We are actually frustrated with certain groups in the Government
Those in the Government may say that the party is gaining now, but when we visit the villages it’s quite different
MP Arundika was advised to remain quiet, because his aggressive actions were harmful to the President
They know that though I am in the Government I continue to love the SLFP
Minister of Labour, Trade Union Relations and Sabaragamuwa Development John Seneviratne in an interview with our sister paper ‘Deshaya’ spoke about groups in the Government that are frustrating others and his love for the SLFP. Following are excerpts of the interview with Minister Seneviratne
QDuring the recent past there was talk about you leaving the Government along with some others. What happened to that move?
We actually discussed this matter with the President and following his advice the matter has been shelved for the moment. A decision regarding the matter will be taken some time later.
QThat means it wasn’t truly an attempt to leave, but a move made to pose a threat, in the form of a demand. Your comments?
No. No. it is not so. We are actually frustrated with certain groups in the Government. More than that our prime aim is to take the party (SLFP) forward. With this aim in mind we wanted to leave the Government and be in the opposition to rebuild the party.
Those in the Government may say that the party is gaining now, but when we visit the villages it’s quite different. That is because we are working with the UNP. Imagine the UNP joining a Government of ours then what has happened to us would happen to them. What we did was largely influenced by our intention of strengthening the SLFP with the future in mind.
QDoes that mean you believe that the SLFP is now subject to erosion?
That situation has emerged because we are in this Government. As long as we are in this Government this erosion will continue. The President can’t leave this Government because he has been given the mandate of the people to rule the country for six years. Hence we are aware why he has to continue in this position. There’s no point in leaving when the elections are around the corner. Therefore it’s more opportune for us to move forward and strengthen the party.
The President can’t leave this Government because he has been given the mandate of the people to rule the country for six years. Hence we are aware why he has to continue in this position. There’s no point in leaving when the elections are around the corner
QIs it true that those who were attempting to leave the Government are now divided?
No. It’s not so.
QYou said that you are leaving, but finally Arundika was made the scapegoat. Now he has to face a disciplinary inquiry. Why was this done?
MP Arundika was advised to remain quiet, because his aggressive actions were harmful to the President and to the forward march of the party. This isn’t something to crow about there is no need to act in a hostile manner. The way forward is to discuss issues and avoid the party being subject to erosion.
QThough you said you are joining the opposition, you still remain with the Government. But whereas Pavithra is working with the people of Rathnapura. Will your actions trigger public resentment against you?
I know for certainty that the masses have faith in me. They know that though I am in the Government I continue to love the SLFP. The masses also know that I am with them and have a close relationship with them.
But SLFPers are against some of its members being with the UNP. They expected to achieve much through this Government, but they are disappointed. However only the Prime Minister is keen on maintaining this consensus Government. Whenever we are faced with an issue we direct it to the Prime Minister, who displays a lot of honesty when resolving them
QIt’s apparent from what you infer that the peoples’ opinion regarding your party is changing and if so why has this development not been observed by the seniors?
That is the sad plight we observe. The President can’t leave the Government as he assumed power with the help of the UNP and also due to the pledges made during the elections, before forming a national Government. Therefore we can’t blame him. The seniors in the party must be aware of this situation and take future decisions based on this knowledge. What we say is that the two groups must unite and build up strategies.
QDon’t you think that that responsibility lies with the secretaries of the party?
I don’t wish to speak about the general secretaries of the parties. The general secretaries of the parties should work intelligently and with a broad vision. Since the general secretaries of the two parties aren’t doing that, it is difficult to unite the two factions. Due to the statements made by the general secretaries of the parties a tense situation has surfaced within, which the public is well aware of.
QWhat is the remedy for this?
The secretaries should work with more expertise. They should show more keenness to unite the factions that exist. I wonder whether they have disregarded the President’s views. Because the President never makes statements of this type. He is also keen on uniting the party. When he makes a statement, they make a different statement. The authority to make decisions is vested either with the President of the party or with the Central Committee. These secretaries have no right to issue statements.
