The Dailymirror recently sat down with the Science, Technology and Research Minister Susil Premajayantha for an interview.
Not only the average voter, the professionals who put the Govt. on the pedal of power are totally frustrated
The CB bond scam, the SLPA and CMHC and several other PPP agreements in the pipe line have become a subject of heavy criticism
Yahapalana leaders knew the country’s debt situation in 2015. Their solution is agreements with some countries or companies in order to repay the debts
The President wanted to make the agreement advantageous to Sri Lanka. Now the issue is whether the signed agreement fulfils those requirements
In 2015, SL gave an undertaking to the UNHRC to fulfil certain promises to overcome the situation. The UNHRC is waiting to see SL fulfil those obligations by 2019
Q The people, those who voted this government into power in August 2015 are totally disenchanted with its performance in the last two years. Where did the ‘Yahapalana Government’ go wrong?
To my knowledge the regime change took place in 2015 on the vote bank of educated middle class, upper middle class, voters of the North-East and Central Province. But compared to 2010 election results one can say there was a heavy surge of youth votes in favour of the UNF. So why did they want this change? Mainly because they wanted a government not involved in corruption, malpractice and biassed. The voters also voted to bring about a just society. The other reason is that with the change, they expected a rapid economic progress and a sustainable solution to the unemployment among youth. We must evaluate the performance after two and a half years of the rule by the Yahapalana Government and see whether we have achieved at least part of them. My presumption is that we have failed miserably and that is why we witness protests, strikes, anti government agitations and rallies against the government on a daily basis. Not only the average voter, but the social movements and professionals who put the ‘Yahapalana Government’ on the pedal of power are totally frustrated on its conduct.
Not only the ‘below the mark’ performance, the Central Bank bond scam, the agreement signed between Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and China Merchant Holdings Company Ltd., (CMHC) and several other Public Private Partnership agreements in the pipe line have reflected badly on the government and become a subjects of heavy criticism. In addition, the government has also failed to address the unemployment problem sufficiently in the last two and half years.
Q The most important and highly marketed pledge given by the UNP during the polls campaign was that the top priority of the government would be to catch and bring before justice the top politicians and officials who have allegedly committed murders, financial crimes, corruption, embezzlements etc. This has not happened after two years as expected by the people.
Do you agree?
It was a hypothesis at the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2015 that certain politicians of the previous government had been involved in corruption and crimes. But to frame charges and file action against them in original courts there must be substantial evidence to prove them according to our criminal law. Therefore, there is no point oblaming the Attorney General’s Department for not filing charges against those alleged to have committed crimes and corruptions without furnishing hard evidence.
Compared to 2010 election results one can say there was a heavy surge of youth votes in favour of the UNF. So why did they want this change? Mainly because they wanted a government not involved in corruption, malpractice and biassed
QInterestingly, not only the UNP but SLFP and JVP also blame the Attorney General’s Department for the delay in filing charges against politicians and officials of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime even after the investigations on these cases have been completed either by the FCID, the Bribery Commission or the CID and files have been referred to the AG’s Department. Your comments?
It is the Police who are responsible to record statements and find evidence to the satisfaction of the AG’s Department to prove a case. Once the Police refers a file to the AG’s Department and if it finds that there are gaps and loopholes in the file, the AG’s Department sends the file back to the FCID, CID, Bribery Commission or any other law enforcement authority where the file originated to find further evidence. The people don’t know what the evidence contained in the file is. It is up to the CID, Bribery Commission or the FCID to furnish the file with a prima facie case.
QHowever, the Yahapalana Government has won the confidence of the global community and no country or international agency talks about the electric chair or war crime tribunals any more.
Do you agree?
That is because in the year 2015, Sri Lanka gave an undertaking to the UNHRC in Geneva to fulfil certain promises and obligations to overcome the situation that prevailed at that time. The UNHRC is waiting till 2019 to evaluate Sri Lanka’s commitment to meet those promises and re-evaluate the situation. Until then, the UN or the global community or Sri Lanka will not talk about the electric chair or International Criminal Court.
Yahapalana leaders knew very well the country’s debt situation in 2015. Their solution to the debt servicing is selling or entering partnership agreements with some countries or companies in order to repay the debts, earning foreign exchange and develop the country. So the question is how long can you do this? My position is that first of all we must have vision to achieve development, retrieve loss making state ventures and pay back foreign debts.
You will have to place these facts before the people with a stipulated time frame for solutions to achieve results but the government has not done that so far.
Q The agreement signed between the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the CMPort in China to develop the Hambantota Port is a highly controversial act of the Yahapalana Government. The JO says it was a sell out of a state asset. How do you see this?
First of all, there is no transparency in this transaction. Contrary to the concept of good governance no tenders were called, no valuation was done, no business plan for the next few years or an attempt to see whether we can make the Hmbantota Port a profitable venture. Who negotiated with the CMPort or any other company? Even former Minister.
The Cabinet appointed a sub committee to review the agreement. The main purpose was to arrange a lease period and the share distribution advantageous to the country, address security concerns, bunkering facilities, Habour Master under the SLPA without amending the SLPA Act to create a joint venture. Then suddenly, portfolio changed and without the cabinet sub committee report, the new minister submitted the agreement to the cabinet and got the approval.
My personal opinion is that President Maithripala Sirisena wanted to make the agreement advantageous to Sri Lanka. Now the issue is that whether the signed agreement fulfils those requirements.
Q Former Justice and Budhasasana Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was fired from the Cabinet because of his anti- government anti-UNP remarks and violation of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. Your comments?
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is a President’s Counsel and has experience specially in civil matters in courts for more than 32 years. With that legal background he must have substantial material to fight retake Hambantota Port in courts. He was also the legal advisor and campaign manager to Presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka in 2010.
