I will not succumb to pressure- Minister Sarath Fonseka | Sunday Observer

I will not succumb to pressure- Minister Sarath Fonseka

Protecting wildlife:

The newly sworn in Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development Minister, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka in an interview with the Sunday Observer says, he will implement the law to the letter, in protecting Sri Lanka’s wildlife.

“I will not succumb to any pressure,” Minister Fonseka assured, adding that he will also be committed to find a lasting solution to the human elephant conflict considering it as a top priority in his Ministry.

The Minister, along with the Deputy Minister Palitha Thewarapperuma and Wildlife Officials visited human elephant conflict sites in Teldeniya and Horowapathana during the weekend to meet the affected people.


Q: Everyone was expecting that you will be given the Law and Order Ministry. While there were critical comments, people thought you will be a very effective Law and Order Minister. Now that you have got a completely different portfolio, do you think you can fulfil people’s aspirations with regard to the subject that you have got ..?

A: Law abiding people thought that corrupt politicians and the officials of the previous regime will be taken to task if I am made the Law and Order Minister, but unfortunately, I was not given that portfolio. As far as the present Ministry is concerned, there are long overdue issues pending, and they are not minor issues. They are issues of a serious nature. I will work to fulfil the expectations of the people, and I would say, expectations of the animals also. I will ensure both sides of the problems are looked into when coming up with solutions.

Q: Are you disappointed that you have been allocated the Wildlife portfolio instead of the Law and Order Ministry?

A: I was not asking for the Law and Order Ministry, and I did not have any hopes to get it. There was a call from the general public and the politicians. I am not unhappy, I will try to give my best to carry out the responsibilities and fulfil the task I have been entrusted with.

Q: I would say Wildlife is not your cup of tea. How long a period would you need to familiarize with this Ministry?

A: It should not take long. There are many issues to resolve, such as, human elephant problems, issues at wildlife sanctuaries, botanical gardens… I consider this a challenge. I will be committed to do a good job and would welcome consultations from those who are willing to extend their support.

Q: Poaching of endangered animals, including elephants, is a major issue in Sri Lanka. How do you expect to address this issue ? Will there be a necessity to amend the existing laws?

A: As for the legal aspects, I believe there are sufficient laws. I think, the people who are violating the laws are most of the time backed by politicians and influential people. I will not succumb to pressure from such people.

Q: Overcrowding in the Yala National Park is an issue that no former Wildlife Minister has been able to tackle, primarily because the respondents are connected to the powerful including the politicians. How do you plan to address this?

A: As you said, overcrowding, overstaying, alcohol consumption within the national parks… such things have gone out of control. I will see that it is regulated. It is my responsibility as the Minister.

Q: What are your priorities as the new Wildlife Minister…?

A: Priority number one will be human elephant conflict, to reduce human as well as elephant casualties. We have to safeguard people’s crops, find out measures to minimize the incidents and come up with a sustainable solution. The next will be to address the issues in the Yala National Park.

Q: The issue of domesticated elephants is so controversial that no one dares to talk about it, let alone bring in any regulation to stop this inhuman practice. The former Minister too failed to rein in the culprits. Temples, politicians and VVIPs are accused of encouraging these poachers. With your taking over will there be a change of government policy on this?

A: This is another aspect that needs to be studied properly and which falls under my purview. Without blaming the temples, we must strive to identify the real culprits in this racket, who kill elephants and abduct baby elephants to be sold.There is a gang behind it. More than going behind the temples I think it will be effective to go behind the poachers and stop it at that point. So you will see our officials more in the field than in air conditioned rooms.

Q: Will there be tougher laws on domestication of elephants?

A: The rules are already there. The culprits have been violating all the rules with the blessings of the last regime. The powerful people in the last regime were the culprits, basically. We will expose the people behind this inhuman trade and the law will be strictly enforced against anyone, no matter how powerful they are.

Q: Do you plan to work closely with the Tourism Ministry since wildlife and tourism go hand in hand?

A: There should be some coordinated efforts in certain areas. I will coordinate with them where it is necessary.

Q: When you talk about Sri Lanka as a tourism destination, the sustainability of our wildlife attractions is a crucial factor. There is this allegation that over exploitation of our wildlife hotspots is a threat to their sustainability.

A: Yes. Sustainability development is also under my purview. So it will be easy for us to look into this area and discuss a way forward.

Q: Do you think the subjects that have been consigned to your Ministry is sufficient for you to perform well, and be effective to a point to serve people and animals?

A: There are enough responsibilities, the subject of regional development is still with me. I have been given important responsibilities and I hope to live up to people’s expectations.

Q: Will we see you often joining the Wildlife officials and making field visits?

A: I will be starting my field visits from this weekend. I hope to see the places where the human elephant conflict is intense. I might not be able to visit all of the places but I must assure the people that I will not be operating from Colombo. The Deputy Minister and I will be travelling all the time. But I heard that the former DG Wildlife had not visited even the places where tragic deaths have occurred due to human elephant conflicts.

Q: In the same way that you helped eradicate terrorism from the country, will you ensure poaching is a thing of the past or at least that it will not receive state patronage even undercover.

A: It is not easy and it has to be a coordinated effort, we need the help of the police and various other state agencies. All the linked departments need to be coordinated. That is not an easy task but we will strive to do a satisfying job.

Q: At the outset you said you consider this Ministry a challenge. Can you elaborate on that?

A: The issues involving wildlife, elephants, etc. have been there for decades. I don’t think any fruitful solutions have been brought in to settle them. These issues were neglected and allowed to drag on without commitment from any side to resolve them and stop the suffering of the people or animals.

Now a lot of people are interested in this subject, waiting to see what we will do. People are hopeful. And we will have to live up to their expectations.

Q: There seem to be so many things happening within the government. Last week we saw 16 former SLFP Ministers walking to the Opposition side in Parliament. Some of the UNP Ministers seem to have boycotted the UNP May day event. It has given the impression that the government is growing unstable?

A: The 16 former Ministers who walked out last week were anyway trouble creators, the government will be better off without them. As for the UNP Ministers, they did not take part in the May Day rally because they had other commitments.

Although the numbers on the opposition have now increased, we too have sufficient numbers. Their departure from the government has created a space for us to work collectively as a team without anyone pulling in different directions and creating a stalemate.