Justice finally being served
BY Buddhi Prabodha Karunaratne
Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare Ranjan Ramanayake who was a strong critic of his own government for not pursuing cases of corruption against the former regime, in an interview with Ceylon Today said he was now confident that justice was finally being served, “There is no political revenge here, it is simply the law following due process”, said Ramanayake.
Q: Was Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s arrest politically motivated?
A: The peoples’ government which was established for good governance would never take political revenge on anyone, unlike the previous regime. Action will be taken after proper investigations have been conducted. The investigations against Yoshitha Rajapaksa were conducted for a year prior to him being arrested. Rumours said that the government and Rajapaksa family entered into deals to avoid arrests of the Rajapaksa family members. But Basil Rajapaksa who was a Cabinet Minister during the previous government was arrested soon after his arrival in Sri Lanka. He is now out on bail while investigations and the Court processes are in progress. Legal actions are still pending against the Rajapaksas and loyalists including ex-ministers such as Johnston Fernando, Rohitha Abeygunewardena, Sarana Gunewardena and several other politicians.
We are fulfilling the expectations of the citizens for a corruption free government which punishes corrupt politicians. The government is following its mandate to investigate and punish the corrupt. The fact that we took a considerably long time to make the arrests simply proves that we are not out to take political revenge but to serve justice.
Q: You have not spoken about the plight of Sri Lankan maids stuck in the Middle East lately, have you forgotten about them, now that you are a deputy minister?
A: I have never forgotten them. Previously I raised my voice to highlight allegations levelled against the government by the Middle-East workers. But as the government now, we have been granted the power to work for their welfare. My efforts frankly focus on stopping Sri Lankans going to the Middle East as housemaids. But I never oppose our technicians and professionals entering the Middle East job market. We can send professionals and skilled people. Almost all public matters related to the welfare of Sri Lankans in the Middle East are forwarded to me, people bring me their problems.
Now we can say that we saved a Sri Lankan maid who was about to be stoned to death for the first time in history. We followed tactical and diplomatic strategies to overcome the situation. We were able to alter a death sentence to imprisonment, and she will arrive in Sri Lanka within a year. We no longer have to organize protests to achieve a solution as we had to do as the opposition over the case of Rizana Nafeek.
Now as we are in power, we are supposed to listen and address their grievances, urge the employers to give increments and take steps to ease their inconveniences overseas. Whether I am in the opposition or the government, I have always been for the workers in the Middle-East.
Q: What measures have been taken by your ministry to move people away from a ‘subsidy mentality’ and to get them more involved in the work force?
A: We need to do that. Unfortunately the needy people look to the government or the politicians for financial assistance, not opportunities to build something which takes effort. The majority asks for financial assistance for personal stuff. As Sri Lankans we have to change this mentality. There were some identified families who received Samurdhi for decades, and they own fancy houses and vehicles. Currently we are taking measures to identify such instances and clean the list and safeguard the opportunities of those who are really in need. We offer Rs 2,000 per month as a scholarship for Advanced Level students with financial inabilities. We have also started providing loans up to Rs 400,000 to start cottage industries, with attractive interest rates of 4 per cent. We are encouraging the public to get more involved in the workforce rather than asking for aid. Politicians have to be blamed for the current state of affairs as they use these subsidies to buy themselves some votes.
Q: Has the Prime Minister started to violate the freedom of the press as in the previous regime? Will others feel compelled to become ‘Matara Sunils’ for the sake of the right to express?
A: When I called that particular TV station introducing myself as Matara Sunil, they took steps to arrest me. I couldn’t even speak as myself to that particular TV show, even though they are the so called revealers of truth. What we experienced during the previous regime were attacks on media stations, abductions of journalists followed by killing or disappearance. But the recent action taken by the Prime Minister was an open criticism of a TV presenter who insulted a globally recognized female singer in a manner, which would bring shame to the Sri Lankan media. Accordingly the authorities of the relevant media station took steps to interdict the presenter. Previously the Prime Minister criticized another TV presenter who is eager to express his private comments on the newspaper reports during airtime, which ruins the spirit of the media. As a government we have never forced media to do anything or attacked them, but the right to criticize would always remains the same.
Q: What is your stance on Economic and Technology Cooperative Agreement (ETCA)?
A: I am very undecided regarding the ETCA pact. Medical officers say that they will be deprived of opportunities because of unqualified Indian doctors who would be employed in Sri Lankan Hospitals. The Information Technology field is also said to be threatened with the arrival of Indian technicians. The Sri Lankan cinematography field is already burdened with incoming Indian, Korean and other foreign artists and their creations.
But I also believe this agreement will take Sri Lanka to a more convenient positioning for the modern globalization process. Our scientists are working with NASA in United States, our engineers and doctors are working worldwide. Two million workers are occupied in the Middle-East. Thus, our opportunities as Sri Lankans are extended throughout the world. The articles of the agreement are still not defined by the Prime Minister and the President. But I believe that the Premiere would enter into an agreement which is favourable for the country.
Q: Is it true you rejected the official residence given to you as the deputy minister and that you are still living in your Madivela MP residence?
A: Yes, after being appointed as a deputy minister I received an elegant official residence in Colombo with classy features such as swimming pools but I rejected it. I am still living in the MP official residence, which charges Rs 1,000 per month. I don’t have a family so this is enough! I receive a wage of Rs 260,000 including the fuel allowances as a deputy minister. My assets are an open source file at anytime, which is a rare incident considering Sri Lankan politicians. I challenge all the politicians to reveal their assets like me; they are still afraid to declare their incomes.
Q : The Joint Opposition have said that the sole intention of the new Constitution is to introduce a federal system in the guise of abolishing the Executive Presidency. What is your opinion?
A: The people have rejected the Parliamentarians of the Joint Opposition due to them being highly unreliable.
Earlier they were talking about an ‘electric chair’ and foreign invasions into Sri Lanka with the sole intention of regaining power; which ended in utter failure. Their unfair criticism embarrassed them. An Executive President was defeated for the first time in Sri Lankan history due to his unauthentic behaviour. The enormous power gained by the President and Prime Minister through the peoples’ vote is granted to protect a united country. I ask you not to believe the joint opposition anymore.
Erudite scholars, professors, professionals in every field and all the citizens are involved in constitutional reforms. The necessity of a new Constitution was emphasized in the manifesto of the last General Election and the Presidential Election which have been won with the support of the majority. The constitutional reforms are not conducted through a dictatorship.
The previous regime tried to stay in power with the 18th amendment made to the Constitution, which led the people to lose faith in them. Our government was established to abolish dictatorship and we will never betray the people’s trust.
As a peoples’ representative I have always been against actions which are unfavourable to the country. I have issued statements against various acts done by the partners of the government, which are unfavourable and unacceptable to the people despite the fact that I am a partner of the current government. I was against the government in the Avant Garde incident, MP Hirunika Premachandra’s issue and Minister John Amaratunga’s incident. Thus, I will play my role as Ranjan Ramanayaka to go against anything unfavourable to the country.