Govt stronger than ever - Johnston Fernando | Sunday Observer

Govt stronger than ever - Johnston Fernando

9 January, 2022

Chief Government Whip, Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said the Opposition’s attempt to topple the Government would only be a daydream, adding that the Government is stronger than ever under the visionary and farsighted leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said they will not provide any room whatsoever to topple the Government.  He said if the Opposition feels it can shake the Government by getting some of our MPs, they should remember that there are many in the Opposition to join the Government. “We will not make announcements of the numbers ready to cross the Well of the House to our side, but we have already arranged a plan to replenish the number of MPs to keep our present composition.”


Q: Would you like to comment on the removal of SLPP MP Susil Premajayantha from the portfolio of State Minister of Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion?

A:  MP Premajayantha has criticised the Government’s program. It is detrimental to the interests of the Government. That is why he was removed from his portfolio. As a State Minister representing the Government, he has the responsibility to act within his limits. He has a responsibility to protect the Government and its policies.

When the Government attempts to maintain discipline in the country, new ideas should come from the Cabinet Ministers and State Ministers. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the President fully committed to protect the lives of the people, not the Cabinet Ministers or State Ministers. Sri Lanka is also among the best five or six countries which have successfully conducted their vaccination drive.

If we don’t think afresh in the New Year, we would not be able to create the developed Sri Lanka as expected by the people. If somebody attempts to criticise and sabotage the Government’s program, they should first resign from their portfolios and do that. If somebody does that while holding his portfolio, it is a conspiracy. The President should take action against them.   

Q: Former President Maithripala Sirisena said that the 20th Amendment to the Constitution needs to be abolished and the 19th Amendment reintroduced with some changes if the Government is to move in the right direction. Your comments?

A: Even former President Sirisena knows what happened under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. I am not going to comment on the former President. He makes these statements to retain his party supporters within the party. The statement made by the former President has no validity for the Government.

Q: How do you view the Rs.229 billion relief package announced by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on Monday (January 3) including Rs.5,000 special allowance to all Government employees, Security Forces personnel and pensioners?

A: At this need of the hour, the Finance Minister announced this relief package. The relief measures have been given for every segment of society starting from Government employees to Samurdhi beneficiaries. Relief have also been given to pensioners, Security Forces, differently abled Security Forces personnel and upcountry plantation workers. This is a very good decision by the Government. The Opposition always asked about the reliefs to the people who have faced hardships. These are such reliefs by the Government.

Q: Has the Government taken a final decision to seek an IMF bailout to overcome the current economic crisis?

A: Even the Finance Minister said on Wednesday that the Government would discuss with the IMF. The IMF is also yet another international monetary organisation. Similarly, the Government discusses with many international monetary organisations. I think discussing with the IMF is not a new phenomenon as we have done that in the past as well. However, the Government has not yet taken a decision whether to seek the IMF bailout or not.

Q: Farmers in several areas are staging protests demanding the Government to pay compensation for crops damaged due to the fertiliser shortage in the country, as earlier promised by the Agriculture Minister. Could you explain?

A: We have promised the farmers to give Rs.75 guaranteed price per kilo of their paddy. All these fertiliser problems and other issues faced by the farmers will end during this cultivation season. We will have to wait and see only for another couple of weeks. We can make decisions based on the success and failure of the program. We will not give any room for farmers to become helpless. If decisions will have to be taken to safeguard the interests of farmers, the Government will not be reluctant to do so.

Q: There is speculation of loss of foreign reserves and a resultant collapse of the economy. What measures have been taken to overcome the situation?

A: As what the UNP and Opposition said, the economy would have been bankrupt today. However, we were able to increase our foreign reserves. I always said these are temporary slogans put forward by the Opposition for their mere political survival. The Opposition slogans are like “Eda wela tours” and those are entirely for their survival.

As long as this President and the Government is in power, we will not give any room for the country to go bankrupt. Even amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we would successfully face each and every challenge and develop the country by building confidence among the people.

Q: The people have raised serious concern on the increase of the prices of fuel and other essential consumer items at a time they have faced severe hardships. Would you like to elaborate?

A: We have to admit that commodity prices have increased not only in Sri Lanka, but also in the entire world. The world has faced the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic. During our life, this is the first time we have faced this kind of situation. Even developed countries have faced severe hardships due to this situation. The cost of living in countries such as the US has gone up. We can’t predict how long it will take. We should increase our local production. That is the only way out for this crisis.

The Government has commenced this program. Financial assistance will be given for those who have even a 20 perch land to commence their cultivation. If we launch an agricultural drive and increase the country’s production that would pave the way to stabilise and reduce the prices of food commodities. If the demand is higher than the production, that would lead to increase the prices of consumer items. That is what has happened today.

