Intervention of external parties in our domestic matters will be rejected - Shantha Bandara | Sunday Observer

Intervention of external parties in our domestic matters will be rejected - Shantha Bandara

25 September, 2022

Committed to rectify our errors and move forward:
Country can be developed by formulating a national policy:
Opposition parties have ulterior motives:

State Minister of Mass Media Shantha Bandara said that the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry, PC has categorically explained the Government’s position to the UNHRC that internal issues in Sri Lanka will be sorted out through a domestic mechanism and intervention of external parties in our domestic matters will be completely rejected.

The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said some Opposition political parties with their ulterior motives and those who are still having separatist sentiments and formed various organisations for their existence are trying to depict a wrong picture on Sri Lanka to foreign countries and the UNHRC.

If any guidance or assistance is given, we would humbly accept that and we are committed to rectify our errors and move forward. However, we flatly reject any external interference made in our judicial system and country’s sovereignty.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: Do you think the National Council would be a solution to the current political crisis?

A: That is the next step to be taken to resolve the crisis. Actually, the intention was to form an All-Party Government (APG). When an invitation is made to form an APG, political parties may face a practical problem as well. When they join hands with the Government, they will have to face certain issues such as who will be the Opposition Leader and what will happen at the next election.

Perhaps, those Opposition parties may look at those aspects as well. However, they first asked about the program of forming an APG. If a program was formulated and then invite them for an APG, these parties would have said as to why they should join hands to a program formulated by the Government.

Actually, the intention of the President was to formulate a program with the joint participation of all political parties. It is obvious there is no consensus among political parties for such a program.

Therefore, we have the responsibility to continue as a stable Government by appointing Cabinet Ministers and State Ministers. That is necessary for us even to get the IMF bailout package.

As yet another effort, the National Council is formed with the representation of all political parties and it doesn’t have any political outlook. That is to create a sustainable program for the betterment of the country and its economic stability.

I believe the country can only be developed by formulating a national policy and introducing a time frame for each major subject with the participation of all political parties.

There is a need for a roadmap with a stipulated time frame which covers national policies, economy and development aspects. That roadmap should not be formulated by the SLPP or SJB alone.

That should be drafted with the participation of all political parties which represent Parliament. So, the next Government will be formed among them. Sometimes, the SLPP will be able to capture power once again. Otherwise, any other party will follow suit. However, whatever party consolidates power will have to follow this roadmap.

According to my political knowledge, whoever comes to power will not be able to develop the country without having a clear roadmap. The country cannot be developed through temporary patchworks and that would pave the way to further aggravate the existing problems.

At this juncture, political parties and their leaders should be sincere at least to commence a program through the National Council to reach a consensus on the major issues by setting aside their personal and party-political agendas. The National Council is the final opportunity we have to fulfill this task. If the politicians are genuine, it would pave the way to fulfill a series of work on behalf of the country.

Q: Despite several rounds of discussions, it has failed to reach a common consensus to form an All-Party Government (APG) and some Opposition parties have turned down the request to form an APG. What is the reason for that?

A: In our country, the people have been divided based on political lines such as SLFP, UNP and JVP. We have to accept that whether we like it or not. The JVP thinks if they join the Government and go ahead with its program, they won’t be able to resort to their usual form of criticism and rally around the people.

I hope the SJB may take a practical approach as they are the main Opposition. However, they think that joining an APG would become a hindrance for them to capture power. Therefore, they deliberately create some unacceptable reasons to ignore this process.

This is a very unfortunate situation. Even the SLPP didn’t oppose creating an APG. At present, the SLPP has made all the sacrifices needed for this process. Actually, former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected by an overwhelming majority of the people’s vote. However, he didn’t try to retain power by harassing or killing people. When the public protests commenced, the President tendered his resignation. Therefore, the former President on his part made the biggest sacrifice.

If a SLPP Parliamentarian was appointed as the President, certain sections would have said that a pro-Rajapaksa loyalist was appointed as the President. That is why the SLPP made an open invitation to other political parties to accept the presidency. The main Opposition SJB turned down that request as well.

In such circumstances, there was a dire need to take the country forward. That is why the SLPP made the biggest sacrifice allowing the single UNP lawmaker in Parliament to go up to the level of the presidency.

After Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected as the President, the ideal environment was created to form an APG. If the Opposition doesn’t join hands even under this environment, it won’t be able to form an APG in our country.

It was unanimously passed in Parliament on Tuesday to form a National Council. If the political parties are genuine and sincere, they can join the National Council and work for the betterment of the country. Then the people will realise that they have genuinely made some sacrifice on behalf of the country and that would become a plus point for them at the next election.

Actually, the JVP is attempting to increase the number of MPs while the SJB tries to capture power at the next election. Other political parties which have become independent are also exploring the possibility of coming back to Parliament through various forms.

Q: Opposition and certain sections attempt to interpret the incumbent President who doesn’t have a public mandate has no moral right to form a National Council. Your views?

A: That implies they are under the impression that the Constitution is wrong. Nothing has happened outside the Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t say a SLPP, UNP or JVP MP should become the President.

According to the Constitution, when the post of the President is vacant, any Member of Parliament can contest the election of the President. The MP who secures the majority votes in Parliament is democratically elected as the President.

