Govt. has failed the people"
Chairman COPE and legal luminary, UPFA
National List parliamentarian
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who crossed over
to the opposition last Wednesday
claimed that the government has failed
to demonstrate finance discipline and
showed only its inconsideration by
allocating Rs. 180 million for the
maintenance of a mammoth Cabinet while
allocating only Rs. 960 million for
1.9 million Samurdhi beneficiaries.
In an interview with The Sunday
Leader, Rajapakshe alleged that the
APRC was a time-buying exercise by the
government, which was never considered
the vehicle to proposing a lasting
solution to the ethnic conflict and
claimed the government has made no
progress in the area of conflict
Rajapakshe said he was unable to
support an arrogant regime that is
fast losing credibility and added if
his seven conditions were not
accepted, he would vote against the
budget on its Second Reading on
November 19. Excerpts:
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: Having crossed over to the
opposition, do you now intend joining
A: I will never join the UNP. I
am a UPFA member and that's what I
I only hold a SLFP membership.
Now as an opposition member, I may
agree on certain issues with
opposition parties at times. But I am
a SLFP legislator representing the
UPFA. I have no wish to join the UNP.
Q: Is your cross over a part of a
grand plan to topple the government?
A: I am not the conspiratorial
kind in the first place. I had no wish
to topple this government, if that's
what I wanted, I could have helped
others to do that before. This
government is easily toppled too. But
that was never my intention.
I was made to feel increasingly
uncomfortable in the government. Our
collective actions within COPE was
ridiculed and devalued by our own
government. There is no financial
discipline. We lavishly spend on
individuals but do not allocate funds
for common causes. My cross over
therefore was by way of protest, to
show that not all of us would accept
everything the government does.
There is no rule to say that
government legislators should never
criticize government decisions and we
are not under an oath that we would
never hold opposing or divergent
views. Likewise, should an opposition
always oppose the work of a
I am protesting and demanding that the
government correct its own path. For
that, I gave seven conditions and six
days. If I wanted to conspire and
topple this shaky administration, I
could have stealthily crossed over on
the 19th and taken the government by
surprise. I did not do that. I gave it
time, and gave my reasons.
Q: Will you identify yourself with the
A: The SLFP- M is a separate
group. They crossed over on different
issues. But I can say this clearly.
There are no M and N factions for the
SLFP. There is only one SLFP and I
belong to that SLFP. I have no wish to
join all sorts of factions.
I also do not dance to anyone's tune.
I do not want to be under Ranil
Wickremesinghe or Mangala Samraweera.
My decision is to be independent. If I
wished to identify myself with this
and that, I could have easily been
with the President. After all, that's
what many people seem to be clamouring
Q: Do you think that the government
would now oust you?
A: I do not know. I have not
violated the party constitution.
Q: Minister Susil Premajayantha has
said that the entire COPE exercise was
a conspiracy and even before, the UNP
defectors have been critical of the
COPE exercise? Was there an attempt by
COPE members to embarrass identified
A: It is hilarious to find the
minister making such statements. How
can he say that having been a COPE
member himself? Anyway, this kind of
criticism is natural for those with
political interests who have to
safeguard their positions when
speaking. That also makes them liberal
with the truth.
As for the defectors, I have been
saying this for a while. Some of them
have problems because their alleged
misdeeds have come up for discussion
before COPE. Our committee is a multi
party initiative that works together.
At the COPE sessions, we do not get
politically divided which was our
Next, we pushed it for further action
and got the entire Parliament to
endorse the report and recommend
follow up action. The report has named
two UNP defectors and the Commissioner
General of Inland Revenue against whom
the government must initiate some
As for embarrassing individuals, all
we did was to go into the Auditor
General's reports and recommend
action, if anything should embarrass
the said individuals that should be
their own actions.
Q: Do you think the government would
retain you as COPE Chairman?
A: Not really. The government's
intention was to prorogue Parliament
soon after the budget. That would
result in the reconstitution of all
parliamentary committees. It is up to
the political parties to nominate
members to such committees. Even if I
did not cross over, if the house got
prorogued, the party that I belong to
would not have proposed my name to
head the watchdog committee.
Q: If the COPE report was a collective
effort, why were you always targeted?
