Nation should stand with President Ranil Wickremesinghe | Sunday Observer

Nation should stand with President Ranil Wickremesinghe

13 November, 2022

State Minister of Women and Child Affairs Geetha Kumarasinghe said that at this critical juncture, the entire nation should stand with President Ranil Wickremesinghe as he is genuinely attempting to do something to get the country out of the current crisis. The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the people should properly understand the prevailing situation in the country.

At present, fuel and gas are available and the prices of some food commodities have also been reduced and it is a big relief for the people. Therefore, amid this crisis the President is trying his level best to manage the current situation.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: There are allegations that the Government is resorting to various schemes to postpone the Local Government elections as it cannot win at this time. What is your comment on this?

A: I believe that is not hundred percent true. You can’t say the Government is scared of conducting elections. All Government lawmakers, Provincial Councillors and local Government members will always have to do the correct thing. Then nobody needs to be scared of facing elections. At the election, the people will choose and take the correct decision on who should be voted in.

If we do the correct things, we don’t need to have any doubt to conduct elections at any time.

Q: The dual citizenship issue has once again come to the fore thanks to the 21st Amendment. As someone who lost her seat due to that issue and then came back to Parliament after renouncing the other citizenship, what is your comment and advice?

A: When nominations are given to somebody to contest, he/she should be informed that he can’t contest if she is a dual citizen. Then somebody else will be selected and he or she has to go out. In my case, I never asked for citizenship in another country. I got that citizenship because of my marriage. At that time, there was a law in Switzerland when you marry a person in that country whether you like or not you have to get the citizenship of that country. However, that law is no more there now. So, I also had the Swiss passport and enjoyed the benefits for nearly 30 years but I never lived there. Every year, I have been to Switzerland several times, just only for a couple of weeks. It was difficult to stay in Switzerland for a couple of years due to my scheduled acting career. My husband did all his business in Sri Lanka so he was mainly staying in Sri Lanka.

Whenever we had a holiday we went to Switzerland with our child. As a married woman, I had the opportunity to enjoy lots of benefits there. However, I gave up that for the sake of my country and its people. I consider my motherland is more important to me than Switzerland. Actually, people like my character because I am a popular actress and not because I am a politician. I have earned my popularity as an actress thanks to this country. I believe Sri Lanka is my motherland and I am so happy that I gave up my Swiss citizenship. With the Swiss passport, you don’t need a visa to go anywhere in the world but I sacrificed that on behalf of my country and its people.

This dual citizenship was in the 19th Amendment and it said you can’t represent Parliament or contest elections if you are a dual citizen. I would like to say all those who have foreign passports are not dual citizens. It takes years to get dual citizenship as you have to go through a long procedure but the majority of the people are doing a crafty thing. What they do is they keep their other passport secretly and they never give up Sri Lankan citizenship. They live like Sri Lankans and nobody knows. When they go abroad, they use their foreign passport. This is the secret behind dual citizenship.

I am a popular and honest person so I declared my dual citizenship. They should find out from all the countries who are dual citizens really. Otherwise, they hide their passport and it is very difficult to trace them.

Q: It has also been suggested that apart from dual citizenship, there should be closer inspection of MP’s finances and assets. What is your comment on that?

A: That is very good and they should do that. Everybody has to declare their assets. I have done that every year. However, there is no point in keeping those documents in files. They should instruct the Inland Revenue Department to check those details. I have no issue because I have given all details to the Inland Revenue Department. Therefore, I am not scared of my finances and assets. However, others should also do the same. When our poor people are suffering and they don’t have enough food, certain people are hiding all information on their wealth.

Q: It is clear that the SLPP is divided into several factions. In this situation, will it be able to pass the Budget? In any case, what do we need at this time-an election or revival of the economy first?

A: I don’t think the SLPP is divided. Some people may get hurt and disappointed as they have not been given ministerial portfolios. Actually, some can’t even live without portfolios. Now I am a State Minister but I go everywhere with one security personnel. I am also like other ordinary citizens and this portfolio is not a crown for me. There won’t be any issue to pass the Budget and still we maintain a comfortable majority in Parliament. Some people of the SLPP may get hurt and sometimes, I have also faced similar situations. Whatever the issues were there, I didn’t leave the party.

I have also received a lot of ill treatment from my party. Such issues are quite normal within a political party. I first contested in 2015, and was elected to Parliament. After renouncing my dual citizenship, I once again came to Parliament in 2020. After that I am continuing my service on behalf of the people. I have been a member of the SLPP since its inception. I was among the first 50 party members who started the SLPP. So, the party seniority is there for me. I will wait and see how the party hierarchy will react towards me in future. I am a very senior member of the party so that they can’t just ignore me for certain things.

Q: Do you think that protests should stop at least for some time until the President can address economic and social problems to some extent? What is your comment on bringing children to such protests?

