President’s decisions will help rebuild economy- Nimal Siripala de Silva | Sunday Observer

President’s decisions will help rebuild economy- Nimal Siripala de Silva

12 February, 2023

Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva said President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his policy statement made in Parliament on Wednesday spoke the truth and analysed the political and economic situation in the country correctly departing from traditional politics.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said it is a new vision for Sri Lanka and the new political culture that has been established by the President in the political arena. He said the President in his policy statement said that his decisions and policies are not popular ones but those decisions will help to rebuild the economy and rescue the country from the menace that we are facing at the moment. We didn’t find politicians of that nature for the past two or three decades.

The President has taken the great risk for his political career as well because if your decisions are not popular, the people may not vote for you. The President may not emerge as a victorious President but he will emerge as a victorious statesman.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: How do you view President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s policy statement made at the ceremonial sitting of the fourth session of the ninth Parliament on Wednesday?

A: It was a unique statement made by the President departing from traditional politics. It is a new vision for Sri Lanka and the new political culture that has been established by the President. The President particularly said that his decisions and policies are not popular ones but those decisions will help to rebuild the economy and rescue the country from the menace that we are facing at the moment.

We didn’t find politicians of that nature for the past two or three decades. All the politicians in the country are eying an election as to how they could come to power by deceiving the people. Since we have got into a major problem now, it is the time for all the politicians to speak the truth and adopt the correct policies despite our political survival.

If somebody says I am going to curtail all the taxes and give the benefits that will be a very popular decision but that cannot be done. That will put the economy into a worse situation. Who are the politicians who will not like to give concessions to the people and be popular with the people? However, that popularity will not last for long. When it comes to performance the people will say that you have failed. So, the President has spoken the truth and has analysed the political and economic situation in the country correctly. He has taken the great risk for his political career as well because if your decisions are not popular, the people may not vote for you. The need of the hour for the country is a statesman and not mere politicians.

Q: Several Opposition political parties the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), National People’s Power (NPP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) boycotted the President’s Throne Speech

A: One should understand the democratic practices and norms. In democracy you agree to disagree. If you can’t agree with the policies and work plans, then they must give an alternative work plan as well. If they say the way we are taxing is wrong then they should say how we should tax and reduce the taxes and fill the treasury with an adequate amount of money. They should give a viable alternative. Their only viable alternative is hooting and it will not help democracy. In democracy we should debate the issues and thereafter come up with foreseeable solutions. They must expose if the Government’s policies are wrong.

Thereafter, they will have to say what the alternative is when they come to power. They are not suggesting any such viable alternative. What is the position of the SJB, JVP and other parties with regard to the 13th Amendment? So, they should explain their position on the 13th Amendment and the SJB and JVP are evading their position. Some other political parties which boycotted the President’s Throne Speech are also evading. This Opposition is a failed Opposition as they have failed to give prospective alternatives to the economic upbringing of the country and other policies.

Q: At present the Maha Sangha, some politicians and various segments of the society have raised serious concern on the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. What is your personal view regarding this?

A: That must be discussed and the President must give a solemn undertaking that he will not allow the country to be divided. The 13th Amendment is already there in the Constitution. If there is a section who says that is not necessary they should move an amendment and remove the 13th Amendment from the Constitution. We need political stability and international recognition.

Therefore, we must look at the larger perspective. At the same time, we should not allow the extremist forces to enter into politics because that will be the end of democracy. We had 30 years of war and we have suffered enough. Luckily, we were able to suppress that. At the same time, we have to offer a viable alternative as well. For example, if the Army decides that they need only a certain amount of land and the balance could be released, what is the big issue in releasing these lands?

Some ex LTTE combatants are in prisons for about 30 years. So, we must look at this problem more sympathetically and take into consideration the repercussions that may occur if we don’t give a viable solution to that.

Q: At present nearly 35 SLPP MPs have quit the Government and formed the Freedom People’s Alliance to contest the upcoming Local Government polls under the ‘helicopter’ symbol. How will this affect the SLPP vote base?

A: As far as the SLPP is concerned we have to concede that it has weakened the SLPP. They may say though some people have left the party that has not affected its vote base. That has to be tested in a future election. The fraction of voters that have gone with the group of 35 MPs and the number of voters who actually remain with the SLPP is yet to be tested. At present a large number of independent groups have emerged to contest the upcoming LG polls. We have to assess how many votes the people will cast for these groups. In addition, we will have to see what the voter turnout is.

Are the people receptive to an election or whether 30 or 40 of them reject it? As the Opposition says if the people are clamouring for elections, then there should be a voting rate about 90 to 95 percent and that can be tested when the election is held. Our perception is the people don’t want an election now. A few Opposition parties as a slogan are demanding to have the elections but they themselves don’t want an election. This is only a political slogan. We have to ensure that the election is held in a very conducive environment and the people’s mind must also be settled to make a proper decision. I think that is the perception in the country and that is my view. Some might say the people are clamouring for an election.

Let’s wait and see. We are prepared to face elections. We are supporting President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government and there is no doubt about that. That is a duty which has been cast upon us to rescue the country from the current mess. That is the number one priority in our political agenda and national agenda as well.

