Disappointed with many decisions of the Govt
BY CHARMINDA RODRIGO
Former State Minister Priyankara Jayaratne says that he called the SLFP Committee members of his electorate for a discussion at which they unanimously urged him to resign. "I represent the interests of the voters in Anamaduwa. They insisted that I take this decision".
Q: You tendered resignation from your portfolio to President Maithripala Sirisena a week ago. What's the real story behind the decision?
A: I am a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). I accepted the position only after the SLFP Central Working Committee (CWC) entered into an agreement to contribute to the unity government headed by the President. Right after the general election in August 2015, I accepted a position in the government to protect and promote the interests of the people of my electorate from evident pressures from members of the United National Party. My supporters anticipated the worst because of bitter experiences in the past. We received information about possible attempts to inconvenience the people. So, more than 400 people including clergy, provincial councillors, local government members, organizers and my supporters gathered at my residence and agreed that I should accept a portfolio in the unity government. It was a collective decision. I can remember that only one LG member disagreed with that decision.
Q: What made you to leave the government?
A: I cannot be satisfied with what I was permitted to do for the people. I wanted to be of greater service by being a State Minister. I called the SLFP Committee Members of my electorate for a meeting and they unanimously urged me to quit my portfolio. They stressed that they would resort to alternative measures if I decided to stick to my position in the unity government. They want to see a SLFP-led government in the country. In Anamaduwa, nearly 80% of them are always loyal to the SLFP. Anamaduwa is a stronghold of the SLFP with a long standing record of victory at elections. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had around 29,000 more votes in Anamaduwa than President Maitripala Sirisena at the last presidential election. Even I obtained a lead of nearly 15,000 when I won the seat at the general election last year. I represent the interests of the voters in Anamaduwa. They forced me to take this decision. I am an elected member of Parliament. Therefore, I should attach the highest importance to the interests of the people I represent.
Apart from that, I was dissatisfied with many decisions of the government. I did not vote for the Value Added Tax Amendment Bill which imposes a 15% VAT. I have personally experienced the difficulty when I had to obtain medical treatment at a private hospital. Common people cannot afford such heavy burdens. So, I did not vote for it. There are several other Bills in the pipe line to be presented before Parliament in the months to come. So, now that I am not a member of the government I can express my concerns according to my conscience like an independent member of Parliament. If I remain in the government any further I would have to agree to everything under collective Party decisions.
I have heard some UNP parliamentarians criticizing the members of the SLFP for presuming this is their government, but I must make this clear to them that this is a unity government formed with the agreement of the leaders of both parties. So, they can't call it 'their government'.
Q: Even though you call yourself an independent member you are still a member of the SLFP. Don't you think your decision to resign from the government is against the decision of the CWC of the SLFP?
A: I am a member of the SLFP. That is not going to change under any circumstance. I am the only member who represents the Puttalam district at the CWC of the SLFP. We have agreed to continue with the link-up between the SLFP and UNP for a period of two years. That leaves us only six months more to function as a collective government. I have not walked out of the party, but have only relinquished my portfolio as a State Minister.
Q: Some say that you suddenly resigned to run away from accepting the much-awaited Delimitation Commission Report at a point when the Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faiszer Musthapha was out of the country. Is it true?
A: There is no validity in that statement. In fact, the secretary and I were anticipating to accept the report from the members of the Committee. I met the Chairman of the Committee Asoka Peiris and the members of the committee, but however, some persisting legal and technical difficulties prevented me accepting it. The report was not translated into all three languages; there were some issues with regard to the Northern and Eastern provinces and Kurunegala district. And there was no way I could gazette the report without the necessary translations. The Chairman of the Committee requested a weeks' time to get the documents in order. So, I directed them to submit the report to Minister Faiszer Musthapha when he returns to the country.
Minister Faiszer Musthapha or the Delimitation Commission report have nothing to do with my decision. Gazetting of the Delimitation Report is a historical thing. I would have had the privilege of gazetting the report if it was ready by 27 Dec.
Q: Now that you are not a part of the government you have the liberty to express your own thoughts. Is the government deliberately delaying the LG elections?
