Majority of SLFP MPs act according to their conscience - Jagath Pushpakumara | Sunday Observer

Majority of SLFP MPs act according to their conscience - Jagath Pushpakumara

4 December, 2022

State Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion Jagath Pushpakumara said that at present except for a few MPs, the vast majority of the SLFP MPs act according to their conscience and all party veterans and MPs who have a good vote base in each district have rallied round under one group.

The State Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said those who destroyed the SLFP are now attempting to further ruin the rest of the party. At present, only a few MPs are with the SLFP Leader and the party has just confined itself to its nameboard. Today there are no Bandaranaike policies in the SLFP. The democracy restored within the party by its great late leaders S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike are no longer there in the SLFP.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: The SLFP Central Committee unanimously decided recently to suspend the membership of eight MPs including you who have accepted ministerial and State ministerial portfolios in the Government. Are you still in the SLFP and what are the actions you have taken in this regard?

A: Since inception, we have been members of the SLFP. However, those who have suspended our party membership went to ‘Sirikotha’ those days and became the President with the help of the UNP. Some of them in the SLFP today joined the UNP in 2001 and were elected to Parliament and vehemently criticised the SLFP those days. However, we have never joined any other political party. This is a deliberate attempt made to remove senior party activists from the party. SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara has allegedly said at one particular occasion that he looks like ‘Tanki Suddha’ and he will clear the party and will come to its leadership.

Q: At the recent SLFP Central Committee meeting, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was removed from the UPFA General Secretary position and appointed Thilanga Sumathipala as the new General Secretary. However, some constituent parties in the UPFA, while expressing dismay about the removal of Minister Amaraweera from the position, have said that they will not accept Sumathipala as the UPFA General Secretary. Your views?

A: The SLFP Central Committee cannot remove the UPFA General Secretary. I hope the Election Commission will make a correct decision in this regard. It is up to the Election Commissioner to accept or reject it. I don’t think the intelligent and competent members in the Election Commission will endorse this decision taken by the SLFP Central Committee.

Q: Have you and other SLFP MPs decided to take any legal action regarding the removal of the party membership?

A: First of all, an investigation should be conducted. The destruction of the SLFP commenced in 2015. Those who were in the SLFP became the members of the SLPP. However, those who destroyed the SLFP are now attempting to further ruin the rest of the party. Today there are no Bandaranaike policies in the SLFP. The democracy restored within the party by its late leaders S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike are no longer there in the SLFP. At present there is a party Chairman and a General Secretary who have amended the party Constitution and behave like Hitler.

Q: However, the allegation levelled by the SLFP is that you all accepted ministerial positions in the Government going against the party decision, Would you like to comment?

A: When President Ranil Wickremesinghe was acting as the Prime Minister, our party Chairman informed him in writing that the SLFP will extend its support to form a Government and he will send a group of party representatives to discuss getting ministerial portfolios. A group led by the SLFP General Secretary and Treasurer went and discussed on getting ministerial portfolios. However, the expectations of most of them were not realised as they had expected and they are now acting against the Government with hatred. Some of them expected big ministerial portfolios similar to what they had in the past. When their hopes were shattered, they attempted to create a wrong impression among the party members.

Q: Is there any attempt to oust former President Maithripala Sirisena from the SLFP leadership and replace him with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga or someone else? Has this movement gained enough momentum to effect changes in the SLFP?

A: There is no such move whatsoever. These are stories fabricated and spread by certain sections to mislead the people. Even no such discussion has been conducted.

Q: The SLFP MPs in the Opposition voted against the Second Reading of the Budget 2023 following a decision taken by the SLFP Central Committee. Would you like to air your views?

A: Where is the SLFP Central Committee? A person who got nearly 200 votes from his electorate has been elected as the SLFP Gampaha District Leader. The Gampaha district is the heart of the SLFP. Today such incompetent people are in the SLFP Central Committee.

Q: However, SLFP National Organiser MP Duminda Dissanayake voted in favour of the Second Reading of the Budget defying the decision taken by the party. Could you explain?

A: The people have elected us to Parliament to act according to our conscience. We acted in such a manner for a certain period. However, as a result of acting against our conscience later, the country has faced this economic crisis. We should appreciate MP Duminda Dissanayake’s decision by acting according to his conscience even now. What happened in the recent past was that party members just raised their hands to the decisions taken by the Party Leader and few others and that is completely wrong. The people have voted and elected us to express our will on behalf of them according to our conscience.

Q: Who is responsible for the downfall of the SLFP? Is it former President Sirisena or your faction? Will the party have a chance at the next elections under the same leadership?

