- Will not push probe on Lasantha, Thajudeen murder
- 13th Amendment to be revisited
- Media freedom will be guaranteed
- If you introduce that system here, you are talking about 1.5 million people wearing batik clothing
- To supplement that we must make use of the Port City
- The drug menace and the underworld have to be controlled at any cost
- The 13th Amendment needs to be revisited. From 1986 we have been talking about Police powers and land powers
- When we are competitive the people will accept what is competitive
The former Government placed much focus on a political solution for the Tamils, fighting corruption and assuring justice for high profile murders and other incidents. In an interview with the Daily Mirror online Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella asserted that the priorities of the new Government are different.
QLet me start off by asking you about the composition of this Government. We have a group of Ministers and State Ministers; some with questionable pasts and some with questionable portfolios. Will this Government really meet the expectations of the public?
That’s the intention. Based on that we have mapped out a structure. As we move forward we may encounter a requirement for some changes or else we will stick to it. I believe the authorities would have done a comprehensive study on the promises and how to convert the promises into reality. And for that the structure has been made with the Ministers and Ministries. There are areas where some people may have questions. But I can explain to you if you come out with the names.
QWell you have some Ministers who behaved violently in Parliament during the political crisis and then in the portfolios you have a State Minister for Batik, Handloom and Local Apparel Products
Good that you came out with that. Before the 1983 riots tourism brought the main income to the country. It was really flourishing. And one of the main items at the time was batik. It was so lucrative and there was a huge market for it. I even know that some people who are involved in the batik trade purchased houses in Colombo 7. Food, clothing and housing are three things you need to embark on. Those are areas you will never fail in.
In Indonesia Friday is known as casual day. They are encouraged to wear batik clothing. If you introduce that system here, you are talking about 1.5 million people wearing batik clothing. There is also a demand in the world market. We must pursue that. Then there is also clay and betel leaves. There was a consignment of betel leaves that was sent to Pakistan. So these are markets we have totally neglected. These are things which we have in Sri Lanka. All we need is proper management and modern technology to develop these products.
QAnd what about the faces behind some of these Ministries. There is a concern they would behave like they did during the political crisis.
Well I will not condone such behaviour. But things did happen spontaneously (during the political crisis in 2018). That whole episode of events is not in isolation. There were situations where even the Speaker at that time abused power. So there was no redress and these were natural reactions which I don’t justify. I hope that the entire episode would never take place in the future.
QWhat does this Government hope to accomplish over the next five years?
One is, we are an agriculture based country. We need to view that sector and give priority to areas in agriculture. Industrializing should be agri-based. Then we need Foreign Direct Investment. To supplement that we must make use of the Port City. That’s a money spinner if you really use it well.
On the other side there are other matters we will look into; for example, getting rid of the underworld. The drug menace and the underworld have to be controlled at any cost. We need to make this country livable and lovable by everybody.
QSo your Government will give an assurance to the public that they will not see another Easter Sunday attack?
Well we have proved that. We got rid of thirty years of agony. Ever since we got rid of Prabakaran in May 2009 there was not one incident in the country. In other countries even after a settlement there had been isolated incidents. But in Sri Lanka, until the Easter Sunday incident, we hadn’t had any incident related to terrorism. So we are sure and confident we can maintain that.
QHow would your Government deal with those accused of neglecting their duties which resulted in the Easter attacks?
One country one law. I suppose the law will prevail. Simple answer.
QConsecutive Governments have spoken about addressing issues in the North through a political solution. We have not heard much on that from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and this Government. Is that an issue which is taking a back seat now?
I think there are only a few people who are talking about a political solution. The need is more for an economic solution. There were 11 people elected from the North and East to Parliament at the recent elections. The people there want their irrigation, a but back guarantee for their products, a solid education system and a healthy relationship with communities. That was broken down at various times. All politicians are equally responsible for this; including people like Gajen Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran. They are promoting disharmony. I am sure people there want to live in harmony with others. This political interest is an interest of a few people.
The TNA used to say they are the only representatives of the Tamils. But now I don’t think they have any right to say that.
QAre you ruling out the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and devolution of powers?
The 13th Amendment needs to be revisited. From 1986 we have been talking about Police powers and land powers. I feel you can put a better system in place to bring about harmony.
QSo you are going to tell India that the 13th Amendment isn’t the solution since India has been pushing for this?
My humble opinion is that India was also not really for this. They just wanted to get rid of an issue at that time.
QCOBID-19 has really taken a toll on several businesses and the daily lives of many. Do you see a turnaround any time soon?
You need to have a note of appreciation for the Health sector particularly, then the President’s directives, the defence authorities and all those who were involved. We have controlled it thanks to all sectors who were involved.
Having said that, the drawback we are experiencing as a result of this is terrible. It’s not easy. We are engaged in an uphill task. It’s like the tsunami. But then we had enough and more countries willing to assist us. Here the whole world is affected. So its not easy. One thing we are focusing on is self sufficiency with regards to food items. Then we need to manage the service sector. Then there is tourism and foreign employment.
Extravagances will have to be curtailed. We have to simplify our lives and have confidence in ourselves. It’s a tough job, but self-discipline and finance discipline can bring about a change.
QLets talk about your Ministry. State Media comes under your Ministry. Is State Media just playing the role of being the mouthpiece of the Government or doing more service to the public?
They should be the mouthpiece of the Government. But the interpretation is what matters. If a Government is progressive and there is development taking place, it is the right of the people to know that. If the private media is not doing that it is up to to the State media to do so. All I am saying is lets be competitive. For example if the Government newspaper can provide something people want to read its good. You don’t have solid reading material in most newspapers. You need to strike a balance while giving space for Government opinion. If there is something against the Government that must also be there so we are competitive. When we are competitive the people will accept what is competitive.
QWhat plans do you have for the media in Sri Lanka?
I don’t think you can bring in rules and control the media. That should not be in the system and that should not be the system. It must be on consensus. I should be able to tell you that some article is not right and you should be able to tell me yes maybe that article was not right. We should be able to discuss. That is what you call a beautiful culture. Achieving that might be difficult, but I am trying.
QSo you are guaranteeing media freedom?
I am definitely guaranteeing media freedom.
QSuccessive Governments have given assurances that investigations into the murder of journalist Lasantha Wickremetunga, attacks on journalists and even the murder of rugger player Wasim Thajudeen will be investigated and justice would be served. Your Government has not said a word about these issues since assuming duties. Why is that?
You should ask the former Government about that. They are the people who accused us. They are the people who put the blame on us. They had five years to investigate. We denied our involvement. We investigated. Around the world there are so many murders that have gone without a final finding. I am not trying to justify that. But those are the factors which the former Government used in 2015 and the change took place because of that. One was corruption and the other was these incidents of murder and harassment. Every time they spoke about Thajudeen.
QSo that is of no concern to this Government? Is that what you are saying?
I am saying one country one rule. Justice will prevail. The system in place for justice will have to carry out its investigations.
QSo would the government push for those investigations?
I don’t think we will push for anything. It’s the duty for the institutions to make sure that the final results are there. If not we can question them. We cant tell them do this and do that or don’t do that. Again you become dictators. We say let these institutions be independent, let them carry out their investigations, and if they don’t do that they will need to give a viable explanation as to why that is so. They can say they cannot find the proper witnesses. But then people cannot question that because it has happened all over the world. The former Government was given five years to complete the investigations. I believe what the authorities have said was that there was not sufficient evidence.