Minorities’ frustration a powder keg – VIDURA
BY SHAAHIDAH RIZA
Certain factions in the government are creating extremists and fuelling the fire of racial and religious discord, said Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MP Vidura Wickremanayake. In an interview with Ceylon Today he noted that the minorities of the country are frustrated by these actions and are being 'pushed against the wall.' The people of Sri Lanka do not have the right to practice their religion or culture as enshrined in the Constitution, Wickremanayake said, and added that this might lead to agitation in certain aspects of the community and give way to a more lethal and devastating war than what Sri Lanka experienced for three decades.
He went on to note that the government's plans for reconciliation had collapsed.
Excerpts of this interview follow:
?: According to reports USD 50M has been spent on the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA); however, the renovations do not reflect the money to be well spent. What is your observation in this regard?
A: The the tarmac is not sufficient for A380. They have to increase it by 5 or 6 metres.
?: Clearly a colossal amount has been spent on this. In your view what exactly has been changed for the better?
A: In any country, there should be an airport of international standards. There is no doubt about it. But we have paid a colossal amount of money, yet it was revealed that 5 or 6 metres were lacking in the tarmac. Again the entire thing has to be redone. The navigation lights have to be set up all over again. This is another cost incurred on Sri Lanka. They should have done proper assessment. I don't know what the technical staff and the engineers had recommended. These aspects must be taken into account prior to starting the renovations project and not after. This is exactly what the government have been doing in Sri Lanka.
They have been following the same pattern in finishing the works and then restart it all over again. Even when a minister's changed the projects also changes. It is clear that we do not have a national policy. Since the day that the BIA was commissioned, this is the first time that they are doing a renovation on the tarmac. They should have done it sometimes back.
We don't have a national policy therefore we haven't got our priorities in order. From time to time, whatever crops up that will be the priority. First we have to establish national policy and according to that we have to align our priorities. When this is set, we can buckle down to work. But none of the previous governments have been doing that at least for the past 30 years. They have started projects on an ad hoc basis, then the minister or the government changes, along with that the project is terminated or not followed through. We have spent wanton amounts of money and that money is down the drain. This is what has happened to Sri Lanka, billions and billions have been wasted.
?: You went to the Bribery Commission last month with regard to the Coal issue. What is the progress thus far?
A: There is no progress. We wrote to the Bribery Commission, and we have lodged 10 complaints. According to inside sources there have been no steps taken to address these complaints, in the direction of inquiry.
?: Last year Director General of the Bribery Commission stepped down because she was reportedly offended by the President's criticism of the CIABOC. Since then do you think the CIABOC is in the pocket of the government?
A: Of course. That is very obvious. According to what I heard the former Director General of the CIABOC was to take up a case against a Cabinet Minister, which resulted in the ultimate resignation.
?: What is the latest with regard to Constitutional Reform?
A: There should definitely be social, political, environmental, and economic reforms in this country. But nothing has happened. No reforms as yet. But other forms have taken place under the pretext of good governance to ruin the country. Most of what they have been doing is daylight robbery.
?: But there is some development with regard to the bonds scam inquiries by a Presidential Commission. Don't you think so?
A: The deadline for the report has been extended once more. Let's leave the Presidential Commission aside for a moment.
Everybody agrees that this bond scam is a criminal offence. This was not a theft of Rs 10mn or 100mn. It was more than Rs 10mn, which will tantamount to almost Rs 50 to 60mn in the future. These are public funds. What about the person who committed this alleged crime? He is scot free. Even if a single cent was taken from the public funds illegally, those responsible must be severely punished. That is my stand. If you compare the accused with regard to the bond scam with others who were accused of alleged monetary crimes, whose theft is the most gravest of them all? For example, Basil Rajapaksa had charges of monetary crimes filed against him with regard to galvanized pipes. However, that has been given over to the relevant local government bodies. Another case was filed about the almanac, which was also distributed amongst the Samurdhi members. For the sake of argument let's assume that Rajapaksa did in fact commit a criminal offence. Between him and Central Bank Governor, which crime has the bigger impact on the economy of Sri Lanka? Moreover, not a single substantial venture came in to the country. Only the Volkswagen Company, which in itself had issues, and is now just a 'Hoax-Wagon'. The same was case with rubber and tyre factory in Horana. For some reason, it has been terminated. Apparently the President has instructed that the project should be discontinued. But I am not sure whether it is in progress or not. This is the current state of affairs. The reason for such a haphazard mechanism to prevail is that there is no credibility with the Central Government. Credibility is the foremost requirement for investors to come to Sri Lanka with their investments. There is no monetary credibility here. Just imagine, the Governor of the Central Bank is answerable directly to the collapse of the economy. Even today, he has not appeared in any Court, or Police station. He has neither been called for an inquiry, nor indicted. No cases have been filed against him. Where is the good governance?
