Q. The Universities have now been closed for over three months, in which areas has the government fallen short when dealing with this crisis?
I really don’t think the government understands the problem and neither does it have the political will to resolve this problem. The government doesn’t understand the demands of the Federation of University Teachers' Associations (FUTA), they are merely looking at it as a struggle for higher wages, but the struggle has now taken on a wider significance—simply because they are now fighting for the very survival of the educational system.
I would say that one has to see what is happening with FUTA, as well as other spheres, in the background of what has happened in this country in the last several years—especially since the end of the war. Many people celebrated the end of the war, because they thought they would be able to reap the benefits of the peace dividend and achieve the development that has eluded us ever since independence. People hoped that these benefits would be seen in the health sector and the education sector.
However, three and a half years later everyone is left to question where the peace dividend has gone. We are now worse off than before. The peace dividend has not materialised at all, except for about one percent of the population, who are orbiting around the centre of power. A few individuals and the stock market mafia are doing well—people are left to question how it is that these people are making so much of money, while the rest of the country is suffering, hardships like never before.
The education system is facing severe challenges like never before, the health sector is being plagued by corruption and misuse of power and the rule of law is non-existent. Therefore this FUTA issue has come about due to the people’s dissatisfaction with the overall management by this government.
Even the services which were being maintained with difficulty during the period of the war are now being cutback on severely. The education sector is only 1.8 per-cent, we all know this now because of FUTA, whereas for the Maldives it is over 5 per-cent. There was a time when the prominent leaders of the Maldives received their education in Sri Lanka, the way matters are progressing we might end up having to send our students to the Maldives.
In my mind, we are purposely and cynically running down the education system in this country, because this government is frightened by intelligent people, this government is afraid of academics. This government appreciates brawn and not brains.
If we took the money that we lost in the hedging deal and channelled it towards education I think that we could have averted this crisis. The recurrent expenditure of the universities could have been increased by 4 per-cent, if this loss had not been incurred.
Q. The UNP has expressed its support to the FUTA and this has drawn criticism that the UNP is trying to piggy-back on the support that FUTA is able to command. How do you respond to this?
No, as a responsible political party, one does have to hitch-yourself to the political movements and problems of the day. If you actually avoid such an issue then you are being a very irresponsible opposition. As the main political party and the government in waiting we have a duty to the people of this country, to support to this cause, which we have done totally—I don’t see anything wrong with this. Further the UNP has a very good track record, as far as education goes—C.W.W Kanangara was a UNP Minister.
If the government was politically astute they too would have taken up this issue.