I am with the President – Isura Deshapriya
By Dhammika Ranaweera Denagama
Chief Minister of Western Provincial Council Isura Deshapriya says the rule of law and fiscal policy are severely politicized under this government. "People think that UNP is selling public property to find money for the next election".
Excerpts of the interview:
?: Why has a CM become a severe critic of the government?
A: That question must be posed to those who ask SLFP ministers in the national coalition to quit, and from those who hold media briefings at Sirikotha.
I don't see any objection, to criticize the actions of some in the coalition government, even though we are in the government.
Anyone can criticize this government.
?: Does this criticism indicate that the national government can go no further?
A: The SLFPers in the government face a challenge, especially from the party men. We must speak the truth. The rule of law and fiscal policy has been severely politicized under this government. People think that UNP is selling public property to find money for the next election. It is criticized by everybody, not only by me. If the UNP MPs and ministers can criticize us we too must have that right. We shall contest future elections separately, even though we are in one government.
?: Can the SLFP form a government alone after quitting the coalition?
A: That can be decided then. UNP cannot do anything without the SLFP group in the government. Joint Opposition also cannot do anything without them. That is the challenge of both sections.
?: Are you signalling that you are ready to form such a government by joining up with the Joint Opposition?
A: No such discussions have taken place, so far. Individuals express their views. No discussions have been held with the SLFP in terms of regime change.
?: What is the conflict with the Minister Champika Ranawaka?
A: We don't have any personal conflict. We are good friends. But we cannot prevent conflicts between the minister of Western Development and the chief minister of the Western Provincial Council. I have to act as the chief minister when they conduct projects, as the Urban Development Authority is ignoring the Provincial Councils and the Local Government bodies. It is not my personal problem but a problem of all the chief ministers of the Provincial Councils. Even the Northern Provincial Council has rejected it.
?: But Minister Champika Ranawaka has told that he will act as per the Urban Development Act.
A: It is correct. But at a time the powers must be vested with the Provincial Councils, the powers already devolved must not be taken over on the whims of individuals. We asked him to settle the issue amicably. Otherwise, we shall use our powers and give the Local Councils powers. This is a problem of the Local Councils in terms of power devolution and not a personal issue. All Chief Ministers are on the same stand at this moment.
?: Did either the President or the Prime Minister speak with you about this?
A: The Prime Minister and the President are aware of this.
?: What is their response?
A: Neither the Prime Minister nor the President wants to interfere in matters relating to the Provincial Councils. We have the Constitutional powers to act.
?: SLFP says it is against power devolution. But you argue that the Constitution being drafted devolves powers. Why is this division in views?
A: As a political party, we have to think of the people's opinion. As people's representatives, we must understand the heartbeat of the people while keeping to party principles. We can see the Buddhist clergy and the people have concerns about this. In this issue even the Bishop had to interfere in terms of giving prominence to Buddhism. People have no trust in those who are involved in drafting the Constitution. People will consent to a Constitutional Amendment which will recognize all religions and which is not racist. Even the SLFP has issues regarding the present situation.
?: What is your view on the actions of the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council?
A: According to him, we have problems regarding national security and an ethnic problem. But I have no conflict with him as chief minister in terms of the rights of the Provincial Councils.
?: What will be your stand if there is a proposal to give Police and land powers to Provincial Councils under a new Constitution?
A: Even the people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces do not take that stance. We don't have that problem at all. We thought that it would be included by the Constitutional Committee as a proposal of the chief ministers. But they propose the chief minister must be consulted when land belonging to the Provincial Council is taken over by the Central Government. They did not have objections in terms of the Police powers being with the Central Government. I don't think the situation will further change.
?: Do you mean a new Constitution is not practical?
A: Yes. That is how I see it now. It is moving towards that position. Present political dialogue indicates that the draft Constitution will be an empty file.
?: Why do the SLFP Ministers say that no referendum is needed for the Constitution? Do they want to upset the Constitution process?
A: No. As mentioned in the manifesto of President Maithripala Sirisena, he is willing for an Amendment to the Constitution. But he has not consented to a Referendum in that manifesto. Therefore, if we don't go for a Referendum, the President's policy is passing Amendments to the Constitution in Parliament, with two thirds majority.
?: What is the conflict between the Provincial Councillors and the Provincial Council ministers?
A: Two ministers were absent for the Cabinet and group meetings citing various reasons. Problems have occurred in terms of the progress in their ministries. It was seen in 2016 also. Councillors of both the Government and the Opposition are discontented about it. They demanded from me to focus on the progress of those ministries.
?: What actions did you follow?
A: Normally, I don't interfere in the ministries of others. But I and the chief secretary have those powers. We are not ready to use them. I will call the secretaries of the relevant ministries through the chief secretary and engage in the issue if necessary.
?: What is your view about a group of government MPs being independent in Parliament?
A: I am not informed of such a thing.
?: Is the next presidential election the SLFP's main target?
A: Only we have a presidential candidate. We can win the 2020 presidential election. The entire world recognizes him. Therefore, we can speak about him.
?: Although the government has shown progress, the Local Government election is delayed. If you are not afraid of elections, it can be held under proportional representation also, isn't that so?
A: We can't mislead the people. The election cannot be held under the new system in the way it is argued in media and on stages. I was the chairman of Maharagama Pradeshiya Sabha for two terms. I know the Local Government ordinance. It must be amended in keeping with the new system. In such a context, the election can neither be hurried nor delayed.
?: It is reported that the two major parties have no consensus on the way the election is held. How can this be settled?
A: Whatever is said, the government has already decided to hold the election under the new system.
?: It is reported that you have one foot in the Joint Opposition camp, after the discussion you had with the former President.
A: Not only me, even T.B. Illangaratna was accused like that in the past because he tried to unite the party. I cannot prevent them. But I must say clearly that Isura Devapriya is a leader created by the people of this country and the President. Then we were with leaders like former Presidents Chandrika Bandaranaike and Mahinda Rajapaksa. I am still with the President of the party. I met the President on 9th January, 2015. That proves I am always with the leader.
I know the SLFP constitution very well. According to it, we can work from two sides. That has been successful. Today, the opinion that the party cannot win without regrouping has been established. The two factions of the SLFP will have to unite to take decisions. That is not my opinion. Even after forming a government after 21 years, the UNPers are not happy. I don't think some apolitical UNP representatives challenging us, in such a context is wise.
?: Do you mean the two factions of the SLFP will merge in a future election?
A: In fact, the party has been pushed to take the stand, that all will need to unite.
?: A section of the UNP has cited facts to the President and the Prime Minister. How will you face it?
A: I must not panic. The UNP MPs say our President is theirs and that the President was elected with their votes. They think the President must act on their wish. That is wrong. The President has not signed an agreement with the UNP in terms of the presidential election. My President is a member of the SLFP. Therefore, it is useless for the UNP MPs to blame me. He takes decisions not from Sirikotha. He is at the President's house.
?: The two-year term of the Coalition Government is to end in August. Will the National Government go forward or will it split?
A: We have not discussed about it yet. The SLFP members think that it is not necessary, beyond the two years. Even though we are safeguarding the government, the UNP does not seem to want to take it forward. In such a context, it will be a political problem. But it is too early to take a decision.
?: The UNP has 106 seats and they can easily form a government.
A: We must not consider the number of seats. That challenge is open.
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