Our Government will face this problem and increase production by creating a stable price for the people. We seek the assistance of the people to make this endeavour a success. We call upon the people to join hands and face this challenge as a country irrespective of political differences.

Q: SLPP Parliamentarian Jagath Kumara recently said Government members will have to prepare to sit in the Opposition if it fails to create an environment conducive for people to live. Is there any conflict of ideas within the Government as some Government lawmakers express controversial views to the media?

A: They are newly elected MPs and are not mature. If mature politicians resort to such a course of action, there may be a hidden agenda behind it. However, we should not seriously take these comments by the new MPs due to their lack of political experience. When seniors are not behaving in an exemplary manner, it would be difficult to correct the mistakes of newcomers.

When newcomers mature, they won’t make the same mistake again. We have to be careful when seniors who hold portfolios make controversial statements because they might have ulterior motives. That is why steps were taken by the President to remove SLPP Parliamentarian Susil Premajayantha from his portfolio.

Q: You had recently told the media that it is your hunch that problems and issues pertaining to gas consumption is a created-problem and there seems to be hands of sabotage. Has the Government been able to find out a solution to this issue?

A: I have suspicions about so-called gas explosions. I am under the impression that those who hold portfolios should find solutions to the issue without running away. That is why a Chairman and a Board of Directors are appointed to a company.  If there is no mistake on our part, we should speak without running away. There were no gas related explosions reported from the houses in Colombo 7, Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya, Kurunegala , Kandy or Jaffna. It is good that the CID should investigate this.

Gas related explosions were reported only in certain parts of the country. Some say the composition of the gas cylinders has been changed and low quality gas cookers are sold. I have some doubt as to why these explosions are reported only in some isolated areas. If the composition of gas cylinders is changed or wrong, then all gas cookers or pipes should explode. If there is a genuine reason behind this gas issue, it should be investigated. It is too early to make a statement in this regard. We are still investigating it.

Q: The Opposition and certain sections raise concern on the prorogation of Parliament under the present circumstances. Your views?

A: When an impeachment was moved against President Ranasingha Premadasa, he prorogued Parliament. There are instances of prorogation of Parliament by the former Government.

The Parliament was scheduled to meet on January 11. Now, it has been postponed for January 18. The President may think to prorogue and reconvene a fresh Parliament. The Opposition speaks about postponing parliamentary sittings by just one week. Today, we have an Opposition which finds day-to-day slogans for their mere political survival.

Q: Some speculated that the Government wanted to reconstitute parliamentary watchdog committees, Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and Committee on Public Finance (COPF) as some sections of the Government felt the revelations made therein caused difficulties. Would you like to comment?

A: We categorically deny that. We have to investigate so many frauds and corruption committed by the former Government. We don’t want to cover up anything. The President will not provide any room for fraud and corruption during his tenure in office. Through the COPE and COPA, we are committed to investigating any wrongdoing.

The Opposition has got scared as we would investigate what they did when they were in power. During the past two years, we didn’t take any such action against them. Many frauds have been committed during the tenure of the Yahapalana Government. Many Government backbenchers have also requested the President and the Government to investigate into these malpractices. However, these investigations will be conducted without any political interference.

Q:  Minister Mahinda Amaraweera has criticised the MPs who travelled overseas for holiday after Parliament was prorogued. He had said that instead of going abroad for the holiday season, they have to visit farmers who have been deprived as a result of the fertiliser crisis and the public suffering from the economic hardships. Your views?

A:  If somebody wants to go abroad, he has a right to go and we can’t stop it. I have no statistics of the Parliamentarians who went abroad. There is media speculation that 50 to 60 MPs had been on overseas tours after Parliament was prorogued. As the Chief Government Whip, I have started to look into it. However, if somebody goes on a personal trip, we can’t prevent it. It is wrong to accuse anybody without knowing the facts. According to the information that I have received I don’t think 60 MPs have gone abroad.  

Q: How do you respond to the Opposition allegation which says when the country has faced a severe economic crisis, the Government has given priority to construct roads by spending huge amounts of money?

A:  We should give priority to developing the infrastructure facilities of the country. Countries such as the United State of America gave priority to construct their road network. That is how they have developed. If we try to bring new investors, set up new industries and bring agricultural products of farmers to the city, Sri Lanka needs a modern road network.

Roads are constructed for the people. They through the media also request the Government to construct new roads, bridges and renovate roads. The Opposition always complains that roads are not constructed. Once we construct roads, they criticise it. I believe construction work on roads should be completed as soon as possible. That would allow the people to travel to any destination without delay. That is why on the directive of the President, the Government commenced to develop 100,000 kilometres of road network.