- We need to remove the negative effects of the 19th Amendment to the legislature and the executive
- I once again say that if voters think those involved in Parliamentary fracas, sand and soil business, drug mafia, underworld activities and other crimes, they have a great opportunity on August 5th to reject them
- I firmly believe that the people have realized this and therefore no doubt that they will give us a two thirds majority
- Passengers only on seating capacity in buses and trains will remain in the national transport system as a policy even after the threat of Covid 19 disappears
The discussed politics, Power, Energy and Transport sector changes in the country with the subject Minister Mahinda Amaraweera.
Q People keep asking as to why the government did not bring down fuel prices when the crude oil price has dropped sharply in the global market?
Firstly, the oil prices in the global market fluctuate regularly, and we can’t fully depend on international market prices alone in deciding the fuel prices in the domestic market. Freight charges, refining and distribution costs etc. are to be taken into consideration when the domestic market price is streamlined.
For instance, price of a barrel of crude oil plunged to less than US$ 20 in the global market soon after the COVID-19 outbreak. In contrast, it was between US$ 60 to 65 in early 2020. However, it is correct to say that Sri Lanka has been benefited from the oil price slump in the global market as same as any other country. My view is that reduction of fuel prices, bus and train fares domestically would not directly benefit the entire population and mainly the low income families. What I can only say is that the government will not increase fuel prices, bus and train fares in the foreseeable future. Besides, the fuel prices in the global market is on an upward trend by now.
QNo tariff reduction of electricity, bus and train fares either, why is that?
By experience, you should know that the price formula introduced by the yahapalana government was a total disaster. People woke up every morning on the 11th of every month to learn the horrific news of fuel price increase, as domestic oil prices had been linked to the global prices. As a result, prices of all goods and service spiraled rapidly in the domestic market.
What we have done right now instead is to set up a ‘Petroleum Stabilization Fund (PSF) of Rs. 200 billion diverting any profit collected from the oil price reduction in the international market. This fund will be used to stabilize oil prices in the domestic market and will not increase oil prices in the event of the global prices further escalate. The fund will also help to stabilize prices of other essential commodities, gas, power and water tariff and bus and train fares. After a year, the government would review the situation and direct attention to the possibility of reducing prices of fuel, electricity, bus and train fares.
Q Can you brief the changes which you are going to introduce to the national transport system?
Well, the National Transport Commission (NTC) will not issue route permits to buses built with lorry chassis. Cabinet has given approval to import low-flow buses to be used on our roads to replace the uncomfortable, noise emitting buses built on lorry chassis. The private bus operators will have the opportunity to obtain a soft loan from commercial banks at 4% interest to import buses to replace the buses they operate now producing their route permit as a bank guarantee. The SLTB will import only low-flow buses hereafter.
The Sri Lanka Railways will open a workshop at Ratmalana to assemble compartments. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has also instructed to overhaul all locomotives that have been discarded for want of spare parts.
The passenger intake only on seating capacity in buses and trains will remain in the national transport system as a policy even after COVID-19 threat has disappeared.
QWhen can people expect relief in the form of the reduction of fuel price, power tariff, bus and train fares?
The CEB purchases a unit of power at Rs. 22.90 average from private power suppliers and sells a unit at Rs. 16.00 incurring a loss of nearly Rs. 7 from every unit sold. There are instances where the CEB had to purchase power at Rs. 35 or more during a fuel crisis. The accumulated loss to the CEB at the start of 2020 was Rs. 82 billion. As I have already said, the government would be in a position to review the fuel prices in the global market, the amount of money saved in the PSF and see the possibility of fuel price reduction in the global market together with the reduction of bus and train fares and power tariff probably in mid 2021.
Q Though the SLPP and the SLFP jointly formed an alliance to contest the election, the gap between both parties widens by day, as members of the two parties exchange tirades against each other regularly. How do you react to this?
Tell me a single political party or alliance that did not have distensions, arguments and counter arguments within themselves. Yes, it is true that certain SLPP new comers have expressed negative comments on the SLFP and its leadership. But these remarks have been made under the influence of preferential votes. They think by making these discriminatory remarks, they could score a few brownie points in politics. Besides, there are distensions and disagreements within the SLPP also but you know, that is democracy. The most important factor here is that not President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa or Basil Rajapaksa have made any negative comments on the SLFP or condoned the negative remarks of others.
QThe perception among the public is that politicians at large are corrupt and maintaining a Parliament is waste of money and time. What is your response to this?
The respected Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho says that “Everybody is a political person, whether you say something or you are silent. A political attitude is not whether you go to parliament; it’s how you deal with your life, with your surroundings,”.
