The Sunday Leader

We Won’t Allow Changes That Affect The Masses – K. D. Lal Kantha

By Ifham Nizam

Change is definitely needed when it comes to social class/status but I doubt this bill would deal at that level. It is certainly not a final solution but a step in the right direction. Our country often protects rogues and robbers. There is one type of treatment for them while one who steals a coconut is severely dealt with. This attitude needs to be changed, says Politburo Member of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) K. D. Lal Kantha 

Excerpts of the interview :

Q: The amended Right to Information Bill will be presented in parliament next Thursday (June 23) for the second reading, after the Bill presented earlier had to be changed based on the Supreme Court recommendation. What is your opinion about this forthcoming Bill?

A:  Information and the freedom to express information is the right of the people. Unfortunately, in our country, going by past records, politicians make all decisions, whether it be in the workplace, economic policies, freedom of expression, the list goes on.

The government earlier presented the draft bill to parliament on March 24 for the first reading. However, in May the Supreme Court declared that certain clauses in the Right to Information Bill violated the constitution and that it will need a two-thirds majority in parliament to become law. Court further determined that the inconsistencies will cease to operate and the Bill may be passed by a simple majority if amendments are made as directed by the Supreme Court to the clauses that are in violation of the constitution.

The government subsequently formed a committee to study the clauses that are in violation and introduce amendments to the draft bill. But none of us have seen it after the amendments. Coalition government members say different things about the amendments. We have to wait and see and then act upon those. We will not allow any amendments that would hit or affect the masses. This is often the common factor when whatever implementation takes place. In the past, rulers and dictators made sure that their whims and fancies were incorporated into amendments for their own benefit.


Q: Government affirmed the proposed bill will allow the public to access information regarding public authorities and it will be an important feature for the government to be responsible at a higher level. The proposed Right to Information Bill is expected to make changes in a moderate way to uphold good governance and the state function?

A: The government formed a committee to study the clauses that are in violation of the constitution and introduce amendments to the draft bill. But as I said earlier, we are still waiting to see the amended bill. Opinions of Members of Parliament differ when it comes to the Right to Information Bill. Nobody knows exactly, what is in it. After being tabled in parliament it should be discussed among journalists, institutions and the public. The Bill should assist in accessing information at the workplace.

LasanthaWickrematunge (founding Editor of The Sunday Leader) was killed because he believed in Right to Information and published it. Like wise Poddala Jayantha and Prageeth Ekneligoda believed in focusing on the right of the public to know. Media suppression should not take place at any cost. There should be an end to such tactics.


Q: How can this bill be put to real use to address social issues and not just political issues?

A: Change is definitely needed when it comes to social class/status but I doubt this bill would deal with things at that level. It is certainly not a final solution but a step in the right direction. Our country often protects rogues and robbers. There is onetype of treatment for them while someone who steals a coconut is severely dealt with. This attitude needs to be changed.

Important issues such as prohibiting Members of Parliament from changing political parties, abolishing the Executive Presidency, the Audit Bill and the Right to Information Bill should be passed in parliament very soon and be made into law and ensure that these suggestions are included in the proposals.

We intend to force the government through this set of proposals to prepare the subjects of all ministries based on a scientific method and that it too should be made into a law subsequent to being passed in parliament.

If all subjects of ministries are not allocated on a scientific basis, the President and the Prime Minister will break up the subjects of ministries when they want and as they want to grant ministerial posts to people they prefer. They break them up and establish new ministerial posts and ministries. We propose that this should be halted immediately. That means that ministries and ministerial posts should remain permanent.

At the same time,recruiting employees for government service should be done based only on qualifications and not on political intervention. A guaranteed price should be named when purchasing paddy. Make manpower employees who are in service now permanent and abolish the manpower service. These should be passed in parliament and be made into law. .


Q: What is your opinion of the economic policies of the government?

A: They have totally messed it up. The government is bankrupt. Asking monies as a loan or requesting for money has been the main strategy.  The government’s bankruptcy is clearly seen when an investor brings in a dollar and takes twoin return. The treasury is empty. Loans and debt are skyrocketing and has reached unprecedented heights. There is no production at all; such is the sad state of the government.

The government has cropped the privileges of the working masses. For instance this government has completely done away with the pension scheme of the state sector labour force. Now the pension scheme that was the right of the state sector employee has been stopped. Those state sector employees who join the state sector from the beginning of this year will no longer be entitled to a pension at the end of their service and retirement. That is done away with.

Having cut off the privileges and pensions of the state sector employees, this shameless government has the audacity to ask the state sector employees to be an example of sacrifice and work with commitment.

