SL successful in controlling Covid- 19 - Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana | Sunday Observer

SL successful in controlling Covid- 19 - Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana

Co-Cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Plantation Industries and Export Agriculture Dr. Ramesh Pathirana said it is evident that the Opposition doesn’t want to go ahead with the election due to the fact that the party is divided into two factions. They also know that their popularity is at a very low ebb and the Government’s popularity is relatively at a much higher level due to initiatives taken by the President to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said during the past couple of months, the Government has also provided the much needed relief to the people. Under these circumstances, any Opposition will not want to face an election as they are well aware that they would have to face a humiliating defeat.

Dr.Pathirana said that at present Sri Lanka has successfully controlled the Covid-19 outbreak. Apart from the Navy outbreak, the situation is under control. However, we see some occasional patients among the people as well as the passengers coming from abroad. We can’t control the disease one hundred percent at present but we have been very successful in our counter measures. Thus, it is a collectively safe environment when considering the world scenario.

Q: When do you think the polls can be held?

A: The date has to be decided by the Election Commission and the Government will not interfere. We think the situation in the country is very much better. The country should have a formal Budget presented to Parliament. Considering the present scenario, we can’t think of the day when the number of Covid-19 cases will become zero in the country. Somehow, we have to start with the disease and the health authorities have ensured that it is very much under control. Thus, we are of the view that it is time that the Election Commission should decide on a possible date for the election and go ahead with it.

Q: Do you think there is a safe environment for polls to be held?

A: Naturally, the lives of the country’s people are returning to normalcy. That is one hundred per cent normal as we all know. The treatment and prevention methods adopted to combat Covid-19 are also very effective. This is why we also mentioned earlier that Sri Lanka has become very successful in controlling the Covid-19 outbreak. All of us know that apart from the Navy outbreak, the situation is under control.

However, we see some occasional patients among the people as well as the passengers coming from abroad.

Thus, we can’t control the disease one hundred percent at this particular moment but we have been very successful in our countermeasures. Thus, it is a collectively safe environment when considering the world scenario.

Q: Do you think the Opposition is keen to delay the election? If so, why?

A: It is evident that the Opposition doesn’t want to go ahead with the election due to the fact that the party is divided into two factions. Secondly, they know that their popularity is at a low ebb and the Government’s popularity is relatively at a much higher level due to initiatives taken by the President to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Government has also provided the much needed relief to the people during the past couple of months. So, I think under these circumstances, any Opposition would not want to face an election as they are well aware that they will have to face a humiliating defeat.

Q: Can any purpose be served by reconvening the old Parliament as requested by the Opposition?

A: I don’t think there is any purpose because after the dissolution of Parliament, monetary powers are vested with the President. The President can utilise money from the Consolidated Fund as has been happening during the past few months since the dissolution of Parliament. Therefore, there is no specific reason to reconvene the old Parliament at this juncture. Primarily, it is mandatory to hold the elections and form a new Government. The Executive, Legislature and Judiciary are the three main pillars of a democratic society.

Thus, we will have to hold parliamentary elections sooner than later and we have to elect people’s representatives democratically. For that, the election is very important but there is no use reconvening the old Parliament.

We remember when we tried to approve some funds before the dissolution of Parliament to pay the bills of the previous Government for their expenditures on fertiliser, and the construction work that they had carried out, they didn’t even approve those funds. Therefore, there is no use in reconvening the previous Parliament.

Q: The Opposition says that the President has no monetary powers and Parliament has to meet. What is your comment?

A: It is very clearly set out several times that as per section 153 of the Constitution, after the dissolution of Parliament all monetary powers are vested with the President.

Q: If an election is held will the Government get a two-thirds majority?

A: We are hopeful we would be able to secure a two-thirds majority under these circumstances. It is very much better to think of forming a stable Government and we are confident about realising that goal. Therefore, it is a very good time to have a two-thirds majority. That is why the Opposition is not keen to go ahead with the election.

