Govt will fast-track development - Minister Keheliya Rambukwella | Sunday Observer

Govt will fast-track development - Minister Keheliya Rambukwella

4 October, 2020
Keheliya Rambukwella

Co-cabinet Spokesman and Mass Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the people gave an overwhelming mandate to the Government at the last General Election to execute its policies for the well-being of the country. We specifically asked the people to give us a two- thirds majority to get rid of the 19A which works negatively and hampers development. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said as the people have given them a mandate, they are bound to take the country in the right direction. He said there are several negative and reactionary features in the 19A. We need to fast-track the development that was lagging behind throughout the tenure of the Yahapalana regime. The two- thirds majority in Parliament is important to bring the aspirations of the people to fruition. There is still room at Committee Stage if there is an absolute necessity to move any amendments to the 20A draft.

Q: Does the Government hope to pass the 20A in Parliament before the Budget?

A. Yes. We hope to see it through before the Budget because the Budget and 20A cannot be taken up simultaneously as it would interfere with each other. The Supreme Court’s determination will be referred to the Speaker and the President. We will then act accordingly.

Q: Some Government lawmakers say the 20A to the Constitution is a policy decision of all parties that contested under the SLPP. Is it correct?

A. Yes, introducing the 20A is a collective decision of the Cabinet.

Q: Some constituent party leaders of the SLPP want to retain the positive aspects of 19A. Has the Government considered these requests?

A. We had a vibrant discussion in this regard. There were different viewpoints which we considered, and agreed upon one formula which was brought to the Parliament Order Paper. There are certain concerns and there is still room at the Committee Stage if there is an absolute necessity to amend any clauses of the 20A draft.

Q: How do you view the protests against 20A by the Opposition political parties and other segments of society?

A. The main Opposition SJB has to make their presence felt in that manner as they have not gained the people’s support as expected. However, the SLPP has been given a mandate by the public. We specifically asked for a two- thirds majority to get rid of the 19A which works negatively and hampers the country’s development. So the people have given us a mandate and we are bound by it.

Q: How do you respond to the claim by the Opposition and certain sections that 20A is a threat to the independence of the judiciary?

A. People can make various comments as they wish. Finally, it is Parliament that meets this situation. If the requirement is a two- thirds majorty and if that is given that is what matters. Of course, it may not be a hundred percent approval of Parliament. According to the Constitution, you need a two-thirds majority to pass this legislation in Parliament and that is considered as the best acceptable representation of the people.

Q: Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had told the media that one particular person should not be entrusted enormous powers to govern the country. Is it so?

A. As far as I am concerned she has become obsolete. Her views are not taken seriously by anybody. She has been rejected by the people outright in her own area.

Q: Some question why a new Constitution is not introduced instead of doing patchwork to the existing one. Your views?

A. It would take a minimum of one year to introduce a new Constitution. At present the public complain about the lethargy. There are many negative reactions of the 19A. We need to fast-track development and other activities of the Government. Thus we need the two-thirds majority in Parliament to move forward.

Q: What is the outcome of the virtual Summit held on September 26 between Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

A. It went on well. Concerns were raised by both Prime Ministers. They discussed bilateral relations and regional and international issues of mutual concern. It was a friendly and cordial exposure and we can look forward to positive action. They had discussed a broad spectrum of issues relating to the two countries including Covid-19 and measures to control it, economic vision, development cooperation, trade investment, security measures, Indian Ocean security and the fishing issue.

Q: The Government denied certain media reports that the two leaders had agreed to implement the 13th Amendment?

A. The Indian Prime Minister made reference to the 13th Amendment. Premier Rajapaksa said not only 13A, all ethnic groups will have constitutional coverage for their safe well-being. Premier Rajapaksa expressed confidence that Sri Lanka will work towards realising the expectations of all the people including the Tamils by achieving reconciliation as per the mandate of the people of Sri Lanka and the implementation of the Constitution as per the provisions. Some news reports tying up the US$ 15 million grant to the implementation of the 13th Amendment are completely false and the two leaders had not reached any agreement on this matter.

Q: Nearly 39 petitions have been filed at the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the proposed 20A. Your comments?

A. It is the people’s freedom. You can’t deny people the right to have redress from the judiciary when necessary. We will respect the decision of the Court and abide by it.

