We Will Set Our Plans In Motion In 2017 – Daya Gamage
It takes time to fulfill everything due to the immense burden of national debt,” Minister of Primary Industries Daya Gamage said. Pointing out that the government intends on implementing all its development plans in 2017, the Minister noted that 2017 has been named ‘the Poverty Eradicating Year’. He says that the government is planning to increase the earnings of the people in the upcoming year.
The following are excerpts of an interview conducted by The Sunday Leader:
- The Government plans to increase the earnings of the people in the upcoming year
- Minister notes that 2017 has been named as the ‘Year for Eradicating Poverty’
- Minister of Primary Industries joins hands with the World Bank to initiate various development projects
by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
Q: We have now stepped into 2017. As a senior member of the government, what is your opinion about the success your administration has achieved during the last two years and the criticisms made against the government for failing to keep the promises made during the elections?
A: These last two years actually belonged to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He could have stayed in power until 8th January 2017. It was then that the Presidential election should have been held. Back then, the people did not enjoy the right to information. We were only able to get some idea of our development via a Central Bank report. We never knew how much the country was in debt. Even the Central Bank had not included the fact in their reports that the country was sitting on a USD 1,300 Billion debt. We must pay back short term loans within three years. It amounts to around USD 8,500 Billion. Personally I am not happy about our progress. I believed that we could have done a lot more during the past two years. But we are glad that we were able to manage the tension without allowing it to explode. Mahinda Rajapaksa knew that if he had held an election in 2017 he is going to have to face a similar fate suffered by the Unity Government in 1977. Our speed has been reduced by these unnecessary problems.
Q: The people believed that the economy would thrive under a UNP government. But that hope has also crumbled. So what are the plans of the government to revive its name in the New Year?
A: We had intended to set all our development plans in motion during the year 2017. The economy cannot be resurrected in one day. We took charge of a collapsed economy. The only growth we had shown was in infrastructure and most of them were done under massive loans that are at least four times bigger than the real value. The growth was only seen in ledgers. No one can say that the economy has backtracked under our administration. Although the previous government had obtained massive loans, we cannot do that as we have to pay a large interest for those loans. So we have been forced to cut costs. Even after collecting everything we have we are yet able to pay only 97% of the interest. The rest of the 3% have to be retained to pay the salaries of government employees, to pay the pensions, social welfare education, health and everything else. So we have to obtain more and more loans. It is not easy for the country to get out of this debt circle.
Q: So what should be done to get out of this circle?
A: We must cut government costs. We must increase our production and develop the export market. In 2005, the export income was 37%. But now it has reduced to 17%. So we must get it back to the former level. If we do not minimise our debts, then our children will not have a future; to do that we must bring foreign investments into the country.
Q: But the government has been accused of privatising state properties by showing massive losses. Is that true?
A: In a global perspective, we know that a government is not able to engage in successful businesses. All government business ventures eventually end up in failure. For example, if we take China we know that the government institutions have been privatised to meet the rising demand. Rather than making continuous losses by retaining the ownership, it is more useful for the government to hand it over to someone else to increase the efficiency. Only then we could see sustainable development. We must always look for modernisation. At present the government employees are not enjoying such modernisation. It is only now that the government has even recognised the importance of Solar Power. In the past, there was no encouragement for such novelties. There are things a government cannot do all at once. There is a hidden mafia in many fields. For example, the CEB has the capability of keeping the entire country in the dark if something happens.
Q: On that matter, there were talks about an energy generation plan for 2015-2035. But nothing has been implemented by the government in that regard. Why is that?
A: As I said, it takes time for a government to implement everything. In reality, our government is still only one year and three months old. So we are planning to set these plans in motion in 2017. We have named this year as the ‘Year for Eradicating Poverty’. Under that slogan we are hoping to initiate several programmes from February onwards.
Q: What has happened to the coalition government that was formed to rebuild the country?