A: That is mainly due to the party General Secretary. The people are well aware as to how he conducts even in his own area. When this General Secretary was appointed, there were 39 SLFP MPs. At present, it has just reduced to mere 3 MPs and all others work with the Government. In addition to the SLFP Chairman and General Secretary, only three MPs are with them. This shows at present the vast majority of the SLFP MPs act according to their conscience.

Q: It is very obvious there is a clear division within the SLFP. If this trend continues what would be the future of the party?

A: At present except for a few individuals, the vast majority of the SLFP MPs act according to their conscience. All party veterans and MPs who have a good vote base in each district are in our camp.

Q: Has the group of your SLFP MPs decided to extend their support to the Government to get the country out of this crisis situation?

A: We don’t want to recognise ourselves as Government MPs. Actually, we act for the public welfare by acting according to our conscience. In order to take the country forward at this juncture the SLFP Leader and party members have said that we should contribute to form an All-Party Government. When this task is fulfilled, if Ranil Wickremesinghe or even any other leader comes forward at this juncture, we should extend our support to him. Now a few SLFP MPs in the Opposition don’t extend their support to the Government due to the personal grudge they have with the President.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took the lead to make Maithripala Sirisena the country’s President in 2015. However, after he became the President, he forgot the past. He sidelined Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Finally, he removed Kumaratunga from the party which was formed by her parents. I have a doubt whether he is a mental case even. We are still in the SLFP. We have not gone to any political party. Those who attempt to remove us from the party have gone to other parties and come back. They can check whether any member in our group has gone to ‘ Sirikotha’ and come back.

Q: The SLFP MPs in the Government met President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently. What was the outcome of the discussion?

A: The discussion was mainly centered on how to conduct the forthcoming Local Government elections.

Q: Some say the incumbent Government doesn’t have a mandate as nearly 43 Government MPs have crossed over to the Opposition. Your views?

A: If the Government doesn’t have a mandate, how was the Second Reading of the Budget 2023 passed by an overwhelming majority in Parliament? Actually, this mandate has been given to the Government for five years. If a group of Government MPs are sitting in the Opposition, nobody can say the Government has gone against the public mandate.

Q: The Third Secretary of the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oman was arrested by CID officers at the arrival terminal of the Bandaranaike International Air Port on November 29 over the allegations of sexual harassments and human trafficking of women. Would you like to comment?

A: At present he has been remanded. Therefore, I can’t make any further comment as it is a judicial matter.

Q: President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently allowed electrical vehicles to be imported on a permit issued for Sri Lankan expatriate workers through a gazette notice issued under the import control law. What is the progress?

A: The gazette notification has mentioned the amount of dollars to be brought to the country by Sri Lankans employed in foreign countries. Those who bring such foreign remittances will be granted permission to import an electric vehicle.

Q: At present people obtain tourist visas and go abroad and sometimes they face various hardships. What are the measures being taken to prevent such acts?

A: We have continuously given instructions to refrain from leaving the country on tourist visas in search of employment overseas. Those who don’t adhere to these instructions are sometimes stranded in those countries. We categorically advise them to first find suitable employment in a foreign country and then register at the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau prior to leaving the country. The people should always try to go abroad for employment through registered job agencies.

Q: What are the steps taken by the Ministry to address the sexual harassment and other welfare issues faced by Sri Lankan female workers in foreign countries?

A: We have given full protection to those who have gone for overseas employment legally. However, there is no method to find out information about those who have gone abroad for jobs using tourist visas without informing us.

Q: Instead of targeting the Middle East job market, has the Ministry laid emphasis on new job markets in countries such as Japan, Germany, Finland and Romania?

A: We have targeted job opportunities in countries such as Malaysia, Korea and Japan. Those who are willing to go to countries such as Japan and Korea should first learn those languages and pass the relevant exams. Sometimes, the language may not be essential to do some technical related jobs in these countries.

Q: At present skills’ migration has become a serious issue and lots of professionals are leaving the country owing to the prevailing economic situation in the country. According to you, is skills’ migration good or bad for the country?

A: I think if skilled workers can go abroad and send some dollars to Sri Lanka, that is good for the country. Some skilled workers go to foreign countries along with their families but they don’t send any dollars to Sri Lanka and that is not fair. For example, a large amount of money is spent by the Government to produce a professional like a doctor. Sometimes, they even sell their properties and migrate with their families but they don’t send any dollars. As those who have gained free education, it is a great injustice done by them on behalf of their country.