- Spells out what he would do in case he is picked as presidential candidate
- Explains what he would do regarding his US citizenship
- Emphasizes the need for strong leadership and political stability
We should not get involved in super power rivalries. As a small country, if we get involved in these rivalries, we would be in trouble.
Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in an interview with the Daily mirror , spoke about his future plans and the way forward for the country. Excerpts:
QThere is a lot of talk about you being chosen as the presidential candidate. Has anyone actually approached you to be the candidate for the presidency?
No. But, there is talk. I think there is enough time- one and half years- to decide on that. It depends on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has to decide who the best candidate is. He knows who is the most suitable one who can win.
QUnder the current circumstances, what do you feel about that role?
The best person to be the candidate is none other than former President Rajapaksa. He is the person who has the public support, popularity and the leadership needed at this juncture. He has the experience. Unfortunately, he cannot contest for the presidency because of the 19th Amendment. Then, you have to find the next best person. Anyone who obtains his support will be able to win.
Q In case, you are handpicked as the candidate are you ready to take up the challenge?
If he thinks that I should contest, I have to come forward. I think I am capable of doing so.
QYet, there is a barrier for you because you are dual citizen also having citizenship in the United States. How do you address this?
Again, because of the 19th Amendment, I cannot contest as things are at the moment. Yet, if the former President’s choice is me, I have to go through the process of renouncing dual citizenship.
Q What is that process actually?
It depends on me. There is a process. But, it is a very clear and short process.
QApart from that, what is your opinion on the recent outbreak of communal violence in Kandy?
If you browse the newspapers, you find incidents all over the country, not in Kandy alone. Murders, robberies are everywhere. There is a definite breakdown in the rule of law. I think that is the main reason. As for the Kandy incidents, there could have been quicker and faster actions taken to prevent them. As far as I know, the incident took place between two parties. There was one week gap until the first incident and the death of that person. I do not think that the Government took enough precautionary measures. When an incident of that nature takes place, anybody can anticipate that there could be reaction from the other side. They should have taken quick action to stop it. May be, the incident was not taken seriously. Or else, information about the incident had been sent to the relevant persons. I think there was a lapse on this regard.
QSome people say the intelligence authorities failed to sense the impending danger. As the former Defence Secretary, what do you feel about it?
They must be referring to the police intelligence. It is not the duty of other intelligence agencies to cover that area. But, we had a very good intelligence service previously. We were capable of handing similar situations. They had tackled more serious situations back then. If there had been a lapse on the part of the intelligence authorities, again, the Government is to blame. This Government was undermining the work of intelligence agencies. There were certain incidents taking place. The effect of the intelligence service has been undermined. That is the reason for the lethargy or the weakness on the part of the intelligence services.
QSimilar violence broke out in Aluthgama and Beruwala during the time the last regime. You were accused of backing Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) that instigated the violence. How do you respond?
That is not correct. If you look at the history, communal violence has been taking place for many years. What is more important is whether the Government concerned was able to respond to such incidents during such times. When the Aluthgama incident unfolded, we took immediate action and were able to control the situation. The Government had nothing to do with BBS. That was a myth created by the then opposition. I am not in anyway connected with BBS. Now, you can see things happening. You can see who is behind such organizations.
The politicians are trying to take advantage by putting the blame on us.
QYet, there was a failure on the part of the previous Government to take preemptive measures?
You have to understand the position of the Government at that time. You cannot say that we did not take any preemptive action. Action you take has to be justified by the Government. You cannot just go and arrest people without a reason. We took many precautionary measures. We never encouraged people to do any of these things.
I took a lot of action to control the situation. I had several meetings with different sections of the Muslim community. I met their clergy and business community. I met not only BBS priests, but also other eminent Buddhist monks. I brought both the parties to the table. It was not merely about taking legal action. There is something more to it. We discussed measures to take control of the situation and build an understanding between the communities. We had many discussions on this regard.
QIn your view, what should be done to avoid the recurrence of such incidents in the future?
You cannot explain it in one word. It is a matter of understanding among all the communities. You cannot put the blame on one community. If there is any reaction from the majority community, it is not that easy to instigate people to do something like this. There are elements on both sides, that are radical or extreme. The majority of the people of both communities are not extremists. The majority of the people of both communities don’t have radical ideas. Both communities should understand the situation and not leave room for radical elements. I think the community leaders must take action to understand each other and to take advice from the religious and community leaders in areas where the minorities are concentrated.
QDo you see that Sri Lanka is under the threat of international terrorism?
What is happening in the world today is anyway affecting any country. Anybody can read what is happening all over the world thanks to the latest technology and social media. Something affecting another country can make an impact on Sri Lanka as well. The Government intelligence agencies should be conscious of this fact. I do not see this (The security factor).
- As for the Kandy incidents, there could have been quicker and faster actions taken to prevent them
- This Government was undermining the work of intelligence agencies
- We need to introduce legislation to protect Government servants
- I do not understand the difference between a good politician and a good administrator
- But, he (Mahinda Rajapaksa) conducted the war very efficiently because he was listening
Q Now, you are being seen as the presidential candidate by some in the country. People say that you are only an administrator, not a politician. How do you respond?
