By Anuradha Herath
Minister of Health Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said the Bond Commission Report does not mention fraud, but a loss only.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
During the 52-day period, you mentioned on platforms that you were going to abolish the Executive Presidency. Was that view restricted only to those 52 days?
A: No, there was a procedure that commenced from the beginning within the amendment to the Constitution programme. Now, it has reached a certain stage. There is a Constitution Compilation Board to compile the Constitution. The Parliament was made a Constitutional Council. There are proposals brought by various factions there. Those were publicised. From here onwards, those proposals will be considered and drafted.
Who will be the Presidential Candidate from the UNP?
A: Now, see you were not aware of who the Presidential Candidate was, until the end of the year 2014. In the same way, we will present our winning candidate in the future.
But from what we can see, there seems to be a huge crisis within the Party regarding the Presidential Candidate. Isn’t that so?
A: There is no crisis at all. We have not even begun discussing that issue as yet. What we are engaged in doing now is building up the new Democratic National Front.
Certain people say that with Ranil Wickremesinghe, you will never be able to win. Others say that Sajith Premadasa is not mature enough for the post?
A: We will talk about all of this, with the existing Party Leaders as well. There are Parties that are being established now. We will gather them together, and subsequent to a discussion, the most popular person will be brought out.
How do you see the facts that Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot win and Sajith Premadasa is not mature enough, in your opinion?
A: It is like this. One fact is an intelligent leadership that can build up the country. Another is popular leadership. Both these should be there. Then, we have to consider how we can combine the two.
There are allegations from the UNP itself that those who crept into the party are trying to become the Presidential Candidate. Is that you?
A: I cannot say. Last time too, it was such a person who became the Presidential Candidate.
Anyhow, the former Defence Secretary from the Party, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, made a direct statement about the Presidential Election. Isn’t that a huge challenge for you?
A: How did it become a challenge? If he wants to contest, he has to get rid of his American citizenship, and show proof to the people that he did so, especially to the Election Commissioner. It has not been done as yet. He is still an American citizen.
The other thing is, if he does contest, it would be a good thing! On the other hand, he will be a good candidate for our side. The reason is, he will not have any of the minority votes, and when our candidate contests with a lead of 30 per cent, he begins at 0 per cent.
However, according to the view that has been built up, Gotabaya Rajapaksa will have the voter base of Sinhala Buddhists. This is what is being discussed now?
A: How much should he get from the 70 per cent of Sinhala Buddhist votes? He has to obtain 50 per cent then. That means from the overall number of votes, he has to obtain 50 per cent. In this election, he has to have 75 per cent. Then, who will be the candidate who will get 75 per cent of the vote? The reason is because there are many Sinhala Buddhists who have joined our front too.
With the results of the past Local Government Election, isn’t the UNP clearly scared to face another election?
A: That situation does not exist today. Today’s situation has completely changed. You saw how we gained victory! We defeated the 52-day conspiracy, and gained victory in the very same manner.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that this is a Sumanthiran-Ranil Government?
A: Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot eradicate racism, which he is still involved in. He is stuck in that swamp. But that is a good thing for us. The reason is, had he considered the minorities in the past, he has lost whatever he gained with the statements and actions he took in the immediate past.
Whatever statements you make, it is apparent that the Rajapaksa camp is more united now. How could this not be a challenge to the UNP?
A: No. When were they ever divided or separated? They contested the last election together as well and they lost. It is the same now.
Rajitha Senaratne is a person who talks a lot about fraud and corruption. However, under your Government, it has not been possible to at least file one case and punish a corrupt person?
A: There has been no punishment, not only for any person in our Government, but against those who committed fraud during the previous regime.
So, you admit there was fraud in your government as well?
A: No, if the cases against those in the previous government took so long, how can anything be said about these things. There are allegations against this government too. But they could either be true or false. Investigations will be held.
The Presidential Commission ordered that expedited action should be taken in connection with the Central Bank Treasury Bond Issue, which was the most corrupt action of the present government. Even after three and four years, it has not been possible to file a case?
A: No, a case has been filed. But there is no case at all to probe Treasury Bond issues of the previous government.
You say that legal action has been taken. But Arjun Aloysius and Kasun Palisena were released on bail, after 11 months in remand. This was done since a case was not filed, isn’t that so?
A: They were taken into custody because a case was filed. A new Bill was presented to Parliament, so that verdicts of Commissions can be taken to Court and implemented. Previously, how long were those involved in the transactions in prison for? If at all, the most was two weeks. Doesn’t that give you an understanding of whether that government or ours has the most problems?
Although the name of a private company owner is being used in connection with the Treasury Bond Scam, shouldn’t it be the Minister in charge of the Subject, Ranil Wickremesinghe and former Governor of the Central Bank Arjuna Mahendran who should be held responsible for this?
A: Who has been found fault with by the Commission? Actually, the mistake that was made here has not yet been identified. They have said that losses have been incurred due to these Treasury Bond transactions.
They have not said that it is an offence as such. That is why the Auditor General has said that from the year 2010, a loss of more than a trillion rupees has been incurred through Treasury Bonds. When you consider that, this is a small amount. The loss during this particular period has been only 11 billion rupees. But 12 billion rupees of their money has been detained.
Then, even if they had committed an offence, there has not been even a loss of five cents to the Government through these Bonds. Therefore, we have discussed with the Prime Minister to bring in a proposal to Parliament to obtain that 12 billion rupees.
