Ranjith Madduma Bandara
"The prices of agriculture products such as rice and maize have increased. It is better for the farmers’ economy. There is a delay in the issuance of fertilizer to farmers, though"
Public Administration Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara in an interview with the Daily Mirror spoke about the current political situation in the country in the run up to the Local Government Elections. He also responded to some remarks made by President Maithripala Sirisena. Following are excerpts of the interview done with Minister Bandara.
The United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) take on each other in the run up to the election. How will it affect the future of the Unity Government?
We spelt it out clearly that we would contest separately despite being together in the Unity Government. Despite the criticism, we have a common objective as far as the Government is concerned. I don’t think that there will be any bearing on it. However, it is up to the President and the Prime Minister to sort out issues and promote unity.
Some UNP MPs often talk about the formation of a UNP Government after the elections. How true is it?
It can be seen in two different ways. It is the sole wish of UNP supporters to form their own Government. We have to decide whether it should be done at this juncture or after a national election. We have to decide when this Government should be formed. The party should have an internal discussion regarding it.
Does it mean that the party will discuss it after the elections?
I think the party should have a serious discussion about it. I do not think statements being made in view of the Local Government Polls, should be taken seriously. It is natural for political parties to make such critical remarks against each other.
You are one of the senior Ministers in the UNP. What is the actual position of the party?
We should have a look at the outcome of this election. The outcome will reflect the standing of each party. It will enable us to make a proper assessment of ourselves.
"We will get more votes than both the SLFP and the SLPP. In certain areas, I see SLPP as the main contender for us"
How do you analyze the progress of the UNP’s election campaign so far?
In Sri Lanka, people entrust the local authorities only in the hands of the party in power. It is clear that a large number of people are rallying behind the UNP. There is a tussle between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Therefore, their people are a disgruntled lot today. They will join hands with us all over the country.
What is the kind of electoral impact caused by the frauds in bond trading under your Government?
Bond fraudsters should be brought to book. There is no second word about it. We were elected to root out corruption and frauds from this society. In the Presidential Commission report that probed the scam, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is absolved of all allegations. It is an advantage for us. However, we have to see how morally acceptable it is to present a report of this nature during the time of an election. In the report, there is reference to the frauds that happened between 2008 and 2015. We insist that those wrongdoers should be exposed.
The President said at a rally in Kegalle that he would take over the conduct of economic affairs after the elections. What do you feel as a UNP Minister?
Only Parliament can take vital decisions related to the conduct of economic affairs. Only Parliament has powers in terms of the Constitution. This is not a problem between the Government and the President. Decisions related to public finance should be taken by Parliament. The President has admitted indirectly that the UNP only carried out development work during the past three years.
You are a Minister representing Monaragala which is an area known for agriculture. What is the attitude of the farming community towards the Government?
The prices of agriculture products such as rice and maize have increased. It is better for the farmers’ economy. There is a delay in the issuance of fertilizer to farmers, though. The relevant authorities should take the responsibility in this regard. No one should blame the fertilizer crisis on the UNP. There are authorities assigned for the import and distribution of fertilizer.
How optimistic are you of this election victory?
We will win with an overwhelming majority of councils. There are no doubts about it. It will be a prelude to the formation of a UNP Government in the future.
PM is absolved of any wrongdoing in the controversial bond transaction
Yet, it is morally unacceptable to present such a report ahead of the election
Only Parliament can take vital decisions related to the conduct of the economy
President has indirectly admitted that the UNP only developed economy during the past three years
Statements made in view of elections should not be taken seriously
UNP and SLFP have common objective in the Government
It is up to the President and PM to promote unity in the Government
You mentioned that the President admitted indirectly that the UNP only carried out development during the past three years. What are those achievements in terms of development?
The country was reeling under the huge debt burden. Even the salaries could not be paid on time. There were delays in paying other allowances. Today, we have managed the economy properly. We have done a lot of work in our areas. We reduced the prices of essential items, fuel etc. This is an achievement by the UNP.
Who is your main competitor in the Moneragala District?
It varies from area to area. The stature of candidate also matters at this election. It goes even beyond the party factor. We will get more votes than both the SLFP and the SLPP. In certain areas, I see SLPP as the main contender for us.
For the first time, there is a new electoral system in place. What is your experience in campaigning under it?
Today, candidates can contest only in a restricted area. First and foremost, we have an independent election commission in place. There is no tussle for posters and decorations. This is a free and fair election. Each electoral ward will return a member to the council.
Yet, the number of members to be elected has increased. What is your view?
These members do not get any allowance as such. Therefore, such big representation is not a problem. If the number is reduced a bit, I think it will be good.
You have been in politics for more than 30 years. How do you see the evolution of the role of local authorities in delivering their services to people?
They are meant to serve people. The last time, it became a source of income generation for some people. Power was abused. We should instill some discipline into local administration. That is to reduce corruption and frauds. There is increased representation for women. It is a plus point.
Actually, I was referring to the kind of services from the local bodies
The local authorities should change in keeping with the economic development of the country. In the past, there were mostly rural areas having scant facilities. Today, the situation is different. Yet, the local administration has not changed. Corruption was rampant during the previous rule.