We maintained from the beginning that the electoral system should be changed. When that change was being brought about we couldn’t oppose it. Therefore we voted in favour of the bill. I am doing my work as a minister and as a SLFPer. I’m not placing my feet in both camps
QThis was very clear in the removal of Kumar Welgama and others from the posts of organizer.
That was something I was also surprised about. I hastened to issue a statement saying that this type of actions are going to affect the party and we are going to lose capable provincial leaders.
QThe Mahinda faction demands that they leave the UNP. The President isn’t agreeable to this. Don’t you think that these acts only promote the “Pohottuwa”?
It is a very difficult task for the President to give up the UNP due to the support he received from this party. Secondly even if he leaves he can’t form a majority SLFP Government. But SLFPers are against some of its members being with the UNP. They expected to achieve much through this Government, but they are disappointed.
However only the Prime Minister is keen on maintaining this consensus Government. Whenever we are faced with an issue we direct it to the Prime Minister, who displays a lot of honesty when resolving them. I can say with responsibility that no one other than the Prime Minister would initiate any action to justify being in a consensus Government. There are many incidents that prove that justice hasn’t been meted out to SLFP members.
QIt appears that Mahinda is gaining from all these issues.Your comments please?
The masses would take a decision in the future. What I say is that the two leaders should sit together and discuss. While the President continues to govern the other can work for the betterment of the Party.
QIs it true that the SLFP has no voice in the Cabinet?
There is a similar situation to what you have said. It isn’t in the Cabinet, but within the Government that the SLFP has no say. Their opinions aren’t considered. That is why we requested to leave quickly and build up the party.
QYou were better treated by Maithri when compared to Mahinda and was handed over a Ministry in Sabaragamuwa.What do you say?
It is a difficult question to answer. I say thank you to the President for handing over a ministry to me. I could do some work. I am awaiting allocations from the next Budget to commence the development work I have envisaged.
QThe charges levelled against the Government regarding the Bond scam is so great and the Opposition maintains that it will be limited to the sittings at the commission.What do you say?
I don’t think that it would happen that way. The SLFP has appointed a committee in which I am a member. It was proven then that a huge loss had been incurred. We insisted on a Presidential Commission and proper legal action would be initiated after taking into consideration the reports submitted by the commission.
QThe Opposition blames you (SLFP Members in the Government) and criticizes you for being party to this fraudulent Government.What do you say?
We accepted ministerial posts following a decision taken by the party. Once the two years concluded we told them it is time for us to leave. There are some who obtained Ministerial positions in different ways. We of course came through peoples’ votes.
QYou (SLFP Members in the Government) said that you would vote against the 20th Amendment as it was going to postpone the elections, but later you voted in support of the bill to postpone local Provincial council elections.Your comments?
Yes we voted in favour of this bill. We maintained from the beginning that the electoral system should be changed. When that change was being brought about we couldn’t oppose it. Therefore we voted in favour of the bill. I am doing my work as a minister and as a SLFPer. I’m not placing my feet in both camps, and on the day that I take a decision both my feet will be in the other camp. Even Mahinda knows that at present both my feet are in the Government camp.
QWhen will there be a SLFP Government?
We will assume power through an election. A democratic party like ours would never form a Government through a conspiracy. We are now concentrating on the 2020 Elections.
QThe SLFP is stating that Maithripala Sirisena would join the party for the 2020 elections. But his manifesto states that he wouldn’t contest an election once again.Your view please.
These matters would take place according to the constitution. The SLFP is of the opinion that the Executive presidency should continue. This is the view of the SLFP.
QDuring the recent past you strove to bring Gotabhaya into the SLFP. What happened?
(Smiling) Gotabhaya did a lot of work during the war. He as an impartial person could find solutions to many issues. That is why I suggested that when considering the mistakes made by some in the SLFP it was better to bring Gotabhaya and appoint him as a second level leader. It was after my statement that people started considering Gotabhaya for a role in politics. Now he (Gotabhaya) seems to have attracted a crowd.
QDo you mean that Gotabhaya would be made either the President or Prime Minister?
That is something we can’t prophesy. That is a decision the party has to take.