Everyone must get together to get out of the crisis - Vidura Wickramanayaka | Sunday Observer

Everyone must get together to get out of the crisis - Vidura Wickramanayaka

14 August, 2022

Minister of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Vidura Wickramanayaka said that we have to somehow get together and come out of the current crisis. If everybody is saying this is the worst ever crisis but they are just paying lip-service and that will not bring us out of this crisis.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said at present the best medicine for us is to get together and forget our differences and party policies. The Minister said: “If we are developing and progressing, there shouldn’t be this type of anarchy. We shouldn’t open our doors to anarchy. For that, we have to be patient and magnanimous. However, according to the prevailing laws of the country, we have to take action against those who take the law into their hands.”

Q: Do you think an All-Party Government (APG) is the only way out to overcome the current economic and political crisis?

A: From the time the so-called independence was declared in 1948, the people had the feeling that all the politicians should get together. Of course, the gradient was different because suffrage was allowed only for certain people or certain classes of the society. The massive victory of 1956 by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) were due to the fact that most of the parties got together and there was no contest with the other leftist parties. It reflected the need of the hour more than the economic setbacks.

It was the political setbacks that brought the 1956 revolutionary change. The bottom-line is to get together. Whenever the SLFP in the past had an alliance or some sort of understanding with other parties at the elections, it has kept them in power. With the common candidate in 2015, other than the SLFP, all the other parties marched around Maithripala Sirisena’s campaign. So, this has been the urge but we have not responded. Even this time, I have my doubts whether the Party Leaders and the political parties will respond to that positively. With the personalities or persons, that will not suffice as of now. Because this is the worst ever crisis we had. I think only to a certain extent, an All-Party Government will be the medicine for the ailments that we are undergoing.

There should be sweeping political, economic and social reforms. For that the Parliament should be one. What we have observed is that it is always divided. Now there is an ongoing debate about the President’s Policy Statement to the Parliament. What were they debating on? For three days, we were debating at the people’s cost and it is almost Rs.10 million per day. Therefore, what I feel is we have to get down to work. Actions speak louder than words. I don’t know why our Legislature doesn’t understand this. Because we have to somehow get together and come out of this crisis.

Q: However, the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has said that it is ready to assist the Government wholeheartedly without accepting any ministerial portfolios. If the main Opposition doesn’t accept any portfolios, is there any possibility of forming an APG?

A: It is not accepting or rejecting portfolios. It is a blessing that everybody will be rendering this course of action for us to come out of this crisis. We observed this during 2008 and 2009 where the whole country was behind the Government at that time. That is why we were able to win the battle against terrorism. There was also support given by the Opposition to a certain extent. Now this needs more than that. The magnitude of this crisis is so immense and we don’t know the future of our country. If something goes wrong what will happen? We cannot predict. Just imagine for all these years, nobody predicted that this would happen. There have been mere speculations but you cannot pin point. Therefore, accepting or rejecting portfolios is not supported wholeheartedly.

As I said earlier, paying a mere lip service will not help. When the politicians are in front of a microphone, they will say they can support wholeheartedly but they have to show that. For example, there are two SJB MPs who have accepted Cabinet portfolios. I don’t know whether that was really an eye opener for the SJB. However, irrespective of our political differences, we are carrying on the duties in the Cabinet as one united body to take this country out of this mess.

Q: The Opposition alleges that the Government is suppressing public protests and is violating the right to peaceful protests. Would you like to comment?

A: I do believe that there should be freedom for the people to express their views about the performance of the Government. That is accepted very well. So, it could be a protest or some other form of manifestation. Nevertheless, nobody can take the law into their hands by killing people, assaulting people, burning houses and damaging the houses and other public properties.

I know it is not a crime for some political parties. Because they have done that earlier as well. They did it in 1986 and also during the 1988-89 era by burning buses, destroying electricity and telephone lines. We label ourselves as we are developing and progressing. Where is the progress and the development achieved?

Q: Do you think initially the youth who were involved in the peaceful protest or ‘Aragalaya’ at Galle Face were later misled by some political parties to realise their narrow political objectives?

