SLFP should be more practical - State Minister Dissanayake | Sunday Observer

SLFP should be more practical - State Minister Dissanayake

State Minister of Lands and Land Development S.B. Dissanayake said former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP should be responsible for the economic crisis created during their tenure in office. He said the Easter Sunday terrorist attack and the Coronavirus have also made some impact on the economy. The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said there are some issues to be sorted out. However, Countries such as India, China and Russia have a firm confidence in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. It won’t be difficult for us to get over the economic crisis as these countries will support us.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Will Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recent visit to India bring any socio-economic benefits to the country?

A. We should maintain our brotherhood, friendship and confidence with India. India has also faced some issues. They see China’s emergence in Asia as a threat to them. America is attempting to get closer to India by making use of this opportunity. Countries, such as China and Russia are joining hands. India should stand in the China-Russia camp, but that is not so. India thinks differently on the shifting of power in Asia. We should not get involved in this power struggle. Similarly, we should maintain our friendship and goodwill with China, India and America. We should follow a non-aligned policy with these countries. China’s contribution is essential for our development. Under the China’s “One Belt One Road (OBOR)” initiative, Sri Lanka has become a strategic location in Asia. China will invest more in our country and that is good. But we have to be careful that it should not be a threat to India and we should implement that program with the consent of India.

We should give an assurance to India that we would not allow anybody to make use of our territory in a manner that can pose a threat to India. This can be done through our non-aligned policy by building mutual understanding between the two countries. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on his recent state visit to India fulfilled this task. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first state visit to India also strengthened bilateral ties and confidence between the two countries. As long as we give assurance to India that we would not allow any country to use our territory as a threat to them, they will help us. They are our close neighbor. Under the OBOR initiative, China will help us.

Q. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa says that the country is in a an economic mess and casts doubt whether the people could celebrate Sinhala and Tamil New Year happily due to high cost of commodity prices. What have you got to say about this?

A. The economy which grew rapidly collapsed during 2015 - 2019 when development was at a standstill. Sri Lanka’s economic growth which had recorded a highest rate in South Asia in 2015 had come down to mere 1.4 percent which is far below even Afghanistan’s when President Rajapaksa assumed office in November.

Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Government is responsible for the poor economic performance. The SLFP has also some sort of responsibility in this regard as there was an SLFP President. However, the then President became helpless and got stranded due to 19th Amendment. That is why the President removed the then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Minister to form a new Government, but he couldn’t fulfill that task. Wickremesinghe and the UNP should be responsible for the economic crisis. The Easter Sunday terrorist attack and the Coronavirus have also made some impact on our economy. There are some issues to be sorted out. However, countries, such as India, China and Russia have a firm confidence in the President and the Prime Minister. It won’t be difficult for us to get over the economic crisis as these countries will support us. During the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, we could even win the war against terrorism and developed the economy from Rs.17 billion up to Rs.80 billion. The same set of economists and experts, such as Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Lalith Weeratunga and Gamini Senarath are working with the incumbent President and the Prime Minister.

Q. Have the relations between the SLPP and the SLFP been strained by the demands of the latter? SLFP Media Spokesman Weerakumara Dissanayaka has said that if the SLFP contests separately at the upcoming General Election, they are in a position to secure at least 20 seats. Could you explain?

A. The SLFP should be more practical than this. They should analyse the situation at the grassroots level. Among the total number of votes received by the SLFP at the last Local Government election, there were lots of UNP and minority votes as well. This time, the SLFP will lose both of these votes. Some 1.4 million votes secured by the SLFP at the last Local Government election will come down to nearly 500,000 votes, but a large number of them have unconditionally supported the SLPP. It would be advisable for the SLFP to come to a good assessment. We need the SLFP. However, if there is a big issue on an alliance, there is nothing wrong in contesting separately. If the SLFP thinks that they can contest separately and get 20 seats, it is good for them to go with that decision. As two friendly political parties, we can contest from two different symbols and join hands later. It won’t be a problem for the SLFP to reach a consensus with SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa in this regard.

Q. What is the Government’s stand on the Airbus scandal? Will the Government take a stern action against the culprits to prevent such malpractices in the future?

A. It is obvious that the President, the Prime Minister and the Government are not in a position to interfere with the judicial activities and the investigations conducted by the Police. The law enforcement authorities would take action to bring the culprits to book.

