UPFA Colombo district candidate and Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka said he is confident the ruling party will get close to a two third majority at the April 8 general elections which would enable it to bring about constitutional changes including those to curb the powers of the executive presidency. In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Times, he expressed his views on devolution of power, corruption and the role of the opposition parties. Here are excerpts of the interview.
Q: Why is the government harping on about getting a two thirds majority in these general elections?
A: We are not harping on about it but it is essential for the country to change the Constitution and to do that we need the two thirds. For example everyone has realized the faults in the preferential voting system but we cannot change it without the necessary majority. It is the same with the 17th Amendment; we cannot implement it nor can be disregard it. Similarly the executive presidency needs to be amended to make it answerable to Parliament and the Judiciary. There is now a chance to amend the Constitution after 32 years to suit the country.
Q: Won’t a two third majority in Parliament for the UPFA coupled with the executive power of the President lead to a dictatorship?
A: We are a country that went backward because of the Westminster form of government which resulted in bi-partisan rule. See how the opposition behaved during the war. . They got together and attempted to topple the government. When there are external threats, we don’t stand together as a nation. A bi-partisan system is good if there is a national consensus in the country but unfortunately we don’t have that here.
Bi-partisan politics has done more harm than good to the country. Today the UNP can only get a 20 per cent support while all the other opposition parties together can get only 10 per cent. We have a national consensus within the UPFA.There are no separatists forces or federal forces in it nor those who want a liberal economy.
Today the world economy is changing and we have emerging economies in the way of the BRIC. (Brazil, Russian, India and China) bloc while Ranil Wickremesinghe is still talking of the stagnating economies of the EU and the USA .President Mahinda Rajapaksa has fathomed both the global phenomena as well as the local phenomena while Ranil and his strategies have been defeated locally as well as globally.
There is no point giving power to an opposition with Ranil and Somawansa (Amarasinghe). If a new UNP and JVP emerge that that is in sync with the new world order, that will be good for the country. It is good for democracy.
Q: But in the absence of an opposition, power will be concentrated on one side. Will democracy be safeguarded in such a set up?
A: Our alliance is based on national policies and not on staying in power. We will preserve a unitary state, not allow terrorism to raise its head, create a national consensus and bring a new constitution that will curb executive powers.
Q; Will it go forward based on national polices because many come to power using such slogans but forget them and stay together for the sake of staying in power?
A: If such a situation arises then the opposition can act, but this opposition cannot do anything and we don’t need them. This Marxist JVP and the neo liberal UNP are engaged in Jurassic era politics.
Q: Do you feel the entry of Buddhist monks to Parliament in 2004 was a positive feature or a negative one?
A: Before the Buddhist monks entered Parliament, neither the UNP nor SLFP cared about the unitary status of the country. Their polices were based on federalism and also on holding talks with the LTTE and devolving power to them. It is the Buddhists monks who changed that. Today no one can talk about the changing the unitary status of the country. . They changed the way of thinking of the SLFP. Today we can visit Buddhist religious sites such as Nagadeepa, Somawathie or Seruwila. Earlier we had to get a visa to go there. No one can question the role of the Buddhist monks in politics in this country.
Q: Do you feel there is a need for devolution of power?
A: Absolutely not. The theory that power should be devolved on ethnic lines in the country was created by racial elements among the Tamils and has been defeated both militarily and politically. We hope to create Jana Sabha at the Grama Sevaka level and devolve power to that unit to carry out development.
Q: Do you think there was /is an ethnic problem in the country?
A: There was a problem in the country .The problem was that the Sinhalese, because of being of that race, could not live in the north and east.
Q: Do you think that they enjoy the equal political rights as the Sinhalese?
A: Tell me one inequality they have that the Sinhalese people also don’t have.
Q: The language issue?
A: The Sinhalese people in the north and east have a language problem as well. . Do you know that the Sinhalese persons born in Trincomalee or Ampara has his birth certificate written in Tamil? This so called language problem of the Tamils in other parts of the country is faced by the Sinhalese living in the north and east.
Q: If the Tamil people did not have a problem, way did members of their community take up arms?
A: A problem is not needed for terrorism to merge. It starts because of the greed for power. Elitist’s forces within the Tamil community said in the 1920s the entire country belongs to them and that after the British leave they must rule over it. But once the franchise was given to the people, the Sinhalese got majority representation. Then these elitists Tamils chose to interpret it as an injustice caused to them. It was based on this that the communalism began.
Q: The opposition is charging that General (retd.)Sarath Fonseka is being held for political reasons. Yours comments?
A: President Mahinda Rajapaka is a man with 40 years of political experience. If he was thinking on political lines, he would have created a background in which Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sarath Fonseka would clash with each other and thus split the opposition vote. Why would he want to have Fonseka arrested and give political slogans to the opposition? His arrest is not on political grounds but in keeping with military laws. If this was not done there will be no discipline in the military. That is why even though it is a loss politically; such a decision has been taken.
Q: That means the President has in fact helped the opposition by detaining Fonseka?
A: Yes it is a big help.
Q: One of the allegations leveled against the government very often is of corruption and mismanagement. What do you have to say about that?
A: As the Minister of Environment I can say our ministry is corruption free. When I came here our revenue was Rs1052 million. No its is Rs 4444 million. We are a profit making body. We gave an example to other ministries on how to manage their institutions without corruption. We also introduced meritocracy and evaluation among our staff.
This problem has been there since 1947. In 1994, Chandrika Bandaranaike came to power saying she will end corruption and violence (dooshanaya and beeshanaya) and the first thing she did was bring an anti corruption law which was endorsed unanimously by all parties in Parliament. How many allegations of corruption have since been leveled against her? Corruption exists at the level of planning of projects by way of inflated costs, due to the tailor made tender system that in place as well as at the level of the bureaucrats. The private sector too is involved.
The biggest corruption scandal in the country happened at Ceylinco. Officials were involved in the VAT fraud case but many blame politicians just to become popular. . The biggest problem is the lack of punishment for offenders.
The Bribery Commission that Chandrika (Bandaranaike) set up has only successfully convicted one person in six years and that is the Principal of Anula Vidyalaya.
This is a joke. One of the first tasks of the new Parliament is to change these laws so that the culprits can be punised.We need to punish not only those who accept bribes but also those who offer them. There is no point pointing fingers at anyone. Not only politicians, the bureaucrats and the private sector too must be accountable.
Q: What are your views on the 17th Amendment?
A: Its objective to de politicizes certain state institutions such as the Police, Judiciary and the Public Service are good but I was the only MP who opposed it. The reason for it is that its members are appointed on an ethnic basis. It is a very messy piece of legislation. We need to discuss that also in the new Parliament and adapt it to realize the same objectives. Once we get the two third, we will do that also.
Q: You seem confident of getting two third majorities in the next Parliament?
A: This government began with 86 members and ended up with 130. The UPFA can get close to a 2/3rd majroty.If not 150 but close to it. But once Parliament meets, we will have the 150. The UNP will certainly join us.