Dr. Harsha de Silva
Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, in an interview with Daily mirror , responded to remarks made by President Maithripala Sirisena on the status of the economy. He said that the two leaders would continue to govern the country till 2020 or even beyond.
QPresident Maithripala Sirisena spoke about taking control of the economy after the elections. He expressed his displeasure in economic terms over the performance of the Government during the last three years. Your response?
We have a vision which is 2025. We have a clear path in moving forward. We stated about this vision because we have an eight-year plan. We have a hurdle called 2020. We will clear the 2020 hurdle. I am looking at 2025.
QBut, the President, after considering the past performances, is now vowing to take control of the economy. What is your view?
That isn’t what he means. After he said this, I physically sat with him and spoke with him. What he meant was this. He had slight worries regarding the cost of living. Some local entrepreneurs were leaving Sri Lanka. He wanted them to remain in Sri Lanka and prosper. He wanted more focus on the rural economy. That is agriculture. He told me that he never meant to take over the Ministries administering economic affairs. He only said that everybody should work with the National Economic Council. It is headed by the President with the participation of the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, the Central Bank Governor, the Ministry Secretary etc.
There is a Secretary attached to this body. His name is Lalith Samarakoon whom I know very well. I had a meeting with him. He has an academic background.
QBut the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) headed by the Prime Minister has been calling the shots in economic affairs so far?
The CCEM looks at policy issues, some complications in the execution of projects. It takes decisions accordingly with the line ministers. I, along with the officials, have fruitful discussions. After that the decisions are referred to the Cabinet. The Cabinet approves these decisions. The CCEM doesn’t work outside the Cabinet.
Mr. Lalith Samarakoon also sits with the CCEM. What he does is represent the President’s views regarding the CCEM matters, actually not all of
- President never intended to take over Ministries
- There is more than an element of truth in what President said about frauds in tea and the pepper re-export business
- Average Cost of Living dropped in January despite various allegations
- Cabinet Committee on Economic Management headed by PM never excluded President’s views
them. He brings observations from the President. Sarath Rajapathirane, who is the Chief Economic Advisor to the President, is a member of the CCEM. The President nor his office has been excluded from the CCEM. I do not see a huge policy clash .
QDoes it mean that the President and the Prime Minister would run the Government together till 2020 or even after?
Most definitely. There is no issue absolutely. We can become prosperous only if we become a player in the global market. There is no other alternative. What former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at that time did was the exact opposite. He brought down exports from 34 percent to 13 percent. Instead, he should have increased it. The fundamental error in economic policy resulted in the debt issue, pressure on the currency and the inability to move. It happened both during Mrs. Bandaranaike’s time and Mr. Rajapaksa’s. You can’t reduce the export component of the economy.
QThe President, at a recent meeting with head of media, said that state revenue had been siphoned off to private individuals with political connections under this Government. How true is it?
I do not know what he meant by it. We didn’t have the opportunity to sit and talk. I would like to get more information to understand what he meant. State revenue must come to the Treasury unless there is a fraud. I am fully in agreement with the President that we have to fight corruption. We have to get rid of corruption and frauds.
QThe President also talked about major rackets in the re-export business of tea and pepper, even sullying the image of such products of Sri Lankan origin under the new Government. What is your response?
There is more than element of truth in it.
QCan you elaborate on it please?
This happened in the trading business of Karunka or dry areca nuts. It happens in the re-export business of pepper, tea etc. Politicians are also involved. I know politicians from all sides. As the President mentioned, some individuals who were involved in corruption and fraud during the previous period, are continuing with their sordid acts.
That doesn’t mean that we should stop the re-export business. I agree with the President when he said there were frauds and the politicians were involved. But, I disagree with the President trying to stop the value added re-export business. You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The tea re-export business of blending is a niche market. As far as pepper is concerned, it was pure corruption. India stopped the acceptance of our pepper at its ports. It is the same with areca nuts. Certain officials were basically sidelined by the corrupt politicians. Sri Lanka has been an emporium right throughout. Our cinnamon found its way to Europe before Christ. It was done by our great kings. Parakramabahu the Great was a trader. The Portuguese, the Dutch and the British traded spices with Sri Lanka. We must not allow crooked elements to sully our good name. Those fellows must be taken to task.
QIf you are aware of such politicians, can you name them?
It should be investigated. The President said this. Then, it should be investigated. He said he would not spare anyone. Then, he should investigate it through the CID.
QHow are you going to contain the cost of living in the wake of another crop failure- the forth in succession?
Actually, I want to show you something. That is to show how misinformed some people are. I know that politicians like Basil Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa are talking about the cost of living going up. They are either ignorant or deceitful. We had adverse weather situations. From January, the average cost of living has come down. It’s not that the inflation came down. Inflation is basically about increasing prices. What is deflation is about prices coming down. We had deflation for the month of January. In January people spent Rs 449 less on food compared to the previous month. In fact, people spent on coconuts Rs.230 less in January when compared to December. Yet, they spent Rs.410 more on non-food items. That is mainly for tuition fees.
QApart from that, how is your party going to implement the recommendations of the Tilak Marapana Committee on the Central Bank Bond Scam?
It has already been implemented.
QDoes it mean that Ravi Karunanayake has been asked to step down?
He has been told not to undertake any activity as the Assistant Leader of the United National Party (UNP). That is what we learned from the statement of party Secretary Kabir Hashim.