Government will never support it - Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer
SJB no-confidence motion against Gammanpila

Government will never support it - Prasanna Ranatunga

27 June, 2021

Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga said if the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) believes that because the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam issued a statement that a certain group in the Government would extend their support to the SJB sponsored No Confidence Motion against Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, that would never happen.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said when 151 MPs are in the Government side, perhaps they have different political ideologies. “However, I would like to state with responsibility that if such differences are there within the Government, that would never be an obstacle to the forward march of the Government and nobody would be able to shake this Government.”


Q: A No Confidence Motion against Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila signed by 43 Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MPs was handed over to the Speaker on Tuesday. Your comments?

A: The entire country lost its confidence in the former Yahapalana Government. When the economies of worldwide countries collapsed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, didn’t we increase the fuel prices during the past two and a half years. However, we were compelled to go for this fuel price hike and it is clearly mentioned even in the President’s statement.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) members are of the view that it is not appropriate to increase the fuel prices at this juncture.

As a party, we express that opinion. However, the opinion of the party and the Government is different. If the main Opposition SJB thinks those who are in the Government would support their NCM as SLPP General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam made that statement, I don’t think no one in the Government would do so. This NCM would clearly show the inability of the main Opposition SJB and the strength of the Government.

Q: Has the Government parliamentary group discussed how to defeat this NCM against Minister Udaya Gammanpila?

A: If a NCM is moved against a Government Minister, it is the responsibility of the Government to defeat it in Parliament. If there is any issue in the Government, we have the ability to sort it out within the Government Parliamentary group meeting.

The SLPP is a disciplined political party.

As a Government, we should be with the President and the Prime Minister when they take a position regarding an issue.

Q: How do you view the protest made by the main Opposition SJB against the recent fuel price hike on June 22 arriving at Parliament in a vehicle parade?

A: Actually, we regret what they did. We could see the hardships faced by the Policemen who were running behind Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa’s vehicle to provide him security. Otherwise, the Opposition Leader should have come alone or asked his security personnel to come on motorcycles. Eight Policemen were running two sides of the Opposition Leader’s vehicle. That was very absurd because the security personnel had to run about two kilometers behind the Opposition Leader’s vehicle. However, it would be the biggest thing if these SJB Parliamentarians can get used to coming to Parliament by those same old vehicles without using luxury vehicles. Then it would become popular among the people as well. Therefore, my suggestion is they should at least come to Parliament in the same manner during this year without just restricting it to a single day.

Q: The fuel price hike was a collective decision taken by the Cabinet. Then certain sections raise concern as to how a letter was issued by SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam demanding Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila to resign. Could you explain?

A: A political party is an organisation consisting of its members. Actually, the SLPP General Secretary has expressed the view of its party members. Similarly, the party stance of the SJB and the JVP is also expressed by its members. If someone personally asks me, I will also say that I am against the recent fuel price hike. As a party, I am opposed to it because it is unbearable to the people at this juncture. We have to realise that the fuel prices have gone up in the World Market. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, our tourist arrivals and foreign remittances have been reduced.

In addition, production process has declined while the income gained from ports and other enterprises have been reduced. The Government reduced the taxes to provide some relief to the affected businessmen and develop the economy. However, this Covid-19 pandemic emerged later. Unfortunately, all these issues have affected us badly.

Q: We could see that even some of the Government lawmakers told the media that if SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa was there, he would have not permitted the increase in fuel prices. Your comments?

A: At present he doesn’t represent the Parliament. He is the National Organiser of the SLPP. Sometimes, he may also not be in favour of the recent fuel price hike and that is his party position. Earlier, when the gas prices were going to be increased, he expressed his opposition to that as well.

I think, therefore, a State Minister said if SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa was there he would have also not agreed to the fuel price hike. We also suggested that certain methodology should be formulated to address this issue rather than just increasing the fuel prices from time to time. At present, the Government is in the process of formulating such methodologies. As a Government, we should resort to such practical moves.

Q: The main Opposition SJB and certain sections attempt to portray the recent letter issued by SLPP General Secretary Sagara kariyawasam that it reflects the division within the Government. Would you like to comment?

A: Actually, the SJB and certain sections are attempting to create such an opinion. When the result of the No-confidence Motion comes, the country would be able to see whether there is any crisis within the Government or not.

It is obvious there are political differences among the constituent parties in the Government. Of the 225 Members of Parliament, when 151 MPs are in the Government side, they have different political ideologies. Such ideologies are also different based on their political parties. I would like to state with responsibility if such differences are there within the Government that would never be an obstacle to the forward march of the Government.Nobody would be able even to shake this Government.

If the SJB thinks that because the SLPP General Secretary issued a statement, a certain group in the Government would extend their support to the SJB sponsored NCM that would never happen. I am sure SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa would also never allow that to happen. It is all right to discuss any issues within the Government parliamentary group meetings. However, when the Government continues its affairs, we all should stand together by the position taken by the President and the Prime Minister.

