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I hope my future will be brighter: Sirisena

20 March 2013 07:28 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena speaks to the Daily Mirror on the issues pertaining to the National Drug Policy and his political aspirations. He also addresses the incident that took place in Pasikuda and the threats to his life.

Intra-Party politics

Q: You have been in politics for over three decades now, so what are your political aspirations?
Personally I am always glad about the distance that I have come. I come from a very poor agricultural family and grew up in a rural village. I got involved in politics and then became a politician and later a Minister and worked hard for the people. I have gained a lot of experience as a politician.
As a parliamentarian I have been in the parliament for 24 years and soon it will be 25 years. Further I was the Leader of the House.  I have been a member of one of the main political parties of the country for over 45 years and have served as the General Secretary of the SLFP for over 12 years.
I am very proud of my journey thus far and I think that I am a successful person; politically and personally, I live in peace with my family—I am very happy.  I am in a better place than I was before, and I hope that my future too will be better.

Q: There is a romour to say that you will be the next Prime Minister, has this position been offered to you?
Well no one has offered it to me; however there is talk amongst the people and in political circles, the government and the party—that is a natural thing.

Q: Do you have any expectation of being the Prime Minister?
I am happy about the journey that I have come so far and looking to the future to be brighter.

Q: Some say that Basil Rajapaksa will be the next Prime Minister, what are your thoughts on that and do you think power should be consolidated within one family?
He is not the Prime Minister yet, so we need not talk about that.

Pasikuda incident and threat to life

Q: You mentioned that you have a successful life and you have a similarly successful personal life. However in the past weeks we saw your personal matters being drawn out across the media due to an incident regarding your son. You pointed the finger at the media for making this an issue.
Certain controllers of the media are the ones who created this problem.

Q: Who are these controllers exactly? You have kept saying that certain individuals in control of the media have an agenda against you, who are these people?
I am someone who has never had an issue with the media in my career. However the media needs to be fair and unbiased. But certain individuals like to act according to their own personal agendas, the way people acted during this incident was very disappointing. Our country is surrounded by beaches, so when a few young boys have a fight on the beach is that something to be the headlines in the papers? There were false reports about the incident all over certain media outlets. This is why I had a press conference and responded to them.
But I prefer if we did not dig into these matters that have passed.

Q: At the time you said something more disturbing, that you felt a threat to your life. Where is this threat coming from? Who are you afraid of?
We began our discussion with the National Drug Policy, therefore this offends a lot of individuals, due to my decisions as the Minister of Health I have made some enemies. Further there is a new tender system that I have started at the Ministry, which removed a lot of corrupt practices.
I have had a fear about this and I have told a lot of my close friends who are Ministers and also the President. At the time I said what I felt and that was that there need not be any investigations into these threats because I know from which quarters they are emanating and these may be empty threats.

Q: These threats are not due to politics, it is purely to do with business interests that have been offended by your stance at the Ministry of Health?
I got some telephone calls and I can’t tell you exactly where they were from, I have to consider the matter and what I feel is that these threats are coming from those who are unhappy with the changes that I am making.

Q: Do you feel there is a threat to your life, from a political angle?
I don’t think it’s possible for me to come to a final conclusion on the matter; that is why I said I have to consider everything carefully.

Q: So you think it is both political and from business interests?
No it’s not possible to say whether it’s from two sides or one side. My experience is that as a politician you have to go through some tough times. Sometimes when you are insulted through a mudslinging poster, you think that it’s a certain person; however on close inspection you realize it is someone else.  Therefore it is neither wise nor possible to come to a conclusion when it comes to matters of this nature.

Health Sector

Q: The National Drug Policy has run into some difficulties, with the Draft Act drawn up by the Legal Draftsman’s Department going missing. What is the progress on this front?
The National Drug Policy that we have decided on has been the one that was formulated by Prof. Senaka Bible. I think the National Drug Policy has been discussed in our country for over 40 years and there have been a series of debates on the issue. The government and the people have many expectations for this Policy and its implementation.

In 2006 the Ministry of Health published the National Drug Policy based on the recommendations and guidance by Prof. Senaka Bible. I have been the Health Minister for three years now and my main aim when I took up my position was to ensure that the Drug Policy was put in place. However, when I first came to the Ministry, for over a year, I was not able to properly gather information on the Policy because certain individuals in the Ministry were hiding information from me. I appointed a number of committees and was carrying out activities and in between this,  I was told that there had been some information gathered on the issue—there were issues of this nature that I had to face.

