Uduwatuwage Janath Priya Thilanga Sumathipala tendered his resignation as the Deputy Speaker of Parliament last month after voting in favour of the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sumathipala, who is also the Incumbent President of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), is contesting the upcoming SLC Elections seeking re-election. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Sumathipala aired his views on the dramatic political scenarios and crossovers, his thoughts on resuming work in the capacity of Deputy Speaker, SLFP’s future and Cricket.
- My political strength has been a huge advantage for the SLC
- I don’t have a moral right to remain in the Government now
- Whoever wants to be the next President needs SLFP support
Q Discussions and arguments on curtailing Executive power have again surfaced. Where does the SLFP stand regarding this matter?
The SLFP doesn’t stand exactly where the UNP stands regarding this matter. The SLFP stands firm that there has to be a directly elected President in this country. The power of the President has significantly lessened by now. From the next President onwards, there can’t be any ministry portfolios assigned to the President except the post of State Minister of Defence. It is believed that the Presidential system is good in order to maintain the country’s sovereignty. If executive power is subject to major changes, it will eventually create a political situation tantamount to a federal system.
Q Are you going to resume duties as the Deputy Speaker of Parliament?
I tendered my resignation after I along with several other SLFP Ministers and Parliamentarians, including S.B. Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, Dayasiri Jayasekara and W.D.J. Senaviratne voted in favour of the no-confidence motion against Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe last month. I have informed President Maithripala Sirisena that I want to sit in the Opposition. The President doesn’t want me to step down. For the moment, he is not in agreement with my decision. He requested me to continue as the Deputy Speaker of Parliament despite my decision to step down from the post. I will soon make my final decision after another meeting with the President.
The two main leaders aren’t blending well in this national Government
Q You voted for the removal of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe with whom you are going to have to work again if you decide to resume your duties as the Deputy Speaker. How morally appropriate is it for you to serve under his Government now?
Of course, I believe that I don’t have a moral right to remain in the Government now. My wish now is to play my political role sitting in the Opposition.
Q Then, why are you having second thoughts about your decision to resign?
I had lost my electorate. I came to the Parliament through the national list. If I had won at the elections, I would have taken the decision to resign without having second thoughts. But now, I have a moral obligation not to go against President Sirisena’s word since I was brought into the Parliament on the wishes of the President and through the national list. I believe that I have to consult the President who is my leader before making a decision that affects my political future.
Q Don’t you see any difficulty in resuming duties as the Deputy Speaker?
None at all. I don’t see any problem nor a barricade preventing me from remaining in my post and chairing the Parliament in future. Even the JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti voted against the Prime Minister. Yet, he is still COPE Chairman.
Q UNP Minsters were contemplating on bringing a no-confidence motion against you. What are your comments?
The Government expects me as the Deputy Speaker to take their side when making decisions. But, when an impartial order is given by the Deputy Speaker, the majority of MPs will demand my removal. That was my party’s decision to vote in favour of the no-confidence motion which was brought against the Prime Minister. Unlike the others, for me the party is the priority. I had to follow my party’s decision. Some SLFP MPs abstained from voting. Not a single SLFPer supported the Prime Minister during the no-faith motion. However, I was elected to the post by the Parliament on September 1, 2015 even before the formation of the National Government. Once the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees are appointed by the Parliament, they cannot be removed through resolutions unless they resign as members of the Parliament. As per the Constitution, resignation letters should be tendered not to anyone else, but to the Head of the State; President Maithripala Sirisena.
Q Some UNP ministers affirmed that the Deputy Speaker of Parliament should be unbiased and impartial when taking important decisions within the four corners on the Parliament. Do you think you acted in such manner?
Of course, within the Parliament I have to be very impartial in my decisions. But, all these Parliamentarians are from some political party. Even the Speaker is from the UNP. Since 1972, the Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka was appointed outside the Parliament. But, the current situation is different. W.J.M. Lokubandara and Anura Bandaranaike came from the Opposition and later served as the Speaker. The present Deputy Chairman of Committees is from the TNA. It isn’t about where we come from, but what we do when we are given power in the relevant positions.
