“Most of our people are politically savvy and today they are very silent. This silence means that they are going into a revolution. A silent revolution is coming and the old political party leaders must understand that. They must willingly leave and allow the youngsters to take over,” asserted MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, in an interview with The Sunday Morning.
“Look at the old political parties – their dominance is gone. The old generation of leaders at the helm of parties must pave the way for youngsters to take over. Then they will unite, discuss, find alternative policies, and move forward,” added Yapa, who sits with an independent group in Parliament.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
You and a group of MPs now sit independently in the Opposition in Parliament. Have you left the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)?
No, we have not left the SLPP because that is the party from which we contested and got elected. However, due to various reasons, before all these issues came to light, we knew these things would happen and we felt that they were not listening.
We come from the agriculture areas so the fertiliser issue was a key issue, along with the handling of the economy, so we decided we would be independent and we were the first to become independent. Then came Wimal Weerawansa and that group, followed by Dullas and the other group. We are sitting independently in Parliament and we are getting time as an independent group.
In terms of the recent speculation that you and several others had joined the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), what really happened there?
Actually, we are working together in the Parliament. That was what happened. We have been working with them throughout. Because we are in the Opposition, we have to work with them; it does not mean that we have to join them. We work very closely with them in relation to parliamentary work.
How does your group view the current situation in the country?
The current situation, although it seems like things are becoming normal, I don’t feel it; my feeling is different. Sri Lanka is in a very difficult situation. We have to repay a huge debt to multilaterals, agencies, and other countries. This is a staggering amount in relation to our economy.
We are also facing a crisis in the country. We are short of cash. The Government is not getting enough revenue so we are being hit from two sides. One is from the outside in relation to dollars and then the rupee from the other side. My belief is that the Government is yet to start making direct decisions that need to be taken to uplift the economic conditions in the country.
Do you believe that the Budget 2023 will be able to address the challenges that the people are facing?
If you go through the Budget, this is the first time that a concept is being presented. When you go into details relating to expenditure and income, there is a huge gap. That means that the Government will not be able to continue like this for a long period.
Internal reorganisation is a must. Ailing public companies have to be reorganised, including the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), SriLankan Airlines, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), Sri Lanka Railways (SLR), Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) – everything has to be reorganised. I don’t know if they have a plan for this because it is a huge task. I think to do that the Government has to get the support of everyone in Parliament.
What are your thoughts on the political reforms process?
Some reforms are being discussed, especially in relation to Local Government. We have too many elected members, particularly when it comes to the Pradeshiya Sabha area. I have expressed my views on this before as well.
Bringing the numbers down to half is a very good idea. However, the Government had time to do this. At the last moment when the elections are due, it is trying to do it. I believe that it will have to simultaneously hold the election in the present form and then do the reduction later.
Where did things stand with ongoing investigations when your position as Chair of the Committee on Public Finance came to an end?
I can remember Dr. Harsha de Silva and many others, including myself, discussing these matters with the then Treasury Secretary and the Central Bank Governor. What they told us at that time was ‘yes, we have difficulties, but we can manage, it’s quite normal’.
However, suddenly they said that they did not have enough money to pay the dues, which was when we realised that the situation was serious. The former Governor was suddenly replaced with the current Governor. Then the Government collapsed, people came to the streets, there was no electricity or fuel – you know what unfolded.
That was very sudden. Bankruptcy means that you suddenly realise you don’t have the money to pay your dues. It happened so suddenly, but they could have realised this way back in 2019 and taken precautionary measures at the time.
Did you raise concerns about this?
Yes, we raised it. I had already informed the Parliament. I did not want to say the amount, but I said the situation was very serious, Government revenue was falling, and we would face great difficulty. I could not say the exact numbers because at that time it would have had a very negative effect on the economic side. However, as we predicted, it has happened.
Do you think the watchdog committees have the will to carry out the necessary probes and hold those responsible accountable?
Yes. I think so. In my parliamentary career of about three decades, this is the first time that these watchdog committees are being appointed and probing into different things. I think it is a very good thing. Now that Parliament has taken back its power, I think it’s a very good idea.
Governments come and go but Parliament has a big role to play where certain issues are concerned – the direction of the economy, how the government institutes are working, whether they are going in the right direction, and so on. For that purpose, I think these watchdog committees are great. It is still early but I think they are moving fast in the right direction.
Several groups elected to Parliament under the SLPP banner are now sitting independently in Parliament. How do you plan to move forward politically?
Actually, we have not thought about it, because we belong to a centre-leftist group, in the sense we believe in economic theories and we also believe in social democracy. You can call us social democrats.
I think we have a responsibility to tell the people the direction they should take during an election. That is what we are trying to do; we are trying to organise ourselves with various other groups as one and then move forward with a clear-cut policy.
We should not play hide-and-seek. At earlier elections we would always promise things to the people. Now you cannot promise anything. You have to tell the truth, even if it is sometimes bitter. It is only then that we can go and meet the people.
The people are suffering; the political entities in the country are also suffering. People are bitter and angry. The younger generation is very unhappy as they see no future in the country. Those who are able to leave are leaving in whatever way they can, so we are in a very difficult situation.
We have to win back the people’s confidence that the Government is clean, that the Government is not engaging in any malpractices, and that Government policies are straight and will benefit the people in the short term and the long term.
Are the Opposition parties in a position to unite on one platform?
I don’t think so. They have different points of view and different policies.
Do you think that they can work together in implementing the political reforms process?
Yes, I think that we can work together. A lot of discussions are taking place right now and ultimately this will lead to some kind of an understanding among everyone. My role is to make that happen and see that everyone is united.
Where do you see Sri Lanka heading in the year ahead, what is the path it will tread? What is your hope for the country?
It is time for party leaders who have been in leadership for a long period of time to leave. They must allow parties to amalgamate, strengthen, and grow as a united force. It is only then that people may look at us and see that we are an alternative. As long as the old leaders are with us, the people will never look at us.
Look at the old political parties – their dominance is gone. If you take the Pohottuwa (SLPP), its dominance is gone. If you take the United National Party (UNP), its dominance is gone. Take the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), its dominance is gone. That is because the people don’t trust them at all.
However, if those leaders can allow the next generation to take over and move forward, all can unite and move forward with a clear-cut policy. That is my feeling. The old generation of leaders at the helm of parties must pave the way for youngsters to take over. Then they will unite, discuss, find alternative policies, and move forward.
Otherwise what happens is, in an election, all the old parties will be completely wiped out and new parties will emerge. That has happened in the Western world and in some Asian countries as well.
Most of our people are politically savvy and today they are very silent. This silence means that they are going into a revolution. A silent revolution is coming and the old political party leaders must understand that. They must willingly leave and allow the youngsters to take over.