No one can divide MS and RW – Daya Gamage
By Shaahidah Riza
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had already agreed to give away 750 hectares in Hambantota, said UNP Parliamentarian, Primary Industries Minister Daya Gamage, with regard to criticisms the incumbent government was faced with, in the issue of giving 15,000 acres in Hambantota to a Chinese company.
He explained that the government will initially give the Chinese 1,000 acres which is about 400 hectares. He further noted that when the Chinese develop the area with industries, then the government can expand up to 15,000 acres, which will amount to 6,000 hectares. He added that the remaining 14,000 acres will amount to about 5,600 hectares and that the government plans to also make offers in the districts of Matara, Moneragala and Ampara.
Excerpts of the interview:
?. Why are you personally unhappy with the progress of the government?
A. Speed is not enough. This is what all the business people expect from a UNP Government. When the UNP was in power in 1977, the country saw huge progress. Our implementation started from 1978. The people are looking for the same kind of speed in progress. After President J. R. Jayewardene's rule, President Premadasa came to power. Even he implemented the 200 garment factory programme which was a massive progress. Then there were so many problems created by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Actually the North and East were under the LTTE, the rest of the country was under the JVP. Even India created so many problems for us at the time. With all these problems, President Premadasa progressively developed the country. People are looking for speed in development, of a similar kind.
?. One of President Sirisena's campaign promises was that those who committed crimes during the former regime will be taken to task and made to account for all the money that was allegedly stolen. He promised that these monies will be returned to the people. However, to date, not a single significant arrest has been made, nor has money been recovered, as such. What is your view?
A. For example, the previous government paid US$ 1.3 billion to China, to build the Hambantota Port. Now the Chinese company has offered to buy it for US$ 1.1 billion. What happened to the remaining US$ 200 million? It is a well-known fact that any construction put up five or six years ago will cost double the amount to build today. At least 30 per cent to 40 per cent more has to be paid.
How can they offer US$ 1.1 billion? That means the remaining US$ 200 million has been paid to somebody. So, how can it be recovered? It is very difficult to find this money or to whose pocket it went. These are the kind of deals people have to understand. People have to understand where this money went. We have to account for all the short term debts raised during the last two years of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
?. Conversely, the bond scam debacle took place during this government's watch. So don't you think people are a little disillusioned and that there is not much of a difference between the former government and the incumbent one?
A. This kind of things has happened for the last 20 years continuously. That is the system the Central Bank works on. But nobody knows that. Now the JVP along with all other parties in the government didn't know what happened at that time at the Central Bank. It was not exposed. Even the Cabinet didn't reveal it. Nobody knew. However, at present the government has passed that Right to Information Act. Now the media and the politicians can find out what happened. What we have to do is to create a system that prevents such acts in the future. This is what the Prime Minister wants to implement. We have brought up the issue in Parliament, and Parliament has debated on it, and then sent it to the Attorney General. There is a process with regard to the investigation. Any one can say that it is wrong and so on. Without knowing the process and the particulars I cannot make any comment on this. My view is that in future we cannot let this happen and that we should prepare a system to prevent this.
?. Two years on you said that the government has not seen speedy progress in certain aspects. For this year, what is the government trying to achieve?
A. Last two years belonged to Mahinda Rajapaksa; it did not belong to us. Why did Mahinda Rajapaksa contest in the election? It was because he had a two year period. He has taken all these short term loans and he also has to pay it off, as bullet payment. He cannot pay all of these, because he faced a lot of problems such as the Geneva issue. After the war they were the ones who invited international observers to come in to the country to investigate.
They are the ones who opened the country to them, and then they decided to stop it. The then government realised that if these foreign observers come, everyone will get to know what they did. As a result, they decided to stop it. You cannot ignore the fact that the Rajapaksa Government invited the foreign observers in the first place. They put the country in a really bad situation. He portrays the matter of the electric chairs to get the sympathies of the people, but the reality is that he has put the people of this country in the electric chair. That is why he decided to contest the elections. After he wins the election he can tax the people, sell assets, and do whatever he wants as he did before.
?. However, with regard to Hambantota, this government is being accused of doing the same. What is your view?
A. Mahinda Rajapaksa had already agreed to give away 750 hectares in Hambantota. We want to develop the country. So we are giving the Chinese initially only 1,000 acres out of 15,000 acres, which is about 400 hectares. Rajapaksa has already promised to give the Chinese 750 hectares, while we are giving only 1,000 acres that is only 400 hectares. When the Chinese people develop that area with industries then we can expand up to 15,000 acres, which will amount to 6,000 hectares.
Initially we are planning on giving 1,000 acres, the remaining 14,000 acres comes to about 5,600 hectares. This we are planning to offer to them in the districts of Matara, Monaragala and Ampara. In Ampara District itself we have forest land where we have 250,000 hectares. Apart from Wildlife reservations and other government areas there are a lot of spare land. If industries come in, then our people are getting jobs, country is getting export revenue. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power 36 per cent of the GDP were from exports. When he handed over the government to us this had reduced to 14 per cent. So, the debt has risen.
The Opposition accused the government of increasing taxes. When you take all of these taxes such as VAT into account, we can only pay off 97 per cent of the loan interests which the previous government incurred. So then, to pay off the remaining 3 percent, and also to pay government employees' salaries, and to pay Samurdhi concession, fertiliser subsidy including all other expenses such as Health Ministry expenses, Education Ministry expenses and so on, we have to borrow another Rs 1500 billion.
They have put the country into this trap. Now, that our period has started we have started to fix the damage caused by Mahinda Rajapaksa and created a good foundation. Now, we have to do the building for the next few years. We have started our development plan from January onwards. Now that we have commenced, no one can stop us.
?. Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that he will topple the government by the end of this year. Is there any possibility of that?
A. When we were in the Opposition we bring about 10,000-15,000 people and tell that we are going to topple the government.
After all these demonstrations it is not unusual to state that they will be toppling the government. But what people have to understand is that when former President Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power defeating the UNP Government, the UNP still could have come to power by getting into an agreement with the former SLMC leader late Ashroff. But at that time, Ranil Wickremesinghe didn't want to do that, because of his goodness. So Chandrika Kumaratunga entered into an agreement with Ashroff's Party. When she joined the seats, she only had one more than the UNP; with only one extra seat in Parliament, she won. With regard to the UNP, we needed only a few more seats in Parliament to form a UNP Government. We joined with the SLFP. When we passed the budget, we passed it with a two-third majority.
When we have a two-third majority in Parliament how can they topple the government? I don't know how he will topple the government. We promised the people that we will form the government by joining with the SLFP. We did that. No one can divide President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
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