Civil society forces teamed up to bring about a striking change in the country’s politics Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhita Thera, Viharadhipathi of Naga Viharaya, Kotte played a decisive role as the leader of the Movement for Social Justice at the last Presidential poll. In an interview with our sister paper Irida Lankadeepa the prelate expressed his views on the present political situation in the country. Excerpts.
Q : Do you, as the most conspicuous civil society personality who perhaps made the greatest contribution towards the regime change, feel that you have been let down by the new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena?
We rallied political and civil society forces in the run up to the last Presidential poll for the purpose of bringing about a paradigm change in politics in this country. Maithripala Sirisena entered into an agreement with over 40 organisations, groups and eminent personalities representing the body. The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is just one of these constituents of that collective. And I am one of the individuals involved in the [formation] of this group.
Q : However, the role you played was considered more dynamic and decisive than that of others?
That may be correct. I must say that we do have reservations about certain acts of commission and omission on the part of this government. But going by what it has achieved so far, we can say that it has fared well in comparison to the record of its predecessor. There was a time when the day began with an abusive and vituperative commentary aired over the state-owned radio targeting public figures considered opponents of the government top brass. And the eerie and ominous sound that came from the orifice of Hudson Samarasinghe no longer assails your ear. Isn’t that itself a change for the better? Media institutions had turned into laundries. They are now back to normal – discharging the functions expected of them in a democratic society. In the last two months none was white-vanned. You ought to know the oppressive atmosphere in which journalists had to work. Some journalists had to seek asylum in foreign countries. Some were beaten up. Some had their heads shaved. Some were brutally killed while travelling. Journalists are not facing a situation like that today; there is democratic space for them to function independently. A new journey has begun. I don’t say everything is hunky-dory. We have put behind a past that saw a criminal waste of public funds. The expenses of the President at that time amounted to a massive Rs.206.4 million a day! This amount suffices to meet the expenses of the President now in office for one year. There is a drastic drop in the water and electricity bills of the President’s House. Public funds thus being saved could be utilised for the greater good of the people. President Sirisena has made it a point not to avail himself of the concessions and special treatment meant for VIPs when making foreign visits. For instance, he did not use the VIP lounge at the KIA when he enplaned for China recently.
Q : Hamuduruwane, the yahapalanaya the people expected from Maithripala Sirisena when they voted for him is not how he makes it to the point of boarding a plane at the Katunayake Airport.
I have yet to finish what I started telling you. Haven’t the prices of certain essential goods come down? Haven’t the government employees received a pay hike? Haven’t the people begun benefiting from a series of relief measures? There is much good being done!
Q : Granted, but, what about the abolition of the Executive Presidency, a cause for which you have fought for years? What is going to become of the Executive Presidency?
The abolition of the Executive Presidency should take precedence over other matters. I stand by that position. True, we waged a protracted struggle for the abolition of the accursed system. Government has now presented the 19th Amendment in Parliament. The thrust of this Amendment is pruning the powers of the Executive Presidency. We fought for the abolition, lock, stock and barrel. However, now that the incumbent President has been elected by the people, the abolition of the Presidency requires a mandate from the people at a Referendum. But the time is not opportune to go in for a Referendum. Constitutional reforms for the overhaul of the entire system will come in due course. Such far reaching reforms warrant a public debate of wider dimensions. Once these requirements are met, action should be taken to abolish the Executive Presidency in toto. The stage is now set to prune the powers of the Executive Presidency which will make way for the abolition of the system eventually. The 17th Amendment was enacted when Chandrika was the President with a view to restricting the powers of the Executive Presidency. The establishment of independent commissions under the 19thAmendment will lead to a diminution of powers of the Executive Presidency. It is the responsibility of the government to enact it after beating it into shape in consultations with all stake holders.
Q : Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka who put his shoulder to the wheel when the campaign for yahapalanaya was in full steam, has now turned highly critical of moves towards the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the proposed 19th Amendment. What is he really up to?
