No political witch-hunt in Ranjan Ramanayake’s imprisonment - Udaya Gammanpila | Sunday Observer

No political witch-hunt in Ranjan Ramanayake’s imprisonment - Udaya Gammanpila

17 January, 2021

Co-cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Energy Udaya Prabath Gammanpila said if the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegiya (SJB) says the imprisonment of parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake is a political witch-hunt, they should accept the responsibility for it because the complaint was made against him when the Yahapalana Government was in power. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said MP Ramanayake’s judgement was given by the judges appointed by their own President Maithripala Sirisena at that time on the recommendation of the then Constitutional Council.

If this judgement was politically motivated, the Opposition itself should accept the responsibility for it. “As a parliamentarian and a lawyer, I don’t see any political motive behind this judgment. MP Ramanayake had obviously repeatedly insulted the judiciary. He deliberately attempted to undermine the people’s trust on the country’s judiciary. Therefore, he deserves this kind of judgement.”

Q: Over 31 MPs have been asked to self-quarantine after three parliamentarians tested Covid-19 positive. Will this lead to the emergence of another Covid-19 cluster?

A: Parliamentarians are also a part of our society. When there is a rapidly spreading virus, parliamentarians cannot be immune. They interact with more people than any others. Therefore, their vulnerability is higher than the ordinary citizens.

This is normal and parliamentarians have to take this situation seriously if they want to serve the people. I don’t think this would lead to another Covid-19 cluster because parliamentarians don’t meet on a daily basis like at any other workplace. They meet eight days a month. Therefore, I don’t expect this to be another cluster.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has raised concerns about the recent statement by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on SJB parliamentarian Harin Fernando and the Party has asked the Speaker and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to provide adequate security for the MP. Would you like to comment on this?

A: The Opposition is over-reacting since they have nothing else to do. The President in his speech hasn’t threatened Harin Fernando as alleged by the Opposition. Since they don’t have any other issues to take up, they are trying to create an issue without any substance.

Q: The SJB attempts to portray the four years rigorous imprisonment of Ramanayake as a political witch-hunt. Your comments?

A: If they say this is a political witch-hunt, they themselves should accept the responsibility for it because the complaint was made against Ranjan Ramanayake when the Yahapalana Government was in power. The judgement was given by a Bench appointed by their own President Maithripala Sirisena on the recommendation of the then Constitutional Council.

Therefore, if this judgement was politically motivated, the Opposition should accept the responsibility for it. As a parliamentarian and a lawyer, I don’t see any political motive behind this judgement. MP Ramanayake obviously repeatedly insulted the judiciary. He deliberately attempted to undermine the people’s trust on the country’s judiciary. Therefore, he deserves this kind of judgement.

Q: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has personally written to the Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers to provide the Covid-19 vaccine to Sri Lanka. What is the situation regarding the import of the Covid-19 vaccine to the country?

A: The Government patiently waited until the Covid-19 vaccines were approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) since we didn’t want to risk the lives of the people.

The President has not only written to these two friendly nations but also has appointed a Committee headed by his Principal Advisor Lalith Weeratunga to expedite in bringing down the vaccine. Hopefully, we will have the vaccine in Sri Lanka by late February.

Q: In the present Covid-19 situation, will the people have to continue their normal way of life while adhering to health guidelines?

A: Unfortunately, we have no other alternative. We have to get used to the present situation and strictly follow the accepted health guidelines.

Q: Erecting a war monument at the Jaffna University raised serious concern among the people. What is the need for a war monument at this juncture when the country is heading towards reconciliation after the end of terrorism in 2009?

A: Actually, that monument to commemorate the terrorists was erected in 2016 when the UNP led Yahapalana Government was in power. The present Government didn’t take the decision to demolish or re-erect that war monument.

However, we are strongly of the view that nobody should promote terrorism and separatism in the country as it would be harmful to our forward march as a nation.

Q: How do you view the attempts by the Opposition to use the Coronavirus pandemic to gain cheap political mileage and instil the wrong impression in the minds of the public?

A: The Opposition is desperate. They somehow want to grab power. They are trying to make use of this situation for their advantage.

As we know, this is the biggest challenge faced by the world collectively. Throughout our history, we didn’t face such a pandemic. Therefore, we should shed all differences and be united to face this challenge. Unfortunately, the Opposition makes irresponsible attempts to take political advantage of this situation.