Q: The Government promised a relief package to the people but now all prices of food are going up. What is your comment?

A: The prices of certain food items have gone up. There are two sides to the story. One, we have to provide a decent price for the farmers. That is not provided if their products are sold at cheaper prices. Then, they would come and protest that they are not getting a fair price. On the other hand, when the prices of goods are going up, then the consumers would say that they can’t afford them. There are two sides of the coin. I think the prices of most of the consumer goods are at a very reasonable level. Anyway, some of the commodity prices will go up a little due to the import ban. Therefore, the prices of some of the items are a little higher and we also face certain logistical issues in relation to importation. Certain shipments have not arrived in Sri Lanka and there is a delay. There is a little price hike but it is not unbearable at this particular time.

Q: The Opposition is charging that the Government is getting militarised with so many serving and retired military personnel in top positions. What is your view on this?

A: If those people have served in the military service or otherwise is a different matter when it comes to the ability. If they can deliver and the people want to have an efficient system with capable people and even though some of these people have served in the military, they are all Sri Lankans. On the other hand, we must make note of the fact that those who shout against the appointment of the people from the military or ex-Army people are the very same people who make a big hue and cry to go for elections. If they want to reduce the so called militarisation as they claim, they should go for election soon. That is the way to restore democracy. On one side, they say that the country is going to get militarised and on the other hand, they deliberately attempt to postpone the elections. This clearly shows the double standard they have adopted.

Q: The Government has taken steps to restrict repatriation of Sri Lankans in foreign countries due to the risk of spreading the Covid-19 pandemic. Would you like to comment on this?

A: We have seen that a significant number of passengers who arrived in Sri Lanka are infected with Covid-19. So, there is a risk of spreading the disease. Therefore, we are a little worried whether that can hamper the controlling mechanism already put in place by the Government. We also need to provide safe passage for the people who come back to Sri Lanka.

At the same time, it is more important to protect the lives of the 20 million people in this country. The Government is very mindful about the returnees and we have to not only provide adequate facilities for quarantine but ensure that we detect each and every affected person returning from foreign countries. Considering all those facts, we are experiencing some difficulties in expediting the process when they return to their motherland. That doesn’t mean they have to stay there forever. Once we get the proper process workedout, they can return to their motherland.

Q:The media has reported that 12 former UNP MPs who have given nominations from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) have held discussions with the Ranil Wickremesinghe faction to rejoin the UNP. How do you look at this infighting between the two UNP camps?

A: I have no knowledge of what is happening in that particular party. All Sri Lankans know very well that there is a very bad situation and they are fighting a losing battle. Whoever the leader is, be it Ranil Wickremesinghe or Sajith Premadasa, the people have lost their faith in both of them. So, it is high time for them to have a new leadership in that party.

Q: Has the Government looked into the issue of private bus operators? They have said that it would not be practical to run bus services without permission to enter Colombo city.

A: There are concerns. We have raised a number of issues pertaining to healthcare, social security and also transportation. There are certain issues to be sorted out. I hope these issues will be sorted out soon.

Q: The Opposition has raised concern about bringing 35 Seychelles nationals to Sri Lanka for medical treatment when nearly 350 Sri Lankans are stranded in Seychelles. Could you explain?

A: That was conducted purely on humanitarian grounds. The people from Seychelles and Maldives come to Sri Lanka for medical treatment. When there is a request that a group of people require such medical assistance, on humanitarian grounds, we are bound to provide that relief assistance. That is why we have done that.

Q: Has the Government taken a final decision to reopen schools?

A: There are ongoing discussions regarding this. They are exploring the possibilities of reopening schools. We have taken into consideration that of 10,000 schools in the country, more than 6,000 schools have less than 200 students.

We prioritise those small schools with a lesser number of students. Then, it would be easy for us to sanitise and ensure that the students are kept at a safe distance.

However, we haven’t decided anything in relation to the date of reopening schools.

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