"Only the TNA and the LTTE sincerely support Maithripala"
"It is very important to have an executive presidency to develop the country"
"This talk about the new constitution and their 100-day target is a joke!"
S. B. Dissanayaka, the Minister of Higher Education is a vocal member of the ruling party and a vociferous critic of the opposition. In an interview with the Dailymirror he slammed the former General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and former Health Minster Maithripala Sirisena for crossing over to the opposition with several other members of the government while claiming that the present incumbent had tackled the issues of corruption successfully.
QMaithripala Sirisena, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) crossing over to the opposition and becoming its common candidate must have come as a shock to the party. What impact does his crossover- along with other ruling party MPs and ministers - have on the party and the government?
Actually, it did not come as a surprise to us. During the last six to
In 1994 Minister S.B. Dissanayaka contested at the parliamentary elections under the People's Alliance from the Nuwara Eliya district and was elected to Parliament. He served as the Cabinet Minister of Samurdhi Affairs, Youth Affairs and Sports under President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
In 2000 Dissanayaka and eight other ministers from the PA government crossed over to the United National Party which greatly contributed to the downfall of the PA government in 2001. At the time of the crossover he was the General Secretary of the SLFP. Next year was assigned as the Cabinet Minister of Samurdhi and Agriculture in the UNP government under the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and was made the National Organiser of the party.
In 2009 Mr. Dissanayaka crossed over again to the SLFP.
eight months we received information through various sources that Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge was holding meetings with our party members, ministers and MPs and was trying to create a division within the SLFP. When members of our party are contacted by such persons as Mrs. Kumaratunge, they inform the President and other members of the party. So we also secretly manouevred this movement and we tried our best to settle this issue within the party with Rajitha and Maithripala and those others who left. However, we are sorry to say that they left.
But I must say that those who left the party are overestimated. The opposition thinks that 30-40 members will leave the party and join the opposition because Chandrika is giving a guarantee saying so. But I know that it is very difficult to get any more members to join the opposition. Even the members who joined the opposition most recently were members who were not with us anyway. The President once openly told Navin Dissanayake that he can go and join the UNP because we didn’t agree with him. So those are the kind of people who left and joined the opposition. Maithripala’s negotiation power is very low.
I know that Chandrika wants to ally with Maithripala so that she can gain power and take the SLFP to her hands. She wants to sack Mahinda Rajapaksa and his ministers, let Maithripala take executive powers and join with the LTTE to punish those who went against her. Those are her priorities.
QBut Maithripala Sirisena has promised to abolish the executive presidency and bring reforms to the Constitution.
This talk about the new constitution and their 100-day target is a joke! Mr. Sirisena cannot do anything in a 100-day period. It is not legally possible. He or any other individual cannot change the Constitution; it has to be done by Parliament. The UNP has only 45 members; the TNA has another 5 or 6 members. So all together they don’t even have one-third of the parliament on their side.
Also, when they try to change the election system to the electorate system, the opposition will face a huge problem. The present opposition – except for the TNA members of the Parliament – all other MPs of the opposition enter the Parliament losing their electorate. We came to the Parliament with the victory of the electorate. But all the members of the UNP have lost their electorates. So if they try to change to the electoral system, how can they come back? They came because of the proportional representation system. Forget the government! So it is very difficult to get the opposition support to bring this change.
"The problems of alcohol, drugs and casinos were begun during J.R.’s and Premadasa’s rule. Chandrika continued it. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa stopped these social menaces on their tracks so no one can blame him for these issues."
Anyway even if they give the proposals and agree to change the Constitution, it is not an easy task that can be done in a matter of weeks or months. They have to bring the proposals, get together with the whole Parliament, appoint committees to study the proposals, get the idea of the judges, the provincial councils, sociologists and political science experts and prepare the Constitution. Then they should get it passed in the Parliament and then it should go to the legal draftsman’s department. It is a long procedure. Even the 1978 Constitution was planned for 4-5 years by J.R; it was the same case with the 1972 Janaraja Constitution.
They have to prepare their proposals before the election. But Maithripala and Chandrika don’t have any proposals; they have only two or three ideas. The proposed 19th Amendment is also just a small part of the Constitution. The Constitution is an all-encompassing document. These proposed amendments are only small fractions of the Constitution. So the promise to bring reforms to the Constitution is an impractical promise.