Q Your attempt to remove the Prime Minister wasn’t successful. Due to the unsuccessful attempt, many SLFP ministers had to lose their minister portfolios. Any comments?
Our party officially asked him to step down. Even the President wanted him (Wickremesinghe) to step down. But, he did not bother to heed our calls. Since he has shown that he has the support of the majority in Parliament, now he should be allowed to continue. Outside the Parliament there are more serious challenges awaiting him which include; a collapsing economy, the TNA and his agreements with it, the political stability of the Government using UPFA support and the stability of his own party.
Moreover, the general public was concerned about law and order and the cost of living. On the other hand, investments are also not taking place. Small and medium industries aren’t really happy with the Government since money circulation has been severely affected due to tax policies and the new tax reforms. Under this Government, more pressure has been put on local industries. Therefore, they would rather deposit their money instead of investmenting it. The severe effect on money circulation has also impacted the import and export chain. This isn’t the only country available for investors to make investments. If we don’t offer more than what other potential countries are offering, investors become reluctant to invest here. The deduction of personal taxes isn’t going to help the society. In my opinion, corporate tax has to be reduced.
Q What do you see as the biggest challenge the Unity Government is unable to overcome?
When it comes to the stability of the National Government, the two main leaders aren’t blending well, especially when nationally important decisions are taken. Some of these decisions were connected to constitutional changes, changes to the President’s executive power, devolution of power and electoral reforms. It’s obvious that there is no consensus between the two ruling parties, the UNP and the SLFP. However, the Government can continue during the remaining two years since it cannot be dissolved without a two-third majority, obtaining of which is now remote. When core values are not being addressed properly, it looks like we are all pursuing our political ambitions rather than making good governance work.
He is no longer the Malinga whom we used to see
Q During the last Local Government Elections the SLFP experienced a significant drop in popularity. Do you think the party could be brought back to the old position? How?
Definitely. That is my main concern and where my commitment lies right now. We have to rebuild our esteemed party. The SLFP is the leading left party in Sri Lanka. We should not at any cost let it go. Our primary objective is to rebuild our grand old party. The SLFP lost its vote base because its members joined hands with the UNP. As repercussions, for every bad decision taken by the Government, the blame is palmed on the SLFP, even if the SLFP has made no contribution to a particular situation.
The SLFP and the UNP can never work together. We missed the bus! When we had the two-third majority, we could have changed the Constitution without going for a referendum. The past two and half years have not been put to best use in making Constitutional amendments. The Government doesn’t even have the proper two third majority which means it is not easy for any Constitutional changes to come by.
If the SLFP leaves the Government now and runs independently, I am very confident that we will regain our voters and lost popularity. Meanwhile, we are currently working on a new policy framework with regard to the party. We are planning to introduce reforms to the SLFP Constitution before the September 2 Party Convention in order to revive the party. We have realized that the general public is not very frustrated. It is high time they demand a professional political approach. I am sure the SLFP can offer it. Neither the UNP nor the SLPP is in the middle path of approaching matters. Whoever wants to be the next President , needs SLFP’s support. We are the ones who are going to decide who will be the best person to do a better job and transform Sri Lanka into a better place. We will be the most influential party in deciding who should be the best candidate.
Q How ethical is it for a politician to be the head of Sri Lanka Cricket?
A number of politicians including Gamini Disssnayake, Tyrone Fernando, N.M.Perera and J.R.Jayewardene served as presidents of SLC. Although many aren’t aware I was a first class cricket player while in school. I was the Vice Captain of my school cricket team. I have lived a life associated with cricket. Not only that I entered politics after becoming SLC President. I was able to bring finances into the SLC because of the negotiations I personally had with Government institutes. Therefore, my political strength has been a huge advantage for the SLC.
Q You as SLC President are very confident about being reelected. Isn’t there a conflict of interest since there are allegations that you have connections with the gaming industry?
