The media must be proactive, truthful and professional and be a partner in progress following ethical guidelines
The DMC under the Ministry of Disaster Management has been leading efforts to enhance disaster risk management
When President Sirisena was invited by former President Rajapaksa to take over the leadership of the SLFP, President Sirisena put certain conditions
We cannot be a party to nepotism
A government cannot be replaced or toppled by shouting anti-government slogans
The Dailymirror recently interviewed Irrigation, Water Resources Development and Disaster Management Minister Duminda Dissanayaka and these were the views he expressed on politics and current affairs.
Q How has the SLFP progressed with its preparations for the forthcoming provincial council, presidential and general elections?
We are keen to ensure a victory for the SLFP at these three elections. The party’s reorganization is running in full gear after the setback at the local government elections and as of now we have completed about 90% of the party’s rebuilding process at grassroots level. We have formed SLFP executive committees at district and constituency level in which we have given prominence to educated young men and women, professionals, social and community leaders like teachers, public servants, lawyers and doctors.
The SLFP trade unions, women and youth organizations have also been strengthened with new office bearers being appointed. A number of district and constituent organizers who have not participated in party activities and had aligned with rival parties in the past couple of years have been replaced with young and energetic organizers with a good educational background. You may be aware that the SLFP under President Maithripala Sirisena is determined to do clean politics based on policies and principles and not on self-centered politics which has disfigured. Sri Lanka’s current political culture.
Q Undoubtedly the SLFP will have to face a great challenge from the UNP and the SLPP at the three elections scheduled for next year. Are you ready for the challenge?
I admit that victory for the SLFP at the three upcoming elections will not be an easy task while confronting two major political fronts. Although it may be an uphill task, an SLFP victory is not something impossible if we work hard and put in place a pragmatic, up-to-date and an efficient political strategy. Our immediate target is to gather all progressive and patriotic politicians and political parties round the SLFP and build a strong front to face the two rival parties. The progress achieved so far in this endevour has been encouraging. Don’t forget the recent statement made by President Sirisena that neither the UNP nor the SLPP would be able to form a government or win the presidential election without the support of the SLFP.
Even when I was in the UPFA government, I was not in good terms with Rajapaksas. Especially with Mahinda and Basil. I was extremely disappointed, disheartened, dejected and discriminated against
The main vehicle to educate people on the government’s development projects is the media but I must admit that we have failed miserably in this department and having said this I must draw attention to the extremely bias nature of media against the government. President Donald Trump has castigated the so-called independent media in the US which is described as a five-star democracy. I wish to tell our media, whether print or electronic that they are even worse. They give prominence to negative, adverse anti-government, anti-President and anti-Prime Minister in their daily news coverage. I will give you a few examples. The government reduced the prices of 74 essential drugs which are used by heart, diabetic and kidney patients and children regularly, thus reducing the monthly medical bill by some 50% or more. In the past the drugs issued to cancer patients was limited to Rs.1.5 million a year. The government has removed the limit and today there are cancer patients who are given drugs worth more than Rs.5 million a year.
The paddy farmers had to face repeated periods of drought since this government took office. The only alternative for the government was to provide them financial relief to mitigate the suffering they were undergoing. The government has paid out nearly Rs.40,000 million as compensation to farmers up to now. In this case the private media highlighted only the sufferings and ill effects of the drought or the occasional drug shortage which were beyond the government’s control. This is how the media use the freedom and democracy restored by President Sirisena and the government.
When a person reads a newspaper in the morning or watches the TV in the afternoon, he or she is mostly dished out accounts of mudslinging or character assassinations aimed at the President, the Premier and members of the government with distortions, fabrications, exaggerations, half baked news and absolute lies. What I am trying to say is that the private media is extremely discriminatory against the government and the government has miserably failed to give the people a true picture on what’s happening in the country. It seems that the thinking of the media is that only killings, abductions, robberies, thefts, rapes, corruption and frauds are the news people prefer to read or watch. In my opinion, this is very sad and a bad media culture. Media in other countries disseminate better information, news and education on current and global affairs and of human interest to people. Not the kind sensational and low quality information like our media does.
