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Be Patient And Bear Up The Hardships – Akila Viraj Kariyawasam

by Thushari Nathaniel

Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam claims that many reforms have been brought in to the education sector, and people will see the effects of these changes in the near future. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, the Minister said that the government has to take certain decisions even though the citizenry did not expect them, such as the VAT increase, in order to rectify the country’s failing economy. The Minister, however, assured that they are only temporary until the situation improves and the government’s measures take effect. He, therefore, urged the people to be patient and bear up hardships as the benefits and the good times are just around the corner. He asked the citizenry to give the government some time to bring the country out of the rut and back on track.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: The VAT issue has been the focus of discussion lately while the Joint Opposition is refusing to allow any discussion on the VAT increase in parliament and threatening to go to court to stop the government bringing in the tax. What is the latest situation of this issue?

A: We need money to develop the country. The Rajapaksas wasted a huge amount of money and most of it they stole. They appointed their family members to responsible positions and swindled billions of tax payers’ money. Moreover, they borrowed in billions and set the country into a debt trap. They started projects such as Mattala Airport and Hambantota Seaport disregarding all concerns raised over the viability of these ventures. Today they are white elephants that do not benefit the people. We have increased the State sector salaries by Rs. 10,000. We also reduced the prices of petrol and diesel. We have provided many concessions to the public while struggling to repay the debts borrowed by the previous regime. All this costs money. VAT was increased only to facilitate the financial healing process and once we have managed to cover up the deficits, we will give benefits to the public. Until such time, we expect that they will cooperate and assist us in getting this country back on track. When we start raking in the profits from the investments and initiatives we have made, especially in the tourism sector and other ventures, then the benefits will certainly be for the people. What we ask is that we all cooperate and allow a little time, so that the government can implement their plans. The good times are ahead and we will certainly reward the public for their patience and assistance.

 

Q: It is alleged that the education sector is in disarray and the constant protests and demonstrations amply manifest the frustrations of students and parents. What is your view on this allegation?

A: I don’t think the education sector has any issues at present. It was during the previous regime that all sorts of issues were spun together in the sector. Schools have no principals and the government at the time had no idea how to recruit new principals because the education administration was in disarray; politics had crept into the education sector as well. Moreover, politically appointed corrupt principals were destroying the whole education sector. After I took over, I have cleaned up most of the mess in the sector.

 

Q: Have you resolved the shortages of principals?

A: Yes, we have recruited almost 4,000 new principals, and they were given a proper training for one and a half months. This year around 600 recruited principals will be sent abroad for training. Through a Cabinet paper to be submitted on the 27th of this month, these principals will be appointed to the respective schools. Of the 10,161 schools, 3,858 schools will have new principals shortly. The educational administrative sector also has 852 vacancies, and we have recruited people to fill them sans any political interference and they get trained both locally and internationally. The Sri Lanka Teachers Service (SLTS) had 1190 vacancies during the past regime. That made us wonder how the education system functioned with such a shortage of teachers. Now we have gazetted them and we will be recruiting more teachers shortly. About two weeks ago, we handed over appointment letters to around 1032 teachers, and they are now undergoing training. I went to inspect the training at the Teacher Training Institute in Maharagama. We also increased the intake of teachers into science colleges by 150. We will also be recruiting a further 5000 or more spots teachers. We will fill in all the shortages of teachers in every school very soon. The shortage was at around 60,000 due to the improper balance of teachers of the past regime. But the actual shortage is only about 20,000. Teachers were given political appointments to certain areas indiscriminately in the duration of the past regime and this is the reason for the improper balance of teachers. Our government has taken measures to recruit teachers, train them and appoint them to places that have shortages.

 

Q: What is the current status of scrapping the Ordinary Level examinations?

A: By 2018, thirteen years of education will be made compulsory for a child. Even if a child fails the O/L examination, still h/she will be eligible to pursue A/L, following subjects that the child is good at or interested in. Under this initiative, we will be introducing around 20 new subjects, so that the students have a better selection enabling them to follow for their A/L instead of leaving school as they could not fit into the existing regular streams. We plan to bring in the school inspectorate and subject all 10,161 schools in the country to periodic checks to maintain proper quality education, facilities, teachers and principals. It will be launched this year under the education reforms agenda.

 

Q: Principals were facing many issues because of their alleged unfair transfers. Have these issues been ironed out now?

A: Yes, for some time now, principals faced numerous issues. Now we have launched a programme to properly evaluate their transfers and to also fill the existing vacancies. We have changed certain systems for educational reforms that no one thought of possible. We have also taken measures to rotate principals and not allowed certain parties to stay on at one school for decades simply for their convenience.

 

Q: Has the uniform issue been sorted out now?

A: The relevant statistics show that nearly 30 per cent of uniforms provided earlier have not been used. Politicians made use of that part to fill their pockets. We put a stop to corruption and introduced the voucher system for school uniforms. So far it has proved successful. Moreover, we have stopped all corruption and malpractices taking place in the education system during the past regime.

 

Q: Are you going to implement any new regulation to monitor international schools?

A: Yes, we plan to bring in a school inspectorate law to monitor not just the State schools, but also the international schools. We will monitor schools for proper education, teacher quality in order to set up proper standards. We will bring in these regulations through the new Acts shortly.

 

Q: The government is facing allegations that investigations are not being carried out effectively and fairly and that the powerful members of the previous regime are being protected. What is your take on this allegation?

