Time for a political ‘outsider’ says Rathana Thera | Sunday Observer

Time for a political ‘outsider’ says Rathana Thera

Parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera, a militant campaigner who was in the forefront to oust the Rajapaksa regime said that it is totally out of the question for him to promote the incumbent President or to bring Rajapaksa back to power. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Ven. Rathana Thera said if it is the same old Mahinda Rajapaksa or Gotabaya Rajapaksa to be voted to power, it has no political significance at all as far as the country is concerned. He said, today former President Mahinda Rajapaksa with his anti-government stand has failed so far to present an alternative policy to the country.

Q. Why did you leave the Senior Presidential Advisor post?

A. If I hold a Presidential Advisor post, I should bear the responsibility for what the Government is doing. According to the way the Government acts, I can’t take any such responsibility. Therefore, I decided to resign from the post of Senior Presidential Advisor.

Q. You have already said that you will support a new candidate at the 2020 Presidential Election. Do you have any person in mind including former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and Minister Basil Rajapaksa?

A. I would like to bring in a complete outsider. Awareness has been raised that the country needs a new person. But I am doubtful about the success of such a candidate at the election. We introduced certain structural changes into the former Government which resulted in massive changes.Some of the dictatorial powers of the Executive Presidency were reduced and independent Commissions were established. However, our experience is such good governance cannot be installed only through constitutional changes.

This Government lacks transparency. When we elect a future President, above all, the people should know their responsibility of selecting the ideal leader for good governance. More than the personality of the candidate what matters is his policy to rebuild the country. Then we should get the majority of people to rally round him. I think this is the task before us. I don’t subscribe to the view that all Parliamentarians are crooks. I think there are at least 500000 people who can contribute to decision making processes of the country and thereby help elect the next President.Our policies are quite open for any candidate, whether Maithripala Sirisena, Gotabaya Rajapaksa or anybody else but we can’t act only on confidence reposed in individuals.

Q. You were one of the pioneers of the movement that sent former President Mahinda Rajapaksa home. Suppose they invite you to join their reelection campaign, will you join?

A. I have no particular individual in my mind as such. Even those days, I didn’t have my own programme to bring Maithripala Sirisena to power. Neither do I have it today. It is totally irrelevant for us to promote the present incumbent or to bring back the former. If it is the same old Mahinda Rajapaksa or Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is to come to power, it is of no use at all. Today, Mahinda Rajapaksa holds only an anti-government stand but he has failed so far to present an alternative policy to the country. What is former President Rajapaksa’s stance on the Sri Lanka-Singapore FTA? Do they have an alternative to expressways? When we plan development strategies, first of all, we should have a National Policy and a priority list.

Q. You have recently said it is time that the Government should go home and a new Government should come to power. What is your reason for saying so?

A. When we formed this Government, we talked about many key issues such as good governance and transparency. But the Government is doing the completely opposite of what they pledged to the people. This is a very serious situation. They claim that it is a National Government. If this is a National Government, both parties should be equally represented but in fact it is disproportionate. Then this cannot be called a National Government. Otherwise, the number of the Cabinet should be reduced to 30. What is important is that both the President and the Prime Minister should discuss and appoint a Caretaker Body representative of the entire Parliament. This is the ideal way for the President to correct himself. The present Cabinet should be dissolved and a National Body comprising the intellectuals should be appointed to govern the country. It is not difficult to prepare a legal framework for this purpose. Then, the only responsibility vested with the President is to form a National Body to govern the country.

Q. You have also said at a recent meeting that the National Government is a failure and both main parties are in it for corruption. Can you comment on this stance?

A. Our per capita income has come down. The country has faced a severe crisis situation. Our debt burden has increased by 18.5 % or Rs.250 billion in 2017 compared to 2016. The repayment of loans due to the Treasury Bond scam alone has increased by Rs.359 million while the repayment of foreign debt has increased by Rs.224 billion. The payment of interest for loans for 2017 has gone up by Rs.735 billion compared to the previous year. This is a very serious situation for the country. Since the introduction of the Open Economy in 1977, the lowest ever economic growth of 3.1% had been recorded in 2017. If we have any other alternative, we should not seriously consider these statistics. According to economists, the country is facing a serious financial crisis. At present the Treasury Bond scam has seriously affected our economy. We should respect the President for his decision to expose the Treasury Bond scam, but that is not enough as this crisis has not yet been sorted out. As I think, half of the SLFP Ministers in the Government have decided to go with the UNP.

Q. What is your stance on the Executive Presidency? Are you for or against it. Please explain your reasons either way?

A. There is no question of abolishing the Executive Presidency. If the Executive Presidency is abolished, an unstable situation will be created in Parliament leading to extremism and separatism. Before the abolition of the Executive Presidency, a new electoral system should be introduced. Just because an ambitious person cannot aspire to be the President, the Executive Presidency need not be abolished. We can understand this sort of politics which is not democratic but an attempt at achieving opportunistic personal gains. The UNP has not received a mandate for constitutional amendment which will inevitably lead to a referendum. The JVP is helpless and I cannot understand its role in this task. At this juncture, there is no need for constitutional amendments.

Q. You had recently criticised former Presidential Secretary Austin Fernando. What was the basis for your criticism?

A. The Plantation Minister had submitted a Cabinet paper to lift the ban on glyphosate. There are two camps for and against glyphosate. Later, a Cabinet paper in the form of a research paper was presented by the President himself. In the Cabinet, the Prime Minister had also proposed my name to the Committee appointed to look into this matter, but I was not summoned for any Committee meetings. I organised a forum of intellectuals at the BMICH with the participation of scientists in both camps. When the Cabinet paper on glyphosate was resubmitted to the Cabinet, I requested a one day discussion with the participation of scientists to take a decision.

However, an observation paper had already been submitted without informing any of us. This is similar to a Cabinet paper. However, the former Presidential Secretary denied this. During the tenure of the former Presidential Secretary, it was difficult to implement any of those planned projects. Then, I openly expressed my displeasure over it.

Q. You were a vociferous campaigner against glyphosate and asbestos, but now the Government has overturned both bans. How do you feel about this?

A. This shows the defeatist mentality of the country. I didn’t talk much about the ban on asbestos. However, similar to glyphosate, a public perception was systematically built up in the country to lift the ban on asbestos as well. All these are done by multinational companies in an organised manner. The situation on glyphosate is different as the European Union and some countries such as India have already taken a series of measures regarding it. But after a lapse of three years following the glyphosate ban in Sri Lanka, we did nothing. This is the biggest mistake on our part.

With the blessings of the President, we launched a form of agriculture without application of chemical fertiliser. But the Minister in charge failed to give us the necessary backing. However, we have fulfilled a very difficult task. Annually, US$ two billion is spent to import food items and US$ 3 billion on oil and coal. We have to formulate a strategy to retain this US$ 5 billion within the country so that we need not secure loans.