The local government election has been marked as an important day in the political calendar. With many promises and plans, candidates both senior and amateur have started working for the people. Finance State Minister EranWickramaratne is positive about the changes that have taken place after the present government was elected to office. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Eran shared his thoughts about the challenges faced by the economy during the previous years while encouraging the people to use their vote wisely at the upcoming election.
Q: Colombo is a UNP stronghold. How confident are you that the UNP will win this time?
A: When talking about an election, we need to look at the team as well as their manifesto. Since there’s a new law for the local government election there are suitable candidates nominated in other districts as well. Especially there’s a 25% presentation for women as well. The UNP has put forward a formidable team in Colombo led by Rosy Senanayake. Sri Lanka will have its first elected female mayor. Rosy is an experienced politician and she even served as the Ambassador for Malaysia. The work she has done in Sri Lanka and overseas has been commended by many people. She has a formidable team of professionals supporting her for the upcoming election. Teamwork is an absolute must in delivering results. The manifesto presented by Rosy Senanayake has highlighted on many services. A year and a half ago, this government decidedto have an ambulance service and many people criticized it from time to time. We rolled out this service in the districts of Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Colombo,Gampaha and Kalutara. One year after, the results were amazing. In less than 13 minutes, when you call 1990, an ambulance turns up at your doorstep or wherever the accident has taken place. This is how technology has been used to make services more efficient. Rosy Senanayake will make use of technology to make services more efficient within the municipality by introducing a service centre. In addition to that the city has many problems. Urban renewal programmes are needed. When you put up buildings you need to make sure that they adhere to the law and therefore the zoning has to be done properly. In addition to that there are other services that the citizens require. You need a clean environment, you need your garbage to be collected on time, you need your drains to be cleared and you need to fight the dengue menace. She has plans for these. In addition to that she is also planning to bring in vocational training facilities for the residents of Colombo in order upscale the income in lower income areas. Therefore the UNP has the people and the plan and therefore I urge you to vote for the UNP. If there are five votes at your home, it would be imperative that you use all five votes because this election is not only about electing your local member; it’s also about getting a majority. Even though there are no preferential votes, this is a proportional representation election, therefore every vote counts.
Q :One of the major accusations from the Opposition is that the present government couldn’t bring in Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) as promised in 2015. But in 2016 a larger number of FDIs were brought in. What are your comments?
A : When we took over reins of government in January 2015 this country was facing a crisis. There is a huge debt burden and this has increased over the last period. Our debt has increased and our foreign currency debt has increased. In addition to that we have replaced concessional debt with commercial debt so the entire debt profile has increased. The former government maintained an artificial Rupee-Dollar rate and when you maintain such a Rupee-Dollar rate you always understate your debt. When you free your currency to the market rate exchange rate naturally the real debt is reflected in rupees. So the increase in debt during this period has more to do with the currency being a free market currency than our government borrowing. This is the economy we inherited. The first two and a half years has gone to stabilize the economy. By freeing the exchange rate we have also been able to give exporters a wonderful opportunity to compete with the real world. In the past period under the SLFP-led government exports which were more than 30% of GDP had come down gradually to 14% of GDP. Exports are needed if we want to keep our living standards rising. So we have freed the exchange rate and therefore exports are rising too. Exports have increased in the past year by nearly 10% and this is a wonderful sign. GSP Plus has been achieved after our new government took office. Its benefits will be seen over the 2018-2019 period. Also there was a ban from the European Union on fishing exports from Sri Lanka which too has been lifted. This year alone fishing exports have increased by 39%. Confidence has returned. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) is able to target inflation the old nexus between the government and the CBSL during the previous period has been broken. FDIs from USD 750 million during the last year has more than doubled to USD 1.8 billion in 2017. I think 2017 has been the watershed year and we are going to see the benefits in managing the economy prudently in 2018 and 2019. More investments, more jobs, more exports and rising living standards will be seen.
Q: As a senior politician, what is your message to all UNP supporters in view of the upcoming election?
A: On February 10, we have an opportunity to vote in our local governments across the country. Voting is an important right that the citizens have. We need to use that vote to protect democracy. On January 8, 2015 the citizens of this country voted for a change. That was a big change. We know that just a week ago, the President of this country went to the Supreme Court and asked a question; “Do I have five years or six years to govern?” The SC unanimously gave a verdict on that question and said that he has only five years. It’s very much different to the past. In the past if a question like that was asked in the SC they may have hesitated. But now the court is independent. The decisions are made based on the principles of law. The reason why I say this is because it wasn’t long ago when the Chief Justice of this country was kicked out of her office by the executive using the Parliament as an instrument. That is one of the darkest moments in our history. We have reinstated the independence of the judiciary and through the 19A we have strengthened the rights and position of the citizens. We brought in a new act giving citizens a Right to Information. You can use this right. As you elect your members you can go and find out how money was spent, what were it spent on and the quality of the investments and expenditures that they were doing. Citizens in Europe had this right over 200 years ago and citizens in South Asia had it more recently. But our citizens didn’t have this right until our government was voted in. Remember that in this election, when you discharge your civic responsibility you are voting to protect democracy. There may be shortcomings in our government but it has stood strongly for democracy and justice. The process may be slow and you may be disappointed sometimes that the outcomes haven’t come in the way you expected. But I can tell this for sure; we are on the right track and we are at the beginning of this journey and once we continue down this road, we will be the beneficiaries of a better society. So on February 10, vote for the party you think will protect your rights as a citizen.
SW Friday, 9 February 2018 16:22
UNP government's budget has restricted old people's income, and charging VAT on all medical expenses. Thus they are not protected by your government. So they will not support your party.
Reply : 3 2
Tuan Friday, 9 February 2018 16:36
People's rights would only be protected by the Pottuwa being victorious.
Reply : 4 1
Add commentComments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.