- Judges of this country should be bold and be able to do justice
- Wickremesinghe is grooming Sajith, Ravi, Akila, Harin, Sagala and me for the UNP Leadership
- If he doesn’t allow young leaders to come up, things won’t be favourable for him
- UNP isn’t all about Wickremesinghe and Premadasa
- The hub of extreme Sinhala Buddhist groups is Gota
- UNP and the Government aren’t given a fair hearing by media
- We’re working on obtaining at least 40% of the Sinhala votes
- Arjuna Mahendran isn’t a good friend of RW anymore. Arjuna’s appointment was very controversial
Plantation Industries Minister and UNP’s National Organizer Navin Dissanayake in an interview with the Dailymirror shared his views about the UNP’s political future and the ongoing matters related to politics in the country. Excerpts:
Q The UNP a long-standing political party in Sri Lanka. But, in the recent past, the reputation of the party was heavily damaged due to many reasons. Is the UNP in a politically drained situation now?
Our party isn’t politically drained at all. We have got many second level young, energetic and enthusiastic leaders who want to take the party forward. I do accept that there is a lack of coordination in certain areas within the party. We need some clear dynamics to solve those issues.
Despite having two state media institutes, we haven’t been given a fair percentage of news items. In news presented every day, 70% of it is given to the opposition
Q What are those certain areas lacking coordination within the party?
We need to focus on certain areas which are more solid including the Sinhala Buddhist votes. We also have to give priority to the country’s economy and make sure that the economical benefits are enjoyed by the general public.
Q UNPers demanded a change in the Party’s leadership. But it didn’t happen. Instead the same personalities exchanged their duties withing the party. Are you satisfied with the recent appointments?
There is a new interpretation of what leadership is. The new thinking in the world is to have a leadership team for any organization. So, I think our Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is working on that concept to give leadership responsibilities to a team which involves ministers Sajith Premadasa, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Harin Fernando, Former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and me.
All of us comprise a team that can take the party forward. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is now touching 70. Leadership should change in any organization with time. Maybe he is looking at a phase where the younger leaders are given more responsibilities and made to take more decisions within the party. A leader cannot step down and just leave. It has to be a gradual process. At the moment the discussions with regard to the next level of leadership are taking place in the party.
Q Who should be the next leader of the UNP?
Second tiers are already in place. Sajith Premadasa, Ravi Karunanayake, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Harin Fernando, Sagala Rathnayake and I are already in line for the post of UNP Leader. These are the younger leaders, Mr. Wickremesinghe are grooming.
Q There is competition for the post of the UNP Leader within the party, isn’t it?
Competition is good. In the past there was good competition among Ranasinghe Premadasa, my father Gamini Dissanayake, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Lalith Athulathmudali and Ronnie de Mel within the UNP. When there is competition you have to perform all the time and show your capabilities. Unlike the Flower Bud Party, where there is only one family where every other member is surrounded and only one son is groomed by them, there is a good competition within the UNP.
Q Apart from UNP Leader Wickremesinghe, in your opinion who else is fit to run for presidency from the party?
Either Mr. Wickremesinghe or Sajith Premadasa should run for the presidency at the next poll. If they aren’t contesting for some reason, the party has to decide the next best candidate. Our party has several other potential presidential candidates who are willing to contest. That is why I said that the UNP is not all about Mr. Wickeremesinghe and Mr. Premadasa.
We were the political party that suffered the most when President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated, presidential candidate my father Gamini Dissanayake was assassinated and two aspiring presidential candidates Ranjan Wijeratne and Lalith Athulathmudali were assassinated.
In spite of all the difficulties, our party is still continuing very well. We were in the opposition for eighteen years which is a long time. However, now we are in power and thinking about our next step. To accomplish the next step, we have to perform, not just talk.
During the next six months, we have a roll-out plan during which Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera has to play a major role in providing finances to carry out projects.
The next one and a half years are going to be very difficult for Sri Lanka because we have to pay out the highest amount of funds as debts which were incurred by the Rajapaksas and passed on to us. The public doesn’t realize the amount of debt we have to pay. Most of the debts are hard money loans taken from Chinese banks.
Q Will the UNPers have to wait until Wickremesinghe voluntarily and eventually steps down and hands over his jobs to the next leader of the party?
It will happen most probably after the next elections. It is a matter of time before the next generation of leaders take over. Maybe it will happen within another one and a half or two years. Political parties must have new blood. They can’t be static all the time. I think our leader has realized this. If he doesn’t allow young leadership to come up, things won’t be favourable for him too. I think he knows about this.
We have to work on getting at least 40% of the Sinhala votes. Even if Gota gets 60% of Sinhala votes, we are fine with it because we have 40%. UNP’s plan is to consolidate that 40 percent
Q Apparently, already things aren’t favourable for him. Your comments?
Let us see. We haven’t had a Presidential Election nor a General Election yet. So, no one can judge by the current situation.