Anyway I am happy to discuss these constitutional changes because the President himself appointed the parliamentary select committee to discuss the election system, the presidential system, the provincial council system and prepare the new constitutional framework. But the opposition failed to do that. If they want to get together and prepare a new Constitution they should do so. I believe that it is good to start these discussions. In fact it has already been started by the President. The President, once he wins, will again appoint parliamentary select committees to discuss these matters but reforms to the Constitution should be done through the Parliament; the President cannot do that.
"Corruption allegations have been levelled against all the politicians in the country. Even Anagarika Dharmapala was accused of being corrupt to the point that in the end he was disgusted of the country"
QSo does this mean that you believe that the Executive Presidency should be abolished?
No, personally, I believe that Sri Lanka needs an Executive Presidential system. It is very important to have an executive presidency to develop the country. Now as an example, two of the fastest developing countries in the world are China and Vietnam. These two countries have a communist dictatorial rule. There are no elections, no anti-government media outlets. Consider Great Britain – until 1872 it was the most powerful country in the world with the strongest economy and it was a monarchy. Afterwards USA developed its military power, economy and its technology and became the most powerful country in the world. Apart from USA, look at the other countries which became rich very fast. One was Iraq and Saddam Hussein was a dictator. Another is Libya and Gaddafi is a dictator. Then in Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew was a dictator. Then in Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad is a dictator. General Park in South Korea is a dictator. Those are the people who developed countries.
But in Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa is not a dictator. He used the executive presidency to defeat the LTTE which was branded as the world’s most powerful terrorist group by the CIA. Then he used it to develop the country. Now Sri Lanka is one of the fastest developing countries in the world and we maintain a multi-party system.
QBut many are of the view that even though the President defeated terrorism, he has not been able to defeat mass-scale corruption. What is your response to this criticism?
What is this corruption you are talking about? I saw recently that Navin Dissanayake has accused the government of not following proper tender procedures. Now his father did not follow tender procedures when he was doing the Victoria project, nor when he was doing the Randenigala project, nor when he was doing Upper Kotmale project. During President Premadasa’s reign, they gave the Kelanitissa project to a broker company which had no clue about power generation.
When it comes to large-scale tenders we have to take loans from other countries. For example when we raise loans from China, they have their own set of conditions. We consider the interest rate, grace period and other factors and go for the one which is most beneficial to the country. We negotiate with contractors and we don’t agree to deals that would be detrimental to the country.
QBut there are allegations that Sri Lanka gets loans from China at a much higher interest rate when we can get loans from Japan and ADB at much lower rates. Isn’t this true?
That is not true at all. If you can prove that Japan offers us loans at interest rates less than 1 percent, I will leave my ministerial post! Only the World Bank and ADB grant loans for less than 1 percent interest rates but even they have their own conditions as well. It is most difficult to obtain loans from Japanese banks. This is because they are facing a financial and economic crisis themselves. Their debt ratio is 399 percent. Compared to Japan, it is much easier to obtain loans from Indian banks and Chinese banks. China is one of the biggest and strongest economies in the world. Their fast development is thanks to their flexibility.
Today we borrow at less than 2 percent interest; we don’t borrow at anything higher than 2 percent interest. It is true that earlier we had to borrow at very high interest rates because Sri Lanka was deemed a failed state by the world and our projects were considered risky investments. However today that is not the case. Sri Lanka is dubbed the Miracle of Asia. We are a country that is developing very fast and is highly regarded by the rest of the world.
Last month, for the first time in Sri Lanka’s monetary history, the rupee was overvalued compared to the Euro, US dollar, Japanese Yen and British Pounds. Our financial reserves in the Central Bank have grown tremendously. Today we are in a position to even borrow locally because our local banks have money. Our economy is sound today. So we no longer have to borrow at such high interest rates; anyone is ready to give Sri Lanka loans today.
"What did President Rajapaksa do? He could have continued the war if he wanted to make money but he didn’t. He defeated the LTTE and put an end to the war"
QSo are you saying that there is no corruption in the country or that it is alright to have corruption because we are the Miracle of Asia?
That is a good question. Corruption allegations have been levelled against all the politicians in the country. Even Anagarika Dharmapala was accused of being corrupt to the point that in the end he was disgusted of the country. Even Dudley Senanayake was accused of being corrupt but when he died he had only 200-300 rupees in his account. That was the truth. They said the same thing about Srimavo Bandaranaike, T.B. Ilangaratne and D. B. Wijetunge. But in the end it was proved that they had not made huge amounts of money from politics.
Even President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not made such vast amounts of money from politics as people say. He doesn’t have huge amounts of property in his name. That is the truth. I don’t think he has even earned a cent from doing politics. It is common that such allegations of corruption are levelled against the people who work for the country.
