Organised group behind protest campaigns - Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

Organised group behind protest campaigns - Prasanna Ranatunga

31 October, 2021

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said that a certain organised group that always launches its political campaign against the Government is behind the teachers’ and farmers’ protests.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the people should realise the ulterior motive of those who organise the protests.

Their sole purpose is to embarrass the country and topple the Government. When the country is embarrassed, the people will have to face the situation. The Minister said it would be more appropriate, if those who conduct these protests fulfill their task without attempting to realise narrow political objectives. However, the protests launched by teachers and farmers are politically motivated, and not conducted in good faith to resolve the issues.  


Q: The President at the SLPP parliamentary group meeting had stressed the importance of resolving the Government’s issues within the Government. Would you like to comment?

A: When the challenges are faced by the Government, all those who are in it, should jointly face them. If one group attempts to behave one way and another group behaves differently, then the party supporters and the people will get confused. It is the Government lawmakers who have the responsibility to communicate to the people the decisions taken by the President and the Government. For example, a good decision was taken by the Government to promote organic fertiliser.

Everybody in the Government should extend support to make this endeavour a success as this is a step taken on behalf of our future generation. It seems some Government MPs unnecessarily respond to comments made by farmers at their protests. Government MPs can discuss or resolve their issues at the Cabinet meetings and Government parliamentary group meetings.

After reaching a consensus at the Cabinet meetings and group meetings, some Government MPs come out and express different views. Such comments are made to realise their political objectives by targeting the next election. It is unacceptable as it goes against the collective responsibility of the Government.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa says an inquiry should be conducted as a fraud has been committed on the import of Nano Nitrogen liquid fertiliser. Your comments?

A: If any fraud has been committed, a complaint can be made so that an inquiry can be held by acting in a formal manner. The most important thing is that the Government has decided to import fertiliser for farmers. If somebody has committed an offence when that decision was implemented, the Opposition has a right to complain to the Police and the Judiciary. Then, law enforcement authorities should immediately investigate and educate the public regarding that.  

Q: Teachers’ and Principals’ trade unions say they have not stopped their struggle yet as the Government has not provided them a satisfactory solution to their salary anomaly. Would you like to respond?

A: We agreed to implement the solution accepted by Joseph Stalin and trade unions during the tenure of the Yahapalana Government. We also agreed to provide a solution to their salary anomaly within a few years. Students are being held to ransom by these trade unions to realise their narrow political agenda. This is similar to how LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran held hostage civilians in the North as a human shield. I have acted as an Education Minister. My mother was a teacher. We know some injustice has been done to teachers, but the Government should be given some time to rectify that. Once the Government assumed office, it had to face the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the economy faced a severe setback.

In such a difficult situation, if the children are being held to ransom by the trade unions, that is wrong. If the teachers don’t assist in releasing the results of the students, how would they feel if their own children faced such an embarrassing situation? We can see how teachers act in other countries on behalf of their students. The President and the Prime Minister are trying their best to bring our teachers to that level. In a situation where the country has faced severe hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I don’t agree with the trade union action launched by the teachers and the Principals.  

Q: Despite the assurance given by the Agriculture Ministry to provide sufficient fertiliser to farmers for the Maha season, farmers continue their protests countrywide demanding fertiliser. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: When looking at who gives leadership to these protests, it is obvious a certain organised group that always launches political campaigns against the the Government is behind the teachers’ and farmers’ protests. The people should realise their ulterior motive.

Their sole purpose is to embarrass the country and topple the Government. When the country is embarrassed, the people will have to face the situation. It would be more appropriate that those who engage in the protests fulfill their task without attempting to realise their narrow political objectives. However, the protests launched by teachers and farmers are politically motivated and are not conducted with good intention to sort out the issues.  

Q: The Government further relaxed Covid-19 health guidelines from October 25 midnight. How would this affect the tourism industry which has faced a setback due to the Covid-19 pandemic?

A: When winter commences in November, tourists from European countries are waiting to come to Sri Lanka. When interprovincial travel restrictions are imposed, tourists are under the impression that the country is not open. If the tourists don’t have facilities to get their experience, they don’t come to Sri Lanka. Tourist arrivals have significantly dropped during the past few months. An American tourist made a protest. Some of the issues he raised were true and some were not.

If shortcomings are made on our part, steps should be taken to rectify them. \That American tourist had said that the country was not open. There was no public transport for tourists to travel, which was true. Tourists have different mentalities. Facilities should be available to meet their requirements. Restaurants were also closed during the past few months. Tourists come to Sri Lanka not to stay in their hotel room. Restaurants should be opened for them.

They should be able to freely travel throughout the country. They come to Sri Lanka for a change and enjoy their trip. If necessary facilities are not available, tourists don’t come. We are of the view that the facilities in the tourism sector should be further developed to cater to the needs of the tourists. There are lots of requests from foreigners to have their wedding receptions in Sri Lanka’s hotels.

