by Thushari Nathaniel
In an interview with The Sunday Leader he said that even with regard to the holding of the LG elections, the government had obtained the approval of the parliament to hold the elections under the new system. However, there were unexpected issues such as the delimitation. This is not something that the government anticipated, he said.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: With regard to the new constitution what is the current stand of the government?
A: Yes we need to bring in a new constitution and we also need to bring in the new electoral system which we promised the people. We the SLFP and the UNP gave their approval for the 19th Amendment under the agreement that the new constitution will be drafted. Hence we need to keep to these promises that we have made. Only after that can we focus on any of the other issues.
If we are to formulate a new constitution, then we have a lot that needs to be done. But before we do all that we first need to unite as a government and thereafter we can tackle all the problems that we are facing.
There some areas that does not require a 2/3 majority and referendum so we can first look into this possibility instead.
For instance, we do not need a 2/3 majority and a referendum for changing of the electoral system. If we at least do this, then the people will have some trust in us. I feel that we need to first do what is possible, instead of aiming at the ones that cannot be done easily and letting down the people in the process.
Q: The committee appointed to seek public representations has indicated that the Tamil people do not desire a federal system and that power should remain with the central government. What do you think?
A: I don’t think that we need a federal solution. What we need is a system to share power and this is what would be most desirable to all factions of society. The Tamil people too should have that same belief.
We should change their mindset to believe that they could live within a united country and that the central government will not treat them differently in any way. We need to create a situation where the Tamil people will have trust in us.
We can strengthen the reconciliation process only if both parties come together and work together. This is the only and best way to create reconciliation. We need to eliminate the distrust that the Tamil people have in the government and the people of the South.
Seeking a federal system and segregating them will not ensure reconciliation and will only serve to divide the two peoples further.
Q: Why are we delaying the Local Government elections and why can’t we hold the LG elections under the previous system?
A: We passed an act in parliament granting a 2/3rd majority. So due to this fact we now have to hold the elections under the new system as we got this passed.
Now if we want to hold the elections under the previous system, then again we have to get the 2/3rd majority in parliament and have it passed. This is not something that can be done to our whims and fancies. No one is going to vote for a 2/3rd majority again.
This is why we have now appointed a committee to iron out the problems that lay before us. According to the recommendations of this committee, we will have to proceed. We had received around 2,000 public comments with regard to the delimitations. These have to be discussed and we need to correct the flaws in the delimitation process and this is what is taking some tome. However, in spite of the delay, the elections cannot be held unless the delimitation process is done properly. This cannot be done haphazardly.
Hence this is not a problem with the new voting system but the delay is due to the delimitation. Hence once we have completed the delimitation process, then there is no issue and the elections will be held according to the system that has been approved by parliament.
Q: There are still concerns that the smaller parties will be disadvantaged under the new electoral system. Do you see such a situation?
A: No. I don’t think that will happen.
Q: Although the new government came to power on the promise of eradicating corruption, it is ironic that during the first 100 days such a massive financial misappropriation as the coal tender deal had taken place. Why?
A: The coal tender issue was looked into by me as well. We intend to bring this issue before the COPE committee and see what has happened.
The whole process of giving these tenders to external companies is also very wrong. These tenders were being given to outside sources with the intention of cheating.
In order to get this process approved, the people concerned bring this to the cabinet and claim that it is difficult to obtain the coal and create some sort of issue and convince the cabinet that the best method is to hand this tender process to external companies.
The problem here is that there was no specifications regarding the size of the coal mentioned in the tender and this has led to any size of coal being brought. Those who benefit from this fraudulent deal will benefit anyway and they don’t care about the country or the money that is being wasted.
I believe that we need to investigate this issue thoroughly through the COPE committee. Only after that can we see what has happened and take a decision.
Q: The Joint Opposition has organised a protest march from Kandy to Colombo. How concerned are you regarding the effectiveness of this protest?
A: That will have to be decided upon only after the protest. We can’t speculate anything at this point.
Q: There are allegations that Basil Rajapaksa was taken into custody with the aim of derailing this protest march. Is this true?
A: No, these cases against them were those which were being investigated. Namal was arrested too, but as it was a bailable offence, he was arrested but released.
So these arrests have no connection with any of their protests. We cannot predetermine if they will be arrested before or after the protests. This is a decision for the courts and the courts will decide when they should be arrested or released.
There are over 200-300 cases against the previous regime members and these have to be investigated as this is the promise we gave the people.