North wanted to send 1,000 participants – Shantha Bandara
By Panchamee Hewavissenti
The SLFP Youth Front is ready to hold a youth conference on 2 April, with the participation of approximately 10,000 young members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Youth from all corners of the country is expected to take part in this event.
"We are going to introduce a sustainable and empirical resolution to the problems faced by the youth of the country. Instead of physically protesting to urge the government to solve the problems of the youth, conversely, we are going to present the government with a workable proposal. In that, we propose how each problem of the youth can be solved in a most practical manner. It is like a guide and the authorities cannot refuse to act upon them. It is expected that this will be immensely helpful for the authorities and the youth equally, in solving, the hitherto unsolved issues of the youth which need immediate attention," said the Sri Lanka Freedom Party's Youth Front President Shantha Bandara; in an interview with the Ceylon Today.
He also spoke of issues faced by the people of the Northern Province, the President's stance in setting up a distillery in the Eastern Province, and the reason for Tamil politicians' disinterest in solving the problems of the people of the North and so on.
Excerpts of the interview,
?: Apart from being reprimanded by the Opposition, the government is being criticized by those in government too. People of this country have hardly experienced this type of situation. It is expected that those who are in the government should not publicly censure it. Why are they engaged in such type of activity?
A: This is a new type of concept that Sri Lanka experiences for the first time. The National Government, unlike former governments does not consist only of allied political parties. It accommodates many political parties including opposition parties.
Besides the Joint Opposition, other parties actively play a role in the National Government. Hence, one can criticize and bring to light the wrongdoings of the other party and it immensely helps to guard transparency and in eliminating corruption. However, this act is depicted by many as reprobating the government.
Criticizing takes place when there are wrongdoings. We neither condemn the government nor harm the good name of it. Our aim is to raise our voice against corruption and wrongdoings. This does not disrupt the existence of the present government; instead it helps to correct misdeeds.
?: Although, many ministers in this government are blamed for acting in contrast with the government's good governance policies, no action has been taken against their misdeeds. Doesn't this affect the image of the government?
A: Some of the ministers in this government have behaved in a manner that harms its good name. But, changing ministries or removing ministers from the post is not an easy thing to accomplish. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution inhibits such acts. But, if we still need to do that, we can make it happen.
In this National Government, two parties have shared the ministries, for example, when the Ministry of Finance is given to UNP the Ministry of Fisheries is given to SLFP, and likewise. The leaders of the two parties decide whom to be appointed as the minister of a particular ministry. Once the ministries are allocated for each party, the leader of the particular party is held responsible for the minister. Thus, the President doesn't want to interfere with the ministries given to the UNP, because it is akin to a dictatorship to exercise control over the ministries given to the other party. The President is totally in power over the ministries assigned to our party. Nevertheless, it does not mean that the President turns a blind eye to the corruptions or misdeeds taking place in the ministries assigned to the other parties, other than those of the SLFP. After all, he is the President of this country. If he gets to know of any inappropriate thing, he intervenes without any delay.
Some blame the President that he turns a blind eye to many critical issues that the country has to face. When there is a crisis in the country, the President waits for some time until the situation gets mitigated by itself. If it continues, he then analyzes the situation and if the situation becomes worse, he intrudes to solve the problem irrespective of what party the particular ministry belongs to.
?: So, what is President's stance with regard to granting massive tax concessions to the distillery in the Eastern Province owned by the infamous Arjun Aloysius and the setting up of a distillery when the President has embarked on the mission of eradicating alcoholism in the country?
A: There are two facets to this problem and we need to pay our attention to both. Setting up a distillery in the country can be encouraged as that will help retain a large portion of money that flows out of the country to purchase foreign liquor.
We agree with the Ministry of Finance, if it grants concessions to start up new business ventures by Sri Lankans. On the other hand, we cannot approve the granting of tax concessions to set up a distillery. President is not consulted when setting up business ventures, because President can't look into each and everything in the country. Authorities are assigned to execute respective duties. These types of activities are carried out in the levels of ministries, Provincial Councils and the Local Governments. If any crisis situation is created, the sources will inform the President and the President will look into that.
He will have to analyze all the factors regarding the opening up of that distillery. If any undue tax cuts are granted, any illicit activity taken place or if any environment and safety hazards will be caused, the President will surely take action against the distillery. Although, he is aware of this matter, at present, he has not begun to analyze it, as he did not receive powerful pressure against the setting up of the so called distillery owned by the people who are already accused of fiscal crimes.
If people oppose this distillery in a strong manner, President may come forward to halt it.
?: So, the Department of Excise claims to earn Rs 105,297 million during the financial year of 2015. It seems that the alcohol consumption in the country has not declined. What has happened to the President's mission of eradicating alcoholism?
A: President clearly battles against alcoholism and is geared to create a country free of alcohol. People question why the government has failed to close the bars operating countrywide. One who has a nodding acquaintance on economy knows that closing down of all the bars in the country at once will lead to a huge economic crisis in the country. That should be done gradually. We have to first look for alternative ventures for those who are in the liquor industry and then convert to new industries.
However, the economic plight of the country is not at all satisfactory at the moment. So, we have to bolster the economy. Once the economic condition of the country is sound, we will be able to sustain the economy without the income from alcohol.
President has already said that he wants the country's economy to be independent of the income from the Department of Excise.
?: You recently slammed the government, for allowing tax concessions to the liquor brands owned by those connected with the Treasury bonds scam. You also pointed out that such distillers can sell their products at a reduced rates and that has caused the downfall of the Palmyrah based liquor industry in the North?
