President’s policy statement, a bipartisan approach to problems - Nimal Siripala de Silva | Sunday Observer

President’s policy statement, a bipartisan approach to problems - Nimal Siripala de Silva

6 August, 2022

Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s policy statement presented in Parliament on Wednesday is a bipartisan approach to present problems.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said it is a somewhat conciliatory policy statement where the President shows that he doesn’t want to impose any preconditions on any political parties but wants to get them together for a wide power sharing government structure and approach the problems on consensus. That is a vital feature which we see in the President’s policy statement. It also shows his political maturity, approach and broad vision, he said.

Excerpts

Q : How do you view the Government’s policy statement presented by President Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament on Wednesday?

A: The President has made a policy statement which is par excellence. His policy statement is a bipartisan approach to present problems. It is a somewhat conciliatory policy statement where he shows that he doesn’t want to impose any preconditions on political parties but wants to get them together for a wide power sharing government structure and approach problems on consensus. That is a vital feature which we see in his statement. It shows his political maturity, approach and broad vision.

Q: Now, the President has called for an All-Party Government (APG). Do you think the SLFP and other parties would respond positively to form an APG?

A: All the parties should respond positively towards this APG. That is the need of the hour. People are going through many economic hardships which they have never gone through before. Our priority should be the welfare of the people rather than being in power. To serve the nation and attract foreign investment, IMF and our friends and neighbours in the world, it is necessary that we all should act together and raise one voice without being divided.

Q: Why do you think political stability and unity is important at this stage?

A: We are not in a position to pay our debt. We are not in a position to find foreign exchange for the energy sector and many other sectors. So, it is necessary that we should demonstrate we are on the correct track in approaching this problem.

Any country or international lending agency which wants to give us a loan or helps us, look at our economic policies to see whether we are on the right track and we will be able to pay whatever the debts that we have obtained. We have to show them a roadmap and a clear policy guideline without changing it from time to time. It is necessary that we collectively approach the problem rather than trying to approach it separately.

Q: There are critics who say that it is more important to resolve the economic issues faced by the people rather than going for political reforms such as the 22nd Amendment and All-Party Government at this stage. Your comments?

A: First of all, we should try to resolve the economic issue and give relief to the people. We can’t wait till all these political issues are settled. For example, lending organisations such as the IMF, World Bank, ADB and the European countries, want Sri Lanka to demonstrate good governance. That is also a part of their conditions.

They always look at whether democratic institutions in the country are strong, we respect the rule of law and the form of governance is acceptable to their democratic standards. Therefore, one cannot forget the fact that these political reforms are also necessary. That is also important locally.

To establish law and order in the country, you need political reforms, new laws and new approaches. You need strong institutions to support democratic values. It is true that people’s first preference should be to ensure that we provide them with food, petrol and gas. At the same time, we should not forget that political reforms are also important and those issues must also be settled.  

Q: Do you think instead of forming an APG, it is better to hold a General Election to get a fresh mandate from the people?

A: I don’t agree with that idea due to two reasons. One is that people have elected 225 Members of Parliament by exercising their franchise. Now, these people are there. It is up to Parliament to formulate rules and regulations and economic plans to get over this situation. The other thing is, how it is going to solve the problem by conducting a General Election.

What is needed now is to boost exports and get remittances from expatriates and migrant workers who are working abroad. We have to get more tourists into the country. What is needed is stability in the country. At present, there is no stability in the country. A General Election won’t bring stability to the country. Elections always divide the people. There is no conducive environment to hold elections now. It is also not practical with the fuel crisis. People are not mobilised to go to polling stations.

Even the Election Commissioner has expressed his view that there is no conducive environment in the country to hold a General Election. What is needed at is to ensure that we settle these issues and prepare a conducive environment in the country to hold an election. That can be after six months, one year or one and a half years. We don’t know the timeframe. Once that conducive environment to hold elections is established, the elections can be held and there is no problem.

Q: Do you think that the APG should run for the rest of the Parliamentary term or only for an interim period such as six months to one year?

