While the controversy ridden coal deals have become the talk of the town, former Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka comes out with many revelations and allegations of corruptions related to power and energy. Mr. Ranawaka who is also the Technology and Research Minister hints at the crucial decisions his party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya has to take if the UPFA Government fails to implement their proposals.
Jatika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is now functioning as an Opposition within the Government. It appears to be on the verge of quitting the Government. What is really happening?
When looking back on the recent political history of this country, it becomes obvious that insurrections had broken out in the contexts where the rulers had ignored calls for social, economic and political reforms which they could have carried out. Both JR Jayewardena and Sirimavo Bandaranaike carried out these three-fold reforms. Sirimavo adopted the new republican Constitution, gave Buddhism the pride of place and implemented Sinhala as the official language. She carried out these exercises in the face of formidable contradictions. But she failed to detect the flaws in the economic reforms and take necessary corrective measures. JR also carried out these three-fold reforms through the introduction of the Executive Presidential system and the Proportional Representation system and also empowering the Supreme Court to safeguard the human rights of the citizenry. President Rajapaksa is placed in a situation today similar to what Sirimavo faced in 1975 and JR in 1983. And he remains insensitive to calls for reforms. We are critical about this attitude.
What does the JHU want to do in this regard?
To put in a nutshell, we want the UPFA to revisit itself - make a self-critical journey back through the last four years of its existence. If we were to proceed with the same old programme we embarked on four years ago, we would remain where Sirimavo was in 1975 and JR in 1983. What is happening today does not meet the imperatives of the social forces the UPFA represents. A coterie of racketeers who include politicians and bureaucrats who usurped the franchise of the people has formed the vanguard of the UPFA. These racketeers could be likened to the mafia led by Velupillai Prabhakaran who took the innocent Tamil people in the North-East hostage. We are opposed to this. Our efforts are aimed at rectifying this situation.
Do you believe that you will succeed in getting this government to carry out the reforms you espouse by applying pressure on them?
A question of applying pressure on the government by stipulating conditions does not arise in this context. We have reached the Phase Two of the nationalist forces in the country and the UPFA is part and parcel of these forces. We are addressing the government on how to enter this new phase constructively. If the government turns a deaf ear to us, we have to address the people direct.
You said that you felt ashamed to see the doings of this government which you brought to power. It cannot be treated as a flippant remark. You are a Minister of this government. Is there a move on the part of the JHU to field its own Presidential candidate?
No. So far we have not taken such a decision. Our party’s national convention has given a mandate to the Central Committee. We have presented a seven-point proposal to the government.
These proposals cover a plan of action to be implemented ahead of the Presidential poll, a programme for the future to be incorporated in the election manifesto and certain measures to be taken regardless of the Presidential poll in the offing. For example, an institution for investigating corruption and frauds should be established prior to the Presidential poll and the dictatorial powers vested in the President should be removed. We also have to ascertain whether there will be a Presidential candidate committed to giving effect to our proposals. In such a situation, we are to place our trust only on a political tie-up based on a policy framework, not on the personal stature of an individual.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is widely expected to run as the main Opposition Presidential candidate. Will you ally with him?
We do not have a wee bit of faith in Ranil Wickremesinghe. How can you expect democratic governance from a person who miserably failed to bring democracy to his own political party for 20 long years? We have yet to take a final decision. Meanwhile, we continue to have our faith in the UPFA itself as our first choice.
Media reports said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa did not appear pleased when you presented your proposals to him. Is it true?
It does not matter whether individuals are pleased or displeased. When we extended our support to the President in 2005, certain individuals hanging around him now were not with him. At the time the battle for the Mavil Aru was waged, the opinion that widely prevailed in the alliance was that the government should not engage the LTTE. They were not happy at that time. It was the principled stand we took up that cheered them up. Later they forgot who heartened them at that psychological moment. Therefore, whether their minds are pleased or displeased is immaterial to us!
What is the President’s reaction to your proposals?
