Question: Mr. President, what is your evaluation of the social, economic and political changes occurred in this country during period under your leadership?
Answer: As you mentioned, I have spend one year and two months since my election as President. What some people are questioning is what I have done during this period.
The people in this country elected me for this position with their confidence that we would fulfill the promises given in the Election Manifesto presented by us during the Presidential Election. A new experience of governance was brought for the politicians, government officials as well as the public during last year. It is a new experience for me too.
That new experience was establishing a government by combining the two main political parties which had been in fighting throughout to build governments solely for each of their parties, throughout the period of over sixty years. In one hand this is very complex. The people in the country are also divided into two separate groups with these political parties. The politicians from bottom to top, up to ministerial positions were facing some problems when they start working as a new government. We came into this agreement to start a new journey with a new experience.
When we take Germany among the countries in world, its government is run with unity of the two main political parties of the country. If they can do it properly, we should formulate such a system in a way to suit with our country too. We haven’t achieved material development which can be witnessed during the period of one year. We have achieved some material development. But our society is used to expect material development.
But, during the first year, we took measures to strengthen the freedom and democracy required by the country. To create the environment required for those transformations, we performed to make the good governance a reality by adopting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and creating independent commissions.
Most people speak about the delay of our performance. I acknowledge it. But when the previous government wanted to build a road with a length of 100kms, they sent a letter requesting to part it into three and share them with three companies. So they start work from following day. There were no tender notifications for their main projects. The program of good governance was built on the request of the people who expect the government to act with proper financial discipline and management. During the past year we started large number of projects in accordance with tender procedures. When we follow the normal tender process there will always be some delays.
When we speak about that change and the transformation required by the country, the government has already taken required steps to lay the foundation for the things we have to do as a government. The other issue is to gain the support of international community which helps us to forge forward as a country. Everybody knows how the international relations existed before January 08, 2015. Actually we were shirked. Today, no country in the world could develop on its own. Whatever criticisms is leveled, the greatest thing we achieved during last one year period was gaining the international support and stabilizing the relations. The manager of ADB came to Sri Lanka. He agreed to provide financial support for the essential fields; education and health. We have made distinct changes in such matters and made the foundation for the way for the future. Accordingly, we are in a status that we can be satisfied.
Q: There are allegations over the acts which obstruct the Buddha Shasana by pressurizing the Buddhist monks and for damaging the pride of the war heroes. How do you react this?
A: I like to ask why the former President decided to hold an election even when he had two more years left in the Presidency. Either former President or any responsible person hasn’t given any clarification for that. If he did not hold the election he is the President even today. As far as I know he did so as his government and the leaders had no answers to give for some questions raised nationally and internationally. Therefore, they thought that the election would be the best answer. Investigations are carried our currently on several murders. The people of the country had a question about the investigations regarding these murders.
That voice had been spread around the country before I sat on this chair. It has also conveyed internationally. They inquired about it from us. There were allegations that the human rights were violated during the period of war. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) discussed about those. Due to that issue number of state leaders hesitated to come to Sri Lanka to participate in Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Sri Lanka in 2013. Some leaders didn’t participate in it. Some leaders who met the people in Sri Lanka leveled critical allegations against the government.
The former government couldn’t answer the people’s questions. It also could not answer the questions from international community. We came to this position to change the government and fulfill the people’s expectations. We answered the questionnaire for which the former government couldn’t answer.
In discussing about the allegation that we harass the war heroes, we have to ask this question. Which is correct, either to carry out investigations on that regard and free them from those allegations or to punish only those who did those offence if somebody has done such offences? Do you think it is correct to put our renowned war heroes into a position in which they are rejected in the world?
Large number of countries in world including America did not provide trainings to our security forces. With the election of the new government those opportunities have again been achieved. Though we are conducting investigations on few incidents, they are not targeting the officers of the security forces. If we take the case of Eknaligoda, there is a huge discussion on that in society. Therefore, we started an investigation on that. Under this, we are conducting investigations about few war heroes as suspects. If the court decides they are not culprits, they will be released. Our country should be developed by freeing of these things.
When we discuss about the issue arisen over the Buddhist monks, some of them were arrested due to their inappropriate behavior in the court premises. The government is not responsible for that. There were investigations against some people including a Buddhist monk who had been keeping elephants illegally. We should find how this matter came up. How did those thefts occurred. Who helped those? According to the Wildlife Ordinance, thieving and hunting of the animals mentioned in that Ordinance are criminal offences. Some incidents which never had occurred throughout the history of this country were occurred during that era. The List of Elephants at the Wildlife Department was stolen. Elephants have been thieved.
