SJB demonstrated political immaturity - Minister Udaya Gammanpila | Sunday Observer
Opposition No Confidence motion

SJB demonstrated political immaturity - Minister Udaya Gammanpila

25 July, 2021

Co-Cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila said that the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) demonstrated their political immaturity by bringing a No Confidence Motion (NCM) against him. He said the internal dialogue within the Government was misled by the SJB hoping that there is a split in the Government so that they can exploit it for their advantage.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that “instead of exposing the Government’s split, they gave us an opportunity to show how strong the present Government is. We were able to get more than two thirds majority against the SJB sponsored NCM in Parliament and moreover, it was defeated by 91 votes. In fact, we had the same majority for the 20 th Amendment which was passed in Parliament soon after the election of the Government. Therefore, we were able to demonstrate that the Government up to now has maintained its original strength thanks to the SJB.”


Q: How do you view the defeat of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) sponsored No Confidence Motion (NCM) against you by a two-thirds majority in Parliament?

A: The Opposition brought this NCM assuming that there is an incurable division within the Government and they got defeated by the Government. The differences of opinions within the Government is quite natural because we are a broad coalition of 15 political parties. Therefore, we have different opinions on different issues.

Because of that we have a healthy debate within the Government. However, the Opposition misunderstood the situation and defeated themselves. We have different opinions and we may debate but nobody wants to defeat the Government or at least to embarrass the Government and we all want to protect the Government. Specially, not a single Government Parliamentarian wants the SJB to come to power. We all can well remember the disastrous five years of their rule.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has said that Parliamentarians who raised their hands against the NCM moved against you had justified the increase of the fuel price hike. Would you like to comment?

A: In fact, they are the ones who justified the increase of fuel price during the debate.

Because I urged the entire nation to come out with alternatives for the fuel price hike instead of criticising it. But nobody was able to give us an alternative for the fuel price hike. Even during the Parliamentary debate, not a single member from the Opposition was able to propose an alternative for that. It means they also admitted that the Government had no alternative but to increase the fuel prices. Therefore, it is not the Government but the Opposition which justified the increase of fuel prices.

Q: National People’s Power Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has said that the NCM moved by the main Opposition SJB against you is an unwise decision made by them without realising the political changes. Your views?

A: The SJB demonstrated their political immaturity by bringing an NCM against me. The internal dialogue within the Government was misled by the SJB hoping that there is a split in the Government so that they can exploit it for their advantage. Instead of exposing the Government’s split, they gave us an opportunity to show how strong the present Government is.

We were able to get more than two-thirds majority in Parliament against the NCM. Moreover, the Motion was defeated by 91 votes. In fact, we had the same majority for the 20 th Amendment which was passed in Parliament soon after the election of the Government. Therefore, we were able to demonstrate that the Government up to now has maintained its original strength thanks to the SJB.

Q: The Opposition demands to reduce the recently increased fuel prices and even some Government lawmakers are also of the view that it is not appropriate to go for a fuel price hike at this juncture when the people are faced with severe hardships due to Covid-19 situation. Would you like to comment on this?

A: We increased the fuel prices with great reluctance since we had no other choice. At a media briefing held on June 13, I urged all the critics to come out with an alternative for increased fuel prices but nobody was able to submit an alternative. I carefully listened to every single speaker in the Parliamentary debate and nobody was able to suggest an alternative. It means everybody by now has admitted that the Government had no choice but to increase the fuel price. Frankly after the increase, there was another 10 percent increase in fuel prices in the international market. However, the Sri Lankan Government decided to stick to the prevailing prices. If former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s price formula was in operation, the price of a litre of petrol prices would have been Rs. 179 and a litre of Diesel Rs. 134. So, the entire nation must be grateful to us for not operating that so-called fuel price formula.

Q: The teachers and principals have engaged in a protest and withdrawn from their online teaching lessons demanding the Government to provide solutions to their salary anomalies. What is your view in this regard?

A: Teachers may have grievances and we do admit those. But they should understand the country’s pathetic situation at present. The Government’s revenue in 2020 was just eight percent of the GDP and that was the lowest ever Government revenue. Although the Government’s revenue has drastically come down, we have to face the additional expenditures such as PCR tests, maintain quarantine centres and provide relief to the quarantined people as well as the people who live in lock down areas. Despite the teacher’s grievances being genuine, this is not the time to fight for those rights.

Q: During its short tenure in office, there is a wave of protests and demonstrations launched against the Government by the Opposition and various trade unions. Do you think there is a genuine intention behind these protests or these are mere politically motivated attempts to embarrass the Government?

