Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella, in an interview with Daily Mirror aired his views on the current status of politics in the country and the progress made in constitution making. He also made his stand clear on the SAITM issue. Following are excerpts of the interview.
Q The Unity Government has completed two years. What should be the way forward now?
Definitely, the MoU will be extended. I have no doubt about it. It will be done so that this union continues till 2020.
Q You speak with such confidence about it. What is the reason?
There is no alternative for the country other than having a Unity Government. It will proceed even beyond 2020.
Q Does it mean that there will be a strong political understanding between the two parties even at the 2020 Elections?
Yes. There is a strong possibility of that. We have unveiled the economic plan for 2025. So, there is a strong possibility that it (MoU) will be extended even beyond 2020. That is the reason for us to launch this programme and extend it till 2025. There is a very good understanding between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. They need each other.
Q How do you review the performance of the Unity Government during the past two years?
Well, we have laid the foundation for rule of law, democracy, human rights, media freedom and ect. The country was in a shambles. What we did during the past two years was laying the foundation for the takeoff. Internationally we didn’t have a reputation by the time we assumed power. The International community is fully behind us. We enacted the 19th Amendment, the Right to Information Act and Independent Commissions. Today, there is a Government which is abiding by the law. I am confident that there will be a strong economic takeoff during the next three years.
Q However, the Ministers are taking on each other in the Unity Government. It has hampered the decision making process. How feasible is the Unity Government in that sense?
It is not a single party Government. It’s a coalition. As a result it is natural to have problems. We can experience verbal attacks. As for the Hambantota Port Agreement, there were conflicting views. Ultimately, adjustments were made. Everyone fell in line finally.
That is continuing. We have no problem regarding power devolution. This is the first time that Tamil parties are involved in the process. Earlier, they were excluded. All the parties have been included this time.
Q With regard to this Government, I can see that the Ministers are still critical of it. How do you view this?
If you are against it, you should speak in the Cabinet about it. There is no point in having press conferences with the view of criticizing. No Minister representing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) criticized the Government, in the Cabinet.
Q After the removal of MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe from the post of Justice Minister and the appointment of a new Minister in his place, the Joint Opposition fears whether the judicial independence will be at stake. What is your view?
A lot of people are mixing up judicial independence with judicial administration. The Government or anyone for that matter can’t interfere with judicial independence. We haven’t done so. The Government has a right to discuss judicial administration.
If you look at the Constitution, it says the judicial power of the people shall be exercised in Parliament through the court. It is the judicial power of the people. When it comes to hearing certain cases related to corruption and frauds, there is a gap of six months between hearing dates. We have a right as legislators to discuss judicial administration. It takes more than ten years to dispense with a murder case. How can you tolerate a situation like this? In recent times, there were concerns that certain important cases were being delayed without a reason. We have a right. People have given us a mandate not to interfere with the judiciary, but to ensure the expedition of cases.
Q In this instance, there is criticism against the Government that it is pushing for the hearing of cases against the members of the Rajapaksa family, but not clearing other cases that are delayed. What is your view?
At the Presidential Elections, people gave us a mandate to pursue certain frauds. We have a clear mandate to ask why these cases are delayed. There is a huge gap between hearing dates. The entire term of the current rule will be exhausted by the time a ruling is given. People who sacked the Chief Justice without any valid reason have no right to talk about the independence of judiciary.
Q The impeached Chief Justice was reinstated after you took over. Actually, it was done based on a point you raised in terms of the Standing Orders governing parliamentary procedures. That is also criticized today. What is your response?
The impeachment motion was one. Then, there should have been a separate motion placed on the Order Paper to remove him. It wasn’t there.
Q How far have you progressed with regard to the Constitution-making process?
That is continuing. We have no problem regarding power devolution. This is the first time that Tamil parties are involved in the process. Earlier, they were excluded. All the parties have been included this time. The SLFP has just presented its proposals. Once we go through these proposals, we can reach a consensus.
I hear that they are against the abolition of the Executive Presidency.
