Opposition reluctant to accept challenges - Manusha Nanayakkara | Sunday Observer

Opposition reluctant to accept challenges - Manusha Nanayakkara

23 October, 2022

Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara said that those who are clamouring for an election today were given the opportunity in May to capture power even without going for an election. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said it was also discussed to create an environment conducive for the Opposition to vest power and work as the Government. However, they were reluctant to accept that challenge as there were severe problems such as lack of fuel, gas and power cuts in the country. When the country is returning to normalcy, they are now demanding to go for an election. The Minister said “We need a group of MPs who can commit themselves and are ready to take even unpopular decisions to solve the burning issues faced by the country. Such a group irrespective of petty political differences should join hands to contest the forthcoming election.”

Excerpts of the interview

Q: How do you view the passing of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution by a two-thirds majority in Parliament on Friday?

A: Actually, we fulfilled this task with an honest intention. One of the intentions of introducing the 22nd Amendment is to vest certain powers which are centered on the Executive Presidency to the independent commissions. We contributed to this task hoping to bring back certain powers to Parliament. Therefore, we have fulfilled our responsibility. This 22nd Amendment with these features was presented to the Cabinet by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who said that we should go back to the 19th Amendment. Therefore, the 22nd Amendment was basically approved by the then Cabinet of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Therefore, this 22nd Amendment was not a legislation introduced by anybody else.

Q: There is media speculations that President and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa had recently discussed an alliance between the SLPP and UNP to contest forthcoming parliamentary elections. Is there any truth in this?

A: There is no such consensus based on political parties. There is a group of Parliamentarians who are of the view that they should get together and jointly contest the forthcoming election to overcome the current crisis in the country. We are also of the same view. It is totally irrelevant whether they are from the SLPP, UNP, SJB or any other party. At this juncture, we all should get together to find a lasting solution to the current crisis that we are facing. We have to continue our talks to get the IMF bailout package. In addition, we have to implement our debt restructuring program as well.

We need a group of MPs who can commit themselves and are ready to take even unpopular decisions to solve the problems faced by the country. Such a group should join hands and contest the forthcoming election. Our stance is that a group who are committed to rebuild the country should rally round irrespective of petty political differences.

Q: What is the progress with regard to the deliberations of the National Council? Will it be able to achieve its set targets when several political parties have decided to boycott it?

A: While fulfilling the national level task to be done through the National Council, we have also taken steps to set up ‘Jana Sabha’ at village level. Our intention is to move forward from the village level and implement non-political ideas that come from the grassroot level to rebuild the country. Finally, the responsibility is vested with all Members of Parliament to implement them through Parliament.

Therefore, if some are deliberately attempting to ignore this National Council process that means they are not willing to accept the country’s responsibility. When the country is faced with a crisis everybody should accept the responsibility of rebuilding the country. It has to be decided what is more appropriate whether to find out who has made mistakes or bring the country back to the right direction. I think, at this critical juncture, everyone should join hands to do the right thing.

Q: The main Opposition SJB has largely agreed with the economic policies of the President but has refused to join the Government, apart from being heads of certain parliamentary committees. Why is that?

A: I think most of them have realised the ongoing way of governance is good. They also admit the policies implemented by the Government are correct. It is very obvious they behave in that manner to get undue advantage and maintain their political popularity. However, this is a time we all should work together by setting aside our political differences. However, most of those in the Opposition are resorting to the same old practice of getting undue political advantages even at this critical juncture.

Q: The Cabinet of Ministers has approved recognising the ‘People’s Assembly’ or ‘Jana Sabha’ concept as a fundamental policy and establishment of a National Jana Sabha Secretariat for implementing the system to strengthen participatory democracy. Could you explain?

A: Yes. The Cabinet of Ministers has accepted the Jana ‘Sabha’ concept proposed by former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and chairperson of National Movement for Social Justice. The Government will also introduce the mechanism to implement this concept at village level.

A Secretariat will also be set up for this purpose. Cabinet approval has already been granted to implement all these proposals so that it is now at the implementation level.

Q: Mass Media Minister Dr.Bandula Gunawardane has said that there is no political answer to the current economic crisis in the country and only by working together to rebuild the economy, an answer can be found in this regard. Would you like to comment?

A: At present, there is an economic crisis in the country. As I said earlier, everybody should join hands and take some unpopular decisions to sort it out. However, that cannot be done by dividing into factions based on party lines. Whatever decision is taken, another group opposes it. Everybody should join hands to make the correct decision. Without doing so, certain parties are getting ready to criticise the Government.

Q: Opposition parties and certain sections are of the view that a General Election should be held to overcome the current political instability. Are you in agreement with holding an election or should the present Government and the President run their course for the next two years?

A: Those who were clamouring for an election today were given the opportunity in May to capture power even without going for an election. If the Opposition wanted, they were urged to take over the power. It was also discussed to create an environment conducive for them to accept power and work as the Government. However, they were reluctant to accept that challenge due to the critical situation faced by the country. When there were severe problems such as lack of fuel, gas and power cuts in the country, the Opposition was not ready to accept that challenge. When the country is now turning back to normalcy, they are now demanding to go for an election. At present, discussions are going on regarding the IMF bailout package and debt restructuring.

