Unite to overcome challenges- Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

Unite to overcome challenges- Prasanna Ranatunga

23 January, 2022

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said political parties which represent the people have a prime responsibility to commit themselves to create an environment conducive to move forward as a stable country.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa presenting the Government Policy Statement in Parliament on Tuesday stressed, “If we all are united irrespective of petty differences, we can overcome challenges faced by the country. The President told those who love the country to join hands and work for its betterment. We are confident that we would be able to rescue the country from the Covid-19 pandemic and strengthen the economy. 


Q: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa inaugurating the second session of the ninth Parliament on Tuesday called upon all Government and Opposition parties to unite inside as well as outside of Parliament to overcome challenges faced by the country. Your comments?

A: The President made a very important speech in Parliament.  Similar to the efforts made to defeat terrorism, the President stressed the need for everybody to join hands to overcome the present crisis faced by the country. Political parties which represent people have a prime responsibility to commit themselves to create an environment conducive to move forward as a stable country.

The country has faced a setback socially and economically due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We can see countries such as Australia, foods are not available in the supermarkets. Recently, there were huge vehicle queues in the UK to get fuel. Similarly, each country has faced some crisis. What the President highlighted in his address to Parliament was that if we all are united irrespective of petty differences, we can overcome the present challenges faced by the country.

During the battle against terrorism, former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya along with 13 UNP MPs joined hands with the then Government, and it was a great strength to defeat terrorism. Responsible politicians and others who think of their motherland can work together in a crisis. We will have to wait and see how Opposition politicians act themselves in the near future.  

Q: Former President Maithripala Sirisena has resorted to making some controversial remarks on the Government. However, the Government’s coalition partner SLFP has said that it has no immediate plan to withdraw from the Government, but will continue to raise critical questions. Would you like to comment?

A: During the parliamentary election, I said not to vote for anybody who is connected to Maithripala Sirisena. I said so as I know about Sirisena well. He is hypocritical and an opportunistic politician. Before the day he quit the Government, he told the media he had no idea to quit and he was the General Secretary of the SLFP. Having said so, before 24 hours, he quit the Government.

We can’t do politics or trust him as he is an opportunistic politician. At the last General Election, all those SLFP MPs got elected to Parliament as they joined hands with the SLPP. If they joined the UNP, they would have not been elected. At that time also, they took an opportunistic decision. That is why I gave that message earlier prior to the election and was highly critical about him. Former President Sirisena attempts to criticise the Government to get rid of the charges levelled against him and once again rebuild public confidence. The majority of the SLFP supporters are now in the SLPP.

When the SLFP led by Sirisena aligned with the UNP, it was the SLPP which helped the SLFPers. All hardcore SLFPers like us are in the SLPP today. The name of the SLFP has been safeguarded as Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa formed the SLPP creating a place for the SLFPers to rally round.  If former President Sirisena attempts to form a new political alliance, the people will not join hands with him. He attempts to embarrass the Government and get rid of the allegations levelled against him. We don’t want to resort to such a level. We have enough MPs in Parliament to continue the Government.

Anybody can criticise and point out the mistakes of the Government as the SJB and JVP do. We always listen to constructive criticism and are ready to correct our mistakes. Almost 5. 5 million people voted for the Opposition so that they have a right to criticise the Government. However, if somebody attempts to criticise the Government while being a coalition partner of it, they should first quit the Government and do so. Then we are willing to accept their criticism.

Q:When some coalition partners of the Government make various controversial remarks to the media, concerns have been raised as to why only SLPP Parliamentarian Susil Premajayantha was removed from his state ministerial portfolio.  Would you like to elaborate your views?

A:  We requested the President and the Prime Minister if anybody criticises the Government while being in the Government, let him to do so after removing him from his portfolios. Unfortunately what happened was soon after that decision was taken by the Cabinet, it was State Minister Susil Premajayantha who first made controversial remarks to the media. Following the decision taken by the Cabinet, the President had to act accordingly by removing MP Premajayantha from his portfolio. I think in future too, the President will adhere to the decision taken by the Cabinet.

Q: How do you view the allegation levelled by the Opposition and certain sections that the country has faced a severe foreign reserve crisis and economic crisis which the Government has failed to address?

A: We have to accept that there is a genuine issue in this regard. Even Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has said it.  Without facing any natural disaster like this, the country economically collapsed due to mismanagement of the former Yahapalana Government.  The economic growth was at 5.8 percent when the country’s administration was handed over to the former regime by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, it had come down to mere 2.6 percent when we took over the country in 2019.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa introduced a national policy framework to the country outlining what he was willing to fulfill once he came to power.  Leaders of the former Yahapalana Government didn’t even think they would be able to secure victory. After they consolidated power, they didn’t have any plan to manage the country’s economy. Before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power, an economic policy and election manifesto were formulated under the patronage of Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa at the SLPP headquarters, Nelum Mawatha by seeking the views of professionals and experts in various fields.

