New Constitution will satisfy interests of all communities – Minister Prassanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

New Constitution will satisfy interests of all communities – Minister Prassanna Ranatunga

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga
Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution introduced by the former Yahapalana Government failed to fulfill the aspirations of the people as it wanted to cater to the interests of minority parties such as the TNA with the aim of consolidating their power. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Minister Ranatunga said that the 19th Amendment didn’t reflect the will of the majority of the people. The majority of the proposals in the 19th Amendment were designed to ensure the survival of the Yahapalana Government and pamper the interests of the extremists. The need of the hour is to bring a new Constitution to accomplish the needs of all communities and this will take some reasonable time. The Minister said “the country needs a strong Executive. We could win the terrorist war as there was a strong Executive President in the country. If the Executive is weak, it is difficult to govern the country. We could discern the weakness of former President Maithripala Sirisena in his capacity as Executive President.”

Q. What is more appropriate, abolish the 19th Amendment and bring in the 20th Amendment or introduce a completely new third Republican Constitution?

A. The people have given a two-thirds majority to the Government in the hope of introducing a new Constitution. However, that task cannot be fulfilled within one or two months. We have to seek public views and also consider the various opinions expressed in recent times. We should bring in a new Constitution which would certainly pave the way for all Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities to preserve their cultural identities by creating genuine reconciliation among them.

The 19th Amendment introduced by the former Yahapalana Government failed to fulfill the aspirations of the people as it wanted to cater to the interests of minority parties such as the TNA with the intention of consolidating their power.

That is why we opposed it. Likewise, it had also been proposed in their draft Constitution to create Muslim zones as well. Actually, the 19th Amendment didn’t reflect the will of the majority of the people. The majority of the proposals in the 19th Amendment was brought to ensure the existence of that Government and satisfy the interests of the extremists.

The need of the hour is to bring a brand-new Constitution to satisfy the interests of all communities and it will take some time.

Although it is claimed that there are independent commissions under the 19th Amendment, we could not discern any such commissions. The structure of these commissions needs to be changed by bringing them to the level of effective functioning. Some commissions are there only in name. We have to consider as to why those Commissions have failed to fulfill the tasks entrusted to them.

According to the 19th Amendment, the President is held responsible for ensuring national security but he cannot hold any ministerial portfolio.

However, during the tenure of the former Government, the then President Maithripala Sirisena was allowed to hold two ministerial portfolios. It clearly shows as to how the same law operates differently for two Presidents. The people hold the view that the subject of national security should come under the purview of the President. There are some loopholes in the 19th Amendment. All those who raised their hands to pass the 19th Amendment should be held responsible for creating this crisis situation in the country.

Q. Do you think the minority parties would support to abolish the 19th Amendment and bring in the 20th Amendment?

A. We believe that extremists will not support the 20th Amendment. That is why the people have given two- thirds majority to the Government. We only have to get the support of another five or six MPs to secure the two thirds majority in Parliament. In addition, a group of MPs who want to abolish the 19th Amendment will also join hands with us.

Q. Should not the present preferential voting system be changed by introducing an electoral system which elects a Member of Parliament who will be held responsible for each electorate?

A. First, we should abolish the 19th Amendment and include people-friendly proposals in the 20th Amendment. After that, we should introduce a new Constitution. The new Constitution should lay key emphasis on the electoral system. Whether to change the present electoral system or not should be decided on based on public opinion. Personally, I would prefer to go for the first-past- the- post system. Under the present preferential voting system, each candidate has to incur huge costs for his election campaign and it has created a lot of issues among candidates of the same party.

However, under the first-past-the-post system, if one candidate is fielded for an electorate from one political party, that would create an issue.

Sometimes, if the people like the party and dislike the candidate, then it would eventually lead to an issue where that candidate would become helpless. Therefore, a political party should allow at least two to three candidates to contest in an electorate so that the people can vote for the party and the most suitable candidate. Of course, this is my personal view. It has to be extensively discussed as to how a more fair electoral system can be introduced but it will take some time. At present, we are not in a position to completely amend the Constitution and introduce a fresh one. First, we should abolish the 19th Amendment and bring in the 20th Amendment.

Q. Certain sections of the Government have also expressed their opposition to the statement by State Minister Sarath Weerasekera that the Provincial Council (PC) system should be abolished. As the former Chief Minister of the Western Provincial Council, what is your view?

A. The Provincial Councils are a good forum where we can render yeoman service to the people. However, it depends on those who are elected to the PCs. The former Yahapalana Government was an utter failure. When the country was destroyed due to the mismanagement of the former Government, then the people could have said that there is no use of a Government at all.

If the right person becomes the Chief Minister of a Provincial Council, he can fulfill much work on behalf of the people. I am very happy to say that still many people call me the ‘Chief Minister’. My ‘golden era’ in my political career was when I was the Western Province Chief Minister. Therefore, a methodology should be formulated to make the PCs render the maximum service to the people. If we don’t like the word ‘Provincial Councils’, an alternative should be introduced.

