Getting country out of economic crisis, people’s aim - Prasanna Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

Getting country out of economic crisis, people’s aim - Prasanna Ranatunga

16 July, 2023

Chief Government Whip, Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga said at this juncture, people want to implement a program to get the country out of the economic crisis rather than conducting an election. At present, public opinion is that President Ranil Wickremesinghe with his international connections is the most experienced and mature political leader who can accomplish the task of rebuilding the country.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said those who clamour for elections should join hands with the Government at this critical juncture and extend their support to overcome the current crisis. He said that the Opposition doesn’t have a genuine intention to find a solution to the current crisis and they want to worsen it and realise their political agenda.”


Q: You told Parliament recently that all 225 MPs in Parliament should bear the responsibility for the present plight of the country. What led you to make such a statement?

A: Many say that 225 MPs who are in Parliament should be held responsible for the present plight of the country. We cannot point fingers at one particular group. Especially, wrong decisions taken after the introduction of the open economy system in 1977 have led to the current situation. Therefore, all people’s representatives who represented Parliament from 1977 up to now should be held responsible for creating this situation. Similarly, Government officials who held positions during that tenure should also be held responsible.

Natural disasters occurred from time to time including earthslips. The 2004 tsunami catastrophe also had an adverse impact on the economy. In addition, incidents such as 1983 Black July, 1988-89 insurgency, war, Easter Sunday attacks and Covid-19 pandemic affected the economy to come to this level. Actually, this is a wrong opinion created in the social media about 225 MPs. However, three JVP MPs talk like they don’t belong to this group of 225 MPs. Except former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the JVP extended its support to elect all former Presidents starting from Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to Maithripala Sirisena. The JVP also held portfolios at the probationary government formed during the tenure of President Kumaratunga. Therefore, the JVP cannot also get rid of the allegation.

Q: The Government has extended its invitation to the Opposition to join the Government to get the country out of the present crisis. Instead of responding positively, it is engrossed in pushing its political agenda. Your comments?

A: That is an unfortunate situation. After a destruction or catastrophic situation in some countries, they all join hands and attempt to get the country out of that crisis. Similarly, we all should join hands to overcome the current crisis. In the recent past when the taxes were reduced, certain sections criticised it in Parliament. Now when certain taxes are imposed, they criticise that as well.

They also made a big hue and cry in Parliament saying that Samurdhi subsidies have been given to some unsuitable people. When the Government attempts to rectify this, they speak against it. Earlier, the Opposition said we should not go to the IMF. After we went to the IMF and obtained the credit facility, they asked why we did so. It is very obvious, they don’t have a genuine intention to get the country out of the current crisis and they want to worsen it to fulfill their political agenda.

Q: Certain sections attempt to portray that there is a conflict between the President and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Is there any truth in this?

A: They have been saying this over the past two to three months. However, when various Bills were presented in Parliament, we could secure 124, 125 votes. If there is a conflict between the President and the SLPP, we would not have been able to get such a comfortable majority in Parliament. Sometimes, we may have ideological differences. After discussions, we can reach a consensus on behalf of the country to overcome the current crisis.

Sometimes, we may have to make sacrifices from our side and the President will also have to change some of the decisions. However, this would not lead to any political crisis. We always give priority to the decisions taken on behalf of the country regardless of our political affiliations.

Q: Do you think the economy will recover according to the program currently implemented by the Government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe?

A: It is too early to comment whether it will happen or not. When all others were reluctant to accept the challenge, President Wickremesinghe unconditionally accepted it. When you look at the situation which prevailed in the country a year ago, some sort of stability is being created in the economy today. Some countries which collapsed even before our country turned into bankruptcy have not been able to recover from the crisis.

However, we have been able to achieve some progress within a year due to certain decisions taken. Sometimes, those decisions may not be popular ones. We should give credit to the people as they were ready to make that sacrifice. The people understood that it was useless to turn the country into anarchy by resorting to an Aragalaya. Amid hardships, the people were ready to face the emerging situation.

At present, we are economically stable to some extent due to the correct decisions taken and the sacrifice made by the people. Today, fuel and gas are available without any shortage and the prices of food commodities are coming down. We can be satisfied with the ongoing situation. Whether to face a good or bad situation in the future will have to be decided based on the decisions taken by the Government and contribution made by the people.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has said that the Opposition should appoint a separate committee to look into the reasons related to the country’s bankruptcy adding that appointing SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam as the Chairman of the select committee could become a mere talk shop instead of fulfilling its duty. Would you like to comment?

A: Each and every Government and MP who was in power since independence should be held responsible for creating this situation in the country. We have allowed appointing members to the committee from the Government and the Opposition. We saw that only the Government members were there in the Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to probe the Easter Sunday attacks. There is no such a situation here and we have given representation to the Opposition as well.

