In the event the Executive Presidency is abolished
One year after defection from the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Megapolis and Western Region Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka , in an interview with the Dailymirror, said he was satisfied with the achievements made after the change of government on January 8. Also, he said there was much more to be achieved.
It is now one year of your defection from the UPFA to support President Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate at that time. What do you feel about the achievements in the country since then?
Overall, we are happy about the steps taken. At that time, society had evolved to a point with a crying need for democracy and good governance. The educated middle class had expanded, and its aspirations and grievances were social needs and issues. Instead of addressing them, a lumpen style democracy was in place. Lumpen groups functioned both at ministerial and bureaucratic levels. As a result of this contradictory situation, we were heading for a major political disaster.
The crying need for the restoration of democratic rights has been ignored. Secondly, the country was being isolated internationally again because of its lumpen style foreign policy, instead of a professional approach. There was the risk of economic sanctions being imposed. Mere political slogans cannot address war crimes and genocide charges against the military. An economic crisis was imminent. In the Stock Exchange, there was mostly American investment. The US and European Union accounted for 60 per cent of our exports. It is unwise to get carried away by political rhetoric and act ignoring these realities.
Besides, an economic bubble had been created. It was not a sustainable economic growth; i was a credit bubble. The government was able to borrow dollars at cheaper rates due to the credit crunch in the US since 2008. There was a bubble in the construction sector since 2012. There were mega projects of road and bridge constructions; they were not income generating projects. In that sense, the burst of this economic bubble was unavoidable.
The election of a new government averted all these possible crises. In fact, it afforded the opportunity for all to think afresh.
New election system is the need of the hour
Do you think the democratic reforms already in place are enough for the country to move ahead?
The country achieved something after the transfer of some powers vested with the executive system to Legislature and the Cabinet. The presidential system was democratised; it was a positive step. Next in focus was independent commissions. I like to refer to four commissions in particular. First, the Independent Elections Commission is important to curb the use of money, power and the abuse of state resources during elections. Second, the Judicial Services Commission is of importance as there was serious concern over the independence of the judiciary. During the recent past, the judiciary was subjected to political and financial influence. It was obvious when looking at the cases related to Avant Garde and RADA. We see the appointment of judges by the Constitutional Council through a democratic process as a positive step. A few judges were appointed in this manner consequently, experienced and qualified judges have been given due recognition instead of appointing political henchmen.
Third, the Bribery Commission has been appointed. We still need to introduce strong anti- bribery and corruption laws. Finally, the National Procurement Commission has been set up. The inability to ascertain technical fraud was a major lapse; these could now be addressed through this commission.
It was a shortcoming that prevented us from changing the electoral system. Though the 20th Amendment was introduced, it could not be enacted due to opportunistic politics by some parties. It is essential to bring about a change in the present electoral system. It is a key element in a democratic system. There are things already achieved, being achieved and to be achieved. We have not stopped our struggle in this direction.
What do you think about the move to abolish the Executive Presidency?
It has been proposed to abolish the Executive Presidency. But, the judiciary has ruled that it should be done through the approval of people at a referendum. It is something to do with sovereign rights of people. It has also been proposed to convert the Legislature to a Constituent Assembly. Yet, there are no constitutional provisions to do it. In the abolition of the Presidency, measures have to be taken only in accordance with the provisions of the present Constitution and judicial interpretations.
Along with Executive Presidency, the provincial councils and the electoral process based on the Proportional Representation System have been introduced. The mere scrapping of the Presidency will not serve the intended purpose unless a new mechanism is commissioned to ensure the stability of the country. Actually there is no Executive Presidency in the country today but a presidential system.
We have to look at it as a whole. At the last parliamentary elections, no party could get a majority to form a government of its own. Only in 1989 and 2010, a single party was able to get the necessary majority. In such a scenario, the country would have been entangled in a web of confusion and contradiction if not for the Executive Presidency that is linked to the provincial councils and the electoral system. At the provincial councils, the governor is the presidential appointee where the executive power is exercised by the governor in the provincial council.
What would happen to the executive power at provincial councils in the event the system is abolished? Would it be vested with the Cabinet headed by the prime minister as in India? Then, if a party ruling of a particular provincial council has representation in the Cabinet, there can be a conflict of interests. We cannot discuss the abolition of the Presidency without considering these aspects associated with it.
It has to fall in line with the Constitution, people’s sovereignity and an electoral system that can assure political stability in the country.
Economic crisis averted
Earlier, you mentioned the aversion of an economic crisis. But, there are economic issues confronting people now. Rubber and tea prices have dropped. What are your views?
