- Will continue to engage Mahasanga on constitution making
- Parliamentary practices and the Constitution are abused by the Government
- JO awaits gazette note to make political announcements
- Will win a majority of councils
- JO is opposed to the report by the Steering Committee
- JO’s views were disregarded
- Govt.’s foreign policy a failure
- Key economic infrastructure shouldn’t be leased out
Joint Opposition’s Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardane, in an interview with , spoke about the current status related to the constitution making process and how his side braces for the Local Government Elections, expected to be declared soon. Following are excerpts of the interview.
Q When you called on the Chief prelate of the Malwatte Chapter Most Ven. Thibbatuwave Siddartha Sri Sumangala Thera to brief him on the constitution making process, he didn’t listen to you. What do you feel about it?
That is our responsibility. I met the Mahanayakes of all three Chapters- Asgiriya, Malwatte and Ramanna. I handed over to them the copies of proposals which the Joint Opposition submitted. We included our views regarding the dangers in the proposals contained in the Government’s report. Actually, the Mahanayake Theras of Asgiriya and Ramanna Chapters said that there were dangerous proposals. Quoting the President and the Prime Minister, the Malwatte Mahanayake Thera denied these clams made by the two Theras. In the draft report, the unitary status and Article 9, which gives foremost status to Buddhism, are proposed to be amended. Ven. Malwatte Mahanayake Thera said that there was nothing like that as per the assurances given by the President and the Prime Minister. We requested him to read the document without going by anyone’s statement. After that, I also called on the Mahanayake Thera of the Kotte Chapter. We will continue to engage with them. It is our responsibility and obligation to do so.
Q Do you view the response by Ven.Malwatte Mahanayake Thera as a kind of a setback in your efforts to mobilize support against the Government’s constitution making process?
It is not. There is one truth. We have to go by what is correct, not by what is said. What is proposed is mentioned in black and white. An overwhelming majority of members of the Mahasanga know that this is dangerous. They want it to be defeated.
Q You too represented the Steering Committee that produced this report. You, or the Joint Opposition for that matter, handed over a set of proposals. Does it mean that your proposals have been disregarded?
The Joint Opposition was represented by me and MP Prasanna Ranatunga. We had taken the position that the key areas of the Constitution, outlined under 14 points, shouldn’t be compromised on. Accordingly, we have represented it as members. We have submitted our proposals. We completely disassociate ourselves with the report published by the Steering Committee. We objected to the alteration of terminologies in English, Tamil and Sinhala versions of the draft. But, the Government seems to be having its own way in conducting affairs. Though we were members who represented the six subcommittees, we had to reject their reports. That is because our views weren’t incorporated. It is a similar situation. We have submitted an alternate report, disagreeing with the Government.
We completely disassociate ourselves with the report published by the Steering Committee. We objected to the alteration of terminologies in English, Tamil and Sinhala versions of the draft. But, the Government seems to be having its own way in conducting affairs
QActually, a section of the Joint Opposition wanted you to boycott the Steering Committee proceedings. Yet, you went ahead with it. How do you feel now?
There was no such decision. The Joint opposition acted in unison. All the decisions were taken unanimously. There may be a few members expressing reservation. However, the Joint Opposition acted unanimously.
QSome members of the civil society, working closely with the Joint Opposition, also wanted to boycott the Steering Committee proceedings. What is your view?
There are so many views expressed. The Joint Opposition is aware of it. We are involved in the parliamentary process. There are certain things we disagree on. Yet, the parliamentary system functions. Those who are not in Parliament can make various statements. As the MPs and the only opposition to the Government, the Joint Opposition has acted as a responsible parliamentary group.
QThe Government could muster the support of two-thirds in the enactment of the Provincial Council Elections (Amendment) Act. In the same way, do you believe that the Government would be able to enact the new Constitution?
