In the wake of the national Unity Government completing two years, United National Party (UNP) MP Ajith Mannapperuma spoke about the current status of the Government and how the country should move forward. Here are excerpts of the interview:
- Individual parties may face problems due to this form of governance
- Growth rates didn’t reflect ground realities in the past
- Figures are genuine now
- That’s why the growth rate looks low
- We have nothing personal against the Rajapaksas
- We only want to deal with corruption and fraud
- There is stability. The country is forging ahead
- We engaged in hostile politics for 60 years undercutting each other
- We have enacted the Right to Information Act. Nothing is shrouded in secrecy today
- We introduced the Witness Protection Act for the good of the country
- The President and the Prime Minister couldn’t micromanage everything
Q As a UNP MP, how do you view the future of the Unity Government with the two- year period announced in the MoU concluding?
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made a clear departure from hostile politics that the two parties were engaged in for more than 60 years. They formed a Unity Government. It’s a novel, alien concept for most of us. Within the system, the leaders are compelled to place the country’s future before their party’s interest. It’s a unique feature of good governance.
Q Though you make such claims, Sri Lanka has been on a downward spiral as far as economic development is concerned. The economic indices show it. Why is this?
Parliament started a debate on the Fiscal Report by the Central Bank. During the former rule, the then opposition argued that the figures had been manipulated to reflect an economic growth, which isn’t real. We argued that these figures or indices didn’t reflect the ground realities. Be that as it may, nobody made such allegations during the debate we had during the last parliamentary week. The figures were genuine. Anybody can make reports. Ours contains actual figures reflecting on the ground realities.
Today, the reality is reflected. When that is done, we are subjected to criticism. We receive brickbats. We stand up to all these challenges and proceed. There is stability. The country is forging ahead.
I see the two leaders-the President and the Prime Minister- aren’t on a collision course at all. It’s a concept followed elsewhere in the world. It is wonderful that the system was applied here by them. At that time, it was more a dream
Q How do you look to the future when the UNP MPs and the SLFP MPs take on each other?
I see the two leaders-the President and the Prime Minister- aren’t on a collision course at all. It’s a concept followed elsewhere in the world. It is wonderful that the system was applied here by them. At that time, it was more a dream. We could hardly imagine how the two parties could form a Cabinet jointly. The two leaders have stuck to it. Yet, their followers have clashed with each other on different occasions. It’s because they aren’t used to it. It is understandable. We engaged in hostile politics for 60 years undercutting each other. We are moving forward now .
Q Do you believe that the Unity Government should continue?
In the greater interests of the country, this is the best mode of governance. Yet, individual parties face problems.
Q It means the Government should continue in the present form?
Yes. However, we have a problem because the MPs of both sides don’t fall in line with the system. Once they fall in line, we can work together in the greater interest of the country. These differences will be a stumbling block in the way of achieving our personal agendas. Above all, the country’s agenda is more important.
There was mass corruption at that time starting from the ‘Helping Hambantota case’. There was the MiG transaction, the hedging deal and the Greek Bond case. The people wanted an end to all this. They entrusted us with the task of building a corruption-free society. We have enacted the Right to Information Act. Nothing is shrouded in secrecy today. People are entitled to know what is happening.
Everything is laid bare before the Parliament. There are shortcomings. Those existed even at that time. People have come to know of these things only now. We, as MPs, are compelled to adjust to the people’s expectations. People are holding the Government to ransom.
We introduced the Witness Protection Act for the good of the country. In the past, even Local Government members used to dictate terms to the police. The public service had been insulted. School principals had to admit children at the behest of politicians. We have placed everything back on track. Even the chairmanship of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was given to the JVP.
we have a problem because the MPs of both sides don’t fall in line with the system. Once they fall in line, we can work together in the greater interest of the country
Q You talked about the eradication of corruption. However, the bond scam-considered one of the biggest financial frauds in the country- was committed within a couple of months after the Government was formed in January, 2015. Once it came to light, the members of the Government tried to cover it up. What is your response?
As for the change in the Government, though we had a new President and a Prime Minister, there was no change in the MPs and bureaucrats as such. The President and the Prime Minister couldn’t micromanage everything. It is impractical. They were only able to put up a mechanism in place.
The former rule covered up the cases related to the Greek Bond issue, the hedging deal and the MiG transaction. Yet, this Government has set up an independent commission to investigate the case. It’s a new culture. As a result, we have experienced a new phenomena. In another two years or more, we will see a new country. I always say that politicization caused the gravest harm to the country. We have to end politicization.
Cases normally drag on for years in Sri Lanka. It isn’t a phenomenon related to the cases involving the last Government. The average time, taken to dispense with a criminal case, is ten years
Q You referred to three specific cases of corruption and frauds during the former regime. Though you talk about them, the Government has been unable to file action and lead to any conviction so far. Why is it?
We have no personal issue with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Minister Basil Rajapaksa. We only have to deal with corruption and frauds for the greater good of the country. We witnessed how Minister Sarath Fonseka was victimized merely because of the fact that he contested the elections. We don’t work in the same fashion. We will follow the law of this country.
We have sent 87 files related to corruption and frauds during the last Government. Legal action has been taken with regard to 16 of these cases. As a result, we have been able to discover different aspects of frauds. We found a land without a claimant for it in Malwana. We implement the law. There is public perception that the legal process is underway at a slow pace.
Cases normally drag on for years in Sri Lanka. It isn’t a phenomenon related to the cases involving the last Government. The average time, taken to dispense with a criminal case, is ten years. Some even take as long as 20 years. This is the realty of the country. When the ruling is given, only the next generation of litigants is alive. We have paid attention to this. There is a dialogue within the party to decide on how to speed up the process. It isn’t only regarding the cases involving the Rajapaksas.
We witnessed how Minister Sarath Fonseka was victimized merely because of the fact that he contested the elections. We don’t work in the same fashion. We will follow the law of this country.
Q The Government is accused of postponing elections. What is the reason for the Government to dodge elections in this manner?
We promised to produce a set of politicians who are directly answerable to their electorates. A politician has to be produced from within the electorate itself. It’s a difficult task for us to do this. We have to delimit the electoral units.
When we go for the ward system, it’s argued that the minority communities and minor parties will be marginalized. If such a system only existed, the parties such as the JVP, JHU, NFF and others would have been nowhere. We need to be fair by all concerned. So, a new system has to be worked out in a manner that will do justice to all. It will be discussed in Parliament on Thursday. This is a broad subject. We will conduct the local authorities’ election in December, this year or in January, next year. We will conduct the elections in the appropriate way. We might sometimes face a problem in December because of the G.C.E. Ordinary Level Examinations.