UNP heading towards severe crisis - State Minister Lakshman Yapa | Sunday Observer

UNP heading towards severe crisis - State Minister Lakshman Yapa

Information and Communication Technology State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said the UNP will be further split and no solution could be found for their crisis, despite whatever alliance is formed. The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that the UNP has realized that they are not in a position to form a Government in view of the internal tug-of-war between its different ranks. State Minister Abeywardena said according to the prevailing situation, the UNP would be heading towards a severe crisis. It would not revert to normalcy. It is difficult to take forward a party when there are leaders who are not willing to devolve power within their party.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Will the UNP dissidents’ move to contest the forthcoming General Election under a new alliance be a success as there is a possibility of a split of votes between veterans and dissidents?

A. UNPers have been divided at village level throughout the country. When they are in a hopeless situation, if another group of alliance is formed, the people will not vote for them. This time, a large number of UNP votes will be given to the SLPP due to two reasons. One is that a new President has been elected for five years. The other is that the UNP has realized that they are not in a position to form a Government. Therefore, lots of people have decided to make a political decision. It is evident that whatever alliances are formed, the UNP would be further split and no solution could be found for their crisis in the near future. A new alliance will not be able to attract votes of the masses.

Q. Some top public servants and senior officers in the three Armed Forces are alleged to have been politically victimised by the bigwigs of the former Yahapalana Government. Could you enlighten us on this?

A. This is the very reason that we are going to introduce a new bill. The President’s election manifesto has outlined the need to introduce a new Bill to safeguard Government officials. The intention of this move is to enforce the law to the letter and put an end to the system of questioning Government officials for issues which they are not held accountable. If a Government official has committed any financial fraud, there is a method of taking action against him in keeping with the rules and regulations in the public administration sector. This means that they have to act according to the Government Financial Regulations.

The Government officials were frightened during the Yahapalana Government. From President’s Secretary down to other senior Government officials were summoned to the FCID and various other institutions for questioning. Government officials at the lower strata were demoralized. If any Government official has made a mistake, there is a standard procedure to initiate action against him. If they have acted according to the law, there is no issue. According to the Government’s Establishment Code, if any Government official has committed any offence, there will be a formal investigation and depending on its outcome, a charge sheet will be served to him. He will be given time to answer the charge sheet, and there will also be a person to plead on his behalf. However, the methods followed by former Government were completely different. The President’s Secretary, Prime Minister’s Secretary and ministry secretaries were simply questioned by Police officers. One Ministry Secretary had been to the FCID on 34 occasions. The same case would be referred to the Bribery Commission as well. However, in the end, the justice was not meted out to them. Considering this situation, the Government has decided to introduce a bill in Parliament to safeguard the interests of the Government officials.

Q. Could you explain President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s poverty alleviation project which envisages 100,000 jobs for youth islandwide?

A. Normally, jobs are provided by the Ministers through their ministries. Else, jobs are gazetted, and later interviews are conducted. The underprivileged groups were not given any opportunity whatsoever. A criterion has been laid for the provision of these 100,000 jobs. The beneficiaries should be either from low income or Samurdhi recipient families. Earlier, there was no opportunity for members of low income families to find employment. This program has been formulated targeting each and every village. This would help relieve a substantial section of the people from poverty. The youth selected for employment will be paid a monthly salary of Rs.22,000 and they will get nearly Rs.30,000, including other allowances. Ten years later, they would become pensionable employees in the state sector, and they will be assigned various services. For example, a Dengue Prevention Task Force will have to be created in the country. Similarly, a permanent team will be required to immediately attend to disaster situations. The 100,000 youth recruited for various fields would be a labour intensive workforce, and it would be streamlined at village level.

Q. There is a controversy over denying nomination to Bhikkhus to contest at the forthcoming General Election. Has the SLPP so decided? What is your view on the issue?

A. I see that it is not appropriate for Bhikkhus to engage in politics. I think all political parties need to take this into account. SLPP Leader, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chairman Prof. G.L.Peiris and National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa will have to take a decision in this regard as well.

Q. The Government has decided to install a Central Data Collection Network to avoid interdepartmental duplication of work and overlapping. Could you explain?

A.There is an institution called ICT which comes under the purview of the President. The President has his concept to centralise the entire data base. For example, we have to fill forms to get the passport, driving licence and the national identity card. However, if there is a central database, once the name of a particular person is entered, all information pertaining to him can be obtained from one source. The President has his concept to create that kind of data collection network.

Q. What is UNP’s unending crisis between the veterans and reformists on the party leadership?

A. It is not only today that the UNP is split. The division created in the UNP during the tenure of Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake was further aggravated under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe. According to the prevailing situation, the UNP would head towards a more crisis situation and it would not revert to normalcy. There were reputed leaders in the UNP and they devolved power within the party. If we take former UNP leaders like J.R. Jayewardane, he devolved power to everybody. It would be difficult to take forward a party when there are leaders who are not willing to devolve power within their party. I don’t think the UNP would be able to resolve their leadership crisis. Ranil Wickremesinghe says he would be the UNP leader until 2023. A few elections will be completed by the end of 2023. Therefore, it would be difficult for the UNP to organize themselves to face the next election.

