Some senior opposition Mps acting irresponsibly - Prof. Ranjith Bandara | Sunday Observer

Some senior opposition Mps acting irresponsibly - Prof. Ranjith Bandara

29 January, 2023

Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), MP Prof. Ranjith Bandara said in a crisis like this all must get together irrespective of their political differences and try to find out a sustainable solution rather than saying “I could do better and let me have the power”.  

Prof. Bandara in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the political ideology could be different between the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the United National Party (UNP).  However, in coalition politics, all parties should get together to resolve the current issues that we are facing. Whether it is the UNP, SLPP or JVP, it doesn’t matter if we all can sit and discuss how we could resolve the burning issues in the country. Therefore, the affiliation or collaboration between the SLPP and the UNP doesn’t mean that we don’t know the difference between the philosophical foundations of the parties but it is to make sure Sri Lanka will prosper.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: There are allegations that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Government are trying to postpone the Local Government Elections. Is there such an attempt and what would be the reason?

A: This has always been the accusation that the opposition has come out with. A few months ago they said that there is a doubt whether the elections will be held by the Election Commission. The Election Commission is an independent body. Neither the Government nor the SLPP has any influence over it. Since they announced the date of elections, we were calling for nominations and we were able to submit nominations for 254 Local Government bodies. Of course, we jointly contest quite a few LG bodies. 

We are ready to contest elections at any time. We don’t have any hesitation to contest elections. We know winning and losing is always there in the political game when such a powerful personality, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the 2015 Presidential Election which was not even predicted.

Somehow, we came out and later won the LG election, Presidential Election and the General Election. So, we are ready to accept either side of the coin. Now they are afraid of elections. If the elections are going to be held on March 9, I remember Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapaskshe also told Parliament that some Opposition members are having secret talks with many Government lawmakers.

If they ask whether we are going to postpone the elections, it means they are not ready for the election. In my honest opinion, the general public is not ready for an election. They have so many other issues to look after. Actually, it is not something that is on their priority list.

Q: But in case the polls are held, is the SLPP ready to face the election?

A: Yes. That is why we have submitted nominations and we have already started our campaign. The LG election campaign is not a national campaign. What these people are doing is nonsense. The LG election is only a local election. There are small electoral units so that you have to do the campaign in that particular unit. You don’t want to spend millions of rupees. So, let it be a local election.

Q: The SLPP has split into several factions and how will this affect the chances of the SLPP core group at the election?

A: The SLPP is not split at all. Some members who contested from the SLPP ticket have walked out. For example, MPs Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, none of them are part of the SLPP. They contested on our ticket. Therefore, I don’t quite agree about a split. We were together when we contested the last General Election. They may have certain disagreements with us and we also have certain disagreements with them on their conduct. It is quite natural and it happens all the time. The SLPP is the major party. Therefore, none of our strongholds walked away. We expect even from the beginning, one day some of these affiliated political factions would walk away by making certain demands. 

For example, we may not be able to meet some of the demands of MPs Wimal Weerawansa or Vasudeva Nanayakkara. Those demands are not quite reasonable. For example, what option do we have other than going to the IMF? Vasudeva Nanayakkara said that he will walk out if the Government is going to negotiate with the IMF. Otherwise, what option do we have? Do we have any other option? 

When Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara went to courts and filed a case against the Government, what option did we have? What option the President would have had. Absolutely nothing, so this is quite simple and straightforward.

Q: The Opposition is predicting that if the Government imposes further power cuts and other hardships on the public, there will be another ‘Aragalaya’ which might result in the entire Government being overthrown like what happened on July 9, last year. What is your opinion in this regard?

A: That is how the irresponsible Opposition looks at opportunities to get into power. But I am quite certain that the general public of the country have realised that there is no more room for another ‘Aragalaya’. Now people have experienced enough hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic, global financial crisis and the political turmoil created by the ‘Aragalaya.’ All these are well known by the country’s general public. 

Unfortunately, some of the senior members of the Opposition whenever they see a mike spill out whatever comes to their mind which is very irresponsible in my opinion. What is important in this country right now? We are in a crisis. We must get together and see a sustainable solution rather than saying “I could do better and let me have the power”. That is not the slogan that we should look at right now. Perhaps inviting people to come to the streets and protest against the Government is a good democratic practice but that doesn’t mean to harm the economy and the stabilisation that we have reached. 