Yes, he has called the 19th Amendment a mockery and that it is meant to reduce the Executive President to a scarecrow. He is entitled to his opinion. We had differences of opinion even at the time we were campaigning together for a regime change. . He said ‘no’ to the abolition of Executive Presidency when we campaigned for it.
Q : But didn’t Champika take a stand different from his present one at the Presidential poll?
That’s a puzzle to us too. We were all signatories to a collective agreement. I have no right to espouse anything contrary to the provisions of this agreement. I have no idea as to what Champika’s agenda is.
Q : Some people say that Champika is being inspired by a dream he cherishes - the dream of becoming the Executive President of the country in the future. Do you think he is trying to clear the obstacles in the way of his realising this dream?
I don’t know. He was the only member who opposed the 17th Amendment. He is taking up the same stand now. Any one may pursue his personal goals. However, one should not place his personal agenda in the way when it comes to achieving a goal for the common good.
Q : They say that it is a misnomer to call this regime a national government which they say is factually a UNP- SLFP coalition. Your comments...
I too am not happy about the so-called National Government. What has happened is not what should have happened. We campaigned for a common candidate. His commitment was to implement a common programme. This commonness may have acquired a great value had it continued after the election. What I say is that President Sirisena should have remained as the common President and invited all parties to participate in the implementation of the common programme.
Q : Do you mean that he had to bribe some MPs with ministerial portfolios because he failed to retain his commonness after being elected to office?
Yes. What did happen cannot be condoned. It was definitely a case of bribe-giving and bribe-taking. Do they want ministerial portfolios to raise their hands in favour of abolishing the Executive Presidency or establishing independent commissions? Do their hands go limp - lifeless when they don’t occupy ministerial offices? It is highly immoral to offer them ministerial portfolios as gratification for their support. It is equally wrong to accept them. By accepting portfolios they have devalued and demeaned their parliamentary membership. Why can’t they be magnanimous when it comes to a question of fulfilling a pressing need of the Nation? The abolition of the Executive Presidency is a national need. If they are not prepared to raise their hands in support of a piece of legislation intended for the good of the people without portfolios, we have to seriously consider whether they are real representatives of the people.
Q : During the previous regime too, certain MPs sold their membership to the highest bidder. If this practice is allowed to repeat under the present administration as well, whom should we now look up to for justice?
Well, that is the question we are facing. We have got something we did not bargain for. People wanted a yahapalanaya. We deeply regret this situation. We wanted them to restrict the size of the Cabinet to 25 ministers. They have gone back on the undertaking given. Well, maybe, the President wants to take them all on board in his effort to bring his plans to fruition.
Q : The message that the people conveyed on January 8 was not only that Mahinda Rajapaksa should be sent home. What is playing out today is a distortion of that message. The active partners of that corrupt regime have found refuge in the new administration. Can you expect the yahapalanaya to become a reality in this grotesque political landscape?
This is only a manifestation of part of our national crisis. These ‘frogs’ jump from one side to the other for their own gain. They are prepared to resort to any skullduggery if that serves their selfish ends. I concede that this advent of corrupt elements to the new administration portends ill for a yahapalanaya. However, we have to keep in mind that our degenerated polity – our body politic rotting for years cannot be set right overnight. Two-hundred days are too short a time to transform a stinking putrefied setup into an ideal political order or culture.
Q : To use your own phraseology, Hamuduruwane, many well-meaning parties got together as one to heat the griddle to bake the ‘rotiya’. But the cooking process has got messed up?
At least the 19th Amendment ‘rotiya’ has now been put on the griddle! What would be the form and the quality of that ‘rotiya’ is the question now. We are closely watching the situation. Cooking this ‘rotiya’ is a must! If we failed to cook it this time round, it’s a cinch there would be no second time!
Q : You had said that you were prepared to take to the streets if the new administration continued to proceed in the wrong direction. You don’t think that the present situation is bad enough for you to stage that protest?
