Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, in an interview with Dailymirror, says the formation of a UPFA government is the need of the hour rather than dissolving Parliament. Prof. Peiris, an MP loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said the government had mishandled its relations with China in the conduct of its foreign policy. Highlights of the interview;
Q In the current political context, how is the Opposition planning to do its politics?
The Opposition is very conscious of its responsibility. It is the majority today. That is the irony in the whole situation. The Government is in the minority. The Opposition has the overwhelming majority. We are conscious of that responsibility. We have not passively fallen into the Government’s agenda. Today, everything is at a standstill. The Government is not bringing any serious business before Parliament. Next week, two days have been assigned for condolence motions. The Government has no serious business to transact in Parliament. This is in a situation where the budget is becoming a fairy tale. The enabling legislations required to give effect to budgetary proposals have not even been brought before Parliament, let alone passed by Parliament. The Mansion Tax and the Super Gain Tax, expected to give a substantial amount of revenue, have not been enacted in the House.
Therefore, the budget was never a serious exercise. It was cosmetic. It was simply to give the country the impressions that the election pledges were fulfilled. The Government cannot fulfil the promises. For it, revenue is needed. None of those revenue measures have come before Parliament. We cannot allow this to continue.
"There are fundamental errors to be corrected, particularly the statement made by Secretary of State John Kerry that there was a 30-year-war against Tamils. Is that correct? If it is his view, we have to correct it in a suitable way. There should be a greater focus on Africa and Latin America. We could not have handled the CHOGM here without the support of African and Asian countries."
How are all these promises to be fulfilled? To increase emoluments for public servants, more benefits for Samurdhi families and pensioners.
Then, because of the liquidity crisis, all public work is being stopped on the pretext that tenders have to be examined with a view to ensure transparency and integrity. The true reason is the lack of resources. I have seen myself how sand, rubber are piled up on road sides. The work has been stopped. The companies that employed people have laid them off. Some large construction companies work with 20 percent of the capacity they had under the previous government. It also means circulation of money is affected in the rural areas. We cannot allow that to continue.
No government has intimidated the public service to this extent. Nobody believes that Director General of Customs Jagath Jayaweera stepped down due to health reasons. Rumy Marzook, the Chairman of Consumer Affairs Authority has resigned. Senior officials of the Excise Department have stepped down. Mr. Marzook has specifically said the degree of interference is such that he cannot work.
"No government has intimidated the public service to this extent. Nobody believes that Director General of Customs Jagath Jayaweera stepped down due to health reasons. Rumy Marzook, the Chairman of Consumer Affairs Authority has resigned. Senior officials of the Exercise Department have stepped down. Mr. Marzook has specifically said the degree of interference is as such that he cannot work."
There is also a situation where, in the higher echelons of public service, officials fear to take decisions. Nothing is basically happening except the witch-hunt, and the Government is giving priority only for it. Now, the frauds on the Government side are all too obvious.
The Prime Minister is constantly ducking answering questions on the Central Bank scam. Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Leader Dinesh Gunawardane asked three times whether Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran was a citizen of Sri Lanka. That question was never answered.
There is a disturbing situation regarding the law and order. In the North, police stations and the Court were stoned. There is disenchantment everywhere. That is why the Opposition decided to assert itself.
The no confidence motion against the Finance Minister is already on the Order Paper. We are agitating for an early date to debate. It is entirely wrong for the Government to refuse it and insist on having condolences. The Standing Orders specifically say that a motion against a minister is entitled to priority. There is a no confidence motion handed over against the Prime Minister with 112 signatures. Now, in Sri Lanka’s history, a no confidence motion has been signed by a maximum of 20 members. This will, indeed, be in the annals of Sri Lanka’s political history.
QBut, what is the way forward in case the no confidence motion is adopted as you wish?
When the no confidence motion against the Prime Minister is passed, the Cabinet of Ministers stands dissolved. Then, the duty of the President is to identify a Prime Minister, who in his opinion, commands the confidence of the majority of MPs. It is against the spirit of the Constitution to dissolve Parliament under those circumstances. Dissolution is appropriate and legitimate in the absence of a viable alternative Government. Within this Parliament, a viable alternative government is available. The President’s duty is to hand over the Government to the party commanding the confidence of majority. It is against the spirit of the Constitution to dissolve Parliament, both according to constitutional and commonwealth precedents.
"The budget was never a serious exercise. It was cosmetic. It was simply to give the country the impressions that the election pledges were fulfilled. The government cannot fulfill the promised. For it, revenue is needed. None of those revenue measures have come before Parliament. We cannot allow this to continue."