Q. The UNP blames the Government for its failure to fulfill the election promises. Is there any justification for this behaviour?

A. The people have given a mandate to the President for the next five years. We are functioning like a Caretaker Government. The President has taken several important policy decisions, including maintaining discipline in the country. The President has provided tax concessions to the people.

The taxes on 5,555 food commodities have been reduced, and this has been transmitted to the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA). The CAA should be vigilant whether these tax concessions are passed on to the people.

Otherwise, they should take legal action. The President has taken a series of policy decisions. It will take sometime to systematically implement these policy decisions. I think when we form a stable Government, most of the problems could be sorted out.

Q. The Opposition dismisses the Government’s need to have two thirds majority to execute its agenda as unacceptable since they are ready to extend their support to all progressive measures. What have you got to say about this?

A. Normally, when there is a crisis in the UNP, there may be a group who is willing to extend its support to the Government. But a Government cannot be conducted in such a manner.

The importance of a two thirds majority Government is that there is a series of rules and regulations to be changed.

That is why we expect a two thirds majority in Parliament. There are some basic rules and regulations to be changed to suit the present-day needs. A question has arisen as to how the Constitution should be amended. In order to fulfill all these, we need two thirds majority in Parliament.

We can’t get atwo thirds by going behind others. We have to bargain with other political parties so that it would be difficult to safeguard our identity. Therefore, it is necessary to get a two thirds majority.

Q. With a new President and his Government, the people are eager to see a change of Government’s stance at the UN human rights session in February, considering the former Yahapalana Government’s commitment. Your comments?

A. We don’t think the UN would embarrass or create unnecessary issues for us. When this Government came to power, they might have formed the impression that we would act unjustifiably and take individual decisions and create issues with other countries. Now they have realised that we are moving towards a clear path. I think the UN will not unnecessarily embarrass us, and they would realise our issues.

The Government would express its stance at the UNHRC. The Foreign Ministry will outline our position as to how we should safeguard our identity.

Q. How is UNP Parliamentarians’ re-embracing Buddhism and Bhikkhus as a prelude to the forthcoming General Election?

A. Politicians should understand that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country, but other nationalities or religions can freely and peacefully live in. Each country has its own identity and nobody can betray that identity. There is a Sinhala Buddhist basis in our country. Even Rev.Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith conceded that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country. A political party like UNP which could not directly say that, attempted to survive with the help of minority votes by ignoring Sinhala Buddhist voters. However, the people effected a change this time. Now the UNP has realised that they have no way forward by giving up Sinhala Buddhist voters. Now they meet Buddhist monks and utter various things. As a party, if they rectify their mistakes, there is no issue. But they have to admit the mistakes they made. Each citizen has been assured his right to live in his country. There is a majority community, and they have their own culture based on Buddhism.

Q.Will the Government probe into the loss of billions of rupees resulted from renting out a private building at Rajagiriya to house the Agriculture Ministry and bring the culprits to book?

A.Not only this particular issue, the Police have been given permission to investigate each and every such fraud and wastage without any political interference. That is being done. Investigations will also be conducted on renting out of that private building at Rajagiriya as well.

Q. The Sri Lanka-China Friendship Society alleges that there is an irresponsible campaign by the western media targeting China on Coronavirus. Your comments?

A. There is dengue in our country. If somebody says there is this number of dengue patients in our country and ask others not to visit our country, what would have been the situation faced by us. Likewise, this kind of infectious diseases may occur in China or any other country. However, such issues should not be used to sideline and weaken the economy of those countries or to take petty advantages. This should be considered as a national issue. Tomorrow, somebody else might face a similar situation. The Coronavirus is a disease discovered in China. However, this kind of issues should not be used to the detriment of those countries. Such practices are regrettable in this developed and modernised world.

Q. What are your plans to ensure media freedom and create a new media culture?

A. We should prepare a system to register social media networks. We should give them a training which would enable them to conduct their monitoring by themselves. We will also set up a National Media Training Centre to train journalists. I have also proposed to give a media package to journalists and think it will be implemented in the near future. All work relating to this has been done, and now we have to get the approval of the TRC. Steps will also be taken to strengthen the Press Clubs at provincial and regional levels to provide facilities to journalists. Our sole intention is to take initiatives to make journalists dignified people.

Allowances and other facilities given to journalists are much less. Therefore, more facilities should be provided to journalists to perform their duties well. We would also focus on how journalism with some quality could be restored in the country.

Q. What is the progress of the talks between the SLPP and SLFP on contesting the upcoming General Election under a common alliance? Have both parties reached a final consensus on the issue?

A. We think most probably the SLFP would agree to contest under the “pohottuwa” symbol. Actually, these issues could be sorted out when an election is declared. Last time also, some people said that the SLFP would contest separately, but that didn’t happen. I think finally, both parties would be able to reach a consensus to contest the election as a common alliance.