This is the same allegations levelled against me by those who are outside the gate of the SLC and cannot win at the SLC Elections. Their ultimate goal is to sling mud at me. I don’t have any direct connections with betting industry. I have already disclosed my assets and income in Parliament. I am free to be a part of the SLC. As far as I am concerned, there is no such conflict of interest.
Q There has been public criticism demanding your resignation as SLC President after the Sri Lankan team experienced losses repeatedly. Still, you are contesting for another term. Don’t you care about the demands of people?
As the President of SLC, obviously I am also not happy with the performance of the team. I know that our team is better than what the rankings indicate. With the best coach possible, Hathurusinghe, offering his services, we are rectifying all shortcomings. Attention has to be paid to the T20 matches.
Q How confident are you that you will get re-elected as the SLC President?
People are with me. I am so popular among the SLC staffers. People want me back. I have got plenty of support within my institution. I don’t think that there is a contestant who is able to beat me.
Q If elected, what will be your plans for the next ICC World Cup?
Sri Lankan team has a very good chance of winning the upcoming World Cup. Our players are slowly peaking. Support will be given to the head coach to make sure we are consistent.
The SLC is now in a very strong financial position. We have over two billion rupees in the reserve. The highest ever annual revenue in SLC history (six million rupees) was made during last year. I have given a directive to increase the salaries of our cricketers by 34 percent so that it will serve as motivation and encouragement.
Ranjan Ramanayakeis just a film star
Q On the subject of wasting money, Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake recently exposed corruption and waste allegedly taking place at SLC during past two years. Are you aware of those allegations and are they true?
Who is Ranjan Ramanayake? What does he know about cricket? He is just a film star. He is desperately trying to seek attention and popularity by talking about cricket. Ranjan is a politician who says things which are not substantial. He doesn’t understand law. The SLC is an institution which comes under the observation of the Government Auditor General’s Department. Has he (Ranjan) ever run at least a small boutique? It is a known fact that people connected with the film industry are used by others to fulfill their agendas. Those who are going behind Ranjan are disgruntled.
Q What kind of support do you think you would garner from the new Minister of Sports Faiszer Musthapha?
Mr. Musthapha is a very intelligent President’s Counsel. He completely understands the Sports Law. Having him is a huge strength for us. His approach is different to Former Sports Minister Dayasiri’s. Minister Musthapha is inclined towards policy level not the operational level. We will have to wait and see how he is going to handle the affairs. So far, he has been very supportive of me.
Q Lasith Malinga who was the highest T20 wicket taker was dropped for the Nidahas Trophy during which our team failed to enter the final. What really happened to him?
The selectors have no confidence in him at the moment. What is our future with him? I don’t think he would play in the upcoming ICC World Cup.
Q Why have selectors lost confidence in him?
He doesn’t have the speed in his bowling like in the past. Therefore, the selectors aren’t very happy with him. I gave him seven matches and he was giving away a lot of runs. In our hearts Malinga is a brilliant player. He is not even playing in the domestic tournament in India. He was dropped from the IPL this time. How can we have in the national side a player who does not have a place in a domestic team? It shows that he is no longer the Malinga whom we used to see and love. But, we should not forget his services.
Q He has recently said that he wants to make a comeback. Your comments?
Maybe he wants to play again. We cannot deprive another young player the chance by opting for Malinga. He is now 34-years-old. Every player has to understand that one day he has to leave the game. Unless he comes and attends practices, plays in some national or international level Cricket tournaments and performs, the selectors are not willing to give him a chance.
Q Recently, former Sri Lanka Cricket Captain Kumar Sangakkara said that the SLC Constitution should be changed. Do you see the need for a big change in the SLC Constitution?
As every Constitution needs change with the passing of time, this theory is relevant to the SLC as well. Minister Musthapha told me that he wants the SLC to appoint selectors. Nowhere in the world, does a politician approve the team and selectors. The Minister said that the Sports Law has to be changed. We will discuss about these changes in the future. I am sure Sangakkara will have good ideas that can be implemented if the SLC Constitution undergoes changes.