Actually, that is what has really happened. Before he was elected President, Ranil Wickremesinghe was a Member of Parliament. Therefore, he had some representation in Parliament. Even if NPP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake who has three MPs in Parliament could secure the support of the majority of the MPs, he would have also become the President.

Q: At present the people are asking for a system change and that was the main slogan of the “Aragalaya” youths as well. Do you think the country needs a system change at this juncture to overcome the current crisis?

A: There should be a system change in the country but that should be made within the existing methodologies. That should be turned into a national policy which would continue so long without any hindrance. If the health policy formulated by the present Government is changed by the next Government, that is not appropriate. There is nothing wrong with updating methodologies.

Since the day I was elected to Parliament in 2010, I have been telling the country’s education system must change. We also made some efforts towards that as well. However, no Government has been able to change the system of education in the country. As a result, we have to face youth unrest and several other issues.

Actually, the prevailing system and issues faced by youths were the root cause for the “Aragalaya”. We don’t have an education system which provides solutions to the problems faced by the youth. There is a need for a system change but I would like to tell those who were involved in the “Aragalaya”, this cannot be done through promoting hate politics. The younger generation should join hands with honest intention to make a system change in the country.

Q: The electricity tariff hike has adversely affected the people and even the Chief Incumbents of temples have expressed their displeasure over this move. Your comments?

A: If all are asking to go for a system change but there is a method that we all have got to use. That is why we have not been able to make a change. When the system is going to be changed, various issues may come up. A unit of electricity purchased between Rs. 30 to 50 is given to electricity consumers to Rs.1.90. Therefore, the balance of the loss has to be incurred by the CEB.

Eventually, that has also to be somehow recovered from the people. Our country has got to use to various subsidy schemes and we can’t get rid of them at once. I also admit the fact that some temples have faced hardships due to recent electricity tariff revision.

However, the electricity rates have to be increased due to the huge loss incurred by the CEB. Following the request by the Maha Sangha, we proposed at the Government parliamentary group meeting to introduce some sort of concessionary mechanism to temples.

Therefore, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to make some amendment to the electricity tariff hike and provide some relief to the temples.

Q: Serious concern has been raised on the appointment of 38 State Ministers when the country has faced severe economic hardships. Would you like to comment?

A: We also admit that the country is in an economic crisis. However, there is a need for a stable Government to sort out the economic crisis. Even the IMF says to ensure political stability in Sri Lanka. Certain obstacles may occur in the State administration if the required number of Cabinet Ministers and State Ministers are not appointed to the relevant subjects.

Therefore, the country’s Leader has the responsibility to properly manage the State administration and ensure political stability. Therefore, the President has the right to make necessary appointments in accordance with the Constitution. However, no appointment has been made by exceeding the limits of the Constitution.

The facilities given for the State Ministers have been curtailed to a great extent. The State Ministers have agreed to make that sacrifice and work with dedication. The staff of the State Ministers has been reduced and their electricity bills have been curtailed by 50 percent. Therefore, lots of facilities and benefits given to State Ministries have been curtailed.

Q: When there is a retirement age for both public and private sector employees, don’t you think there should be a retirement age for the politicians as well?

A: The present Parliament is represented by more young MPs. Even in the 2010 Parliament, 40 young MPs were elected from our party alone. Therefore, youth representation is always there in Parliament.

However, it is entirely up to the people to decide the retirement age of a people’s representative. If the people decide that a particular politician is old now and he is not in a position to engage in active politics, then there is an opportunity to give their preferential votes to any other candidate and elect him or her to Parliament. The people have the responsibility to select and vote for young, educated and efficient candidates at elections.

Q: The SLFP party hierarchy has decided to sack Parliamentarians from their party positions who went against the Party decision and obtained Ministerial posts in the Government. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: Actually, we had not been informed by the SLFP Central Committee not to accept ministerial portfolios of the Government. We should engage in party politics. However, the country is in a severe economic crisis. At this juncture, it is very easy to sit in the Opposition and criticise the Government. However, it is difficult to sit on the side of those who attempt to get rid of the people from current hardships. However, we decided to sit on that side on behalf of the country’s people.

Q: However, nearly eight SLFP MPs have already joined the Government and obtained ministerial portfolios. How do you view this development?

A: It is very obvious that the majority of our parliamentary group is of the view that we should extend our support to the Government at this juncture. We should think about how justifiable for some of those who held ministerial portfolios of the former Government and later quit and sat in the Opposition when that Government was incurred to public displeasure.

Except SLFP Jaffna District MP Angajan Ramanathan, we all have been elected to Parliament from the SLPP. Therefore, I don’t think it is justifiable to quit the Government at this juncture. I hope more SLFP groups will rally round with us by endorsing our decision.

Q: Some of the constituent parties of the SLPP have quit the Government and formed new political alliances. How would this affect the country’s future politics?

A: When we are in a Government, we have to face both honour and criticism. When good things are happening under that Government, some politicians join hands and obtain portfolios. If some public displeasure incurs, some politicians say they are not held responsible for it and quit the Government. The people will decide whether that decision taken by them is right or wrong.

I believe the majority of the MPs have the issue as to how they should elect the next Parliament and succeed in their political career. I believe the people are seriously looking at these political developments. However, we don’t challenge the right of Parliamentarians to engage in politics as they wish.