President and PM will implement LLRC
North- South divide is a result of politics
State Minister for Defence and Gampaha District UNP Parliamentarian Ruwan Wijewardene in an interview with the Daily Mirror asserted that his ‘wings have not been clipped’ as some media reports had suggested and said that his political future would be decided by the people.
Q To start off with there has been an issue about the subjects that come under your purview, can you give us some clarity in to it?
There have been a lot of stories that have been going around to the effect that my ‘wings have been clipped,’ but there is no such thing.
All the State Ministers have a slight problem because their functions had not been defined properly yet.
So, I asked the President to give me the specifics and he did that and asked me to look into overall Defence while focusing on the Ranaviru Seva Adhikari and some of the schools related to the military.
So, there is no question of my wings being clipped. I look into all other aspects with focus on those which I have been entrusted with.
Q So, are you still in charge of the security forces and the rest of the organisations that come with them?
Yes I attend the Security Council meetings and meet with the Commanders of the three forces.
If there is anything the President needs to know regarding the military I appraise him of them. There has not been any problem between the President and me. I think there has been a lot of speculation on social media and other media to the effect that there was a problem between me and the President but there is no such thing. I want to do my duty well and that is all that concerns me.
Q Are you comfortable in your position as a Minister?
Yes I am. This is the first time that I have been assigned ministerial responsibilities, it is a new experience but I am taking my duties very seriously. The Defence Ministry is not a small ministry so there is a huge responsibility that lies on my shoulders, especially regarding national security. So, it is not something that one could take lightly. Yes I am enjoying my new role.
Q Were you aware of the new appointments to the Army, the recent appointments which seem to have run into controversies?
The appointment of the Commander is made by the President, the President is the sole authority for such an appointment and I don’t need to be consulted when making them. He is the sole authority for them and he has the power vested in him to make such appointments.
Q Going beyond the Commander, there were certain appointments made without consulting the then Commander of the Army?
Well yes. After the defeat of General Fonseka at the Presidential election, the previous regime took a lot of the Army officers who were thought to be Fonseka loyalists out of the Army. They were either summarily dismissed from their offices. Gen. Fonseka was an integral part of the current President’s election campaign and what he did was to give these officers their rightful places in the Army.
Q Going into security related issues, there was the recent discovery of explosives in Chavakachcheri. As soon as you assumed office, there was a shooting of a Police officer in the North, which led to massive social media speculation. What is your take on them?
The shooting incident was a personal matter and had got nothing to do with security or the military, this is what the Security Establishment informed us following investigations. Of course there are small issues that are cropping up, but we are keeping a close tab on them. The Military and the Police are very aware of the ground situation and they are taking all relevant measures to ensure security in the country. So far there have not been big issues, but all these small issues are being dealt with.
Q With regard to the Arms cache in Chavakachcheri…..?
You will always come across situations like this, because many of the explosives were hidden by the LTTE. So, you will come across instances where there is a sudden detection of this sort. But, I don’t think there is anything to be worried about at all.
Q One main issue that has been told over and over again by civilians in the North is that the intelligence communities’ actions impede the day to day activities of the civilians. This is something I have been told over and over again by many journalists and civilians in the North. What steps have you taken to deal with this?
Yes the government has definitely taken steps to ease out the minds of the Northern people. There was definitely a very strong presence of the Military there. Since the assumption of the duties by this Government and the President we have taken steps to relax a lot of these things there.
The first thing we did was to appoint a new governor to the North who was warmly welcomed by the people. I have spoken to many people from the North and what they have told me was that they felt much safer now.
They can walk around and they can talk and they don’t feel threatened now. I don’t think things can change overnight and there is always a gradual process to that. But what we saw from the Presidential Election was that the People from the North and the East had a lot of faith in President Maithripala Sirisena.
The people really wanted a change. The President and the Prime Minister are keen advocates of reconciliation and they are insistent on restarting the process of reconciliation which had been stalled for some time.
The Prime Minister himself wants the proper implementation of the LLRC recommendations. One thing that was done in pursuance of the LLRC recommendations was the taking out of the Urban Development and NGO sectors from the Defence Ministry.
They are firmly committed to that. The reconciliation process must go through. The People in the North must feel that they are a part of this country- all the people in this country must feel that they are Sri Lankan. They should associate themselves with the Sri Lankan identity and not of that of different ethnicities or religions.
Q It is interesting that you are bringing this up, because it is the same thing that the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said. In fact in one his speeches in the North he spoke in Tamil and called for this one identity. But the fact remains that although there has been rhetoric of this sort, very little has been done on the ground to bridge this gap between the North and the South. What will your government do differently?
