(It is vital that all political parties should have trust in each other in order to work as a team senior UNP Parliamentarian Karu Jayasuriya pointed out, adding that failure to do so would only result in this Government dividing and causing further damage to the Opposition. In the recent past there were opportunities to do away with this regime. If there was a strong combined Opposition, a much more vigorous challenge would have been presented to the Government, he noted).
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What are your views about the present situation in the country?
A: We see the country in a confused state. The biggest issue is the difficulties faced by average people. The cost of living is intolerable. The average man finds it difficult to have all three meals. The suicide cases we hear are classic examples. In some cases parents have tried to get rid of their own kids because they can’t feed them or send them to school. In today’s context an average family requires a minimum of 30,000 rupees a month. This is a figure beyond reach for most families. As a result they get indebted. They pawn their jewellery. Life is a struggle for most people in our country.
As an Opposition party on many occasions we have highlighted the fact that the disparity between the haves and have-nots is getting wider and wider. This is not a healthy scenario for any country. Sri Lanka has gone through two youth insurrections. The problem in the north too was originated by a group of youth that later spread into a massive terrorist organisation at the end. I feel that the country is once again heading towards this direction. Is that what we want?
Meanwhile, there is no democracy is this country, although we try to show the world otherwise. People of this country are great believers in democracy. Sri Lankans enjoyed universal suffrage and we have a mature electorate in Sri Lanka. Since independence we are seeing the country deteriorating – particularly during the last five to six years, we have seen the control on democracy, freedom of expression, and fundamental rights, with the introduction of the 18th Amendment. It is clear that the Government is taking a new route. We have witnessed more than 13 newspaper editors who held views opposite to the Government being killed. Several journalists have gone through physical assault and some of them have fled the country in fear of life. Internationally we are getting isolated. Anybody who talks about human rights or media freedom is labelled as either a traitor or supporting the Diaspora. So the Tiger label is pasted to anybody who holds views opposite to the Government. This is a very unfortunate situation.
Whilst the Government accuses Opposition parties of supporting terrorist organisations or the Diaspora, the acting leader of the LTTE and the deputy leader of the LTTE are active members of the Government, therefore it is pretty obvious what the Government is actually doing.
There is waste and corruption in the country, coupled with arrogance. What we see is that the Government is slowly but surely moving towards one party rule with dictatorial tendencies. With the recent assault on the Judiciary and introduction of new laws such as the 48 hour detention and the fact that new supplies of tear gas and police batons are coming, we can clearly understand which way the Government is heading.
Q: What do you think about the recent cabinet reshuffle?
A: The President must be having his own reasons for a sudden cabinet reshuffle. He must be having reasons to have world’s largest cabinet. For a country with a 20 million population, it would be ideal to have a maximum of 25 to 30 cabinet ministers. This Government is a large coalition, in order to keep everyone happy it is necessary to have such a large cabinet. I believe if and when a new Constitution is written, the size of the cabinet should also be embodied.
Q: The Central Bank has announced that they will not pursue a new IMF loan. Your comments?
A: I noticed an announcement by the Central Bank that they are not resorting to this loan because they have adequate reserves. My view is that most reserves consist of loans that we have secured at high rates of interest. In any case loans coming from IMF will be subject to various rigid conditions such as pruning unnecessary expenditure, which can be politically unhealthy at this juncture when people are suffering enough due to high cost of living. Any further pruning of social subsidies can have a social impact.
We can see a drastic decline in exports and the trade gap has become abnormal. Imports too have declined, mainly due to high taxes introduced for motor vehicles. We are wasting money and foreign exchange for importing Lamborghinis and super luxury vehicles. It was reported that some of the super luxury vehicles that were imported deprived the country of valuable import duties since duty applicable for these vehicles were of the rate applicable for buses.
At every budget I used to comment about the slogan ‘export or perish’. All countries in this part of the world developed through exports. Exports create employment and bring the much-needed foreign exchange. During the past several years the Government’s policy on the contrary encouraged imports. The fact that we lost the GSP facility hit the apparel industry drastically. Although some members blame the West for the loss of GSP, we missed it because the Government was not keen to adopt some of the measures which are practiced for good governance and transparency.
I am of the view that even at this late stage that we should look at developing exports seriously and also encourage import substitution, particularly in the field of sugar and milk. It is healthy for any country to have food security. It is regretted that in spending public money the Government is generous and we can cite several instances of public money being wasted for no valid reason. The country is paying a very high price for losses incurred by State institutions. The losses incurred by the CEB and CPC are equal to the total expenditure on education and higher education.