We will not hesitate to resort to such action if need be. There is time and space yet for the government to take corrective action – mend its ways. The 100-day deadline has not come from a court decree. There is time for dissolving Parliament. We have nothing to do with the so called 100-day deadline. They themselves got imprisoned in that time frame. We asked them to take even six months to deliver the goods. The 100 day- time frame is a good slogan, but a failure in practice. We can give them enough time to deliver on the promises. What really matters is not the time factor, but whether their performance at the end of the day meets the expectations of the people – signifying the fulfillment of all promises held out to the people.
Q : Did you have occasion to meet President Sirisena since he took office?
I met him this morning too.
Q : Didn’t you ask him to sort out the problems that have come up?
I have expressed my views in clear terms. He is quite alive to the problems bedevilling his administration. He knows that he has to face the brunt of dire consequences if things go wrong.
Q : Do you maintain a dialogue with the Prime Minister?
Oh no! I had hardly any occasion to meet him!
Q : Do you think government high ups are functioning with commitment to fulfill the needs of the people?
I don’t see that they are working according to a pre-planned programme. They all should realise that President Sirisena was given a mandate to set right wrongs done during the previous regime. They should not leave room for the rising of new problems. There should be no favoritism or nepotism when it comes to making appointments. They should follow the criterion that the suitable person should get the suitable position. There are allegations that the new administration has not followed this criterion in certain cases.
Q : Are there incompatibilities between the President and the Prime Minister?
There are no serious incompatibilities. However, given that they are from two rival political parties there could be differences between them. They have their own ideological identities. If they are to work successfully together they have to be guided by the spirit of ‘give and take’. It should be understood that people gave their mandate to President Sirisena. He is still the Executive President. He has to place the administration on the proper track even if he has to exercise his executive powers for the purpose. You can use a shaving blade either to shave your beard or slit somebody’s throat. The Executive Presidency is such a sharp blade. He can use the powers of his office for the good. In the immediate past those powers were grossly abused.
Q : Do you think that Parliament would be dissolved on April 23 as repeatedly announced by certain government high ups?
I don’t think. There are certain political realities militating against the dissolution.
Q : Don’t you think that collaring rogues of the previous regime is proceeding at a snail’s pace?
Investigations are proceeding surely and steadily. Procedural delays cannot be helped. They lead to delays in taking punitive action against the rogues. Though we are in a hurry to punish them, the legal process is not!
Q : What do you wish to tell by way of advice to those trying to bring back to power former President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
They want to ride on his back, because they know they have to depend on someone they perceive as strong. My advice to them is: “ Take the correct path in politics. Trying to ride on the back of leaders rejected by people will take you nowhere.”
I dont know who brought this 100 day stupid deadline. People voted to get rid of the Speculative Presidency - not for a 100 day deadline
indrani Friday, 03 April 2015 04:49 AM
very reasonable talk
edward theophilus Friday, 03 April 2015 05:15 AM
Is this person fighting with desires or trying to be the president of Sri Lanka
januvia Saturday, 04 April 2015 09:12 AM
This mam changes colour with every new winning side. first he needs to do is abolish his Robe and pseudo cleverness.
Amarekone Mudiyanse Friday, 03 April 2015 09:59 PM
PART ii.In the courses to be followed by M.P.s to be , include speeches and writings of SIR DBJ to show how a Pirivena Education, an Anglican High School and a western Oxford U.Education influenced to create this Statesman. Garu Hamuduruwne , please read the Hansard of June 1.1944, vol 1, page 901-907. The speeches by Rt Hon. D.S.Senanayake,Messrs G.G.Ponnambalam,T.B.Jayah, S.Natesan, G.A.H.Wille, Diwan Bahadur F.X.Pereira and A.Ratnayake show how he was respected and how that great Statesman cum Scholar cum Social Worker and Religious leader was molded. Since you have ample influence with the politicians direct them to introduce the above arrangement as well please.
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