Q: You have repeatedly said that the government was not ready for the Geneva Sessions this year; was this lack of preparation on the part of presentation or the deeper commitments in terms of the LLRC and the National Action Plan on Human Rights?
I think the main issue is the fact that the government feels like the world is inside Sri Lanka and as a result they pay scant respect to the international community. Let me at the very outset say; that we do not need to go via bended knees to foreign powers, if we have our house in order, then we can challenge anyone else without fear. The general principles of foreign policy are that our foreign policy should be matching up to our domestic requirement. Where we should be friends with all, but have alliances with none.
But today we have a situation where there is a de-facto foreign minister and a de-ju foreign minister, therefore the policy does not come out very clearly.
When you look at Mahinda Samarasinghe going to Geneva last week, when the presidential secretaryMohan Samaranayaka was basically saying there is no minister going and Mahinda Samarasinghe was saying “I think I am going”—very well exemplifies, what I am trying to say, that the government was not ready.
This is not a sprint that has come about recently; this is a relay that has been going on.
After the end of the war it has been four years of peace and with that the complications start. Where are the promises that the government has made? Don’t talk of anybody’s external pressure; lets talk about the promises that the President has made.
The first letter is given to Ban Ki-moon via G.L Peries, saying that “my President promises to give the LLRC report and devolutions etc”. Then in January 2011, this same set of promises is given to the External Affairs Minister of India; that we will move forward with devolution and then says that we are committed to the promises given by our President to your Prime Minister in the past. Therefore you confine yourself just to what our own UN resolution is given to the General Assembly, thereafter our own commitments to the Latin House principles from 2005 Harare to 2009 Trinidad to 2011 Perth; all of them have been confirmed by the Rajapaksa government.
From that point onwards to say that there is external pressure is pure bunkum. If the pressure is to say; don’t put pressure on the media is that wrong? If they say that the constitution is implemented, is that wrong? If they say that there are issues with the way your Chief Justice was removed, ensure that natural justice prevails is that wrong?
Likewise, if the 17th Amendment is replaced by the 18th Amendment and this destroys the independence of the public institutions, if this wrong? These are the pressures that have led to today’s issues.
Last year when the resolution was brought about, it was the first against Sri Lanka since independence. When it came about, we (in the opposition) asked the government to please tell us what we could do to help.
The first time we offered our help was when the country was about to lose the GSP+, which the UNP won initially obtained for the country. But the government refused our help and then they lost the GSP+.
Most recently, we challenged the government that a resolution was coming this time as well, at the UNHRC; tell us where do you need our help; because we need to win this time. We demand that the government wins this.
We asked them how we could help; we are not going to clean the government but it is important to put the people and the motherland to the forefront. It has nothing to do with the government’s inefficiency.
One year ago they should have known the resolution was coming this year, either they should have walked the talk or else eat humble pie.
Only last week did Mahinda Samarasinghe say I am ready to go; this shows that he was not ready.
Q: You said that the UNP has repeatedly offered its help and support to the government, but what kind of support can the UNP really give the government?
When we got the GSP+ to the country, and then we saw later that we were losing the GSP+, we pointed it out to them. But they said no, we don’t need your help the President can handle this, we told them the country won’t be able to withstand the loss of the GSP+; but then Nivaard Cabraal said, this is nothing, we will give subsidies. Today the chambers are crying out that they have lost out 155 Billion Rupees per year. This is an 11 per cent duty discount, that we lost out on—meaning we are now 11 per cent more uncompetitive in the world market. We have 275 factories and a 275,000 labour force, isn’t this all because of the arrogance, stupidity and ignorance of the government?
" Last year when the resolution was brought about, it was the first against Sri Lanka since independence. When it came about, we (in the opposition) asked the government to please tell us what we could do to help. The first time we offered out help was when the country was about to lose the GSP+, which the UNP won initially obtained for the country. But the government refused our help and then they lost the GSP+. "
The people have to suffer, there is nothing to do with human rights here, the European Union merely said, please implement your constitution and abide by the conventions that you have signed and the promises that you have made to us.
We extended our help and they said that they didn’t want it.
Q: What makes you so certain that with your help they could have won this?
At least there would have been a sense of national perspective in fighting these issues. Of course if there is an inefficient government we won’t go and say everything is fine. The truth is the government does not engage with the world, and then they want to go and say that the opposition is selling the country out.
The government has a heterogeneous alliance that has extremism on one side and no balance on the other side, and they are fighting the international community.
Q: With regard to the promises that have been made by the government; in their view they have fulfilled a great extent. According to Mahinda Samarasinghe, resettlement is complete, de-mining is complete, rehabilitation of ex-combatants has taken place and there is 27 per cent economic growth in the North. The government is making these lofty statements in international arenas and inviting members of the international community to come here. Why would they open themselves up for criticism in that way, if they weren’t confident that they have made a certain level of progress?
If you listen to the government ministers, there is no problem in this country—we are heaven on earth. If we say that there is 27 per cent growth, and you need 1000 houses and last year, you built 1 house and this year you have built three then you have a 200 per cent growth. Is that what they are using to fool the people?
Even today, as members of the opposition, we are unable to go to those parts of the country to see those people, because they say that those are problematic areas.
So who are they trying to fool? If they are trying to fool a group of people who come together once a year, they can’t do that because the people living here are also in touch with the open world.
Q: So in your opinion the government has done nothing, after the war?
Good is not good enough when better is expected. These people living in the North, they are not robots, they are human beings. Therefore, if we don’t give them the food and we don’t give them the jobs that they need, how can they survive without their basic needs being provided.
