Q Now, you have been the Leader of the Opposition for almost one year. How do you assess the role you played during the time?
My becoming the Leader of the Opposition was due to certain circumstances where the two main parties, in alliance, formed the government. And, consequently, the second largest party was not entitled to be the main opposition in Parliament. We happened to be the third largest party. As the parliamentary group leader of that party, I was recognized by the Speaker as the Leader of the Opposition. As a party and as an individual politician, we were very disappointed with the performance of the last government on all fronts, whether it was human rights,independence of the judiciary, rule of law, independence of public institutions, independence of police and public services ,fostering unity among different peoples , addressing the national question, corruption , extravagance, waste and several other issues. We had no reason to be happy with the former government. The present government claims to follow policies different from that of the previous government. On the issues referred to above, particularly dealing with the economy they seem o have a different policy. The former government earned the displeasure of very important segments of the international community, and this country, in consequence, was deprived of many benefits and advantages. The current President and the Prime Minister have restored the country’s image internationally. And the world as a whole has become friendlier to Sri Lanka after the present government came into being. We have functioned in the opposition. We have not been in the government.We could have been in the government. But, we did not want to be in the government. We are in the opposition. In fact, I am the longest serving opposition member in Parliament starting from 1977. I have never been in any Government.
Q Would you like to be in the government one day?
We will see. We are critical of the government where it needs to be criticised. We will definitely not hesitate to criticise the government.
" This country has never had a constitution brought about with the consent of all the peoples, not the 1972 constitution, not the 1978 constitution. This country needs a new constitution. All the people need it. That is a very progressive step"
Q Apart from restoration of the country’s image in the international arena, how do you see the performance of the present government in the other fronts?
The e country is chronically in debt. The economy of the country is in dire straits. The economy needs to be rebuilt. The Prime Minister is talking in terms of creating one million jobs. It is a very big target. But, it is a very laudable target. It means that the Prime Minister is expecting substantial foreign investments. And, economic development will result in the creation of jobs.
Q Actually, what is the economic policy of the TNA?
The TNA’s economic policy is that the poor man has got to be looked after, but the country must be developed.
Q Would you like to comment on the recent VAT increase?
The VAT increase has been a very unpopular measure. But, the government also needs money. The government also has certain commitments to international organizations. The country is chronically in debt. The country’s income is insufficient to service its debt. We need to come out of this. The government must nevertheless be conscious that the weaker sections of the society should not be called upon to bear a greater burden. That we are concerned about. But, the government needs to manage these things. Some people might say there was development under the former government-roads and a few other things. But at what cost? Money that was expended was three times or four times the money that was required. There was a great deal of waste. Many projects claimed to have been implemented by the former government are not yielding any returns. So, when one considers This attitude to the present government, one cannot be unmindful of what happened under the former government.
Q As far as the issues concerning people of the North and the East, how happy are you with the progress in addressing them?
We are much happier than what we were under the former government. I do think more could have been done, particularly in the matter of release of lands, in the matter of missing persons, in the matter of resettlement and rehabilitation with livelihood. But, at least, to some extent, things have been done. The government is committed to do more. Sections of the former government are attempting to prevent the present government from doing more. They are raising all kinds of issues which can cause disunity and promote tension. We are pressing the government to deliver more. The government has started a process to bring the country a new constitution with the consent of all the people and all the political parties. This country has never had a constitution brought about with the consent of all the peoples, not the 1972 constitution, not the 1978 constitution. This country needs a new constitution. All the people need it. That is a very progressive step.
Q How confident are you that this government will work out the new constitution?
I do not know. It does not depend on this government alone. It depends on everybody. But the Government has the main role.
"We are critical of the government where it needs to be criticised. We will definitely not hesitate to criticise the government "
Q Do you believe that the government will deliver on this?
I am expecting the government to deliver. But, I think everybody must understand that if this country is to progress or if this country is to achieve its rightful status in the world, we need a new constitution. We were looked upon as the Switzerland of the East. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew wanted to model the development of Singapore on Sri Lanka. What happened to us? Why have we lost our way? The primary reason for losing our way is that we had a constitution, we were ruled under a constitution which did not have the consent of people. As far as we are concerned, we are prepared to, very steadfastly, contribute towards the making of a new constitution acceptable to all the peoples of this country, and to as much as possible to the political parties in Sri Lanka.
Q As a senior politician, in your view, what is the best constitutional model worked out so far in this country?
I won’t describe any particular set of proposals as having been the best. But, there have been agitations for constitutional reforms from almost the time country attained independence. There was the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact. There was the DudleySenanayaka-Chelvanayagam pact. Then, there was the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement. There was the 13thAmendment, under which the Provincial Councils were created and some measure of devolution was brought about. Thereafter, there were the Mangala Munasinghe Select Committee proposals during President Premadasa’s regime. During the regime of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, there were proposals. There were proposals brought about during the times of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, including the experts’ committee report. This is a process we have been engaged in for a long time. I think if we look at all the proposals around which there has been a measure of consensus and domestically produced, look at models in other parts of the world where there are similar situations!, without using particular phraseology, we should be able to adopt a constitution that will serve all the citizens of this country, give them a sense of equality, and give them a sense of belonging that they are Sri Lankans and that Sri Lanka is their country. This is the challenge before us.
Q What is your view on the 2000 political package introduced during time of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike?
It is quite an advance compared to what came up earlier. I do not want to comment on any particular set of proposals. This is a matter where we all need to come to a consensus.
Q Apart from this, how do you see the progress in the implementation of matters outlined in the Geneva resolution?
The government is starting to implement the resolution only now. These are not easy matters. Generally, most countries take a great deal of time. The resolution was also cosponsored by Sri Lanka. In that sense, Sri Lanka was a party that agreed to the proposal. It was unanimously adopted by the UNHRC. All the countries were in agreement with that proposal. I think the President and the Prime Minister are keen that this proposal must be implemented without causing any upheaval in the country. That is because, we are engaged in important activities, and important processes which are not easy to handle.
Q As the party more keen on the resolution, how do you press for its implementation?
The TNA represents the people of the North and the East. But, the TNA is also concerned about the future of the country. The TNA would love to see a new Sri Lanka in which people of the north and the east are an equal component, and where there is amity and unity amongst all our peoples, in such a way that, in the future, Sri Lanka can be a new country. So, those are our goals.
Q The resolution calls for addressing accountability issues with the involvement of foreign judges. What is your position?
The resolution states what the parties or the countries have agreed to, including Sri Lanka.
"I think the performance of the judiciary now seems to show that it’s becoming more independent"
Q But, there seems to be an upheaval in the country against the involvement of foreign judges?
That is a matter the government has to handle. May be the President feels that the judiciary in our country is no longer under political influence. We know that under the former government the judiciary was not independent. The judiciary was interfered with.
Q In that sense, you also believe that the judiciary is independent?
I am not saying that. The President may feel that the judiciary is not under any influence by the government. He must have also known how much the judiciary was influenced by the former government because he was part of that government.
Q What is your view on the independence of the judiciary now?
I think the performance of the judiciary now seems to show that its becoming more independent.
Q Do you say that there is no need for the involvement of foreign judges as a result?
I am not saying that there is no need for the involvement of foreign judges. I am saying that there is a resolution which Sri Lanka has co-sponsored and needs to be implemented. It is a matter that needs to be handled. There is no upheaval in the country and we are able to take our programme forward in its entirety.