On the other hand the biggest blow, from the adoption of this procedure is to the Multinational companies that sell drugs to the public. However I have always been of the premise that regardless of who we offend, we have to adopt a policy.

Within one and a half years of taking over the Health Ministry I was able to prepare all the documents necessary to put in place, an Act necessary to implement the Policy. After this, I sent all the documents to the Legal Draftsman’s Department to undertake the wording of the Act.  However a week before the Act was to be handed over, it went missing. Therefore the Act has to be redrafted from the beginning; to further complicate matters officials of the Legal Draftsman’s Department had also been changed. Therefore they have restarted work on the Act. Some media outlets had reported that these documents had gone missing at the Ministry of Health, however it was not our fault and no such misplacement happened on our part.  We have all the reports necessary, it is just the legal documents that we had handed over.

At present the Legal Draftsman’s Department has notified us that as soon as they can they will complete work on the Act and hand it over to us. After it is handed over to us we will examine the Act and then make any amendments and send it to the Attorney General. Thereafter once he approves it, I will present it at the Cabinet and finally to Parliament.

Therefore there are so many obstacles from the business sectors, internal forces and external forces—but I plan on overcoming these issues and presenting it in Parliament before my tenure as Minister of Health comes to an end. However I wonder whether destiny will allow me this opportunity.

Q: How soon can we expect this to be presented in Parliament?
I believe that the Legal Draftsman’s Department will hand this over to us in a few weeks and then by the middle of this year I should be able to present this to parliament.

Q: For a government Department to have misplaced a document of such importance and to not have any backup copies, is utterly implausible and irresponsible.
But it was not my fault or the fault of my department. The head of the Legal Draftsman’s Department retired and then she promised me that it was on her computer but in the end I don’t know what happened—maybe some bacteria entered the computer.

Q: The World Health Organisation recently released a report on the cases of Chronic Kidney Disease in Sri Lanka, what is the government’s plan to address this major health concern, especially for people in the North Central Province?
This increase in Chronic Kidney Disease is not something that took place recently; it is something that has been happening over the past 10 to 15 years. The increase in the number of patients had been a concern for the government and the Ministry of Health and we have devoted resources to combat the disease.

Prior to becoming the Health Minister, around 13 years ago I devoted over 10 Million from the in order to treat this disease. There are a number of doctors who are working to help treat this disease.

In addition to treatment the government has also looked into the means of preventing this disease, and has carried out research into the cause for this illness. However the reports that have been published have contradicted each other and we are still unable to find out the real reason for the spread of the disease—all the research has been debatable and inconclusive.

It is in this context that the WHO and the government collaborated on a Report to find out the real reason for the spread of the disease. The WHO gave us an initial assessment last year and the final assessment was received by us last week and we will study it and release the findings to the public.
In addition to the WHO report we are also considering the findings of local universities that have done research into this matter.

Our main aim of assessing these reports is to be able to provide the people with the necessary information to avoid contracting this disease. We see that it is the agricultural community that is most affected by the disease, reports suggest that pesticides, water and certain plants and other items that are consumed by the public cause the disease. However there are certain recommendations that I think of not only as the Minister of Health but also as a boy that grew up in the village. They say that fresh water fish (Waw Malu) and lotus roots (Nelum Ala) are causing the disease, however as generational farming communities it is difficult for us to think that these consumables cause illness. Our people have eaten these things from the time of kings.
Therefore we need to consider not just the scientific content of these reports. We need to see the practical  side of these recommendations as well.  

The issue is also spreading outside the North-Central province. Hambantota, Kurunagala, Badulla and Monoragala have also reported cases. Fewer cases are reported in the highlands but we know that in the farming activities of these areas there is a high content of pesticides used. Therefore it’s difficult to come to a conclusion as to what is causing the illness.

On the other hand the government is doing all that it can to prepare the necessary treatments for patients suffering from the disease.

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  Comments - 2

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  • Ben Hurling Friday, 22 March 2013 10:04 AM

    Yes. Keep thinking only about your own future. Though you were elected to think about Sri Lanka's future.

    srinath.gunaratne Friday, 22 March 2013 11:37 AM

    Why do not DM go and talk to legal draftsman and question, It is a joke to say a document vanishes into thin air in this digital era? Also the tone of the minister is also very lackadaisical.
    Where is the CID? 4th Floor? Complaint?
    Who is trying to fool who?, Minister must answer properly!

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