The Sunday Leader

SLFP Dissidents Have Not Decided To Join New Party – Prasanna Ranaweera

United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Parliamentarian Prasanna Ranaweera says the budget does not offer any concessions for the ordinary citizen, and the middle and lower income groups have been further burdened with taxes while the upper income groups have been given greater benefits. The direct taxes promised by the government have not come into play, he further pointed out. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, he said, “One of the most common excuses is that money was borrowed to repay the loans taken by the Rajapaksa regime. However, if that claim is true and they are repaying the loans, then the debt burden should reduce. But that is not the case and there is absolutely no reduction is the debt burden, it is in fact increasing. In my opinion, it is the financial mismanagement of this government that has led to the devaluation of the rupee, which is in turn having an impact on the debt burden.” When asked about the Joint Opposition’s view on the newly formed party and if they intend to join the new party, he said the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) members had so far not made any decision to join the new party. He, however, added that the new party would certainly join the joint opposition to form a coalition.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

 by Thushari Nathaniel

Q: The Budget for the fiscal year of 2017 was presented in parliament last Thursday. Overall, how do you see this budget?

A: This budget offers nothing to any field in the country. The people have received absolutely no benefits. The government boasts of their new economic policies and strategies to uplift the country and so on, but all that is nothing but mere words. Even this time what they have presented is nothing more than a ‘sprats’ budget. The concessions the people have been given are nothing.The government is hoodwinking the people by promising the youth laptops and tabs. On the other hand, the telephone rates are taxed heavily by 25 per cent. This is just cheating students and teachers. This move is not aimed at creating a more knowledgeable society. This is another way of giving them something small on one side and ripping them off on the other. Similarly in all spheres, foreign investment has dwindled and inflation is sky rocketing. The government claims that they had saved last year’s expenditure. But when compared what they have saved and what they have in hand to spend, it is clear they have a lesser amount to spend. So, claims they make that they have saved for the country make no sense at all. In fact, this country is in a huge economic rut with absolutely no strategy to get the country out of it. This government’s economic plan in fact is an absolute failure. One of the most common excuses is that money was borrowed to repay the loans taken by the Rajapaksa regime. If that claim is true and they are repaying the loans, then the debt burden should reduce. But that is not the case and there is absolutely no reduction in the debt burden. It is in fact increasing. In my opinion, it is the financial mismanagement of this government that led to the devaluation of the rupee, which is in turn having an impact on the debt burden.

The people will begin to realise by next year when the taxes and budget proposals come into effect. Then they will realise what we have been saying. This government through this budget has certainly not reduced the cost of living and taxes. They have only piled up bigger financial burdens on the people. The middle class will be the most affected and burdened with indirect taxes while the upper income groups are being exempted from direct taxes and given relief. Further, they repeatedly keep calling us rogues but the highway from Kadawatha to Meerigama that we estimated at a cost of 146 billion is now being given by this government for a tender for 158 billion, around 12 billion above what we estimated. It is because of these fraudulent acts that the poor have to be taxed so heavily.

On the other hand, the vehicle importers are being exempted from taxes because they have kickbacks from them. The government is importing Monteros and Prados under the guise of importing agricultural vehicles. There alone the country lost heavily. Furthermore, while the flood and Salawa blast victims have not been paid their compensation as yet, the government is granting concessions to the beer industry. Similarly, the government through its budget is only burdening the poor and further boosting the rich. Now the government is planning on selling off State assets because there is no investment coming in. All in all, this government is taking this country down the gutter.


Q: During the CoPE committee report discussion when the government was being attacked for trying to hide the treasury bond issue, why was the joint opposition silent?

A: Our members in the CoPE committee very clearly stood up against the government in the CoPE issue. No one can allege that we were silent on the issue. Our stand is that there is no point in just targeting one or two people. All those in the government who gave consent or assisted them in this fraud should be punished, including the higher-ups. They were trying to hide this fraud and hush it up. This government came into power promising to eradicate corruption. But they are now the biggest bunch of rogues.


Q: The government during the election greatly highlighted the alleged fraudulent activities of the previous regime and spoke of many foreign investments and lavish spending. Yet to date none of these allegations, especially against the Rajapaksa family, has been proved nor have they been punished. Why?

