Overwhelming mandate to change Constitution – Minister Aluthgamage | Sunday Observer

Overwhelming mandate to change Constitution – Minister Aluthgamage

30 August, 2020

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage said that the former Yahapalana Government introduced the 19th Amendment to the Constitution for their political survival. The sole purpose of the 19th Amendment was to prevent the Rajapaksas re-entering politics. In an interview with the Sunday Observer Minister Aluthgamage said that at present the 19th Amendment has created many controversies. Whoever is opposed to it , it won’t be an issue as there are many MPs in Parliament willing to extend their support to abolish the 19th Amendment. He said “when We were in the Opposition, we also raised our hands to pass the 19th Amendment due to the assurance given by the Yahapalana Government to introduce the 20th Amendment but they didn’t fulfill that pledge during their tenure of office.”

Q. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) questioned when all Government lawmakers who were in the Opposition at that time extended their support to the 19th Amendment in Parliament now why the Government is going to abolish the 19th Amendment to the Constitution?

A. Actually, those who introduced the 19th Amendment are opposed to abolishing it. The 19th Amendment was brought in by the Yahapalana Government to completely sweep out the Rajapaksas from politics. It was introduced to cater to the interests of the international community to destabilise the country. Another purpose of introducing the 19th Amendment was to divide the country. Therefore, it is not unfair that the SJB is now opposed to abolish the 19 th Amendment. The former Government introduced the 19 th Amendment for their political survival. The sole purpose of the 19 th Amendment was to prevent Rajapaksas re-entering politics. At present, the 19th Amendment has created a lot of difficulties. For example, the Executive President is not in a position to appoint the IGP.

Whoever is opposed, it won’t be an issue as there are many MPs in Parliament who are willing to extend their support to abolish the 19th Amendment. When we were in the Opposition, we also raised our hands to pass the 19th Amendment due to the assurance given by the then Yahapalana Government to introduce the 20th Amendment but they didn’t fulfill that pledge.

Q. Will the Government include good features of the 19 th Amendment into the proposed 20th Amendment such as independent commissions and the right to information?

A. We would include the right to information to the proposed 20th Amendment. However, we have serious issues regarding the independent commissions appointed by the former Government. If we take the Bribery Commission, anybody can send an anonymous letter to it so that an investigation will be conducted regarding it.

Then, they will bring the complainant to the Bribery Commission where perhaps he would be subjected to harassment.

Earlier, there was no such practice in the Bribery Commission. Actually, the normal procedure was changed by the former Government to repress their political opponents. Therefore, those Commissions were not independent at all. Many changes have to be made to their criteria. We are studying this and no final decision has been taken so far.

There is a series of issues with regard to the independent commissions. At first, we would only abolish the 19th Amendment and later we would discuss the contents of the 20th Amendment independently. However, we will not remove those salutary features in the 19th Amendment.

Q. The main Opposition SJB says the Government attempts to bring the 20th Amendment to realise its ulterior motives. They will launch a struggle against the repealing of the 19th Amendment. Your comments?

A. We should not take the SJB seriously. They could not win even a single district. Earlier, the number of eight seats secured by them from Kandy district came down to three at the August 5 General Election. There is no use of talking about a party which has been rejected by the people. The People have given a resounding mandate to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Therefore, our task is to work for the people.

Q. The SJB attempts to create an opinion that the President cannot hold any ministerial portfolios under the 19th Amendment. Would you like to comment on this?

A. If the SJB wants they can go to courts. If they are so interested in why don’t they challenge it in courts These are mere baseless remarks by the SJB to mislead the people due to their political bankruptcy.

Q. Even Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has said that the new Government cannot move forward due to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and that their priority would be to do away with the controversial sections in the 19th Amendment which cause hindrance to the new administration. Are you of the same view?

A. Certainly. The 19th Amendment has become a great impediment to the forward march of the country. To fulfill the aspirations of the people, there should be a Constitution which is favourable to the country. Therefore, we should definitely go for a Constitutional amendment and this is one of our election pledges as well. The people have given us a resounding mandate of a two-thirds majority for this.

Q. How do you view SJB Parliamentarian Rajitha Senaratne’s comment that the Government is in a hurry to bring in the 20th Amendment so that dual citizens like former Minister Basil Rajapaksa can be appointed to Parliament?

A. If President Gotabaya Rajapaksa could withdraw his dual citizenship to contest the Presidential Election, SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa can also follow the same steps and there is no need to bring the 20th Amendment for that. Basil Rajapaksa can just make a request to withdraw his dual citizenship. All these are petty issues highlighted by the SJB to cover their humiliating defeat.

If the SJB says that the Government attempts to introduce the 20th Amendment to bring Basil Rajapaksa back to Parliament, it is a childish and silly statement. If the SJB is genuinely concerned about the people, there are so many issues to be taken up.

Q. Is there any clash of opinion within the Government about offering a portfolio to former President Maithripala Sirisena?

A. There is no official discussion conducted so far to create a Deputy Prime Minister post. However, some sort of justice should be meted out to former President Sirisena. When the proposed 20 th Amendment is introduced, we would be able to discuss it. So far, no final decision has been taken in this regard.

