Most Protests Have A Hidden Agenda – Harshana Rajakaruna
Harshana Rajakaruna, Member of Parliament from the United National Party representing the Gampaha District is of the view that the unity government is on track and running the country smoothly despite efforts to destabilise it. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, Rajakaruna said that within the next two years all these efforts of the government will materialise and the people will begin to feel it. Rajakaruna also said that the families of ex LTTE cadres should be allowed to commemorate their loved ones privately, but it should not be turned into a political event.
Following are excerpts of the interview;
by Thushari Nathaniel
Q. Recently in the North and East the Heroes’ week was held at several places which has created concern among the people. Do you see this situation as being good for the country or can this create tension?
A. I think that if there is a remembrance event it should be a remembrance of all who died in the war and should not just be LTTE cadres. I don’t believe that religious activities should be held in remembering these fallen cadres. As individual families, yes they should be given the chance to mourn the loss of their loved ones, but these should not be allowed to be taken advantage of by other political vultures.
Q. How do you see the reconciliation process progressing and will extremist elements pose a threat to reconciliation?
A. In the minority ethnic groups where the government will look at their grievances and the ministry of law and order will ensure their safety, things will move smoothly. Whether it is in the North or South the law should be the same for all. But when we are trying to forge reconciliation, the Mahinda faction is trying to destabilise these efforts for petty political gain but the people don’t believe that.
Even the religious clergy of other faiths have agreed that the rightful place to Buddhism should be given. This does not mean that other religions should be side-lined.
Q. The budget has come under criticism from many quarters as being one that looks rosy on the surface but burdens the people in reality. As a whole how do you see the budget?
A. I think it’s a budget that will take Sri Lanka forward. When it comes to the most important sectors, education, housing and health is given priority. Investment-friendly decisions have been taken where investors will be encouraged to come here and invest. Therefore, overall I feel that it is a very good budget.
Q. The JVP levelled allegations against the government that the allocation for education was slashed and provision of TABs was brought in just to hoodwink the people. What is your take on it?
A. I disagree because we have in fact allocated more than 2014. During 2015 though we had allocated a lot the education sector could not utilise that amount as it was too much for them to spend because of the practical situation. Hence, whatever has been cut off is what has been decided as the actual amount that can be spent. There is no point in having an allocation that cannot be spent. However, it is far more than what the previous regime had spent on education.
Q. While TABs are to be given to students and teachers, do you identify this as the most pressing priority, especially in rural areas where schools still lack the basic infrastructure facilities. Shouldn’t these be addressed first?
A. Yes I agree. However I think that the opposition parties are trying to give a wrong interpretation on what we are planning on doing. We are certainly not going to concentrate only on providing TABs and ignore the other basic facilities and not provide those first. We are not only looking at IT and TABs etc but definitely basic infrastructure that needs to be put in place will be given priority as well as this too will be done. We are not going to forfeit one for the other. There are schools that need water, sanitary facilities and other basic facilities. So we are not looking at just giving them the TAB and forgetting about providing the basic infrastructure facilities. We are going to give both. What the opposition is trying to do is make the whole thing political and they are trying to gain political mileage by capitalising on the TAB proposal and trying to say that we are concentrating on those rather than first taking care of the most pressing needs.
However we have taken stock of all shortcomings especially in the rural schools and we will be providing all that together with the TABs so that even the rural children can keep up with the advanced world and not be left behind.
Q. When the country is struggling and taxes are being imposed on the people and the government is asking the people to bear with them until they get the country on track, is it fair that the Ministers have their salaries increased and attendance allowance increased from Rs. 500 to 2500?
A. These things are still under discussion and nothing has been given as yet. These are being reported in the newspapers but its not that these have all been given. This is only a suggestion so far. But, I believe that there should be a fair increase such as what the government servants got when we came into power. Hence, I believe that there needs to be some sort of an amount given to the MP’s. There are a lot expenses for an MP. Currently we only get Rs. 500 per sitting and that is not even enough for petrol or transportation.
They are now talking of giving Rs. 100,000 for maintaining an office. I think these are important because it is only then that the politicians can serve the public effectively. I am not saying that the politicians should be given a huge salary while the rest of the country has to suffer. However, I think a reasonable increase in order to sustain their activities is needed for a better service to the public.
It is not only for politicians but in all sectors if there is a reasonable pay the corruption will be lesser. In all sectors that is how it should be and this is a common fact. In my case I allocate my salary also for scholarships. I am blessed enough that I can take care of myself even without my MP salary, but not all are that fortunate. There are MP’s who have rented vehicles. Hence unless they are financially supported they cannot serve the public effectively. I am not saying that they need to be paid to a point that they can bank the money and live luxuriously, but they should be given enough to enable them to render a better service to the public.
Q. Currently the whole country is being crippled with protests taking place in every crucial sector such as health and transport. If the country is running so smoothly, why are there so many protests taking place?
A. Most of these protests have a hidden agenda and are politically motivated. Another factor is that there is too much freedom that the first thing that they think about is resorting to protests. In fact the last alternative should be the protest but now what is happening is that they first protest and only after that do they sit down to discuss their issues and come to a compromise. This is completely wrong, but these happen this way because they have been politically motivated and there are hidden agendas. Having been given the freedom these parties should not abuse the freedom they have been given. They should not obstruct the day to day lives of the rest of the country. The police too should be able to handle the situation effectively and minimise the inconvenience that these protests cause the general public.
The protests should be conducted in a manner that it least affects the normal functions of the civilians.
Q. There is an increase in the number of crimes taking place today and the underworld too is once again beginning to get active. Why do you think this is?
A. I think that there are a lot of operations taking place in order to curtail this situation. The government is certainly not turning a blind eye. We are doing everything possible and putting in all the available resources in order to bring down these drug cartels and this is the main reason that we hear alot about it. The police and other authorities have been very successful in controlling the underworld and the crime rate. We have curtailed the illegal activities as well. It is not that the crime rate had increased significantly but its just that these are being highlighted and reported a lot more than before.
Q. This government was voted into power on the basis that corruption would be curbed and those responsible will be brought to book. But its over a year and half since the unity government assumed power and there is no reduction in corruption and none of the prominent figures of the previous regime have been charged. Why?
A. I also agree that there is a delay. But this delay is very common for the whole legal system and not just when it comes to these things. This is a problem we are facing in the whole legal system. Unless there are special courts established to handle these cases we will have to face these delays.
Having said that, it can be looked at as being politically motivated and political victimisation. So these are sensitive issues and need to be handled carefully. Even a land issue takes so many years to be completed. Hence, I think we need a new system where the government will have to look at the whole system and bring in new measures to address these shortcomings.