There has to be a proper reconciliation process. We don’t want to limit our promises to words. We want the people in the North to have faith in the Central Government. If you look at the past, the Prime Minister has continually been advocating a comprehensive reconciliation process. If one looks at the recent assurance of a domestic investigation as opposed to an international investigation into allegations against the government it is a good starting point because it shows the commitment of the Central Government to ensure swift reconciliation.
Q As a young Parliamentarian, what is your take on this North and South divide?
I think it is all about politics. The people in the North want to live their lives freely, they want to do their cultivations, give their children education and live their lives like every other human being in this country does. But politics obviously plays a major part and overshadows these humane aspirations. But I’m confident that we could overcome these and ensure that we live as one country and for that a firm commitment to reconciliation is a must.
Q You must have been asked this question many a time, but regarding the son of the former President Yoshitha Rajapaksa – You came into power through the platform of good governance and anti-corruption- but what we are seeing is this government protecting those who were in power. How do you justify what happened with Yoshitha?
Yes, from what I am aware is that Yoshitha had requested that he be sent to the personal security detail of the former President. The President and Prime Minister had already asked for a report on how Mr. Rajapaksa was recruited to the Navy and his activities in the Navy.
Obviously there has been a lot of suspicion and speculation regarding these things because he was the son of the President. That investigation is still continuing and I know for a fact that the Prime Minister and President are insisting on this report. But until then, the request has been made to the President and the Prime Minister and they have made a decision on that request.
"There has not been any problem between the President and me. I think there has been a lot of speculation on social media and other media to the effect that there is a problem between me and the President but there is no such thing. I want to do my duty well and that is all that concerns me"
Q So does that seem to mean that any officer under investigation can make a request to be posted in a place of comfort or luxury?
( Laughs). That’s a question you have to ask the President or the Prime Minister. But what I can tell you is that there is an investigation going on and if he is found guilty, he will be court martialled.
Q Moving on to you political career, there has been a lot of accusations thrown at you, by your opponents to the effect that you career as a politician has been given a boost due to your connection with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. How do you respond to this?
Yes, the Prime Minister who is the leader of the party is related to me. But that in no way means that I automatically end up with any benefit accruing out of that. Positions of the party and everything that comes with it are decisions that the party would take.
Beyond that, the decisions as to the roles I play on a national scale are to be taken by the people of this country. This is the easiest way of attacking me and I think many of my opponents will use that do so. But I don’t think Mr. Wickremesinghe has any need to promote me or anyone for that matter. I trust that he would look at the best person and give everyone an equal opportunity to become eligible for anything within the party and that is all there is to it.
Q There is an election which is impending and many of the 100 day promises are yet to materialise. Why do you think this is so?
Yes it is true that the people elected a new President but we are an interim government. We don’t have the people’s mandate yet so we need to go for an election and get the people mandate in order to form a strong government.
The Interim government was put in place to change the existing system especially on the Executive Presidency, the 17th Amendment etc we are committed to seeing these through.
But to be frank, the 100-day programme started off smoothly but because of this talk of an election coming up, attention seems to have been diverted.
One segment is asking for the continuance of this for another year or so, while another is calling for an election
Q What do you believe?
If we can go for an election tomorrow, we should go for it tomorrow. The people have to have their right to say what kind of government they want. The Constitutional changes that were promised must be done, but after that we must go for an election as soon as possible.
Q Are you a proponent of the abolishing of the Executive Presidency?
Yes I am.
"The government has definitely taken steps to ease out the minds of the Northern people. There was definitely a very strong presence of the Military there. Since the assumption of the duties by this Government and the President we have taken steps to relax a lot of these things there."
Q There is a belief within the masses of this country that the UNP has not based itself on nationalist policies, rather that its mainstay is Western or imperial policies when it comes to economics and other spheres. We saw this belief translating into votes during the past elections, where it was felt that the UNP has not grounded itself among the masses. Do you still think this perception still exists? If it does what changes do you suggest that the UNP should make?
Well I think it changed a lot during the last presidential election. Yes, that accusations is something that the UNP has been facing for a long time and to a certain extent I think it was true. The UNP always tried to come in and fix the wrongs that were done by the previous regime but by doing that they lost the populist appeal. The masses never saw the benefits due to this because the decisions made by the UNP were not populist.
Instead they were pragmatic and practical. But a lot of these have changed during the past few years, we have got a lot of young blood into the party and a lot of things have changed within the party. Right now everyone is in work mode and has gone to the grassroots and are gearing up for the next election.
Q Finally, Mr. Wijewardene, what are your political aspirations? Where do you see yourself in another decade or two?
I will have to follow the path that the people would lead me to. I would do the best I could and follow my leaders in the best interests of my country. I think it will be the people who will decide my future and what path I would take.