of corruption by public officials"
and Youth Affairs Deputy Mnister, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi in
an interview with The Sunday Leader explained that the
government so far has kept its promises and cushioned the
masses from the rising fuel prices, amidst the rapidly
escalating global oil prices. As for the peace process, he
said that while being mindful of the reasons for the UPFA to
receive a mandate at the last general elections, the President
and the government are keen to bring about a negotiated
settlement, adding that they are looking at a permanent
solution to the problem. "There might be a slight delay
in starting talks, but we are looking for a permanent
solution. The LTTE led by Tamilselvan has gone to Geneva to
look at ways to proceed with the talks. The LTTE's ISGA is not
in line with the Oslo Declaration. The whole world has
accepted it, even the LTTE has accepted it," he said.
Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Given the steep rise in the cost of living and the failure of
the government to get the peace talks started, how would you
assess the performance of the government so far?
The performance of the government should not be looked at on
those points. It should be broad based. People expect a lot
from a government.
cost of living is a major problem faced by the people, but we
should understand the world oil prices. No government in the
world has been able to deal with the problem and it has
affected even the developed countries. India has cut down 2%
from its growth rate and China too has brought the forecast
Iraq war and cutting production in several oil-producing
countries like Russia and Nigeria, have created this problem.
With the winter season setting in there will be a further
increase in fuel prices as it usually increases during this
period. A barrel is now about US$ 54 and is bound to reach US$
60 soon. When we took over, a barrel was US$ 25. Now it has
seen a two fold increase. With the fuel prices going up, it
saw an increase in import expenditure as one third of the
country's imports are crude oil. As a result, the rupee
depreciated and all these have affected imports to the
country. Local production was affected due to the drought
faced in agricultural zones. All this affected the rise in the
cost of living.
these are beyond the government's control. However, the
government is trying its best to bring down the cost of living
and as a responsible government, has also taken steps to
reduce it while giving subsidies. The government is importing
rice and sugar to control prices.
for the peace process, we must understand the mandate given to
us, unlike the UNP. There was a clear message of the people's
refusal to accept the UNP's process and we have to adhere to
wishes of the people who voted us in to power.
might be a slight delay in starting talks, but we are looking
for a permanent solution. An LTTE delegation led by
Tamilselvan has gone to Geneva to look at ways to proceed with
the talks. The LTTE's ISGA is not in line with the Oslo
Declaration. The whole world has accepted it, even the LTTE
has accepted it.
the President and the government are for a negotiated
settlement and with the formation of the National Advisory
Council for Peace and Reconciliation, talks would commence
than that, the government has so far given jobs to 41,000
graduates, increased the fertiliser subsidy to Rs. 1150 for a
50kg bag, which in turn would provide relief for the poor
farmers and has also initiated the 1,000 tank programme and
the village development programme, which will be inaugurated
on October 22 in Anuradhapura. There's a lot to be done. We
have to plan and find the finances. People must understand
that we are running with the budget given by the UNP. It is
only from January 2005 that the government would be run on the
UPFA budget, which will be a very people friendly one.
The UNP has given the government a blank cheque to negotiate
with the LTTE on the basis of the ISGA subject to the Oslo
Declaration. Why is the government not seizing the
In the first reply sent by Opposition Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe to the President, he has mentioned the Oslo and
Tokyo Declarations. The LTTE did not participate in the Tokyo
summit as they felt nothing solid had materialised by then and
did not want to participate in the peace talks further. That
was in 2003.
Oslo Declaration talks abut a federal solution that we have
already suggested and already our President has submitted a
constitution on this basis. Therefore we can negotiate. The
problem that lies here is
whether the LTTE's ISGA proposal is based on a federal
solution. Even Richard Armitage and Christina Roco have said
that the ISGA is not on par with the Oslo Declaration.
Wickremesinghe can't say he has given a blank cheque to the
government; he has given it to the LTTE. If the UNP was really
committed to peace negotiations, they should have come to the
National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconcilaition meeting
and should have contributed their ideas. You can't reject a
dialogue like that. It is part of the democratic process to
discuss and share different ideas and views. Everybody from
every ethnic group was there. Even the UNP could have given
their ideas. There was a common approach and it is for the
There have been reports that the relationship between you and
the President is strained and that the President has even
questioned Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse whether you have
aligned yourself to him. Is there such a strain? If so why?