At ‘janabalaya kolombata’ protest, the participants were asked to shout only for the Rajapaksas and not for any other senior leader of the JO or SLPP like Kumara Welgama, Dinesh Gunawardana, Vasudeva Nanayakkara or even Wimal Weerawansa
I do not say that the media must be pro-government or give publicity only to rosy news. The media must be proactive, truthful and professional and be a partner in progress following ethical guidelines. The media must be bold enough to show the good and bad independently and in a balanced manner. Arriving at conclusions is the people’s right and not that of the media.
Quite in contrast to our media policy, what did the Mahinda Rajapaksa government do to media? The media institutions were subjected arson attacks by thugs, while journalists were threatened, beaten and killed. A large number of media personnel and their families fled the country. There were high profile cold blooded assassinations of well-known veteran journalists and there was no inquiry or legal action on the perpetrators. I believe that Sri Lanka’s media need to adopt a self regulatory and self-censorship mechanism to rescue the local media out of this mess. I hope Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera will take the initiative in this regard.
Q Is there any possibility of a rapprochement between the Mahinda Rajapaksa led JO or SLPP and the SLFP?
When President Sirisena was invited by former President Rajapaksa to take over the leadership of the SLFP, President Sirisena put certain conditions. He said the SLFP must distance itself from corruption, frauds, embezzlement and nepotism if the concept of ‘Yahapalanaya’ is to be successful.
Former President Rajapaksa has ruled the country as the executive president for 10 years after serving the country as an MP, minister, Opposition Leader, Prime Minister and finally as the Head of State. What else has he to achieve? I cannot agree with his decision to re-enter politics after his defeat in 2015. He is now only an MP. President Sirisena also took the same path in politics like Mr. Rajapaksa and held many position in various SLFP governments and elected as the executive president. When he decides to retire from politics someday in the future, I don’t think he will retract his decision and come back.
Why are the Rajapaksas attempting to convince the SLFPers that there will be no future for the party without a Rajapaksa at the top? Why not they give an opportunity to other senior members of the party? We can’t let this happen.
At the ‘janabalaya kolombata’ protest, the advice to participants was to shout in support of only the Rajapaksas and not for any other senior leader of the JO or the SLPP like Kumara Welgama, Dinesh Gunawardana, Vasudeva Nanayakkara or even Wimal Weerawansa.
Do you know the reason why Mahinda contested from Kurunegala at the General election in 2015? It was because the Rajapaksa family was aware that there was no space in Hambantota for three Rajapaksas to get elected. To ensure Chamal and Namal get elected from the Hambantota District, Mahinda went to Kurunegala. What would have been the situation if the three Rajapaksas contested from Hambantota? We cannot be a party to nepotism.
Q Is the SLFP expecting to amend its Constitution at the party’s annual convention to be held next month?
Yes, we are going to introduce a few amendments to the party Constitution that would reflect current political, social, cultural and global requirements. The party has appointed a few temporary office bearers for the purpose. We held religious ceremonies on a low key on August 23 to mark the 67th anniversary of the party. The main event of the anniversary will be held early next month.
Q Do you think there was any impact on the government from the ‘janabalaya Kolombata’ protest?
It was a total flop. It showed that the euphoria created after the Galle Face protest and the success of the SLPP at the local government polls in February has now evaporated. Secondly, a government cannot be replaced or toppled by shouting anti-government slogans, filth and holding placards, posters and hooting at the party head office. The Constitution clearly says how a government could be changed and a President or the Prime Minister elected. This government will never cow down to thuggery, character assassinations and conspiracies. There will be so many Poya days before President Sirisena decides when to hold the parliamentary and presidential elections.
Q What made you to join common presidential candidate and the then SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena when he decided to run for the presidency in 2014?
Even when I was in the UPFA government, I was not in good terms with Rajapaksas. Especially with Mahinda and Basil. I was extremely disappointed, disheartened, dejected and discriminated against.