After former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s electoral defeat in 2015, once again we all got elected to Parliament as a result of a long journey commenced by ‘Mahinda Sulaga’. Over 6.9 million people with a lot of confidence voted and ensured the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

It was evident when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power, some natural disasters occurred in the country. For example, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office, a lot of destruction was made due to the Tsunami and terrorism was also rampant in the country.

When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took over the country, the economy had collapsed. Later, more adverse effects were made on the economy due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As former President Mahinda Rajapaksa successfully overcame the post-Tsunami challenges and defeated terrorism, the intention of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is to provide Covid vaccine to all and strengthen the country’s health sector and rebuild the economy.

Q: SLFP General Secretary and State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera recently told the media that a conspiracy is being hatched to remove the constituent parties from the Government. Your comments?

A: I don’t know on what basis he made that statement. We have no idea about it. Actually, if we want to remove any political party from the Government, instead of saying, we have the ability to do so.

Q: Concerns have been raised regarding the Lanka Phosphate Company which was previously under the purview of Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa under the Agriculture Ministry. Could you explain?

A: It is a common phenomenon that such changes are made from time to time. For example, earlier the National Zoological Gardens were under my Ministry and later it was handed over to Minister C.B. Ratnayake. Earlier, the BOI was also under my purview and later it was changed. Such changes are made in keeping with the requirements. I don’t see anything wrong in it.

Q: Some Government lawmakers are of the view that the issues in the SLPP led alliance should be resolved within it without paving the way for the Opposition to take undue political advantage. Would you like to elaborate?

A: We resolve issues within the Government. If the Opposition talks about the issues in the Government, they can’t talk about the burning issues in the country because they are the people who ruined the country’s economy. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as a party what have they have done on behalf of the people. What is the relief they provided to the people who faced recent floods? When the UNP Government was in power, we in the Opposition members went to the villages and helped those affected by floods and other natural disasters. I don’t see the present Opposition acting in such a manner. They just only issue statements to the media. At present, the main Opposition SJB has become weakened and they don’t have anything to speak about. The biggest challenge faced by the SJB is UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s re-entry to Parliament.

It is being discussed whether JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and his group would be with Sajith Premadasa or join hands with Ranil Wickremesinghe. During the tenure of the former Yahapalana Government, Anura Kumara Dissanayake and his group closely dealt with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Those days Anura Dissanayake had close contacts with Ranil Wickremesinghe rather than Sajith Premadasa. As Ranil Wickremesinghe has come back to Parliament, the group who is against Sajith Premadasa might align with him. In future, there will be a lot of internal disputes within the SJB.

Q: How do you view UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s re-entry to Parliament from its National List?

A: If some UNPers think he is a good leader, there may be a group of people around him as well. When Sajith Premadasa formed a new political party and contested the last Presidential Election, Muslim and Tamil political parties and extremists supported him. There is a crisis within their party due to the prominence of such extremist elements within the SJB. Therefore, some disappointed factions were waiting until Ranil Wickremesinghe entered Parliament.

Q: Farmers engaged in paddy and other cultivation sectors protest due to shortage of fertiliser. Is there any fertiliser shortage as highlighted by them?

A: According to the information received by us, when we look at the quantity of the fertiliser imported, some fertiliser stocks have been hidden by errant traders. Instead of a fertiliser shortage, a large amount of fertiliser stocks has been hidden by the traders. We all know, it is very important to take the country towards organic farming. The President’s vision is to create a ‘poisonous free’ country. Earlier, kidney diseases were just confined to North Central Province.

Today the number of kidney patients in the Western Province has also increased. The people have to consume some foods which are made by using various chemicals. Separate hospitals had to be built for kidney patients due to this situation. There is a separate hospital at Maligawaththa in the Western Province and another one at Polonnaruwa for kidney patients. Another hospital has been built affiliated to the Anuradhapura hospital as well. When countries promote the cultivation of organic farming, we should also move towards that direction. We should create a systematic program to provide ‘poisonous free’ foods to our children.

This should be commenced from the school level. However, such policies should not be changed when the Governments are changed.

Q: What are the steps taken to assist the tourism sector which has faced a severe setback due to the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: Since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, various concessions and relief were given to those who have engaged in the tourism sector. Therefore, we have done a tremendous amount of work. However, providing relief cannot be done continuously. We have arranged a meeting with the Central Bank Governor, Treasury officials and the stakeholders in the tourism sector on June 29 to discuss the issues faced by the tourism sector and provide solutions. Nearly three million people depend on the tourism industry. The tourism sector is a very vital area as it brings a lot of foreign exchange earnings to the country. At present, we have lost that opportunity due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation.

Therefore, those who have experience in the tourism sector are shifting to other sectors. That is not a good move. We have the confidence that we would be able to move forward by protecting all those in the tourism sector.