Protests are politically driven - Dr. Bandula Gunawardana | Sunday Observer
Opposition is full of hatred

Protests are politically driven - Dr. Bandula Gunawardana

8 August, 2021

Minister of Trade Dr. Bandula Gunawardana said that the Opposition is full of hatred and they cannot tolerate their electoral defeat. Therefore, they have engaged in a program to somehow grab power in an unscrupulous manner.

However, it would never become successful as the people are more intelligent than they think. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said when the entire world has faced to Covid-19, the Opposition in Sri Lanka may be the only Opposition which behaves in such an irresponsible manner. In other countries, protests are conducted for their failure to control the Covid-19 pandemic or issues related to their inoculation drive. In a global pandemic such as this, nowhere in the world protests are conducted demanding to increase the salaries as millions of people in worldwide have lost their jobs, salaries and their businesses.


Q: How do you view the continuous protest by the teachers and principal trade unions despite the assurance by the Government to sort out their salary anomalies at the forthcoming Budget?

A: This a political campaign launched against the Government. Sometimes, teachers may not be aware of it. However, the Opposition political parties and other organisations have made use of teachers to realise their narrow political objectives. I think teachers also have an understanding about the situation in the country.

The entire world has faced a severe setback due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The production process has declined. Whatever Government is in power, there is no ability to levy taxes. When the factories are closed, income taxes cannot be charged. In addition, taxes on goods and services cannot be increased.

Even though the country didn’t face a worse scenario in 2020, the Government revenue was Rs.1,216 billion.  Of that Rs.1,052 billion had to be spent to pay salaries and pensions which is nearly 86 percent of the Government’s total expenditure. We had only a balance of Rs.164 billion to meet all other expenses including to pay interests for loans, give subsidies such as Samurdhi and meet the capital expenditures.

If the taxes are imposed on the citizens of the country and utilise the entire tax revenue to pay salaries and pensions, then this Opposition should tell as to how the Government should be continued. The only option is that we will have to impose a special goods and services tax to pay the salaries. We are not in a position to further obtain loans as we have taken them to the maximum. Otherwise, we have to sell the resources to pay the salaries.

This situation applies to the private sector as well. Private sector businesses have also collapsed. They have lost their orders. As a result, the private sector only pays a half of the salary or Rs.14,500 per month to their employees. There is no other alternative.

As I said in Parliament, when we also have to give a portion of our salary to the Covid Fund, teachers are demanding to sort out their salary anomaly which has lasted over the past 24 years. This protest by the teachers has turned into a political campaign. When the former Mahinda Rajapaksa Government was in power, a slogan was created and the entire country rallied round demanding to allocate six percent of the Budget for education. This led to toppling the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government.

At that time university lecturers, professors and senior professors came to the streets and said that they won’t give up their struggle until six percent is allocated for education. After the Yahapalana Government came to power, that ‘six percent’ allocation didn’t come during their five years tenure in office. The Yahapalana Government didn’t allocate even two percent for education, but these university lecturers and professors didn’t question it.

Q: Is there any basis behind the protest made by the Opposition, Inter University Students’ Federation and academics demanding to withdraw the Kotelawala National Defence University Bill (KNDU)?

A: There is no reason to oppose it. It is already a university. Still a large number of students who are willing to enter the university have not been able to do so. Students are recruited to the university in an accurate manner based on Z score. The courses are conducted at a high level to meet the international standards.

The KNDU Bill is brought to merge several acts which are implemented separately. If the Opposition and some others cannot realise this, it is more appropriate to set up a parliamentary select committee to discuss the situation of higher education and as to how higher education policies should be prepared to suit the country. The genuine issue is not discussed anywhere.

Those who have the ability to send their children to foreign universities don’t send their children to national universities. But we don’t tell this true story. After somehow doing the London Ordinary Level examination, those students who are at the age of 16 can enter into any recognised university college in the US, UK, Singapore, France or Russia. At the age of 17, that student can get a diploma from the university college. After that he can go to a foreign university. Within three years, he can obtain whatever degree he wants.  After that, he can do masters and PHD when he is 24 years old. Our children after the Ordinary Level exam spend another three years doing Advanced Level and after that they can enter a state university.

Nearly five years of their life is ruined due to lack of money. Unfortunately, at least five percent of those who studied in foreign universities don’t come back to Sri Lanka. They find white-collar jobs and settle in foreign countries. This is a tragedy. However, the protestors of the local university system don’t speak about this. Sometimes, if they are well-off, they may also send their children to foreign universities.

Q: The Opposition says the country’s economy is on the decline and Sri Lanka is in an economic crisis. Your comments?

A: The Opposition is fully responsible for the collapse of the economy. In Sri Lankan history, the Yahapalana Government has set a record. During their tenure, the economic growth had continuously declined in each year from 2015 to 2019. This has never happened under any other Government that ruled the country.