I do not understand the difference between a good politician and a good administrator. A good politician is a person who is administering a country.
QThey must be talking about party politics in the present sense
May be, I am not a politician. I have never been a politician.
Q How would you fit into the shoes of a politician?
That may be a very difficult situation for anybody. All over the world, there is a trend that traditional politicians are rejected. It looks like they are being rejected not only in Sri Lanka, but also in the UKL, France, the US, Germany etc. People want non-traditional politicians. People tend to select such nontraditional politicians. It is up to them, after becoming politicians, to get adjusted to that position. I do not understand the kind of special qualities other than what a leader has. What matters most is leadership qualities be it a politician, manager or a military officer. That is the main qualification.
QWhat is the advice you were given by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is your brother?
What I have learned from him is about leadership qualities. I have learned a lot from him. He is a team player. He listens to others. A person cannot be an expert in everything. One can be an expert in one thing, not in everything. To run a country, you have to listen to the people. You have to get advice from people. He is a person who is ready to do it. He is a good decision maker. Once he decides on something, he is very clear. For example, he is not a military man. But, he conducted the war very efficiently because he was listening.
When listening to the speeches by powerful Government ministers, it is very clear that they are trying to stop certain people coming forward
QDo you fear that you would be incarcerated by the Government ahead of the Presidential Elections?
That I do not know. When listening to the speeches by powerful Government ministers, it is very clear that they are trying to stop certain people coming forward. They took action to stop the former President coming forward. There is a lot of talk to strip him of his civic rights. They have a lot of cases against me and Mr. Basil Rajapaksa. By taking undemocratic action you cannot prevent people from selecting a person. If they think that they can cling on to power forever by doing so, it is not correct.
In the world, there were powerful people who tried to remain in power forever. They failed. Ultimately, it is the people’s wish. If they prevent me or the former President, people would select another. They will always find a leader. This is still a democratic country. Nobody can go against the will of people. It is futile to take such action.
Q If you become the President, what would you do to get the economy out its current mess?
This is a very challenging thing for any leader. Whatever anyone might say in the Government, the Rajapaksa Government was able to end the war that prevailed for 30 years. We created an environment for the development of the country. We were lagging behind mainly because of the war. We took certain steps to develop the country. We were able to bring foreign investment. We started by developing infrastructure, roads and seaports. The new Government stopped development work, especially the ones launched with Chinese assistance. For some reason, the Port City project was held back for two and half years. They delayed the second phase of the Hambantota port Project. By stopping these development projects, the Government retarded the economic growth. The Government could not rectify it.
It is challenging for the upcoming Government to rectify this situation. There are things you can do. First, there has to be political stability with strong leadership and investor confidence has to be instilled. During our time, we were able to bring a lot of investment to Sri Lanka- Shangri-La, TATA etc. When an investor comes, he should see a stable Government. You have to take quick action to solve their issues. That machinery is not in operation today. You have to create an environment to attract foreign investment. You have to encourage investors. Research and development is a key area this country needs. That project is not moving forward. There are many local entrepreneurs who can kick-start or drive the economy.
You can learn a lot from countries such as Japan, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and South Korea. These countries had strong political leadership. Behind these leaders, there were local entrepreneurs and technocrats who developed the country. It is not merely the leaders only. We talk about Singapore’s Li Quan Yu, General Park in South Korea, Suharto in Indonesia and Deng Xiaoping in China. Behind these political leaders, there were technocrats who were responsible for the development of those countries. Now, the situation is different in the world. The low cost manufacturing economy is gone. We have to consider our areas of strength. We have to consider high skilled industries for the development of our economy. We have to use these knowledge-based industries. For that, we need to have a good industrial policy. It is very challenging. We have skilled people. We cannot be satisfied with low income and labour intensive industries.
QThe other problem that was experienced during the latter half of the previous Government is India’s concerns about Chinese investments here. It was seen as the reason for India’s subtle moves to bring down that Government. Have you mended fence with India?
That is a difficult thing to do while being in the opposition. The present Government fears that any other country, be it India or anyone, would speak to someone connected the previous Rajapaksa Government. It is very difficult to clarify these things. Everybody knows that there is a geopolitical situation in the region. Sri Lanka is positioned strategically in the Indian Ocean region though it is a small country. We know that China has emerged as an economic power. It is trying to become a military power as well. When China becomes a super power, they would have certain issues. They are keen on keeping open the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is a very important region. India also shows interest in it. We must be neutral in this region in which many powers interested. We should not get involved in super power rivalries. As a small country, if we get involved in these rivalries, we would be in trouble. Ultimately the present Government has been involved in super power rivalries unnecessarily. That has also created difficulties for anybody to come.
Though we received a lot of assistance from China, we never got them permanently involved here. We were conscious about what India was saying. Leasing out the Hambantota Port, it has created a grave situation. I am sure India is concerned about it.
Also, leasing out the Mattala Airport and Trincomalee Seaport to India is an invitation for unnecessary trouble. Sri Lanka’s future leaders would have a difficult job as a result.
QWhat are the other aspects you intend to rectify?
There is another mistake done by the Government. They have inflicted fear in the Government service. Officials do not take decisions and implement them because of the fear they have for the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID). We need to introduce legislation to protect Government servants.