26th November 2000
Business| Sports| Sports Plus|
One time provincial Minister of Health, Textiles and Rural Industries of Wayamba , Johnston Fernando is a new face in Parliament. Having left the UNP for a brief period in support of the Lalith-Gamini led DUNF, Mr. Fernando now claims the UNP is poised to topple the PA administration soon.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: You have been elected to Parliament after a spell at the Wayamba PC. What made you leave the UNP in the first place?
A: I contested the Kurunegala MC polls in 1991. It was a volatile period-politically and socially. Party men were feeling disgruntled. At that time, we were given an assurance that the person who polls the highest number of votes would be made the Mayor. I polled the highest, but the person who came fourth on the list was handed the reins of power.
Q: So you left the party over a personal matter rather than for political reasons? There could have been better-suited and more senior candidates than you?
A: If popularity was the criteria, it should have been applied to all. In Colombo, a newcomer was appointed Mayor. It was the last straw. Anyway, the DUNF was to be a 'temporary' home until we put the original house in order. But in hindsight, I regret that such action only put this bad government in power.
Q: How do you feel about the switch from provincial to national politics?
A: As a provincial minister, I did a lot of development work in the region. Though there is more political clout as a parliamentarian, an opposition parliamentarian can hardly contribute to the development of the area though he could vibrantly contribute to strengthen democracy.
Q: With the burden on the people steadily increasing with issues of good governance coming to the fore, people are dissatisfied with the UNP for its lacklustre opposition performance. What ails the UNP?
A: The UNP is being unfairly compared with the rhetoric-founded JVP. The JVP needs to remain vociferous and hit the streets at the drop of a hat to retain their small vote base. The UNP has a bigger role to play. The UNP doesn't survive on gallery tactics, but strategies.
Q: Despite your claims, the UNP has allowed many a big issue to simply slip through and has failed to be the alternative voice in Parliament where the JVP was quick to cash in on.
A: The best example I can give to counter your charge is the presentation of the draft Constitution. All those groups hitting the streets in passionate protests would have been redundant if the UNP did not tactically prevented it from becoming the country's supreme law.
All that agitation would have come to naught if the UNP did not prevent the legislative procedure in the House. We lost members, but the real surprise was in actually gaining one PA member and thereby demoralising them.
Q: But the UNP was divided, and in fear of losing members. You even sent some of your legislators out of the country which literally meant that your leadership had little control over the parliamentary group?
A: Those who abandoned us at various times have got rejected. There were far too many carrots on offer, and we thought it best to prevent any temptation by sending them off. Some went on personal tours.
Q: Still, it is argued that the best thing that happened to the PA administration is to have a dormant UNP in the opposition? The UNP having made a hue and cry about alleged widespread poll malpractices, which according to you even distorted the final electoral result has not expressed rejection of the results?
A: When the PA won the 1994 polls, the UNP decided that it was the legitimately elected government and should be allowed to govern. But this time, they were not elected but rejected. If they don't represent the public will, then they have no right to govern either.
We have filed petitions and have discussed the issue with our voters. We have 43 fresh faces. We are not for a national government. We cannot co-habit with this corrupt lot. All the perpetrators have been amply rewarded including a deputy minister with 43 warrants against him. The UNP will not demean its voters by entering into an unholy alliance with the PA. Unlike some parties, we don't wish to create platforms for the party on the funeral pyres of supporters.
We have sought legal recourse. We are going before the international community. You may feel that we are lax due to lack of vibrant agitation. But we are tactical than rhetorical. The legislature has met only twice in 1-1/2 months, as it fears that we would strike the administration down, something we agitated for. We will strike at the right moment to topple it.
Q: But your protest about the election malpractices was confined to sporting black armbands when the President made her policy statement?
A: As I explained, gallery politics is not for us. Irrespective of our acceptance of her administration or not, the President should be allowed to make her statement. We have asked for a full debate on her policy statement and will prove our political might.
Q: But in the final analysis, the UNP has lost and the PA has successfully snatched the UNP bastions?
A: The entire result was a distortion created by the Samurdhi network. The PA Cabinet is full of alleged perpetrators of election laws. We need some corrective measures too. It doesn't augur well for a party at grass roots level when you lose four district leaders as we have.
There was no overt plundering like in Wayamba. In areas such as Polonnaruwa and Hambantota where the PA wished to cast the district leaders in a bad light, the Samurdhi network was not evident. So there was a true reflection of the public will. In truth, they robbed our victory. So this time, we shall rob the administration at the earliest opportunity.
