In the aftermath of the unsuccessful No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by the Joint Opposition, the Daily Mirror spoke to Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Chandima Weerakkody, who supported the motion, on the repercussions of the NCM in the Unity Government, in the JO and in the breakaway group of the SLFP.
- The LG polls results remain in the domestic political arena to identify the thinking pattern of voters.
- We are going to discuss this issue in the Central Committee on Monday and I hope we can have a, clear picture
- The Employment Linked Training Purchase (ELTP) project launched last year has already expanded to 21 private establishments and trained 1,278 youths
Q The UNP says that the Joint Opposition suffered a major setback with the defeat of the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Do you agree?
You will have to ask this question from the Joint Opposition as we have nothing to do with it. We in the SLFP are not in cahoots with the JO because we are the members of the SLFP under our leader President Maithripala Sirisena.
But we voted in favour of the No-Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe simply because the allegations contained in the NCM were in line with our policies and fight against corruptions. You know that 13 out of 14 allegations against Prime Minister were related to Central Bank bond scam. You may remember that it was General Secretary of the UPFA, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera who lodged the complaint to the Bribery Commission in 2016 on the bond scam. Therefore, we voted for the motion and were able to create a big split in the UNP over the issue.
Q Based on the SLPP’s argument that the people’s mandate given to President Maithripala Sirisena and the UNF in the Presidential and Parliamentary polls in 2015 was negated after the huge victory by the SLPP at the LG polls this year, the UNP now says that the February 10 LG polls victory of the SLPP also got invalidated with the defeat of the NCM. What do you have to say?
Technically, President Maithripala Sirisena was elected the Executive President by over 6.2 million people in the country for 6 years in January 2015 and later the term of office of the President restricted to five years under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. As such, the mandate given to President Sirisena in January 2015 will run up to January 2021 and that cannot be changed in a political or Constitutional manoeuvring. His five-year mandate as President expires only in January 2020. The LG polls results remain in the domestic political arena to identify the thinking pattern of the people. Yes, the SLPP recorded a comprehensive victory on January 10 but that does not invalidate the mandate given to President Sirisena or the limited mandate given to the UNP and the SLFP in Parliamentary polls held in August 2015.
Don’t forget that we are a Parliamentary democracy. This is the policy followed by any other democracy on mid-term election results. I would like to remind you of a universally accepted policy in a participatory democracy that requires that the incumbent Government must review its policy and introduce necessary changes in governance if and when it gets beaten in a mid-term poll, be it a local Government poll or a by-election.
Q The UNP’s victory margin is significant with a majority of 46 votes. Your comments?
I don’t think so. But, yes, the NCM was beaten with a 46 vote majority. At the same time, you must keep in mind that there were 102 out of 224 who did not support Prime Minister in the 225 Parliament with Speaker taking no side. I think the biggest achievement for the JO is the snatching the two-thirds majority away from the UNP led Unity Government which they thought they enjoyed.
There are also other controversial and secretive factors that have led to the defeat of the NCM.
I don’t want to comment further on these issues but I think they will come to open before long after the euphoria of the victory evaporates.
Q Why the 16 SLFP Ministers, State and Deputy Ministers, still hang onto their posts after they voted in favour of the NCM?
Not at all. None of us want to cling onto our posts. We are ready to leave our posts immediately after our party leader President Sirisena advises us to do so. We discussed the matter with him and he asked us not to take a hasty decision and remain in our posts because it was him who appoints us. We don’t want to remain in our positions a minute further if and when President Sirisena asks us to leave.
The SLFP members consented to take up positions in the ‘Yahapalana Government’ on the advice of the President Sirisena and approval of the Central Committee of the party. If we are to leave the Government the same procedure has to be followed. It is as simple as that.
Q The President appoints Ministers after discussing the portfolios with the Prime Minister. Can you all sit in a cabinet with Mr Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister?
We, the SLFP members are a coalition partner and we are supposed to stick to the policies of the Unity Government. We try our best to conduct ourselves according to the policies of the Unity Government and most importantly to our conscious as long as we could. But in the current political situation in the country, you will have to act at the right time and at the right place.
Q Your grievance was that you could not support a Government any further if Mr Wickremesinghe remained as the PM. Now what?
We voted in favour of the NCM based only on the allegations that had been levelled against Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on the Central Bank bond scam.
The SLFP Central Committee closely reviewed the recommendations of the 11 member Parliamentary Committee of the SLFP, headed by Minister and Senior Vice President Nimal Siripala De Silva. This committee was appointed by the party leader, President Sirisena on our request. Allegations in the NCM were almost based on the recommendations of this committee.
Therefore, it is quite obvious that we could not vote against the NCM. We have a duty and a responsibility to fulfil the aspirations of our voters and as such you will see we have no other option but to vote in favour of the NCM.
Q But, what about the self-respect, dignity and decency of those who are hanging onto their posts even after suffering a heavy defeat at the NCM debate?
As I told you earlier, we are ready to leave our positions in the Government soon after the SLFP leader, President Sirisena asks us to do so. However, we are going to discuss this issue in the Central Committee on Monday and I hope we can have a clear picture on the fate of 16 SLFP Ministers, State Ministers and Deputy Ministers after that. Therefore, the issue of dignity or self-respect does not arise.
Q Your own colleagues in the Cabinet, who abstained from voting at the NCM, say that the real target of the NCM was President Maithripala Sirisena and not Mr Wickremesinghe. Your comments?
Any one is free to read the Constitution. An Executive President cannot be removed with an NCM passed in Parliament and an NCM cannot be brought against an Executive President in the first place. It is very unfair, illogical and indecent to say that the NCM targeted President.
Q Whatever said and done and whatever positions were taken by political parties, the President and Prime Minister, don’t you feel it is extremely difficult for the SLFP Ministers to cohabit with the UNP Ministers in the cabinet and all others members opposed to you in Parliament in governance?
We challenge the proponents to go ahead with their NCM against us and take it in Parliament as early as possible. We also challenge them to form their own Government if possible. However, as I said earlier we leave the Government when President Sirisena and the Central Committee of the SLFP want us to do so.
Q Don’t forget that the Yahapalana Government has more than two years more. Are you, with the support of the SLPP, attempting to snatch a Parliamentary or Presidential poll before 2020?
Constitutionally, it is not possible as no one enjoys a two-thirds majority in Parliament now. President Sirisena has the power to dissolve Parliament only after February 2019. Let’s wait and see what the Government, the UNP and the SLFP shape up for the most crucial elections scheduled to be held in 2020. I think you will be able to have an apprehension on the pattern of future domestic political shape up from the results of the forthcoming Provincial Council polls.
Q I feel you are not satisfied with your portfolio of Skills Development and Vocational Training. Am I right?
No. I really enjoy my job as the Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training because my Ministry is the State body that shapes the future of the millions of youth in the country.
For instance, the policy of my Ministry is to develop a culture whereas our youth don’t go after employers or politicians to secure a job but to make them as a marketable asset in the job market with value-added qualifications.
They simply create a demand for themselves and in a position to bargain for their salary and other benefits when appearing before an interview board. The Employment Linked Training Purchase (ELTP) project launched last year has already expanded to 21 private establishments and trained 1,278 youths in construction, engineering and service sectors and another 586 have obtained highly paid jobs after training.