The Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella says that equal rights of the people should be ensured through power sharing with the periphery. In an interview with Daily Mirror, he says President Maithripala Sirisena got a mandate with the main backing of the UNP, and it should be understood by all concerned.
Constitution making process progressing well
In history the Kandyan Sinhalese asked for devolution first
Ruhunu, Maya, Pihiti were the three Federal States sought by them
He is our President, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe led the campaign to get him elected
Technically, we are broke
Q How do you see the unfolding political situation after President Maithripala Sirisena’s outburst?
It is exciting and challenging. One must expect this because this government consists of several parties. It is not run by a single party. So, differences emerge. It has to be expected. There are differences of opinion because of the government’s diversity.
Q What is the kind of impact it will have on the government‘s stability anyway?
First, one must realise that President Sirisena got a mandate with the main backing of the United National Party (UNP). He is our President. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe led the campaign to get him elected. At the moment, there are several people trying to claim the ownership of the President. Particularly, those who worked to defeat him have no right to own him. The title is with us. We will always try to safeguard the President and the government. We are the ones who elected him.
Q How do you respond to the allegations of the President in terms of veracity?
For example, if an MP is to be arrested, the Speaker should be kept informed as a courtesy. But, the Speaker cannot stop the arrest. Likewise, when the President has periodic meetings with the FCID, CID and the Bribery Commission, he should be informed of scheduled arrests of prominent figures. It is to inform him. Otherwise, it is not to stop the arrest. Apparently, in this instance, it has not been done. If I were in his shoes, I would have felt the same. The country’s rulers- the President and the Prime Minister- should be informed. That is it.
Q What is the mechanism for the two parties to work together hereafter?
Actually, one must realise that the President was strongly backed by the UNP. He got a mandate because of that. People in the government from other parties must respect that mandate. No other party has the mandate. Only the mandate received with the support of the UNP is there with the President.
We have appointed a committee with ten each from the UNP and the SLFP. We have met once now. We are scheduled to meet next week to iron out differences that may arise. The President has got a mandate. The section of the SLFP- defeated at the election, has other views. As long as those views are not in conflict with the mandate, we can accommodate them.
"Well, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has a difficult job at hand. To put it in short, our annual income is insufficient to pay annual loan installments and interests accrued. Technically, we are broke. We are bankrupt technically. If a person’s income is not enough for repayment of debt, he will be considered bankrupt by court"
Q How do you look at the passing of the 2017 budget in this context?
Well, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has a difficult job at hand. To put it in brief, our annual income is insufficient to pay annual loan installments and interests accrued. Technically, we are broke. We are bankrupt technically. If a person’s income is not enough for repayment of debt, he will be considered bankrupt by court.
This is the problem our Finance Minister is grappling with. Foreign debt is the biggest problem. We have borrowed at high rates during the last seven or ten years. We have constructed monsters with no returns, like the harbor, and the port. The government is now trying to dispense with some of the burdens by converting a certain percentage of debt to equity. In this manner, we can get relieved of a burden of one million US dollars.
Q How far have you progressed regarding the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA)?
Minister Malik Samarawickrama and others have discussed it initially. They keep very good contacts with India. ETCA is in our favour. We have a population of 20 million. Yet, India has 1,300 million people. So, the purpose of ETCA is to get duty concessions. The plan is for investors to come to Sri Lanka and establish factories. Then, their products can be exported back to India. That is the plan. So, many investors have informed the government that they would come here for investment once the ETCA was signed. The Indian market is huge.
Q Does the government intend to conclude it this year?
I think it will be completed by early next year. Under it, no professionals-doctors or engineers- will be allowed to come here for work. That is there in black and white.
Q Then, how do you intend to cover other modes of service trading?
For example, when an Indian company gets a contract to build 1000 apartments, there are engineers needed. The company concerned can bring in engineers to work in that particular project. Professionals cannot come on their own seeking employment.
Q How is the constitution- making process at the moment?
It is progressing very well. All parties in parliament are in it. No single party has taken extreme positions.
Q What are the areas you have agreed upon?
There is basic agreement on electoral reforms. The report will be submitted to Parliament next month. It will have points we have agreed upon. Also, it will highlight points yet to be agreed upon. Only Parliament, sitting as the Constitutional Assembly, can decide on the proposals to be adopted. That is in the House. It will be a process fully open to the media. Nothing will be done in secret.
Q What is the UNP viewpoint on key matters such as devolution, the character of the State etc?
There is 99 percent agreement on electoral reforms. Other subject matters are under discussion. We, the UNP, have a view. We have not taken hard and fast stands. We are willing to be flexible to accommodate other views. No party has expressed rigid views on anything.
The new constitution, giving equal rights to everybody, will be very important. Had we done this at the time of Independence the 30-year war would have never erupted. When we got Independence, we were seen as the Switzerland of Asia. We did not have any employment problem as such. We did not have racial tensions. At that time, the countries like Singapore took Sri Lanka as a model. Malaysia was behind us. Where are they now? Where are we now?
At the time of Independence, all the leaders managed this ethnic conflict.
Q When you say equal rights, how do you ensure it in the constitution?
That is by power sharing with the periphery. We did not manage the ethnic tension after Independence. We were dragged into a war as a result. Other countries managed
A very few people read. Many people do not know the history
The first people who asked for devolution were the Kandyan Sinhalese. When Lord Soulbury came before Independence to create the new Constitution, Kandyan Sinhalese went before him and said that they had been a separate country for 400 years and that they had a crown and a throne. That was what they said. They asked for a Federal State. What they suggested were three Federal States -Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti.
Their basic argument was to seek devolution on the lines of the Indian constitution that was in the making at that time. The strange thing is that Tamil parties did not want devolution at that time.
They preferred the status quo. The problems started after Independence. The parties that came to power offended the sentiments of Tamil people. Voting rights of estate Tamils were taken away. The Sinhala only Act was introduced. The Federal Party was born after Independence.