The Sunday Leader

We Have Achieved A Lot Of Goals – Mahinda Amaraweera

By Ifham Nizam

Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Mahinda Amaraweera says Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is renowned for its salient leadership and effective policies, and added that they started off well at some occasions but fell back because of bad activities of some of its members. “If a few people do not agree with the majority, then we will move them aside and rebuild the SLFP to its former glory,” he added.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Is there a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the SLFP and the UNP?

A: Yes, We have already signed an MOU. This is how the two parties joined together in the first place. We would certainly strengthen our ties for the betterment of the country and its people.


Q: Under the circumstances, will you be able to make the SLFP stronger?

A: Certainly yes. Our party is renowned for its salient leadership and effective policies. We started off well at some instances, but fell back because of the bad activities of some of our members. If a few people do not agree with us, we will move them aside and rebuild this party to its former glory


Q: Your ministry had a plan to compensate and encourage fisher folk being affected by the Colombo Port City Project. How far has this plan worked?

A: It is not confirmed that the Port City Project will affect the fisher folk. We have done some studies in this regard, but they revealed that the project will affect the fishing activities. The negative impact of the project is very minimal.

Getting sand for the project from the shallow sea areas may affect fish breeding grounds. However, we have now formulated regulations that the sand required for land reclamation can only be obtained from deep sea (under 15 km). However, we had allocated Rs. 500 million to face the probable negative implications. So far the project has not impacted badly on the fishing community.


Q: India is pressurising the Sri Lankan government to release the arrested Indian fishermen for illegally entering our shores. Will the government accede to these pressures?

A: No. India has been pressurizing us for some time now. Tamil Nadu has been trying very hard to pressurise us to release these boats. However, since I took over the ministry, I have not allowed to release a single Indian boat arrested. I will continue to instruct the relevant divisions to arrest all Indian fishermen entering our waters no matter how much they pressurise us. At present, we have over 100 boats in our custody and the arrests are continuing.


Q: Recently the first year anniversary of the national government was celebrated. Do you think the coalition government is able to meet the people’s expectations?

A: Yes…A year has passed since we had formed the government. A considerable change has taken place in society since then. I cannot say that all the expectations of people have been met. But amidst thousands of obstacles, we have been able to deliver on several key promises that we had made to the public.


Q: What are these promises?

A: We had a serious problem with the Geneva war crimes probe. During the former government, we spoke a lot about this issue. That was one of the major reasons for holding the election earlier. We went to the election at a time the global economy had collapsed. Although the former government was defeated, under the new government, we were able to get things back under control to some extent.

At my ministry, we were able to get the EU ban on fish lifted. At the end of the year, we expect that the GSP Plus ban would also be lifted. So we have achieved a lot of goals.


Q: The initial plan of the coalition was limited to two years. Why is its tenure extended further to five years?

A: Many investors feared that the government would collapse after two years. That fear prevented a lot of potential FDIs into the country. In addition, many international financial organisations had suspected that the government would be split after two years. These issues were widely discussed within the diplomatic circles. Therefore, we decided to lay all the doubts to rest by extending our initial tenure.


Q: But why hasn’t there been any sign of genuine development in the country?

A: That is why I mentioned earlier that we are not 100 per cent successful. But we can be happy to see that some development projects have started now. We have started renovating the Hambantota Port, Mattala Airport, expressways and railroads. Next year, we will initiate some new projects.

We planned to set up the biggest industrial zone in Hambantota. Proposals have been made to set up a new oil refinery and a cement factory. This is going to create a lot of new jobs. The year 2017/18 is going to be a busy one. Most of these projects are being funded with concessionary loans.


Q: Does it mean that the economic hardships that the public face now, will lessen in the near future?

A: Definitely. When we go ahead with this development drive, it is going to improve the economy as well. The dollar rate will soon come down with the financial aid. I expect it to come down to Rs. 130.


Q: But we see a lot of protests of university students and civil society organisations. Don’t they suggest that the government is not on the right track?

A: No, they show the high level of democracy in the country now. Anyone can raise their voice fearlessly now. We could stop them easily by deploying the military and the police. But that is not our policy.


Q: Even though you claim that democracy has been established, why has the government not been able to hold the local government elections yet?

A: The delimitation process is still going on. But it will be over by the end of this year. So we will be able to hold the election in the first quarter of next year.


Q: Some have accused that the FCID has only probed charges against the opponents of the government. Is this true?

A: Whatever government in power, the guilty should be brought to justice. The authorities are considering all the complaints. If politicians are corrupt, then the whole country will collapse. We must put an end to this harmful development.


Q: What do you think of the shadow cabinet that the JO set up?

A: It is a joke. Many have left it already. Even its leader has left it now. Little children do similar things.


Q: But they have claimed that they will follow every single move of the ministers just like their shadows follow them and reveal their corrupt deals.

A: Let them expose everything. That is good. Even corrupt persons in the government must be brought to justice. We support them in that goal.

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