It’s also best to remember that a kite flies against the wind of resistance
The Daily Mirror met Patali Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Megapolis and Western Development for an interview. Excerpts:
Q The National Unity Government came to power though much promise and hope. Are you satisfied with the performance of its first year in office?
Yes and no.When the people of this country made a silent revolution by voting the Rajapaksa regime out of power, their aspirations were high. The people’s agenda included constitutional reforms to strengthen democracy, action on large scale corruption, ending ‘tribal’ party politics and, importantly, sustainable development of the country.
Now, turning to the delivery side, this government on its part, has brought in constitutional amendments for the ‘democratisation’ of the Executive Presidency, establishing independent commissions for the public service, judiciary, elections, police, and to deal with bribery and corruption. Unfortunately, no consensus was reached on electoral reforms. As a result, the people that had high aspirations and expectations, feel that little has been fulfilled or delivered. This has brought a degree of disappointment and frustration, particularly among the educated middle class who voted for ‘Yahapalanaya’.
"We decided that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime must go when MR turned down our proposals for several essential amendments to the constitution in Nov. 2014”
Q What are the major achievements of the government during the last 12 months?
The first achievement was the constitutional amendments – the Nineteenth Amendment. Of course, much more could have been achieved on this front had the support of the SLFP been a little more forthcoming during the 100-day programme.
Secondly, a just, fair, free and open society has been created. This fundamental change in society is a major achievement. Perhaps, one year down the road, it might not even be perceived by the people as an achievement. This is natural because freedom is fundamental to a civilised society and its real value is often felt at times when it is not there.
Well, whatever it may be, the stage is now set for a major national development drive of an unprecedented scale that is inclusive and sustainable.
Thirdly, sectarian political and ethno-religious divisions in Sri Lankan society have subsided and healed to some extent.
Fourthly, the isolation of Sri Lanka in the realm of international politics has come to an end. In this regard it would be vital that we continue to be committed to non-aligned principles.
"The main obstacle for the consensual government has been the virtual political and administrative continuation of the Rajapaksa ‘regime’, though it was electorally defeated”
Q What were the major obstacles the government confronted since January 8, 2015?
The main obstacle has been the virtual political and administrative continuation of the Rajapaksa ‘regime’, though it was electorally defeated. The word ‘regime’ was used by Dr. Newton Gunasinghe to identify the JRJ Government. The political denotation of the word ‘regime’ is a government that has penetrated the state apparatus and controls it - literally dictatorially. So, ‘the Rajapaksa Regime sans Rajapaksas’, has pretty much been the syndrome, which ironically has to be dealt with respecting the norms of good governance and democracy. It’s not one dictatorial regime succeeding another.
“I think the international isolation and containment that began to manifest after Sri Lanka was outvoted at the UNHRC in Geneva in 2012, was a turning point”
Q What are the challenges of the government in 2016 and beyond?
The first and foremost is to live up to the mandate given by the people.
Secondly, a political culture of national unity and cohesion rising above “tribal” party politics and ethno-religious divisions should be fostered and strengthened. Thirdly, a strong and effective mechanism to eliminate corruption with an efficient process of prosecution should be implemented.
Fourthly, and most importantly, a cohesive national drive for inclusive and sustainable development should be vigourously executed.
Q Can you please tell me when you decided that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime had to be changed?
When he turned down our proposals for several essential amendments to the constitution in Nov. 2014.
Q The perception among many is that the Rajapaksa rule was turned into a despotic autocracy by a few people like Basil, Gotabaya, Namal and a few others. Do you agree?
The Rajapaksas controlled 90% of government revenue. They simply siphoned public funds into various mega projects they fancied without regard to technical, financial, economic or social issues. The Hambantota Port, Mattala Airport, Convention Hall, the Cricket Stadium, Colombo floating market and certain luxurious super- market projects were classic examples. If they [Rajapkasas] were allowed to continue, there was every possibility that the country would be embroiled in a civil war today, similar to the ones that took place in many Arab states.