Q Is your leader Wickremesinghe protecting his close friend Arjuna Mahendran from being prosecuted in the alleged Central Bank bond scam?
I don’t think Arjuna is good friend of Mr. Wickremesinghe anymore. But, Arjuna’s appointment itself was very controversial. It’s easy to look back and say this and that shouldn’t have happened. When you are a leader you have to make particular decisions given the parametres you are in. On hindsight it’s very clear that Arjuna Mahendran’s appointment was a wrong decision.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will also admit to this now because the country has suffered as a result. The country has lost Rs.600 million due to the alleged bond scam according to the Central Bank reports. That is not a huge amount of money.
A six hundred million loss is not a huge loss that some people are making it out to be. It is a loss and we should be sad about it. The profit made from the bond issue by Perpetual Treasuries cannot be considered as a loss to the country. However, the Government of Sri Lanka has issued a red notice to arrest Mahendran. Since he is a Singaporean citizen, it is the duty of the Singaporean authorities to arrest him and deport him to Sri Lanka. I am very sure that our Prime Minister isn’t protecting Mahendran.
It is a judicial process which may take some time. We have already notified Singapore that Mahendran is wanted in connection with the bond case. It’s up to them to take further action now. We have done our part. This is the same situation when it comes to the arrest of Former Sri Lankan Ambassador Udayanga Weeratunga. Now he is in Dubai. The UAE can immediately send him back. I think it will happen soon.
Q The names of several UNP ministers were linked with the alleged bond scam for accepting money from Arjun Aloysius. This again put a huge black mark on the UNP. How will it affect their political careers?
It’s good that those who had financial dealings with Arjun Aloysius are coming out. Our party has nothing to hide regarding these names. All the names have to be revealed to the public. They can give their own reasons. But the people have to decide. If they took money from PTL, the purpose could be for election campaigns or for some other reason. Still they are under obligation to PTL. People must decide once and for all when the names are revealed.
It doesn’t matter why they took the money because they have taken the money from the accused in the alleged bond scam. In this case, I think the people are the court. Justice will be delivered by the people with regard to the relevant politicians when they cast their votes. The votes will decide who is guilty.
Q Supreme Court Judges recused themselves from hearing the Fundamental Rights Petition filed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Meanwhile, the Attorney General had informed Supreme Court about a Contempt of Court case against Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake over insulting remarks against the judiciary and the lawyers. Double standards where the law and justice are concerned are crystal clear here. What is your opinion?
I am very careful when I talk about judiciary of this country. I cannot really comment on this. If I say a word wrong about the matter, the same thing that might happen to Ranjan, will happen to me.
We have already identified certain lands for coconut cultivation. With the expectant increase of coconut production in the future, the price of a coconut which is 80 now will come down to 65-70
Q As a distinguished lawyer of human rights, what’s your opinion?
Judges of this country should be bold. They should be able to come forward and deliver justice without acting like that. I am very sad about that. Obviously no one can ridicule the court. If you say something against the court you will have to face prosecution. I am also bound by certain things which doesn’t allow me to comment further.
Q Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to be the Presidential candidate in 2020. Are you confident that the UNP can offer stiff competition if he contests?
I don’t think Gota can contest the 2020 Presidential Elections. My frank assessment is he being a US citizen cannot contest the elections of another country unless he renounces his citizenship (US). There is a procedure for that. First he has to make an appeal. To my knowledge, Gota has not even made an appeal as yet.
Just because the media is being pro-Rajapaksa and not favouring us, we can’t be having white vans, abduct journalists and threaten them. We will never do that
Once the appeal reaches US officials, they will have to consider all the facts regarding the case and eventually issue a certificate announcing that he is no longer a USA citizen. Only if you have that certificate, can you then say that you are no longer a US citizen.
Gota can’t even consider himself being a presidential candidate without having that certificate. Till then, all the reports making mention of him as a presidential candidate are really of no use.
Q The disappointment people have in the present Government has made a considerable number of people demand from the Rajapaksas to make a comeback. What if Gotabaya becomes the President?
Every country has a fate. Let us see what is going to happen in the future. If Gotabaya is going to be the President, God help this country! I think it is too early to comment on the Presidential Elections. We never know what would happen within the next one and a half years.
We are on a good wicket for the next presidential polls. We have the biggest support of the minority groups (Muslims and Tamils). We have to work on getting at least 40% of the Sinhala votes. Even if Gota gets 60% of Sinhala votes, we are fine with it because we have 40%. UNP’s plan is to consolidate that 40 percent.
Q How difficult is it for the UNP to win the majority of Sinhala Buddhist votes when a social opinion has already been formed that this Government is against Sinhala Buddhists?
If we look at the monks who are holding press conferences in relation to these matters they are the same faces that are hovering around extreme Sinhala Buddhist groups. The hub of extreme Sinhala Buddhist groups is Gota. The majority of the outer circle are very silent. Even with regard to Gnanasara Thera’s issue, up to now, the majority of Buddhist monks have remained silent. Very few monks are saying that what happened to Gnanasara Thera is incorrect. When a small group of monks appears on TV and when television news bulletins broadcast their statements repeatedly, the general public thinks that this is the voice of monks.
