- Says NFF will continue working with Rajapaksa regime
- Calls for production boost, engagement of private sector
- None of the international agents be sent to Sri Lanka to investigate the War crimes shall be allowed to enter our motherland.
The National Freedom Front used the upcoming election to get its 12 demands implemented by the Government, says Party Leader Wimal Weerawansa.
Minister Weerawansa, who threatened to pull out of the Government, now claims his party will continue to work with the Rajapaksa regime as it has agreed to implement the NFF’s Action Plan.
“But we will continue to criticise the President and his Government, although it is the Rajapaksa regime. It is our responsibility,” Weerawansa, the Minister of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities, stressed.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Any remarks on the upcoming Uva elections?
A: The UPFA will win the Uva election. The National Freedom Front (NFF) will be contesting alone in the Badulla District whereas in Moneragala we will be contesting with the SLFP. The Opposition seems to be having high hopes. They tried to take advantage of the drought but the situation improved so they can no longer use the drought slogan. The UPFA will mark a significant win in Uva. That is definite.
Q: Why did you change your initial decision to contest alone?
A: The decision to contest alone was taken based on a number of reasons. Mainly we did not receive a positive feedback for our 12 proposals from the Government. Then there was the serious issue of a lack of mutual consensus amongst UPFA parties. Due to these two reasons the NFF decided to contest alone. We had prepared our nomination list. However, the committee appointed by the President to study our 12 proposals agreed to implement our Action Plan. Meanwhile, measures were taken to ensure mutual consensus within the UPFA. A former NFF member who crossed over to the SLFP was promised a nomination from Moneragala. But he was later removed from the list. Initially, the SLFP was trying to nominate this person to politically damage the NFF. But somehow the situation changed.
When the Government responded positively to our two demands there was no reason for us to continue with our decision to contest alone. Therefore we changed our position. However, when this happened we had already submitted our nominations in the Badulla District. That is why we will be contesting alone in Badulla.
Q: Do you regret criticising the Government?
A: No. There is no necessity for me to regret or repent the things I have said. The decision to contest alone was not based on the criticism and Government not reacting to those criticisms. I have clearly explained why we wanted to contest alone. It does not mean that we are ready to keep mum against the wrongdoings of the ruling party. As a party the NFF has openly criticised or pointed out weaknesses and wrongdoings of the Government. We will do that in the future too. Our main struggle is to bring a new Constitution. We are pushing the Government to do that. We strongly believe that a new Constitution will change the present political culture. And this country needs that change. Meanwhile, we want the Government to come up with a new economic strategy. At present the Government only focuses on infrastructure development. This must change. Sri Lanka should focus on a production-oriented economic strategy. The NFF’s 12 proposals were based on these two facts. By accepting our proposals the Government has shown that they are ready to make these changes. But the NFF will continue to pressure the Government until they fulfil the pledge they have made to us.
Q: Do you feel there is mutual consensus among the UPFA parties?
A: The most appropriate example I can give you to explain the situation is the ex-NFF member Udaya Kumara, who was to receive nominations from Moneragala. This individual was reported saying that when he crossed over, President Rajapaksa personally guaranteed to include him in the nomination list. Udaya Kumara’s crossover was a move to hurt the NFF politically. It happened soon after we submitted our 12 proposals. It was the time I was vocal about the shortcomings and failures of the Government. Chief Minister Shasheendra Rajapaksa too had agreed to this person that he will be given a nomination. Who is the Chief Minister? He is the President’s brother’s son. If they rejected Udaya Kumara’s nomination despite the promises made by such powerful persons it proves that they are willing to consider our demands.
Q: You said Udaya Kumara’s crossover was planned to weaken the NFF and to sabotage the 12 proposals submitted by your party. Does this mean the Government was against your Action Plan?
A: At the time we submitted the proposals the Government had not responded to it. They never said they accepted the proposals, neither did they say they were against it. I feel that the Government tried to use the Uva election to push down our proposals. They must have thought that we might set aside all our political differences and support them during the election. But the NFF used the election to accomplish our goal. We demanded that the Government implement our proposals if they wanted us to ally with them during the election. Finally our plan worked.
Q: What are the measures taken by the Government to improve a production-based economy?
A: In our Action Plan we have mentioned a number of recommendations. The Government has agreed on some of them. One such recommendation is to boost the local dairy industry. We have also highlighted the importance of encouraging and assisting local investors. Another important recommendation was to boost the production of goods with high demand such as sugar. We waste a lot of money importing these goods, why can’t we produce them locally? The Government has agreed with these recommendations and has vowed to initiate these proposals soon. We hope that in the upcoming Budget the Government will give priority to these proposals.