The Opposition has also been given the opportunity to appoint its members as the chairmen of some Sectoral Oversight Committees and the Finance Committee. We offered those positions to the Opposition with the honest intention, hoping that they would properly fulfill their duties, but it is obvious they don’t make such a sincere commitment.

Q: Former Minister P. Harrison has said that Dullas Alahapperuma will be the Presidential candidate of a possible opposition party alliance at the next Presidential election as Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa knows it will only end in defeat. What is your view on this?

A: When a President was going to be elected with the vote of MPs, at first, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said he would contest the Presidency, but later he put forward Dullas Alahapperuma as he knew he cannot win. As a leader who is reluctant to accept challenges and cannot win the next Presidential election, Sajith Premadasa may put forward somebody else as their Presidential candidate.

Q: Speculation is rife on an early Presidential election in 2024 and that the SLPP was divided on its support for the President. Your views?

A: Whether we go for elections or not should be decided based on the country’s economic situation and other legal aspects. If the Government or the majority of Parliament decides to go for an election, then it should be a national level election and this is not the time to conduct other provincial level elections. Definitely, it should be a Presidential or parliamentary election. That is what the people expect.

If we go against the Constitution to conduct an early election, it should be done with the consent of the majority of Parliament. I think at this juncture, people want to implement a program to get the country out of the economic crisis rather than conducting an election. Those who clamour for elections should join hands with the Government at this critical juncture and extend their support to overcome the current crisis.

A Presidential election has not been declared so far or nobody has expressed views regarding that. Sajith Premadasa passed a resolution within the SJB requesting to nominate him as the Presidential candidate. He did that due to his fear that the SJB will split and some SJB MPs will join hands with the UNP. We have no such fear or hurry.

The SLPP as a party will take a decision when a Presidential election is declared. If we don’t have a suitable candidate and the majority of the people think that the opportunity should be given to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, I think our party will take it into consideration. My personal view is that our party leaders were not able to secure their positions and finally they quit. Similarly, those who call them leaders were reluctant to accept challenges. However, President Wickremesinghe could bring the situation under control and provide some sort of relief to the people. Therefore, I have no opposition to giving him another chance.

Q: The Opposition alleges that the SLPP is scared to face any type of elections and hence tends to postpone elections. What is your comment?

A: The Opposition doesn’t have a topic to speak about. Therefore, they make such comments. We are not afraid of facing any election. The SLPP conducted elections on time and won them. Most of those in the SJB were in the former Yahapalana Government. They didn’t hold the Local Government election for several years and the Provincial Council elections were postponed indefinitely. Actually, they were scared of elections, not us. We are a party which conducts elections on time.

Q: The Government has begun negotiations with foreign investors under a program initiated by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) to preserve the antiquity value of the building while making it available for commercial use. Could you explain?

A: A separate committee has been appointed by the Presidential Secretariat to implement this program. At present, there is a program to bring investors. As the UDA, we have given our fullest support to that program.

Q: You have said that future development in the country will be carried out in accordance with the National Physical Plan which has already been submitted to the President. Would you like to elaborate on your views?

A: Before I assumed office, that Physical Plan had been formulated in the past by former Ministers based on a Cabinet decision. It took more than a year to formulate this policy. The draft on the Physical Plan has been submitted to the committee chaired by the President. It should meet every six months to review its progress. At present, the committee has submitted the draft to the Cabinet and it gave its approval on July 10. It will be presented to Parliament soon. It is open for discussion and if there are any amendments, it can be made. In future when development is carried out by the ministries, Provincial Councils and Local Government institutions, they have to act in accordance with this policy.

Q: Earlier, you and a large number of SLPP members vehemently criticised President Ranil Wickremesinghe, but now you all praise him. Why did the SLPP back him for presidency and are you happy with the progress he has made?

A: I made a big hue and cry against the then President and Prime Minister of the Yahapalana Government. Still there are certain differences of opinions with regard to our policy matters and certain other issues. Amid those differences, as a party, we took a decision to extend our support in Parliament to elect Ranil Wickremesinghe as the President.

It was the SLPP which had the majority representation in Parliament. Of them, nearly 90 percent agreed to hand over the challenge to President Ranil Wickremesinghe. As a group who supported that move, we are happy that it has been proven to the entire country that the decision taken by us was right.

An opinion has been created among the people that President Wickremesinghe along with his international connections is the most experienced and mature political leader who can get the country out of the current crisis. When a President is elected in future, we have to decide whether we select an experienced leader who can take the country forward or select a person who just boasts about paving the way to turn the country into anarchy.