Professor Sarath Wijesooriya, convener of the National Movement for a Just Society, in an interview with Daily Mirror said that as a member of civil society he was not content with the manner the present government was functioning. However, he admitted he had no regrets about former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat. Prof. Wijesooriya was of the view that many state institutions in the ‘Yahapalana’ government were not independent. He also said it was mandatory to find a solution to the national question and the time is right now.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q A year and a half has passed since the present government was elected. Last week we saw a number of May Day rallies. Do you think any significant changes have taken for workers to celebrate?
Today, May Day is being celebrated by politicians who want to ensure their power. Even in the past this had happened. But it was civil society that brought change to the country on January 8, 2015. The new government came into power as a result of the people’s engagement. The agenda of the elected government should be to resolve the burning issues of the people in this country.
The government came into power on many promises among which was the subject of eradicating corruption. But soon after the government was elected, the Minister of Finance acted in a way which destroyed the faith people had in the government. Also the issue of the Governor of the Central Bank with regard to bonds caused a major outrage. Many commented that the Central Bank issue resulted in the UNP losing five seats. It was not a simple matter; even the President commented on it; yet the Governor was not removed. When considering these incidents, a key personality in the Yahapalana government washed out the faith people had in the government.
People understand that there is an economic set back in the entire world. Due to the amount of loans to be paid, the journey before the government is not a comfortable one, all citizens understand. But for people to make sacrifices, the government should act in a way that will make people think their sacrifices are worth it. Unfortunately the government does not give that assurance. It is pathetic that these politicians use May Day to gather people just to establish their political stability.
"For people to make sacrifices, the government should act in a way that will make people think their sacrifices are worth it"
Q You were in the forefront of bringing the present government into power. In the previous answer you only spoke about corruption and issues with regard to the Finance Minister. But there were incidents reported with regard to the Minister of Justice and some of the Members of Parliament engaged in illegal activities such as kidnapping people. What can you say about this?
We cannot be satisfied with the behaviour of some of the Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament. For example in the Avant Garde issue, it was reported that two Cabinet Ministers were involved in it.
It is difficult to restore faith after it has been washed away. Looking at the incidents which occurred in the past, the message people got was that there was protection for people who were engaged in corrupt activities. This is a serious issue. Even at present the government states that they will not give room for laws of the jungle to operate. But the manner in which the law operates is questionable. Of course it is difficult to capture all the culprits at once, but the government’s conduct in some matters is most surprising. For instance, Sajin Vaas Gunawardena was a person who got arrested under the Yahapalana government. He was accused of corruption and other misdeeds and later released. Now we have got to know that he was a chief organiser for the May Day rally held in Galle. This cannot be accepted and the government is unable to answer the question as to whether there was a political hand behind his release.
Wimal Weerawansa was arrested when he tried to travel on a fake passport. If a normal citizen had done that, we know how the law would have operated. But why didn’t the same law operate in his case? It is indeed clear there is political backing behind these incidents. There are many instances where the law did not operate. They say there is a delay in justice because they are working according to the given procedure. But how can citizens accept that?
Also when some of the files related to investigations being carried out were handed over to the Attorney General’s Department, the procedure did not follow beyond that point. Furthermore, once the legal procedures are completed what is the need to get permission from the Prime Minister or the President? The law must operate.
Q Are you saying that most of the Government institutions are not independent?
Yes, they are not independent. But we have a corrupt system which has existed for many years. It will not change as soon as a new government comes into power but the question we have is about the procedure being followed by the government to restore a just system.
"When some of the files related to investigations being carried out were handed over to the Attorney General’s Department, the procedure did not follow beyond that point"
Q Do you think the Yahapalana government has neglected the people who brought them into power? Recently Kamal Indika, a person who attacked “Aluth Parapura” prior to last year’s Presidential Election was appointed as an SLFP party organiser. This was justified by senior Minister S.B Dissanayake, who said that they do not look into the pedigree of people when giving appointments.
The Minister who gave this opinion was himself problematic. Civil society was not happy about the appointments made by the President. Nimal Lanza, accused of ill deeds, was made a party organizer by the President.
When looking at some of the appointments, it seems they have been made in order to manage power within the party. Last January, people elected a new government not to establish a particular party’s power or to build up a political image, but to find answers to the burning issues of the country. The justification the President gives is that they need a majority to solve these issues.
The public has not given a majority power to either of the two main two political parties. Hence he had to form a national government. His statement on forming the majority was logically correct. But how he acted is questionable. The government is trying to establish the majority through bribery. During the last Parliamentary Elections, both parties gave nominations to candidates who were accused of corruption. This shows that the government is not stable.
"Even at present the government states that they will not give room for laws of the jungle to operate. But the manner in which the law operates is questionable. Of course it is difficult to capture all the culprits at once, but the government’s conduct in some matters is most surprising"
Q The previous government was accused of controlling the media. Do you think the present government is doing the same?
When looking at the conduct of the media, it is clear they were easily controlled by the people in the previous regime. Some media institutions were owned by people who are connected to key figures in the former government. Hence they controlled the media according to their wishes. In this situation the government has failed to manage the state-owned media. If all media institutions were independent, and criticised the government, the issue would be with the government and not with the media. Since the government is unable to manage both the state and private media channels, there is an advantage to people from the previous regime who own media institutions.
If the government acts in a transparent way and eradicates corruption and strengthens law and order, the media institutions would pay attention to those factors. The government should not be afraid of the media’s conduct. A government would try to control the media only when they have no faith in themselves.
This government has failed to change the system carried out by the previous regime.The media also has a responsibility.
The media should act in a way which pushes the government to the correct track. Investigative journalism is important in this journey.
Q Once you said it was not only Mahinda Rajapaksa who was defeated, but his entire Cabinet. However, we see the same Cabinet Ministers in Parliament under this government as well. Don’t you think it is the people who voted for a yahapalanaya?
When we ofcivil society want to change the existing system it is to make our dreams a reality through a newly elected government. It is an inevitable truth that politicians in this country work according to their own agendas. With the Executive Presidency, politicians got the legal opportunity to engage in businesses. Under the open market economy, many good things came to us. But some politicians [used the system] to initiate large scale businesses and use their political power for the well being of their businesses. This continues to date.
It is not that we did not know about it when bringing this government to power, but we do not have any regrets about defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government.
Civil society should be powerful. It is needed to establish a better political culture. Empowering civil society cannot be done overnight but civil society is working to ensure that the government works towards the direction they were expected to go.
"Last January, people elected a new government not to establish a particular party’s power or to build up a political image, but to find answers to the burning issues of the country"
Q You have been appointed as the convener of the National Movement for a Just Society. Considering what has happened during the last year, do you think we will be able to see a country that the Ven. Sobhitha Thera dreamt of?
We are working towards it. As citizens we should influence the government to create a new Constitution.
The present Constitution has been amended 19 times. Except for one or two instances, the other amendments were made to establish the rulers’ powers and not for the benefit of the people. And due to some of the provisions in the Constitution, defeated candidates were able to get into Parliament easily.
Also an answer is needed to the national question. The last proposal to resolve this question was through a new Constitution. Politicians should take bold decisions for the betterment of the country and we of civil society should contribute to them. If you ask me whether we are satisfied with the government, the answer is; ‘ No, we are not; but we cannot shut the door which we opened with so much effort.