About 50% or more of the budgetary allocations were controlled by Mahinda and Basil and all appointments in the public and semi government sectors were overseen by Mahinda, Basil and Namal. None of the other ministers or deputy ministers had a say in these affairs and we were only onlookers.
Besides, I could not forget how, President Rajapaksa treated my father the late Berty Premalal Dissanayaka, who sacrificed his entire life for the SLFP. My father died of a broken heart when he was refused the chief minister’s post in the North-Central Province after the 2012 PC polls. It was a discrimination against him because such posts were given to others who obtained the second most number of votes in other provinces. The Cabinet also was a total monopoly of the Rajapaksas.
QYou said your father the late Berty Premalal Dissanayaka was treated badly by the Rajapaksa regime. Can you elaborate?
Well, you are aware that he was the SLFP powerhouse in Rajarata for a long time and clashed with the UNP at all elections to ensure victory for the SLFP victory. At the 2012 polls in the North-Central Province, he did not get the expected support from the party though he was the group leader of the UPFA. Though the UPFA won in the Province he was second in the preferential vote list and he was denied the CM’s post by the then party hierarchy but in certain other provinces the CM’s post was given to members who got second most number of votes. My father took this ill-treatment very badly and it affected his health. That is why I told you he died with a broken heart.
Q How do you see the split in the JO and the SLPP?
The split has come to the fore and so many seniors express their displeasure and hopelessness on the subservient and sycophantic obedience to a single family. Leaders like Kumara Welgama and Vasudeva Nanayakkara have openly criticized the attempts to promote Rajapaksa family members as the next political power house in the country having the government, Presidency and Premiership under their thumb. You may see in the near future that Kumara and Vasu are not alone in this anti-nepotism stance.
However, I believe that Namal deserves a place in the country and in the SLFP in due course but not over the heads of other seniors. He has enough time to achieve that position and what he needs to meet that goal is patience, maturity and experience.
Q Do you think Sri Lanka is in a better position now than in 2004 to minimize the likely damage of another major disaster like the tsunami?
Yes indeed. In 2004, many people in Sri Lanka hadn’t heard about a tsunami and therefore did not know how to face such a major natural disaster. But with the experience we gained, Sri Lanka has taken a number of measures on how to minimize damage to property and lives, relocation of victims, providing them basic facilities and long term facilities.
The December 26, 2004 tsunami was a wake up call to many countries in the Indian Ocean to be better prepared to face natural disasters. Many development partners are working closely with the Sri Lankan Government and its Disaster Management Centre (DMC) to mitigate the impact of another natural disaster.
The need for an early warning system and to be better prepared to manage disasters to save lives and livelihoods was the biggest lesson learned in the aftermath of the tsunami 10 years ago. According to the DMC the country now has better early warning systems to detect tsunamis and other disasters and is better equipped to respond to future disasters.
With the lessons learned following the 2004 tsunami, the DMC under the Ministry of Disaster Management has been leading efforts to enhance disaster risk management in close collaboration with development partners working in Sri Lanka. Working together, this group has been able to create a culture of safety in Sri Lanka. Establishment of early warning systems including robust communications links with local and international technical agencies, an around the clock emergency operations centre, and engaging people from the grassroots level in both disaster awareness and mitigation activities with the setting up of Early Warning Towers along the sea belt round the country and the Disaster Management Ministry conducts drills to make people aware of how to face another disaster. The last drill of this nature was held on August 5 with the participation of other Indian Ocean rim countries.
Q What happened to the Doppler Radar System Sri Lanka purchased some ten years ago?
We have abandoned the project because it is not viable to spend huge amount of money to repair it. I have just returned from Paris after a successful discussion with the French government to obtain a modern Meteorology Lab at a cost of US$30 million or about Rs.4,800 million.
The new Meteorology Lab will be equipped with the most modern machinery and equipment to forecast the change in weather patterns pinpointing the area affected. The French government will bear 35% of the cost with 65% of the cost on a soft loan to Sri Lanka. France produces the world’s best machinery and equipment related to meteorology.