A: It alone proves that we are impartial and unbiased. We don’t want to interfere in and expedite these investigations. They will move along at its own pace. We don’t want to use these investigations to revenge on anyone. Some people of the previous regime are using all sorts of tricks to get away from charges levelled against them. However, almost daily, cases being taken up and heard, and the process is moving. Perhaps not at the pace the people would prefer, nonetheless, they are moving slowly but steadily. The FCID and the Bribery Commission work hard to bring these culprits to justice and I think they are doing a fantastic job. So, I feel that we have to let the process take its normal course.

 

Q: Why is it that only certain perpetrators are arrested while many prominent figures in the previous regime implicated in many cases have not been arrested yet?

A: I suppose you could say these are the gentlemanly qualities of the President and the Prime Minister. They don’t want to target anyone and take revenge, like the previous regime did. I think good governance has gone a bit overboard at times and have shown too much compassion and leniency. During the previous regime, Sarath Fonseka was imprisoned just to prevent him from contesting the presidential election against them. We are not like that and will carry on the investigations. But we will not simply harass people whose wrongs have not been properly proved. The previous government targeted anyone who went against them in any way and journalists such as Lasantha Wickrematunge and Poddala Jayantha were victims of this brutality. But we don’t want to be like that, and we will certainly bring to book those who have committed wrong, but in a proper manner.

 

Q: Why is the government not taking any action against fraudsters who have now joined the good governance from the past regime?

A: That is not true; we will certainly take action against anyone if complaints are lodged. People should complain to the FCID or the Bribery Commission if any politician commits any wrong, regardless in which side they are in.

Then, they will be investigated and punished if they are found guilty. However, if only allegations are being made but no complaints, then we cannot investigate them. That is why I urge the people to lodge complaints with the authorities if they have proof of any government minister is doing wrong. Today even the media is free, and they can highlight the wrongs of even ministers. Unlike in the past, they will not be targeted. The President was so compassionate that he even forgave the man who tried to kill him. Therefore, I urge you all to come forward and expose any minister or politician including in the current regime too and if they are doing something wrong, I assure you that action will be taken to punish them. We don’t know if some have joined the government just to escape from charges. So, expose these parties and proper punishment will certainly be meted out.

 

Q:  The government promised the Tamil people political solutions to their issues. However, so far the Tamils are not happy with what has been done, especially, in releasing land as promised. How confident are you that the displaced be resettled within the next three months?

A:  We are now releasing the lands. If the lands occupied by the security forces cannot be released for security reasons; then their owners will and should be paid compensation. Under no circumstances should lands belonging to the people be taken over or occupied by the government. We should do everything possible to release these lands to their rightful owners.

This is my view. We are all working toward providing justice to the Tamil people as we understand what they have gone through. I am certain the justice will be served and these people will have their lands back as we promised. If it is absolutely impossible to do in some cases, they will be paid compensation.

 

Q: How far has the government progressed in releasing the Tamil political prisoners?

A: We should now look at rehabilitating them and releasing them. We should not look at them with hatred or vengeance; we should understand their plight and should expedite their release. They will be given the opportunity to undergo rehabilitation and I am sure they will be released soon. It is now irrelevant if they had joined the LTTE voluntarily or involuntarily. They have now paid enough and they deserve to be given freedom. Their cases should be evaluated and justice should be done to them.

We should learn to see why these people would have supported terrorism and now it’s time to give them their freedom. I am certain that they will be released very soon.

 

Q: There is talk that the government is experiencing internal issues and that they will not be able to hold it together for much longer. Is this true?

A: This government is very strong and we can continue for many years more. Some of the bankrupt politicians of the Joint Opposition are trying to make up stories to convince people that the government is weak. But that is not so; we are stronger than ever. Our differences themselves are our best strength.

 

5 Comments for “Be Patient And Bear Up The Hardships – Akila Viraj Kariyawasam”

  1. Nafeel

    Is the minister capable of making drastic changes overnight in the education sector? We wonder whether such changes are result of an expert panel and subject to review based on feedback.

  2. andrew pitugala

    Betterment should be to improve the standard of education. His new rule about GCE(Olevel) is definitely not for betterment of education and a very bad precedence. If he stays long enough the same rule will be extended to the A level.
    Betterment should be to provide avenues for education / training those who fail O level in middle level requirements of the nation. .
    Allocating good schools for Doctors will be a most un-democratic move.

  3. PERERA

    what is this man going on about. we are constantly told that we have an emerging economy that is booming with a 4% growth. so who is telling the truth.
    does he think we are idiots like him.
    so when things better as he says it will provided what he says about the economy is correct will that other tea leaf ( sound for th@#$)bring down the tax burden then.

  4. Gamarala

    Dear Minister. It is good if you take some steps to lower the unnecessary expenses of the ministers. The country is in grave trouble financially. But, why the ministers demanding sky high value vehicles. Please consider this matter as well.

  5. Govt official s as well as insurance executive s,hdfc life , Exide life insurance all are appointing fraudsters to earn huge money. If I get any email definitely I will sent my complaint letter to the concerned officer.There are many fake email s and mobile message in my hand set.nearly four lakhs rupees have laundered
    From my bank account as they stated they were from RBI,GBIC,IGMS ,BIma
    A lokpal, etc.

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