He said that he alone could not take a decision. Therefore, talks were held with a group of SLFP top brass. A sub-committee was appointed to identify the most important ones of the proposals submitted and to discuss them. We hope that this process will proceed smoothly.
What would be your next move if the talks failed?
If the proposals were not implemented, we have to consider alternatives. There is a Presidential election around the corner!
Even in a situation where a Presidential poll is yet to be proclaimed, certain astrologers continue to mention possible dates for the election. In a scenario where the JHU is focusing on issues including the need of good governance, haven’t you seriously considered that this talk about astrologically auspicious dates for the Presidential poll militates against the independence of the Elections Commissioner?
We have considered it. Vesting Constitutional powers in the Elections Commissioner and the Elections Commission figures prominently among our proposals. The Elections Commissioner should be empowered in addition to fixing the election dates, to issue directions to Police and mass media during an election period, impose restrictions on the undue use of state resources and funds and to take action against candidates in the fray resorting to illegal means.
Government claims that they have presented a people-friendly Budget. How do you rate this Budget?
According to the Budget estimates, the annual expenditure is Rs.3200 billion whereas the annual revenue is Rs.1500 billion. This means the estimated revenue is only 50 cents when the expenditure is one rupee. The foreign and local debt the government proposes to raise amounts to Rs.1700 billion. The annual debt servicing costs Rs.1265, an amount close to our annual revenue. This is certainly not a favourable situation. We have to find out why the projects such as the new harbour, the international airport and super highways have failed to generate revenue for the country.
But they claim that the country has achieved an 8 per cent economic growth rate?
Both the World and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have pointed out that the current economic indicators are such that the maximum growth rate achievable is 6.7 per cent. If this mark is to be exceeded, there has be a marked improvement in factors like the work force, infra-structure and technology and research. We cannot accept the argument that there is a reduction in the national debt burden either. Because what is described as government debt covers only debts incurred by government departments. There would be an entirely different picture when the debts incurred by state statutory bodies such as the National Savings Bank, Sri Lanka Airlines, the CEB and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation are added to the usual government debt figure.
M.P. Namal Rajapaksa had described this Budget as one aimed at long-term benefits to uplift the people. Your comment.
It should reflect a strategy aimed at economic development, environmental protection and social security, not slogans. The term, ’Navothpadanaya’ (Innovation) has been used this time. It is a term used by us. I said on July 7 that ‘Navothpadanaya Arthikaya’ (Innovation Economy) should be our strategy. Our term has been borrowed. But a plan of action aimed at a ‘Navothpadanaya Arthikaya’ is not manifest anywhere in this Budget. We have suffered a sharp drop in the global rating of both Innovation Economics and Information Economics Indexes since 2008. Our rank in the Innovation Economics index has dropped from 53 to 120 and that in the Information Economics Index from 86 to 102. Our Ministry has proposed a Plan of Action to achieve the necessary economic targets.
Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi revealed in Parliament recently an instance of irregular procurement of two coal shipments in 2012 during your tenure as the Minister. Isn’t the finger of accusation directed at you?
This relates to a deal clinched between Ceylon Shipping Corporation (CSC) and a private firm-Lanka Coal Company (LCC). The two coal shipments were required in April 2012, but they arrived on May 1 and 2. By then seas had turned rough and the coal could not be unloaded. As a result, the CSC had made arrangements with the LCC to get down three coal shipments in addition to the two shipments that had already arrived, to save the situation. But this arrangement had been made without the knowledge of the Ministry. I issued a directive not to unload the latter coal shipments. However, these coal loads were unloaded on advice proffered by the Attorney General. When we found that coal was sub-standard, we called for and obtained a downward revision of the price. Therefore, we suffered no loss. Irregularities in the CEB that led to losses occurred after my tenure as the Minister of Power and Energy.
Who should have been held responsible for the irregular coal shipments?
