State Ministers will eschew all perks - Wajira Abeywardena | Sunday Observer

State Ministers will eschew all perks - Wajira Abeywardena

11 September, 2022

United National Party (UNP) Chairman MP Wajira Abeywardena said that when the economy has faced a setback and the country is in a crisis situation, everyone irrespective of their political differences should take some responsibility and work together. The UNP Chairman in an interview with the Sunday Observer said after the people elected their representatives to Parliament, they have not been able to fulfill anything on behalf of them during the period from 2020 up to 2022 due to the economic crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, a group of State Ministers should definitely be appointed to serve the people. He said these newly appointed State Ministers will draw only their MP’s salaries and they will not enjoy any other perks or privileges so that they will not be a burden to the country. According to the Constitution, we are bound to appoint State Ministers, otherwise, the role of the Members of Parliament within the democratic process will be fully neglected.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: Concerns have been raised on the appointment of 37 State Ministers on Thursday in a situation where the country has faced severe economic hardships. Would you like to comment?

A: According to the Constitution, the public mandate is supreme. After the people elected their representatives to Parliament, they have not been able to fulfill anything on behalf of them during the period from 2020 up to 2022 due to the economic crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, a group of State Ministers should definitely be appointed to serve the people. These newly appointed State Ministers will draw only their MP’s salaries and they will not enjoy any other perks or privileges. Therefore, the appointment of these State Ministers will not be a burden to the country. When the economy has faced a setback and the country is in a crisis situation, everyone irrespective of their political differences should take some responsibility and work together. According to the clauses 148, 149 and 150 of the Constitution, responsibilities on public finance have become unsuccessful due to the process carried out by the Finance Ministry and Central Bank officials. The Parliamentarians are held responsible for that failed process as the country has been default without knowing them. That is hundred percent illegal. As requested by the IMF, it is important if the same regulations in the US Central Bank structure are introduced to Sri Lanka. According to clause 27, 28 and 29 of the Constitution, it is the responsibility of the Members of Parliament to implement policies and principles. Definitely, a certain group is required to implement these policies and principles. The people’s representatives have come forward with dedication to rebuild a country which was deliberately subjected to bankruptcy. That is not correct according to the people’s mandate. Even at this juncture, the Opposition attempts to engage in politics. We call upon the Opposition not to engage in politics and stand together with the President to rebuild the country without getting into the traps of various forces.

Q: President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday extended an open invitation to all political parties to join him without differences to build a powerful country for the future generation. Would you like to comment?

A: We were able to gain independence early due to unity among our communities. Prior to that, the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya, Temperance Movement as well as the Satyagraha campaigns launched in the Indian freedom struggle were also utilised to gain independence to Sri Lanka as well. Sri Lankan leaders such as Anagarika Dharmapala went on the same path followed by Mahatma Gandhi. Similarly, the unity of all political parties paved the way to gain independence on February 4, 1948. It was the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya which first stressed the need for a political solution and that is why D.S. Senanayake formed the United National Party (UNP) on September 6, 1946. When we gained independence all Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and Malay communities were together. D.S. Senanayake’s name was proposed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on September 6, 1946 and it was seconded by Tamil political leaders.

Sri Lanka could gain independence early due to that excellent unity depicted among those political leaders. However, we were not able to economically benefit from the independence that we gained. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike quit the party in 1952. It paved the way to create divisions among the political forces and disunity in the country. Perhaps some foreign forces in various forms knowingly or unknowingly may interfere to create that disunity. As a result, on one hand, some people have turned Sri Lanka into the position of a bankrupt country. Actually, those who resorted to that didn’t have a legal right to do so. Therefore, the entire people of the country have faced immense hardships. That is why President Ranil Wickremesinghe is of the view that we can overcome this challenge through unity. The President says that all political parties should work together to rebuild the country which was turned to bankruptcy by certain sections. If they sincerely commit themselves, we would be able to bring Sri Lanka to greater heights in South Asia and the rest of the world.

Q: Despite several rounds of discussions being held, it has failed to reach a common consensus to form an All-Party Government (APG). Is it mainly due to the lack of genuineness among the Opposition political parties towards this Endeavour?

A: I think first the people should question those who form new political alliances. When it was said that the country was bankrupt, certain groups acted in Parliament even without knowing that. Today if they say, they can get the country out of this current crisis situation through a new political movement, from tomorrow; we are ready to go on that path to overcome the hardships faced by the people. At present, we don’t want to have any confrontations with political parties or alliances. What we need today is all those who maintain different ideologies should join hands and work together. Actually, this is the most difficult task in democracy. The common feature in politics is implementing what we want by using the power. However, President Ranil Wickremesinghe is playing the most difficult task in democracy. That is to move forward with the consensus of all political parties to overcome the current crisis.

Q: The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has turned down the request to join the Government. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has said that they would extend their support without accepting any ministerial portfolios of an APG. Your views?

A: If the main Opposition SJB is deliberately avoiding this national task, two SJB Parliamentarians are represented in the Cabinet. If the rest of the SJB lawmakers also feel that it is appropriate to avoid this task, the majority of them will join hands with the Government. In order to extend their support to this national task, some SJB MPs have already accepted the chairmanships of some committees. Therefore, we have the opportunity to get the consent of all towards fulfilling this task. It is not only the SJB but also the representatives of various other political parties are joining hands and extending their support to this national task. We called a meeting with Pradeshiya Sabha members who quit our party and it was attended by a large number of PS members. We are trying to get back and unite all those who are rejoining the party.

