Opposition has misled people on Covid-19 - Ajith Nivard Cabraal | Sunday Observer
“Port City Bill, an important piece of legislation”:

Opposition has misled people on Covid-19 - Ajith Nivard Cabraal

23 May, 2021

State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal said the Opposition has misled the people about the current Covid-19 situation in the country. They don’t understand this is a very important period in our history where they would have also scored points if they had supported and helped the Government during the crisis. Instead of that, they are doing their utmost to pull the Government down with various things and that is to their detriment as well.

The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said he feels sorry for the present Opposition. They cannot understand what the people require is the support from the Opposition and not that they act in such an irresponsible manner to topple the Government or to disturb the Government activities.

They have not provided any insight, suggestion or assistance for dealing with this crisis. They will face a very poor political future as a result of what they are doing right now.


Q: Do you think the Port City Economic Commission Bill is the need of the hour?

A: I think it is going to be a turning point in Sri Lanka’s economic history. It is a very important piece of legislation which will make a huge impact on our country’s onward economic journey. Right now, we realise that there are many challenges facing the nation not only ourselves but all over the world to go forward. In a time like this, the legislation as well as what that Port City can do would be very helpful and it is very much the need of the hour but also get the right and to effectively to have this Port City implemented.

Q: The Opposition and certain other sectors are attempting to portray that the Port City Bill was moved in haste with some ulterior motives. Your comments?

A: This Bill was originally said to be approved in January by the Cabinet. It was sent to the Legal Draftsman thereafter to be structured. It was presented in Parliament on March 24. Thereafter, the Supreme Court had made a determination and 21 petitions were entertained by the Supreme Court in respect of this Bill. All were within the timeframe that has been set out in our Constitution. It was presented in Parliament on May 18. So, there has been enough time, more than nearly six months, to debate as well as discuss this Bill. I think there is ample time and it is certainly not anything which can be said to be done in haste. We have given enough time and we will adhere to all the areas that the Supreme Court has wanted us to make changes and we will do so accordingly.

Q: The Government lawmakers say the Opposition attempts to sabotage the passage of the Port City Bill as it would create a turning point in the country’s economic development. Would you like to comment on this?

A: I think that is absolutely true with this Opposition. They are actually doing their best to delay it so that the onward journey of Sri Lanka will be disturbed. In my view, that is a very pathetic attempt because that shows how bankrupt they are. I wish they had supported it because they would have also got the credit for the turning point in our economic history. It is a game changer. Instead of also getting value for them as a result of supporting this Bill, the Opposition is opposing and trying their best to delay it. Actually, they are ruining themselves in the eyes of the people.

Q: The Supreme Court judgement sent to the Speaker has said that several clauses in the Port City Economic Commission Bill are inconsistent and suggested certain amendments. Will the Government make these amendments to the Bill?

A: We have consistently stated that any amendments that are suggested by the Supreme Court would be welcome by us and we would accommodate those. Therefore, there is nothing that we are disturbed about. We believe in the true nature of democracy and all these pillars of governance which are important are being respected and we will be quite happy to accommodate the changes that have been proposed by the Supreme Court and we will improve this law accordingly. So, we are quite happy to do that.

I don’t think we will have to go for a referendum to pass some of the clauses of the Bill. We of course have the majority but want it to be the normal democratic process and we would pass it with a normal majority as the Supreme Court has suggested the way in which it could be passed with a normal majority. So, we would do that.

Q: How would you respond to the Opposition claim that when there is a huge Covid-19 outbreak in the country, the Government has given priority to pass the Port City Bill?

A: Once again, it is a pathetic effort. In times of difficulties, we have to cooperate and to make sure that we are able to make decisions for the long-term wellbeing of our nation. So, just because there is a pandemic or some danger doesn’t mean that we have to stop all activities. Even during the times of battle against terrorism, we had the Parliament functioning. We had periods in which 300, 400 people were killed at a time in our country. We had people attempting to disturb the Parliament by attacking the Parliament itself. Some of the parties that are in Parliament today were predecessors who were part of the terrorist process or subversive process and they attacked the Parliament. But, yet, the Parliament met. That is the supremacy of democracy in our country.

I think even though we have certain difficulties, we have to make sure that the business of Government and passing laws and governing the country continue even in the midst of all these difficulties and dangers. So, we are doing that and again the Opposition is saying we should stop these things because they know what a huge game changer this law is going to be for Sri Lanka.

Q: One of the key issues raised by the Opposition is that the Port City Commission doesn’t come under the scrutiny of the Parliament or any Parliamentary Committees such as COPE and COPA. Is there any truth in this?

A: That is absolute not true. It will come under the normal organs of government. The regulations will need to be passed by the Parliament. Therefore, the Parliament oversight has been assured. We have accommodated and we are having that.

