Keheliya justifies Ranil’s removal | Sunday Observer

Keheliya justifies Ranil’s removal

Keheliya Rambukwella     Pic by Shan Rambukwella
Keheliya Rambukwella Pic by Shan Rambukwella

Former Media State Minister and Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who was at one time a frontline speaker for the Joint Opposition, in this interview with the Sunday Observer, responds to allegations against the take over of government, cross overs, and prorogation of Parliament, while also outlining the SLPP’s stance in a future election.

“The government of Ranil Wickremesinghe justified the sale of the assets to repay debts, but when the Hambantota Port was leased out, those funds were never used to settle the loans, the funds are retained in an account, and that money will quietly disappear. The public was taken for a ride. If they were allowed to continue, perhaps all the important strategic State assets would have been privatised at the end of their term,” the Cabinet Spokesman said.

Q: What was the necessity to resort to this sudden decision to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the PM, when there was a clear path for him to be elected at a General election ?

A : Yes is the answer to the last part of your question. At the April 10 election we proved exactly that by sweeping the board. The entire country, except for few places, voted for the SLPP in great numbers.

The first part of your question has to be asked from the President, but according to my knowledge, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government was moving in a direction that did not have the president’s blessings. The President was trying to give them the opportunity to correct themselves, so he invited Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and later UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa to assume the PM’s seat.

At the last election the UNP was brought down to 31%. Elections are the measuring stick of the people’s minds.If under those circumstances they were allowed to continue, perhaps all the important strategic State assets would have been privatised at the end of their term. (General elections are due in August 2020).

I don’t blame Ranil Wickremesinghe for his actions or policies because he truly believes in them. For him, selling public assets to foreigners and running the country with taxes is the right thing to do. Only, it is very detrimental to the country and its people.

You can enter into public private partnerships, holding the controls. The deal should be a win- win situation, meaning that it has to be beneficial to the public as well. We are looking at a country with immense assets. Mr.Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ideology is to part with the assets and let others run them.

The President was alarmed by what was going on and he wanted to put a cork on this state of affairs.

Q: Why have we not seen parties on both sides, in this case the Government and the UNP, moving the Supreme Court to get a clear interpretation of the constitution for the removal or the appointment of the Prime Minister, so as to settle this impasse?

A: You are not the only person who is asking this question. In fact the the Maha Nayaka of Asgiriya and the Archbishop of Colombo have made the same inquiry.

But there is a problem, it was confirmed when the court case (Fundamental rights petition) filed by Mr.Nagahakanda was taken up. A decision was given by the Supreme Court, saying that the actions of the President were completely legal and constitutional. While professing to be champions of democracy, it is them (UNP) who are being unconstitutional and illegal.

Recently British MP Hugo Swire made a statement in Parliament that what is unfolding in Sri Lanka is unconstitutional. Lord Baron Naseby responded to this statement aptly.

MP Swire once told me at one of the London dinner parties, that he and the Diaspora had helped Ranil Wickremesinghe from the beginning (after he became PM), (mistakenly) thinking that I was a member of the UNP. These are the international figures who are speaking on behalf of the UNP.

If there is a conscience vote a good 50% of the UNP will say this is not the way forward.

The government of Ranil Wickremesinghe justified the sale of the country’s assets to repay debts, but when the Hambantota Port was leased out, those funds were never used to settle the loans, the funds are retained in an account, and that money will quietly disappear. The public was taken for a ride.

Q: There are a lot of allegations regarding the numbers game - that MPs are going to the highest bidder. How does this reflect on our democratic traditions?

A : If the accusations are true it is deplorable and horrendous but having said that, such allegations must be proven. The kind of money thrown around- claimed to be Rs.300 – Rs.400 million - such amounts of money can’t be hidden easily.

There is an ICC investigation here to tally the income with the assets of certain cricketers, a similar investigation can be initiated to verify these accusations on the MPs as well. It is not fair by the MPs to make wild accusations. The reputation of their families and their children are at stake. You must make the allegations with proof, so that action under anti money laundering laws can be initiated .

Q: Why did Manusha Nanayakkara decide to go back to the UNP fold ? He said he respects the Speaker’s statement, do you accept his excuse ?

A : Knowing Manusha I reserve my comments. I am not surprised. I don’t accept the excuse he has offered. It took him four days after swearing in to realise that democracy is at stake in the country. There is something seriously wrong with his intellect. Independent legal experts and the Supreme Court have upheld the President’s actions and said the Speaker’s version of the past developments were in fact wrong.

Q: Is there an uncertainty for the continued existence of the SLPP now that both sides are more or less together ? What would be the future course for the SLPP ?

A : I must be clear that the SLPP will remain as it is. Many parties can come together to form a government.

Q: So SLPP will be another feather in the cap of UPFA?

A : I would not say that …it is good to have your own political party… which will be a feather on whose cap, will be known in the future. It is still premature to comment on that.

Q: Will the two parties, UPFA and SLPP will contest future elections together?

A : Those political decisions will be taken after looking at people’s wishes and the immense sacrifices the people have made during the past four years. We cannot forget all that and take decisions to satisfy some sudden development that had taken place, it has to be done with broad consultation.

And also as to whether we contest together or separately or join hands after the election will finally be centred on how best we could win. We are in politics, the bottom line of politics is gaining power.

Q: One of the main allegations against Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government was the indefinite postponement of elections. Have you decided to hold elections and do you think Presidential elections, precede Provincial Council elections?

A : The UNP is talking of democracy, the cornerstone of democracy is elections. Can a government which kept on postponing elections talk of democracy?

The Provincial Council elections have been postponed for over a year for three Councils, and three more fell vacant last month. The management of those provinces has reverted to the centre. Thus, the whole purpose of the 13th Amendment which devolved power to the peripheries, is lost. It is shameful for the TNA to tow the UNP line, which deprived them the right to exercise the will of the people and appoint their own representatives to the Council. I think the TNA has taken the entire Tamil community for a ride.

Q: The political uncertainty will definitely reflect badly on the country’s overall economic situation. Are the President and the government aware of this, has this been discussed and actions proposed to cushion the impact?

A : I am personally aware of it. But I am also aware that there cannot be a bigger destruction to the economy within these few days than what has already happened in the past three or so years. Already the damage is done, no investors are coming in, the Lankan rupee is dropping uncontrollably, the stock market is not doing well, all economic indicators are totally negative. This was the position as at October 26. Even if you had a super economy, we could have damaged it by this current set up.

But of course we are mindful of the situation and the President has recognised the importance of putting the economy back on track. Inviting Prime Minsiter Mahinda Rajapaksa to look after the finance portfolio was a step in this direction, the new PM may not be an economic wizard but he has shown results in the past.

Even during the war against terrorism that cost us hundreds of billions a year the growth rate was maintained at 7%. We never let economic development suffer. Soon after the war against terrorism a development drive targeting the North was initiated.

There is an accusation that the hearts and minds of the Tamil people were not won by our government. In my view, that will naturally take at least ten to fifteen years. After such a bloody war with brutal terrorism, winning the hearts and minds of the people will not be easy.

This interview was done before Parliament was dissolved on November 9.