The Sunday Leader

We Did Not Target The President At All – Udaya Gammanpila

by Thushari Nathaniel

UPFA parliamentarian and member of the Joint Opposition Udaya Gammanpila charges that this government is now undemocratic and obsolete, because they have postponed the Local Government (LG) elections by one and half years. When people cannot express their needs democratically, they will certainly resort to other means. That is why they showed positive response to the Paada Yathra, he stressed. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, Gammanpila also warned that if this government does not hold LG elections soon, the United Opposition will come back with a huge crowd to force the government to hold elections. Any straight action can be justified against an undemocratic government, he said.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: How successful the Jana Satana Paada Yathra?

A: Chinese military expert/philosopher Sung Su once said if your enemy criticizes you harshly, you will be very strong and successful. But if your enemy praises you, you will be very weak and unsuccessful. So government ministers as well as the opposition fraction of the government, namely the JVP and the TNA, repeatedly criticized the Paada Yathra harshly. So according to the view of Sung Su, our Paada Yathra was very successful, and we were able to attract people against this government. Looking at the governments reactions, we are very happy about our achievement.


Q: Now that The Paada Yathra protest is done, what happens next?

A: We took a huge risk by calling the public within a year from the parliamentary elections for a 160km long march. No opposition in the world has been able to gather this much of a huge protest against a newly elected government. For the first time in history not only in Sri Lanka, but also in nowhere in the world, an opposition has posed this much of a threat to an incumbent government. We invited people to join us and they positively reacted to our call. We now know that the people are unhappy with the government as they have failed to deliver what they promised. Therefore, through agitations we can topple the government because we showed people’s mood to the parliamentarians. The parliamentarians should have people’s support for their political survival. We are now hopeful that we will be able to overthrow the government at the next budget vote.


Q: Former president Rajapaksa has called on all MPs to vote against VAT amendment that is coming up. Can you explain why?

A: The present ministers have repeatedly said over the media that that was once 20 per cent during the Rajapaksa government was reduced to 11 per cent later on. What we have done is merely increase 4 per cent to make it 15 per cent. There is logical reason for this type of vehement protest against this mere 4 per cent increase. This statement itself reflects that the government ministers’ lack of understanding of the problem. If they do not understand the problem, how can they solve it? The real issue is not the 4 per cent increase but three changes that the government has made to VAT. First VAT was increased from 11 per cent to 15 per cent, and as they correctly pointed out the impact was minimum. But the other two changes were drastic. The worst change is bringing the qualifying threshold for VAT from Rs. 100 million to 12 million. In fact during President Rajapaksa’s time, it was Rs. 250 million. With the previous budget of this government, it was brought down to Rs. 100 million and now it has been brought down further to 12 million rupees per annum. So, any business that has an annual turnover of 12 million rupees or more is now subject to VAT.

When the threshold was 250 million rupees per annum, only four big supermarkets were subject to VAT. Since these supermarkets bought their products in bulk, they can price them lower than the other retailers despite the fact that they were paying VAT at 11 per cent. Even if the prices at supermarkets are a little higher, the retail outlets people still go to supermarkets because of the other facilities they get there like parking, air conditioned environment, more choices etc. but bringing the threshold down to 12 million rupees per annum means Rs. 334,334/- per day.

Any small boutique will be subject to VAT with this new threshold. As a result, the prices of goods at small boutiques and retail shops will be higher than that of supermarkets. There is no reason for people to purchase goods at a higher price from small outlets where they receive fewer facilities. So, most of the small outlets will be closed within the year except giant supermarkets.

This is the issue. That’s why irrespective of their political hue, all retailers have come to the streets with black flags having closed their business to protest against this policy. Unfortunately, the government ministers are yet to understand the true reason. But they talk about the 4 per cent VAT that no body talks about. Thirdly they have extended the VAT scope. Under the new system, they have introduced VAT for the health and education sectors as well. As you know now, all medical tests and surgeries are subject to VAT now. I know a retired government servant. It was diagnosed that 90 per cent of a value of his heart is blocked and he should undergo an immediate surgery. He just found out that he has to wait six months to get the surgery done at a government hospital, but he could not wait that long given the severity of the problem. He somehow through his relatives and children collected Rs. 600,000/-to deposit for the surgery. That was the amount prescribed by the private hospital.

When he visited the hospital to make his payment on May 6, they have informed him that he has to pay an additional amount of Rs. 90,000/- because of an additional VAT. This man had found this 600,000/- from all available sources to him; now he is looking for another Rs. 90,000/- for VAT risking his life. This is the story of just one individual, but he represents the entire society. Most of the medical tests that senior citizens have to undergo, their children finance now, as their elderly have no income. So when there is an additional burden, they cannot afford it. These are the real issues in VAT and not this mere 4 per cent increase that the government ministers always highlight.


Q: Is it true that the Paada Yathra was mainly defaming the President rather than raising issues that affect people?

A: An utter lie. We did not target the President at all. We raised six issues, VAT, ETCA, hunting war heroes, cutting facilities to the farmers, increasing cost of living and the postponement of the LG elections. We launched Paada Yathra for these issues. We never mentioned anything about the government or the President. Of course, our long term plan is to change the government. The objective of the Paada Yathra was to protest against six governmental policies. It has been clearly highlighted at our media conferences; we displayed slogans at the protest. Hence any sensible person can understand the protest’s focus.


Q: Many heavily criticized using a child during the protest. Why did the joint opposition resort to such an act?

A: I invite the JVP and the UNP to look at their last May Day procession. In Sri Lanka, when a mother attends any such rally, they do bring their kids along as they have no babysitting facility. The cost of living is severely affecting women who run households. Many mothers joined our protest march, and some of them did bring their children along. There is nothing wrong in that.

The government was so disturbed at the sheer support we received that they are now trying to highlight whatever they can to condemn us.

This child spoke no filth, and all he was saying was ‘Appachita jaya wewa, appaya apita epa.’ This was not slandering the President, but expressing his feelings. I don’t know the appaya though.


Q: What sort of objections or obstructions did the Paada Yathra have to face during the journey from Kandy to Colombo?

A: The government was so scared of our protest that before the very first day, they sent the police to court to obtain orders to stop the protest. All in all, they have gone to eight courts to obtain orders to stop our protest, but they were successful only in two. Third day, the government informed us that the permit given to hold the rally at the Hyde Park was cancelled by the Municipal Commissioner. As a result, we were deprived of having any sound systems as well.

All four days, there was no water or electricity in any of those towns that we walked past. They tried everything they can to discourage people from joining us, but they failed miserably. This clearly reflects the government’s fear of the Paada Yathra.


3 Comments for “We Did Not Target The President At All – Udaya Gammanpila”

  1. jayantha pathberiya

    Merely Children playing games. Gamanpilla is in Cuckoo Land!

  2. ransi malene

    Why do you waste your time, and ours, publishing what this ridiculous man, who marketed a religion, dressed in white, while doing this broke at least 3 of the five precepts.
    His uncouth behavior on TV is despicable.

    • susil

      This fellow Gaman pila is a national he should be stripped of all his rights
      and absolute bastard of a man,should be kicked out of Parliament
      a national disgrace

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