Q.The UNP crisis is going from bad to worse. Do you expect the two factions to contest the forthcoming General Election under one banner and form a solid government?

A. Sajith Premadasa and his group should come to a proper assessment on their faction. Sajith Premadasa who contested the Presidential Election faced a humiliating defeat in his own electorate, Hambantota. Ranil Wickremesinghe has a good minority vote base. This is the truth. Similarly, the capitalist world has trust on him. When taking the UNP as a party, Ranil is stronger than Sajith. Ranil may not be popular among the common masses, but at this juncture, the Ranil factor is more essential for the UNP than the Sajith factor. If the UNP splits and decides to contest under two different banners, that advantage would directly come to the broad political alliance led by the SLPP.

Q. President Rajapaksa is concentrating on improving the lot of the average man who is at the receiving end during successive regimes. Could you elaborate on this?

A.The President has looked into this matter in an intelligent manner. He is of the view that low scale jobs in the state sector should be given to less educated youth in low income families. This would be a good economic strategy. It will also give great relief to low income families. We should provide jobs to all graduates. There are lots of vacancies in the state sector. There is a requirement of 50,000 graduates only for the education sector. There is a shortage of 3,000 teachers in the Central Province. Graduate Bhikkhus should also be appointed to schools and Pirivenas as teachers.

The President has laid emphasis to create an opportunity for all those who pass the G.C.E. Advanced Level examination to obtain a degree. The Government has taken steps to convert the Institute of Surveying and Mapping at Diyatalawa into a university and the Forest College at Sandatenna to preserve the forest cover and crop cultivation in the area. Measures will be taken to make use of the SLBC premises at Ambewela to produce graduates relating to media and technical sectors.

Q. On what grounds does the SLFP high command take disciplinary action against you and other MPs Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Dilan Perera and Vijith Wijayamuni Zoysa?

A. For the second time, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Dilan Perera and I appeared before the disciplinary committee on February 8. We will face the inquiry. I as the Treasurer and Dilan Perera and Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena as Vice Presidents of the SLFP told the party hierarchy that we should join hands with the leftist, progressive front. Since 1952, the SLFP was the main force when we joined hands with such progressive fronts. Now, the SLFP is not the main force and first, we should understand this reality. When the SLFP joined hands with the UNP, a large number of SLFPers at village level quit the party and joined the SLPP. This is the ground reality. Now, the SLFP has become a second force. However, we should commit ourselves to the unity of the leftist progressive forces. In the history, it was the SLFP which played the pioneering role to unite leftist and progressive forces.

When SLPP Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa announced Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the SLPP Presidential candidate, we went to wish him. I think that is our political responsibility. We did that as that was the correct place where we should stand. When the Presidential Election was at hand, some of those who held responsible positions in the SLFP were attempting to get President Maithripala Sirisena to Sajith Premadasa’s camp. When that situation was turning from bad to worse, I, Dilan and over 40 Pradeshiya Sabha members met SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa and joined President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election campaign. According to the party high command, that was the mistake by us. However, a few days later, others also followed our path and stood with us. We are happy about it. However, we would face the disciplinary inquiry.

Q. The problem with most of the political parties is that unsuitable candidates have been nominated to contest elections. As far as the SLPP is concerned, have you devised ways and means to avoid this problem?

A. I think SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa is having a plan to give nominations. He has a good understanding of the SLPP’s strength and organisational structure at the village level. He will educate the President, Prime Minister and other Party Leaders regarding this and fulfill this task in a more practical and accurate manner.

Q. Minister Johnston Fernando gave a list of luxury vehicles worth over Rs. 2.8 billion imported by the Yahapalana Government for its Ministers, State Ministers and Deputy Ministers. But some Ministers denied that they ever got such vehicles. Why doesn’t the Government get the CID or the police to investigate what happened to these vehicles and present a report to Parliament?

A. I don’t think these vehicles have been stolen or disappeared. These vehicles may be at ministries. During the latter part of the Yahapalana Government, Ranil Wickremesinghe attempted to win over the MPs who were protesting against him by giving them luxury vehicles, money and other perks. That is why he gave an additional Rs.200,000 allowance to the MPs. He also increased all other allowances given to them.

Ranil Wickremesinghe launched a program to distribute money and other perks among MPs to win them over. The distribution of these vehicles among Ministers is also a part of that program.