The most profitable business in the world is the war. Premadasa supplied weapons and gave money to the nearly-defeated LTTE and revived these terrorists because of this reason– to gain profits from the war. He did this because the war was the business that generated the greatest profits – the other being drugs. On the other hand, what did President Rajapaksa do? He could have continued the war if he wanted to make money but he didn’t. He defeated the LTTE and put an end to the war.
QWhat about the other business you mentioned – drugs? Do you believe that the President and the government have been able to tackle the drug menace in the country?
Yes, I think we have managed to eradicate the drug menace to a great extent. Earlier, drugs and narcotics were common commodities and people had easy access to them. But now that is not so. There are hardly any narcotics in the market. Most of the biggest drug racketeers in the country have been captured; some of them are in jail, some were killed and some have fled the country. The era when drug kingpins ruled the country has come to an end. Mahinda Rajapaksa took action against this menace so that drug dealers and underworld thugs were not able to raise their heads again.
Then let’s talk about alcohol. During Chandrika’s government we gave two to three liquor licences and beer licences to our close supporters and our organisers. However, President Rajapaksa has not given a single liquor licence during his rule.
Another matter that is being widely discussed is casinos. Now when were jackpots and casinos introduced to Sri Lanka? It was during Premadasa’s rule. It was Premadasa who gave jackpot licences to Dhammika Perera. The other casino mogul in Sri Lanka is Ravi Wijeratne. Even he got his casino license during Premadasa’s government. It is true that they support this government and have close ties with the government but they did not receive their licences from this government; Mahinda Rajapaksa did not give them casino licences. What we tried to do was to make a separate tourist destination. If we aim to become a naval and trade base and to develop through tourism, we do need these types of entertainments. But we wanted to keep it away from the locals so as not to spoil our culture.
In fact the problems of alcohol, drugs and casinos were begun during J.R.’s and Premadasa’s rules. Chandrika continued it. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa stopped these social menaces on their tracks so no one can blame him for these issues.
"Today none of these parties is standing upright beside Maithripala. His whole campaign is paralysed and lethargic. His campaign doesn’t have the strength of other political parties. "
QGoing back to the political crossovers, don’t you think the General Secretary leaving the party is detrimental to the SLFP?
I too was the General Secretary of the SLFP when I crossed over to the opposition with 11 other ministers of the party during Chandrika’s government. But the circumstances when I crossed over were different. In the year 2000, the world economy was stable and growing and yet Sri Lanka was experiencing a decline in the economy. This was because of the wrong decisions taken by Chandrika and the then government, their inefficiency and their lack of understanding about the political and economic situations. That was when we left the SLFP and toppled the then government.
However the situation is very different today. Today we have defeated terrorism and have managed to win the 30 year war. He revived the economy of the country and made Sri Lanka one of the fastest developing countries in the region. Today we have a strong economy with the tourism trade progressing rapidly and foreign investment flowing into the country. Now nobody can call Sri Lanka a poor country. Maithripala and others who left the party turned their backs on a leader who has done such a service to the country. They have got together with a leader who did nothing for the country in 11 years.
QSo you are saying that you are not worried that the President will lose the upcoming presidential election?
No I cannot even imagine that happening. At the last elections, the President’s opponent was the leader of the army who won the war. Standing by him were the UNP, the TNA, the Muslim Congress and the JVP. Today none of these parties is standing upright beside Maithripala. His whole campaign is paralysed and lethargic. His campaign doesn’t have the strength of other political parties. They might be able to get a few Tamil votes and Muslim votes but not a significant amount. Ninety nine percent of the Buddhist clergy are in fact with the President. So we are not worried or scared.
QIf the government is not afraid then why are certain television channels being blocked when the opposition members are invited for discussions?
I cannot answer that question because I don’t know why such things happen. Maithripala and his brothers do have some problems in the Polonnaruwa district because they created a monopoly in paddy, rocks and sand industries in the region. There were people who greatly suffered due to this. So those people might be rising against him now. I cannot say that for sure but what I can say for certain is that the government is not behind such acts. We have no reason to do such things because Maithripala is not a threat to us.
In fact, the person who would have been able to pose the biggest challenge to the government is Ranil Wickremasinghe. He would have been the person who would have been able to give a good fight to the President with the minority votes. But Maithripala Sirisena cannot do that. The only groups who support and help him sincerely are the TNA and the LTTE.
Pix by Samantha Perera