Q: Like you said, there is a high cost of living in the country, inflation is at an all-time high, there is a lack of law and order, and international pressure against the country is mounting. When the country is at such a critical juncture, what is the Opposition doing? Don’t you feel the Opposition has a bigger role to play?
A: The Opposition needs to be stronger. I would like to see a united Opposition emanating at some stage. This is not meant as a criticism but the way the Government is looking at issues and the way they display their arrogance, only a strong and united Opposition could make a force for the Government to act democratically.
Q: You stressed on the importance of a united Opposition. What do you think about the joint Opposition that was set up recently?
A: I have always said that any attempt to unite the Opposition is good for the country. Let us all hope that the joint Opposition set up recently was the first step of a long successful journey. All Opposition groups should be united and work together. Otherwise this Government will cleverly divide them. It is vital that all political parties should have trust in each other in order to work as a team. There can be ideological differences, but for democracy, good governance and rule of law I cannot see why all hands cannot come together.
Q: Do you agree that there were more than enough opportunities during the past couple of years for the Opposition to topple this Government? Why couldn’t the Opposition make use of these opportunities?
A: Some of the recent actions on the part of the Government have not been to the liking of the people. There was the movement by FUTA where the entire university teachers and students united for a common cause. Then there was the recent attempt on the Judiciary which was resisted by the lawyers. These were good opportunities to do away with this regime. If there was a strong combined Opposition, we would have given a much more vigorous challenge to the Government. Having said that, I hope the recent actions to bring political parties together would eventually result in forging a common front.
Using cricket terms I have commented many times ‘we are getting enough catches; therefore, we should now have some practice, play the game as a team, but avoid hitting your own wicket’.
Q: If President Mahinda Rajapaksa invites you once again to work with him, what would your response be?
A: As I said before, I supported this Government’s attempts to stop the war. Even that I did as a member of the UNP. I am in a good frame of mind, I not a man who changes parties for positions. I have always taken decisions based on principles. Although I do not hold any positions at present, my objective is to work towards setting up a UNP administration in the country, because it is only the UNP that has the managerial talents to take this country forward. The UNP has a tremendous strong team, both young and old, and it can be made a winning team. All that we need is unity and team work.
Q: What do you think about the present developments in the UNP?
A: I am not a member of the decision making body but through the media I have seen that the party is coming up with various reforms and radical changes. I wish it success in all these endeavours.
Q: What do you think about the party’s decision to appoint four deputy leaders?
A: I am not involved in the decision making of the party. This is a decision taken by the party leadership and Working Committee.
Q: Do you regret crossing over to the Government and feel that if you hadn’t taken that step you would have more recognition in the party?
A: I took that step as a national cause. I obeyed my conscience. I know it was politically unwise to cross over but crushing terrorism was a national interest. So I had to support the Government at that time.
The positions in the party were something I earned. I never canvassed or applied for those positions. I can work without any positions. From the professional surveys that I have carried out, love and affection of party cadres towards me has not changed. There can be people with hardcore thinking, but the larger section of the UNP has now realised what I did was correct. Therefore instead of regretting it on my deathbed, I will be happy that I took that decision.
Q: Do you believe you have a future in the UNP?
A: I am a man who lives without hope. I believe in destiny. I accept anything that destiny gives me. I will not envy anyone. Whenever I am subjected to unfair treatment by someone, I always say let them enjoy doing that. I have no ill will towards them. I meditate twice a day. My mind is set to give compassion.
Q: It is said that the President has a shrewd way of doing away with everyone who he feels is a threat to him. Don’t you think you too fell into his trap, since you are no longer with the Government, nor have any positions in the UNP?
A: I don’t know about the President’s intention but my intention was genuine and sincere.
Q: What do you think about the ongoing hate campaign against the Muslims?
A: I am saddened by the fact that people have actually got involved in this. When he secured independence in the country, late D.S. Senanayake had the vision and foresight to unite all races and religions and seek independence as a united force, whereas in other countries they had to shed blood and life to achieve this cause.
My race, my religion and even my cast is an accident of birth. Therefore we need not fight over this issue. It is a fact that as human beings we donate blood, kidneys, and eyes and when donations are made, we don’t look at the race, cast or the religion of the people.
I hope and pray that there will be an end to this unwanted tragedy, which if spread can be more damaging than the last ethnic conflict. Politicians who support these movements must take mature decisions in the interest of their children and future generations.COURTESY:Daily FT