A: It depends on the performance. If we can settle the issues in the country within six or 12 months, thereafter, in terms of the Constitution, we can hold a General Election for which either the President should agree to dissolve Parliament after two and a half years or the Members of Parliament themselves with a majority will have to decide whether they want to dissolve Parliament.

Q: There are also accusations that Pohottuwa politicians are working behind the scene to consolidate their power in the guise of an APG. Would you like to comment?

A: That can’t be done in an APG. The idea of an APG is power sharing. You need to have a National Council which will guide the APG. One or two persons or one party cannot dictate terms in a national government.

Q: Do you think political stability will help Sri Lanka to seek a faster bailout package from the IMF and other lending agencies?

A: Certainly. The IMF and other lending agencies and countries first want to see whether the Sri Lankan economy is stable and strong. The economic and political stability, law and order situation in the country will have a great influence on the international lending agencies, IMF, World Bank, ADB as well as countries such as India, China and Japan. Before they give us a package, they will see whether we are politically and economically stable and we have a clear roadmap to increase exports, reduce our expenses where we will be able to repay the debts.

Q: There are allegations that emergency is used to oppress the people and peaceful protests around the country. Several countries and human rights organisations have also condemned this. Do you think this will adversely affect our chances of getting international aid to tide over the present difficulties?

A: I don’t think that accusation is true. Have we arrested any person under the emergency law? The people who break the law should be remanded and action should be taken against them. If there is no law and order in the country and people enter public and Government buildings and forcibly occupy the rooms of private hotels, should we turn a blind eye to these things? We tolerate peaceful protests. We also support them. But in case those who resort to violence, loot public and private properties and set fire to houses, can they get away under the guise of “Aragalaya”? They are not peaceful protestors. They are culprits and unruly characters. Those unruly characters must be brought to book.

Q: There is a controversy over the visit of the Chinese research vessel Yuan Wang 5 to Hambantota Port on August 11. Will this impact our relations with countries such as India and the United States and embroil us in a conflict between regional powers India and China?

A: There are certain things beyond our control. We are a Non-Aligned country. We are not taking any sides. I am sure the President and the Government will diplomatically handle and settle this issue.

Q: You were acquitted of bribery charges levelled against you by the Opposition Leader during a recent parliamentary session. A three-member committee was appointed by the President upon your request to probe the allegations. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: Even the Opposition Leader didn’t accuse me personally. What he said in Parliament was that a Cabinet Minister had demanded a bribe from the Japanese company, Taisei. Since Taisei was a company which worked for the airport and aviation and came under the purview of my ministry, one could think that I am the Minister who demanded that bribe. Therefore, I resigned from my portfolio and demanded a fair and reasonable inquiry. Then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to appoint a committee.

But in view of the situation he faced those days, he couldn’t appoint that committee. When Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected President, I wrote a letter to him and said that this is a false allegation against me. I requested him to appoint an impartial committee of inquiry to inquire into this matter. Then the President appointed a Committee chaired by Retired High Court Judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena, PC which also consisted of Retired Senior Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) of Police S.M. Wickremasinghe and Retired Special Grade Officer of Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) S.M.G.K. Perera.

I was represented by my lawyer at the inquiry. Then I was informed that this committee had summoned witnesses including Taisei. The Taisei General Manager came to the board of inquiry and categorically said that neither I nor any other Cabinet Minister demanded a bribe from them. They are shocked and disturbed by this statement. This type of statement should not have been made. Then the committee went into this matter deeply and forwarded a lengthy report to the President. The President presented that report to the Cabinet of Ministers and they all were satisfied. In terms of the committee report, I have been fully exonerated from the purported charges.  

Q: You have sought legal action against your removal and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera from the SLFP over joining the Government as Cabinet Ministers. Do you think this issue could be resolved amicably since the SLFP has also indicated its desire to join an All-Party Government?

A: I went to court and then, the President and the General Secretary of our party came before court and said they had not removed me from any post. On that basis, the case was settled. I remain as a member of the SLFP and hold the post of the Senior Vice President of the party. 

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