Former UNP Provincial Councillor Harshana Rajakaruna spoke to the Daily Mirror on the reasons behind the UNP’s drawback in the Gampaha district, expectations at the upcoming elections and why he believed the UNP would perform better at the upcoming elections, in comparison to previous polls. . .
The trade and investment sector should also be given attention because there has been a sharp rise in the number of factories that have closed down in the Free Trade Zones of Katunayake and Wathupitiwala during the recent past
Q: In your capacity as a former provincial councillor, do you believe you were able to do some service to the people you represented?
Being a councillor from the opposition means the resources allocated for us to work with, are limited. With the funding I have received officially, combined with the donations of private donors and NGOs, I believe I have been able to serve the public in certain sectors.
Most of my work has been concentrated on developing the education sector, inclusive of a scholarship programme for children who have lost one/both parents to the war, a textbook donation programme for school libraries and programmes to help improve the English language skills of school children. I have also initiated women’s empowerment programmes where the participants are given training courses to start their own self employment ventures.
Apart from those projects, I have also initiated a few electricity supply and housing programmes with the limited funds received.
Q: The Gampaha district is presently a UPFA stronghold. Don’t you think the UNP politicians representing the area are responsible for this declining support for the UNP in the area?
Overall, Gampaha is anyway quite a strong leftist seat but the coastal belt of the district has been pro-UNP. I agree that there has been a fallback in the support for the UNP from this district. One of the main reasons for this drawback was the war victory. Internal issues within the UNP also contributed to the situation in a certain way.
But as of late, particularly during the past few months there have been drastic changes in peoples’ mindsets. Before the rising cost-of-living, escalating economic difficulties, nepotism and rampant corruption, people’s support for the government has sharply declined. People’s expectations following the war changed but the government failed to deliver them. It was further proven during my campaigning activities, which was welcomed and received with a more positive note among the people in the area in comparison to 2009. Hence, I believe there will be a significant improvement in the UNP results at the upcoming provincial elections.
Q: Do you believe contesting from the UNP is the right choice for a young politician like you, given the internal issues of the party particularly concerning the leadership?
Every party has its issues. There are rifts even within the party in power, but they are not discussed openly as an issue within an opposition party. There were issues but at least they did not escalate up to a legal battle for the leadership and the party members and seniors have made a firm decision now to work together towards the victory of the party.
The UNP has never been a political party that was owned by a single family or restricted to a particular societal level. As a young politician I believe the choice to contest from the UNP is the right choice I made. There has also been a recent increase in the youth participation in party activities, which is a positive development particularly in indentifying and addressing concerns of the country’s future.
Q: What are your comments on the accusations levelled at those who enter politics with a familial link to the political arena – that their entrance puts other contestants at a disadvantage?
There s a slight advantage in being linked to a political family. But I don’t think it’s fair to make judgments because if you consider Gampaha, only three out of a total of 43 contestants are linked to political families.
This accusation is not taken into relevance in other professions such as medicine or law. So it is unfair to judge a contestant with familial links to politics because they alone cannot help win the hearts of the voters.
I believe unnecessary prominence is given to this fact for no valid reason because it is a very small percentage. Anyway every contestant is given a fair chance at the elections and it is solely up to the voters to choose their representatives.
Q: What issues have you prioritised to be addressed in the Gampaha district?
The educational sector in this district should be given priority when addressing issues. There is a significant disparity in resource allocations to the education sector in comparison to other fields.
Apart from the educational sector, the trade and investment sector should also be given attention because there has been a sharp rise in the number of factories that haveclosed down in the Free Trade Zones of Katunayake and Wathupitiwala during the recent past. The rising costs of manufacturing resulted by the escalating power and energy expenses are the major contributing factors. Due to corruption, close to 25 – 40% of the finances paid essential commodities and services are paid as taxes.
A few years ago, this government even bragged about their plans to supply electricity to India but today, the very power plant has been unable to make a significant contribution to the local grid with close to 26 breakdowns since its inception.
This government has carried out several major infrastructure development projects such as the Hambantota harbour and the Mattala airport that make no contribution whatsoever to the national economy. Their actions are also rampant of corruption that the finances that have been used to construct some of the roads in Sri Lanka, if used properly, can be utilised to repair and build all the roads in this country and in some parts of India.
Q: Do you believe the upcoming election will be free and fair at least to some extent?
We are not at all expecting a free and fair election because election laws are being gravely violated by the contestants representing the government even at present. But we also believe that people’s power will override the injustices and the UNP will definitely perform better than during previous elections.