COVID-19 disrupted dialogue with India to address fisheries issue
- Tamil people’s reasonable issues must be settled
- Gave a proposal to Indian PM for a win-win situation on fishery affairs
- My Ministry makes good contribution to the national economy
Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda who is also the leader of Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) speaks about changes of political dynamics in the north and the east. He said though his party had got one more seat in Parliament, it fell short of expectations. Also, he said there are plans to sort out the fishery issue with India.
QHow do you analyse the results of the elections in the north and the east?
There is a change among people. It is not enough, though. There are two categories. One is that a segment of people have voted for the parties which are close to or with the government. At the same time, another segment of people has supported the extremist parties. I am in the government. I am close to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. I feel I have access to the government to settle the reasonable issues of Tamil speaking people. That is the correct stand, I guess. As I told you, there are Tamil parties with extremist views. Two or three parties have taken extremist stands. I mean only the parties have taken such stands, not the Tamil people. We have to work among people to win over them to put them in the correct path.
QBut, it is going to be challenging. Isn’t it?
It is not a challenge. If we work hard, it is possible. We need a mechanism for it. If you take the Tamil media, they always support the extreme views of the Tamil parties. That is a weakness. History has proven that our stand is correct. Unfortunately, we have not been able to establish our opinion within the Tamil community sufficiently. We should have a mechanism to send our message across to the people.
QAt this election, your party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) polled a large number of votes in Jaffna, as parties working with the government. How do you view this phenomenon?
Now the elections are over. There are elected MPs. We got votes without giving any inducement to voters. We are an anti-LTTE party. Our policy is to start implementing the provincial council system in full. For the last 34 years, we have been advocating for it.
QAre you satisfied with what you had got at the recently-concluded election?
It is not enough for the efforts which I made and eventually it was the people’s decision.
QRepresentation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has dropped this time from 16 to 10. How do you see this?
Its voter base has split. Politically, the parties led by Gajan Ponnambalam and C.V. Wigneswaran are even more extremist than the TNA. They were earlier with the TNA. We did better than them in Trincomalee and Vavuniya.
QAll in all, there is a change in the voting pattern in the north and the east this time. How should the national parties read this in your view?
People have begun to see the reality. They think in the practical sense. In Trincomalee for example, we contested. But, the extremist parties led by Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran could not get more votes than the EPDP. There is a change among people. We have to build on that.
QYou have been talking about the 13th Amendment as the basis for a solution to the political question. Is there any plan by the new government to conduct the elections to the provincial councils?
Yes. We have to do some amendments to the Act. The previous government enacted a new piece of legislation and we have to amend that Act enabling the conduct of polls. It will take some time.
QIn the Batticaloa district, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) made its mark this time, coming close to the TNA in terms of votes polled. How do you view this progress?
Yes, I look at it positively.
QWould you contest the elections as the Chief Ministerial candidate if elections are conducted?
Well, I have not yet decided on that. It was my plan earlier. I have to wait and see.
QWhen talking about the subject of fisheries, what is the present status of unlawful fishing by Indian fishermen in the sea off the north?
We have plans to be implement it at the country-level and in the common level. We want to make it a win-win situation. When we met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with our Prime Minister earlier, we gave a proposal for a win-win situation. He appreciated it as a new one. He suggested that we must work together.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic situation disrupted it. We could not continue our work. Recently, I spoke to the Indian High Commissioner and due to the COVID-19 situation, we could not go ahead with the dialogue. We have started our dialogue through video conferencing. Ours is a Ministry that makes a good contribution to the national economy. We have to develop and strike an equilibrium in both marine and inland fishery sectors. That is to ensure nutritional needs for people while giving better income opportunities for fishermen. Also, we can target the export market.
QThe new government talks about constitutional changes. What is your position on it?
This is a strong government and we have to make it even stronger. Then, we can settle the country’s issues. We have ended terrorism. We have contained the COVID-19 pandemic. Presently we are facing the economic crisis, corruption and drug menace. We need this government to grow more stronger. Then, we can settle our issues.
QAny opinion about the constitutional changes...
Well, we are discussing it internally.