In 1960, the minority government of Mr. Dudley Senanayake was defeated on the throne speech. Then, Mr. Senanayake advised Governor Oliver Gunatilake to dissolve Parliament. But, Sir Oliver Gunatilake did not immediately dissolve Parliament because he engaged in serious discussions with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by C.P. de Silva and the Federal Party. Only when it became clear to the Governor General that a viable alternative was not possible, he acceded to the request of the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament. Here, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe never had the majority. We are dealing with a Prime Minister who did not have a majority right from the beginning. The Opposition has a massive majority in Parliament. The President’s duty is to appoint a Prime Minister from the Opposition.
There is also consideration that the President of Sri Lanka is a political figure. He is the head of a political party. It is entirely legitimate and proper within the bounds of law and established traditions to take into account the interests of the party which he is heading. For all these reasons, the dissolution would be wrong. That is important because of matters related to the 20th Amendment. If there is a majority government, the passage of the 20th Amendment is possible. At the moment, it cannot move forward because the Government is a minority one.
QBut, earlier, you were agitating for the dissolution of Parliament. You have taken a different stand now. Why is it?
The situation has changed now. Once the no confidence motion is carried, that has the effect of clearing the deck. Then, there is no government because the Constitution clearly says the Cabinet stands dissolved in the event of a no confidence motion being adopted. You are then starting on a clean slate. We do not want this Government. When you start on a clean slate, the right thing is to install a new government.
QWhat will be the main functions to be prioritized under such a government?
The passage of the 20th Amendment is the demand of the country, particularly for the abolition of the preferential voting system. That is very much on the legislative agenda. We will start with it.
QIs that the only thing you are focusing on?
No, we will start all the development work that has currently been stopped. Then, circulation of money and employment will all follow up. The main problem today is that there is nobody in charge. There is nobody making decisions. There is no one taking responsibility. Everything is in a state of suspense. We will bring that state of affairs to an end and give the country the benefits of stable and effective governance.
QWho are you going to propose as the Prime Minister of that Government?
It can be the Leader of the Opposition, Nimal Siripala de Silva. In fact, our MP Dulles Alahapperuma said it categorically.
What is the justification for dissolving when there is a strong government waiting in the wings? It can be called upon to take off. What is the justification for ignoring that alternative government which is ready and able to function effectively?
QIn case a new government is formed, do you think that it should continue till the end of the term of the present Parliament next year?
All of this can be done during that period. The Election Commissioner will require some time to carry out the necessary work to give effect to the new proposals. Then, the next parliamentary election can be done under the new system. That is what the country wants. There has to be the re-demarcation of some of the boundaries of polling divisions. After the new government is formed, it can be done.
QWhen it comes to the 20th Amendment, what are the proposals you have?
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party has submitted its own proposals.
QThe President has submitted a concept paper proposing 255 MPs to be elected to Parliament. Will you subscribe to the same stand?
Now, we would stand by SLFP proposals. Of course, we are prepared to consider any refinement or modification. It is not casting stones. We will take into account the viewpoints of others.
QWhat are the contents of your proposals?
We would like to keep the total number of MPs at a minimal- to increase it as little as possible. Then, preference voting should be abolished definitely. It will be a combination of the First-Past-the-Post System and the District Proportional Representation. We are prepared to consider multi-member constituencies.
QIn the no confidence motion, you have referred to the manner in which foreign relations were handled under the present government. As the former External Affairs Minister, what are your views?
There needs to be a sense of balance. There is a difference between friendship and servility. We must not allow anyone to take us for granted. Sri Lanka has an identity of its own. And, we must have good relations with all the countries, but not put ourselves firmly in one camp. We do not agree with the recent pronouncements decrying non-alignment. We do believe in non-alignment. Non-alignment came into existence in a different situation in a bipolar world. Now, it is a unipolar world.
The basic principles of non-alignment, as followed by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Pandit Nehru and others, are still valid. You look at each issue on its merits without having pre-conceived stands in accordance with the views of a particular bloc. I think that is very valid.
It is very important to keep faith with the countries that stood by us in the most difficult times. We must not let those countries down. They have demonstrated their sincerity and goodwill towards Sri Lanka under the most trying circumstances. I think we have mishandled our relationship with the People’s Republic of China. If there were issues, they should have been handled in private, with finesse. Mega phone diplomacy is not appropriate. The whole approach should have been far more diplomatic, pragmatic and balanced from the beginning.
There are fundamental errors to be corrected, particularly the statement made by Secretary of State John Kerry that there was a 30-year-war against Tamils. Is that correct?
If it is his view, we have to correct it in a suitable way. There should be a greater focus on Africa and Latin America. We could not have handled the CHOGM here without the support of African and Asian countries.