19 A, an impediment to President’s program - Dr Nalaka Godahewa | Sunday Observer

19 A, an impediment to President’s program - Dr Nalaka Godahewa

Dr Nalaka Godahewa, a onetime prominent figure in the corporate sector will face his first hurdle in Sri Lankan politics on August 5. Godahewa is contesting the General Election from the Gampaha district under the banner of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). A newcomer to active politics, Godahewa is a founding member of Viyathmaga, an organisation consisting of intellectuals formed in support of the SLPP.

Godahewa in an interview with the Sunday Observer discussed a range of topics, including the economic revival of the country and curbing corruption. Godahewa said the 19th Amendment stands in the way of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s program.

Excerpts:

Q. What made you decide to enter parliamentary politics?

A. I decided to enter politics on a request by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In November 2018 when the 52-day government was formed, the current President requested me to contest the upcoming election. At the time I told him I was not prepared to enter active politics. However, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa made the same request and I gave him the same response. They said that the public hoped that the educated people should take to politics. I agreed to contest from the Gampaha district as I was already a national figure.

Q. There is a call for new faces and clean politicians to be elected. Do you fit the bill?

A. I was invited by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa when I was in the private sector to join the Government to turn around the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation in 2009. He sought a professional to turn it around. I left a salary of Rs. 1.3 million at the time and worked for the Government for no benefit. They were impressed with me and kept giving me responsibilities.

Seeing how the Yahapalana Government was performing, I had to express my opinions at various instances. I was dragged into the political system. In 2016, I conceptualised the idea of forming a professional group around Gotabaya Rajapaksa to nominate him for the next Presidency to which he reluctantly agreed. We formed the Viyathmaga movement. I have experience in governance and a political background. I was always interested in politics even as a child. I had a good knowledge of Sri Lankan politics. I am unafraid of appearing for justice and can make an active contribution.

Q. Viyathmaga consisting of intellectuals promised a certain number of nominations for the election. But this did not materialise. Your view on this?

A. There was a high expectation from the public that there would be Viyathmaga people who would contest from every district. But not all professionals who got involved in Viyathmaga were willing to take to politics. Many Viyathmaga members have been given responsibilities in the Government by the President. The President had to make a choice as to who could contest and win as not everyone has this capability as everyone could not be placed in the national list. Many who sought to be nominated also had to face resistance from traditional politicians.

Q. The people have been promised a ‘system change’. Can this be done with the so-called ‘old faces’ in politics?

A. If one wants to change the system, the faces in the system must change as well. But one must understand that politicians who have not been involved in corruption and stood by their principles are among these old faces. Some others, on the other hand, are willing to change for the better.

There is another lot who will never change and want to retain the current system. Unless there are many new faces, it is difficult to change the system. But we can give it a shot because we have the leader on our side. The President is different as he is not a politician. He is for a change in the system.

Q. The economy took a major hit following the Easter Sunday attacks and now due to the Covid-19 pandemic. If elected, what will your proposals be to revive the economy?

A. We were in a serious economic situation from even before Covid-19 as the previous Government did not manage the economy well. When we took over the Government in 2019, the economic situation was in dire straits. Turning this around is a huge task. The next government will have to take bold decisions to change the top of the economic management. I hope the President will push for those changes and give an opportunity to people who have an idea of what to do and the courage to try something new. We have a plan and the President is along my line of thinking.

Q. Corruption is endemic in governance system. How can we eliminate this?

A. It needs a systematic approach. There are many leaders and countries that have done it. It cannot be eliminated but can be controlled if there is will on the top. Corruption and even underworld activities can be curbed if there is determination. When the President was the Secretary of Defence, he curbed the activities of the underworld and it was almost eliminated.

Today, he is fighting against corruption and the drug mafia. There are two approaches to this. One is to identify corrupt officials and take action against them. The second is that the system must be changed so that there is no room for corruption.

Q. How will the new government hope to facilitate the private sector and investments in Sri Lanka?

A. The private sector is the engine of growth, but the Government sector has a major role to play. The former Yahapalana Government got it wrong because they thought everything must be done by the private sector. Even so-called capitalist countries that believed only in the private sector, are moving back to revive the state sector. A country needs to strike a balance between these two.

The Government must take the first step, develop the industry and hand it over to the private sector gradually. We must welcome foreign investments, but not for industries where locals can run. Local entrepreneurship must be encouraged. Foreign investment must be brought to the country.

Q. Some politicians even in your camp have opined that obtaining a two-thirds majority may not be possible while expressing willingness to join hands with the United National Party (UNP) if the need arises. Does this mean the SLPP and the UNP can work together?

A. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution has been a disaster. It has weakened the Central Bank. The Amendment should be repealed to develop the country. The question is whether the Opposition will support the move. That is why we need to obtain a two-thirds majority. This is not needed if the Opposition will support to change this. But if they do not support and continue to play dirty politics or stick to their stance, we need a two-thirds majority to pass the Amendment.

Q. Former LTTE militant and now politician Karuna Amman has extended his support to the SLPP. He made controversial remarks about the war against terrorism and killing of soldiers. As a person who has spoken against pro-LTTE elements even in Geneva, how do you accept his presence in your political camp?

A. He is not a major player in the camp and is just another small party supporting us. They are not part of the main ideology. The main ideology is nationalist and patriotic.

The ideologies of peripheral can differ. But that does not mean that they can change the direction we are moving in.

As long as they tag on to the main ideology and work with us, it is not a major issue. Statements by certain persons cannot make a major change in the Government. If what he said is not good, we must oppose that. I have done that.

Q. Former military personnel have been appointed to key positions in governance. Some have said that the country is being militarised. What are your views on this?

A. We must remember the past when analysing a situation. The Yahapalana Government broke the backbone of the civil service. Thousands of people were taken to Police and Bribery Commission for questioning. People got scared of making decisions.

As a result, we find a serious issue of not being able to get things done through civil servants as they are scared.

The system is not the most efficient either. In a situation like that, the President needs people who take the decisions and implement them. This is how the former military personnel can help as they are unafraid, disciplined, work according to the rule and get things done efficiently. Others cannot do this as they are scared due to the former Government’s actions.

Q. Why should people vote for the SLPP?

A. We have got a golden opportunity with a new President. He was not a politician and not power hungry. He entered politics at the request of the people to make a change. He is determined to do that and has put forward a vision for the country. The 19th Amendment will not help his program.

The President and the Prime Minister are brothers and due to their personal connection, they will work well. No future President or Prime Minister will have that luxury. This is the best opportunity to change the system.

That is why the two-third majority matters. The President put forward a clear policy statement. A supportive legal structure is needed to implement that.

Blurb: “The 19th Amendment to the Constitution has been a disaster. It has weakened the Central Bank. The Amendment should be repealed to develop the country. The question is whether the Opposition will support the move. That is why we need a two-thirds majority.

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