Actually, the SLFP didn’t get a mandate to abolish it. But, the President received a mandate for it. The SLFP has no mandate from the people. They lost both the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. It is the President who has the mandate. He should direct his party on these lines.
We have a right as legislators to discuss judicial administration. It takes more than ten years to dispense with a murder case. How can you tolerate a situation like this? In recent times, there were concerns that certain important cases were being delayed without a reason
Q As far as power devolution is concerned, how far have you progressed with regard to agreeing?
There is a solid agreement in that regard. There is no problem at all.
Q What is your stand?
When Mahinda Rajapaksa was President, he appeared for the maximum devolution of power under the 13th Amendment. He repeated it several times. The Steering Committee is on the same page. There is no problem related to the electoral process.
Q Earlier, there were reports that minor and minority parties are against the proposed electoral process. What is the position now?
We have put them at ease. They will get a higher representation. Under the proposed system, the JVP will get 10 or 11 seats. Now, they have only five. For the same amount of votes polled, they will get 10 or 11 seats under the new method proposed.
Even a country such as Malaysia wanted to emulate us. Today, those countries are well ahead of us. All these happened because they managed their communal problems well by bringing proper constitutions to ensure equality. In Sri Lanka, the parties played politics with race and religion.
Q What about the support for it by the Joint Opposition?
We have said that this chance won’t come again. In 1948, we were the richest country in the world. Everyone wanted to emulate Sri Lanka. Even a country such as Malaysia wanted to emulate us. Today, those countries are well ahead of us. All these happened because they managed their communal problems well by bringing proper constitutions to ensure equality. In Sri Lanka, the parties played politics with race and religion. It led to a war that lasted close to 30 years. We asked the Joint Opposition to consider all these. I hope they will realize.
Q Now there are allegations that the Government is trying to postpone the Provincial Council Elections. What are your views?
We won the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. We will win the Local Government Elections handsomely. There is no doubt about our system. We want to have the same electoral system for Parliament and the Provincial Councils. As you know the Parliamentary Select Committee- that formed the new system for Local Government Elections- was appointed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during his 2002/2004 Government. That committee ultimately introduced this ward system. The same model should be worked out for the Provincial Council and parliamentary elections.
Q There is fear that the elections will be withheld under that pretext. What is your view?
We will conduct the Local Government Elections at the end of the year. The UNP will contest separately.
Q Recently, JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti accused your ministry of overestimating the project for the extension of the Southern Expressway. What is your response to him?
Instead of raising it in public, he should have taken it up at the COPE as its Chairman. The JVP is notorious for sensationalizing issues. He could have got the relevant officials to the COPE and made inquiries. After the new Government assumed office, we experienced floods. Then, we realized the need to develop roads only on elevated pillars at certain stretches to prevent them being inundated. In fact, people in the area wanted us to build roads on columns. So, the new estimates had to be made. It was within the limits of loans.
We won the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. We will win the Local Government Elections handsomely. There is no doubt about our system. We want to have the same electoral system for Parliament and the Provincial Councils.
Q He (Handunnetti) talked about the involvement of a luxury vehicle for a minister, as inducement. How do you respond?
That is all rubbish. All steps have been taken legally. I am asking him to name the Minister responsible. He is relying on secondhand information. He hasn’t yet named the minister.
Q Medical education in the country has been hampered as a result of the SAITM issue. Students boycott lectures. What is the solution to it?
The situation was brought about by university students and the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA). The SAITM came in to existence during the Rajapaksa rule in 2011. No one objected at that time.
The first batch of students passed out from SAITM only after the new Government assumed power. Rajapaksa (Mahinda) even gave a loan to SAITM, running into millions. Now, state medical students ask us to close it down. It’s impossible for us. If we do so, SAITM students will go to court. There is an order by the Appeal Court in our favour. It is now before the Supreme Court. We have to wait for the verdict. Students can’t set educational policies. It should be set by the Government.
Mr.Perfect Thursday, 7 September 2017 20:36
So you must be dreaming of your estimated commissions till 2020.
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