?: Talking of the Central Bank Governor, there now is a new paper which is believed to have been launched & is being run by his son-in-law who is allegedly involved in this bond debacle. What is your view on this venture?
A: The money to fund this paper is likely by the fruits of the bond scam. It will also fund the next presidential campaign of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Right now there is only one newspaper in the market, according to the grapevine there are about two or three TV stations and radio stations that are being bought by them. Three or four more newspapers, in Sinhala, English or Tamil, will also appear in the market. By starting a newspaper in such despicable conditions, do you think the government would establish free media? Free media is an essential component of a healthy democracy. They will create media moguls who will direct, not only the mentality of the people, but also manoeuvre where they think the country should be heading. The end result will be disastrous to Sri Lanka. This will boomerang on democracy.
?: According to reports, State Minister Dilan Perera has explained about the President and the reason as to why they were holding a May Day rally is: "Because he has forgotten the powers of the Presidency, President Sirisena is not utilizing his powers. Therefore, we have planned to remind President Sirisena of his present position as the President by holding a May Day Rally". Has the President forgotten that he is in fact, the President?
A: Why should others have to remind him that he is the Executive President? I don't know whether he is in deep slumber or something similar. It is really hilarious that the President of a country has to be reminded that he is the President. We know that no one is making the right kind of decisions for the country and there is no one to take responsibility for the decisions that have already been taken. This is a very irresponsible State mechanism.
?: Essentially are you saying that the President does not have a backbone to stand up for what is right, be it the party or the country?
A: I believe that was the opinion of Dilan Perera. We respect his views. A caterpillar has more than 100 legs, if its head is decapitated from its body, the body with its numerous legs will wander without proper direction or guidance. This is exactly what has happened to the country in all aspects. One of the biggest universities in the country is the Peradeniya University. It has now been closed down. They couldn't contain the flu. Also dengue has been taking a heavy toll on the people, more than it was last year. The last three months have been the worst, where it has surpassed the number of cases as that of last year. Nobody takes the responsibility and those who wield power do not care about the country or its people. It is time for people to get together and to have a new political agenda, for this country.
?: There will be a Joint Opposition May Day rally and a SLFP one as well. At your parliamentary speech last Friday you said that you care for your party. Taking all of these aspects into account, how will you make a decision that would further develop your party?
A: I stand by SLFP principles and I am committed to them. When you consider the SLFP principles there is no way that we can have partnership with the UNP. We are poles apart. During the last general elections we were asked by the people to be the opposition. Even now we are in the opposition, but the balance of the party is with the government in connivance with the UNP, the government's policy is to cripple the economy and also to create a hiatus in the political arena. There are a lot of social problems on the rise. The crime rate and drug peddling has increased. The prisoners who are under Police custody are being shot in broad daylight. There is a severe breakdown of the law. Perhaps certain individuals will say that this also happened during Mahinda Rajapaksa's time. That is not relevant. The issue is that this government came to power, and asked the people to give their mandate under the banner of good governance. They promised to restore law, order and usher peace. There is no peace in this country, but the country is in pieces. There is a cloud of uncertainty with regard to racial and religious harmony. According to the Northern Provincial Council authorities, there cannot be Buddhist temples in the North. In the Eastern Province and certain other areas, the lands where the temples are situated are being encroached by the others. The President himself said that he will have the civil defence force in the temples. There is something brooding in this country which may usher something more lethal than 30-year insurgency which we experienced.
?: Are you saying that we are in for a bigger and more devastating war? What is the reason?
A: Sections of the government are creating extremists. It's fuelling the fire. That is what I feel. The minorities are frustrated and pushed against the wall. So what will the alternative be? There will be some Sinhalese people, Tamil and Muslim people who will be agitated. What happens to all these coexistence, and reconciliation? It is all fancy words. Just like good governance. Under this good governance, people can't exercise their religious rights; people cannot express their cultural identity. So what is the use of this government? Not only Buddhist, everybody should have the right to practice their faith and culture. That is enshrined in our Constitution. If we are not permitted to do that, where is the good governance?
?: Just to be clear, would you be going for the SLFP May Day rally or the JO May Day Rally?
A: I have already committed myself to the JO May Day rally.
Expect crossovers in droves when elections are announced We want to take an anti-UNP struggle forward
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