If they are trying to harm the country’s stability, I don’t think anyone could recognise it as a patriotic move to gain reasonable attention to the current issues in the country.

Q: There are allegations that the Government is trying to break up the independent commissions and remove some of the present members to appoint persons who will be more favourable to their side. What is your comment on this?

A: The independent commissions are appointed by the Constitutional Council (CC). The composition of the Constitutional Council consists of ten members of whom three are ex officio members while the rest are appointed. The CC is also represented by the Opposition Leader, Speaker, three independent members and representatives appointed by the President and the Prime Minister. Therefore, the CC doesn’t run by one individual. After the establishment of the 21st Amendment, definitely the current independent bodies will be abolished and new members appointed. If we take the Opposition Leader, he also entertains a greater deal of perks though he indicates that he represents the poorest of the poor. So, let it be independent of those commissions.

Q: There is controversy with regard to the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) who has objected to raising power tariffs. But the Power and Energy Minister insists that electricity rates have to be increased to recover the losses. Are any other alternatives not available to the Government apart from raising the electricity tariffs?

A: My simple opinion is, forget whoever is the chairman of this entity. It is long due for us to recognise the cost recovery mechanism to provide these public utilities. Otherwise, you may not be able to provide public utilities on a sustainable basis. Electricity, water and public transportation should no longer be charitable entities. However, certain public services should be given priority to some extent.  

Q: The Opposition is also alleging that the Government is using draconian measures to suppress student leaders, social media activists and political opponents. What is your comment on this allegation?

A: If the social media is under Government control everything would have been in favour of the Government. If you look at the social media, you can see how they run the Opposition campaign from different corners. Of course, there are certain elements who act like terrorists and harmful elements to the society. Like during the ‘Aragalaya’, if somebody is threatening the invitees not to participate in the Independence Day celebrations, that should be condemned as this is a national event that should be held. 

How could the Government suppress the student movements? I think it has been there over the past 30 to 40 years. The university students think that they can run the country. Even when we were undergraduates, the students never realised that they have become the cat’s paw of some of these idiotic political factions. I myself spent seven years in the university for a four-year degree so that I lost three years of my energetic life. Now what the students’ movements are asking for the resignation of the President, Prime Minister and the Cabinet destroy the entire democratic setting. I am surprised that nowhere in the world student movements are asking that kind of an unrealistic demand.

I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these student movements ask for more facilities, new syllabuses, new courses and improvement of teaching techniques in universities. Those are the kinds of things that the student movements should demand. 

Instead what they are really doing is that they are trying to be a part of these idiotic political party henchmen which is quite unfortunate. I remember those student leaders who were frontrunners during that time married rich women or settled down elsewhere in the world. My simple advice for the current students in the university system particularly in the State universities: don’t waste your life. Don’t be puppets of somebody else to make them happy. These political factions never want to come into power. Instead they somehow want to be powerful. Taking power and becoming powerful are two different things. That is why they invite students, trade unions and all sorts of groups into the forefront because they can’t even win a small electorate or an electoral unit.  

Q: With India, Japan and China giving positive indications of debt restructuring, will it be possible for Sri Lanka to get the IMF facility at least before April or May?

A: I am sure that the IMF facility will come on time. Hopefully, we will see that the IMF facilitation will be there to support us in April or May.

Q: The Opposition, while keen on the Local Government elections, is also asking to hold a General Election as soon as possible to resolve the present crisis. But is this a solution to the present woes of the country?

A: In a democratic set up, the elections should be a part of it. Let the people decide who should run the system from Local Government to the Presidency. The question is can we afford a series of elections in this country as we are having a tough economic situation. Once again these egoistic political factions are demanding to conduct a General Election not the general public. Even if they completely take control of Local Government bodies, they only could run the local affairs and not the national, central or the Executive. What they are trying to do is not to have any elections but to have ‘Aragalaya’ as the law of the country.

Q: What are you doing to investigate the corruption allegations raised at the COPE and take action against the wrongdoers?

A: So far we have submitted three reports. We have called several institutions and we also started following it up and we have been reporting to the Parliament for necessary action with our recommendations. I am pretty sure that when the time comes the people will realise the COPE is in action.

Q: Investigations done by the last COPE committee were abolished when Parliament was prorogued by the President. Do you have any intention of reviving those investigations that have been discontinued?

A: No. There was nothing like that. Those investigations and recommendations are continuing by whoever is in the COPE committee.