17th February 2002, Volume 8, Issue 31















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Governance & the need to co-habit

Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku, official spokesman for the United National Party (UNP) will tomorrow be elevated to cabinet minister status and he says, he could now do something more than before, when he was merely a subject minister.

Dr. Kodituwakku says the government is not worried as to whether or not President Kumaratunga will dissolve parliament after one year or whether there would be a breakdown of the on-going peace process. ŅWhat is important is sincerity and commitment.

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?

A:  Yes. 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 the alliance. 

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 court.

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. How come?

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 situation?

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?

A:  I 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 librarian.

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 dividends.; 




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