“It is essential for the country to assume one policy when it comes to economic recovery and development”-
Pic by Pradeep Pathirana
- At the end of the day the necessity is for a dynamic, result oriented leader for the country
- The country is confronted with too much of hearsay and prophesies which have led to the downfall of the government
- There are no people with courageous and conviction in the nation.
- UNP has seen an erosion in its confidence and we have re-establish that in the best possible way
- President Ranil Wickremesinghe is proposing a daring new system that is adventurous
- Some 18 months ago you were without electricity, gas and fuel. I think people should not forget about all these
Former Minister Ravi Karunanayake in an interview with the Daily Mirror said that he is still actively involved in politics and hopes to make his contributions to put the debt-ridden country back on the right path. He also spoke of reinventing the party using the experienced hands and also by bringing in new faces. He added that moves are underway to restore people’s confidence in the UNP.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: Are you engaged in active politics now? What have you focused on these days?
Yes. I am actively involved in making national development. I can see that there is a dearth of professionalism in the country. I can see the necessity of getting the country back onto the right path and it is the need of the hour.
Q: How are you getting about with this task of nation building?
At the end of the day the necessity is for a dynamic, result oriented leader for the country. We need someone who can give guidance so that the nation is able to move on an innovative direction. The country is confronted with too much of hearsay and prophesies which have led to the downfall of the government. Now is the time that a nation building exercise has to take place. There are no people with courageous and conviction in the nation. I am talking about politicians. There are no statesmen in this country. My intention is to address these issues.
Q: We have heard that there would be changes to the UNP. There is going to be a leadership board. You are also part of it. Also there are reports that you are to be appointed as the General Secretary of UNP. Is that correct?
I will refrain from answering that question. At the moment we are doing a complete reinvention of the party, using the experienced hands and those of the knowledgeable and also by bringing in new faces. The UNP has seen an erosion in its confidence and we have re-established that in the best possible way, so that we (UNP) will be accepted by the people. .
Q:Many UNPers who had left the party have joined SJB. Any possibility of getting them back?
We are looking at that from a broader perspective. It is not people who leave us during elections and come back who are important. We are looking at a long-haul nation building process. In that exercise similar thinking people will come together. You will see that happening. Narrow minded people who don’t exercise forward thinking, who are only interested in the next elections, don’t have a great future. We are an old party which is looking at a broad confidence building exercise, to re-establish ourselves as a deliverable party, which the country sadly lacks. We are focusing on daring, innovative ways to take Sri Lanka to the world like the late President J. R. Jayewardene did in 1977.
Q:What do you think of the current status of the country’s economy? They say taxes are too high. What is your opinion?
I agree with the thinking of people. It is true. I am disappointed with the government servants who cannot think neatly. They take the passage of easiness. They should think of what is best for the nation. I think it is necessary to embrace a Sri Lankan solution for a problem created by the Sri Lankans. **We don’t need a foreign player to answer our problems. I am a believer that we have the talent and the ability and the will. We lack conviction and political ability to carry things forward. President Ranil Wickremesinghe is proposing a daring new system that is adventurous. There is no way out except that process which he proposes.
Q:What are your thoughts about Sri Lanka obtaining assistance from the IMF?
The IMF is not a palatal solution. However Sri Lanka needs to do what is needed; whether the IMF tells us to do anything or not.
Q:Where do you think the country’s economy stands at present? Do you think it is in the process of recovering?
The economy experienced an unwarranted passage not by choice and not by chance. We had the COVID issue. There were obvious issues and they were omitted and that is where the problem arose. We in 2015 inherited an economy where its GDP recorded a revenue growth of 8.2 percent. We increased it up to 15 percent in 2017. There were only 200,000 tax files. We increased it to more than 1.5 million. In 2020 it was reduced to 200,000 tax files once again. The revenue went down to 8 percent of GDP once again as a result. There was a Rs 750 billion loss in revenue. It was a political decision and it was hoped that there will be investment with growth content. That should have been balanced with professionalism. You need professionals who are practical to make day to day decisions.
Q: Do you think the country’s economy has stabilised?
No, it is still progressing towards stability. Some 18 months ago you were without electricity, gas and fuel. I think people should not forget about all these. People should remember that things have changed. The reason for this is being silent. When you remain silent Rs 750 billion was written off. That is where the issue is. Central Bank created the situation and is asking the people to pay 30 percent tax. A retrospective answer for the tax issue will not work.
Q: When do you think the country would return to stability?
It will be after a passage of time. There are 23 million people and more than 5 million families in the country. The concept of working for the betterment of the country will ensure a quick return to stability. We are highly over regulated. These are the two factors government servants and politicians must work on. No one knows who is responsible. There should be public servants not parrot servants. Today decision making takes time. It is not possible to attract local investors. We live as if the world lives inside Sri Lanka. This is the issue. We are an island stricken with poverty but on an ocean of prosperity. We have to get out of it. We have to consider 800,000 to 900,000 government servants. There are 17 million public servants who need to be paid monthly. We have to spend 84 percent of the tax revenue to pay 1.7 million government servants. Salaries of some public servants are 200 percent higher than it should be
Q: The prices of some essentials such as eggs have risen. There is speculation that rice would be imported. There is talk of a rice scam similar to the sugar scam. What are your comments regarding that as a former trade minister?
These issues crop up as a result of lack of national policies. We have been an agriculture based economy since the days of kings. We were supposed to have a warehouse containing essential food items. Today we are a nation that imports. This is because we don’t do the right thing at the right time. We import at a time when the harvests are coming in. Where have we been successful? It is easy to blame others; either politicians or government servants should take the responsibility. We see different policies in the same political party. We see Lal Kantha saying something and Harini Amarasuriya saying something different. It is essential for the country to assume one policy when it comes to economic recovery and development.
Q: I don’t see any difference in your ways of thinking and the manner in which some opposition MPs are thinking regarding the economy. Your comments?
I don’t see a difference in thinking, but the issue is the ability to get things done. They love to profess, but when given the opportunities they don’t know how to perform. It is hard to build up a nation with those who profess because they are eternally on a learning curve .