The only line in the party is from the President downwards
and I am there with the President. I saw two or three articles
that I have been warned about a matter I brought to the
President's notice. But actually on that particular day in
question, my birthday, I got a very nice birthday wish and a
gift from the President. I don't know what the media says.
There's nothing of that sort. Our relationship is as it was
You were a vocal critic of corruption in the UNP when in
opposition; don't you see any corruption in the government
Though we are called Sandhanaya, if you take the SLFP,
there are only three back benchers now. Therefore there's a
big vacuum. In the government side, the backbenchers have a
role in any democratic parliament. That is why we have formed
the Deputy Ministers' Association. We question everyone
including ministers. So far we have questioned Consumer
Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and next we plan to
question Agriculture Minister Anura Dissanayake.
have criticised and have gone to the Bribery Commission and
complained against UNP ministers. Therefore within our
government also I would like to see transparency in any
transaction and if I find anything not in agreement with my
conscience, whether it is from the top or bottom I don't mind,
I will go against it and I will expect independence. I have in
fact complained to the President about the soya bean matter,
which was a colossal loss of money.
It was reported that you had in fact submitted a note to the
President alleging a corrupt deal involving Health Minister
Nimal Siripala de Silva. Is this correct? And what happened
following your allegations to the President?
I submitted a very factual complaint with photocopies and
documentary proof to the President. The Presidential
Secretariat acknowledged it and they have an explanation from
the essential food procurement unit.
to the calculation I had, it was a Rs. 50 million loss to the
must specifically say, it was not against Health Minister
Nimal Siripala Silva. I haven't mentioned his name or his
ministry, but I have spoken against the particular committee
and the officials in it. The Health Ministry had nothing to do
with the matter.
have called for an explanation and I think the procedures have
been corrected there.
The Deputy Minister of Industries, Tourism and Investment
Promotion and former cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga has
written to the President and copied letters to several others
including you as Deputy Minister of Sports on the decision to
send Thilanga Sumathipala to represent Sri Lanka at the ICC
meeting in Lahore. Ranatunga has said in the letter that the
decision to send Sumathipala was a slur on the image of the
government and Sri Lanka Cricket. What do you say?
I have received a copy of the letter. My personal view is
that the Sports Ministry has nothing to do with sending
Sumathipala to Lahore. It is a matter totally handled by Sri
Lanka Cricket. They haven't submitted a recommendation and the
Ministry has nothing to do with it.
a lawyer I would say, he has to be treated as an innocent
person till found guilty and on that basis, even if it was
submitted, the Ministry could not have stopped it.
Did you attend the National Advisory Council Meeting convened
by the President and on what capacity did you attend? Do you
know that the President called on her secretary to find out
how you were present?
Yes I did as an invitee. I was given a seat and they have
checked with our secretary the previous day to find out
whether the minister and I were going to be present. We
confirmed and participated.
Would you say there is no corruption in your government?
There are a lot of areas and levels that need to be
corrected. People blame politicians of being corrupt, but 90%
of corruption is by officials in the public sector.
indication of requirement is initiated by public officials and
alsos preparation of specifications, calling and receiving
tenders, evaluating them, till it comes to the tender board.
Only if it submitted to cabinet the ministers have a say, till
then it is handled by public servants.
things due to the lack of procedures, knowledge, clever people
and even a person who is not corrupt would become corrupt
under the present system.
government should look into it and correct the system.
personal view is to have a tender centre where anyone -
journalists and even those whom have submitted tenders - could
see the position of the tenders and final tenders should be
taken up in front of the tenderers or their representatives.
Then there would be no dilly-dallying.
The President last week in a cabinet memorandum has said there
was a lack of transparency in how the JVP under Agriculture
Minister Anura Dissanayake was carrying out the 10,000 tank
project. Would you say in your view it is a questioning of the
10,000 tank project?
I haven't seen such a letter, so I can't comment on it.
However, everybody is in praise of this project as it is
production oriented. If 100 people start new farming projects
as a result and earn Rs. 1,000 per annum there would be
approximately Rs. 10 billion addition to GDP. That should be
understood. I think it is timely and a much needed project.