You are renowned as a person who brought to the stage, the alleged powerful fraud and corruption engaged in during the previous Rajapaksa Government. You mentioned on several occasions about money in foreign bank accounts, belonging to the Rajapaksas. Where are the relevant Court cases against those?
A: They are still being investigated. Now, I believe they have reached the last stage. The CID has received in writing, facts that confirm what I said about the MiG transaction. They have already discovered all those bank transactions, having got together with the American Federal Bank. They have also found out about accounts in banks in Dubai. They too have promised us that they will prepare those transactions in about 4-5 months and inform us. When they are being revealed, we can see what happens.
As you say, will it take a number of years for those things to be revealed?
A: No, only several months.
When you consider that situation, it will take until 2025 to take action regarding the Treasury Bond Issue?
A: What I heard about this Treasury Bond calculation, is that it is very difficult to make it and find out details. The other thing is that most people say that the Treasury Bond Commission Report does not mention a fraud, but a loss only.
Are there allegations of fraud targeting you as well?
A: Yes. I can answer to all of those.
President Sirisena called you “his battle colleague.” But the President has appointed a commission to investigate and inquire into corruption at that “battle colleague’s” Ministry of Health. What do you think?
A: The President spoke to me before he went abroad. He told me that he had not mentioned anything regarding such a commission. The Government Medical Officers’ Association requested him to appoint such a commission. Then, the President had asked how a Presidential Commission can go against a Ministry. Such a commission has to be appointed to look into fraud and corruption of a government. Then, I asked him whether he mentioned that during a period more than my time, there was a Minister who had allegations of corruption against him. Then, he said it was a complete lie and that he spoke to Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya. The President had found fault with him, saying that they had gone outside and mentioned things that were not discussed at their meeting. Then, the President told me that he will speak to me when he returns from his trip to The Philippines. That just shows what a pack of lies these things are. It is such lies that have been published in your newspapers in huge lettering!
Are you saying that such a Commission will not be appointed?
A: From what the President said, it was clear that he would not appoint such a Commission.
What is a ‘Black Media Circle’?
A: We are not the ones who mentioned Black Media!
It was your leader who talked about the ‘Black Media Circle’?
A: It was not my Leader who said it. It was Jayathilaka Kammallaweera, who won many awards on literature for several years, who said it. He said that all journalists survive on black money. Can you write this in the newspaper?
I am asking you about Rajitha Senaratne’s view?
A: What I am saying is, whatever Media was referred to as Black Media, how does the Media work now? How much do they write on behalf of good governance? How much have they written? When will they write about these good things? I was also in the Rajapaksa Government. No one wrote anything against that government. If anything had been written, Mahinda Rajapaksa would call early the following morning. We have seen him making such calls.
But can you suppress the Media and target Media outlets which criticise the Government led by the UNP?
A: We only criticise. We have not killed anyone in the way Lasantha and Sivaram were murdered. We did not abduct people, like what was done to Eknaligoda. You did not get assaulted like Keith Noyahr. We did not set fire to Media institutions either. Your Media is working on behalf of murderers who killed Lasantha. Newspapers and television channels.
Alright, you did not set fire to Media institutions or assassinate journalists. However, the accusation whether surrounding Media institutions, using fresh people, was right, targeted you?
A: No. We do not know about it. It was done by some civil organisations from somewhere. If we did surround them, we would not have taken just 10 or 15 people. If I am going to surround a place, I will bring at least 1,500 people.
Do you have any plans to do so?
A: No, but if we do want to surround institutions, we can do that.
Through the pre-Cabinet, did the UNP decide not to give State advertisements to Media outlets which criticised the Government?
A: There is no such pre-Cabinet. During meetings, what all Ministers and Parliamentarians said was that some action has to be taken regarding the Media. We pointed out that they use our own money and then hit out at us.
From 7:00 at night to 8:00, 12 advertisements of the Government are telecast on television.
Do you not accept the fact that if the private Media was not there, at least a revelation does not reach the people?
A: What is being revealed? What has private Media revealed properly? Tell me who revealed the investigations into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge. What you do is, you take some mudslinging done by someone, and with a bang, you put it in the paper. Now, see this story about a Commission being appointed against me! This appeared as headlines in all Media. Is that what Media is all about? There was not even one person, there to call the President and ask him about it.
Private Media revealed the Central Bank Treasury Bond Scam. Do you not have any sort of estimation about that even?
A: It was not revealed by them. It was a revelation that came from Parliament.
Today, on stages, a Federal Constitution, that divides the country, is being mentioned. Can you pretend that you did not hear these things?
A: Where is this Constitution you are talking about? In every discussion brought to the first person in Sri Lanka, the story of federal and separatism was mentioned. It was they themselves who tried to do that and break up the country. Now, see, India! Once they gained Independence, they divided the country into provinces, and did that in a proper manner. It is because that was not allowed to be done in our country that the war was fought, and everything else was done, and these problems prevail even as of today.
Members of Parliament of the TNA, Sumanthiran and Mavai Senathirajah had said that Cabinet decisions could not be made without consulting them, and that Ranil Wickremesinghe took over the North in order to work together with them?
A: What they are saying is the fact that they should get together with us and bring in a new Constitution. That is an agreement. Even the President signed it. The 19th Amendment was brought in with the support of the President as well.
Whatever you say, why don’t you accept the fact that such statements from the TNA, and statements on racism, and a Federal Constitution are harmful to us as a country?
A: Yes, it is harmful. That is what is being done especially today. They are the ones who set this racism fire always. This country was destroyed because of that.