I BELIEVE IN A FREE PRESS
I WROTE THE EXAMS JUST LIKE ANY OTHER STUDENT
MP Namal Rajapaksa in his first interview to the English media gives a brief insight into his perspective and thoughts on a wide range of issues. He spoke to the Daily Mirror on issues of policy, reconciliation, his personal views on issues that affected the country, allegations cast against him and how he foresaw the country’s direction in the coming years.
Q: We welcome you to your first interview with the Daily Mirror, to start off, how do you view the Commonwealth Youth Forum that was held recently?
It was a very good opportunity for Sri Lanka to showcase ourselves parallel to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Colombo. There were some very interesting topics that were discussed during the Forum and there was a lot of understanding among the Commonwealth countries. I think it was a good opportunity for the youth in Sri Lanka as well to showcase their talents and to be on par with the youth of the Commonwealth.
Q: A a youth parliamentarian, what are the challenges faced by the youth in Sri Lanka as you see them?
I think there are a lot of challenges faced by the youth in the country because the demand requires changes from era to era, year to year. But now I think that after the end of a conflict that spanned thirty years there is a window of opportunity for the youth.
The question to be asked really is, if the youth are ready to take up the challenges and to take up these opportunities.? We believe that it is a responsibility as a government and as individuals to gear the youth and to empower them to face these challenges and to take up these opportunities and get them ready to face the 21st century and beyond.
There are a lot of opportunities for the youth, but the question really is are we ready for them? And that’s what we are concentrating on. If you look at the budget this year the President himself has taken the initiative into youth empowerment by way of vocational training, technology, sports, economy so on and so forth. This clearly shows that we are looking beyond Sri Lanka as well to the future - both in terms of what we could offer the world and what the world would offer us.
Q: What are the fundamental problems you see faced by the youth?
It is the lack of entrepreneurship, especially in the rural areas. I represent the Hambantota district which is now becoming an urbanised area. I travel a lot around the country including the North and I think entrepreneurship is one of the key areas that we have to look at and thereby get the SME sector developed. The youth have to be entrepreneurs instead of depending on government or private sector jobs and this is something that we have to seriously look at within the next couple of years.
We have to create as many entrepreneurs as we could which would then create an economy within itself.
Q: About youth unemployment, what are your views on that? There is a problem within the University system itself, then the issue of Private universities and the resulting issue of unemployment?
The issue of unemployment is an issue the government has addressed very well for the past so many years. We have managed to cut down on unemployment percentage wise. But yes, we have to accept that a majority of the employment depends on the government sector.
But now there is a lot of investment coming in both from the government and from the private entities. There is an IT park that is to be built in Hambantota. If you are to take that as an example, industrial zones are to be built, then the Airport and Aviation sectors are also seeing a boom. The Northern industrial zones, the development in Kandy and of course the development in the North Central Province are all a part of addressing this issue.
So all the provinces are encouraging investment to come in- in order to create employment in these areas.
However, as I said before, it is our responsibility to ensure that the youth are ready to take up these roles that emerge. I personally believe that we need to have a very strong campaign to encourage youth to get into private sector employment and also as entrepreneurs, rather than depending on government jobs.
Q: But there is a problem within the University system which has created a gap among those who graduate, what steps do you think need to be taken to address these concerns?
Initially new subjects have to be introduced to our universities and you must make it more competitive within the universities themselves. Sometimes we compare our universities with global universities, but the reality is that our educational standards are very high in comparison to many universities around the world. But we need to introduce new subjects, new syllabuses and new methods to the system in order to make sure our students are equal to any university student coming out from any where in the world.
For example the Petro Chemical Industry is one that we could develop, the maritime industry, aviation and of course the fact that we are trying to make Sri Lanka a hub for technology are all the areas that our universities must look into and develop.
For example if we are to see the Petro Chemical Industry boom in Sri Lank, we need qualified students, who have the capability and qualifications in the industry, and this is something that we have to look at.
Q: So do you believe in the establishment of private universities as well?
Well it’s a decision for the public, I personally believe that free education must continue unhindered, but we must also keep provision for students who can offer to pay and get their education. It is better to spend that money in your own country rather than in another. That option must be open.
But as I said before if the mindset of the youth is changed into looking at more private sector employment then this issue would not arise.
Q: Moving away, one thing that was highlighted by the International media during the CHOGM was the rampant Human Rights abuses that occur in this country. What is your reaction to that sort of criticism?
Well, people will criticise. One thing that must be understood is that there is a very strong Diaspora in many parts of the world and there are political sensitivities within these regions. We have to respect these political sensitivities in their countries and we have to respect and understand that.
But one thing I personally believe is that before we are criticised they should come to Sri Lanka and witness what is actually taking place in the North and the rest of the country. They have to see the extent of development, reconciliation and rebuilding that we have done.
The people who criticise will then understand what is actually taking place on the ground. These people also have to be reconciled. It is not only the hardcore LTTE cadres that must be reconciled but these groups as well and that will take time. If you take examples like in Northern Ireland, South Africa and other countries within the region, complete reconciliation has taken over two to three decades.