Q: With the weakening of the UNP's expected defiance and unimaginative conduct don't you agree that it has paved a path for the JVP to emerge as a strong force?
A: The JVP myth is created by the media. We are a seasoned party
which had ruled for 32 years. The JVP must protect its small vote base.
The traditional left vote bank is disappointed with the PA which finds
expression in the JVP- something it will retain until the PA remains in
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Why are you pursuing political ambitions so late in life?
A: Mine had always been a supportive role, first to my husband and later to my son. If I wished to enter the mainstream, I had ample opportunities. As a grandmother, I have entered politics today with great reluctance to fulfil the mission of my late son. Ratnapura and Ellawalas are inseparable. I am here strangely to carry the mantle of my son.
Q: Isn't it feudalistic to believe an Ellawala should be replaced by another Ellawala?
A: I had no wish to replace anyone, except that it was the desire of the people. I did not wish to contest the parliamentary elections, but I was told I was the obvious choice. And there are things I wish to see completed for the people of Ratnapura who have remained close to our family throughout their political sojourn.
Q: Do you think a different legislator from Ratnapura would achieve less than you would, for the people of Ratnapura?
A: No. But if there were more eligible people, the party should have given them nominations. To me, this is only a short-term assignment where I will strive to achieve the maximum for the people before I take a back seat and spend the rest of my life in quiet reflection and spending time with my grandchildren.
Q: How do you view your jump from provincial to national level politics?
A: There is obviously more scope now. At the provincial level, it was an eternal question of inadequate funds. Even the political clout was less and the political arguments at the provincial level were less sophisticated.
It is a privilege to be able to paint on a larger canvas today. But I would have preferred more time at the provincial level to learn the ropes. Just as I was getting to understand the workings, I had to come here.
Q: As a mother who has sacrificed the only son to violent politics, how do you view the rising criminality, in politics and outside with your party allegedly making a name as a political party using strong arm tactics?
A: As a grieving mother, I know what suffering for a lost child could be like. I have called upon the authorities, first at electoral and then at provincial level to crack down on violence.
The era of gentlemanly politics seems truly over. The tragedy is that there is no ideology left where the strong one beats the other one to pulp to wrest control.
I believe the preference system as being utterly corruptive. Under the electoral system, people felt more responsible for their electorates and strived to maintain a certain reputation as well.
And sadly, the criminalisation of politics is only a reflection of the criminal activities outside. We need to cleanse the system and replace the barbaric lot with new people with commendable records.
Q: While you blame the system, there are many allegations against the PA itself. How do you explain the PA's recent victory amidst a spate of violence and massive election malpractices?
A: I personally don't think the overall result was distorted owing to the alleged malpractices. I think all sides should take responsibility for subverting democracy. There may have been PA members who ran amok in search of more 'manapes' (preferences) than others.
The 'manape' system has brought upon more 'amanape' (hard feelings) than anything else.
The ideal situation would be for all political parties to independently inquire into the recent polls and punish the wrongdoers. It is important to turn the searchlight inwards.
Q: While you pin the blame on the system, it seemed that intra party rivalries in the PA seemed more intense during election time than at any other?
A: That is one charge we must accept. But the solution lies actually in reverting to the old electoral system. In the past there were more honourable men and women entering the legislature. The preference system has made it a life and death race for candidates who risk life and limb and expend their resources to create a slot. It is so competitive that they are doing everything under the sun to secure a place.
About the PA being more affected by intra -party bickering, I feel that it is true- and the reason must be that having been in power once, they need to protect their bastions better. So the intensity increases.
Q: As a rural parliamentarian, what are the priorities on your agenda?
A: I wish to touch all those nooks and corners that remained untouched for a long time and Ratnapura's first priority is a flood control system. Each year, there are floods followed by displacements and the Social Services Department has to come to the rescue. This is an annual occurrence. Therefore it is time to look at the real picture and solve the problem once and for all rather than getting activated every year and spend millions of rupees that otherwise could have been utilised for development work in the area.
Ratnapura could also be opened up to the rest of the country with the construction of a couple of link roads. This has to be done in connection with the overall improvement of roads, construction of bridges and improving transport facilities. It is mainly a question of lacking basic infrastructure facilities.
We should be mindful also of the unemployment factor which is rather high in my district, especially among the young females who are more qualified than their male counterparts. There are lessons to be learned from the Embilipitiya incidents and the two uprisings in general. Ratnapura has been clearly affected by the problem of youth unrest.
I am a mother, and I do know how frustrating it could be to have offspring, disgruntled with the system.