Q What pressures and influences were you subject to under President Rajapaksa and his close associates when you were in his Cabinet?
Well, the first five years from 2005-2010 of the MR government was a success story.
It achieved peace by eradicating the separatist terrorism that had ravaged the country for 3 decades. It was a culmination of the campaign launched against terrorism in the 1990s. It infused into the national body politic the ideology that separatist terrorism could and should be militarily defeated. It was during a time it was an unrealistic proposition in national politics.
Turning to the MR government, it was the latter half that began in 2010 which became a disaster. The government failed to translate the war victory into a broader spectrum in political victory. This was a phenomenal failure. The development effort lacked not only direction but also inclusiveness and sustainability. Large scale corruption became the order of the day. When we questioned those misdoings, they simply turned to their hitmen-brigade to attack and tarnish our image.
Q Specifically, when and where did the Rajapaksa regime began to go astray after the war-victory in May 2009?
I think it was after the international isolation and containment when Sri Lanka was outvoted at the UNHRC in Geneva in 2012. Since that turning point the government ran into financial instability to meet obligations in debt servicing or recurrent expenditure. The government created a ‘construction bubble’ of mega-projects, which in fact were bound to collapse given the weak macro-economic fundamentals of the grossly mismanaged economy. When the GDP growth rate was recorded as 7%, the income of an average household was increasing annually at a megre 0.3%. This situation was accompanied by a rapid erosion of our cultural values, abductions, illegal arrests, disappearances, killings and character assassination that became the modus operandi in dealing with critics and dissenters.
It was the latter half that began in 2010 which became a disaster. The government failed to translate the war victory into a broader spectrum in political victory”
Q Extremists in the North as well as in the South, although small in numbers, are working to re-invigorate communal disharmony to enhance their political agendas. How is the government going to tackle this emerging threat?
The chief minister of the Northern PC is trying to become the TNA leader riding on a separatist agenda. This is the same tactic used by Amirthalingam to isolate Chelva in the early 1970s. However, the so-called Mahaveer commemorations held last November showed that Tamil people are no longer prepared to swallow a separatist bait hook line and sinker. Meanwhile, in the South, some corrupt and bankrupt politicians have been trying to exploit Sinhala sentiments to avoid their misdeeds being exposed by turning the people against the government. But, it’s to no avail. People should realise what happened recently in Venezuela and Iran, both oil-and-gas-rich countries, when they were encircled. Cheap patriotic slogans can neither develop the country nor give it economic and political strength to earn a position of recognition as a strong nation.
Q How is the JHU planning to contest the forthcoming local government polls, and what is the future of the party?
We will restructure our party so as to make it a pragmatic patriotic force influencing the holistic development of the nation as a strong, prosperous and proud one in a unique cultural identity. Look at Singapore: they are a small island nation, but no-one is trying to bully them on any grounds. We should strive to rise under the theme ‘from island to continent’.
Q The Joint Opposition says that the concept of a megapolis is to hoodwink the people and that it would not see the light of day because it involves a huge investment, technological expertise and mega planning for its successful completion. These are lacking in Sri Lanka. How do you views this situation?
We are fully confident, competent and capable of realising it. At the moment, we are in the process of formulating a comprehensive plan in consultation with all stakeholders. ‘Western Megapolis’ is envisioned and conceptualised as Sri Lanka’s grand strategy to propel the country’s drive to achieve the status of a ‘high income, developed nation’ by 2030. It will involve both spatial transformation of the urban infrastructure in the western region, which would provide the drive for the transformation of the national economy. We will make it the Megapolis in South Asia, positioned between Singapore in South East Asia and Dubai in the Middle East. Our development philosophy is based on four pillars; economic prosperity, social equity, environmental sustainability and individual happiness.
We always remain receptive to, and indeed welcome, well-founded constructive criticism. But, please don’t waste our productive time on un-founded or ill-founded criticism. Lewis Mumford, a globally acclaimed thinker, and authority on urbanisation, once famously said “A kite flies against the wind of resistance”.