A: The people should understand the prevailing situation in the country. We are facing a huge financial and food crisis. However, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has somehow managed to handle these issues. At present, the fuel and gas are available and there are no queues. The prices of some food commodities have also been reduced and that is a big relief for the people. Amidst this crisis situation, the President is trying his level best to manage the current situation. The entire nation should understand the seriousness of the prevailing situation in the country. At one time certain sections of the people protested and demanded the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down. Can we continue in the similar form and conduct demonstrations by demanding the incumbent President to step down? That is not fair at all. Then who will be here to govern the country. At this critical juncture, the entire nation should stand with the President as he is genuinely attempting to do something to get the country out of the current crisis situation. I very well know nobody can point a finger at the President and brand him as a corrupt person.

When commenting on bringing children to protests, the parents are also asking where are they to keep the children. We have to do something in this regard rather than criticising. We are trying to reserve a place for daycares. Especially women who are employed can leave their children in those daycare centres. There will be a daycare centre set up at each Divisional Secretariat level and our Ministry will also help to operate them. At that time “Aragalaya” was launched by a certain section of the people was fair. Sometimes, I also had to face hardships as there was no fuel and gas and that was a very disastrous situation. Then at one point I also felt what they did was right. However, now the country is returning to normalcy. There are no fuel or gas queues and the prices of some food commodities are also coming down gradually. You can’t do these things overnight. At the moment, those who are involved in the “Aragalaya” should act with patience.

If the demonstrations and violent incidents are taking place, the tourists will be reluctant to visit Sri Lanka. So, the protesters must give a little time to address the burning issues in the country. I think we will be able to see a much better country in the near future. Actually, the mistake is made by the people when they elect politicians. Why do they elect corrupt elements to Parliament? During the election time honest people are rejected and some crooks are elected to Parliament. After that the people are accusing them as crooks. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the people to select and send decent and educated people to Parliament.

Q: What are the steps taken by your Ministry to address the issues in the women and child affairs sector?

A: We have commenced a program to protect pregnant women and prevent them having premature babies. We have decided to pay an allowance of Rs.20000 to a pregnant mother for a period of 10 months. We have more than 580000 preschool children in the country. Some of them are having nutrition issues and they are not really having malnutrition but they are gradually reaching that level. They are getting weaker and they don’t have a proper height and weight. There are some parents who are not in a position to pay monthly preschool fees. The Ministry will assist them to pay that. We are also very particular about the issue on pure drinking water.

Q: A disturbing incident was reported from Millaniya, Horana recently where the Police had allegedly electrocuted several students to get information regarding a theft. Are the Government and National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) investigating this incident and what steps can be taken to prevent such incidents?

A: Being in the Government, we are ashamed of facing this kind of incident. There are schoolchildren. Even for an adult you can’t give that kind of punishment. When there is an allegation against even an adult, you can’t bring him to the Police and electrocute him. There is no such punishment in Sri Lanka. First of all the Education Ministry should take stern action against on that school principal especially since she is a woman. When a woman is the principal, they normally love the children. It was said that Rs.500 was in the wallet of a teacher and they were suspecting that those couple of students had stolen that money.

The principal had allegedly brought them to her office room and had beaten them. Then she had called the Police and the students were handcuffed and taken to the Police. We could see when Thilini Priyamali was arrested over a massive financial fraud she was taken to the Welikada Prison without any handcuffs. According to the National Policy on Child Protection, the Police have no right whatsoever to act in such a manner especially for underage school children. Instead of physically harassing a child, giving him mental harassment is also a severe offence under this Act.

The principal and a teacher who were allegedly involved in that incident were remanded after they were produced before courts. Everybody should learn how to treat children. I believe justice will be meted out to those affected children. The NCPA also conducted an investigation and it took the Police jeep into their custody in which those students were taken to the Police. The NCPA Chairman will take further actions in this regard.

Q: A lot of violence against women and children goes unreported. How do you plan to strengthen the reporting procedures and ensure their confidentiality and protection?

A: We took all the Police complaints made during the past 10 years but it has to be categarised again for different types such as attempted murder, murder and stealing. Anyway more protection has to be given to the children. At present there is a regulation if the parents have a two –year- old child, they can ask some of their relatives to look after him and go abroad. There is a serious issue on the protection of that child so that this regulation must be reversed. Earlier, it was restricted to five years and they have now reduced it to two years. When a two- year- old child is left alone and the mother goes to work overseas, the security of her child is at a great risk. Sometimes, the own family members are accused of raping their own children. In addition, the drug menace should also be stopped immediately. I am also discussing with the President on our program to empower women. Sometimes, social media such as YouTube has also made a serious impact on the children and we will have to closely monitor these things. Sometimes, the children who have faced various harassments are questioned in public by the Police and those visuals are exposed to the media. You can’t bring children before the media and question them in such a manner. We should immediately stop this practice.