We cannot build a secure future with a younger generation adversely affected by economic burdens and their special concerns unaddressed. I think both the SLFP-led coalitions and the UNP must take collective responsibility and take corrective measures so that our youth need not perish in the future.
I think we should correct the smaller things before looking at the larger picture.
The new industrial park could also do with some novel features to attract
investment to this resourceful area.
By Hiranthi FernandoThe South Asian People Summit, organised by the South Asia Partnership International (SAPI), will be held in Colombo from December 8 to 10.
The SAARC's failure to meet has created a vacuum for people's action, the organisers of the People Summit say. The South Asian conference is therefore held at a crucial time, in a bid to solve common and regional problems. The summit plans to take up major issues that affect the South Asian community.
About 200 -300 people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Canada, UK and Italy are expected to attend the summit. The SAPI has invited leaders, organisations and authorities at local, government and regional levels to participate in the consultation, which is led by civil society.
Priority issues have been identified and five commissions have been set up to deal with them. The commissions are, Peace and Regional Cooperation, Governance - Local and Regional, Human Rights & Human Development, Empowerment of Women, Conventions on the Rights of the Child/Child Labour/Child Trafficking. Each Commission will be led by one of the participating countries and includes experts, activists, field workers and academics.
Ms. Jezima Ismail, chairperson of SAPI, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday,said this was essentially a people's summit. "It is an effort of the people, for the people, conceived and implemented by representatives of the people", she said. "At the conclusion of the People's Summit, we hope that aspirations of the people of the region will be achieved". It is hoped that networks in the region focus on means of influencing SAARC and that a SAARC NGO Forum would be set up.
Dr. James Arputharaj, Executive Director of SAP I, whose brainchild the People Summit was, said processes that had been formulated had been put on hold because SAARC was not held. "The SAARC as a government forum is very important, although there are certain weaknesses in the Charter", Dr. Arputharaj said.
"It is an important organisation for us to work with. One feels that
if NGOs step in, the network of NGOs at grassroots level will be able to
implement the work planned by SAARC. If governments don't meet, let the
people meet" he said.
The provinces concerned are Uva, Central, Sabaragamuwa and North Central.
In a letter to Lalith de Mel, Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom, copied to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the eight local security firms have said "a number of security firms registered with the Ministry of Defence and with long experience in the security field submitted tenders" in response to an advertisement from Sri Lanka Telecom.
They point out that "however, without a proper evaluation of the experience, credibility, costs etc. and disregarding Government procedures, we understand that there is a move to award the tender to the company called (name withheld)".
The eight companies allege that as per the tender, the requested bid bond is for a period of one year, but the newcomer firm in question had submitted a bid bond only for a period of one month. They said this itself disqualified the firm in question but allege that a Telecom official had recommended the acceptance of the tender.
The eight firms say that according to existing regulations, overtime payments are excluded in determining the costs.
The Department has banned an eight hour shift for security personnel. But in this particular case, SLT has determined the costs on the basis of a normal eight hour shift plus four hours of overtime at the rate of one and half time the normal hourly rate. This has been done to justify the high price asked by the new comer firm, they have alleged.
The newcomer firm, the eight security firms have charged, had been criticised in Police reports for lapses in a number of units it had been tasked to handle in the State sector.
They have added that the firm in question had not been in existence
even for three years.
A medical faculty student of the Jaffna Unive-rsity,Thiyagarajah Pirat-heepan in his letter dated October 25 to the Minister of Higher Education Indika Gunawardena had appealed for a transfer from Jaffna to Colombo outlining the problems he has to face.
His letter states that due to the fierce fighting which erupted in 1995 in Jaffna, he had to discontinue his studies and proceed to Vavuniya seeking shelter and continue his studies at Vavuniya Maha Vidyalayam.
In 1998 he obtained an aggregate of 296 marks and was selected to the Jaffna university to follow a course in medicine.
However,whilst residing in Vavuniya as refugees, his father was cruelly killed in crossfire in the security operation on April 8, 1999. He now has to look after his sick mother and only sister and has now come to Colombo.
In this situation he had written to the University Grants Commission on May 5, 2000 appealing for a transfer either to Colombo, Peradeniya or Sri Jayewardhanapura. Regrettably, to date he had not received a reply.
Explaining his plight he had written to Minister Indika Gunawardena seeking redress, but strangely he receives a letter from the Minister dated November 9, 2000 stating:
Your congratulatory message was received by me and I thank you for same.
The goodwill and support in your message will further strengthen me in the discharge of my new responsibilities.
Minister of Higher Education and Information Technology Development.
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