Socialism is about giving power to the working class - Dr Ajantha Perera | Sunday Observer

Socialism is about giving power to the working class - Dr Ajantha Perera

Dr Ajantha Perera is a well recognized environmental scientist not only in Sri Lanka but in most parts of the world. She introduced many environmental policies in the country along with the word ‘prathichakreekaranaya’ (recycling). During her voluntary service, she once stormed into an LTTE base in Vavuniya to advocate the importance of environmental protection to militants. Dr Perera who is also called the ‘Garbage Queen’ is the 2019 Presidential hopeful of the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, she spoke about her achievements in work, and her plans for the country she is willing to take control of.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q. Why did you decide to run for Presidency? What motivated you to become a Presidential candidate?

A. One of the key reasons is the disappointment about the behaviour of our parliamentarians. They cannot handle a situation through dialogue. It shows they do not have the intellectual capacity for decision making. Also, I was disappointed that nobody was taking responsibility for the Easter Sunday attack. That was an extremely bad situation. The next incident that inspired me to come into politics was when they brought garbage from England. By doing that, we broke the Basel Convention we signed in 1992.

Almost everyone in society say they no longer want any of the 225 Members of Parliament. But nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Hence, I decided to come forward because I believe we need a complete change.

Q. You are a well-recognized environmentalist. But do you think your sound knowledge of the environment or your eagerness to protect the environment is adequate to become the first citizen of the country?

A. No. I do not think that knowledge of the environment alone is sufficient. We need development; no country can run without development. But how do we develop a country is the question? We have to make sure the country is corruption-free and fair. Also, we have to ensure that we reach the masses and that the poor are better off with the economy of the country. So as President, I would ensure that my priority would be development.

Q. Many Sri Lankans believe only a candidate from one of the main parties could gain power at a Presidential election. In that reality, you have a big challenge. How do you see this?

A. It is a bit of a challenge because that is the mindset of majority Sri Lankans. They always believe that people who run around in their huge pajeros with army guard are the most powerful. But I do not see them as powerful; they are trying to cling to power because they want to stay in Parliament. I have never considered myself anything less than them.

Q. What is your strategy to reach the public?

A. At the moment, we simply go out and meet the people. That seems to be the best strategy for us. But media interviews like this are also a big help for us. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Election Commission is extremely transparent which should be appreciated.

Q. You are contesting under the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka. Are you a socialist? If you become the President, will your policies be based on socialism?

I have always been a socialist. My work in the environment starts with visiting dump sites and engaging with the poorest of the poor people who collect garbage for recycling. Socialism is about giving power to the working class. I am a strong believer in that. I do not say that I am against private industries. But we need to build more government-led industries.

Q. Sri Lanka produced the world’s first female Prime Minister as well as the first female Executive President. Do you think politics is an easy ground for a Sri Lankan woman?

A. Well, it should be. I myself being a mother of two children, I had to ensure the integrity of the family and always hold the family high.

That is the same strategy that works for a country. I consider all citizens of the country as my children. Therefore this is not a new thing for a woman. I admire the fact that Sri Lanka has had the first female Prime Minister and the first female Executive President. However we should not forget that many women still go abroad every year as housemaids leaving their families behind.

Q. There are Green Political parties in many parts of the world. But Sri Lanka has no such party in its political system. Does it imply that Sri Lankans are less sensitive to the environment?

A. When I came back Sri Lanka in 1993 after my studies, the country was not much aware of environmental protection. But we could build knowledge on the environment over the years. By the time I left for the Fiji islands Sri Lanka had about 35,000 grassroots level organizations. What has happened is that the environment has been disregarded from the political will.

Q. You worked closely with several government agencies in the recent past. One time you were the advisor to the Cabinet Minister of Environment. Have you achieved any success in such work?

A. The number one achievement is the national policy on solid waste management. I made it with Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka. It contained everything on how we should manage solid waste. Unfortunately however, the Minister did not follow the policy.

Then I was part of the Food Advisory Committee. We made sure people were aware of what they consumed. For instance, there are many advertisements on television which do not speak the truth. We worked as a team to make sure what the companies should and should not publish on their products.

Also, I could educate Agriculture Officers to prevent farmers from using excess pesticides in their cultivations. I am proud to say that we did not allow milk powder companies to increase their prices unnecessarily when I was a member of the pricing committee of the Consumer Affairs Authority.

Q. Once you had entered an LTTE camp and advocated the leader of that camp on environmental protection. Can you brief that incident?

A. That was a great experience. It was the peak of war and I used to go to Vavuniya often as we had started a compost plant there.

One day I noticed a vast amount of red and yellow polythene flags in the area. So I went into an LTTE base in the area with a Methodist priest and demanded to meet the leader of the base. After several requests, the leader met with me.

“You are fighting for a piece of soil. If you want to prove that you love your territory, why do you ruin the area using polythene? I want you to guarantee me that you do not use polythene decorations furthermore” I told him. After two hours of listening to me carefully, he agreed. And he immediately issued a notice stating that they should no longer use polythene decorations in camps. They went one step further and promised to plant more trees in the area.