The Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella, in an interview with the , said that amendments were incorporated into the Provincial Councils Elections act in keeping with the Standing Orders after consulting the Attorney General. Kiriella, who is also the Highways and Higher Education Minister, said that there is nothing wrong in the procedure adopted by the Government as a result. Following are excerpts of the interview.
QThere is a serious allegation that the Government smuggled in provisions to the original draft of the Provincial Councils Election (Amendment) Act to postpone the elections. As the Leader of the House, what is your view?
That is well within the Standing Orders. We haven’t done anything going against the Standing Orders. There is a provision in the Standing Orders that amendments could be brought in at the Committee Stage. When those amendments are made, there is a senior official of the Attorney General’s Department in Parliament. He is there to go through the amendments and state whether they are within the framework of the bill or not.
QThe allegation is that the amendments brought in are against the core of the original legislation presented before Parliament. How do you respond?
That is what I told you. There is an official from the Attorney General’s Department. He is there to determine whether amendments are in line with core proposals of the original Bill or not. You may recall how the previous Government brought in the 18th Amendment within one day. They brought it in the morning and passed it in the evening. The opposition wasn’t consulted at all. Those who talk about abiding by the law sacked the Chief Justice within 24 hours. It seems that they have forgotten their past so early.
QThey say the Government fears facing the public at an election. Is that the reason to seek an indefinite postponement of the elections?
No, you must realize that ours isn’t a single party Government. There are several parties in it. We work with consensus. It takes time to reach consensus. We took some time to reach consensus even on the amendments to the Bill concerned. We achieved it. We don’t fear elections. What we want is to have the same system for all forms of elections. That is a mixed system. That is 60-40 for local government elections and 50-50 for provincial council elections. For parliamentary elections, it will be 60-40. We want one system and to do away with the preferential voting system.
QHow soon can you complete the evolution of new system to the provincial council elections?
We can do it before the end of the year. There is modern technology. You can demarcate the electorates using google map without much effort.
QAs for the local Government, it took more than ten years to complete the evolution of a new electoral system. As for the elections to the provincial councils, how do you expect to complete it in such a short time?
The Elections Commission is confident that it can be done. When the previous Government brought the local Government election law, the opposition wasn’t consulted at all. Even the Elections Commissioner wasn’t consulted as revealed by him regarding the creation of electoral wards. When we did it, we informed him of every step. We are working closely with him.
QAre you planning to contest the elections alone or in alliance with Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)?
It is too early to say. It will depend on the situation at that time. The President was also nominated as the candidate just a couple of months before the elections.
QWhat about the local Government elections?
We are ready for it. We want it. At village level, most of our activists remain without political authority to work. They are also very keen on an early election. The United National Party (UNP) will win a vast majority of electorates. I am confident of it.
QWhen will the election be conducted?
We have set January 20 as the deadline. It will be conducted on or around January 20.
QHave you taken a concrete decision in this regard?
Yes. This is the date we have in mind. We are getting ready for it. In fact, we had a meeting in Kandy District. Each district was asked to provide provisional lists of candidates. Those lists will be vetted by the party office. There is no doubt about the UNP winning. The UNP is the only party with a vision for the country.
QThe MoU with the SLFP will have ended by that time. What is the vision after that?
The MoU will be extended for the remaining period of the Government.
QThere is fear in society that the Government will enact the new Constitution in the same way circumventing the procedure stipulated for it. What is your view?
For the first time even, all the parties are in the Steering Committee. The Tamil parties didn’t take part when the first Republican Constitution was brought by the Government of Prime Minister the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike. When late President J.R.Jayewardene introduced the 1978 Constitution, the same happened. Today, a lot of parties have come to the middle position making compromises. Most parties have discarded their extreme views. Unlike on previous occasions, the enactment of this constitution wont take place in a hall. It will be done in the Well of the Parliament. Now, the interim report has been presented. We have allocated three days for the debate. We will take section by section. We will be doing it in the presence of the media. Nothing will be done in secrecy.
QWhen are you planning to draft it into law?
Once the debate concludes, we will put it into the final form. It will be drafted into a Bill around the end of the year.
QIt means, early next year, you will seek enactment?
QAlso, there is a lot of talk about a referendum regarding the constitution. Are you going for it?
Why should we fear going before people? If we are doing the right thing, why should we be scared? The Government is sure that it is doing the right thing. When we received independence in 1948, Sri Lanka was looked upon as a model. We were called the Switzerland of the East. In fact, Singapore and Malaysia wanted to emulate Sri Lanka. Where are we today? Where are they now? These countries managed their ethnic problems by passing laws and constitutional reforms. What did we do? We used caste, religion and race to gain power. We ended up with a 30-year-old war. We must have a new beginning. The new Constitution will be the new beginning.
QIt means you are planning for it?
Yes. We are planning for it. I have no doubt about winning it if the UNP, SLFP, SLMC and TNA get together. A constitution without the support of people will not stand the test of time.
QThere are a whole lot of allegations regarding wrongdoings involving road projects under your ministry. These are made by none other than COPE Chairman JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti. What is your response?
The COPE isn’t the CID. It is a committee of the Parliament. Under the Standing Order concerned, the COPE Chairman can raise questions where the Auditor General has made observations. When you build a road, the Auditor General can raise queries about overestimation, underestimation or siphoning off of money. Then, the COPE Chairman can raise his questions from the relevant officials based on that. He can’t ask questions based on what was given to him by his party cadre. This is what has been happening in the COPE for the past two years. Our MPs have also been looking the other way. As far as my ministry is concerned, we are willing to answer any question raised by the Auditor General. None of the COPE members has skills nor knowledge to assess costs. We aren’t bound to answer questions based on rumour, gossip and political slander.
QToday, the state medical education is in jeopardy because of the SAITM issue. Medical students boycott lectures because of SAITM. This allegation is made by your Cabinet colleague Susil Premajayantha. What is your response to him as the subject minister?
SAITM was started by the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government in 2011. Susil Premajayantha was a minister in that Cabinet. He should have stopped it then. He didn’t raise any concern then. There was a medical faculty started at the Defence Academy. No one objected. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave financial assistance worth Rs.600 million to SAITM. No doctor or lecturer objected. However, the first batch passed out during our time. Now the matter is before court. We are awaiting the court decision.
QActually, I am referring to the crisis at state medical faculties. Students have been boycotting lectures for months on end. What is your view?
The crisis wasn’t created by us. First of all, people should be law abiding. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in favour of SAITM. Yet, it isn’t accepted by some. In the good old days, university lecturers and dons gave leadership to students. They guided the students in the right direction. Today, students are giving leadership to students.
QWhat is your stand on private medical education?
My stand is the stand taken by many countries in the world today. Every country accepts private higher education institutions. In Sri Lanka, there are private institutions for engineering, management etc. Why are they trying to exclude medicine?
There are over 100 institutions sending students abroad for higher education. We are doping a survey. We have got responses from 27 institutions. They transfer Rs.17 billion as expenses for these students for a period.
- There is nothing to fear
- Govt. is doing the right thing
- If UNP, SLFP, TNA, SLMC can get together, we can win
- New PC Elections passed into law through lawful procedure
- Attorney General cleared all amendments
- Previous rule enacted 18th A to Constitution without consulting the Opposition
- It sacked CJ in 24 hours