During the five years tenure of the Yahapalana Government, the per-capita income has been increased only by 33 US Dollars. The size of the economy has increased by only US$ 3 billion. Foreign reserves which were at 8.2 percent were completely destroyed. When we handed over the Government in 2015, the value of the Dollar was Rs.131. It was Rs.182 when we took over the Government in 2019.

That was the highest depreciation of the rupee against the Dollar. The former Yahapalana Government has obtained foreign loans by setting up a world record. The entire economy was ruined by them. Tourism industry also totally collapsed due to the former Government’s inability to prevent 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. That kind of country was handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In 2014, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over a country which had recorded a highest economic growth in Asia, but it was ruined by the Yahapalana Government during its five years in office. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and the Cabinet of the former Yahapalana Government are held responsible for creating this economic crisis.

Q: WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has commended the Government’s vaccination drive. Would you like to comment?

A: According to the statistics, our Covid death rate is very low compared to other countries. We are the country which has vaccinated the highest number of the population within a short period. This is mainly due to the personal dedication of the President and the result of the immense contribution by the health sector and Security Forces who love the country and the lives of its people.

As a country, we should appreciate the attempt by the President, health authorities and Security Forces to rescue the lives of the people. If our Covid-19 program was not militarised, more patients would have died in Sri Lanka than India. If the Yahapalana Government was in power, we would have not been able to get even a vaccine because they had an anti-China policy.

Q: Farmers say that they cannot sell a kilogram of paddy at the Government’s guaranteed price of Rs.50 and demand to increase it. Is there any truth in this allegation?

A: This is an utter political lie. We would like to give even Rs.80 per kilogram of paddy to farmers. Then the consumers should be ready to buy a kilogram of rice for Rs.160. Otherwise, rice should be imported to lower prices as was done by the former Government.

During the tenure of the former Government, a kilogram of paddy was purchased for Rs.32 and the farmers also had to purchase fertiliser. However, the farmers didn’t protest at that time.

The Government provides fertiliser to farmers free of charge and purchases a kilogram of paddy at Rs.50. Then as to how the farmers say the price offered to them is not sufficient.

To safeguard the farmers, the President banned the import of rice. After 1977, no such decision had been taken by any President.

Those who have misunderstood the President’s humane qualities and his appearance on behalf of farmers increased the prices of rice. As racketeers attempt to create any artificial rice shortage in the market, the Trade Ministry has called an international tender to import 100,000 metric tons of rice to maintain a buffer stock.

We will not provide any room whatsoever to sell rice at higher prices. The fine of Rs.2,500 imposed on the traders who sell rice than the guaranteed prices have been increased up to Rs.100,000.  The Attorney General has given his approval to this. After obtaining the Cabinet approval, this new law will be gazetted on Tuesday.

Q: Lots of concerns have been raised on the death of an under-aged domestic worker at SJB Parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen’s house demanding justice for the family of the deceased girl. Your views?

A: There is no interference for the law enforcement authorities to conduct investigations regarding this incident.

The former Yahapalana Government didn’t have sympathy for any political leader and framed bogus charges against them. They have set a record as the Government which harassed the highest number of Rajapaksa family members, political leaders and Opposition Parliamentarians. They set up a Financial Crime Division to take revenge from their political opponents.

There was also an executive committee which even overruled the powers of the Cabinet to frame bogus charges and witch-hunt the Opposition politicians. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Government have not taken any step to take revenge from political opponents. We can’t bend the law as was done by the former Yahapalana Government. We are disappointed as some institutions are not operating in an efficient manner unlike the tenure of the former Government. We have made lots of complaints to the CID and the Bribery Commission with evidence on various frauds and malpractices that took place during the tenure of the Yahapalana Government, but nothing is happening.

Q: During the Government’s short tenure in office, there is a wave of protests and demonstrations. Is there any genuine motive behind them or are these politically motivated to embarrass the Government?

A: These are aimed to embarrass the Government. There are lots of local and international forces which cannot tolerate the resounding victory achieved by the President at the last Presidential Election.

That is why they attempted to create a “white van” drama in society, but finally it turned into a futile exercise. The President even reserved a separate place for the protesters to conduct their protests. Now the Opposition resorting to various protests attempts to kill a person similar to they did at Rathupaswala and Katunayake following the instructions given to them by the international elements. They attempt to create an Arab spring in Sri Lanka.

Q: Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and various other sections have raised concern on the failure to bring the culprits of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks to book. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: The law is not implemented as quickly as we think. Although we have submitted all the details on the frauds and malpractices that took place during the tenure of the former Government, there is a delay to implement the law against the culprits.

However, our Government doesn’t have a system of interfering into the judiciary. As a policy, the Government maintains the position that legal actions should be taken against all the culprits of the Easter Sunday attacks and justice to the victims of the families. There may be delays but all the culprits will be brought to book