It is not a phenomenon created by the present economic policies. For example, the tea industry can be sustained only if a kilo of tea can fetch a price of Rs. 450. Labour costs account for 70 percent of it. We cannot compete with other tea markets because of the high labour cost. In India and Kenya, a kilo of tea is manufactured at Rs.200. High labour cost components dominate the costs of production of paddy, coconut and rubber cultivations as well .
At this moment, fuel price has dropped in the world market. Consequently, the prices of essential commodities have decreased. Besides, Iran, Turkey and Russia, the countries importing tea from Sri Lanka, are embroiled in political turmoil. The government is gradually working out solutions to these problems. In my view, tea, rubber and paddy industries can be sustained in the future only through measures for improving productivity. The cost, as a percentage of the market price, has to be reduced.
LTTE committed crimes of all sorts
What are your views on the implementation of the provisions of the UNHRC resolution?
President Maithripala Sirisena, at the last presidential election, said the armed forces would be absolved of any charges made against them in the elimination of terrorism through a legitimate war. In our view, it was the LTTE that perpetrated crimes, including war crimes and acted as an intrusive force. The LTTE is responsible for crimes against humanity. The government of Sri Lanka only responded to such atrocities to uphold democracy. The armed forces are not faulted for the elimination of LTTE terrorism at all. Yet, if there were murders committed by some individuals under the pretext of fighting the war, they have to be investigated. The same applies to abductions of persons, extortion of money and rape. By acting in such cases, we can give a fresh sheen to our war victory. Now, there are black marks marring that look due to charges of this nature. We need to clear ourselves of these charges to make our war victory a pristine one.
Also, we should never opt for any action that jeopardises peace in the country. There have been some allegations against the Sri Lanka armed forces and antagonism against the release of LTTE suspects. It should not be forgotten that as many as 13,000 LTTE cadres were released during the time of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Similar measures were adopted with those who took part in the JVP insurrection at that time.
We should not endanger the current process of reconciliation. Likewise, we have to take up the fundamental position that the LTTE, as an intrusive force, committed many crimes. We have issues such as in the issuance of certificates on the disappeared. There are allegations about crimes by us. There is a pressing need to ascertain the truth regarding those responsible for cases such as the bomb attack on the Dalada Maligawa, the massacre of Bhikkhus in Arantalawa, the killing of white flag bearers at a time of surrender etc. After determining the truth, we could consider whether a general amnesty should be granted or legal action instituted.
Justice and Fair Play for all, not merely for LTTE
What are your views on the participation of foreign judges in the domestic mechanism to hear such cases, as proposed in the UNHRC resolution?
It is not something new. Seven foreign judges came to the assistance of the Udalagama Commission and three others assisted the Paranagama Commission. Foreign prosecutors and others can play a role only with our authority. If our own judicial officials act in a manner that questions the integrity of our judiciary, it will be problematic.
We have been able to absolve ourselves of charges of genocide a charge used by some elements to impose economic sanctions on Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan armed forces, do not face war crime charges only against individuals. We have to clear ourselves of these charges. In this case, partisan decisions cannot be taken. LTTE suspects are released without any solution being worked, but, numerous soldiers are still in jail. Justice and fair play should be for all. We should not succumb to the pressure of Tamil nationalists or to pressure from elements against the armed forces.
We should never forget the countries that helped Sri Lanka in tackling this problem. Sri Lanka cannot forget these countries that assisted it during its hard times. We were helped by Pakistan, China and Russia. In the international arena, we should act with responsibility, adopt a patriotic foreign policy and diplomacy.
Patriotic Foreign Policy a Must
Does it mean that foreign policy is not ‘patriotic’ at the moment?
We have to follow the non-aligned foreign policy and cannot be aligned with any power bloc. We need help from all. Some persons, having been in the NGO sector, have developed an anti-Sri Lankan mentality against the security forces. With that mentality, we cannot address these issues. Patriotism is a must in this exercise. We have to ask a simple question from these persons. What would have happened had the LTTE won this war? Tamil people benefited first from the defeat of LTTE.
Is the release of LTTE suspects a threat to national security?
After an intelligence assessment on the background of detainees, a decision had to be taken regarding their release. It was not possible to release the detainees merely because there were requests to do so. In that case members of the security forces should also be released forthwith. The members of the security forces cannot be jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act while releasing LTTE members at the same time.
Yet, we cannot accept what Mahinda Rajapaksa says. During his time, an LTTE leader called Ram Nagulan was released. But no-one held in prison with charges could be released. If there is anyone held in custody without charges, he or she can be released. One thing has to be remembered. Even the South can respond. The LTTE dwelt on the mistaken belief that it could do anything and that South could not.