- Circular governing dress code changed upon request by Cabinet
- Govt will trundle during the remaining period
- Better to have a common dress code for all
Public Administration and Disaster Management Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara in an interview with Daily Mirror, speaks about the UNP presidential candidate and the circular that did not recognize Abaya for Muslim women as dress code for work at the government institutions: The Excerpts
Q Controversy surrounded the introduction of a new dress code for public servants banning Abaya. It was questioned at the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing Easter Sunday’s terrorist attack. How do you view this as the minister?
For the first time, a circular related to the dress code for public servants had been issued in 1989. It stipulated how workers should be dressed at official work. There was another circular issued later, that recommended an allowance for workers to cover the cost of sewing the attire recommended for female employees. It was circulated in 2008. President Maithripala Sirisena signed a gazette notification this time barring the face veil.
We issued a circular giving effect to this gazette notification only, and we acted accordingly and in it we have mentioned Saree and/or Osariya as the dress code for the females employees.
Q During the proceedings, it was viewed as a violation of human rights. What is your opinion as the subject minister?
There are two aspects. One is traditional clothing pattern may clash with the rules and regulations that present a particular dress code only. It may also clash with the traditions of the country. As far as government workers are concerned, we have to look at it differently. If there is a dress code for the male workers, there has to be one for the females well.
- We had a hard time in implementing any of our policies during this period, because the President has different approaches
- We need to reform the public service and get rid of corruption and frauds therein, and make it more public- oriented
Q Eventually you amended the circular. Does it mean that you succumbed to pressure?
We did it upon request by the Cabinet. There were different views expressed, yet we reached a common ground at the end. In certain instances, we had received reports that some workers were subject to harassment over their traditional attire being worn at work. We regret it. If there are complaints, we will take action. As a country, we should have a common law for everyone.
Q Society looks appreciative at the way your Ministry’s Secretary J.J. Ratnasiri answered the questions during the PSC deliberations over this. We appreciate your comments...
Government officials did not have such freedom to talk that way under the previous regime. We have created that avenue now for them to talk fearlessly. They enjoy independence to talk freely today. We have also ensured such right to every citizen of this country. That is what you call ‘Yaha palanaya’. The PSC members have every right to question officials. Likewise, the officials are duty-bound to answer them. We have restored democracy in this country.
Q We notice a huge rift between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. How will it affect the government?
As it has been in the past four and-a-half years, the government will just carry on for the remaining few months of its term. We will govern the country in the same way we did during the remaining few months. It would be better in the future that both the President and the Prime Minister are elected from the same party. We evoked public criticism because the incumbent President and the Prime Minister did not see eye to eye.
Q How are you to going to face the next presidential election?
We, the UNP, will field a candidate acceptable to all the like-minded parties. At the last elections, mainly the UNP ensured victory for President Sirisena. His Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) did not support him. It would have been better had he joined hands with the UNP.
Q But, you talk about the formation of a political front with other parties called United National Front (UNF). Would you field a candidate who is in the UNP or in the UNF?
We are planning to contest as the UNF.
Q Any decision to adopt a new symbol...
We will discuss it later.
Q You have a few more months left. Would it be sufficient to activate these plans?
It is not a problem for us.
Q How far have you progressed in the formation of this alliance?
We have already joined hands with some parties and are working together as a common front even now.
Q Who is your candidate?
We will field a candidate who is popular among people.
Q Within the UNP, there are three opinions prevailing with regards to fielding the candidate. One faction promotes Housing and Construction Minister Sajith Premadasa as the common candidate, while the other wants Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. There is a third group that says Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe should be nominated as the candidate. How do you reconcile all these differences?
It is not an issue. We always honour the party’s decision to choose the candidate. In 1989, there were issues. The party was in a quandary whether to field R. Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake or Lalith Athulathmudali.
Finally, R. Premadasa was nominated and thereafter everyone supported him. In 1994, Gamini Dissanayake was made the candidate and D.B. Wijetunga, who was the President at that time supported him. Mr. Premadasa was no more. But, his widow Hema Premadasa got onto the stage in support of Mr. Dissanayake.
Q There is an apparent difference in the political situation between now and then. The country had seen many changes. The political complexion is different. Could you expect such unity today?
We are always ready for collective decision-making within the party.
Q The party was on a downward spiral during the past four and-a-half years. It was apparent in the results of the 2018 local authorities elections. From your point of view, what do you think reason was?
The formation of a unity government with the SLFP is the main reason. So, we could not rejuvenate the party because of our political alignment with the SLFP.
- At the last elections, the UNP ensured victory for President Sirisena. His party (SLFP) did not support him
- It was a mistake that we gave Cabinet portfolios to the SLFP that was defeated at the elections
Q Where have you failed?
The SLFP retained most of the vital Cabinet slots which were important to serve people better. It was a mistake that we gave Cabinet portfolios to the SLFP that was defeated at the elections. The SLFP had Cabinet portfolios on subjects such as Samurdhi, Irrigation, Agriculture, Power and Energy etc. They did not have a mandate for them though.
Q Suppose, you were given the agriculture portfolio. What would you have done?
We would have strengthened the farmers’ economy and done agriculture modernization. We would have adopted the modern agro-technology.
Q The government is handing out Samurdhi benefits in a frenzied manner throughout the country. According to World Bank statistics, our poverty level is somewhere around six percent. What is the reason for Samurdhi distribution on such a large scale when poverty remains low?
A large number of eligible families have been left out from the scheme during the past 24 years. We are only rectifying it. Samurdhi movement was made a political project at that time. It was, in fact considered a mechanism for canvassing of votes. We give benefits to those who were subject to injustice at that time.
Q When coming back to the topic of the presidential election, you mentioned about a leader who is poplar among the masses. Do you also think your party needs a change of policies in addition to the change of person in charge?
We need to transform ourselves with the passage of time.
Q I am asking about the basic policy frames...
We will stick to the basic frame. There is no change in that. Subject to the basic frame, we want to make certain alterations to our policies.
Q What are they?
Our economic policy has been accepted by all. We have ensured democracy for all. We need to root out corruption and frauds. In the education sector, we need to introduce reforms.
Q Do you seek to have a departure from the set of policies followed under the present government?
We had a hard time in implementing any of our policies during this period, because of the President who has different approaches. We doubt whether the UNP was able to implement its own policies.
Q Some UNP leaders say Sri Lanka should be a secular country. What is your policy?
From my view, Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist majority country. They co-exist in harmony with others.
Q As the subject minister, what are your plans for the public service?
We served the public in the best possible way that we could. We doubled their salaries. We have given them the independence. We need to make the public service more efficient. We need to reform the public service and get rid of corruption and frauds therein, and make it more public- oriented.
Q Do you think the public service should be expanded?
I don’t think so. We have enough and more in the public service. In the developed world, there is a contributory pension scheme. This is not the time to discuss the changes that need to be made. Whatever the party that is in power, a decision has to be taken, or else, pension payment would become an issue.