When the President’s policy manifesto was going to be implemented, the world had to face the Covid-19 pandemic. We couldn’t start as we expected. In a situation where the economy had collapsed due to wrongdoings of the Yahapalana Government such as the Central Bank bond scam, the investors were reluctant to come to our country and loans were not given by the foreign countries.

Under these difficult circumstances, the President took steps to ensure the livelihoods of the people. Instead of focusing on the economy, key attention was laid to prevent the people from dying from Covid-19. Covid-19 cases and deaths have shown an increase in some other countries.

However, through the vaccination drive implemented, we could protect the lives of our people. As the President mentioned in the Budget 2022, we have already commenced the program to rebuild the country’s economy. We can see the people are returning back to normalcy. If this trend continues, we hope that we will be able to bring the country to a satisfactory level in the middle of this year.

Q: The National People’s Power (NPP) alleged that the Government which came to power capitalising on the weakness of the former Government and security situation which erupted in the country after the Easter Sunday attacks is using fake attempts to fulfill its political objectives instead of bringing the culprits to book. Your views?

A: Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has a justifiable reason and pain to speak on behalf of his people who were killed by 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks. I can understand his sentiments. He is not satisfied and criticises the ongoing investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks. There is a democratic process upheld in the country. 

The investigations are conducted based on the Presidential Commission Report. A Cabinet Sub Committee of which I was also a member was also appointed to implement its recommendations.

The Cabinet Sub Committee has given its submissions to the Attorney General’s Department to take action. Investigations have to be conducted in connection to those who were involved in this incident. If there is any further information to be divulged, it can be given to the CID.

If any deliberate attempts had been made by the former Government to sweep the investigations under the carpet, we will try our best to carry them out without any delay. The Government strictly maintains the stance that steps should be taken against all those who were allegedly involved in that incident. However, the investigations should be conducted in an impartial manner and find out the true suspects behind this incident. During the Yahapalana Government, attempts were made to cover up this incident by appointing a Parliamentary Select Committee which was represented by the JVP as well.  

It was revealed Mohammed Ibrahim, father of two of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers was a JVP National List nominee in 2015. However, some of the JVP MPs were also represented by the Parliamentary Select Committee. If the former Government attempted to cover up the investigations on Easter Sunday attacks, after this Government came to power, steps were taken to recommence the investigations. In future, we will be able to divulge information regarding this.

Q: Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara has said that there is conspiracy behind the incidents where hand grenades were placed at a private hospital in Narahenpita and All Saints’ Church premises in Borella to embarrass the Government. Would you like to express your views?

A: When the country is recovering from its past setbacks, the Opposition is under the impression if bombs are exploded once again, tourists will not come to Sri Lanka. Then one of their objectives will be fulfilled. The tourism industry is recovering. We have some doubts whether the Opposition has also a link to these incidents. Investigations are continuing. They will reveal soon who was really behind those incidents.

Q: Is there any truth in the speculation by some international media that the country is heading towards a food crisis?

A: As a Government, we will not provide any room to create a food crisis in the country. Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardana always speaks at the Cabinet meetings to reduce the prices of rice and at least several essential commodities.

We would be able to control the situation. Delivering his policy statement in Parliament on Tuesday, the President requested the people to place confidence on him, adding that he will fulfill the pledges given to the people within his next three years tenure in office. The President in pledged to rebuild the economy.

People may remember as to how the then Opposition with the help of the international community criticised when we launched our battle against terrorism. At that time, they said any idiot can wage such a battle against terrorists.

Despite those false propaganda campaigns carried out by the then Opposition, we could win the battle against terrorism. We are confident that we would be able to rescue the country from the Covid-19 pandemic and strengthen the economy. 

When the people are reaping benefits, the people will realise the falsehoods carried out by the Opposition to realise their narrow political objectives. The Opposition has created two teams to attack the President and the Prime Minister via social media. They have engaged in an attempt to create a fear psychosis among the people to destabilise the country. As a Government, we have the strength to face these challenges and create an environment to move forward as a stable country.

Q: What is the progress regarding the formulation of the National Tourism Act?

A: We have decided to amend the Tourism Act. We will seek the views of the stakeholders in the tourism sector to formulate this act. Our intention is to formulate a comprehensive Tourism Act. The Tourism Development Authority has requested tourism sector organisations to send their suggestions regarding this.

Q: Do you think the tourism industry will return to normalcy within the next few months?

A:  I think so. However, we can’t predict it due to the global situation of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Sri Lanka is among the five best countries which tourists are requested to visit. We have earned this reputation following the feedback given by some other countries and international organisations. We hope more tourists will visit Sri Lanka soon.

Q: Has any decision been taken by the Tourism Ministry to launch an incentive scheme to encourage hotels and travel agencies to attract more tourists to the country?

A: Under our global promotion campaign, we have a program to give some sort of incentives to the institutions which bring tourists to Sri Lanka. Cabinet approval has also been given to a Cabinet paper submitted by me. The program has been now implemented.