will improve soon"
of the most seasoned politicians in the country, Irrigation and
Water Management Minister, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera,
is certainly an optimistic man. He feels, giving a chance
to a man would result in that man turning for the better. He says
if Rohana Wijeweera of the JVP was living today, he may have opted
to join mainstream
politics. He believes no individual is the same always.
"Based on this theory, our Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe gave the LTTE a chance, and it has worked well so
far," he told The Sunday Leader in an interview. He
the present economic situation in the country is only
explains that with the anticipated paddy harvest and other cultivations,
the country would be in a better position in the days to come.
The government it appears is facing a crisis with
economic instability setting in. The prices of essential items
continue to rise and the people are beginning to lose patience. How is
the government going to control this situation?
We have been in power only for about 12 months and we are doing our best
to take control of this situation. We are also aware of this. When we
undertook the administration there was a huge foreign debt. And we
cannot go forward if this debt is not settled. Just imagine our banks
shutting down due to this
situation? We would have been like Indonesia. But Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe took correct action to rectify this situation and to
repay this debt.
former regime continued the north-east war without any success. On the
pretext of fighting a war, those in power enjoyed a
luxury life with the money that was allocated for military
expenses. So once we took over office, we faced a lot of financial
problems and these are reflected
in our economy at present.
having said this, I must say that this is only temporary. The Premier,
under the programme 'Regaining Sri Lanka' has put in place various
formulas to strengthen Sri Lanka economically, financially and
politically. We are still affected by some of the policies of the former
PA regime. For instance, we could have easily imported goods at a
reasonably cheap rate from India but the PA government signed an
agreement with Prima Company and as a result we are unable to import
flour from anywhere else. Then the Petroleum Corporation too under the
PA regime made huge losses,
and that was passed on to the consumers as well.
the former regime imported goods when the same locally produced goods
were available in the country. Now we have given our farmers the
assurance that we will not make the same mistake. So what I am trying to
say is that today we are reaping what the PA sowed.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has already planned to dissolve the
Southern Provincial Council. And it appears as if she is also getting
ready for a general election. Are you ready to face it?
We welcome it. The President is planning to dissolve the provincial
councils only to test the PA's strength. But we have already proved our
strength to the nation. Our strength is at the grassroots level.
all the councils be dissolved. We are not worried. The President is
scared to go for a general election because of Opposition Leader Mahinda
Rajapakse. She will not like him being the prime ministerial nominee. In
addition, the people know that the problem we are facing is a temporary
one. Soon we will be out of this situation.
the first time we are going to have a bumper paddy harvest. And also for
the first time we are going to witness a record number of tourist
arrivals this year. We are not just saying these things but the people
will see these happening. Because of this I am sure the people are going
to continue to support us. There is no doubt about that.
The PA regime attributed the cost of living to the war. The PA
said Rs. 50 to 60 billion was
spent on the war annually. But now there is no war and one
wonders what is happening to the money that was earlier spent on war?
At that time the war was meant for certain people to use it for their
own survival. Because of the war it is the poor people who suffered. The
rich people did not participate in the war.
months back people in the border villages were living in refugee camps.
Today the farmers have gone back to their villages and they are
prospering. All farmers are engaged in cultivation and they are becoming
rich. They know the value of peace.
talking of the budgetary allocation of the Defence Ministry, I do not
know whether really the money allocated for war expenses were used
actually for that purpose. How many times did the past government import
military equipment that was inferior in quality? How many times did they
discard such military equipment ?
I said earlier, the money was used for the survival of those involved as
well. When we took over office the debt was so great, we had to spend
all the money to repay them. Also as I said earlier the rising cost of
living is only temporary. Still we are trying to put the economy in
place. Once it is done, the cost of living would come down.
What achievements would you consider as successes in your past year's
work as Irrigation Minister ?
There is one point I would like to make clear. Before I took over this
Ministry, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank including the
International Monetary Fund, threatened to withdraw the funds that were
granted for development. After I came to this Ministry I asked for a
'mercy period' till last September. Within this period I managed to
streamline the entire Ministry and was able to use 90% to 95% of the
now the donor countries are satisfied with the work that has been
undertaken by my Ministry. At present there are 27 ongoing projects
which are being implemented by the Irrigation Department. Out of these,
three projects would be completed this year. In addition there are 14
more new projects in the pipeline and these have been placed for
There were allegations levelled against you that you have been using 16
luxury vehicles. What are your comments?
In fact it was your newspaper that carried the news story that I was
doing this. But I would like to say with concrete evidence that the
report was utterly false. At the moment I am only using a Benz van. We
did not order 16 vehicles as mentioned in your newspaper. Under the
foreign project 16 vehicles used by the former officials were attached
to my Ministry. I have only three vehicles. One is a Benz van, the other
is a Volvo car and another a security vehicle. So I am very disappointed
that the report mentioned without a clarification from me that I use 16
vehicles, which is absolutely wrong.
Many people now believe the peace talks will not be successful. The PA
also accuses the government of not being transparent in dealing with the
peace process. Being a very senior politician in the country do you
think the peace process would end up half way?
I am going to tell you a small story from what I have read. One day LTTE
Chief Prabhakaran had asked his eldest son whether he wanted peace or
war. And the son had said he wanted peace. When the father asked his son
as to why he opted for peace and not war, the son responding
has said he wanted to see him (the father) living long. Even if
Rohana Wijeweera was living today, he would have given up the military
culture and joined the mainstream of democracy.
see, this happens with the passage of time. People may say a lot of
things. People could be pessimistic about the whole process. But I
believe we must give everybody a chance.
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's thinking goes along the same lines. He
wants to give a chance and see. There is always a time in life for big
changes to occur. So I am very optimistic that the entire process will
run smoothly without any problems.
We see Buddhist clergy taking to the streets and protesting against the
peace process. Do you think this would have an effect on the process?
Not all members of the Maha Sangha are against this. Only a handful of
the Buddhist clergy are taking to the streets and I don't think this
would make any impact on the process. What happened to the so called
Sinhala nationalist groups when they contested the elections? Did they
gain anything? No.
the people are aware of their politics as well. Anybody can protest. But
now the masses of this country have come to realise that if they don't
support peace, they would have to face greater problems in their day to
day life. Therefore, I believe every right thinking citizen of this
country would support the peace moves initiated by the Premier.