The Government violated all norms of parliamentary practices and Standing Orders. It, then, smuggled in an entirely different set of amendments to the original Bill that was before the House. Not only that, the Government waited for two and half hours till the MPs assembled at the House. That was to obtain a two-thirds majority. It had never been so in the history of Parliament. In this instance, the Government spent two and half hours of extra time allotted to parliamentary business. The Government was able to obtain 150 odd votes with the support of the JVP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) sitting in the opposition. The Act is now challenged in the Supreme Court. It is an abuse of parliamentary democracy. The country wont accept this. Today, parliamentary practices and the Constitution are abused by the Government. People are up in arms against what’s happening and carry out protests.
The Government postponed the Provincial Council Elections because it feared defeat. But, the Parliamentary Elections can’t be postponed in the same manner. People will prevail upon the Government to listen to their voices.
QWhat can be done now as the Speaker has already certified it into law?
There is a clear judgment available in Erskine May (Erskine May is the most authoritative and influential work on parliamentary procedure and the constitutional conventions affecting Parliament)
I raised it in Parliament. The Speaker can’t act against the Constitution. The Constitution creates Parliament. The Constitution says Parliament should create Standing Orders. It isn’t a vegetable market to take ad hoc decisions. The matter is now before the Supreme Court.
The Government postponed the Provincial Council Elections because it feared defeat. But, the Parliamentary Elections can’t be postponed in the same manner. The Constitution is very clear in this regard. People will prevail upon the Government to listen to their voices. Initially, the Government didn’t give a damn about the Bond Issue. Today, thanks to the Joint Opposition and people’s protest, the Government has had to face investigations. The Government may hoodwink people for a week or a month. It can’t fool the people all of the time.
Despite remedial attempts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Government is facing a serious economic crisis. There is no good governance. There has to be good governance in the real sense of the word to create an investment
QThe name of one minister is already implicated in the bond scam. Do you think that there are big shots involved?
Investigations are on. The Ministers are summoned. The names of key Government figures are emerging. Information, hitherto unknown, is being revealed.
QHow do you plan to deny two-thirds for the Government in future?
The Government itself doesn’t have two-thirds in Parliament. The Government depended on the JVP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Where does the Government stand at present?
Q The Government has launched its policy framework Vision 2025. What is your assessment on the economic situation of the country?
Of course, the Government has been making elaborate economic plans from the very day they assumed power. There was the 100-day economic plan. It was a failure. The Government couldn’t deliver on what it promised. Instead, there was economic chaos along with the depreciation of the rupee value and the balance of payment crisis. A massive amount of US dollars could have been saved as a result of the drop of fuel prices in the world market. Amidst all this, investors are pulling out their money.
Investors have lost confidence in the country. Despite remedial attempts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Government is facing a serious economic crisis. There is no good governance. There has to be good governance in the real sense of the word to create an investment –friendly environment. The country is heading for a serious crisis. Basic facts and figures give this warning.
The Government launched Vision 2025 because it wants to indicate to the country that it will be in power for many more years. These types of statements have been made in the past. The world economic landscape is changing.
The country needs consistency regarding policies. Today, contradictory statements are made by the ministers. With the availability of the latest communication technology, these contradictions are made known to the world. That is what Sri Lanka is facing today.
The Joint Opposition doesn’t support the leasing out of key infrastructure. It doesn’t help Sri Lanka. We don’t agree with the Government’s conditions regarding this. These are valuable centres of our economy. It can’t be given away to various foreign companies.
The country needs consistency regarding policies. Today, contradictory statements are made by the ministers. With the availability of the latest communication technology, these contradictions are made known to the world
QBut, the Government leaders always say they have won over the whole world. They say they have no enemies today. What is your view?
The Government’s policy is not a success. Though they say they have overcome everything, what has happened is the exact opposite. What they are doing is the creation of anti-national legislations. Foreign policy should be conducted in a manner that would bring positive results to the country. There should have been a flood of investments if the foreign policy was a success.
Q How do you get ready for the Local Government Elections?
We hope it will be held as promised by the Government. The Joint Opposition has initiated talks with regard to the selection of candidates among other things. We will be contesting as a new alliance. We will make the necessary political announcements after the Gazette notification is out. We will win a majority of local authorities.