- TEA FACTORIES SET ON FIRE DURING 1971, 1981 JVP INSURGENCY
- CONSTITUTION MAKING PROCESS STALLED TO A POINT
- IT CANNOT BE VALUED IN RUPEES AND CENTS
- PEOPLE ARE PAYING RS.450 BILLION TO MAINTAIN CERTAIN INSTITUTIONS
- AS HIGHWAYS MINISTER, I BUILT 700 ROADS IN ALL DISTRICTS
- UNP WILL SUPPORT JVP’S 20 A
Public Enterprise and Kandy City Development Minister Lakshman Kiriella, in an interview with Daily mirror , discusses the proposed plans for restructuring state institutions and the political future of the government. He also responds to allegations about the acquisition of land from the knuckles range.
Q How do you analyze the current status of politics?
Everyone is getting ready for the next presidential election. We want to educate people on our achievements during the past years. We have brought a sense of freedom into the country. The rule of law is widely upheld by the government. We do not interfere with the judiciary. There is no abduction of ordinary people or journalists. Disappearances have ceased to exist. We have the pride of place in the international community. There is press freedom. The Right to Information Act was brought about. It was something opposed by the previous government. Though people look at development in terms of rupees and cents, our achievements are permanent and for the future.
We have the pride of place in the international community. There is press freedom. The Right to Information Act was brought about. It was something opposed by the previous government
Q But, people voted out the UNP at the last local government elections. Why did it happen then?
The local government election is a different dimension. People look at local government issues. At a national election, we are on a sound footing. We have brought a sense of freedom as I said earlier. We introduced decency to governance.
Q There are talks about former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa coming forward as the candidate from the other side. What do you think of his candidacy?
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be the UNP candidate. He is the only leader who has a vision for the country.
Q I am asking about the candidacy of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa...
It is premature for me to comment on it. We do not know whether he will be the candidate or not. We hear about infighting in the Rajapaksa family.
Q At the next Presidential Election, can you bring together all the political parties and forces that were under one banner in view of the Presidential Elections 2015?
I am quite sure. When it comes to the crunch, the United National Front (UNF) that we formed for the last election will remain intact.
Q The President and the Prime Minister harbour animosity. In that sense, is it practically possible?
There will be a candidate from the UNP. The rank and file of the party wants a UNP candidate to be fielded this time.
Q Some UNPers say it is a mistake to have supported common candidates in 2010 and 2015. What is your view?
A lot of UNPers feel that they were played out. Our government has done a lot of work. But, the media campaign to promote our work is not a success. The insurance scheme we introduced is a big boon to school children. It has not been canvassed properly. We brought down the prices of pharmaceuticals. It has not been canvassed. As the Highways Minister, I built 700 roads in all the districts. We have started work on the central expressway. It will open up the entire hill country.
It is going on.
The southern expressway took ten years to be completed. In another three years, we will be able to complete the central expressway. When I assumed office as the Minister of Highways, not a single inch of land had been acquired for the project. After I took office, we acquired 25,000 blocks of land. The Survey Department did a magnificent job in this regard.
The first section of the road project has been given to a Chinese company. They are doing it now. The second section is implemented by a local company. We will give the third section to a Japanese company. There are certain forces, within the government, trying to scuttle the project.
Q Why are they opposed to it actually?
These are the very same people who supported an expressway up to Beliatta. They did so when they were with the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. I can understand an expressway linking Galle and Matara with Colombo. But, no one wanted an expressway to Beliatte other than the Rajapaksas. This is nothing but political hypocrisy(Kuhakakama).
Q There are allegations against the government that it failed to implement the reform agenda, particularly constitutional reforms. What is your view?
This is not a UNP government. This is a government of many parties with diverse views. For example, the UNP is keen to abolish the executive presidency. But, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is not ready for it.
The losses at SriLankan are due to inadvertent procurement. The previous govt purchased 15 aircraft. During the Yahapalana government, they leased them out at far beyond the market values
Q What do you think of the 20th Amendment brought in by the government to abolish the executive presidency?
We, the UNP, will support it. I doubt whether the SLFP would do so.
Q But you play a leading role in the Constitution-making process at the Steering Committee as the Leader of the House...
It was always the SLFP that was pulling our legs. Most SLFP members who represent the Steering Committee left the government. They joined hands with Mahinda Rajapaksa. They are begging MR to accommodate them. What support can we expect from them?
Q Does it mean that the entire process has been stalled now?
It is stalled now, up to a point. We will support the JVP’s move to abolish the executive presidency.
Q Is a new Constitution covering all aspects unlikely now?
It is difficult to achieve because of differences. This is not a government led by the UNP alone. It is a government of many parties as I said.
I can understand an expressway linking Galle and Matara with Colombo. But, no one wanted an expressway to Beliatte other than Rajapaksas
Q The SLFP is still a part of the government. Can’t you prevail upon them?
They are with us superficially. But, their policies are totally different than that of ours. These SLFPers in the government have no future. Even if they join MR, they won’t be elected by people at the election. Some of them would join the UNP.
Q What are your current plans for SriLankan Airlines that comes under your ministry?
It is being restructured. We have appointed a chairman and a new Board of Directors. I have asked them to reduce the volume of losses gradually. It could even be broken in three years.
Q Initially, the target was to find a foreign partner to develop the Airline.
Any progress to it?
We are looking for it. First, the finances of the national career have to be brought under control. Today, it is spilling out of control. Out of the losses, bank interests account for 51%. We are negotiating with the banks to have some concession. We need lesser interests.
Employees are the most important aspect. In 2008, we had a very good profit. The losses are due to inadvertent procurement. The previous government purchased 15 aircraft. During the Yahapalana government, they leased them out at far beyond the market values. These transactions contributed to losses. The last government had made procurement without Cabinet approval. Mihin Lanka is grounded permanently.
People are paying Rs.450 billion to maintain certain institutions. This is the biggest problem for the government. Are we going to continue safeguarding them? This is what people have to decide.
It was always the SLFP that was pulling our legs. Most SLFPers who represent the Steering Committee left the govt. and joined hands with MR
Q Some Ministers complain that officials are reluctant to work fearing being hauled up before the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID). How do you react to it?
That is rubbish. If you act properly, there is nothing to worry. I do not experience any such thing. As for restructuring, no one wanted to take over the estates in the Kandy district. They were in such a bad state. The government has to spend Rs.1,500 million a year to maintain them. Are we going to keep these estates as a burden or going to restructure them? Janatha Estate Development Board cannot even pay EPF to its workers.
Therefore, Minister Kabir Hashim who handled it before me put forward a Cabinet proposal to take over the uneconomical lands of JEDB and Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation [SLSPC] and be given to the private sector for development. These proposals are intact. There is one such estate which I visited recently, the workers only have work for two days a week. Workers asked me to find an investor who can give them work for five days a week at least!
There has been an outcry to stop these development programmes. We have decided to allocate a plot of seven perches of land to estate sector people. For the first time in history, estate workers are given the right to own land. There is an outcry against that too.
That is why they have brought out this issue involving the Knuckles range. When Minister Kabir Hashim prepared the project proposals, he identified certain land areas with the help of five consultants. The lands which have been allocated are outside the Knuckles range. Our political opponents want to prevent us from giving land to estate workers. Therefore, they raise non-existing environmental issues.
Q Actually, former JVP MP Samantha Vidyaratne is spearheading a campaign against it?
They are the people who set fire to factories in 1971 and in1981!