Q: The UNP’s 76th Convention was held at the Sugathadasa Stadium, Colombo on Tuesday under the patronage of UNP Leader President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP held this year’s convention under a President of the party after 28 years. What was the outcome of the party convention?

A: Actually, we had to restrict the convention to a limited number of participants. If a large crowd had attended, it would have been difficult for us to handle it. Therefore, the participation of the people was restricted to electorates as the Sugathadasa Stadium can accommodate only 5000 people. However, that limit was exceeded and a large number of people participated in the convention. We were able to conclude this year’s convention in a very successful manner. Our party convention was held on September 6. As a coincidence, September 7 was the day which the country’s first Executive President J.R.Jayewardene and the Cabinet of Ministers took oaths in Parliament.

Q: The Opposition demands to give the chairmanship of Parliament watchdog committees COPE and COPA to them. At present, the Committee on Public Finance is headed by SJB Parliamentarian Dr. Harsha de Silva. Would you like to air your views?

A: Those who take part in these Committees should get rid from their party politics and act independently. They should not influence the officials of those committees to implement their political agendas. There is a good and bad side of everything. If the process is implemented just to criticise, then there is a risk factor. It is important that both Parliamentarians in these Committees and officials should come to a common consensus regarding their functions.

Q: The Party Leaders have agreed to set up a 37-member National Council at the Party Leaders meeting headed by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on Wednesday.

A: Several rounds of discussions headed by the Prime Minister were held in this regard. A large number of political parties attended these meetings and expressed divergent views. We would provide room to all those views and move forward with the consent of all parties.

Q: What is the Government’s readiness to face the upcoming UNHRC sessions in Geneva which is due to begin on September 12?

A: Whatever former Governments which ruled Sri Lanka has not deliberately resorted to any human rights violations. However, when attempts are made to go beyond the democratic process and attempt to burn houses and brutally kill Parliamentarians, steps should be taken to control such violent incidents and ensure the law and order situation in the country. Due to the recent riot incidents, major damages had been caused to 613 properties which include the properties of Government, people’s representatives and some businessmen. These are the issues that should be raised at the upcoming UNHRC sessions. I think Government representatives will submit facts and raise these issues at the UNHRC. Therefore, we would be able to settle the issues that would come up. We have the similar opportunity as some other countries have also acted in such situations within their democratic framework.

Q: Do you think the Interim Budget presented by President Ranil Wickremesinghe has identified necessary reforms to move the country forward?

A: After Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed duties as the President, he delivered his Policy Statement to Parliament. According to clause 27 of the Constitution, it has been strengthened to implement the national policies with a view to obtain benefits to the younger generation by 2048. The aim of the President is to formulate a national policy framework which cannot be changed for the next 25 years. The assistance of everybody is needed to turn this goal into a reality. If certain groups are divided based on political lines, first they should tell us as to how this task is fulfilled by doing so. Unity is the most important thing to succeed in this challenge.

Q: The Opposition and various sections have raised concern on the implementation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The Opposition alleges the PTA is used to suppress peaceful public protests and arrest and detain persons who have been involved in protests against the Government. Your comments?

A: I think we should not be panicking about it. The President has drafted a new amendment bill to remove certain clauses which had been there in the PTA from 2016 up to 2019 but which are not necessary at this juncture. Necessary steps will be taken to immediately present this bill and pass it in Parliament. The process followed to prevent terrorism and identify terrorists is not required to Sri Lanka at this moment. Therefore, such amendments should be brought with immediate effect.

Q: A group of independent political parties and Parliamentarians including former Ministers Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara launched their new political alliance Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya last Sunday. Will this pose any threat to the stability of the Government?

A: We need to go for open discussions with those who are in this political alliance as well. The issues they raise should be analysed in the presence of the people who are the most supreme segment in democracy. If the facts and issues they highlight were there at that time, the country should have not turned into this crisis situation. Some of them were in the Cabinet and it was their ideas and suggestions which were implemented at that time. Therefore, how can a group of people who were in such a failed movement rebuild the country? However, we should consider how we should get their important ideas and implement them for the benefit of the public.

Q: At present the people have faced severe hardships due to the recent increase of electricity, water and telecommunication charges. What action will be taken to address this situation?

A: That was the nature of the mechanism launched by those administrative sectors. The Water Board, Ceylon Electricity Board and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation are held responsible for increasing the rates of water, electricity and fuel. It is said that these rates have been increased to structure those institutions. When steps are taken to restructure these institutions, it would be able to bring down these rates. After these loss-making institutions turn into profit-making ventures, that profit would pass down to the people as well.

Q: Both the Government and the Opposition on Friday expressed their condolences in Parliament on the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II who passed away on Thursday at the age of 96 after reigning for 70 years. The Parliament on Friday also observed two minutes of silence to pay homage to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Your comments?

A: Queen Elizabeth came to Sri Lanka in 1981. She gave us the Victoria power project, the largest power project as a grant to Sri Lanka. She also came to Sri Lanka for the opening ceremony of the Victoria project. As the leader of the British Empire where the sun never sets, during the past 70 years, she committed to build the states which were under her purview.

At her 21st birthday, she had made a special statement by saying that she would sacrifice her life to uplift the lives of all British people and others who come under their administration. Until we got full independence in 1972, all former State leaders in Sri Lanka such as D.S.Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sir John Kothalawala and Sirimavo Bandaranaike worked closely with her and maintained close relations. Sri Lanka did not default due to those relations and solid financial regulations. At that time, Sri Lanka granted loans to other countries. The President and the Sri Lankan Government have expressed their deepest condolences on her demise.