President rescued country from economic crisis - Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

President rescued country from economic crisis - Prasanna Ranatunga

7 May, 2023

Chief Government Whip, Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga said that at present, the entire country has realised that President Ranil Wickremesinghe is the leader who is capable of rebuilding the economy. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the ordinary people, businessmen and the upper middle class are aware that the President within a very short period has been able to rescue the country from the current economic crisis that emerged one year ago. Therefore, if the President contests as the common candidate at the next Presidential election, I maintain the stance that we all should think as a country and extend our support to him.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: You have said that more than 126 SLPP parliamentarians are supporting President Ranil Wickremesinghe to continue the current Government until the last possible date. Would you like to comment?

A: What I said was at the moment, we have a strong Government. All have decided to extend their support to the President to get the country out of the current economic crisis.  As a party, we have made the biggest sacrifice to extend our fullest support to the President in Parliament to overcome the current economic challenge.

Q: You have also said that if current President Ranil Wickremesinghe is nominated as a common candidate, you will extend your support to him. What led you to make such a statement?

A: Actually, we don’t know whether President Ranil Wickremesinghe will contest the next Presidential election or not.  When the media asked me, I said if the President is nominated as the common candidate and the SLPP takes a decision as a party, I will extend my support to the President. At present, the entire country has realised that President Wickremesinghe is the leader who is capable of rebuilding the economy.

The ordinary people, businessmen and upper middle class are aware that the President within a very short period has been able to rescue the country from the current crisis that emerged one year ago. Therefore, if the President contests as the common candidate, I maintain the stance that we all should think as a country and extend our support to him.

Q: Former Minister and SLPP parliamentarian S.M. Chandrasena told a recent SLPP media conference that former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was misled and misguided by so-called professionals on the organic fertiliser and the entire country had to face bankruptcy. How do you view this?

A: Some of the doctors and professionals who came to the Covid-19 committee recommended not to grant permission for Covid-19 burials of Muslims as it would pave the way for groundwater contamination. It were the professionals who gave those instructions and as politicians we were not aware of its scientific background.

I have a doubt that some of those professionals deliberately gave those instructions to create a public displeasure over the Government. Most of them were at the forefront of the Aragalaya that led to the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July, 2022. However, the people finally put the blame on the Government regarding the cremation of all victims of the Covid-19 virus including Muslims, irrespective of their faith. I was also a member of that Covid-19 committee.

Then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to take that policy decision as it were the doctors and professions who requested not to grant permission for Covid-19 burials. The Government couldn’t go against the scientific decision by those professionals. The President and the Government were misled and misguided by some professionals. However, the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa trusted the professionals. Even though we tried to explain and convince the President, he didn’t believe us.

The next one was the organic fertiliser issue. We said if the farmers request chemical fertiliser, provide them, but our request was not entertained by the President. Some professionals gave lots of explanations saying that there is an international recognition for organic fertiliser. Therefore, the former President was misled by some of these professionals and we can’t put the blame on the President. When the professionals say something, the President will have to listen to that. Otherwise, if their requests and advice are not followed, they put the blame on us.

Q: The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) along with several other political parties has taken a firm decision to express their opposition to the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill. Your views?

A: Justice Minister Dr.Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has presented the draft bill. The proposed bill was drafted with the consultation of professionals. If there are any contents of the bill which cannot be agreed upon and need amendments, an opportunity has been given to discuss them further. That is why the Minister said if any amendments are to be done, they can be done.

Q: There is a lot of controversy and the SJB has also filed a complaint at the Bribery Commission over the reports of crediting US$ 250 million to the bank account of a person as bribe to prevent the Sri Lankan Government from securing damages over the X-Press Pearl ship disaster. What is your view in this regard?

A: There are two factors. If the said story is true, it should be investigated. The majority is of the view that something has happened. The first factor is that those who spoke to me said that it was a wrong decision taken to release that ship. When the President had given clear instructions to take a guarantee before releasing the ship, we have a problem as to how it was released and who gave orders to that. There is an impression among the people as a result of it, a large amount of money has been fraudulently obtained as a bribe. If this factor is true, it is a serious mistake and investigation should be conducted to bring the culprits to book.

There is another opinion when this case is cleared by the investigations just to plant news pretending that such an incident has happened. There is a problem because even after the investigations are completed whether this case will be swept under the carpet. Of these two, anyone can happen. If any false information is given saying that such an incident has not occurred, then the investigations will be completed. However, the issue before us is as to why the ship was released and who gave instructions to do so. Who was the Minister in charge of the subject and was he aware of the release of the ship and what were the measures taken by him. A parliamentary debate will also be held in this regard and then the matter will be discussed at length.