The government has failed to add on all the concessions that were to be added on to their salaries. They promised the private sector a salary increment of Rs. 2500, but now they are trying all sorts of tricks in order to refrain from giving this increment. Also the government is now trying to bring in laws to revise the existing labour laws in order to further crop the rights and privileges of the working masses.

The collective agreement that is signed every year by the estate sector employers has been put off for almost one and a half years. Now the estate employers are saying that they can’t sign this. The government too is taking the side of the employers and keeping silent and failing to assure justice for the poor estate workers.


Q:  Are you pleased with the budget?

A: Almost all the demands of the working class have been ignored in the 2016 budget. The budget proposals are not people-friendly. Farmers who play a key role in the country’s economy too were ignored in the budget proposals. Further, the demands of the public sector were not even considered.

There are around 1.5 million public servants in the country and they were demanding a basic salary hike from the budget. Since 2006, the basic salary of public servants has not been increased. Instead, their allowances have been increased. That too was done due to the pressure exerted by the trade unions. Through this budget President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have put the demands of the public servants into the dustbin.

In September Wickremesinghe pledged to add all allowances to the basic salary of public servants. However, there was not a single word about the salary increase for public servants in the budget. Further, in the interim budget presented for the 100-day programme the government suggested increasing the salary of the private sector employees by Rs. 2,500. That was not the amount we asked for. Trade unions demanded a higher salary hike for private sector employees. Our position is that the minimum wage of the private sector employees should be equal to that of public sector employees. The minimum salary should not differ, but the salary based on the position held by employees can differ. The President and Prime Minister pledged to increase the salary of private sector employees. In the budget speech the Finance Minister said he had requested the private sector employers to increase the minimum salary of employees if they had not done it so far. However, not a single private firm has increased the minimum salary so far. Suggestions won’t help to increase the minimum salary.

The government assumes that people are fools and that they can be fooled easily, but that is not the case anymore. This government was brought into power by the people and civil society. The United National Party (UNP) did not launch a strong campaign and Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by people power.

The fertilizer subsidy has been removed adversely affecting farmers. The bag of fertilizer that was Rs.1200 in the open market was increased to Rs.3500 by the government. As a result of massive farmer agitations it was brought down to Rs.2400. However, the price of a fertilizer in the open market has doubled. Crops produced using fertilizer at this price has not come to the market yet. Further, there was a suggestion to impose a fixed price of Rs. 50 per kg on paddy. Such suggestions are useless as they carry no assurance of implementation. Make it a law. Then only it will be implemented. In that context, rights of farmers, fishermen, public servants and private sector employees were not ensured through the budget.By increasing the tax burden the government has asked the working masses to reduce their consumption of goods and services. The working masses should know what sacrifices the government has made. They have the biggest cabinet of ministers in the world. If they want to have a coalition of parties they could always reduce the number of ministers to form the government.

In the last budget it was proposed to slash the pension right enjoyed by the working masses from this year. As such, the state employees now have a struggle to win their pension rights. A bill that has slashed the Rs.2500 promised to private sector employees has been presented. Hence, the private sector employees too have a struggle to win a fair salary for the amount they work.

Amendments to laws that would slash rights of the working masses are to be brought in. The dialogue during the last elections was an aim to win pension rights for the private sector as well. However, the state employees also find that their pension rights have been slashed. A struggle to protect as well as win rights is before the working masses.

The biggest injustice has been meted out to the estate community. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour have got together to put off signing the collective agreement by four months. It is a serious violation of rights. They have a struggle to make their daily wage Rs.1000. The collective agreement is not signed because if they do so they will have to give the daily wage the estate sector employees are demanding. As such, the state sector, the private sector as well as the estate sector have a struggle against slashing their rights.

This government has thrown a massive challenge to working masses of all sectors. As such, what has been put before the working masses at present is the need to build a massive force that would be able to overcome all challenges placed before them.


Q: What about the existing pension scheme; should it continue?

A: Yes. It should be continued. There are suggestions about changing the pension scheme as well. People did not ask for it. The Finance Minister had said that the pension scheme is a burden. Then he should resign. In fact, the budget proposals have been approved by the President and the Prime Minister. Therefore, they should be held responsible.

Public servants did not request a new pension scheme. We need to know on whose request the proposals were put forward. Is it the need of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?


1 Comment for “We Won’t Allow Changes That Affect The Masses – K. D. Lal Kantha”

  1. Cobra

    The truth of the matter is that even a mega hike in salary is looked upon with suspicion by the JVP, so there?

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