A: Yes. The livelihood of the majority of the people in the Northern Province is related to Palmyrah based products. These self -employed people face livelihood problems when they are compelled to sell their liquor products at comparatively higher rates, when less expensive liquor is available. The companies who get tax concessions can sell their products at reduced rates. The tendency is to purchase the lower priced products.
The government has imposed tax on the Palmyrah liquor and granted tax concession to some infamous distillery owners. So, the people who are legally distilling Palmyrah liquor as their livelihood is faced with a threat of losing their livelihood. So, the government has done an injustice to these innocent people. In a bid to discourage the liquor consumption, the government has imposed higher tax on the Palmyrah liquor without considering the livelihood factor of these people. It is wrong to cause the downfall of the livelihood of these people without introducing new business ventures to them.
?: You have paid several visits to the Northern Province and looked into their day-to-day lifestyle. How do the people in the Northern Province manage their lives?
A: It is pathetic to mention that some of them survive with only one meal a day. My notion is that all these people live in the same country and their needs too should be taken care of.
I have camped with the youth of the North. Although Tamil politicians are obsessed with obtaining Federal, Police and Land authority, these innocent people do not talk about them. Their requirements are different. They need employments to sustain their families. The demands of the majority of the youth were related to providing sanitary facilities to rural schools where their sisters and brothers are studying, filling the teacher vacancies in those schools, employment opportunities to the unemployed and so on. They never came up with the ideas of Federal politics, granting Police and Land Authority.
There is a large portion of unemployed graduates in the North. There are also a large number of volunteer teachers in the area who are engaged in teaching in schools that lack a sufficient number of teachers. The Northern Provincial Council can provide solutions to these problems without effort. But these problems still remain unattended.
?: So, what of those highly acclaimed politicians of the North? Why don't they come forward to solve the problems of their voters?
A: The politicians in the North do not solve the problems faced by the people. They do not make efficient use of the grants allocated for the Northern Province by the government. They want to leave the problems of the Northern people unsolved. These politicians cannot remain in power if the problems of the people are solved. If the people's lives are enhanced they stop going behind politicians demanding to solve their problems. Those politicians of the North survive on the problems of those innocent people. That is why the problems faced by the people of the North are not solved.
These politicians are obsessed with obtaining Federal, Police and Land power. That is to serve their individual political purposes.
There is another aspect of this; if the problems of the people are solved, a part of praise goes to the central government. These politicians do not want the government to be praised by the people either. In order to make the central government unpopular, they try not to fulfil the needs of the people.
Leaving the burning problems of the people of the North unsolved can give rise to frustration among the youth. That frustration can burst out in various forms.
?: As you said the majority of the Northern people eke out a miserable living. The problems of the youth are not addressed. So, the people are not quite contented with the government. When people live in the midst of unsatisfactory conditions, it is easy for extremist groups to approach them. Is there any tendency of a terrorist group akin to the LTTE emerging again in the North?
A: The ordinary people of the North do not want to form another terrorist group. They have lived in miserable conditions for over 30 years and they are sure to oppose the formation of such a group. We should be wary of some of the people belonging to the Tamil Diaspora. If such a terrorist group is formed, some of them benefit in great deals. They can thrive when there are problems in the Northern area. They are already engaged in such type of activities. If there is a petty issue in the country regarding the Northern and Eastern Tamil people, this group magnify it and persuades the innocent people to protest. Those businessmen belonging to the Diaspora fund these protests. The innocent people in this country are supposed to suffer.
It is the members of the Tamil Diaspora that tries to change the mindset of the youth in the area. They constantly feed the minds of frustrated youth with hostile feelings towards the government.
The frustrated youth become an easy target for the ones who want to form terrorist groups again.
However, country's security has been beefed up and the intelligence service performs well. So, we do not need to be fearful of another terrorist group emerging.
?: How is the reception for the SLFP in the North?
A: SLFP is very popular in the North at the moment. Among the political figures in the country, the people of the North adore President Maithripala Sirisena. Their second preference goes to the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The other politicians fall after that. They perceive the President to be a fair and honourable person.
During Sirimavo Bandaranaike's regime, there was a huge attraction for the SLFP. The party was highly regarded by the people of the North. They still praise the Sirimavo Government and the SLFP.
It should be mentioned that the SLFP lost its popularity in the North. We could regain the popularity after the President of the SLFP became the President of the country. The reverence people have towards the President enables the SLFP to attract members to the party.
When we announced the Youth Conference to be held on 2 April, the youth of the North requested us to send invitations to 1000 youth from the area. Due to space problem we informed them that we can invite only 500 from the North as youth from all corners of the country is expected to attend the conference. That shows their interest in the SLFP.
?: Why don't you share some information on the Youth Conference to be held?
A: The SLFP Youth Conference is scheduled to be held on 2 April and 10,000 youth are expected to participate, in this conference.
We are going to present workable plans on how to solve problems of the youth. We need to put an end to the dissatisfaction of the youth to get their contribution to develop the country. Many initiatives brought forward regarding this have been unsuccessful.
Some of the initiatives such as the Youth Centre and youth clubs have been effective.
We are going to introduce a sustainable and empirical resolution to the problems faced by the youth of the country. Instead of physically protesting to urge the government to solve the problems of the youth, conversely, we are going to present the government with a workable proposal. In that, we propose how each problem involving youth can be solved, in a most practical manner. It is like a guide and the authorities cannot refuse to act upon them. It is expected that this will be immensely helpful for the authorities and the youth equally, in solving the hitherto unsolved issues of the youth, which need immediate attention.
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