During our criticism against the Government, we openly asked them how they will repay the massive loans obtained from financial institutions by only engaging in infrastructure development projects. It is no secret that there is no direct income from the money spent on infrastructure development. There are indirect and long-term benefits but we cannot utilise all the loan money to develop infrastructure. And the work we have done is now sufficient and it is time to think about energising the production sector. This is a massive task and the Government cannot handle this alone. They must get the contribution of the private sector. This is why it is important to implement projects and programs to assist and support the private sector.
Q: What measures should be taken to encourage private sector investments?
A: When a foreign investor comes with a $ 300 million investment he will receive immense benefits. But a local investor with a $ 100 million venture receives nothing, because he is expected to bring $ 300 million. These policies need to be changed. Most of our country’s money is in the possession of commercial banks and financial institutions. People rarely invest. They deposit their funds in banks and financial institutions and live off the interest. Countries like Japan always encourage investing and that is why those countries have developed. We don’t see that the top officials in the Treasury have any interest to change these negative policies.
During the post-war period we saw a remarkable increase in investment. It is high time we do the groundwork to encourage more and more investments to improve the country’s production, because whatever investment that happened was due to the boost of confidence following the war victory. We need to identify priority sectors and work out strategic plans to improve them. There is no investor-friendly environment in the country. Unfortunately the existing monetary policy does not include such strategies.
Q: What are your views about the country’s economy?
A: From one end there is a positive sign. The GDP, per capita income and a number of indicators say that the economy is doing well. At the same time it is said that over 40% of the population earns only Rs. 250 a day. We see a lot of challenges ahead of us. The total income of the Government is not sufficient to cover up the loans and interests. This is an alarming sign. We should not get carried away by the numbers that say the economy is doing well. We have to realise the actual situation. When the income is not enough to repay the loans and interests, the Government is compelled to take more loans to cover up the other expenses such as government sector salaries, education, health and other services. We cannot continue this. This harmful practice needs to be stopped. The only and best way to do it is to boost production.
Q: What would you suggest to boost State income?
A: The policies and methods of the Inland Revenue Department have not been revised for many years. The Secretary of the Finance Ministry is not interested in revising the policies of the Inland Revenue Department or the Customs Department and revamping these institutions. If there is a significant growth rate how come the State income is so low? This is my argument. This proves the Government is not receiving the actual income. This is why I say institutions such as the Inland Revenue Department and Sri Lanka Customs need to be revamped.
Meanwhile, without depending on the foreign investors we have to encourage locals to invest. Between Nugegoda and Maharagama there are 16 leasing companies. They trick the people and take their money. This must stop. We have to encourage people to invest in projects that are beneficial to the country. People too should not depend on easy and quick ways to earn money. If they want to sustain the country they too need to contribute.
Q: You blame the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and Planning for his failure to boost State income. You have been criticising P.B. Jayasundera over the years. But no action was taken against him. Does this mean the President and his Government does not take your accusations seriously?
A: I am not the President. This is not my Government. I am just a Cabinet Minister. I am not afraid to voice my opinions. Until they take some action I will continue my accusations.
Q: You said you look forward to the upcoming Budget but P.B. Jayasundera is significantly involved in preparing the Budget.
A: He may be preparing the Budget but it cannot be done according to his whims and fancies. We strongly believe the upcoming Budget will be a turning point in the country’s economy by which more importance will be given to boost the production sector.
Let me reiterate the Government should not try to revive the production sector by depending on the Treasury. We don’t need a couple of more ailing State institutions while trying to boost the production sector. This is why I say we should get the private sector involved.
Q: What do you have to say about the upcoming Presidential Election?
A: There is no clear indication about the Opposition candidate. Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to be thinking he will be the presidential candidate. Sobitha Thero claims there will be a common candidate. JVP says they will nominate someone from the party. There seems to be a lot of confusion in the Opposition. It clearly shows that no significant change will take place in an upcoming presidential election.
Q: What are your expectations?
A: We want a candidate who will support a new Constitution and a production-orientated economy.
Q: What do you expect from the new Constitution?
A: We want a Constitution that unites the country; a Constitution that will not further divide or separate the people. Democracy, human rights should be given due importance and the Constitution will prepare our country for future victories. It should be submitted to a Parliamentary Select Committee and then put forward to the public for discussion. However a draft bill should be prepared in the months to come.
Q: Are you against abolishing the Executive Presidency?
A: We are not against abolishing the Executive Presidency. But before that the electoral system needs to be changed. With the present electoral system the chances of a setting up a weak Parliament is high. Such a situation is harmful to the country.
Q: Why did you request the Defence Secretary to get into active politics?
A: We lack politicians who can feel the needs and wants of the ordinary people. People get involved in politics to achieve their own goals and targets. In 2005 I saw how hard he (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) worked to bring President Rajapaksa into power. Clad in a pair of rubber slippers, he was simple man and a very quiet person. He was given a responsibility and he was successful. The work carried out by him is commendable. This is what people want. This is why I said individuals like him should be in politics.