A: I must first thank our team
because this is not my individual work
but a collective effort. They did a
tremendous job. In fact, together we
have demonstrated that at a time when
there is so little respect for
politicians, that we truly can rise
above all that and perform a public
duty honestly, diligently and
If I managed to do something as COPE,
that is because of the strength of the
members who worked with me. As
Chairman, I naturally become the
target of a disgruntled few.
Q: Do you think the majority of the
SLFP members are opposed to the
findings of COPE?
A: I do not think so. A few
might be unhappy and they would be
those with skeletons in their
cupboards. Many have told me that our
work gave them their dignity back.
Q: Do you have a problem with Basil
Rajapakse being appointed a COPE
A: I have no problem. It is not
my prerogative to select committee
members. The respective parties
nominate them and we all learn to work
But COPE has so far maintained a
certain superiority given the work we
collectively did. I always wanted to
see the parliamentary committees
depoliticised. With the help of other
members, we achieved that in COPE.
The biggest result derived by us was
in making the public aware of the real
culprits. It is no mean achievement
given the fact that findings of
parliamentary committees were hitherto
little or completely unknown. We as
legislators have proved through COPE,
how useful we can be to the community
and in safeguarding public finance.
Q: Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has been very
critical of you and stated in
Parliament that you are a tax
defaulter? Do you share a negative
personal history with him?
A: As far as I am concerned, I
do not have any animosity or
misunderstanding with him.
But once on behalf of the SLFP, I
filed a writ application against him
which eventually disqualified him as a
member of parliament.
Besides the instance of unseating of
the said member, on another occasion
when he was lands minister I legally
intervened to prevent some land
reforms. That too I did on behalf of
the SLFP with which I was closely
associated with in my capacity as a
lawyer. I challenged the then lands
minister and the bill was held
unconstitutional which never became
law as a result.
I did both things based on a
principle. There was no malicious
intent. I was doing my job as a
As for the income tax charge, I would
like to ask the minister whether
anyone in his family for generations
paid any income tax? I am glad that he
raised this issue for then people will
know that Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has
paid income tax voluntarily without
anyone instructing me to, in order to
maintain people like Minister
Senaratne who serve on a jumbo
I have willingly paid income tax since
the day I took oaths as a lawyer.
Sometimes there are wrong calculations
and we are instructed to correct such
and pay dues.
Q: You have now proposed seven
conditions to support the government.
Did you submit them to the SLFP
central committee first?
A: I did not. It is a fallacy
to believe that collective decisions
are reached at these bodies of any
political party. There is already a
set agenda and that's what is
Q: What would you do if these
conditions are rejected by the
A: It is an opportunity to the
SLFP, a party I still respect and
belong to, to change its course
reflecting the aspirations of the
people. That's why I put forward those
conditions. If they are not adhered
to, I will vote against the budget.
Q: How do you view the intensified
military action by the government?
A: I believe terrorism has to
be dealt with. While accepting that, I
also believe that there is another
aspect to the same question that is
completely ignored today. We have
failed to address the question of
Tamil political aspirations that keep
the flames of violence fuelled and the
entire country engaged militarily.
Q: How do you view the government's
approach to the ethnic question?
A: It is sad and disappointing
that after two years we have noting to
show. It is not possible to offer
solutions in six months or so as
promised by Mahinda Chinthanaya. But
if we really tried hard, it would have
been possible for us to present a
workable document for further
Two years later, we only have
intensified war but not even a glimmer
of hope about resuming talks. As we
all know, the APRC is like a stillborn
child. What is to be expected from
that body lacking legality?
Q: Do you consider the APRC a futile
A: Very much so. What is
expected of a body like that lacking
legality? How can committees without a
legal basis produce documents that can
have a legally binding force?
We all know it was a time-buying
exercise initiative by the President.
What has it achieved so far? It has
not produced a legally valid set of
While it is good to have an all-party
initiative, we must not forget that in
a representative democracy,
decision-making is by the legislature.
This is a role for the Parliament.
There is hardly any difference between
the APRC and a 'maranadhara samithiya'.
Both are not legally constituted
bodies. So what results can be
expected from such?
Do not forget, people only wanted two
things from this government. Firstly,
to end to the war. Secondly, the
opportunity to lead happy normal lives
enjoying their individual freedoms. We
have failed them in both these aspects.