A: The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest ever challenge faced by Sri Lanka as a nation. When we fought against the LTTE terrorists, we had the support of other nations as they didn’t have such problems. At present, the countries which are in a position to help us are also in trouble. Therefore, the entire nation should be united against this challenge shedding their petty differences such as race, religion, caste and political opinion. Unfortunately, our Opposition has not yet realised their responsibility at this critical juncture as well.

Q: UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that Sri Lanka is in an economic crisis centered on a foreign exchange deficit. Is there any truth in this?

A: We have now faced an economic crisis as well as foreign exchange crisis due to the economic mismanagement of the former Yahapalana Government. During their five years tenure in office, the Government debt has increased from Rs. 7 trillion to 13 trillion which is almost double. When we handed over the country to them, the Dollar exchange rate was Rs.131 but they boosted it up to Rs. 185. Our debt burden which was 72 percent of the GDP was increased to 87 percent.

Our per capita income was increased only by 33 Dollars during their entire five years in office. Because of these reasons, our economy was very weak. During our time, the economy was growing more than six percent. During the tenure of the former Yahapalana Government, the average annual economic growth was only 3 percent. As a result, we turned into one of the weakest economies in the world. Therefore, we couldn’t absorb the shock brought by the pandemic.

Q: The academics and Opposition parties protest against the General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill. Has the Government looked into these issues raised by them regarding the KNDU Bill?

A: This Bill has been discussed in length at the Government parliamentary group.

There were several positive changes proposed by Government Parliamentarians. The Government is ready to accommodate those amendments at the committee stage debate.

Q: Opposition political parties coordinated by Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice Karu Jayasuriya have got on to a common platform as they claim to protest against the Government’s repression and to safeguard Democracy. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: We witnessed their Democracy during their five years tenure in office. At that time, they had spent Rs.64 million to attack the protesters with water cannons. They have also spent equal amounts for tear gas.

This Government for the Past two years has never baton charged or launched tear gas attacks against the protestors.

The tribute should be made for our Government for holding elections early. But the former Government postponed Local Government elections by three years and Provincial Council elections were indefinitely postponed. So, the Opposition talking about Democracy is equivalent to a prostitute talking about the importance of protecting virginity.

Q: How do you respond to the Opposition claim that SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam enacted a drama by issuing a statement demanding you to resign for the recent fuel price hike?

A: That question should be posed to the SLPP General Secretary and not me. Because he is the one who is the best person to respond whether he enacted a drama or not.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that there is a fertiliser shortage and the harvest of the farmers has been drastically reduced as a result of it. Could you explain?

A: Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage has said that there are adequate fertiliser stocks available for the farmers. Unfortunately, fertiliser companies and their agents have hidden some of the fertiliser to sell them in the black market at a higher price later.

Because this is the last season where chemical fertiliser is available. At present, the Government is taking action to find out the hidden fertiliser stocks and also to punish the culprits.

Q: The Sri Lanka Medical Association has said that there is an imminent threat of a fourth wave of Covid-19 outbreak and warned the public of this. Your comments?

A: I am not a medical expert to make a comment about their opinion. However, the Director General of Health has rejected the statement made by the Sri Lanka Medical Association.

Q: State Minister Piyankara Jayaratne and SLPP Parliamentarian S.B. Dissanayake recently told the media that they are disappointed with the Government. Would you like to comment?

A: Actually, disappointment is a mental agony not just only confined to them. Sometimes, everybody in the Government including the President may be disappointed from time to time and that is quite normal.

Q: As reported by certain sections of the media, are there any issues or conflict of ideas among the coalition parties in the Government?

A: There are issues. If there are no issues, there is no coalition. The family is the smallest organisation in the world. But there are quarrels and arguments between the husband and wife in that smallest organisation from time to time. If it is the case, it is quite natural to have differences of opinion and among at each other in a very complex coalition of 15 political parties.

It is true that we have some issues but so far, we have managed to move forward despite those issues.

Q: Concerns are raised by various sections including Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith over the inordinate delay of bringing the masterminds of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks to book.

A: As an experienced lawyer, I must say that if somebody says that there is an undue delay, they are not familiar with the Sri Lankan legal system and it is a time-consuming process. We have already taken action to indict the culprits and thereafter it is up to courts to hear the cases and punish them. As you know, the court functioning has been greatly disturbed by the pandemic. That is the reason for the delay and that is something everybody is fully aware of.