Agriculture Minister Anura Dissanayake last Sunday referring
to the President as Loku Nona had said false allegations were
made against the Minister's 1,000 tank project to cover the
corrupt acts of her own party men and even referred to a
highways project of the Prime Minister. Are they baseless
I have seen articles to that effect, but so far nobody has
rejected any such statements. The Agriculture Minister has not
denied them and even those against whom the allegations have
been levelled have not said anything. Under such circumstances
I cannot say anything as I am not directly involved in it.
Minister Dissanayake has also alleged that one of the mill
owners was Minister Maithripala Sirisena's brother and another
was Deputy Marketing Development Minister Siripala Gamlath,
adding that it was the reason for the rice shortage and no one
is concerned. Are you concerned?
I don't think two individuals can control the price of rice.
The prices have gone up due to the drought and the low harvest
any miller knows that within six months next harvest is going
to come and no one is going to stock and wait for the next
season. The other is that it is no easy task to stock it.
I don't think so and it is a baseless allegation if it was
When in opposition the UPFA promised to control prices
irrespective of world market prices. To what do you attribute
your failure to do so?
Nobody has said that world market prices would not affect
our prices. What we said was that we would look after the
poor. That is what we are doing. We are still subsidising
fuel, electricity and fertiliser. Therefore, despite the
present world market prices, we have continued with subsidies,
which we would never have been able to provide if we followed
the UNP's formula.
we followed the UNP formula, then petrol would be Rs. 115
while diesel would be Rs. 85 per litre.
The UPFA also justified the take over of ministries and the
toppling of the previous government stating it allowed the
LTTE to set up a camp in Manirasakulam, allowing the LTTE to
ring Trincomalee with camps and provide helicopter rides to
the LTTE. Your government has so far done nothing to change
the status quo. What do you have to say?
The President's position at that time was that the UNP
started talks without taking any precautions and considering
the repercussions of the acts and inacts. From day one, the
President gave cautious notes to then Prime Minister Ranil
Wickrememsinghe and his team. Therefore, the establishing of
Manirasakulam or the courts was a two year process.
that the UPFA has come to power and just because we made
allegations against the previous regime, you cannot change
overnight what has been done within a period of two years.
have to take the whole thing back and correct it.
1994 when the PA negotiated, there were clear clauses stating
that the LTTE would not be allowed within 500 meters of armed
forces camps and not a single movement was allowed in the sea.
the present MoU has no such clauses. The way the negotiations
were going, the LTTE was given enough room to establish all
these things. If you now try to remove these things overnight
there would be misunderstandings and it could lead to a war.
are going to restart negotiations and therefore at the
negotiating table, we could bring some of these things up. It
is difficult to do anything if it is not within the purview of
the MOU, but the UNP government didn't do anything at that
time. Now we need to discuss these things.
Newly appointed Deputy Minister for Labour and Foreign
Employment Services Mervyn Silva has said that he would not
accept his salary and the fuel allowances granted for the
official vehicles for a period of one year to "support
the progressive 'Country First' programme" of the
government and said that others should follow the same line.
What do you have to say?
I'm not going to follow. I start my day at 7 a.m. and work
till midnight or most often past that time. As a lawyer, I
think I earned more than the salary and the perks I am getting
now. Apart from my salary, I am given two vehicles with a fuel
feel that if a country wishes to get the best out of a
politician, you must look at the way politicians in developed
countries are treated and emulate that. It is only then that
you could get the best out of a man.
of people speak of the perks and privileges of a politician,
but if they were given the task for a week they would realise
how hard it is. It is not easy to work day and night.
Sometimes not seeing your family for days and having no time
to spend time with your children. In countries like ours
people expect a lot from politicians. Apart from the work,
they have to attend to every wedding, funeral or any other
function they invite you to. Sometimes I drive over 100 km a
if you need a fully committed, good politician, they should be
well looked after and there should also be very strict laws to
curb corruption and negligence as well to charge them if they
thinking is that for a good politician it is hard to survive
on the present salary scheme. The total system should be
changed and new laws should be introduced to scrutinise the
actions of politicians, but they should be paid adequately.