Eventually second to third generation s of the Diaspora will definitely understand what happened in the past and what is happening in the country,, however the political sensitivities of these regions must be understood and respected.
Q: But despite your saying that, one issue that has been around which also came out during the recent visit by the UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay is that this country is moving towards an authoritarian direction. What is your take on that?
See, we have been having periodical elections and if someone is to point out that there is something wrong with the same government being elected through continuous elections, and the same leader has been given the chance to head the state- that is a part of democracy. It is the choice of the people. You can’t force, tell or ask people not to vote for a person because he has been elected previously. You can’t do that. I am sure the west wouldn’t do that nor would any other country within the region.
Q: But are you a believer of a populist government- where although the people make this choice, the government takes this choice to mean that they are given the right to go beyond certain norms and limits?
It all depends on where you draw the line, on what norms and limits that the government exceeds contrary to the expectations of the people. If the government is giving the people what they want and if the existing government is doing its best at that given time to the people of the country then I think that people will respect that government.
Q: One thing that came out again during the CHOGM was that the media dared not ask difficult questions and to clear this out, there is controversy regarding your Law College examination results, what do you have to say?
I was just a normal student. I was writing for the exams during my father’s Presidential election campaign. I just went to the exam hall, got my index number and sat where I had to sit with the rest of the candidates. This is the disadvantage of being the President’s son and a politician because we are expected not to study and thereafter blamed saying 'he doesn’t study, he is a fool'. And if you do study and if you do pass your exams and do well in life in terms of education and sports, then they will say “he did well because his father is in power”. There are people who interpret it in different ways, that’s their wish, that’s their view.
Q: So being the Presidents son is a negative?
As a youth it is. Although there is a lot I can do development wise and others. There are advantages and disadvantages- but for a young person who is not involved in politics It is a disadvantage.
Q: The recent spate of killings on suspects in the Kamburupitiya double murder is all too familiar to the Lankan masses, where a suspect was taken to a hideout and he had shot back at the Police and was killed in a cross-fire. What is your view on such happenings?
This doesn’t happen always and the one or two incidents that do occur are highlighted by the media. This happens sometimes when you deal with high profile arms smugglers or drug dealers and they do all they could to prevent themselves from being captured, so it may be a reaction by the police or the Armed forces to prevent this. Although one or two incidents are highlighted by the media it is not a periodical thing and does not occur regularly.
Q: Are you a believe of a free press?
Yes I am. I believe in a free press.
Q: One criticism of the Opposition has been that although the government MP’s or their children are not above the law, your'l are above it. What is your take on this?
Well I think this is the first time Sri Lanka is experiencing the children of the President and his family being involved in politics. I think this is a new experience for the Opposition as well. But no one is above the law and we all respect that. If you actually look at the history and the way the children of those who accuse us behaved I think we are doing much better than that.
Q: One incident that is always highlighted is Rohitha’s tiff with a referee, and the fact that there was no inquiry into it?
Nothing happened at that time, there was a misunderstanding between him and the referee, there was an argument. In rugby we are normal players, who will argue and who will put our life on the line to win the game. The heat of the moment takes us over sometimes, and I have been through these situations too.
I think it was highlighted in an unnecessary way. But if you take the actual incident nothing serious happened.
Q: But the fact that there was no inquiry?
I think there was an inquiry by the Union, and the Union found out after speaking to the referee and Rohitha together with the match referee who was present, I think they must have realised there was nothing much to be inquired into.
Q: What are your views on the Opposition, do you not believe that a vibrant Opposition is a necessity?
I believe that a vibrant Opposition must exist, they have their own issues, but it is unfortunate that they look at the micro picture, the small issues in the island rather than actually looking at the actual issues that the people are facing. They have to first look at establishing themselves and address issues that affect the masses of the country and not what with the west or other entities are concerned.
Q: Another issue that is always highlighted is that the country is becoming “Rajapaksafied” what is your take on such rhetoric?
I mean see, we are all elected by the people. It is only the Defence Secretary who is unelected and I think we all agree that he has done a fabulous job when no one was willing to take it up and deliver.
It is not only our family or three or four of us, world over and even in this country many members of politicians families are involved in politics. But yes of course when the Opposition are busy sorting out their own issues they have to put out something to the masses and they rely on things like this.
But it is a good thing I guess because it helps with the popularity, the more they say such things.
Q: You play rugby as well in the midst of all this, how do you manage your time?
Well it is difficult because I handle a constituency in the deep south, and there is a lot of travelling. I practise every evening at Welisara and if I am called for national duty I take five days off the week and go to my village during the weekends. That’s how I try to balance it out
Q: Do you believe that sports could be a healer?
Yes it do. It has been proven before and it will do so in the future. It is good for the future of society it makes more focused on disciplined individuals.
Q: Many of the youth I have spoken to believe that although the LTTE was militarily defeated, the rights of the Tamil community have been put down or that their rights have not been restored?
