Co-Cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Higher Education, Technology and Innovation Dr. Bandula Gunawardana said during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s short term in office he has clearly proved that he doesn’t have any personal agendas. The President has a genuine desire to change the present social system that is fraught with fraud, waste and corruption. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Minister Gunawardana said even the UNPers concede that they should give a two-thirds majority to the President to effect the far-reaching changes in the country. At present, the UNP has been split, and have got caught to the agendas of extremist elements. “I think those who think of the country and its future irrespective of party politics would vote for the SLPP and give a two-thirds majority to the President to make the necessary changes they expect.”
Fraught with fraud, waste and corruption:
Q. The SJB and the UNP say the Government is not in a position whatsoever to secure a two-thirds majority. Are you confident that the SLPP would secure a two-thirds majority at the upcoming polls and form a stable Government?
A. We have absolute faith in that. The people have placed their utmost confidence in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a potential leader who would make a genuine change in the country. During the 30-year battle against terrorism, our only hope was to create a country free from conflict. At that time the nation reposed their trust in President Mahinda Rajapaksa who successfully accomplished that task. He became the national hero who ended the three-decade old battle against terrorism. After he was defeated by conspirators in 2015, the people elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the leader who can rebuild the country and gave him a 6.9 million resounding mandate to become President. It challenged the traditional mindset of the people that an election cannot be won without the support of the Northern and the Eastern provinces. During President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s short period in office he has proved that he doesn’t have any personal agendas. The President has a genuine desire to change the present social system which is fraught with fraud, waste and corruption. Even the UNPers conceded that they should give a two-thirds majority to the President to effect these changes.
At present, the UNP has been split and have got caught to the agendas of extremist elements. Those who think of the country and its future irrespective of party politics will vote for the SLPP and give a two-thirds majority to the President to make the far-reaching changes they expect.
The UNP had instilled in the minds of the people that a President can never be elected without the support of minority votes. The people changed that mindset at the last Presidential election. The UNP also said that a non-politician such as Gotabaya Rajapaksa can never become the President. That too was proved wrong.
Q. There is an allegation that the Government has failed to bring the culprits to book as pledged, especially, those held responsible for the Treasury Bond scam, the Easter Sunday attacks and various other irregularities. Your comments?
A. Similar to the actions by the Yahapalana Government, sections of society expects us to send our opponents to jail by going against the law and abusing state power. The former Government set that bad precedent by sending political party leaders, opposition politicians and Rajapaksa family members to jail. The people, especially the UNP hope that we too would resort to such practices. However, the President has no intention to take revenge from political opponents. The culprits will be brought to book strictly adhering to the legal system in the country.
If the existing laws are not adequate, a new Criminal Justice Commission will be appointed after the election to properly investigate and initiate legal action against those who had committed frauds and malpractices. We are constantly raising a voice on this.
Although a big hue and cry was made on fraud and malpractices during the past, no corrupt Minister or politician had been imprisoned. Justice should be properly dispensed to imprison them.
In my view if somebody has looted public property or abused state power, legal action should be taken with due punishment. That would pave the way to create a healthy political culture in the future.
Q. As an economist, could you tell us what are the key areas the new Government should lay emphasis on in its economic plan?
A. It is only this Government that presented the printed version of its economic policy to the people. The President’s Saubaghaye Dekma is the economic policy formulated by placing confidence on the people and resources ignoring the ‘western mentality’.
This policy statement has laid emphasis on agriculture, small and medium scale industries, the services sector, education, health, housing and other community services. We will carry forward this policy manifesto in the next Government. The majority of the people have commended the steps taken by the Government to carry out some of these proposals.
We have already launched an agriculture drive.
The Government always safeguards local farmers but the UNP is with the racketeers. They want to import huge containers of potatoes, pepper and saffron to destroy the local farmers.
Even today the UNP appears on behalf of these racketeers.
The farmer community has realised this. The Saubaghaye Dekma is a genuine manifesto formulated without hood-winking the people. Before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President, he formed the organisation called Viyath Maga consisting of professionals in various fields. This is a program which the UNP can’t even think of. Sajith Premadasa would not be able to even understand this program.
Q. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed an expert committee to review the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) agreement. Has the Government taken a final decision on the MCC?
