We are sincere and committed and that will pay
dividends. We do not want to waste our time thinking negatively but want
to go ahead with a good heart,Ó the one time Vice Chancellor of the Sri
Jayawardanapura University told The Sunday Leader.
Following are excerpts
By Wilson Gnanadass
Q: The United National Front (UNF) government led by
Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to be running into a series of crises after
the local authority nominations were closed. Minister Arumugam Thondaman
and Deputy Minister Muthu Sivalingam tendered their resignations.
Besides, Deputy Minister Navin Dissanayake threatened to resign and now
we hear that even Deputy Minister Mahinda Wijesekara has plans to quit.
Where do you think the UNF is going wrong?
The number of candidates contesting for the local government elections
far exceeds the number of seats we could allocate. For instance in the
Kaduwala Pradeshiya Sabha, we could field only 29 candidates but there
were 115 candidates altogether. So we obviously found it difficult to
select candidates. Because according to the regulation, of the number of
candidates selected, 40 percent should be below 35 years of age. So when
we did the selection most of the members were unhappy. Of course some
understood our position. This is a common problem when it comes to
selecting of candidates for the elections. On the other hand it was also
unfortunate that the names of CWC members had been erased. This in fact
also caused a big problem at the party level. I feel we must honour the
conditions of the members of the alliance because after all, they played
a crucial role in bringing the UNP to victory. So in my view, before
giving credibility to the government, the credibility should be given to
Q: There is the allegation that the nominations were
given to persons of poor quality by the UNP overlooking some of the
long-standing and educated party supporters. Is there any truth in it?
A: In politics, there are different criteria for
selection of a candidate. The pre-condition is that he/she should be a
member of the party. Then the seniority will be considered. But this
does not always happen. For instance the Dehiwela-Mount Lavina Mayor
Jayaratne Perera, opted to contest the forthcoming elections and the
party, overlooking some of the senior members, had to give him a chance.
In a situation like this the seniority will not be a criteria.
Q: Are there any reasons as to why Colombo Mayor Omar
Kameel was not nominated?
A: The UNP has always shared the office of the
mayor among all communities. For instance if a mayor was a Sinhalese,
the next chance was given to either a Muslim or a Tamil, since Colombo
has a multi-racial community. So this is the reason. Omar Kameel I must
say has served the party with true commitment and dedication. His
contribution has been immense to the party.
Q: Does not the elevation of subject ministers to the
post of cabinet ministers, contradict the UNPÕs pre-election pledge to
have a small cabinet as against the PAÕs jumbo sized one?
A: We have to keep two things in mind in forming a
cabinet. Firstly to make sure that the job is done. Secondly to make
sure that the public is not burdened. So here, the prime minister has
ensured that the work in the government is done with the appointment of
cabinet and subject ministers. Also I must say that we are not going to
have a jumbo sized cabinet like the PA. But I think we must have at
least the present number of ministers to run the government smoothly.
Also, the reshuffle of cabinet will take place within
this cabinet. I donÕt think the prime minister has any idea of
increasing the size of the cabinet.
Q: Are you happy that you will be appointed as a
cabinet minister? Also were you offended when you were not appointed as
a cabinet minister at that time?
A: Of course I am happy that I am going to be
appointed a cabinet minister. In this way I could further contribute to
the growth of the country. On the other hand, I was rather sad when I
was not appointed a cabinet minister. You see, in politics we all strive
to climb higher and higher, but with the objective of doing something
better for the nation.
Q: The UNF government has not made any drastic changes
in the public administration sector. Would not this be a hindrance for
governance since such officials who are still supporters of the PA,
could deliberately mishandle matters, to discredit the UNF government?
A: If such people are capable enough to continue
with their work effectively and efficiently, then I see no reason why
they should be changed. But of course if they do not co-operate with the
government, then we must deal with them. For instance, we have eight
provincial directors. In addition to this, we have 93 zones. Of this 93
zones, 31 zonal directors were political appointees, under the guise
that they were politically victimised. Now I have asked the Education
Services Commission (ESC) to replace them with the most suitable ones. I
have asked for selection based on merits.
Q: But the UNF government has opted to work with the
IGP who is highly politicised. In fact, it was proved beyond doubt that
the IGP had no moral right to hold his position when the supreme court
cancelled the promotions of 34 superintendents of police made by the IGP?
