A broad consensus will resolve problems - Dr. Ramesh Pathirana | Sunday Observer

A broad consensus will resolve problems - Dr. Ramesh Pathirana

23 April, 2023

Minister of Plantation Industries and Industries Dr. Ramesh Pathirana said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe has extended an open invitation to all the political parties in Parliament, not only to the Samagi Jana Bala Wegaya (SJB) to get together at this critical juncture to form a broad coalition to resolve the matters of national importance.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that he is under the impression that some of the Opposition Parliamentarians are talking to the President to ensure that they would extend their support to form a strong Government on a futuristic basis aiming to national interest. Dr. Pathirana said when considering what happened in Sri Lanka during the first and second quarter of year 2022, things have improved, adding that if all can work together and move forward collectively that is a good sign for the betterment of the country.


Q: There is a complaint that concessions given by the Government have not been passed down to the consumers as traders have not reduced the prices. What is the Government doing about this?

A: It is a well known fact that once the prices of goods go up traders suddenly increase the prices, but when the prices of goods are reduced, they don’t pass down that benefit to the consumers. This is the general situation in the country.

We urge the vendors and other people who are engaged in the business to give the concessions and benefits to the consumers. Otherwise, the people wouldn’t get the benefit. On the other hand, the general trend during the past couple of weeks was the cost of living and inflation was coming down. That was a very good sign, but we urge the manufacturers and traders to transfer that benefit to consumers.

Q: Concerns have been raised on the proposed Anti-terrorism Bill and the Opposition and certain sections say that it is very anti-democratic. What is your comment?

A: Different groups have expressed their views and opinions on this bill. This could be challenged in court of law and it has to be passed in Parliament as well. So, we are giving a fair hearing to all sectors and stakeholders covering this subject. We wouldn’t bring anything damaging to the people of the country. The prime aim of the Government is to protect the rights of the people.

The people have suffered immensely due to a 30-year war. Now there are some groups pressurising to change the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). So, we have to bring the new Act to secure the rights of the people and safeguard them. So, we are working on that, but we are quite open to the views of other people as well.

Q: The UNP says President Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted a bankrupt country, but he has been able to sort out the burning issues to some extent. Do you agree with this view?

A: Of course. When considering what happened in Sri Lanka during the first and second quarter of 2022, things have improved. Things are continuing to improve as we anticipate. On the other hand, when we consider Lebanon, Venezuela and other countries that have gone through similar economic calamities, our country was the one which has come out from such a situation as fast as possible.

We have come back to normalcy within 7 to 8 months and the people are having a normal and decent life. The cost of living is the only issue but that is also gradually coming down. We hope that things will further improve in time to come.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has said that the proposed new Broadcasting Act aims to suppress the media. Is there a move in this regard?

A: There is nothing as such. This is the claim by the Opposition when the Government intends to present the bill to Parliament. They attempt to find something unwanted and unwarranted regarding that. There are certain irresponsible digital, print and social media which are tarnishing the images of people without having any credible evidence. Once the damage is done, it is done.

If somebody goes before a court of law, it will take some time to get a solution. However, once it is published or aired, that damage is already done. There has to be a certain transparent mechanism to ensure that such wrongdoings don’t take place and responsible media personnel don’t tarnish the images of the other persons purposefully. Therefore, there is a need to bring certain Acts to prevent such things.

Q: The Delimitation Committee has proposed to bring down the number of Local Government members to 4,714 from 8,356. But the Opposition is alleging that this is an attempt to postpone or scuttle Local Government elections. What is your comment?

A: The LG elections have already been postponed even though there is no official claim either from the Chairman or the Election Commission. They have also realised that elections have been postponed due to the financial constraints encountered by the Government.

Once the Delimitation Committee report is presented to Parliament and approved, that will further complicate the matter covering this subject. Anyway, as of now, the popular claim is that the people think that they don’t need this number of Local Government representatives. I believe this number is too much at this moment. Therefore, reducing the number of LG members is a good idea. Then there will be a better representation with higher recognition rather than having 8,000 to 10,000 LG members in the country.