Well see if you look at the youth between 18 to 30 years of age have gone through the war and lived through it. They have seen what happened. We need to give them time as well to get used to the systems, the government and administrative systems. At the same time we have to focus on giving them vocational training and skills development. That is the only way out, because most of us always depend on the school educational system.
Q: But do you believe that this itself will help them get rid of an ideology in which they believe that they are not treated on par with the majority community?
Well, we have to create leaders within them and give them an opportunity to come in to Parliament, to the local and provincial councils. For the last 30 years there were no GA’s or AGA’s from the Mullatheevu or Kilinochchi districts. Of course Jaffna is different because the city was liberated in 1995 and they never saw a war after that.
There were leaders who came up from Jaffna but the LTTE never let them take the mantle. So that’s why we have to ensure that these leaders are given an opportunity through national parties like the SLFP, UNP, JVP and the TNA. We have to give them a chance in the legislative process. Most of the politicians who are representing these communities right now have their own agendas and own views because they have been within this for a long period of time. It’s going to be hard for us to change them, but the youth who have actually suffered we could see a change.
Most of these politicians who represent them have not suffered through the war, their children live overseas. I have been to Kilinochchi and Mulatheevu more times than these Tamil politicians.
So those leaders are out of the picture at least in my point of view. This is my personal view and doesn’t represent the government’s view. We need to create leaders from the masses, give them opportunities to come within the system and participate in the process
Q: But don’t you think that the systems itself are corrupt, that the system in itself is the cause of the issue?
This is a system that was created by the existing political leadership which was appointed. So we have to go to the people and address their issues instead of blaming the system and saying it’s corrupt.
This happened to Egypt and in Libya, and today are those people in a better place than they were before? They said the system is corrupt and wanted an overthrow of it, and today they are back again asking for the same thing.
Same thing happened in Libya, where certain countries thought that its leader was not doing good for the people and ousted him. Has it worked for Libya? Are the people happy? Same thing is happening in Syria, Iraq and Iran.
So it has to come from the people itself, you have to hear and give opportunity to the people who live and go through life in a certain region. That’s how reconciliation would happen. You can’t have a leader living in London addressing the grievances of the Northern people and expecting reconciliation. This could have worked when the LTTE was there but it doesn’t work now.
Therefore, these leaders have to come from within the people, I personally believe that the main political parties have to contest in the North. The SLFP, UNP and JVP have to open party offices in these areas, they have to campaign and contest, identify leaders, train them and get them into the system. These people have to be given the opportunity to apply for all government service jobs and other private sector jobs.
For example SriLankan Airlines will be in the North next year in order to recruit the youth from Kilinochchi and Mulatheevu. So if we give them the opportunity they will take it from there, because more than me or you the youth in those areas know what they want.
However, having said that these youth believe that what they want is what they hear, which in reality might not be the case
Q: You have been there, what is the vibe that you get from these youth?
I was there just after the war and have been going there regularly ever since
Q: But what is the vibe? What do these people tell you?
They want change, they want education, they believe in education, they believe in examinations, they believe in vocational training and they most certainly believe that these things are key to a new life that they envision. Their parents or older siblings never had these things.
They want to travel the world, they want to see a world beyond the North.
Q: To draw you back, one issue is that the politics that your'l engage in is based on a majoritarian principle based on a racial ideology?
Well it’s a preferential voting system that exists in this country. There are certain leaders in certain areas who handle their constituencies in different ways and address them also in different ways. But just because the people are so addressed in ones home town or constituency from a point of view like that -it doesn’t mean that it’s right or taken to a National level.
People do make allegations and try to portray that this is the national view on issues, but it’s far from the truth.
Q: Do you believe that this is the way to go about doing politics in this country?
Fortunately or unfortunately this is the system and the Constitution that has been passed in Parliament and we have to live with that.
Q: There is a rise in extremism and there is a trend of thought that this is government sponsored?
That is what the Opposition says.
Q:What do you have to say?
I don’t nor does the government believe in extremism at all. The government represents every Sri Lankan living here and abroad. The President is the leader of every Sri Lankan.There are no caste, race, religious or cultural difference when we decide on policy. But as I said earlier these are the little things that the opposition would harp on. When the infrastructure is delivered, education is delivered they have to hold on to something and this is one of them. To create something like this.
Q: You spoke about the constitution and the fact that we have to go on with it. The 18th Amendment which was passed was widely regarded as a draconian piece of legislation. What are your views on it?
I don’t see it in that sense. Many people talk about the extended presidential term limit but in that case the former President Chandrika Banadaranaike can contest as well. The purpose behind the legislation is that the right of the President should not be restricted. If the party wants the person to contest and the people want him then he should be given the opportunity to contest. That is just one Amendments out of the many that were passed.
Q: Yes, but do you not agree that the other provisions that came with it compromised the independence of the judiciary, the Police and others?
No I don’t agree with that. There was no such compromise instead it broadened and widened the scope in order to give strength to these specific areas to give and deliver what the people require from these institutions.