Q: Most of the Opposition parties try to portray that the proposed 20A would weaken the power of the legislature and the judiciary and create a President who is not accountable to anyone?

A. There is no truth in that. There is a procedure laid down in the Constitution to move an impeachment against a President and that is still available.

Q: Budget 2021 will be presented on November 17. What would be the salient features of the Budget? Will it emphasise the rebuilding of the economy affected by the Covid-19 pandemic situation?

A. It will be a very progressive Budget. We have faced setbacks in several areas due to the Covid-19 situation. We have laid emphasis on those areas. We are also exploring an indigenous development program, based particularly on agriculture. Sri Lanka is an agricultural country. Even the industrial sector would be preferred with agricultural based industries, and that would be given priority. Our top priority is to rebuild the economy.

Q: The Gazette notification on the maximum retail price of coconuts has created a controversy. Has the Government looked into this issue?

A. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. From time to time, prices fluctuate, and decisions are taken to control such situations. I think this is something that one of the committees has done. Therefore, it will be taken up at the right forum.

Q: The Cabinet of Ministers had approval to implement the proposal tabled by the Prime Minister to ban cattle slaughter with immediate effect. Could you explain?

A. The Cabinet agreed to implement the proposals put forward by the Prime Minister on banning cattle slaughter and its preliminary work will be done within the next couple of weeks.

Accordingly, Cabinet approval has been granted to take immediate measures to amend the Animal Act No 29 of 1958, the Cattle Slaughter Ordinance No 9 of 1893 and other related laws and regulations passed by the local authorities regarding cattle slaughter.

Q: The UNP has not been able even to fill their National List slot so far. How do you view its present plight?

A. At present it appears that the UNP and SJB politics are in total disarray. There is much infighting between the two factions and they have lost the confidence of the people.

Q: Have any Opposition MPs expressed their desire to support the 20A? Will there be any crossovers to the Government?

A. Of course, there is the possibility. I think irrespective of political hues, all elected representatives are expected to support progressive measures.

Q: How do you view the change in the northern voters’ mindset at the August 5 General Election where the TNA vote base faced a setback?

A. This is a clear indication that the TNA is not the sole representative of the Tamils. The people in the North will not accept the TNA as their sole representative.

I don’t think the people are interested anymore in them or their talking about power sharing. What they genuinely want now is to ensure that their areas are developed, the economy resurrected and the youth unemployment problem looked into.

Q: Do you think the Presidential Commission to look into the Easter Sunday attacks will be able to bring the culprits to book?

A. That was the idea and I hope that will be done. Apparently, lots of information that the people were not aware of are coming out of the Commission reports and its activities. I hope something positive will happen and the perpetrators will be brought to book.

Q: What are your plans to develop the media and ensure a free media culture?

A. The State media have a huge role to play in a democracy. We have many programs, such as scholarships, grants and providing ancillary equipment to media personnel. There is the need to launch a housing program for media personnel but it would take some time as the country is not in good stead economically and the whole world is not steady at present.

The Media Ministry is not confined only to conducting press briefings. It is there to produce competent journalists and create a credible media culture in the country. Competitiveness in the state media is important to improve quality.

Q: Will you give a free hand to the state media to perform their functions impartially?

A. The state media have already been given full freedom to perform their duties. It is the responsibility of the State media to convey information on the Government’s initiatives to the people. I don’t believe in placing any restrictions on the media. The state media have to compete with the private media in the context of improving quality and credibility.

If private media carries false information, it can be corrected by the state media. The state media must be way ahead to ensure credibility. News should not be biased. Once credibility is established there is hardly any room for disseminating false information.

Q: What would be the Government’s key priorities in the next five years?

A. Foreign direct investments, export oriented industries and development of agriculture would be our priorities. Sri Lanka is an agriculture-based country. The industries have also to be agriculture-based. Ministers have been assigned for various crop varieties, such as cardamom which has a huge overseas market.

If we can keep the bank interest rate to a single digit and maintain the budget deficit within 3 to 3.5 percent, those are viable indicators. The other important aspect is export development. These are matters that were considered when the Cabinet was formed and State Ministers appointed.

The people have given a historic victory to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by refuting the claim that a Government cannot secure a two-thirds majority in the face of proportional representation.

We can’t shirk this responsibility but execute all development programs to ensure the well-being of the people.