Whoever has the majority shall perform as the Govt - President | Sunday Observer

Whoever has the majority shall perform as the Govt - President

2 December, 2018

Continuing to stick to his fight against corruption President Maithripala Sirisena affirms to the people that he will ensure that there will be no tolerance for corruption, corrupt politicians and public servants. Speaking to the Sunday Observer in an interview, the President said, the political situation in the country should not be a contributing factor to any investigations carried out currently. He touched on a span of matters pertaining to the current political conundrum and reasons behind his controversial decision taken on October 26, 2018.

Following are excerpts of the full interview held with the President:

Q: When you took this crucial decision on that decisive October 26, did you ever think the situation would get this complicated?

A: No, not at all. There was no reason for me to think so because my decisions were made on the belief that the people who took the responsibilities will act accordingly. And my decision was based on such an understanding.

Q: Do you still think the decision you took was constitutional or, if you are given the chance to revisit that decision, is there anything you would change?

A: No, there is nothing that I would wish to change in my decision. I am still of the view that my acts were not in violation of the Constitution.

Q: How do you think you would go down in history or be remembered?

A: It is not something I can comment on. The future will decide how I will be remembered. However, I must add that I don’t believe that history is recorded accurately anywhere in the world. It depends on the perspective of the person who records the events. Some may even record history as though it was something they personally experienced, but the majority of the historians do not have a direct link to the historical event that occurred. Even if one considers the history of our own country, about our kings and the rulers, what has been recorded is infused with the opinion or the perspective of the writer. If you take someone like Prof Paranawithana for example, he will study the subject matter and report it based on his own findings.

Prof Paranawithana is of the view that the statue near Parakrama Samudraya in Polonaruwa is of the sage Pulasthi, but there is another school of thought which states it is the statue of King Parakramabahu. So there is no certainty in the recorded historical matter.

Q: It has now surfaced that shortly before the 2015 election Ranil Wickremesinghe sent you a letter requesting certain things, can you elaborate on this?

A: The request came from him on January 6, 2015. From the midnight of the previous day, (5) all election campaign activities had to cease. There were two issues raised in that letter. The first was to appoint him as Prime Minister soon after my appointment as President takes place; the second was to issue a gazette notification transferring maximum powers of the President to him as Prime Minister. Upon receiving this letter I called a meeting with a few, including Ven. Athuraliye Rathana thera, Chandrika Kumaranatunga Bandaranaike and Champika Ranawaka. At this meeting we came to a conclusive unanimous decision that we will appoint him as the Prime Minister but refused the transfer of powers. Same was informed to him.

Q: If in the event Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa fails to show majority support, what will be your next step?

A: If any party can muster the support of the majority the other party who has failed to do so should work accordingly. Then, the party confident of having the majority should govern on the basis that the party that has the majority vote forms the Government. This is not something I can interfere with. Whoever has the majority shall perform as the Government. The group that doesn’t have the majority should accept the ground realisation and act accordingly and take the timely decision that would be required.

Q: The main reason you have cited for the decision you took was to rid the country of corrupt politicians. Will this factor continue to be given priority in the future as well? If there are people who continue to be corrupt in the government where you are President, will you remove them from office as well?

A: This is a vast topic to discuss. I can’t individually pick out from all 225 members to decide who is corrupt and who is not. When the people vote at an election they should know to refrain from electing corrupt individuals. Similarly, elected representatives should be mindful of why they are elected and sent to Parliament. This has caused a big menace in Sri Lanka, and has turned into a chronic disease. In the circumstances it is not easy to completely eradicate the corruption. The people also have a duty in this regard.

Q: The very presidential commission you appointed, namely, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) to investigate and inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC), has found several individuals currently serving in your Cabinet to have had direct involvement in corrupt activities that were investigated. How do you think this would affect when they are dealt with legally, on the basis that corrupt politicians should be removed?

A: If there are any bribery or corruption allegations against them, such persons should have a moral obligation to refrain from taking up positions. At the same time, investigators and law enforcing authorities should be able to continue with their investigation irrespective of the person or the position the accused may hold. It is not my concern that a person is wrong or is involved in corruption. Whoever is at fault should be properly dealt with legally. And persons elected to Parliament should know not to commit such offences, and if they do so, they should be mindful that they would have to face the repercussions, legally and otherwise.

Q: What action do you plan to take immediately against perpetrators who committed the bond scam? Aren’t we late in bringing these people before the law?

A: The person responsible for the delay on this matter is Ranil Wickremesinghe. The main reason for introducing the amendments to the Commission of Inquiry Act was to bring whoever is responsible before the law and get the money that the Central Bank lost. These amendments and new laws were a result of discussions carried out between legal experts at the Presidential Secretariat, Attorney General’s Department and the Bribery Commission. The draft sent to Parliament was not tabled for about four and a half months. It was during the last week that Ranil Wickremesinghe held office as Prime Minister that it was taken up for debate, due to my continuous persistence. Only two MPs debated it and it was postponed indefinitely. The reason for putting it off indefinitely was, had the law been passed, many within the former government would have been dealt with.