The concept of Parliament existed in the society since 9th century in federal Europe but got rooted in England and Spain after the 14th century. The main function of Parliament was to advise the king by representatives of the masses. Later Parliament took the responsibility of law making –a legislative function – and even dictators, tyrants and depots used Parliament to pass laws they desired. The corrupt politicians are not born but they are a product of the system. After all, they are elected by the people or voters rather. Voters have the opportunity to reject them at the polls. I firmly say that if corrupt politicians represent you in Parliament that is your fault. What I say is, corrupt voters elect corrupt politicians for their own advantage. But you have an opportunity to find an answer to this issue. Elect honest and clean politicians at the forthcoming Parliamentary election and send home those you have identified as corrupt. In the meantime, you must not forget the fact that Parliament is one of the pillars that democracy depends upon with three others, the Judiciary, Executive and the Media. The SLFP has tried our best not to give nominations to those with corruption charges and court cases against them.
Q What is the fate of the UPFA now?
The UPFA is bit inactive now as all those elected from the UPFA at the 2015 August polls are out of office. The SLFP is leading the election propaganda campaign with the SLPP. However, we all sit together after the election to decide the future of the UPFA.
Q The SLPP-SLFP led alliance expects a two thirds majority at the general election. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and all others demand voters to give them a minimum of 150 seats. But the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, the JVP and the UNP say that the aim of the alliance was to give dictatorial powers to President Rajapaksa. How do you see this?
Not at all. The new government to be formed after the polls led by President Rajapaksa has a legacy of economic, constitutional and social problems inherited from the so called yahapalana government. For instance, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution has left a plethora of constitutional and executive problems. Sri Lanka has debt service commitment of a massive US$ 4 billion in 2020 alone. The biggest challenge before the country is to kick start the economy weakened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If Sri Lanka is to rebuild the economy, improve quality of life of our people, rebuild tourism, industry, double or treble exports income, develop agriculture, education and all other vital sector we need a strong and stable government. I firmly believe that the people have realized this and therefore no doubt that they will give us a two thirds majority.
Q Under the next SLPP regime, a new Constitution or drastic amendments to the Constitution is a sure possibility. Isn’t it?
Yes, indeed. First of all we need to remove the negative effects of the 19th Amendment to the legislature and the executive. The Independent Commissions and its appointing authority the Constitutional Council had been politicized to the core under the yahapalana government. The eternal animosity and clashes between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during the yahapalana rule were brought its downturn and the country and people suffered economically, politically and socially. In short, the rivalry between the top two was a disaster to the country. We could find solutions to these issues only through a new Constitution. I firmly believe that the next government under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Parliament led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa would be able to introduce a new Constitution after the SLPP secured a two third majority at the August 5 Parliamentary polls.
Q But the perception among the majority of the public on politicians and Parliament is extremely negative. Many say almost all politicians of the divide are corrupt and Parliament must be set on fire as it is a waste of public money. What do you have to say about these allegations?
Yes and no. There are corrupt politicians on both sides but who elected them? All these Parliamentarians corrupt or honest have been sent to Parliament by the voters as their representative. I never accept the argument that all politicians in Parliament are corrupt. There are honest and respected politicians in Parliament with integrity and free of corruption. We all must protect them while exposing corrupt politicians. The biggest responsibility in this issue lies in the hands of the voter. Don’t return those politicians you have identified as corrupt and not fit to be called as ‘Honest Member of Parliament’ at the forthcoming general election.
In modern politics, democracy cannot function or survive without a Parliament as it is the legislative body of government in whatever name it is called in various countries that practice Parliamentary democracy. Historically, parliaments meet for various kinds of deliberative, consultative, and judicial assemblies. Even Kings and Queens, dictators, autocrats and depots have used Parliament to pass laws for their advantage. But we must never forget the fact that the legislature is one of the four posts that sustains democracy with the Executive, Judiciary and the Media. Countries cannot pass laws, monitor public accounts and without the legislature. Since ancient times, when societies were tribal, there were councils or a headman whose decisions were assessed by village elders. The Parliament has come a long way since then and has played an important role in protecting fundamentals of democracy like human rights, fundamental rights, rights of women and children, labour rights etc.
QThere is no argument that a Parliament needs honest members to act as law makers in this endeavour. Sadly, the SLPP has given nominations to almost all Parliamentarians who ignited the moist distasteful and anti-democratic fight on November 15, 2018.
I once again say that if voters think those involved in Parliamentary fracas, sand and soil business, drug mafia, underworld activities and other crimes, they have a great opportunity on August 5 to reject them. I request you not to ask me in a future date if and when the people have voted overwhelmingly to those so-called corrupt politicians and elect them as their representatives as to how and why they have been elected despite all the allegations against them. The ball is in voters’ court. To be frank with you, I must say that a political party has so many other qualifications of a candidate to be considered like his or her abilities, skills, popularity and chances to emerge victorious in a hotly contested election when the candidate comes before the nomination board.