A: Everybody has his or her own ‘Aragalaya’. The ‘Aragalayas’ are not new to this country. We have been having ‘Aragalayas’ in our day-to-day life and also when it comes to our professional requirements. Initially, we also agreed the needs of the innocent people were suppressed so that they came on to the streets and that is very well understood.

They said in public that their protest is non-political and non-violent. Later on, some of the political wings of certain political parties have taken it over to realise their ulterior motives. If the people are not happy with the Government’s performance, they have all the right to protest and express their views of displeasure. All of us have to abide by that.

Why did ‘Aragalaya’ fail? It failed because of political interference and then the non-violent movement took a turn towards violence. That is why the people were killed on streets including one Parliamentarian and his bodyguard. So many houses were also burnt and ransacked. That is not non-violence. Let say if the Government was taken over or handed over to those people, what would have been the aftermath?

The people didn’t expect that. That is why they were moving away from the ‘Aragalaya’. On Tuesday or Wednesday, one of the SJB legislators also called for the people to come to Colombo in millions but there were none. I am not saying that they have moved away from that set of actions. In principle, we all want a system change and we are for reforms. That is why we urged former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and also incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe to have a new Constitution that embodies the people’s wishes and signifies our heritage and that will bridge the past, present and the future.

Q: Do you think the proposed 22nd Amendment to the Constitution would pave the way to overcome the issues and shortcomings in the 20th Amendment?

A: The Constitution should enshrine not only the rights and privileges of the people but also a course of action that will lead the country to the future. For that, there are provisions and mechanisms in the Constitution. If you have a basic weak law such as the present Constitution, it would be difficult to fulfill this task. Even the 22nd Amendment is now on our table. According to political science, usually a Constitution is for a period of 25 to 30 years.

Actually, it is for a generation. It is said that in every five years, there could be an amendment. This Constitution came to effect in 1978. It has shown that this is a weak Constitution. If the basic law of the country is weak, then you cannot expect other laws to be strong.

So, we have to make a very strong Constitution and substantially that will reflect the ideas of all the people irrespective of their nationalities, religions, affiliations and politics. You cannot draft a Constitution only for one set of people. It has to be for the whole country. That is what we have been urging and that is in preparation.

Right now, there is a constitutional draft. So, we will be contemplating that draft. After that, it will be made public so that the people can express their views about the draft. I always say that there should be a new Constitution. My personal view is the Executive Presidency should be abolished. There are things such as the 13th Amendment and we have to revise that. The electoral system has to be changed and other sweeping political, economic and social reforms have to come in. That is what we are expecting from a Constitution.

Q: What led the Government to present the Budget Appropriation (Amendment) Bill for the next four months?

A: Of course, things have changed now. Our dollar reserves have depleted and the rupee value has decreased. We have to take into consideration such things and present a new Budget. The Budget presented earlier is not in effect now. Without a Budget that is not in effect, the Government is compelled to ask the Parliament for more funds and that should not be the case. That is why the Government is presenting a new Budget so that we can smoothly navigate the next four months.

Q: Will the declaration of emergency regulations have any adverse effect on Sri Lanka especially from the international community? Will this adversely affect our chances of getting international aid from IMF, ADB and World Bank to tide over the present difficulties?

A: The emergency will not stay for long. The emergency was declared at the time when things were getting out of hand. When the Police and the Army personnel were beaten up and they were ridiculed on the streets and that should not be the case. That is why I said earlier too, nobody can take the law into their hands. I personally believe that immunity of the President should go and that should not be in the new Constitution. Nobody is immune and nobody is above the law.

That is why the emergency was declared to bring sanity to the country. I don’t know whether the word ‘sanity’ is correct because some people may say all 225 Members of Parliament are insane. So, how do we bring sanity into the country? That is a different perspective but the emergency will not stay for long. It may be for about another one or two months. Anyway, we have been living with an emergency since 1971.

I am not trying to reason out why the emergency was declared and why it should be there. Even though an emergency is declared, we can have day-to-today affairs. When the situation is getting out of hand and certain elements attempt to promote violence and harassment, measures were taken to prevent that. Nobody thinks that if we stage a protest, the people will not be able to move freely. Freedom enshrines free movement. I am not saying the protests are bad. There should be protests.

