Public Administration Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara, in an interview with , speaks about the national unity government and the way forward. Excerpts of the interview:
QHow do you analyze the current political situation?
Within the past one and half years, we cleared all obstacles to the country in the international arena. The international community is friendly with us. We have created a rule-based environment in the country. Today all the government institutions can function independently. We have undertaken the development of roads and schools as of now. We are working for the commencement of mega development projects next year. We look to the future with optimism.
QThere is a public perception that the government failed to live up to their expectations during the past period. How do you respond?
Ours is the government that gave the most amounts of relief measures to farmers. We managed to increase the market prices of paddy as the largest crop of the country. Today, paddy of the Nadu variety fetches a price of Rs.35 a kilo, up from Rs.22 that prevailed earlier. For Samba variety, it has increased to Rs. 45 a kilo. We give cash subsidies to purchase fertilizer. Farmers have begun to realize that it is only now that they get high quality fertilizer. In our area, the price of maize has increased.
As for tea and rubber, the prices are determined by the global developments. That is beyond our control. The prices fluctuate along with fuel costs in the world market. As a relief measure, we gave subsidies to farmers for a period. Our tea is purchased mostly by oil producing countries. In the future, we will be able to find new markets for our tea.
QEarlier, you mentioned that the government would undertake major development work. At the same time, the government says its revenue is hardly sufficient to pay even the debt installments. Then, how do you find money for development work?
Because of that reason in main, we have talked to the Chinese government to develop the Hambantota seaport and the Mattala airport which have hitherto become economically unviable. We will swap debt taken for the seaport to equity. A joint venture will be formed for this purpose. Sri Lanka will also have its equity share. An industrial zone encompassing parts of Hambantota, Moneragala, Galle and Ratnapura will be established along with the port development. In Moneragala, we have even earmarked land for it.
Alongside, one phase of the Central Expressway is under construction now. The work on the rest will follow next year. We will begin work on the Ruwanpura Expressway. We will also construct the northern expressway. When all that comes, there will be a major development in the country. The urban mass transport system will be developed in Colombo to reduce congestion. The work of a main housing project is in progress.
QYou are one of the most senior MPs of the United National Party (UNP). How do you observe the concept of this national unity government with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)?
As a country, we have to endorse that concept. Initially, we felt uncomfortable. We are used to it now. Though the UNP stood the chance to form a government of its own with a few others from outside, it opted to form a government combining all. This is a disadvantage to our party men from the party point of view. As a whole, it is a gain for the country, though.
We have a problem. The other parties involved do not look at it in the way we do. Only the UNP ensured the President’s victory. None of the SLFP worked for him. Those so called Ministers of the SLFP did not vote for him. It is the UNPers who voted him to power. The President expresses his gratitude to the UNP. I believe he should continue to do it.
QAgainst this backdrop, how practical is it for the two parties to govern together in this manner in the future?
If we look at the country as a whole, we wish to carry forward with the status quo despite odds. The two parties that were hostile to each other, have now united for governance. A committee has been appointed to iron out differences in proceeding with work. I also serve in it. We are faced with difficulties.
QDo you believe that the government can serve its full term in this manner?
Yes definitely. The national unity government will continue to rule the country for the remaining period. The SLFPers with the government have sensed the danger they would face in case the other side secured power. If the unity government collapses, they will face more consequences than us. They are aware of it.
QWhat will be their fate as you see at the next election?
There are four more years for the next election. We cannot predict how the political landscape changes by that time.
QWhat does the UNP plan to do next in view of local government and provincial council elections due next year?
As a party, we should concentrate on strengthening the party further. While governing, we should reach out to party men at grassroots level and empower them. We should give serious thought to it. Our supporters were in the opposition side for the past 20 years. We have to consolidate our base now. Our future success depends on it. We are fighting for it in the party.
QYou talked about restoration of the rule of law. But, President Maithripala Sirisena, as the Head of State, lashed out at the FCID, CID and Bribery Commission as law enforcement bodies. Then, how legitimate is your claim on the restoration of the rule of law?
The President is the head of the government. I do not wish to comment on him taking a swipe at these institutions in the open. I think it would be better if such matters were discussed internally. In his speech, the media highlighted only a selected portion. If we read the entire text, we can get a meaning different to what was projected by the media. Anyway, it is always better to discuss such things internally.
QYou are the Public Administration Minister. There is a perception that the FCID activities affected public servants in the discharge of their duties. What are your views?
I think anyone guilty of wrong-doing should be penalized irrespective of his or her position. Action should be taken in this regard. There is no need for anyone to have any fear if he or she acts according to the correct procedure.
QI am referring to the current way of handling affairs by the FCID. What is your view on that?
We should admit that there is corruption and fraud to a certain extent in our country. That is there even in the public service. To weed out corruption, we have to implement the law. When it happens, no one can oppose. If the rule of law is applied in an unfair manner, we will have to stand up against it. In the past, government servants have deviated from the correct procedure due to their fear of the then leaders of the government. We have to call a spade, a spade.
QHow do you see the new political party formed in the country?
A new party is there. We see only its Chairman. Only the Chairman is there for the party as far as we can see. We do not see office bearers. The Joint Opposition has disassociated themselves from it. It raises questions about it’s future.
QHow challenging will it be for the UNP?
It does not pose any challenge to the UNP. It is a challenge to the SLFP only. The SLFP is split into two. It is ridden with internal squabbles. They take on each other.
QWhat are the public sector reforms you intend to do?
This was the government that did most for the public service. We have increased their salaries. We increased pension benefits. We have a large public service. Yet, we need to make our public service more productive for the development of this country. We need to restructure it in keeping with modern trends. It has been modified in countries such as Singapore, Japan, Malaysia. We have a laid-back public service. We inherited it from the British. We see a whole lot of government servants idling in offices without proper work assigned to them. We have to employ in productive service. We work in this direction.