Can the SJB run the country without the IMF assistance? The JVP will never come to power. Suppose if they come to power, can they run the country without the IMF assistance? When the IMF enters into an agreement, that is binding in the banking system. You will not be able to open an LC if you violate those conditions. Some people don’t understand the international perceptions. If we are to attract foreign organisations, we should earn their confidence. Some say we are getting US$ 1.2 billion from the IMF which is true.

When the IMF gives us money it is sort of a licence to thrive. The IMF will give us a licence that the country is safe and they have a plan for the repayment of the debt. Then investors will come. Japan, India, China and the Paris Club will help us. That is why President Ranil Wickremesinghe is saying that whatever the conditions the IMF loan agreement must be signed and we have no other alternative. There can’t be a debt restructuring without getting clearance from the IMF. Then we will be able to build a sustainable economy based on certain policies and principles.

Some people don’t understand that. Suppose if there is a change of Government tomorrow how are they going to find money? Are they bringing money from their homes? The IMF will not change the rules and regulations fitting to each and every political party. They have a set of rules which are common so that all the Governments will have to fall in line with them.

Q: Earlier the SLFP had also joined hands with the ‘helicopter’ group to jointly contest the LG polls and later they quit the alliance and decided to contest the elections alone. What are the future prospects of the SLFP?

A: Actually, we have no authentic information as we have been more or less suspended from the party. In my case, I have challenged that in court and still that court case is pending. Politically, I must say the SLFP has made the blunder. On the eve of an election they formed an alliance and that came to an end within two to three days. It is very bad for the SLFP and the alliance as well.

The alliance also elected former President Maithripala Sirisena as their Leader. It is an absolute joke, in some places both the SLFP and ‘helicopter’ are also contesting. The people are laughing at that. If we were there in the SLFP we were allowed to make decisions and we would never have done this type of blunder. We feel sorry for the SLFP. However, we want to strengthen the SLFP. Though we have been sacked from our party positions and sidelined, all 9 SLFP MPs in the Government are strengthening the SLFP candidates in many parts of the country.

Q: There is speculation in the media and political circles that the National People’s Power led by the JVP has gained ground and will make an improved showing at the LG polls. What do you think of their electoral prospects?

A: The country is going through tremendous difficulties. Naturally, the people who are very shortsighted will use a protest vote. Still we feel the voters in this country are intelligent enough to understand the situation and assess who can rescue the country. The JVP had a very bad experience in the past about their performance. Tissamaharama Pradeshiya Sabha was given to them but they couldn’t perform so that the people rejected them. One time the JVP had about 30 to 40 MPs in Parliament. Later, that was reduced to mere 3 MPs. Because the people know they have very attractive slogans and speakers. However, speeches and slogans cannot deliver what the people want in the country.

Therefore, the JVP will not be able to attract the majority of the people’s hearts and minds. The people know their past and how they killed the people and damaged public properties. So, the right-thinking people will not permit the JVP to obtain power in the country.

Q: What is your opinion of holding the LG polls at this time? Are you of the view that it should be postponed?

A: Frankly, I feel it should be postponed as there is no environment conducive to hold the elections. But if the Election Commission decides to hold the election, then we must face it without obstructing it. It is a matter for the Election Commission to find the money and hold the election. The Government is not in a position to give funds at this juncture. We have stated that very clearly. If the commission can find the money and have the election, we will face the election. As politicians we should be able to face any consequences of the election and there is no problem. This is the people’s verdict. We can’t say people’s verdict is wrong. We have to accept the people’s verdict. .

Q: The President wanted to bring down the number of Local Councillors to 4,000 from the present 8,000. But if the LG elections are held the Government will have to pay salaries to 8000 Local Councillors. Your comments?

A: Those are the issues and challenges that we are facing. That is why we say the environment is not conducive to have the election. So, we should bring this amendment and thereafter hold an elections. This is my personal view.

Q: The main Opposition SJB has raised concern on the Government’s decision of imposing taxes at this juncture from the monthly salaries of public and private sector employees who are drawing a salary of over Rs.100,000. Would you like to comment?

A: What is their alternative suggestion? They know we need taxes to pay for coal and electricity. The IMF has clearly stated that you have to recover the actual cost of whatever the services that you are providing. How are we going to manage the economy without sufficient income? So, they should suggest an alternative but they are not doing that.

Q: The Air Traffic Controllers Association of Sri Lanka has warned that if the Government doesn’t pay attention to retaining air traffic officers, operations will halt without a strike. Would you like to comment?

A: I had an extensive meeting with the Air Traffic Controllers on Wednesday. Their grievance is that the Air Traffic Controllers are leaving the country as they are getting bigger salaries in other countries. But we are not in a position to pay that.

They are looking for a salary increase of Rs. 320,000 per month. I explained to them to be patient and the President has given a solemn undertaking that he will revise the salary of public servants in October. Then their request to be accommodated not to the extent they are asking but a reasonable adjustment could be made. They wanted their request to be forwarded to the Treasury.

I agreed to forward their request to the treasury. In the meantime, I appealed to them not to leave Sri Lanka and serve the motherland as they are the products of the free education system of this country. I must say they had been very amenable to my suggestion and said they are not going to leave the country but to consider their certain shortcomings sympathetically to which I agreed. We have made a few adjustments to provide them with more facilities. They want more Air Traffic Controllers to be trained. I promptly agreed to that and we are going to recruit another 50 persons for training. Steps will be taken to implement an accelerated and expanded program for training Air Traffic Controllers and provide them more facilities for transport and houses.