A. As a policy, we are fully opposed to the strategy adopted to formulate this agreement. In our policy we have clearly outlined that we won’t sign any agreement with the US, China, India or any other country as the previous Government did. Under the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, we won’t sign any agreement detrimental to the Constitution, legal system, national economy and national security. As we have given this assurance, there is no use of talking about this issue any further.
However, a country cannot move forward without international agreements. But the international agreements should not have any adverse impact on the country. As a Government that maintains friendly relations with all countries, we are ready to discuss such agreements with any country.
Q. What is your view, that a new Constitution should be introduced or amendments made to the existing Constitution?
A. My view is that a new Constitution should be introduced. It should not be formulated only by politicians. During the former regime, politicians such as Ranil Wickremesinghe and Anura Kumara Dissanayake wasted their time to formulate a new Constitution. They tried to do so to realise their narrow political objectives. A Constitution cannot be formulated in such a manner. This country doesn’t belong to politicians, it belongs to all of us. Therefore, a new Constitution should be formulated through a Constitutional Council representing all communities, religions and political parties. The new Constitution should ensure lasting peace and create an environment conducive to all communities to live in peace without fear. The new Constitution should safeguard the country and not politicians.
Q. Do you think political parties based on ethnicity and religion are a hindrance to national harmony? Do you think the SLPP will gain more votes in the Northern and the Eastern provinces this time due to the initiatives taken by the President to rebuild the country?
A. I think they will think afresh. The impression given by some politicians was that a President cannot be elected without their vote.
They took their decisions based on that. They are aware that no political solution can be reached without the consent of the majority. Discussion is the ideal way to seek the approval of the majority. We have prepared our National List to represent all communities.
Therefore, the intellectuals in the minority community will agree to deal with the mainstream political process. Even if they contest separately, they will join hands with us after the election to make the necessary changes in the country.
Q. How do you view the present tug-of-war between the two UNP factions?
A. It is only the UNP which would win this battle. The UNP with the ‘elephant’ symbol is the legally accepted political party. Except for destroying their own partymen, even UNP heavyweights such as Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali who formed a new party could not make any impact on the UNP. The SJB faction led by Sajith Premadasa is weak compared to the DUNP led by Gamini and Lalith. The SJB will get some parliamentary seats but will not be able to exert pressure on the UNP. Sometimes, the UNP may take back Sajith with strict conditions imposed, or allow him to move into the political wilderness. I believe, to maintain a healthy democracy, the UNP is necessary. It is up to them to rectify their errors.
Q. There is a perception in society that most former parliamentarians are not in a position to rebuild the country so that more capable and qualified young people should be elected to Parliament who can work with the President. What is your view on this?
A. More newcomers should enter Parliament and learn about parliamentary traditions, committees and identify the hopes and aspirations of the people. They should learn how tense situations erupt in Parliament and maintain their patience. I entered Parliament 31 years ago.
A young parliamentarian should have adequate qualifications to hold even a deputy ministerial portfolio and represent Parliament at least for two consecutive terms.
One cannot be a Minister without having a proper understanding about parliamentary practices. Otherwise, even a millionaire businessman may think that if he becomes the Finance Minister he can rebuild the country. These are mere flights of fancy of some people.
Q. The Opposition alleges that amid the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has targeted the election ignoring the ongoing situation. Your comments?
A. That is mainly due to their lack of understanding about the global situation. Some people try to compare Sri Lanka with Singapore, an island smaller than Sri Lanka.
As a result their economic indicators such as per capita income and economic growth are high. When the Singapore election was held, there were 46,000 Covid-19 patients and 26 deaths. Compared to Singapore, a bigger country like Sri Lanka has less than 3,000 Covid-19 patients and 11 deaths as reported. This shows the knowledge of the Opposition members regarding the global situation on Covid-19.
Q. What is your message to the voters at the upcoming election?
A. If the voters could read parliamentarians’ speeches in the Hansard, they would take a good decision. Hansard is a public document. Therefore, I hope to publish a booklet with the help of university students on the speeches made by each Member in Parliament. The university students will do the research and I will print the books.
It would then be easy for the people to decide whether they vote or not for that particular politician at future elections. Hence, I appeal to the people to elect a group of 225 parliamentarians who are decent, law-abiding and violence free to the next Parliament.