There were two elephants in the President’s House even in January 2015. How far these are legal or ethical? During my tenure as President, I will take every possible action to strengthen the Buddhist affairs and temples. I will provide the required facilities to the Buddhist monks. We will initiate a national program on that regard. The Buddhist monks in the most difficult areas are not getting enough to eat and drink. Therefore, according to the policy of our government, we will be committed not for the betterment of the selected monks, but for the entire Buddhist monks in this country. We decided to establish a fund for the development of Buddhist temples. We also established an Intellectual Forum (Buddhi Mandapaya) by gathering educated and intelligent Buddhist monks as well as the monks studying in universities. We take advice from the member monks of that Buddhi Mandapaya.
Three months earlier, in consultation with the Chief Prelates of Thrinikaya, I formed an Inter-Religious Reconciliation Board to strengthen the religious reconciliation process. Our government is carrying out similar programs to treat every religion similarly.
Q: Some groups accuse the government of good governance for so called acts to betray the country to the international community by coming to agreements which are not favorable for the country?.
A: Certain people – a very small group – accusing us like that. But it is very clear that we have to get assistance from international organizations as well as from the developed countries for the development of our country. It is essential to strengthen the economic and commercial relations with every country. During the past year I travelled to many countries. I am going to Japan next May. We were invited for the G – 7 Summit for the first time. It is a good sign. We will be able to come to agreements for the development of various fields through improving friendship with these countries. Every previous government has come to such agreements during their tenures. It is a difference that those friendly relationships were rapidly increased during the past year. The relationships with those countries have been collapsed previously.
Are not we giving the developed technical knowledge of those countries to our children? We sign those agreements after studying broadly to seek whether those agreements are damaging the independence of our country. It was the former government which commenced the CEPA agreement with India. We are holding discussions to get into a new agreement with India by removing some clauses of CEPA which are harmful to our country. We haven’t signed any agreement yet. The two parties are having discussions on a draft of the agreement. As the next step, we present this agreement to the country before signing it. We will give it for a public debate. We have done it at present too.
Our relationship with India has a history of thousands of years. There are some SLFPers also among those accuse us. They proudly say that the closest friendship with India prevailed during the time of the Bandaranaikes. But when we are strengthening the relationships with the Prime Minister Modi, some people spread disinformation. We haven’t signed any agreement which brings Indians here and lose job opportunities for the educated youth and people in Sri Lanka. I don’t know why some defective statements are being spread. There is no truth in these allegations. They are political allegations. We will never sign any agreement which harms our country. We will also not do anything secretly. Nobody has to be afraid about that. We will never do any betrayal like that.
Q: Mr. President, what are your views as the President of this country on allegations that had been leveled on this conspiracy?
A: People who talked about political instability of this present government is doing a great betrayal of the country and its people. I am saying it because, we should look into the hidden agenda of creating political instability. By creating these kind of perceptions some sections of the society aim to halt government getting assistance from all stakeholders for the development of the country.
One thing is that they are saying we are putting the War Heroes of the country at a risk and further say as a result of that the security forces are against the Government. Those who sentenced the Army commander to a prison term are spreading these kind of stories today. Those who tortured the Army commander are saying we are harming the War Heroes of this country.
When we spread rumours about a political instability, on one side, the entrepreneurs and investors are compelled to think it is not the appropriate time to invest in this country and they will think if the Government will collapse at any time now, will not be enthusiastic to invest in such a country. The public officials and the police will also think whether the Government is going to collapse and if it so what will happen to our current initiatives.
I should clearly state that the concept of the National Government is included in our election manifesto and in my election manifesto as well. This concept is incorporated for the election manifesto of the UNP for the Parliamentary Elections on August 17 too. Whatever mentioned in those elections manifestos the people of this country gave a clear mandate through election results of the Parliamentary Elections held on August 17. There was no absolute majority to any political party in the parliamentary election. The desire of the public is to see the two major political parties working together for the development of this country. The UNP secured 106 seats and the UPFA won 95 seats in the new parliament. No political party could get the required 113 seats in the election.
As a result of the 19th amendment to the constitution, there will be no election for the next 4 1/2 years. Today, the President cannot dissolve the Parliament in such an instance. If we want to dissolve the Parliament, the proposal should be approved by a two thirds majority in the Parliament.
