19A sans any benefit to the country - Minister Chamal Rajapaksa | Sunday Observer

19A sans any benefit to the country - Minister Chamal Rajapaksa

27 September, 2020

Minister of Irrigation and State Minister of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management Chamal Rajapaksa said they could understand the difficulties faced by the then President, Prime Minister and Government officials under the 19A. It did not bring any benefit to the country or to the people. Therefore, we decided to introduce the 20A as we do not wish to undergo the same old experience anymore. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that the Constitution has been amended 20 times that means it has numerous shortcomings, and we should formulate a new Constitution in collaboration with all political parties to fulfil the aspirations of the people and pave the way to solve burning issues and accelerate development.

Q: How do you view the protest by SJB MPs in the well of the House when the 20A was presented in Parliament on Tuesday (22) disrupting parliamentary proceedings?

A. After a Bill is presented to Parliament, there is an opportunity to express MPs’ opposition to it. The SJB MPs should have expressed their opposition to the 20A without resorting to such unparliamentary behaviour. Whatever the protest it should be made at the appropriate time, if not the ultimate objective of conducting a protest would be lost. It was an unnecessary situation created by the SJB MPs in the House. If the uproar had continued, it could have ended up in fisticuffs. The SJB should understand why the people gave a mandate of 150 MPs to the SLPP and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa secured a resounding victory of over 6.9 million votes.

The President at the General Election campaign called upon the people to give a mandate to the Government to abolish the 19th Amendment and introduce the 20th Amendment. The people have fully endorsed the President’s request. It will take some time to see the good and bad aspects of the 20A. We witnessed the obstacles faced by the then President, Prime Minister and Government officials when performing their duties under the 19A. It did not bring any benefit to the country or to the people. Hence, we decided to introduce the 20A as we do not wish to face the same old experience anymore.

If the Constitution has been amended 20 times that means it has numerous shortcomings. We should formulate a new Constitution in collaboration with all political parties to suit the present day needs. Peace has been restored in the country after the end of the 30-year battle against terrorism. Therefore, we should introduce a simple Constitution to fulfil the aspirations of the people and pave the way to solve the burning issues and accelerate development. There is no point in including complicated clauses in the Constitution which cannot be understood by the people. Everybody should be able to understand the content of the Constitution.

The sole objective of 19A was to target a particular person. Under the former Yahapalana Government, the President and the Prime Minister were from two different political parties. The UNP strategically used the former President Maithripala Sirisena to defeat his predecessor. The entire country is aware, that it were some external forces and NGOs that wanted to topple the previous Government, and not the people. The Yahapalana Government misled the then President to realise their narrow political objectives. However, the architect of that conspiracy knew the repercussions he would have to face so that he hurriedly introduced the 19A and had it passed in Parliament.

The 19A did not bring anything worthwhile to the then President or Prime Minister. The people realised that and gave an overwhelming majority to the SLPP Government to change the adverse political situation. We should feel the pulse of the people. The Constitution making process should be done in collaboration with all political parties. It cannot be done in an arbitrary manner; as otherwise, those who have power would attempt to bulldoze it. The new Constitution should give priority to the people’s burning issues, development and the future generation.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is different from all former Presidents. He visualises the use of modern technology and the type of education to suit present day needs. He has a broad understanding of information technology. The President makes genuine efforts to eliminate inefficiency and malpractices in State institutions. He has given full freedom to Cabinet Ministers to take policy decisions on behalf of the country while responsibilities have been cast on young State Ministers on various subjects to increase the country’s production and employment opportunities.

Q: How do you respond to the Opposition’s claim that the 20A would pave the way for dictatorship and authoritarian rule?

A. This is yet another baseless allegation levelled by the Opposition. The classic example is how the President acted during the past few months after he assumed office. Youth conducted several protests at Galle Face, and we saw how the President listened to their grievances in a humane manner. He even designated a special place to conduct protests so that the police will not use tear gas or baton charges. The President took these measures to resolve the grievances of the youth, not to be a dictator. Earlier when the youth conducted a protest or demonstration they were chased away by the police using tear gas and baton charges. They were never allowed to talk to the then Presidents. Now the President goes to the demonstrators and talks to them.

He has a good understanding of the issues, and looks at problems in a humane manner. The President has been directly involved in solving thousands of issues faced by the people. All these are done by the President with the genuine intention of providing solutions to the issues faced by the people. The SJB should reflect on how their present leader and former leader acted when they held portfolios in the Yahapalana Government.

Q: The main Opposition SJB says the 20A would curtail the powers of the Prime Minister so that their struggle is to safeguard his powers. Your comments?

A. The issue would have been complicated if we had a President and a Prime Minister like those in the Yahapalana Government. Now, we have a President and a Prime Minister with a mutual understanding of each other. Therefore, such a thing will not happen.

Q: The Opposition is of the view that the 20A makes the Executive President so powerful that he is not bound by the law. What is your comment?

A. The President contested the Presidential Election and won to implement his own policy. The people voted for that policy. Hence, the President should have the power to implement his policy. If a person has dictatorial power, we can control it with the new Constitution. If a President acts in an arbitrary manner, Parliament has power to bring in an impeachment motion against him. We will not deprive that right.

Q: The SJB raised concern in Parliament for not giving the chairmanship of COPE and COPA to the Opposition. Your views?

A. It is more appropriate that a matured politician from the Government or the Opposition should be appointed as chairmen of COPE and COPA. He should not have any hidden agendas when performing his duties. The best COPE Chairman I ever witnessed was Bernard Zoysa. He was an LSSPer and a true leftist. He never held that portfolio with the vicious intention of grabbing power. He always took correct decisions for the benefit of the country. He was a classic example.