Q: Former President Maithripala Sirisena addressing the SLFP May Day rally said the future Governments of the country will be formed with the leadership of the SLFP and it is the only political party that can rebuild the country. How do you respond to this claim?

A: Wrong policy decisions and political decisions, lapses on the part of Government officials and various other riot incidents that took place over the past 72 years may have had an impact on the current economic crisis. However, the highest amount of loans obtained within a short period has been taken during the tenure of the former Yahapalana Government. Maithripala Sirisena was the President at the time. The people also have an opinion regarding the Easter Sunday attacks. Then the former President can’t say that they did the highest amount of work. The country was destroyed during the tenure of the Yahapalana Government. During the period, the people were misled through various false propaganda campaigns by undermining their dignity. The SLFP has declined at present.

Q: JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told his supporters on May Day that the majority of the country’s working class is now with the JVP and they have the capacity to rescue the country from the present crisis. Would you like to air your views?

A: My personal experience is when we got defeated in 2001 and my father, former Minister Reggie Ranatunga was alive; arrangements had been made to hold the UPFA May Day rally in Nuwara Eliya. We brought two buses to go to Nuwara Eliya, but only one bus went due to lack of people. That was the situation which prevailed in the country at that time once we faced that electoral defeat. This time we held our May Day rally in a situation where our party supporters were brutally attacked and killed and the houses of a large number of Government politicians were set on fire a few months ago. I say with responsibility it was the JVP which was behind those brutal attacks.

The JVP members had got involved in most of those riot incidents. There had been plans to attack and set on fire the houses of Ministers countrywide within a short period. However, this is nothing new to the JVP. They unleashed violence in 1971 and 1988-1989 as well.

Recently also they resorted to the same form of violence and showed them via social media to frighten our people. We brought one bus in 2001 to go to our May Day rally, and could win all the elections held thereafter. Even if the people don’t come for political processions and political meetings, they vote us. if the country is in a more difficult situation today than the past, a large number of people participated in our May Day rally.

The people in villages are still with us, but they had a fear of coming to Colombo. If an election is held, we would secure victory. During the past few years, the best organisation and the highest number of crowds was at the JVP May Day rallies. However, their vote base is merely 3 to 4 percent. This is the true situation. Even if the JVP makes a big hue and cry, the country’s intelligent voters know it is a party which unleashed violence and killed people in the past and is not in a position to come to power democratically.

Q: You have said that a Presidential Commission with full powers should be appointed to look into the tragic incidents that took place during the violent period of ‘Aragalaya’. Could you explain?

A: We could see how some lawyers went to courts and appeared to grant bail for protestors. Some property who destroyed public properties were granted bail within a few hours. That is why, we have requested to appoint a Presidential Commission with full powers to probe those riot incidents that took place during the latter part of ‘Aragalaya’ and bring the culprits to book.

Q: Addressing a gathering at the launch of ‘Navaya; Sengawunu Kathawa’ (Nine: The Hidden Story), National Freedom Front Leader Wimal Weerawansa made sensational claims on an alleged conspiracy to topple former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Government. Would you like to comment?

A: The children of most of those who hold higher Government positions either study, work or live in US and other European countries. We also have a certain doubt whether such officials were subjected to any pressure. Similarly, when those riot incidents took place in a situation where the state of emergency and curfew was imposed, we have a doubt who gave instructions not to use even minimal power to control them. We also have this doubt. That is why as I mentioned earlier, we also request to appoint a Presidential Commission with full powers to look into those incidents.

Q: At present, there is a split in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and several constituent parties have quit the Government and formed different political alliances. Will this have any adverse impact on the SLPP at future elections?

A: I hold the view that we should contest the Local Government election separately. Even though former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa requested to contest together, I opposed it because we had an opportunity to win the election. I also requested to contest separately at the last Parliamentary election. If we contested separately, we could have also obtained 13 seats from the Gampaha district. However, we joined hands with several political parties and that was a decision taken by the SLPP.

At the last Parliamentary election, a group called ‘professionals’ emerged by letting down the people who really made lots of sacrifices to form the SLPP. Today, these professionals have quit the Government. They were one of the key reasons for the destruction of our party. The names of some of those professionals are even mentioned regarding the X-Press Pearl ship disaster.

There was a serious issue with regard to those professionals, especially some of the wrong instructions given by them. Actually, we regret quitting Government of politicians such as Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara who were with us since inception. If they didn’t go, it would have been more appropriate. However, most of those who were with us since the beginning and sacrificed to build the party are still with us. Therefore, we still have a good team at the village level, who can give a good competition at a future election.