We need to provide these people with basic rights; I’m not saying human rights, just the basic things they need.
If these things are true, why didn’t he tell us in parliament? Why did he have to wait till he went to Geneva? We have been asking questions regularly in parliament and none of them have been corroborated.
India promised 50,000 houses but only 2000 have been made, is this because the Indians don’t have money?
I would say the government has done a lot of talking and doing little.
Q: Has India let us down, in supporting the US? or is it that the inherent policies of the government have isolated Sri Lanka from its closest ally?
This government has this village thug mentality, they think that by shouting in Colombo they can bring the whole world to its knees. The Rajapaksa government’s foreign policy led by G.L Peries, shows that the world is inside Sri Lanka—that is their concept.
India and America were our closest friends and the Europeans supported us during the end of the war. Today what we see; India is fighting against us and the US has brought a resolution against us. So what has happened to our good relations? Obviously the government is not doing what they should.
Q: You are putting the blame solely on the government for the deteriorating relations with India?
They have successfully destroyed the economy of this country, they have destroyed the judiciary of this country, and now they have moved to the external element as well.
Q: Many people feel that the failure of the government in foreign policy is due to the lack of any concrete and direct leadership; where we have a monitoring minister, an external affairs minister and then in human rights issues we have someone entirely different leading the country.
We have a de-jure foreign minister and de-facto foreign minister in G.L and Sajin Vass, this is why I say that nobody really knows what is going on. I think that they have all sold us out wholesale and there is really no hope at all from a foreign policy perspective.
" Because India says that the government says 13+ and the government basically says, we have not said that. They say yes and then they say no. however what is told is not happening. DEW Gunersekera, Tissa Vitarana and Rajitha Senaratne say 13+++, then you have Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka saying 13 minus, minus, minus. "
Because India says that the government says 13+ and the government basically says, we have not said that. They say yes and then they say no. however what is told is not happening. DEW Gunersekera, Tissa Vitarana and Rajitha Senaratne say 13+++, then you have Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka saying 13 minus, minus, minus. Therefore you don’t know who is doing what in this heterogeneous alliance. What we are saying is that governance is not a hit-by-chance operation, it needs to be a consistent and coherent policy. That is sadly lacking in this country.
Q: You have repeatedly mentioned the heterogeneous alliance of the government. And there is this idea, that now the government has gotten so big that there really is very little control within it, and the feeling that in order to meet its needs, the President tends to play different parties against each other, what is your view on this?
That was a term used by Mahinda Rajapaksa in playing one against the other. When he wants something not to be done, he uses on side and says I can’t do it then he uses the other side and says they want me to do it. Now all sides are saying no and he is caught in the middle. Now the heterogeneous alliance is collapsing; but not just the sparks flying in the alliance, but within the SLFP itself.
We have Maithripala Sirisena who is the General Secretary of the party and the possible prime minister saying that he feels his life is in danger and I am being taken to task. If he says that, then can you imagine what the innocent people of this country and members of the opposition are facing?
Is there anything more that I need to say, to prove that the alliance is in splinters? In this context we have a disunited opposition that is getting together at this moment. We had a disunited opposition that is uniting very quickly, there were irritants here and there, but they are being ironed out.
Q: Earlier you mentioned a disunited opposition, why is it that the UNP has failed to appoint a deputy leader as yet?
Each party has its own issues, the government can’t decide on a Prime Minister and they are trying to concentrate power into one family. The UNP is a professional party that believes in efficiency, it is not a party that believes in family bandyism.
It is a party with proven ability and gives the opportunity for the best to come forward. Most positions have been filled and it is the responsibility of the leader and I have the utmost confidence that the leader will fill that position accordingly, to cause a radical difference and give a new look to the party.
Q: The decision is solely in the hands of the leader then?
No, if that was the case he would have appointed someone sooner. He is a very careful leader, who gets attacked because he takes ultra precautions. We need someone in the position who can work together with the leader, not someone who says inside a meeting “I will work with you” and then goes out and does what he likes. It has to bring collectability and national acceptability and it has to have international respectability.
We are at the tail end of making the decision, we were disunited but we have now united ourselves for the single reason that the people are suffering and it beholds on us to give the people good leadership. I think it is the right time, we have to say sorry for what has not been done and go forward.
Q: What is your opinion about new politico-religious movement Bodu Bala Sena?
I think that it is all the government, what they cannot say they get this other group to say on their behalf. What I suggest is that the government has lost every sense of credibility they have and now they have started religious extremism.
This is the same style of the government playing different parties against each other in the heterogeneous alliance. Like this story of the economic hit-man. You have Cabinet Minister Wimal Weerawansa calling P.B Jayasundere an economic hit-man; the minister is saying this because he can’t say anything against the President who is the Minister of Finance. Why is this selected economic hit-man, what about the information that we have given to the Bribery and Corruption Commission about the Governor of the Central Bank? When we said this three or four years ago they said it was nonsense and the Opposition trying to run the economy down.
Is it that they have run the economy down and now they want to change the approach and they are making this accusation? If that is the case, and they were able to remove the chief justice of this country within 24 hours, then why can’t they get rid of the PB, in one hour?
They are trying to fool the people, look at the waste by this government and the issues that are having an impact on the debt crisis; Hambantota Port 68 Billion, Airport 38 Billion, the Southern Expressway was 48 Billion when we finally got the money from the ADB and the final cost was 98 Billion, the Katunayaka expressway in 1988 was 6.8 Billion and now they say it will be 48 Billion to complete it, even if you adjust for inflation this is unreasonable, because the people’s salaries have not increased by the same amount. Is this the sustainable economic development that this government is talking about?