However, if we restrict the maximum number of guests to be attended to a wedding to 150, they don’t come to Sri Lanka to have their weddings under such restrictions. When the weddings of some Tamils are held in Sri Lanka, lots of their relatives and friends in European countries and India want to attend those weddings. Sometimes, 300-400 guests are invited for those weddings. We are of the view that these health guidelines should be further relaxed to meet the requirements in the tourism sector.

Q: As reported by the media, SJB Parliamentarians Hesha Vithanage and Chaminda Wijesiri have tendered their resignations from party positions and organiser posts. There are media speculations that two SJB frontliners would join the Government. Is there any truth in it?

A: I don’t think they would join the Government. This shows their clash and disappointment with the party leadership. Being in Parliament, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe also gives leadership to that. Similarly, SJB MP Champika Ranawaka as a separate group also led a campaign against the party leader. The crisis within the SJB is exposed today.

Q: The constituent parties of the Government have raised concern on the agreement signed with US-based New Fortress Energy to give 40 percent of the shares of the Kerawalapitiya Yugadanavi power plant to the company. Your comments?

A: An environment should be created for investors to come and invest in Sri Lanka. When there was a battle against terrorism, investors didn’t come to Sri Lanka. A State-owned land plot in Colombo was given to construct the Shangri-La hotel. We have to adopt certain methodologies when steps are taken to promote tourism. Another complaint is that we are not aligned with America.

When we join hands with America to make some investment, certain sections criticise that. According to the agreement, if 40 percent of the shares of the Yugadanavi power plant is given to that US company, that will be given back to us after 15 years. When there is an economic crisis in the country and the Government doesn’t have sufficient funds to invest, we should try to attract more foreign investors.

The investment should be made in a manner to bring economic benefits to us. If there is any other alternative for this investment to be made on the Kerawalapitiya power plant, anybody can point it out rather than criticising this.

Q: You had told the media that one of the key aspects of the Budget 2022 will be to make Sri Lanka a self-sufficient country based on local production. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: It is not only our country; the economies of the developed European countries have also collapsed due to lockdowns. The economies of some countries which depend on China have also faced setbacks.

Therefore, an economy which would enable our people to stand by themselves should be created. Priority should be given to areas which bring more foreign exchange earnings to the country. These targets are mentioned in the President’s ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ National Policy statement as well. We hope Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa would present a good Budget to make the way to reach these anticipated targets.

Q: Sri Lanka is becoming a country safe from Covid-19 due to the far-sighted and prudent procedures of the Government led by the President. How do you view the success of our vaccination drive?

A: When we travel to some other countries, we can see we are far ahead of them on the vaccination front. On certain occasions, steps were taken to lockdown the country and continue the vaccination program. As a result, the number of Covid-19 patients dropped significantly. These vaccines are given to the deserving age groups free of charge. 

A decision has been taken to give a third dose to the vulnerable groups. The Covid-19 vaccine is given to schoolchildren as well. When the country becomes safe from Covid-19, especially, tourists would like to visit Sri Lanka. As the Tourism Minister, that would be an important aspect for me. It would have a direct impact on our economy. On every occasion when the country was lockdown, the economy had a negative impact. Everybody including professionals requested the Government to lock down the country. When the economy recorded a negative growth as a result of it, all are putting the blame on the Government.

Doctors, economists and social workers express their views differently. They all don’t join hands and express one view on the initiatives to be taken on behalf of the country’s future. The President has taken a prudent decision to continue the vaccination drive and turn Sri Lanka into a safe country.

Q: The tourism sector which faced a severe setback due to the Covid-19 pandemic is gradually recovering. Would you like to comment?

A: Those who are in the tourism sector continuously faced this setback after the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. Tourist arrivals are gradually increasing. Earlier, only 100 to 200 tourists arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) a day. At present, nearly 6,000 to 7,000 tourists use the BIA daily. When tourist arrivals are on the increase, that would be a strength to our economy. We hope the number of tourists to the country will increase within the next few months.

Q: Is there any truth in the allegation that the state-of-the-art PCR testing facility built at a cost of USD 5 million at BIA recently, is idling due to the Government decision to do away with the requirement for the inbound passengers to undergo Covid-19 testing?

A: Steps were taken to operate it from October 25. However, the operation of this PCR testing facility has come down as PCR tests are not conducted for fully vaccinated inbound passengers. There is no congestion at the testing facility as reported in the past, but it is operational now.

Q: It seems the Opposition does not cooperate with the Government even in a natural disaster such as this to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Your views?

A: A political agenda similar to the one they used during elections has been launched now to embarrass the country. The Opposition, somehow, wants to prevent tourists coming to Sri Lanka.

When tourist arrivals decline, Dollars will not come into the country. If there is any crisis in the country, tourists don’t come to Sri Lanka. This is what the Opposition wants to portray internationally. They have launched their campaign to realise their narrow political objectives. This is an absurd and ignorant act.