We, as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as the UNP and other political parties who joined with us in forming this new government, work with a good understanding of the present system of government. The alleged statement, saying that the present government is unstable is evident of the power greed of some people who power. According to our country’s constitution, there is no room for any external force to form a government. There is no system for achieving that target. Commenting on an electricity failure, some say, ‘give me power and I will show how to run the government and will not allow the public to stay without electricity for a one hour’.
Those problems are technical issues. The Ceylon Electricity Board is not handled by the politicians. The institution is managed by the independent engineers and technical officers. As a government what we will do is providing essential resources and facilities for them. I have placed trust and confidence in our engineers.
We must clearly emphasize that even though some sections of the society attempted and dreamed to destabilize this government, those imaginations will never ever become a reality. At present, the majority of citizens has placed confidence in the government. Today, most of criticisms are leveled at me. Previously incidents like white van abductions and setting fire to properties and vehicles have occurred and at present there are no such incidents and anyone can express their ideas freely. We will fulfill our duties and responsibilities with a clear commitment and determination to build this country a better and prosperous place.
Q: When the budget for 2016 presented in Parliament, several amendments were proposed to the Budget by the SLFP. You even made a several changes. What are the reasons for such a situation?
A: As I mentioned earlier, there were several questions behind holding the election two years prior to the schedule. One of the main questions was about the magnitude of the financial issues due to arise in the future. Considering all these issues, it was decided by the former regime to hold an early election. When we won that election, we have to provide solutions for those issues. We have to fulfill our responsibilities. The resounding victories were given to us by the people with the confidence that we will fulfill their aspirations.
When we take the budget 2016, it was changed two times. We presented proposals which are required for the betterment of this country and the people who were opposed to those, did not mentioned the importance of these proposals. Those issues did not arise after we formed the Government. Even in Europe, they still face serious challenges. With the UK’s decision whether to remain in the European Union, there were many issues within the Union.
In addition, China’s economic growth also slowed down. As a result of that we can see some financial issues arising in China too. The drastic fall in local tea and rubber prices affected our foreign reserves. These circumstances, as a country we alone can’t solve special issues related to the international market. Today, we have significantly low level of exports. It’s only amount to 1%. As a result of above mentioned factors we have to make changes to the budget 2016, from time to time. On the one side international issues and on the other side local factors, moreover demands by the public, trade unions and members of the government. We don’t need to hide anything. So we had to make several changes. I must clearly state that there is no huge financial crisis in our country.
Q: This last question is very important; since we gained independence in 1948 several governments ruled this country. But still we have problems that are not solved. At present, people expect solutions to these questions. In an environment where the two major political parties are united, do you have any creative strategy for the first quarter of the 21st century, which is built on an understanding of both parties, to solve these issues remain unsolved for a long period of time?.
A: You have raised a good question. Are there any issues that were not resolved by the governments in the past?. If there are such issues what are the solutions provided by our government?. The first thing I see is we faced a ruthless war for 26 years. Every one of us talked about the war victory. But no any previous government studied the root causes for the war and endeavored to find solutions for those issues. What are the reasons for this war? What we should do to prevent the recurrence of the war? This is the main issue that wasn’t solved after the 1948.
If there is no reconciliation and harmony among the communities, problems will arise. On May 18, 2009 we defeated the LTTE physically. I see even though they were defeated by our security forces, the aim of building Eelam state, that concept was not defeated. All of us must honestly accept that truth. We are not able to defeat that concept by using multi-barrel machine guns and T 56 guns.
To defeat the LTTE concept, we should strengthen national reconciliation. If anyone thinks contrary to us, they should submit their ideas and plans to prevent the recurrence of the war instead of spreading false allegations like we are betraying our motherland and we are trying to weaken the security forces. We should provide solutions for the main grievances of people living in the North. If we don’t provide solutions to their problems, the youth in the North will take up guns once again. This is a very complex situation.
As a Government we have given the priority to this issue. We have paid attention to the changes that we should make to prevent the recurrence of the war in this country. Through the introduction of the new constitution we expect to implement a constitution which is accepted by the general public. The present constitution has many ambiguities regarding the fundamental rights and privileges of the citizens of this country.
As a country where intelligent persons live , we should commit ourselves to build a new country which is appropriate for us while considering concepts and ideas of developed countries.
Hon. President, we thanked you for joining with us recalling 69 years of productive, timely memories in our discussion.