Q. Holding the Provincial Council elections was postponed indefinitely by the former Government. Has the Government taken any decision to hold the PC elections without any further delay?

A. The PC elections are yet to be decided on. To realise their ulterior motive, the former Yahapalana Government introduced 50-50 representation to PCs. Then, the PCs won’t be able to fulfill any task in the future.

If there is no stable PC system, the Provincial Councilors will be sold for money and as such the PCs would become meaningless. However, if 70-30 representation is introduced and PC elections are held under the first-past-the-post system, then the PC system would become very successful. We should not change the PC system to cater to the interests of extremists. Former Government introduced 50-50 representation to fulfill the requirements of the TNA and the SLMC. It would create an unstable Provincial Council and we cannot expect anything from such PCs and the council members will only focus on earning money.

I believe we should first bring in an Amendment to Parliament regarding 70-30 representation which is a mixture of proportional representation and first-past-the-post system and then go for the PC elections.

Q. Do you believe that there is a need for a strong Executive Presidency to govern the country. As the Executive President is elected with over 51 per cent of the people’s votes, shouldn’t we respect that public will?

A. Definitely. The country needs a strong Executive. We could win the terrorist war as there was a strong Executive President in the country. If the Executive is weak, it is difficult to govern the country.

We could see the weakness of former President Maithripala Sirisena in his capacity as the Executive President. Therefore, both the Executive and the Legislature should be strengthened so that we would be able to win the confidence of the people. Then only would the investors come and we can implement our development drive.

Q. The people at the August 05 General Election gave a resounding mandate to the SLPP to form a stable Government without being a ‘cat’s paw’ of the minority parties. How do you view this new political development?

A. At the recently concluded election, the people rallied round to change the existing political culture where the Governments elected had to dance according to the whims and fancies of minority parties. As the Government has secured an overwhelming majority, this is the ideal opportunity to create a new political culture to take the country forward.

Q. Different views have been expressed on the oath to be taken by SLPP Ratnapura District Parliamentarian Premalal Jayasekara. Referring to the Attorney General’s opinion, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana has said it is the House that has to decide on this issue. Would you like to comment on this?

A. That is true. The Attorney General has the right to express his opinion. However, he doesn’t have the powers to annul his parliamentary seat. When the nominations were given, he was not a convict and the case was being heard and the judgment had not been delivered. Once Jayasekara was elected as a MP, the Election Commission Chairman gazetted his name. If there is any disqualification for Jayasekara to be sworn in as a Member of Parliament, it should be challenged before a Court of Law. However, I believe he can hold the portfolio till his appeal is decided on.

Q. How do you view the Karu- Ruwan-Vajira trio contending for the UNP leadership?

A. First, they should reach consensus among them. Today, they are paying for their own sins they committed after they assumed office in 2015. The SJB will also face the same consequence. All those in the SJB and UNP who took political revenge from the people and caused devastation in the country should be weeded out forever from politics.

Q. Has any discussion been initiated to offer a portfolio to former President Maithripala Sirisena? Has the Deputy Prime Ministerial portfolio been included in the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution?

A. According to my knowledge, no such discussion had been conducted presumably due to strong opposition to such a proposal. The former President is also one of the members of the group which ruined the country. Even if he joined hands with us, that is no ground for him to be pardoned for his past wrongdoings. He should also be held responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks and the collapse of the country’s economy.

That is why at the last election, the people took the lead to chase out the Yahapalana administration including former President, Sirisena. If the former President joined with us, he cannot be absolved from these accusations. If we create a portfolio for the former President, the people will put the blame on us. As I said there is no proposal to create a Deputy Prime Ministerial portfolio in the 20th Amendment. In a situation where the President has gained a resounding mandate and public accolades, I don’t think he would accept such a move.

Q. What are the steps taken by your ministry to develop the tourism sector which has faced a severe setback due to the post Covid-19 pandemic situation?

A. The tourism sector contribution to the GDP is only 4 percent and the other 96 percent contribution is given by other sectors. If we try to reopen the Bandaranaike International Airport early focusing on tourist arrivals, we should look into what has happened to countries such as Australia and New Zealand which opened their airports early.

They had to go back to total lockdown. We don’t want our country to face a similar situation. The President and the Prime Minister always want to give utmost priority to safeguard the lives of the 22 million people in the country.

The entire world has accepted that Sri Lanka has been able to successfully contain the Covid-19 pandemic situation. We have already formulated programs to reopen the BIA once the guidelines are issued by the health authorities. Sometimes, our plans may change in keeping with the situation. We are confident that we would be able to turn Sri Lanka into a tourist destination once again.

Q. What kind of program has been drawn up to increase tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka once the BIA is reopened?

A. We would encourage tourists to visit our country as groups. However, we will also have to take decisions in keeping with the Covid-19 pandemic in the world. 

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