Some who hold the portfolios try to attack the Government or his opponents. Such persons would not bring any justice. For justice to prevail, independent persons should be appointed as chairmen of COPE and COPA. It is not our duty to bring Government officials before COPE and embarrass them. We want to rectify the shortcomings in state institutions. Nobody can say all audit reports are hundred percent accurate. Sometimes, the officials may include their own versions in the reports. When one views the SJB MPs’ conduct in Parliament on Tuesday, we have to rethink about giving such important positions to the Opposition.

Q: The Opposition also raised concern about not opening the COPE proceedings to the media. Your comments?

A. There is no precedent of always opening COPE proceedings to the media. It is more appropriate if there is a group who can act as observers to monitor the functions of COPE and other committees. Parliament is open to the media. If any false allegation is levelled against a Government official at COPE, he does not have the opportunity to argue or express his view to the country, so that is an injustice done to him. The summary of COPE and COPA proceedings should be made available to the media.

Q: Is there any justification to the issue raised by the SJB MPs of reducing their personal security?

A. I have a history on the conduct of MPs since the late 1940s. In my childhood, I went to watch Parliamentary sessions and witnessed how parliamentarians attended Parliament. Those days most of the MPs travelled by train. Even my father and some of my brothers were parliamentarians. I have seen W. Dahanayake as a parliamentarian and a Prime Minister who travelled by train. In 1960, the then Prime Minister Dahanayake attended the final election rally in Galle and went back to Colombo in a Cadillac car. As a student, I saw after the counting of votes the following day he came by train and got down at the Richmond Hill station carrying a small suitcase.

A parliamentarian should have the confidence to travel alone and listen to the problems faced by the people. They are the genuine people’s representatives. Even my father went to Parliament by the Ruhunu Kumari and stayed at the Shravasthi building during the week of parliamentary sessions. At the end of the Parliamentary week on Friday evening, he would return home by the Ruhunu Kumari. On the other days, he would be with the people. A parliamentarian does not need special security.

I have seen Lakshman Rajapaksa, George Rajapaksa and D.A. Rajapaksa travel by train from Matara; and then Dahanayake and William Silva also joined them. They had a close rapport with the people in the train compartment and discussed their day-to-day issues. The politicians raised their issues in Parliament in a dignified manner. They never resorted to brawls or fisticuffs in Parliament. What I wish to point out is, parliamentarians do not always need security.

Security should be provided only where necessary. When the 1978 Constitution was formulated the MPs had been kept at hotels such as the Taj Samudra to get their votes by providing them security. There is no point in passing a Constitution in such a manner. The MPs needed special security during terror periods as in 1987-1989 where the people were brutally killed. It was also essential to provide security to parliamentarians during the LTTE terror. Now that peace has been restored, parliamentarians should be able to travel in an ordinary manner. However, if anyone is faced with a threat, we would provide special security arrangements for him or her.

Q: What steps have been taken to control the increasing wave of drug menace?

A. Fortunately, some officers who had been involved in these incidents have been arrested following the information received. At present, legal action has been taken against them. That situation was created due to the people reposing their confidence in the Government. It has created the impression among the people that the Government does not defend the wrongdoers. We should maintain that position as it would help to prevent the drug menace and other crimes.

Information on various underworld bigwigs and drug kingpins are now regularly flowing in and they are arrested daily. It would encourage the people to provide more and more information to the Police and the authorities. Earlier, people were reluctant to provide information due to the fear that some Police officers would feedback their information to the underworld characters. If such incidents occur today, the OIC and all top Police officials in that Police division would be held responsible. We will not permit to pass the buck only to the policemen in lower ranks. We should join hands and do our duty on behalf of the country.

Q: Over 80 new MPs have been elected to the ninth Parliament. As the former Speaker, how do you view this new political development?

A. Among these newly elected MPs some had represented Provincial Councils and other Local Government institutions. The Government’s National List has many professionals. We should seek their contribution when preparing the Budget and other important Bills. It is the parliamentarian who can feel the pulse of the people. Those who govern the country should acknowledge the contribution by these MPs. Irrespective of the political party, we should get the views of the MPs and implement them. Resorting to clashes or harbouring hatred towards them would not benefit the country. I think there is a good composition of MPs in Parliament which is a very positive development after so many years. This is an ideal forum for the new MPs to get a good political experience.

Q: What are the developments in the irrigation sector?

A. We have implemented several mega scale projects in the irrigation sector, and planned to commence several new projects. Still there is a large number of people who face severe hardship due to the lack of drinking water. When a reservoir is built, we should focus on the importance of drinking water, factories and agricultural needs. We have decided to bring all the machinery and equipment of the Irrigation Department to one particular district to develop the major irrigation projects in that district. We have done this in the Hambantota and Matara districts, and hope to introduce it to the Moneragala, Ampara and Batticaloa districts.

On a directive of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, we have commenced to renovate small scale tanks in the rural areas. There are nearly 60,000 tanks in the country. Under the Wari Saubhagya,’ our intention is to renovate all these tanks. We would also use the expertise, vehicles and labour of the Tri forces and other institutions which provide engineering consultancy services and agricultural expertise to make the project a success.

When a tank is renovated, the participation of all villagers will be sought. We hope to launch the Wari Saubhagya program on Independence Day next year to make the village and the country self sufficient by introducing the old irrigation culture.

We have targeted to renovate 5,000 tanks next year. There are only 14,022 Grama Niladhari divisions in the country. Therefore, a small scale tank will be built for each village within the next three years. The Ministry will also renovate tanks, canals and anicuts in the villages.