Firstly, the Chairman of Lanka Coal Company (LCC) should have been held responsible. Therefore, I, as the Minister removed him from office after conducting an inquiry. However, as soon as I was shifted from the portfolio, the errant official was reinstated as the Deputy Chairman, CEB. If the CID is unable to conduct a proper investigation into this coal affair, some other authority should do this job. That is why we proposed the setting up of a competent Commission to probe frauds and corruption. Because at the end of the day, it is the people in the country who suffer the consequences.
You blame the mafia of the white collar criminals. Can’t you describe them in clearer terms?
There are certain bureaucrats as old as 68 or 69. Ministers come and go and these officials run the show. It is they who negotiate deals, manipulate tender procedure. This is the ground situation prevailing in every Ministry. We have condoned sleaze and corruption by turning our back on reality and tolerating
You brought out a book titled ‘Power and Power’. Do you think that it has produced good results?
Certainly. My book has made a salutary impact on your oil bill and electricity bill. I am happy about it. Besides, the book triggered a constructive dialogue in the country.
Pivituru Hetak National Council unveiled a draft of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Ven. Atureliye Ratana Thera was the live wire behind it. Does this Amendment signify the stand of the JHU?
Pivituru Hetak is an apolitical movement. We are in agreement with most Articles in the Amendment draft that relate to checks and balances of the powers of the Executive and structural instruments aimed at good governance. There are, of course, certain Sections which we have our reservations about. The JHU is presenting a conceptual programme. Pivituru Hetak has presented a Constitutional framework which requires passage in Parliament.
The JHU is a political party. Ven. Ratana Thera is a leader of it. Don’t you think that a leader of a particular political party playing a lead role in an apolitical organisation or any other entity sets a poser to that political party?
I too have delivered talks at the Jatika Vidvath Sabhava. It is an apolitical entity. The other members of our political party too participate in activities in other organisations. Though we ally ourselves with certain civil organisations, we have not attempted at establishing individual power bases.
You have said that the ground reality today was such that even in an instance where the polling rate is as high as 75 per cent, the ruling UPFA would fail to muster even 50 per cent of the total votes polled. How do you account for your conclusion?
Yes. That is the reality. At the PC elections in the recent past, of the 11.45 million electors, 9.6 million cast their vote. Of these votes 9.3 were declared valid. The UNP polled 2.4 million when the UPFA mustered 4.9 million. The TNA polled 547,000, DP led by Sarath Fonseka 376,000, and the SLMC 225,000. When the UPFA garnered 4.9 million, the joint opposition polled 4.3 million. 75 per cent of 14.5 million works out to 11.0 million. This means that a 5.6 million vote is necessary to win the Presidential election. The ruling UPFA trails this figure by a shortfall of 500,000 votes. The joint opposition is 1.2 million votes behind this magical figure. Therefore, none can cry in glee that he can win. The ruling UPFA which polled 6 million in 2012 has lost 1 million votes by now.
Do you think it is possible in practical terms to save the UPFA from defeat by giving effect to your proposals ahead of the Presidential poll?
The proposed measures can be easily implemented ahead of the proposed poll and thereby disarm the opposition. The political atmosphere that would arise in the wake of such reforms would enable a rebranded UPFA to usher in a better era for the country. The UPFA can do this. The President can do this.
Where would you be placed if the UPFA or the President failed to bring about this scenario?
If they failed us, we will take people into confidence. We will give the leadership to the people.
The JHU is to give this leadership to the people while remaining in the UPFA?
If the government failed to implement our proposals, we would be placed in a situation we could no longer remain in the government. We are holding the Ministerial portfolios on the strength of a mandate given by the people. If our proposals are not implemented, our Central Committee will decide whether we should quit alone or do so along with several others.
But certain government high ups say that it is safer for them to continue to take refuge in the ‘Betel Leaf’ and that quitting the government along with the JHU would only endanger their political survival. Your comment.
The JHU is a political entity that represents a large segment of the people in the country- a segment much larger than the votes the party polled. The ‘Betel Leaf’ would not have come to power if not for our support. Let us wait for events to prove that we are right.