Q. How do you view the ongoing infighting within the UNP for leadership and the National List slot?

A. God has punished them for the destruction they caused to the country. They attempted to divide the country and take our war heroes to the international war tribunal. This is a country hallowed by the Buddha’s visits. God has punished the UNP for their wrongdoings.

We can see the severe setback suffered by the UNP as they have not yet been able to fill even their National List slot.

This is the first time that an inaugural parliamentary session was convened without any UNP MP in the Chamber.

“However, we didn’t feel it as Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa spoke in English at the inaugural secession of the ninth Parliament! Therefore, we didn’t feel the absence of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament. Sajith Premadasa could very well fill the void left by Wickremesinghe.”

Q. Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has said that he is ready to take over the UNP leadership. However, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has informed the Working Committee that since Jayasuriya is not a member of the Working Committee, he cannot be appointed as the Leader. Your views?

A. All these are power struggles. Wickremesinghe attempts to further retain the party leadership. Jayasuriya attempts to become the UNP Leader. Sajith Premadasa and a UNP breakaway group have formed the SJB. We only have to wait patiently and watch these things.

This clash will not end soon and the UNP won’t be able to recover from the crisis for several future elections. Even 10 MPs are more than enough to properly fulfill the role of the Opposition. The total number of headcounts in the Opposition is not that important.

The most vital aspect is how the Opposition plays its legitimate role in Parliament. Therefore, these 54 SJB MPs in the Opposition are more than enough if they play their role in Parliament properly.

Q. You have been elected as the President’s nominee to the Constitutional Council. Earlier, serious concerns were raised on the conduct of the CC. Do you think the CC would be able to function independently under the present dispensation?

A. Definitely. The tenure of the other members of the CC has not yet expired so they can continue in office. I have been appointed as the President’s nominee to the CC.

It is said that one civil society member is going to resign. Therefore, another person will have to be nominated to fill that vacancy. The functions of the CC should be transparent.

During the tenure of the former Government, politicians such as Champika Ranawaka used the CC to cover up their court cases and various other purposes. We would maintain the CC as an independent institution and take it in the right direction by safeguarding democracy.

Q. Eighty-one new MPs have been elected to Parliament. Does this mean that the people have expected a change of the present political culture?

A. It is not so. These new faces are there because of our landslide victory. Only a few former Parliamentarians have been defeated. The number of seats obtained by the SLPP has increased due to our electoral success. Therefore, many new faces have been elected to Parliament. I think these new faces are a good omen and they would certainly contribute to strengthen democracy.

Q. The SJB has raised serious concern on the controversial remarks by MP C.V. Vigneswaran at the opening of the first session of the ninth Parliament. What is the Government’s position regarding this?

A. This is not an issue which should be taken into account seriously. If attempts are made to expunge the speeches by MPs in Parliament as requested by the SJB, there won’t be a Hansard.

This is not the opinion of the country and this is Vigneswaran’s personal point of view. We should not panic about his speech. A Parliamentarian has a right to express his views in Parliament. Similarly, another parliamentarian can counter or criticise that view. Politicians such as Vigneswaran have come to Parliament by marketing such separatist ideology.

If he failed to speak in such manner, he can’t really go back to his village! Vigneswaran is also doing his politics. However, the SJB attempts to become heroes by taking up this kind of trivial matters.

Q. There is a dramatic change in the pattern of voting in the North at the recently concluded General Election and the number of seats obtained by the TNA has dropped drastically. How do you view this new political scenario in northern politics?

A. When all votes obtained by our constituent parties are taken together, it is equal to the total number of votes obtained by the TNA.

It seems the people in the North have placed much confidence at this time in the newly elected Government. As the Agriculture Minister, I would make my first official visit to Jaffna. One of my key priorities is to develop the economy of northern farmers. At present, the people in the North have faced severe economic hardships. Therefore, my intention is to have a dialogue with them and provide speedy solutions to their issues.

Q. What are your plans to develop the agriculture sector?

A. At present, the agriculture sector contributes only seven percent to the GDP. Earlier, this was around 37 per cent. Today, only 30 percent of the country’s milk requirement is produced locally. US$ one million worth powdered milk is imported to the country daily. We are the third biggest powdered milk importer of New Zealand. Therefore, we spend billions of rupees to import various food commodities. Our intention is to minimise the import of food commodities at least by 75 percent within the next three years. We have already taken steps to increase the local milk production. We are an agricultural country and all resources are available to develop the agriculture sector. What we need is to properly manage the available resources. At present, new export markets have been created following the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, our main focus is to stop a huge amount of foreign exchange earnings of the agriculture sector going over to foreign countries. The agriculture sector should make at least 25 percent contribution to the GDP within the next three years.

If we produce quality rice, we can increase our production and export them. We should provide quality seeds to the farmers. Steps should be taken to prevent the use of agrochemicals and promote organic fertiliser. In future, we would provide the subsidy for agrochemicals for organic fertiliser. Our intention is to introduce modern technology to the agriculture sector. We are discussing to convert farmers into entrepreneurs. I am still studying the agriculture sector and it would take another one week for me to complete my study. We would unveil our three year agriculture plan to the country within a month. Our intention is to make the country self sufficient in potato, onion, chilies and paddy. I think we have the necessary potential to realise this target.