A: The two main parties in the government have different policies in certain matters. Sometimes what is right to one party may seem wrong to the other party. But as a result of this difference, we are able to formulate the best possible solution. That is the baseline of democracy. For example, in the past Mahinda Rajapaksa was claiming that the international community is trying to drag him to the electric chair. But we were able to remove that threat completely. We have been able to clear our name in the international arena. So the people can have faith in the country’s future.
Q: At present the SLFP has been split. The joint opposition has run into problems. In such circumstances, why can you not follow a UNP leader instead of relying on a leader of another party?
A: We already have a UNP leader. He is not President Maithripala Sirisena. He is the leader of the SLFP. But if we try to compete for power or authority, then the government cannot last.
Q: There were claims that you had only won by fielding a common candidate. Will the UNP be able compete solo in the upcoming elections?
A: At that time, what was important for us was to save the country from tyranny. So we did what we had to do for the betterment of the country. Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to pawn the future of the country for his family’s prosperity. Journalists like Lasantha Wickrematunge paid with their lives for uncovering that truth. But today the story is different. So those claims are no longer valid.
Q: But don’t you think that the people do not seem to like this coalition?
A: The SLFPers like to have a pure SLFP government. The UNPers like to have a pure UNP government. That is normal. We cannot change it. But we have not lied to people to secure votes. We are doing what we promised the people we’ll do.
Q: The Development (Special Provisions) Bill has been defeated in every Provincial council. Doesn’t is give a warning about the instability of the government?
A: The Provincial Councils are still filled with stooges of the Rajapaksa regime. So the opinion of the provincial councils does not portray the true opinion of the people. In the past no government has cared about the opinion of the provincial councils. They must be glad that at least it is happening now.
Q: The opposition is accusing your government for being afraid to go for an election. Why are you postponing the election?
A:This problem has been raised with the issue of delimitation. It was not something that was decided by us. It was Mahinda Rajapaksa who wanted to go by a simple majority system. We cannot force the Election Commissioner to speed up his work. The simple majority system has its benefits. But it takes time to find out the best solution. So we cannot be blamed for not holding elections.
Q: The delay in finding solutions for corruption and fraud is another accusation that is raised against the government. Will happen this year?
A: If we had followed the former Defence Secretary’s approach we could have finished all these cases in no time. But now we are following the ordinary legal procedure. These culprits never go about their businesses in the open. So it takes time to uncover the truth in a legal manner.
Q: What is your response to the accusations that have been raised in the COPE committee report about the treasury bond Scam? The JVP has requested a debate in Parliament regarding the matter.
A: If we take the treasury bonds, it was the usual practice under the previous regime. But due to the absence of the RTI Act, we were unable to know what happened. Even MP Handunnetti was in Parliament at that time. But we have now taken steps to prevent such mistakes from happening ever again.
Q: Do you consider the Podu Jana Peramuna as a challenge to the UNP?
A: Nothing is a challenge to us. I do not think too much about these fronts. We have made a promise to the people. We have promised the people to rebuild their economy. If we keep up our promise then the people will vote for us. Even though we are moving in a slow pace at present in the next year we are planning to increase our speed. Then there is nothing these Fronts can do.
Q: There are reports about a possible alliance of the SLFP with President Maithripala Sirisena. Minister Dilan Perera has said that they would leave the government. What is the response of the government in this regard?
A: These are only illusions created by media to ensure their own existence.
Q: What is your message for the people in Sri Lanka in the New Year?
A: We have named the next year as a year for eradicating poverty. Accordingly we plan to start with the low income earning families in the country. It cannot be done at once. But we will be able to lay a strong foundation. In my ministry we have joined hands with the World Bank to initiate various development projects. I would like to request the investors to look for more value addition ventures. We hope to increase the export crops production by five times. It may take around two years for us to reap the fruits of our labour. In the mean time, we plan to increase the export of other goods. We must increase the export values of our products. Apart from that we have to develop our tourism industry. Our goal is to bring five million tourists into Sri Lanka by the end of 2020. We must also create places where the tourists could spend their money. We must create a tourism market that could compete with countries such as Singapore and Thailand. That is a good way of generating foreign revenue. In 2017 we have plans to initiate 450 small scale projects and 75 major development undertakings.