By Anuradha Herath
Politburo member of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, President of the National Trade Union Centre, K. D. Lalkantha questions; also with the budget due in another two months, what is the use of a VAT Bill, now.
Excerpts of an interview:
? The VAT Bill which was due to be presented in Parliament this week was postponed. Has the heat regarding the opposition against VAT cooled down?
A: We are against imposing of old or new taxes in any way, and anyhow, on imposing taxes on the people. We are completely opposed to the taxes which were imposed on the people from 2 May.
? Are you saying, the new Tax Amendment Bill that is to be presented in Parliament is misleading the public?
A: Although the Joint Opposition has a problem as to whether this VAT Bill is legal or not, it is not a problem for us; however, it is unjustified. Even if this is presented in Parliament and legally imposed is there any way we can approve it? What is the advantage to the people just because it is legalized? VAT is in any case a burden on the people.
? So, does that mean that even if there is a decision to bring a new Amendment Bill to VAT that it will not lessen the burden on the people?
A: This government has to present a new budget in another two months. According to the economy of the country, these Amendments they are trying to bring can be presented with the budget itself. What is the use of a new Bill with just two months to go for the budget; we have to fight against the new VAT Bills which were presented from 2 May onwards. At the budget discussions, there should be discussions held in connection with this too, definitely.
? What is the JVP‘s programme regarding this?
A: We are the ones who marched in Colombo and began the battle initially. We held seminars across the country and raised awareness among the people. We prepared to conduct 100 seminars, already 95 have been held. We did everything we could, to line up the people against the VAT brought by the present administration. We are still engaged in this. We distributed posters and leaflets. We raised awareness among people on the street as well as in Parliament. What more can we do?
? There is an accusation against the government, that the Audit Bill will be passed in Parliament after clipping its wings.
A: There is no use of a Bill which does not have the powers to stop misappropriation, fraud, corruption and wastage. A Bill is definitely required to audit and halt the misappropriation of funds and corrupt acts of government officials and politicians.
? What do you think of the current Audit Bill?
A: There are shortcomings in the current Bill. The right of appeal should be there for a person who has been charged with misappropriation of funds. Prior to bringing in amendments and getting them passed there should be dialogue.
? Has the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna submitted new proposals or amendments?
A: We are in the process of holding discussions with the relevant trade unions and groups. We will submit our proposals for new amendments to Parliament in the near future.
? What you are indirectly saying is that the Audit Bill is being delayed in order to protect fraud and misappropriations, isn‘t it ?
A: Financial irregularities happen at the hands of politicians and State officials. What happens by the Audit Bill is that such irregularities are prevented and the people’s interests are safeguarded. However, we have heard that certain officials are under duress and being prevented from performing their duties. An Audit Bill which contains the powers to inquire into persons who are engaged in misappropriation and misuse should be adopted very fast.
? What is this JVP – UNP deal?
A: That is only for the pro-Wimal and Mahinda group. No one else mentions it.
? Isn‘t it an accusation that has been there for a while? Are you saying that just because the pro-Mahinda Wimal group is making that accusation you have washed your hands off?
A: We are not at all bothered by the empty accusations of that group. Whom did Mahinda accuse subsequent to the speech after Mahinda’s unsuccessful protest march? It was the Criminal Investigations Department, the Financial Crimes Investigation Division, the Bribery or Corruption Commission and next it was the JVP. They did not criticize the present government; no criticism what so ever of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
? They said the protest march was not to overthrow the government?
A: True. Prior to overturning the government they have to cover up the frauds, corruptions and misappropriations. Mahinda Rajapaksa engaged in this protest march with the blessings of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
? Are you saying that this protest march was launched with the consent of the Prime Minister?
A: What does Ranil Wickremesinghe want? He wants to carry on while the Sri Lanka Freedom Party faction and Mahinda faction remain as it is.
? Is this an attempt to cover up the idea that there is a JVP-UNP deal?
A: There is nothing to cover up; UNP has a deal with Mahinda; they are working together. They declare one thing to the country and carry out deals on the sly. We deal with the public.
? If Mahinda Rajapaksa received the blessings of Ranil Wickremesinghe, as you said, then the Pada Yathra was extremely successful wasn‘t it; as he is the Prime Minister of the country!
A: This was arranged with an understanding between Ranil and Mahinda; however, it was unsuccessful. Who intervened to get Mahinda’s wife Shiranthi Rajapaksa to be questioned regarding financial irregularities and make a statement at the Speaker’s official residence? That was through Mahinda – Ranil deals. Who saved Wimal Weerawansa who had two passports in his possession? It was through the Mahinda-Wimal-Ranil deals.
? Wimal Weerawansa publicly calls the JVP by the pseudonym ‘red baby elephants‘.
A: Who takes into consideration what Wimal says?
? What do you have to say about Wimal Weerawansa‘s challenge to the JVP to organize a Pada Yathra?
A: Tell his wife to accept Wimal’s challenges. Why should we accept his challenges? Who is Wimal? Who is the JVP?
? Ok, what if this challenge was posed by some other person and not Wimal Weerawansa ?
A: It is the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna that has the most successful organizational capacity. We have not distributed bottles of Arrack or money to people who attend our rallies. That is what I meant when I said our organizational strength was the best. We are the ones who took to the streets on behalf of the people, from way back in history up to now, shouting on behalf of their rights. People gather together with us voluntarily and not because we distribute bottles of Arrack or money. One thing has to be said and that is, it is Wimal who has challenges; there are investigations against him; there are accusations against officials who worked under him. Muzzamil is still inside. An attempt is being made to shift the accusations against Wimal on to others. Those are Wimal’s challenges and they are private. Our challenges are common. If we want to we will have a Pada Yathra on behalf of the general public.
? Does that mean that Wimal Weerawansa took to the streets to get out of his private challenges?
A: Yes. Wimal could not do what he wanted, even when he was with the JVP; now how can he do them away from the party?
? How about the government programme?
A: The present government does not have a programme. They do whatever they feel like, on a day-to-day basis; like managing the day’s meals! They are not doing what they said they would do. The President does not know what the Prime Minister is doing. The Prime Minister does not know what the President is doing. Maithri is engaging in conspiracies secretly without Ranil’s knowledge. Ranil is engaging in conspiracies without the knowledge of Maithri. However, they say it is a joint government. For the first time in history the two main parties have got together and formed a government; and say they are taking the country towards massive development. Just bragging!
? Are you saying that the Ranil-Maithri partnership is going beyond the Rajapaksa administration which comprised of thieves, corrupted and fraudulent persons?
A: Yes. If these people are like this now, in another year what would they have done? If this government had a programme would they sell State institutions? Would they have kept the Governor of the Bank, who had continuous accusations against him, until the last minute? The President of the country does not know about the debts of the country. Here, he said the debt of this country was Rs 8,500 billion. At the Economic Summit he said it was more than Rs 9,000 billion. If they have a programme they should establish a method to look into the debts of the country.
? However, the government parties say that this government cannot be toppled for 5 years?
A: Which government has ever said that they can be toppled? Somehow, this government must be sent home. What is required is only the powerful voice of the people and the people’s opposition. We dethroned Mahinda.
? What are your preparations for the forthcoming Local Government Elections?
A: We are ready at any time; there is no issue; we are always with the people of this country. We do not deceive people by going to villages when the election is round the corner and start distributing various things.