We can’t say definitely how long it would take to bring the perpetrators to book, and how long it would take to recover the monies lost. It is Ranil Wickremesinghe as former Prime Minister, who should be held responsible for failing to bring this law and thereby delaying the perpetrators being brought before the law.

Q: When Parliament convened on November 23, JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake made allegations against certain individuals of the former Cabinet, that they took steps to prevent individuals of the Mahinda Rajapaksa family from being prosecuted, and referred to an instance when the FCID was sent to the residence of the former first lady for questioning. What assurance can you give that this will not repeat and the cases currently heard at the Special High Court will not be affected?

A: I believe, those cases can continue without any hindrance. It is not at all proper to obstruct such investigations or legal proceedings. Judicial activities should be carried out unbiased and in an independent manner.

Q: Do you believe you have delivered the Yahapalanaya promise to the people of this country, and can you be content with what has been achieved?

A: In the time span nearing four years a lot has been done to achieve the concept of the Yahapalanaya. We have been able to deliver over 60 percent of the promises made through the Yahapalanaya manifesto. Like in any other government, as much as we tried to deliver there were instances where several wrongful acts occurred. We faced several setbacks too. We could have achieved more if I had a different Prime Minister. Not having a proper Prime Minister made a big difference, because, at times the former Prime Minister used the President’s powers to do certain acts.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is not a person who loves the country. His political vision doesn’t suit a country like ours. His neo liberalism ideas are too extreme. He has destroyed the party that was strengthened by great people such as, former President Ranasinghe Premadasa. He also destroyed the country, and didn’t stop there, he almost destroyed me, but I managed to salvage myself.

Q: All acts that you are critical of now to be acts of the former Cabinet were not made arbitrarily; even the FTA with Singapore was signed after obtaining proper Cabinet approval, could you have not stopped it at that point, as the Head of State?

A: Everything is lawful and proper on paper but it is at the execution where the deviations occur and it is these deviations that cause damage to the country. There are so many laws passed in Parliament, for example, when Cabinet approval is granted to carpet a road the approval is for that work and not to take commissions out of the transaction. But, what usually happens is both, the carpeting of the road as well as taking a commission unlawfully, whereas, Cabinet approval is granted only to carpet the road.

Q: You have repeatedly mentioned you will not appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister under any circumstances. Even if that is what you want, on whatever basis, this is not the criteria set out in the Constitution, so is it correct or constitutional?

A: I will never change from this position. I will not appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister under any circumstances. This will not change, not today and not tomorrow.

Nowhere in the Constitution is it said the President must appoint as the Prime Minister, the person requested by a majority. What it says is if the President believes a person can muster the support of the majority and also provided the President is in agreement he can appoint such a person as the Prime Minister. Hence, I will not deviate from my stance.

Q: The international community has refrained from commenting and identifying with the newly appointed Prime Minister and the Government, save for a very few countries. What is your take on this reaction from the international community?

A: Until now the international community has not made any unwarranted interference and not pushed us in any way. We maintain diplomatic relations with about eighty countries, and a few countries, four or five at most, have expressed their stance on the situation and discussed with us. Besides that no one has put pressure or threats on the Government. International relations continue to be at a commendable level. Also, over 90 percent of the countries where we maintain diplomatic relations have abstained from interfering and are acting impartial. They have the right to make statements or comments, it is their democratic right. We should not interpret such gestures as a threat. We can always discuss and come to understandings.

Q: What is your view about going in for an election at this point, to seek the mandate of the people, either at a general election or a presidential election, early next year?

A: We dissolved Parliament with the intention of going in for an election, so that in the event a general election is permitted we will go ahead. This would depend on the decision given by the Supreme Court; we will adhere to any decision given by the Supreme Court. There is no need to go for a Presidential election as there is another full year for the term to come to an end. I will not call for a Presidential election a day before my term ends.

Q: Who would you want to face as your opponent at the next presidential election?

A: I can’t tell you that as anyone can decide to face the Presidential election. There are millions of people who may be eligible to come forward as a Presidential candidate, therefore, it is not something I can answer now. First, I haven’t decided yet if I would go for a re election or not. I have not started thinking about a presidential election that is due to take place in another year. Politics constantly changes like the weather.

Q: How comfortable is it for you to sit next to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and work together with him in the Government, given your history?

A: I have no issue and I am quite comfortable. You should ask him the question.

Q: Soon after the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, a considerable number of members of the SLFP took up membership with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Do you not think this would result in the collapse of the party?

A: None of our members joined the SLPP. Whoever took up membership have always been standing with them. They didn’t manage to take anyone who were not in the group that had supported that camp. This is not a big issue. We will manage without any difficulty. We are not concerned as to how other parties such as the JVP and the UNP work, likewise, we will manage our party’s business. A Convention of the Freedom Party will be held in the near future and you will then see our strength.