Q: Some say the lack of a vibrant Opposition is not healthy for democracy, your comments?

A: A vibrant Opposition should always be a responsible one as well. A vibrant Opposition without responsibility is more dangerous than terrorism.

The SJB has 54 members in Parliament. If you consider the previous Parliament, until we launched the ‘Wind of Mahinda’ (Mahinda Sulanga), the entire House was supporting the Yahapalana Government.

In 1977, the Opposition was restricted to eight members. So, the situation is not something new. However, we need a strong Opposition to point out to the Government when it moves in the wrong direction.

Q: The SJB says the country is heading towards militarisation with the appointment of military officials to handle the Covid-19 activities. What is your comment on this?

A: This is a baseless allegation because the army is not going to replace the health officials or administrative officials. There are army camps throughout the country. When local leaders seek the support of the army on the quarantine or relief distribution process, they have to contact the Army Commander.

That is why the Army Commander has appointed 25 Major Generals as district coordinators. Thereby, the District Secretaries can directly contact the District Coordinating Major Generals instead of contacting the Army Commander.

There is no militarisation as alleged by the Opposition and 25 contact points have been set up at district level for health and administrative officials to reach out whenever they need the support of the army for their activities.

Q: As a former Minister of the Western Provincial Council, is there any justification for the continuation of the Provincial Council system as some say it is a duplication of work and a waste of public funds?

A: Provincial Council elections have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation. The former Yahapalana Government was of the view that the PC system is useless and that is why they postponed elections for more than two and a half years. We are now formulating a new Constitution and there will be a public dialogue about the contents. The people can then decide whether they need the PCs or require another system.

Q: Sections of the Maha Sangha publicly say the Government is now on the wrong track. Is there any truth in this allegation?

A: Bhikkus have all the right to make such allegations against the Government as they also played a crucial role in forming the present administration.

The Government has a duty to listen to them and correct issues that have gone wrong. The bhikkus are playing their traditional role and it is their inherited right and therefore we should respect them.

Q: Do you think it is prudent to open the doors to tourists when the number of Covid-19 cases is increasing daily in the country?

A: We closed down the country for tourists for nearly one year. Tourism is crucial for earning the much needed foreign currency. That is why we have invited tourists to come to Sri Lanka by using the biological travel bubble method.

It is true that there are a reasonable number of Covid-19 patients in the country. If the tourists have decided to visit Sri Lanka despite that risk, why should we act against that?

Q: You had also told the media that the nine-member Committee appointed to draft the new Constitution will meet the different political parties in the Government and the Opposition to discuss the proposals received for a new Constitution. Could you explain?

A: The Committee chaired by President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva has decided to meet the political parties represented in Parliament during this month and to have a dialogue with them on the formation of the new Constitution.

The Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, has also been invited. Likewise, they may invite other parties from the Opposition. That is a healthy move and an indication that the formation of the new Constitution is now in action.

Q: Don’t you think the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) should deviate from its separatist sentiments and cooperate with the Government at least to improve the livelihood of their people?

A: The last General Election was a clear reflection that the people in the North had moved away from the TNA and embraced new political parties such as the SLFP, SLPP, EPDP and TMVP, which are coalition partners of the Government.

Therefore, we should read the message given by the Northern and the Eastern voters properly. The simple message is that they need development instead of devolution. The South, in general, and the Government in particular, should understand this strong message and embrace our Northern and Eastern brethren warmly and join hands with them to develop their areas.

The political change that has taken place was because the Tamils claim that they have been sidelined or neglected due to the internal power struggles within the Tamil political parties which gave little thought to their grievances. The poll results in the North and the East at the August 5 General Election showed a mixed reaction where the TNA which is the traditional party representing the Tamils of the North and the East from 2001 has been weakened.

Q: Ranil Wickremesinghe has been re-appointed as the leader of the United National Party (UNP). Do you think the UNP will have any forward march under his leadership?

A: It seems the UNP doesn’t have a future. It reflects the UNP’s bankruptcy as well. That is why they can’t find a replacement for Ranil Wickremesinghe even after facing the worst ever humiliating defeat at the last parliamentary election under his leadership.