A: This is their trick. In the Presidential election manifesto on page 20, it is clearly stated that if they save the money that was spent by the Rajapaksa regime, they can develop the country 10 times more than the previous regime. But today although the money is being spent, not even one per cent of the work done by the previous regime has been completed by the good governance regime. Isn’t it very clear who the biggest rogues are? They are forgetting that while they are just hiding behind this lie that the previous regime robbed the country; they cannot lie to the people forever. The truth is slowly but surely coming out. The people will soon realise the truth and who the actual rogues are. Look at the amount of fraud and corruption that has taken place just within this one and half years.


Q: Through the General Secretary of the SLFP, the President has extended an invitation to the Joint Opposition to unite and not let the party divide. Is the JO ready to accept that invitation?

A: We have clearly told the General Secretary that with the current principles of the government, we will not join them. Our policies are quite different and we do not approve of privatising the State sector. Even in 1951, Bandaranaike left the party because he was against these policies. We have no issue joining the SLFP but under our Prime Minister. We have the ability to build an SLFP government as we have 14 who contested from the government and we have 94 on our side. So, we can easily form a government. If the President really wants to unite the SLFP, let him do so under the SLFP banner.


Q: You claim that the SLFP has the required numbers to form a government, but the UNP claims that the President was brought to power because of the UNP and that it was the UNP that defeated the SLFP at two consecutive elections. Your view?

A: If that is the case, then the UNP leadership should have retired from politics long before this. After all, he lost so many times and that is why the UNP put forward an SLFP candidate. Had they brought in a UNP candidate, they certainly would not have won. Before they point fingers at others, they should have followed their own advice.


Q: The government alleges that the Joint Opposition is behind protests and disruptive acts and it is trying to destabilise the government. Is this true?

A:This is called Rajapaksa phobia. The government tries to hide all their faults and inabilities by blaming the Rajapaksa regime. Even if they failed economically, it’s because the Rajapaksas borrowed. If there are protests, the Rajapaksa’s are trying to destabilise the government and so on. This has now become a big joke. How long can they hide behind blaming the Rajapaksas for everything. If the Rajapaksas can do so much, then what is the point in their governing? At this rate, the county cannot run. The country developed under the previous regime, but today nothing is happening and the excuse the government gives is that they have to repay the loans borrowed by the Rajapaksa regime. Then the President claims he was not aware of certain happenings within the government. This is the height of absurdity. This government is like the horse and the cart going in different directions. Then the government blamed China and said they are overcharging and that their loan interests were very high. However, the Chinese Ambassador very clearly detailed everything recently. While scolding the Chinese, they are handing over much more than the previous government did, to the Chinese. This government is a failure. They are trying to hide their failures by blaming the previous Rajapaksa regime, which is pathetic.


Q: The new Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna was formed under G.L. Pieris. Is this a wise move? Will the Joint Opposition members including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa join this party and leave the SLFP?

A: No. I am sure that the SLPF will join the Joint Opposition and support us. So far the former President has not made any plans to leave the SLFP. But it’s too early to predict or speculate. Let’s wait and see what happens.


Q: The recent protest by the differently abled war heroes and the alleged targeting of the intelligence officers has been a topic highlighted by the opposition. However, the government claims that it was the JO that was behind these protests to discredit the government. What is your view on this claim?

A: All of us living in this country from Point Pedra to Dondra point live freely thanks to the dedication and sacrifices made by these war heroes. They have been disabled because they put their lives on the line for the sake of the country. During the tenure of the previous regime whenever there was a protest and the government used tear gas to disperse the crowds, we were accused of using the police to unlease violence against the people. Now when they use force against protesters, then we are again blamed for promoting these protests. So whichever way, we are to blame. Let’s see how long the government can keep doing this and how long the people will buy these excuses.


Q: Did the previous regime or Gotabhaya Rajapaksa have a hand in creating the Aava gang?

A: Today Wigneswaran is saying one thing and the members of the NPC are saying another. Although the government is trying to blame the previous regime, the governor and the State Defence Minister have categorically stated that the previous regime had nothing to do with those incidents.


Q: With the victory of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, do you think the US would change its policy on Sri Lanka?

A: Trump has clearly stated that America will focus on resolving their own domestic issues and not interfere in issues of other countries. He is totally against extremism. So, I don’t think the US will interfere too much in Sri Lanka’s affairs under his presidency.


Q: Do you expect that the Local Government elections to be held early next year?

A: I don’t think that the government will hold the LG elections. The stronger the Joint Opposition gets, the more they will delay the elections for fear of losing. If the government was certain that they could win the LG elections, then they would have held the elections by now. The only delay is because they know that the people are disappointed in this government and the government don’t want to lose. This is why the elections are being deliberately delayed.




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