No connection between Committee and IMF discussion – Prof. G.L. Peiris MP | Sunday Observer

No connection between Committee and IMF discussion – Prof. G.L. Peiris MP

7 May, 2023

Excerpts from an interview with dissident SLPP MP Prof. G.L. Peiris on the IMF and other pertinent issues.

Q: What are the future plans of the Freedom People’s Congress? 

A: The Modus Operandi of the Government is evident. Therefore, our main aim is to prevent this and ensure that the democratic rights of the people are protected.

It is clear this Government is taking this country towards becoming a Police State. It is heading towards a dictatorship.

If the Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) is passed trade unions, student unions and even media activities could be labelled as terrorism, earning them a prison term of 20 years.

According to Section 6, there is a possibility of sentencing a journalist for publishing a report or photograph if it is deemed as supporting terrorism to 20 years in prison.

This legislation was brought to block any public dissent when implementing IMF conditions.

First, they said they would not restructure domestic debt. But now the Government admits they intend to go ahead with it.

They know the people will oppose this move. This is an act of suppression and they are enacting laws that can support them in suppressing the people. 

Q: As someone who initially supported the move to seek International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance your decision to vote “No” to it in Parliament has drawn criticism. Your comment? 

A: My opposition is not against the IMF but more to do with the discussion process and the attitudes. During discussions, the needs of our country and its condition were not discussed.

The Government was afraid the deal would fall through and they simply agreed to all conditions put forward by the IMF. That is not how a discussion is conducted. In the end, the Finance Ministry and the Treasury have been left with nothing to do.

Now nothing can be done without the consultation of the IMF. We have no freedom to decide our own monetary policies. We must report to the IMF monthly. These are not suitable conditions.

Some conditions will have to be renegotiated. Other countries have stood their ground and negotiated in a more brave manner and expressed their opposition to certain conditions.

We need to present to them the state of the country’s people now and renegotiate the conditions to adjust them according to norms of social justice. 

Q: Then why did you make certain recommendations as a member of the Cabinet Committee on the IMF? 

A: There is no connection between the committee and the discussions. The Committee did not decide on what should be agreed to or not during the discussions.

Q: Some believe this is a ploy by your group to win public favour. Your comment? 

A: We take steps not for political gain but for the benefit of the people. The people cannot keep paying hiked bills in this manner. How can they bear it? This is not to achieve any narrow political gain. We are fighting to protect the underprivileged. We have no intention to achieve any short-term gains. 

Q: A group of Opposition MPs led by opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has come together to form a common program. What is its aim?

A: The Opposition has various opinions. The Government is attempting to bring in the ATB and even control social media. We are against it. We will work to oppose such acts and prevent large-scale corruption.

For example, we could have got US$ 6.4 billion in damages for the X-Press Pearl disaster but the process has been continuously delayed. There is some reason behind this. We must probe this.

We must take steps to obtain this compensation. The entire Opposition must come together to make this happen.

As an Opposition, we must be proactive to ensure that any irregularities do not take place at this juncture. 

Q: Some believe this is the first step to forming an alliance. But some parties in the group hold different opinions to yours. How will this work out?

A: There is no election yet. Currently, our task is to protect the people’s freedoms.

If an alliance is to be formed the parties must decide on that but we brought this group together to take action against some of the decisions of the Government.

For example, there are serious issues with Judges being called before the Privileges Committee. This will not allow any citizen to go before the Courts if the judges are to be called and questioned about their judgements.

This will impact the freedom of the Judiciary and the rule of law. We are standing up against this. Despite the differences in our ideologies, we come together in these matters to protect the freedoms of the people. 

Q: Does this mean there is a possibility of forming an alliance? 

A: No, not right now as no election has been declared. Our focus now is to protect the rights of the people and their livelihoods. Whether we will form an alliance or not is to be decided later.  

Q: The opposition says we must have an alternative for the ATB. What is the opposition’s proposal for this? 

The Opposition has formed a committee led by me to look into this. We are against the ATB and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). But the ATB cannot be allowed to replace the PTA.

It is far more dangerous than even the PTA. We have varying opinions on it and that is why the committee was appointed. We are currently holding discussions and hope to arrive at a solution accepted to all.