Even in the future, there should be protests. If the Government is not acting up to the expectations of the people, of course there should be protests. When you say the Government, we always think it is the ruling party but it is not only the ruling party. The Opposition and all 225 legislators have the same responsibility and accountability. If the people are saying that 225 MPs are corrupt or ruling party members are corrupt, then what about the bureaucrats and Government officials who are corrupt? Even I saw on YouTube that some Diaspora said that they funded some of the NGOs and they were backing them.

Q: Do you think political stability will help Sri Lanka to seek a faster bailout package from the IMF and other lending agencies?

A: Definitely. We have to have political stability. That is why we are inviting each and every one to come to an agreement or plan of action. I personally believe there should be criticism and self-criticism. Most of the people who criticise, do they have self-criticism? Among the political parties in Sri Lanka, they all preach about democracy but there is no democracy within the party. If there is no self-criticism, there can’t be criticism.

First, it should be self-criticism and then let us criticise others. For that, I believe political stability could be achieved in such a way. For that, let us come together and choose the best idea for the sake of the country, people and future generations. If we miss this opportunity, there may not be a future for the country. Let us get together and forget our political differences and whatever divisive ideas, thoughts and utopias that we have. As the Cabinet members, we have taken up the challenge of bringing this country out of this mess.

Q: At present the people have lost their confidence in the parliamentary system and reject all 225 legislators. What has led to such an impression among the people?

A: When the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attack took place, what did the people say? If you go back to the media reports, they said all 225 MPs should be bombed inside the Parliament. After two years, there were elections. Of the 225 MPs, the majority of who are sitting as members today were the members who were cursed by the people at that time. It is the people who select and elect their members to Parliament.

That is why I am saying the electoral system should be changed. Under this system, the people may not be able to select or elect honourable members to Parliament. When I said that clenching the political body that tantamounts not only the political reforms but also about the politicians.

There should be norms set for a politician to be selected to the Parliament as a candidate. At least, he should pass the G.C.E. Advanced Level examination. We are still using archaic and obsolete methods. Even in our education system, we are carrying a corpus that was cast away by the very people who brought these things to Sri Lanka. The British have adopted a different system of education in their own country. The whole world is moving towards that direction but whereas our system of education is still in the 1930s and 1940s.

We have to have a revolution of thoughts. For that, we have to strengthen the system of our education. The system of education doesn’t mean only the schools and universities. It also applies to kindergarten, montessori and dhamma schools. The vocational training centres should also be taken into consideration. First, all these learning processes or accumulation of knowledge has to be free.

Every year, there are children who have not entered grade one. On a superficial level, they say everything is fine. That is only the icing but what it has under the icing is rotting. The children are not given the chance to educate in their nearest school. This is the dilemma that we have and this is a paradox. We need a revolution of thoughts and also agrarian, industrial, environment and cultural revolutions for this country to prosper. We always forget our roots and heritage. We always glorify our past. What have we done for these 73 years? We should have a sweeping revolution. It means a complete overhaul of the machine. Without that, we will be talking about the same topic in another ten years’ time. The same Aragalaya or protests will be there continuously and that will shed blood and take some of our lives away.

We don’t want that to happen. The peace and law and order situation should prevail in the country. That is the primary requirement for any country to develop. We have 106 rivers flowing right round the country. Have we tapped that? What about the energy of ocean waves? The countries with three months of sunlight are tapping sunlight and they are having solar power. Sri Lanka, which has had solar power for 365 days, has not done anything.

That is the irony. So, how can we prosper? Let us castaway the personal agendas. We cannot run with personal agendas. That is why the Cabinet of Ministers agreed not to take any salary. Today the people have lost their confidence in legislators. Because when you say that some politicians are crooks or rogues, which implies to all politicians. Are only the politicians to be blamed? I am not saying just because I am a politician, I blame the others also. That is not my stand. If something is not good for some that is not good for others as well. You cannot have two spoons. There should be only one spoon to serve all.