the country?

A: I think there are positive and negative aspects. The people will have a local government member whom they could relate to in a geographical area, which is a positive aspect. The people know whom they should go to and discuss their issues. The most positive aspect is the need to increase female representation in all local bodies. In Parliament, we have only 5 percent and in LG bodies we have only 2 percent women representation. After a long battle, the UNP was successful in convincing all that we should at least go for mandatory percentages and agreed on a 25 percent women representation. We have put forward a number of young professionals. The UNP is proud that there is going to be a large representation of women. We want them to be empowered and more women to come forward. We want to take forward this reform. Women must come out strongly and vote at this election.

Q: Don’t you think the bond scam has eroded the UNP’s vote base in the country due to the JO propaganda?

A: I think everything needs to be looked at in its perspective. The Joint Opposition went around and said there is a huge loss to the country due to the Central Bank bond issue. I have always taken up the position that those who have done wrong must be punished. There was a COPE report and it was referred to the Attorney General’s Department. Then the President appointed a Commission and its report has also been handed over to the President, and which has also been referred to the AG. There are two different processes. One had politicians in the COPE and the Presidential Commission had professionals with two judges and a former Auditor General. But both arrived at the same place, the AG, who has to frame charges, which would be heard. Justice must follow on those who have done wrong.

However, I am glad, because this would have been unthinkable during the Rajapaksa regime. Even the Prime Minister appointed an Opposition MP as COPE Chairman because the UNP didn’t have anything to hide. When allegations were made against Ministers, they stepped down. Even in the UNP Working Committee, we spoke about it. Under which Government has this happened? We are turning the political culture around. Under which former Government, were MPs or Ministers questioned, arrested or remanded? It was unheard of during the past few decades. Unfortunately, all the rogues in the former regime are still at large. There are things we can do and those we can’t.The Government can support the investigative process and dedicate resources, but we can’t hear the cases or give judgements. It is an independent judicial process. So the judiciary and the AG’s Department should take the responsibility to take the process forward promptly.

Q: There is public outcry that no sharks or masterminds behind bribery and corruption and the misuse of public funds have so far been convicted. Why?

A: We would like to see that happen fast. Investigations have been concluded in some areas. The AG is in the process of filing cases. Unfortunately, the judicial process in the country is slow. Some cases have dragged on 10 to 15 years. Justice delayed is justice denied for the common man. This must be changed. As a Government, we take the responsibility in providing the necessary resources, but we can’t do it by ourselves. The professionals have to do it. Lawyers and judges have to change the system and make it more efficient. The UNP wants these cases rapidly filed and the judicial system to move rapidly. Wrongdoer is a wrongdoer, it doesn’t matter which political party he belongs to.