But, no signboard advertising on them
Establishment Code needs reforms
Democracy flourishes in full steam
Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardane, in an interview with the Daily Mirror, says that the Government has undertaken over 300 major development projects. He says democracy flourishes today in the country. Excerpts:
The National Unity Government will complete its second anniversary this year. How do you look at its performance?
Most of the people are not used to this novel experience in politics. With the past experiences, they believe in reverting to the old system. Be that as it may, all are set in place for a new journey in the greater interests of the country.
What is the way forward in the context of the two parties taking on each other while being in a Unity Government?
This is a situation where people enjoy democratic freedom in great abundance. There are different voices being raised with no bar. It is visible. It is a phenomenon visible only when democracy flourishes. One should not get panicked over it.
In democracy, freedom is meant for constructive criticism, making way for a better outcome for the country at the end. Today, we see a kind of stalemate in Governmental affairs. How do you see it?
There is no stoppage of Governmental activities as such. As of now, we have started work on 300 new development projects. If you reserve one whole page in the newspaper, we can outline all of them. These are mega projects. At grassroots level, we completed projects worth Rs. 1 million each in all the Grama Niladhari Divisions. We, in fact, carried it out in 2015 and 2016. It means Rs. 2 million has been pumped into each division. There are 14,000 such divisions. However, there are no name boards erected at every junction bearing the images of the President and the Prime Minister. So, people think nothing is happening. With the passage of time, the truth will dawn on people.
What are the main projects which you can highlight?
One is the Dedduwa Economic Zone in my constituency. It is a project covering an area of 400-500 acres. The identified blocks of land are being acquired after payment of compensation. In Akurala of the Galle District, survey work has commenced for the acquisition of 500 acres of land. As for the Galle Port, it is to be developed with investment from Japan and Sri Lanka alike for the promotion of tourism.
"There is no stoppage of Governmental activities as such. As of now, we have started work on 300 new development projects. If you reserve one whole page in the newspaper, we can outline all of them"
In the Koggala Free Trade Zone, a land extent of 12 acres is still left unused. We made use of it to put up manufacturing plants. Here, 10,000 persons will get new employment. These are projects only in the Galle District. Next, we continue with the expressway and railway projects by the previous Government. The expressway and the railway line will be extended up to Hambantota.
As for the Hambantota port project, it is embroiled in some problems. How do you plan to proceed with it?
There is no need to get alarmed about it. In 2011, 2013 and 2014, the previous Government submitted proposals inviting Foreign Direct Investment. In 2016, we, the new Government, invited foreign investors. Accordingly, investors have agreed to come. For the project proposals submitted in 2011, 2013 and 2014, no one responded. There was a different situation in 2016. A huge investment is proposed. But, adequate human resources cannot be found from the locality. We have to improve the human resources. We are acting in that direction.
There are amendments proposed to the original agreement to develop the Hambantota Port. How do you proceed?
Again, there is no need to be alarmed. There are agreements worked out in 2011, 2013 and 2014 by the former Government. We have another agreement in 2016. We have worked it out to attract the highest possible number of investors.
How feasible is it for us to attract FID competing with countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Malaysia which have comparative advantages over us?
Of course, the main issue is the lack of human resources. In the construction industry, for example, we do not find adequate workers. In other sectors, we have a shortage of workers in the skill-oriented sectors.
Therefore, the Prime Minister has decided to make school education mandatory even after Grade 10 up to Grade 13. That is to direct school children to relevant vocational study fields at their schools. We need a programme to train them with technological skills. Then, we can not only create one million job opportunities but also offer jobs to those outside the country. In the construction industry, we run short of labourers, fitters, plumbers, carpenters and all. We do not have enough mechanics and electricians. We take five years for the construction of a building which otherwise can be built in two years. We face this problem due to lack of skilled workers.
How do you proceed with the Public Private Partnership Model proposed for revamping the State institutions?
There is nothing to fear about it. We develop the country with cash infusion from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, JICA and other financial agencies in the world. Likewise, development is done with the help of individuals with adequate capital for investment. It is important to attract such persons with investment capacities to Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, we have only 20 million people. However, there are millions of Sri Lankans, either with dual citizenship or not, living in different parts of the world. Some of them are among the wealthiest in the countries they live in. The duty of the government is to attract them here.
Earlier, you have planned for a new Bill called ‘Gram Raj Bill’ to deal with local administration. How far have you progressed now?
The Home Affairs Ministry, under its purview, has 25 District Secretariats, 332 Divisional Secretariats, 14022 Grama Niladhari Divisions, 17,800 Development Officers and the Registration Department. We have the administrative machinery that is needed to oversee the development work cutting across the country. The Gram Raj concept is a new addition. The Prime Minister has submitted two Cabinet Papers in this regard.
Besides, another Cabinet Paper has been submitted by the Prime Minister for the establishment of a Public Services Management Authority in line with the standards and practices in the developed world. Anyone aggrieved by the public service can complain to it.
How far have you progressed in relation to this institution?
Of course, we have worked out basic plans. We have received all shades of opinions in this regard. The Prime Minister has submitted the Cabinet Paper. The draft legislation will be presented to Parliament soon.
As for legislation on the Gram Raj you mentioned, will it clash with the powers of the local authorities?
It will not clash with the powers of the local bodies. We can, in fact, carry out the intended work without introducing fresh legislation. This is aimed at ensuring the participation of rural people in development. That is to rejuvenate villages in keeping with the aspirations of the people.
How similar is to the old Gam Sabha systems?
We cannot go back to that system. From then and now, the situation has changed much in terms of geographic location, population sizes and all.
Yet, there is a lot to be learnt from the basic concept of Gam Sabha. What are your views?
We can extract some of its positive features. We cannot resurrect the past. We have to move forward.
What is the Government’s plan for the expansion of the public service?
We are acting for the expansion of it. It is the Government service that works out the legal background and guidelines even for the private sector to progress. When the country develops, all sectors get developed. When the Free Trade Zone concept was introduced, the Government sector gave leadership to it. Along with the private sector development, the public service also gets expanded.
What about new recruitment?
We are recruiting without any problem to the Essential Services of the Government sector. We are planning to recruit 2000 Grama Niladharis.
There is a perception that Government officials have been demotivated for work due to fear of being victimised by the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID)?
It is an outdated perception. I do not see that it is noteworthy now. The Constitution has stipulated how the Public Service should be governed. It happens accordingly.
In the Establishment Code, it has been stipulated. When a particular situation cannot be dealt with by the Ministry Secretary concerned, it can be referred under other laws applicable. When there is criminal liability arising, action can be taken in terms of the laws concerned by the Government. Our government also sticks to the due procedure laid down in the Constitution.
Are you planning to reform the current laws in this regard?
Actually, a lot of reforms are needed. It is true that a lot of changes are needed in the Establishment Code. That is due to be done in the future. There are views expressed.
How is the United National Party (UNP) getting ready for future elections?
We are ready for elections at any moment. In 2002, we won the election at the local authorities including Attanagalle. We are now taking steps in this direction again. When the election is conducted at the appropriate time, the present administration will win all.
What are the reforms proposed in the UNP?
A party is always subjected to reforms. The UNP forges ahead with reforms all the time. We intend to work for the victory at next elections after doing timely reforms to the party.
Can you tell anything definite about it?
There is nothing definite in politics. It is always open-ended.
"There was a different situation in 2016. A huge investment is proposed. But, adequate human resources cannot be found from the locality. We have to improve the human resources. We are acting in that direction"