Q What is your opinion of the Government’s media strategy?
The Government’s media strategy is very weak. I have been always telling that its media strategy should be changed. I think it is important that our stories are properly presented by the media. I don’t think the UNP and the present Government are given a fair hearing by the media. Despite having two state media institutes, we haven’t been given a fair percentage of news items. In news presented every day, 70% of it is given to the opposition.
The UNP is not getting its stories across to the media. There is a serious issue with the UNP and the Government relating its stories to the people. I have always mentioned the fact that in principle we should have a full-time Media Minister. If that can be done, I think these problems can be addressed.
Q Why do you think that the Government was not given a fair hearing by the media?
News items are created by media heads with a heavy tilt towards discrediting the Government. I don’t want to mention these media institutions. I think you are aware of them. But, we need to have a reassessment of our own media strategy. Otherwise, it is very difficult for us.
Some of the media institutes are controlled by Pro-Rajapaksa people. Maybe those media heads have different agendas to fulfil. People have to appreciate that we are a democratic Government. Just because the media is being pro-Rajapaksa and not favouring us, we can’t be having white vans, abduct journalists and threaten them. We will never do that.
Even if the Government is defeated we would be very happy to leave because we never chose the route of intimidation, murder and violence. It is better to maintain dignity and leave than remain in power using thuggery, violence and killing.
Q Are you of the opinion that the conflict between Prime Minister and President was due to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution?
No I am not. Actually, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution is good for the country. Taking away powers of the President and bringing it to the Parliament obviously creates a stronger Prime Minister. The President does not become ceremonial due to that amendment.
In a way conflict is good. Unlike in the past, where the President with stronger powers did whatever he wanted along with his family, at present there is a dual system in which both the President and the Prime Minister are strong. It has its own checks and balances. Decision making may not be as quick as before. But decision making is correct.
Q This hybrid system of a national Government is being done as an experiment in our country. Do you see it as a failure or a success?
I think it is too early to comment.
Q You have nothing to say even after three and half years of governance?
You will have to make your judgements then. On one hand there is a slow decision making process which is more transparent with many debates going on regarding its policies and decisions. On the other hand there was a faster decision making process where commissions are inbuilt and the family benefits largely. People will have to decide which one they want.
Q As an UNPer with many years of experience, can you describe the difference in terms of policies in the party when taking into account the past and the present?
It is a different context. When my father was present, they had more political powers within the entire UNP Government. This was why they could move mountains. They were able to launch development projects very quickly with the majority of their members.
Now, we represent a mixed Government with a President from one party and the Prime Minister from another. Therefore, it is difficult for us to implement pure a UNP vision. We have to make compromises and that is where the difficulty lies.
The UNP has always advocated the rights of the workers in a free market. None of the policies has changed. In fact, the party has become more liberal under the leadership of Mr. Wickeremesinghe. We don’t believe in giving handouts all the time. Under the SLFP Governments from 1994, the productivity of the country and the annual income dropped.
The country that UNP handed over in 1994 is not the same anymore. There is a huge difference between how the UNP spent money and how the left (SLFP) spends money. What the SLFP does is take money from one hand, give from the other hand. But, the UNP is more towards fiscal management through which we work towards a rise in the income of the country while controlling expenditure.
Concepts like private enterprise and free market were introduced by the UNP. Now all what we should do is fine-tune the free market, so that it will not only be about private enterprise, but also of the state. The state has a responsibility to act in prudence with proper management of the state and the prices. That did not happened under Chandrika and Mahinda.
Instead, all the state institutions borrowed money from the Chinese Government at exorbitant interest rates. Consequently, the younger generation is now in a difficult position to settle the loans. For that, where do we generate income from? Either we have to earn income from taxes or indirect taxes. Under Minister Mangala Samaraweera, we have consolidated the tax regime also. However, any government has to have a proper fiscal management in place.
If the Government spends money the way the politicians want, the future generations will have to face the repercussions. The strength of Mr. Wickremesinghe is that he is a good manager. He manages things better than Rajapaksas. All what Rajapaksas could do is spend money. In fact it is very easy to spend.
Q In 2016, your ministry started the Coconut Triangle project in the Northern and Eastern Provinces with the purpose of doubling the coconut production in the country. Still we get a coconut in the market for a price of Rs. 100. Isn’t there any progress in the project?
I am getting some new lands in the North and the East. Discussions are currently underway with the Chief Ministers and TNA politicians in the provinces. The process of lands has become very difficult because when we ask for lands from them they always look at it as a Sinhala-Tamil ethnic issue. We have already identified certain lands for coconut cultivation. With the expectant increase of coconut production in the future, the price of a coconut which is 80 now will come down to 65-70.