Labour and Trade Union Relations Minister John Seneviratne, in an interview with the Daily Mirror, stresses that the economy of the country is in ruins and the President should intervene to resurrect it.
- President should take control of it
- SLFP can never come back to power unless it is united
- Yet, there is little time in Cabinet for us to discuss it
- I tried hard to bring about unity
- Theoretically, SLFP is also collectively responsible for it
- President should translate his words into action after the election
Q As a senior Minister of the SLFP, how realistic is President Maithripala Sirisena’s assertion that he would take over the supervision of the economy?
The way the economy is handled is attributed to the parlous economic situation of the country. When you go to the villages, people take up their objections with the Government because the cost of living is very high. Their income is very much restricted. People find living extremely difficult. It has become very bad for them. It shows the economy is not functioning well. For this state of affairs, the public keep on blaming the Government. Maybe, the President has been convinced that the state of affairs should be arrested. He must take over the major control of the economy. He will try to bring order in the economy.
Q Are you in support of that idea?
I also feel it. There must be a change or difference now. The state of affairs that existed has not done any good for people.
Q If you want to take over the operation of economic affairs, you will have to take over key Ministries, which are at present with the UNPers. How is it possible?
I really do not know what the President meant when he said this. He need not essentially take over the Ministries to take control of the economy. All that he needs to do is to bring all these Ministers under his wing. He needs to avoid decisions being taken in a manner detrimental to the country’s economy.
Q Will these UNP Ministers fall in line with the President’s way of thinking?
Then, of course, the President will be compelled to take alternative action.
Q Like what?
Changing the Cabinet.
Q That again has to be done in consultation with the Prime Minister in accordance with the 19thAmendment?
Of course, it has to be done accordingly. I do not think the Prime Minister would stand on the way of rehabilitating the economy, the sick economy of the country, I would say. I am sure the Prime Minister would extend his support if such measures offered better prospects for people.
Q The UNP argues that the SLFP, as the principal party of the Government, should also be held responsible if there is malfunctioning of the economy. What is your view?
If you go by the theory of collective responsibility, the SLFP Ministers are also responsible for it, including me. In the Cabinet, these matters are often discussed. Yet, in the Cabinet, we get very limited time to discuss these matters. Real decisions have to be taken by those who contemplate them. They must discuss such measures with experts. Thereafter, the Cabinet paper has to be promulgated and forwarded to the Cabinet. We have very little time to discuss these matters. Although it is said that we are collectively responsible, there are instances we have to oppose.
Q How do you assess the progress of the election campaign?
I think SLFP - led alliance and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) are sharing equally. In the urban areas and the areas where there is a concentration of minorities, the SLFP is scoring heavily. The SLPP is doing better in rural areas. It is extremely difficult to fathom the final outcome. Disgruntled UNPers are also leaving their party these days.
Q The President attacked the UNP right throughout. How will it affect the UNP in your view?
Well, the majority of SLFPers who voted us at the last elections do not like this coalition with the UNP. That has been their clamour. When the President attacked the UNP, he showed the distinction between the UNP and the SLFP. Then, people who voted for the SLFP would be happy.
Q The Joint Opposition said the series of attacks by the President on the UNP is a mere drama staged for a distraction of voters aim at the forthcoming Local Government elections. How do you view it?
One cannot blame the President. His role as the SLFP leader falls outside the precincts of the position as the President. He has to ensure the victory of the SLFP above others at a time when the party is divided and the SLPP is harping on him. The President is a seasoned politician, who knows what he does and talks. SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris is not very happy with the President for the reason that his expectation to get into Parliament on the National List was not realised.
Q Do you believe whether the President will translate his words into action after the elections?
He has to do it. Mere talks will not help him in the long run.
Q Will you be prevailing upon him to translate his words into action?
Of course, we will extend whatever cooperation we can, for the implementation of those steps. We will have to help him for the betterment of the country.
Q What do you think of the unity of the party?
The SLFP will never come back to the office unless the party is united. That has to be accepted by the leaders of both factions.
I also played an important role in trying to bring these factions together. The senior members of the SLFP and those senior members in the Joint Opposition were of the opinion that we should be united. Unfortunately, the most of the elements, which were opposed to it, were newcomers to Parliament. Also, people with self-interests were against such unity.
Q Will you be trying for that unity after the election again?
We have to harness the potential for it.
Q Some SLFP Ministers said that the President should be the next Presidential Candidate of the party. What is your view?
Well, I do not know whether the President has decided to contest. He has not yet announced it. If he chooses to contest, then, we will have to back him. If he does not want to contest in keeping with the assurances given by him at the last election, we will have to go for another candidate.
Q Do you have someone in mind?
I do not have. I will support whom the party selects.
Q Earlier, in the wake of the bond scam, you sought some information regarding misappropriation of money from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF). Have you received any information from the Central Bank?
So far, I did not receive any information. Of course, we have received some information regarding taxes imposed on the EPF. We are having a committee called the Labour Advisory Committee and the representatives of employers and the trade union leaders and the high officials of the Ministry meet and discuss matters pertaining to labour.
At several meetings, the question of EPF money being swindled has been discussed. They are very much concerned about this.