A systematic program is also being implemented to get the country out of the current crisis situation and that cannot be sabotaged by conducting an election. Those who want to destabilise the country are demanding for an election to consolidate their power. Before consolidating power, first we should take the country back into the proper track. There is no issue for us to go for an election after that. Still the country is not in a stable position to go for an election. If the IMF talks and debt restructuring collapse, the country will have to face serious repercussions once again.

Q: Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has urged that the Local Government Elections must be held before March 20, 2023. However, some Government lawmakers have said that only ignorant people request an election when an economic crisis prevails in the country. Your comments?

A: We are not scared of elections. Lot of people are of the view that a huge amount of money is wasted in the country due to the appointment of 8000 members to the Local Government bodies. If they all see that as a huge waste of public funds, they are demanding to conduct the LG elections. Is there an urgent need of appointing 8000 members to the LG bodies? Is this what they are requesting? What we request is to immediately implement the program to reduce the number of 8000 LG members to at least 4000 and go for elections afterwards. Then we would be able to minimize the huge waste of public funds in the country. We talk about reducing the number of public servants and minimising the Government’s expenditure. By doing so, if the number of LG members is increased to 8000, what is our policy?

Q: Do you think passing the recent resolution at the UNHRC against Sri Lanka will have serious repercussions on us when the number of countries supporting Sri Lanka at the UNHRC is gradually reducing?

A: In such a situation, we should do and show the things that we can do on our part. The issues mentioned in this resolution were nothing new. It is being dragged on with old facts. In addition, some fresh facts had also been included in it. However, we didn’t provide necessary answers to those issues for a long time. We should dedicate ourselves to implement the reconciliation process with honest intention. Among the recommendations that they have suggested, there are a series of recommendations which should be implemented by us. When we extend our support and implement those recommendations, the opposition made by certain countries against us will be minimised.

Some countries abstained from voting as they want to maintain their international relations but they also have some sort of affection for our country. If they voted against us, most of those countries would extend their support to us. They have no serious issue with us. However, they want us to implement the reconciliation process. Even at the last Cabinet meeting, instructions were given by the President to return the private lands occupied by the Government to the civilians and release detainees and develop those areas in the North and the East. Therefore, we would be able to create the environment now to seek massive support at the next UNHRC session.

Q: Are you confident Sri Lanka would be able to obtain the IMF bailout package?

A: Based on the ongoing discussions, we have firm confidence that we would be able to go for the staff level agreement in the first week of December. Discussions are also going on about debt restructuring. Therefore, the matters pertaining to that will also be implemented very soon. We should also appreciate the assistance given us by the Paris Club and other countries such as Japan on debt restricting.

Q: The Foreign employment sector can play a vital role to revive the Sri Lankan economy. What are the steps taken by your Ministry in this regard?

A: We have already taken a series of measures in this regard. We were able to increase foreign remittances by a considerable amount which had drastically dropped in February, March and April this year. At present, we have increased the percentage of sending Sri Lankans for overseas employment. We have planned to send 33,0000 Sri Lankans for overseas employment during this year. At present, we have reached the target of sending 280000 people for foreign jobs. We have also taken a series of measures and introduced new legislations to bring workers’ remittances to the country through the proper channel which were sent earlier by various ill legal forms. Measures have also been taken to encourage Sri Lankan expatriates to send their money to Sri Lanka through proper channels and give them some tax concessions and a permit to import electric vehicles.

We have also introduced a new pension scheme for Sri Lankan migrant workers and provide them special facilities. This has helped us to increase the workers’ remittances. In addition, we decided to find new markets and get more job opportunities in countries like Japan.

Of the country’s total foreign exchange earnings, we hope to get a major portion from foreign remittances. At present, we are successfully implementing that plan.

We get the highest amount of workers’ remittances from Middle East countries. Therefore, steps have been taken to increase the remittances received from these countries. We are also exploring the possibility of finding new job opportunities in these countries. The Saudi Arabian Ambassador has informed us that they need more Sri Lankan workers under their new program launched. Similarly, we hope that we would be able to increase the quota given by the Korean Government at the beginning of this year by two fold. I hope to visit Korea next week to discuss this. In addition, Japan has also offered us a lot of job opportunities with an increased number of job sectors. New markets are also opening in Europe, Australia and the UK.

Q: Since the formation of the SJB both you and Minister Harin Fernando played a leading role within the party. What led you to quit the SJB and join hands with the Government?

A: Actually, we are not going behind personalities. As a Party Leader we exerted pressure on SJB Leader and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa to accept the power to rebuild the country. When the opportunity was given to him to accept power and rebuild the country, he didn’t accept that. What we want is the country’s development. We don’t want to engage in petty politics when the people are in hunger and face severe hardships. At this juncture, there is no need to engage in politics by going behind portfolios. We put a full stop to party politics. At present, we have made our contribution on behalf of the problems faced by the country and the decisions taken to rebuild it. There is no use of supporting a Leader who attempts to market the sufferings of the people. Therefore, it is better to join hands with those who are genuinely committed to rebuild the country. There is a group of SJB parliamentarians who are willing to join hands with the Government. They will join the Government at the appropriate time.