A: No. The government does not deliberately delay the LG polls. We have taken a decision to change the electoral system by introducing the first-past-the-post system at the upcoming election. There was an issue raised at delimitation process done by the previous government. The present had appointed a committee to look into the concerns raised by the members and from various corners. There were many complaints raised which took time to resolve. An election is a democratic right of the people. We should not delay it any further.
Q: Some say that you were penalized within the government after attempts made to bring together the former president and President Sirisena. Is it true?
A: I am no match maker. I have never been a part of such attempts. Both of them are on very good terms with me.
Q: What are your political plans for the future? Are you going to support the joint opposition?
A: As I said I'm an SLFPer. So, I will not accept any position in a government that includes members of the UNP. I have said this to President Maithripala Sirisena. I'm a senior member of the SLFP and remain as such.
Q: Is this part of a plan to establish an SLFP government?
A: We can hold the general election in 2020. There is no provision to advance the due date as specified in the Constitution. But the MPs have the right to make a majority stance with an affidavit. But I have not communicated this to any party or individuals.
I stand on the principle that we should form an SLFP government. I will support unconditionally anyone who wants to achieve this.
Q: Do you think the unity in the 'unity government' is diminishing?
A: It is very clearly visible now. The cracks have begun appearing. In basic matters, just consider the differences of opinion held by the two parties on matters of revenue collection. They cannot go on like this for a long time. There is no match between the two parties. Either the UNP or SLFP should form their own government without depending on the other.
Q: Have you ever been harassed or illtreated when you were a part of the government?
A: Yes. There have been many issues. Our members have often raised this issue. For instance; many of our members are deprived of adequate funds for their projects which are submitted for Cabinet approval. My Ministry was allocated Rs 4,000 million to develop roads which are under the supervision of the Provincial Council. But now the Ministry of Higher Education has asked for these projects to be transferred to that Ministry. These are crucial issues. We do not need a separate ministry if its powers are to be clipped for political reasons. I stood up against these ill-treatments. What is the use of being a Minister without powers?
Q: Do you think the government is dragging its feet in implementing its plans?
A: It is very clear. What has the government done during the past couple of years? The whole country knows that by now.
Q:Who is actually involved in the administration of development activities in the country?
A:There are several groups. There is the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Ministry of Public Enterprise Development and Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade. But they do not communicate with us on proposed development activities. We do not attend UNP group meetings either. There are practical difficulties when two parties are working within a hostile atmosphere. This 'unity' cannot go any further.
Q: Did you discuss these matters with President Maithripala Sirisena before resigning?
A: No. I asked my secretary to hand over everything in my possession back to the Ministry. I went to meet the President in my own vehicle. He was not happy when I broke the news to him. I told him clearly that I would extend my utmost to the party and will accept a position in a victorious SLFP government.
Q: Any plans to join the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)?
A: No. None of the SLFPers has joined the SLPP. Even former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is still a member of the SLFP. Parliamentary membership will be revoked if any member resigns from the SLFP. That's the law.
Q: Have you been extended an invitation to campaign with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
A: He spoke to me a few times. We have no political differences. He entered Parliament along with my father in the 70's. I have a good rapport with him.
Q: Judging by prevailing trends what chances are there of an SLFP government coming to power ?
A: Whatever is said and done, sovereign power lies with the people. Nobody can rise above that. The people have taken to the streets. Let's wait and see what will unfold in the future.
Q: Do you think there are other SLFP members in the government who are disillusioned because of any ill-treatment by the UNP?
A: Yes, there are many others. In fact, I saw Minister John Seneviratna too, expressing his discontent to the President. We have discussed this among ourselves. I am an elected MP. So, it hurts more. I need to be with my people.
Q: The United Peoples' Freedom Alliance (UPFA) General Secretary had several rounds of discussions to restore peace within the SLFP camp. Have you discussed this with him?
A: I discussed these issues with Minister Mahinda Amaraweera too. He is a friend and a person I respect. We are happy that he is the General Secretary of the UPFA. I took this decision in line with my conscience. This is not an attempt to start a fire to topple the government.
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