By Ranjith Kumara Samarakoon
Deputy Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Lasantha Alagiyawanna said that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) supports devolution of power. “For that, the Executive Presidency is necessary. That is why we say if power is devolved, the unitary status of the country must be safeguarded. That was our opinion for decades.”
Following are excerpts:
Do you have any responsibilities at the Ministry?
A: Definitely. I always became a Deputy Minister under the best Cabinet Ministers. It is a privilege to work for Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
You have been a Deputy Minister from 2004. When will you become a Cabinet Minister?
A: Time will tell. Let’s wait and see. Positions are not essential to work.
It is three years since the two parties decided to work together. Are you happy?
A: This is the first time something like this has happened in the world. The two main parties have embarked on a journey together. It’s a new experience. Due to this reason, both parties will encounter challenges when working together. There are problems; however, the victories achieved as a county are also immense.
At the present time, both parties are pointing fingers at each other. Isn‘t that so?
A: No. This is what is known as mixed results. There is good and bad as well.
You were with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 8 January. Thereafter, you joined this Government. Did you make a mistake?
A: No, I feel very happy. We will always be with the SLFP. We worked for President Mahinda Rajapaksa in two ways. One, to be honest, we toiled to make him win. The other thing is he did not lose a single vote because of us. After the election, we made every effort to appoint him as the Party Chairman and even the Leader of the Opposition.
However, the Joint Opposition says that there is no mandate for you to join hands with the UNP?
A: No, it was through a mandate that the path was prepared for both parties to work together.
Have things become so sour that both parties cannot work together?
A: No, it is not so. The founder of our Party, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was deprived of her civic rights. Chandrika Kumaratunga joined other parties. Anura Bandaranaike joined the United National Party (UNP). But we rose up. The Party is still in existence. It’s true that the Party has been divided into two. We have to accept that. The departed leaders are watching. Time is the cure for everything. This Party will never get destroyed.
It looks like the former President (Chandrika Kumaratunga) is attempting to enter politics again from Gampaha?
A: She is one of the reasons why I am in this position today. I have worked with her. I will always have respect for her. If you are hale and hearty you can always get back into politics. The same thing applies to her.
This Government promised to abolish the Executive Presidency and draft a new Constitution when it came to power, but now, your party opposes this. Why?
A: Our Party supports devolution of power. In order to achieve this, the Executive Presidency is necessary. That is why we say if power is devolved, the unitary status of the country must be safeguarded. That was our opinion for decades.
However, you always said that the Executive Presidency would be abolished?
A: If power is devolved to the Provinces, the Executive Presidency is mandatory.
Why did you say in ‘94 that the Executive Presidency would be abolished?
A: No, then we didn’t have a two-third majority. That was why it was not abolished.
The Former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa built up a two-third majority. But he didn‘t do it?
A: At that time, there was a war in the country. In any case, the Executive Presidency is necessary when there is a war.
But there is no war now?
A: Yes, we accept that it is necessary to devolve power.
The UNP, which introduced the Executive Presidency likes to abolish it, but the SLFP, which always wanted to abolish it, is now against abolition?
A: No. The UNP has said that it will accept any solution arrived at by the majority. We cannot predict what they are going to say, nor can anyone else.
So, in other words, the UNP respects a general consensus?
A: Yes, in terms of this, they do, but neither party strongly supports abolition.
During the 100-day programme and afterwards, the promise was to abolish it?
A: Many of its features were abolished. The Supreme Court didn’t permit the abolition of some of its features. President Maithripala Sirisena’s election manifesto states that he will not attempt to do anything that will require a referendum.
Both parties decided to work together for the betterment of the country, but isn‘t what is happening the complete opposite?
A: Why, see what the investigations of the Bond Commission have revealed.
Your party is unable to prevent things to start with?
A: We cannot predict what will happen beforehand, but if we get wind of something we will most certainly stop it in its tracks.
After getting wind of it, what did you‘ll do?
A: It was Minister Mahinda Amaraweera who went to the Bribery Commission first of all. The report was released thanks to the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), D.E.W. Gunasekara. However, it couldn’t be tabled in Parliament. Our Party appointed a separate committee. After this, the President took action to appoint the Commission. Those who are connected to this big fraud must be punished.
The Prime Minister also goes to the Commission?
A: The former Governor of the Central Bank made representations to COPE about the Prime Minister. He mentioned about him at the Commission too. So, the Prime Minister went before the Commission.
Is it true that Ministers‘ and MPs‘ telephones are being tapped?
A: It’s not true. Even former President Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke about this. Crimes are detected with the help of modern technology. Such orders are obtained from Court. Telephone bills are also taken. No tapping has been done for that purpose.
Did Arjun Aloysius talk to you?
A: No, he didn’t talk to me. I have not seen him. However, it is said that he had spoken to over forty MPs.
Why haven‘t the names been revealed?
A: The names should be revealed.
Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe stated that he spoke to him to conduct research for a book?
A: If he had expressed his gratitude in the preface of the book there will be no issue.
How can the loss incurred by this transaction be assessed?
A: The direct loss is enormous. The indirect economic loss is incalculable. It had a big impact on the dollar value, fluctuation of bank interest, and debt burden of the country; there are other frauds, but this is the biggest fraud.
If that is the case, how will you continue to remain in this government?
A: It is because we are there that the country has been protected even this much. Leaving the Government won’t be of benefit to the country or the people.
If you‘ll join the Joint Opposition, the government will become a minority?
A: That’s true, but as a Party a decision will be taken in two years. This is not the time for that.
Will the Party be in existence after two years? Won‘t the Joint Opposition rise?
A: No, that’s not a problem. In the past, we were humiliated when we were in the Opposition, but the Party was not destroyed. Just because someone humiliates us while we are in the government, that doesn’t mean it is the end of our party.
Some say that the President and the Prime Minister are at loggerheads?
A: One may get that impression when analysing certain incidents, but I think they are working with understanding.
But Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe criticizes everyone, including the President?
A: We unreservedly reject those. Nobody can destroy anyone. People need to do the right thing. We condemn his statements with revulsion. The President has given us maximum freedom. If one fulfils his responsibility, there is no issue.
The election is becoming only a dream, isn‘t it?
A: We are ready for the election.
There‘ll be a three-cornered fight, correct? What will happen?
A: We will talk about that after the election.
Will you win?
A: There is a disadvantage when the Party is divided into two. You cannot arrive at a conclusion by looking at the trend. During the last Presidential Election, 15,000 people attended former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rally in my electorate. There were only 600 people at President Maithripala Sirisena’s rally, but we won by a majority of 9,000.
Does former President Chandrika Kumaratunga like people who leave the party and rejoin at a later date?
A: There are various opinions, but the Party is one.
Finally, will the SLFP join the Joint Opposition or the UNP?
A: All Parties must come together for the betterment of the country. However, we as a Party, will never join the UNP.
What will happen in 2020?
A: We will decide with the Party. I will always be with the Leader.