First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


 November 18, 2007  Volume 14, Issue 22











"This Govt. has failed the people"

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe

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 resolution.

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 the UNP?

A: I will never join the UNP. I am a UPFA member and that's what I intend being.

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 government?

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 SLFP-M hereafter?

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 for?

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 individuals?

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 strength.

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 action.

 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 courageously.

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 member?

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 together.

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 lawyer.

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 cabinet!

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 proceeded with.

Q: What would you do if these conditions are rejected by the government?

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 discussion.

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 exercise?

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 proposals.

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.



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