A: As a matter of fact, the IGPÕs one year
extension given by the president has been challenged and the case is
before courts. As this is the case, I do not want to comment further on
it. It was said that the extension was a cabinet decision and I also
understand that this decision has been challenged before the supreme
Q: The UNP when in opposition was determined to
impeach Chief Justice Sarath Silva and President Kumaratunga. But now
nothing seems to be happening in this regard. Why is the party now
silent on this matter?
A: As a matter of fact, there was no final
decision taken with regard to impeaching the president. But this matter
was only discussed. In the case of the chief justice, a motion was
handed over; the matter is already before parliament and it is up to us
now to decide whether we should go ahead with the issue or withdraw it.
But we are not silent. It is just that we are busy with various other
matters relating to development. But at least after the local government
elections we will take a concrete decision as to what we should do
regarding the impeachment. In fact the prime minister is more concerned
about a government of national consensus. This is why some of the
cabinet portfolios were kept open. He is still keeping the deputy
speakerÕs post vacant with the intention of cohabiting with the PA. So
in this situation if we go to raise the issue regarding the impeachment
and so on, it will lead to a series of confrontations.
The prime minister is trying to start a new political
culture in this country. I
think this is one of the reasons why the party is silent on the
impeachment. But of course now it is clear that the PA is not keen to
join us. Though the PA is not interested the president and the new
opposition leader have promised to co-operate with us.
Q: Prior to the general elections in December, the UNP
condemned the PA regime and said the party was not fit to govern the
country. The UNP further charged that President Kumaratunga was the most
corrupt leader. But now the UNF is thinking of cohabiting with the PA.
A: We still maintain that the PA got involved in a
number of corrupt deals. But we cannot put everybody into one basket and
say all are corrupt. Being an economist I believe in something called a
Ōsecond best theory.Õ So we must always try to see whether there is a
chance for something better, instead of trying to always go ahead with a
confrontational attitude. This is why we have certain commissions
appointed to look in to these issues and those commissions are at work.
For instance if a PA member gets
involved in a corrupt deal, I donÕt think the PA could defend him. So
we must separate these corrupt members from the party. I donÕt think
any party for that matter would authorise any corrupt deal.
Q: President Kumaratunga wields executive powers to
dissolve parliament after one year since the elections took place in
December last year. Is the UNF government prepared to face such a
A: I am not too sure whether the president would
do a thing like this, because the country has now begun to accept the
policies of the UNF. The president could dissolve parliament only after
citing valid reasons. We are trying our level best to continue with
proper governance. The people have hope in the new government. Not only
the people of this country but even the international community. So if
the president opts to dissolve parliament and disrupt the efforts taken
by the UNF government to usher in a new era, then I think she is going
to bring disaster to her own political life.
Q: The newly appointed opposition leader Mahinda
Rajapakse has said that he will try to woo back all the rebels who went
away from the PA and joined the UNP just prior to the elections. Do you
think the rebels who joined your party could be easily won back?
know personally that those who joined the UNP prior to the elections are
good friends of Mahinda Rajapakse who is a seasoned politician.
Nevertheless, we must understand Rajapakse is not the leader of the PA.
When he was appointed as the opposition leader and Mangala Samaraweera
appointed as chief whip of the opposition it was said in Sinhalese, ŅMahinda
gaththa, Mangalata dunnaÓ (Mahinda took it, Mangala was given). This is a very clear
indication that President Kumaratunga knows what she is doing. So I donÕt
think Mahinda could woo these people back. But for the last thirty years
or so Mahinda Rajapakse, Mahinda Wijesekara and S.B Dissanayake have
been good friends.
I was an assistant lecturer at the Sri Jayawardanapura
University while Mahinda Wijesekara was the studentsÕ leader. S. B.
Dissanayake succeeded him. And Mahinda Rajapakse was an assistant
Q: The government has gone to the extent of removing
all checkpoints, lifting the economic embargo and opening the A9 road.
How confident is the party that peace would be achieved 100 percent?
A: I do not agree that we have 100 percent
confidence. But in politics we have to take bold decisions. And this is
exactly what the prime minister has done. We may fail, but must make the
attempt. At this moment, we as a nation, have to admire the prime
ministerÕs courage. Just prior to the elections, the premier was
ridiculed so badly yet he never lost his cool. Even within the UNP, some
were not happy with the prime ministerÕs actions saying he was not too
fast. But he, in his wisdom, has done it and is doing further. Also when
a decision is taken with commitment, there are equally good