Q: How do you view the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) call to have an All-Party Conference to discuss how to better manage the Covid-19 outbreak? Is there any need to do so?

A: I don’t see any such need because they are only interested in sabotaging the work of the Government. They have not provided any insight, suggestion or assistance for dealing with this crisis. What has been done by the Government, the SJB has actually been doing its utmost to scuttle any attempt and nothing else. So, I don’t think any purpose will be served by that.

The Government is doing everything that is necessary to deal with this current situation. I think we would not be just wasting time if we are to have some more talks instead of getting down to action. There is a massive moratorium where Rs. 3 trillion has been postponed for payments. What a huge impact that is going to cause for the people of our country? That was not a part of the discussions that came through with the SJB. Those were things that we did. We have given Rs.165 billion rupees worth of Saubagya loans. So far, we have spent Rs.150 billion on Covid - related activities to make sure that we are able to provide necessary relief as well as support to the people.

Through all that, the Opposition’s only intention has been to criticise and make it more and more difficult for us to handle it, nothing else. So, I don’t think any benefit will come out of such a conference and we are quite confident to handle it like what we have done in the past and we will continue to do that.

Q: What are the steps taken by the Government to minimise the impact caused on the economy and the people who depend on small scale business ventures due to the travel restrictions imposed from time to time?

A: I personally think that these travel restrictions should be enforced at a very minimal level as the people must be encouraged to take health precautions and then get about their work. People are used to that. From the old times, we have dealt with contagious diseases in a responsible manner. Sri Lanka is used to that. When we have people suffering from any contagious disease, they are confined to their homes and they take certain steps. We put Kohomba leaves outside our houses to make sure that we are quarantined. We bathe for a period of two weeks when we have chicken-pox or measles.

So, we should continue to adhere to those precautions and then of course will help whenever we have difficulties but overall, our people are used to taking medical precautions and quarantine measures.

I believe we should take people into confidence but yet allow people who are well to do their work so that the economy doesn’t suffer. If we close the economy entirely and lock down every day you would suffer a minimum loss of at least Rs.15 billion in GDP output. If the output of our country will suffer in that nature, that can be a huge problem and we should try to minimise that so that we don’t have other repercussions that will follow with a negative growth.

Q: Is there any truth in the allegation levelled by certain sections that the Government is in a financial crisis?

A: From the time we came into office, they have been talking about a financial crisis because they are expecting the Government to fail. If they had been in power of course we would definitely have failed. Even when the times were good without any problems, Sri Lanka’s macro fundamentals suffered tremendously in the five years when the Yahapalana Government was in power.

So, fortunately we have been able to stop the rot and to ensure that we go forward without any further debacle. But it has been tough as a result of the condition being extremely difficult from the time we came to office.

However, we have been able to maintain stability and we have brought interest rates down and we have been able to ensure that the economic activity can take place without any difficulty so that the people can go about their business.

We have provided a massive moratorium to withstand the pressures of the Covid-19 outbreak. We have provided facilities to our ports, airports to make sure that the people can continue with their trading activities even within the context of Covid-19.

We have provided funds needed for the health services to function without any interruption with a massive investment there as well. Obviously, the Opposition must be wondering how on earth we are doing all these things when they left us such a bankrupt economy.

We are telling them that is the way we are managing the economy and that is different from the way they managed it. Although they are surprised, we are hoping that they would come to terms with the fact that Sri Lanka is now certainly doing better than it was under their regime.

Q: Are you confident that the Government would be able to come out from the Covid-19 crisis and take the country forward as planned?

A: Yes. I think you saw that in the last two quarters of last year that the country was booming again. This year also the first quarter was excellent but yet we see certain pressures because tourism still has not come back to normal. Now, there is a further delay which is no doubt putting on pressure.

But still for all, we are dealing with the situation in a proactive manner and we believe as soon as the condition normalises even slightly, we would be able to reap further benefits so that the people can get about their business and economic activities will thrive once again.

In that context, the Port City Law is a very important piece of legislation which will have a huge impact in how we move forward for the future. That is why the Opposition is so upset now, that we are passing this law and I believe their excitement is natural because they really don’t want to see Sri Lanka prospering from their point of view.

Q: Is there any political crisis within the Government as leaders of some constituent parties openly express some contradictory remarks to the media?

A: We have no such difficulty. We are a group of political parties which is of course headed by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). We all have very good understanding. At the same time, we are very keen to have a very good dialogue as well.

The dialogue is based on dissenting views which can be accommodated and it is definitely be something we can deal with.

We are quite happy to have different views being expressed so that we can shape a policy with the help as well as the support of all constituencies within our entire parties. So, I see that as strength and not as a weakness. If some people see that as a weakness and they think that the Government is going to be disturbed by that situation, I think that is wishful thinking.