Q The ‘Yahapalana Government’ is burdened with three big white elephants in the State ventures sector mainly in the national carrier ‘Sri Lankan Airline’, the CEYPETCO and the CEB from which the combined annual losses tops Rs. 30 billion. Do you think there is an escape route and these three government owned Commercial Establishments could be turned around to a break even point situation?
My simple answer is that ‘yes’ provided restructure is accelerating fundamentals of financing, accounting and management with educated people and professionals who have a specific knowledge in airline administration and management under a dynamic leadership. The burning problems like debts, overstaff, management loopholes etc have to be evaluated one by one and find sustainable solutions by professionals with specific experience in each subject.
Air Lanka was a creation of late President J.R.Jayewardene in 1979 with the majority shares under the government. Subsequently, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga sold majority shares to Emirates Airlines and also changed the name to SriLankan Airlines. The last government bought back majority shares from Emirates and appointed a chairman and CEO to the national carrier. I don’t say what process was followed to appoint the chairman and the CEO to Sri Lanka at that time. As in any other public enterprise, employees were recruited in excess.
It was the Mahinda Rajapaksa government however that first decided to abrogate the agreement it signed with Airbus Industries to purchase 4 airbuses before the regime change and the situation became worse after the ‘Yahapalana Government’ appointed a new board of directors.
After the COPE report (under the chairmanship of former Senior Minister DEW Gunasekara) sounded alarms in Parliament on the continuous losses recorded by the national carrier, the SriLankan Airlines prepared a ‘Business Plan’ on the instructions of the government that included the removal of the A340 new planes from the proposed purchase agreement and lease purchased four A350 air buses by 2020. But the Rajapaksa regime was replaced by the Yahapalana Government in January 2015 before the SriLankan Airlines went along with the new Business Plan.
The new management appointed by the ‘Yahapalana Government’ decided to close down 3 traditional and important destinations namely Paris, Frankfurt and Rome from where thousands of European tourists embark on their tour to Sri Lanka. At the same time officials in the top management got their salaries increased in big margins by themselves and enhanced allowances further precipitating the financial situation of the ailing national carrier, he pointed out.
To make the situation worse, there was unplanned and unnecessary recruitment that made SriLankan Airlines over staffed.
In early 2015, the government decided to cancel the lease agreement for four A350 air buses that resulted to pay a termination surcharge US$ 146.5 million in addition to the forfeiture of US$ 7.5 million deposit incurring a massive loss of US$ 154 million or over Rs. 231 billion.
However, the Finance Ministry intervened at this stage and renegotiated the purchase agreement with Airbus Industries and the Sri Lankan now must pay US$ 95 million in installments after they agreed to waive US$ 54 million from the total commitment.
In February 2017, the minister in charge of the national carrier submitted a Cabinet paper with a business plan but it was withdrawn immediately. I don’t want to reveal at this moment as to why it was withdrawn. Subsequently, a joint Cabinet paper was submitted and without a single cent is earned, the Sri Lankan paid US$ 98 million as termination fee. Then the next issue is purchasing of Air buses under the new arrangement. So far, Sri Lanka has paid US$ 19 million to the Airbus as delivery payments. I have heard that the government was contemplating to cancel this purchasing agreement also. I don’t know how much we will have to pay for the cancellation of purchasing four A350s. This amount should be more than the fee paid to terminate the lease agreement.
All in all, I don’t understand as to why the top management of the SriLankan Airlines failed to take the most pragmatic decision at the right time and run this national asset at least on a break even point because the loses incurred by it is a heavy burden to the economy.
It is mentioned several times that the Weliamuna Report has indicated that managerial skills is extremely vital for a successful running an airline.
It was a hypothesis at the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2015 that certain politicians of the previous government had been involved in corruption and crimes. But to frame charges and file action against them in original courts there must be substantial evidence to prove them according to our criminal law
CEYPETCO made four billion profits in 2004 - 05 periods. Thereafter certain projects started without proper evaluation and started recording losses with fluctuating oil prices in the global market and without a price formula oil was supplied to the CEB for power generation. The situation further aggravated when our biggest crude oil supplier withdrew supplies under US embargo on that country whereas all these factors contributed to continuous loss making on the CEYPETCO to date.
Aftrer the oil prices were stabilized in the global market in 2015 it started making operational profits.
The CEB was a profit making State venture till 1990s. With the increase demand for electricity, exhausting hydro power and delaying proposed coal projects contributed to losses to the CEB. On the other hand consumers suffer with high price of power. Therefore, the CEB has to go for low cost power generation plan without further delay.
QThe government policy is to diversify loss making venture with private investments and make them Public Private Partnerships which seems the most pragmatic solution. But many don’t agree. Why?
If you take an example from the UK, Japan, the US or Singapore, we don’t have such an environment for Public Private Partnerships in Sri Lanka. It is the responsibility of the government to introduce such projects in emerging economies with public money and management from the public sector.
Q There is no doubt that the UNP will be the ultimate beneficiary in any future election due to the fact that the SLFP has been split right from the middle which is the SLFP led by President Maithripala Sirisena and JO led by ex President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Do you think this political disaster threatening the SLFP could be avoided?
Yes, it can be avoided with the dedication and commitment of both parties. We must rally all progressive parties under one umbrella on a common agenda setting aside personal and group ambitions. That is what all expect at this moment.
QWhy this continuous brickbats between UNP and SLFP ministers in the Yahapalana Government?
I can’t simply express the root cause to this situation. But the SLFP as a party has confronted many challenges in the past. This is another such challenge. If leaders of both parties without over estimation but with care and compromise work towards achieving victory in 2020.