UNP Will Put Forward Its Own Candidate In 2020 – Ranjith Madduma Bandara
The United National Party (UNP) will field its own candidate at the next Presidential election, UNP member and Minister of Public Administration Ranjith Madduma Bandara said. He also said that while disputes in the unity government have not affected the operations of the government, it has had some impact on organisations linked to the two political parties in the government.
Following are excerpts of an interview he gave The Sunday Leader:
by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
Q: Why is the government privatising institutions like the Hambantota port?
A: At present, the world is moving from state-run businesses to Public Private Partnerships. This is a partnership between the government and a private entity. If we do not take action to re-develop these institutions, the future generations will be forced to pay a hefty sum for our mistakes.
Q: Even though disguised as a partnership, isn’t this another way of privatising state properties?
A: This is not an outright sale. This is a joint business venture.
Q: Isn’t there any alternative plan for the government to salvage loss making government institutions?
A: Certain state institutions have been able to make profits. But some institutions have seen an increase in the losses. We only take a decision like this on institutions that are continuing to run at a loss. However, we are trying to minimise the tax burden that has been placed upon the general public.
Q: You had recently said that the SLFP has forgotten its roots. Can you elaborate on that statement?
A: This government was established by UNP votes. The President was elected by UNP voters. But certain National list MPs and Ministers have started to slam the UNP. That is not a good sign. Unfortunately certain SLFP Ministers have forgotten that this is a UNP-led government. These people are now talking as if they had been appointed by the President and as if they had worked for the victory of the government.
Q: But are you satisfied with this novel concept of ‘National Government’ that was introduced by your government?
A: Yes. We are a political party that has revolutionised the political system in Sri Lanka. After toppling the tyrannical regime we rallied together to form a friendly government. Due to the correct decisions taken by the President and the Prime Minister everyone joined hands to form a National Government. But this even allowed some of the defeated candidates to make their way back into Parliament via the National list.
Q: So are you suggesting that the coalition is not working?
A: We formed this government for the sake of the country. We gave a message to the whole world about political unity. But we faced some difficulties when we took this concept to the grass-root level. But we still believe that this would be beneficial for the country’s future.
Q: However, the two different political ideologies and philosophies of the partners seem to have hindered the expected success of the government. Is there a plan to patch up these faults next year?
A: These issues have not affected the government’s authority and performance. This only affects the organisational bodies of the two political parties. The government has taken the right decisions in both the local and international context. Most of our decisions are bipartisan. We have been able to vote together in Parliament as a government.
Q: There is speculation that President Maithirpala Sirisena is planning to form a separate alliance along with a group of UNP Ministers. Is this true?
A: I do not know about that. I have not heard anything about such a rumour. I do not believe that the President would make such a move. He is the present leader of the SLFP and a President who was elected by UNP votes. He has no need to betray either party.
Q: But the disputes and grudges of the political parties inside the coalition has become an open secret. In such an environment can you still have faith on President Maithripala Sirisena?
A: Yes. We believe in him. We elected him. So we believe he is grateful to the UNP for the support.
Q: Two years have passed since the new government has taken office. Have you been able to reach your targets so far?
A: Yes. The best example for that is the first budget. In that budget we increased the allocations for government employees and farmers by 25%. We have formed long term strategies.
We have taken the necessary steps to minimise the burden of debt in the country. In that context these two years have been successful.
Q: But it is said that this budget has not focused on the economy of the country?
A: This budget has set up a long term strategy to develop the economy of the country. It will be evident to everyone in due course. That is the economy we are focusing on right now.
Q: The FCID has been facing several accusations. The main allegation is that it is not even summoning anyone if a complaint is lodged against a UNP member like Minister Thalatha Athukorala. Is there any truth to such allegations?
A: The common theory is passing the blame to another when you are caught. Even the street pickpockets are calling others thieves when running for safety. These crooks had done the exact same thing in 2004. They lodged complaints against 10 politicians based on false accusations. Minister Thalatha Athukorala has spent her entire family inheritance on politics. It is unfair to accuse such people? She has taken legal action against these false accusations.
Q: But there seems to be no end to the complaints that are being lodged at the FCID. So far nothing productive has been done. Even those who are being taken to the FCID claim that they have been framed on false charges. What is your response to that?
A: We too have said that it is hard to process these cases within the ordinary legal framework. The present law in Sri Lanka takes at least three to four years to prosecute even a petty coconut thief. We too have proposed to set up a special court to punish these high end culprits.
Q: A recent telephone call received by the IGP has shown that there is political influence on some investigations. What is your opinion on that?
A: We do not know who he spoke to on the telephone. So we cannot make any comments on the matter. But the IGP is well known for his impartial and fair conduct.
Q: Why is the new constitution being delayed?
A: The Constitutional Assembly is meeting regularly to formulate the Constitution. It cannot be constructed overnight. We must consider the opinions and suggestions of all parties. We must create a Constitution that is favorable to the country. Since the existing constitution has been amended 20 times we believe it is the time for a new Constitution.
Q: Although there was a committee appointed to obtain public opinion on the new Constitution there is an accusation that it had not obtained adequate opinions from the public. Is this correct?
A: Everyone has been allowed to express their opinion and make suggestions for the Constitution. There is no use of talking about it now after being silent at that time. On one side the opposition is accusing us of delaying the procedure and on the other hand they are claiming that this is to fast. However, we are planning to present the proposed Constitutional reforms in the next few days.
Q: How are you preparing for the local government election?
A: If the elections are held we are ready to face it. We propose that the election be held. The SLFP has been split in half. The UNP is strong at this point. If an election is held, there is no doubt that we would secure 95% of the local councils.
Q: But the grass root level information suggest otherwise. Don’t you believe that the people are unhappy about a UNP rule?
A: During the 20 years we were in the opposition, UNP followers were subjected to countless unfair treatment. I accept that justice has not been served for those who have suffered. The problem we have is the disadvantage of being in a coalition government. For 20 years they were able to serve their own. But now we are not allowed to serve our followers. We have even lost the equal treatment. It was us who formed the government and elected the President. But they are enjoying even our share. This is unfair.