Q: There seems to be a split in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) with regard to the next Presidential Candidate as some SLPP MPs backing President Ranil Wickremesinghe while some others seem to be backing former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. What is your view regarding this matter?

A: There are no official claims as such now. Actually, we have not discussed this matter. We have over one year for the next Presidential Election. Let us decide on the best candidate for the Presidential Election when the right moment comes. So far, we have not discussed and there is no split within the party over the matter.

Q: There is speculation that a number of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and other Opposition MPs are about to cross over to the Government soon. However, the SJB strongly denies this claim and says no Opposition MP will cross over to the Government. What is the true situation with regard to crossovers?

A: The President has extended an open invitation to all the political parties in Parliament, not only to the SJB. I am under the impression that some of the Opposition MPs are talking to the President to ensure that they would extend their support to form a strong Government on a futuristic basis aiming national interest. So, all Members of Parliament and parties should get together at this critical juncture to form a broad coalition to resolve the matters of national importance. That is not to obtain mere portfolios and other perks. If we all can work together and move forward, that is a good sign for the betterment of the country.

Q: The SLPP has apparently sent a letter requesting the President to appoint some more SLPP MPs as Ministers and some ministerial portfolios are set to be reserved for those coming from the Opposition. Can you give us any information on this proposed Cabinet reshuffle?

A: I am not aware of such a move.

Q: Some members of the UNP have floated the idea that President Ranil Wickremesinghe should rule uncontested for the next 12 years to resolve the economic crisis. Do you agree with this view?

A: I think all of us should resort to the democratic means of electing our leaders including the President and the Members of Parliament. I don’t think the President or the Government has any intention of delaying the Presidential Election and the parliamentary election. The elections will be held at the appropriate time. Similarly, the President will also be elected by the popular vote of the people.

Q: A controversy has arisen with regard to the proposed export of 100,000 monkeys to China. However, the Government says that the numbers of monkeys and peacocks have gone up drastically posing a threat to all cultivations and plantations. What is your idea about resolving this problem?

A: I saw a report that has been submitted to the Cabinet as well. The population of monkeys has gone up by nearly 1.2 million. There is a request to export 100,000 monkeys to some of the Botanical and Zoological Gardens of China over a period of time. Initially, they have requested only 500 of them.

The other factor is there has been a serious damage to our agricultural crops by the wild animals amounting to Rs.30 billion per month. Wild animals, especially peacocks, monkeys and wild boars damage agricultural crops extensively. We have to have different mechanisms to protect these cultivations. It is one option to send some of the monkeys away.

There are other options that we look into such as sterilisation of some of these wild animals. Many other countries use various controlling mechanisms. It is a periodic thing in Australia to gun down some of the kangaroos once their numbers go up because they do a lot of damage to cultivations. So, we have to ensure that we have some mechanism to control the damage caused by these wild animals to the agricultural sector of the country.

Q: The tea industry has suffered a blow recently due to low yields and our competitors overtaking us. What is being done to improve the tea industry and also for the welfare of estate workers?

A: The first thing highlighted was correct and the tea production had come down because of the fertiliser shortage. But the second factor mentioned is not correct. When the production came down, tea prices went up as there is a higher demand from exporters. If you could remember at the time we came to power in early 2020, the price of a kilo of green leaves was Rs.80 to Rs.100 in the South. However, it surpassed Rs. 300 in 2022 which is nearly 360 percent increase in the price.

The prices went up drastically because there is a decline in production. When tea production goes up again, the prices might come down. However, the benefit was directly passed down to the grower when the tea prices went up dramatically. Therefore, the growers didn’t suffer because of the higher prices prevailing in the market throughout the year 2022.

Now again, the crops are coming back to normalcy and it will improve further as fertiliser is available now. We urge the growers to use more fertiliser. They can do that as they get higher prices for their green leaves. They should be able to increase their production.

On the other hand, the world tea market is not growing and it stagnates. We are facing that issue. The ongoing trend is little negative at the World Market. Our markets are also affected because of the recession. There is also a serious impact because of the Russia and Ukraine war and these two countries are two major buyers of tea. These factors have affected negatively. Hopefully, production will improve in 2023.