Expect crossovers in droves when elections are announced We want to take an anti-UNP struggle forward
By Shaahidah Riza
Former Deputy Minister for Postal Services and Muslim Affairs Duleep Wijesekera noted that the concept unity government is foreign to the grassroots level politics as the animosity between the two major parties, United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is still rife. As a result the political foundation of the national government is unstable, although the senior politicians in the upper rung are complacent in their notion of a unity government.
Excerpts of this interview are listed below:
Why did you leave the Government?
A: When the incumbent Government came in to power in January 2015, I was given an invitation to be part of the 100 day government. However I didn't accept it at that time. Following the general elections in the same year, President Sirisena requested all UPFA members who entered Parliament to either join with the government or remain in the Opposition.
He also added that Ministerial portfolios would be given to those who join, and that the government will be run by the two main parties in the country. He also gave the freedom for the other members to remain unaffiliated with the government within the UPFA. At that time there were eight MPs from the Gampaha District. Amongst them, the senior most MPs to enter Parliament the 3rd time was Lasantha Alagiyawanna, and the other was me.
Sudarshini Fernandopulle entered Parliament for the second time. There rest of the MPs were first timers. Therefore due to our seniority, the three of us were given portfolios. The two main parties had been ruling the country in the past; however each government had its shortcomings. So we thought that when both the main parties merge, the shortcomings would be less, and the service rendered to the country would be substantial. I held my portfolio for two years and two months. During that time, when I look at the performance of the government and certain misdemeanours done by the government, I was concerned. In fact the decision to leave the government was not a spontaneous one.
On 3 January, this year, I spoke to President Sirisena and voiced my concerns. Even though the politicians in the upper rung have joined together and are working towards a Yahapalana goal, those in the grassroots politics still hold animosity towards the other party. Yahapalana had not reached them, as a result there are a myriad of problems in taking the Yahapalana journey forward when those in the village level are not on board. I was told to remain in the ministry for two years, the moment the two years lapsed, I decided to change course. When you look at the transgressions of this government, I cannot work in the same government with a clear conscience.
On Monday, the Mahanayakes of the three sects, Sangha Council, intellectuals and other religious leaders who expressed caution about the Constitution were subjected to a discussion with the government. It is clear that the ministers of this government are being stubborn with regard to the Constitution. I opposed that, and therefore stepped away from my deputy ministerial designation.
There is some concerns about the legality in the manner in which you shifted affiliations. When the Speaker is not in Parliament any resignations made then will not be valid. Were you not aware of this?
A: Yes, I am aware that there are many issues pertaining to the legality of my transfer of affiliations. Last Friday I informed the Speaker that I want to defect from the government, at which point he advised me that it cannot be done when the Mace is not in Parliament. As my intention to defect was clear, I was removed from my deputy ministerial designation. I have not experienced any other problems pertaining to this. However, the public in my constituency have received this news well, and they are supporting me in my decision to defect, even those in the Dompe Electorate.
There were claims that you would seek your father's forgiveness for joining with the government. Is that so?
A: My political career commenced in the Dompe Electorate when my father commenced his political career in 1954.
He worked with Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike. In 1980 the latter lost his civil rights at which point my father became the organizer for Dompe. The late 1980s was when the UNP was at the height of power. My father won Dompe Electorate with majority votes, but did not enter Parliament. In 1985 he offered the Dompe Electorate to Anura Bandaranaike. The 1980s terror ruled. My father solicited the aid of a lawyer and managed to rescue many youths who were abducted or arrested. The government suspected him of aiding the JVP. Where upon the UNP Government orchestrated my father's killing, having him shot, when he was at home. In 1991 my mother entered politics at the provincial level. She continued for the next 7 years.
I became a Provincial Council member in 1991 and went on to be a PC member. Ultimately, I entered Parliament in 2007. In Gampaha District there were a lot of political defections and deaths. When Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was killed, I entered Parliament.
My seeking my father's forgiveness is a personal matter but it was twisted by the media. I joined the government on the President's invitation with the intention of doing greater good for the country by joining with one of the main ruling parties. I decided to forgo the past, in doing so. However, this government is not focused on serving the people that elected it to power. We are here to address the issues faced by the people. The government is trying to bring in a federal system indirectly, when they don't have the mandate to bring in a new Constitution.
There were reports that you personally met with President Sirisena recently to talk about your defection.
A: Yes, this happened last month. There was a workshop in Galle, which the President also attended. This also saw the attendance of several SLFP Ministers, Deputy Ministers and MPs. The President had a personal audience with each and every member which lasted to about 10 to 15 minutes. However he spoke to me for a long time, for over 25 minutes. I explained all my concerns to him, including the wayward course the government was running and how we should bring the government back on track. I also explained about our history with the Dompe Electorate and that I am going to reconsider my position within the government.
There have been claims that the government faction of the SLFP and the JO faction of the SLFP would consolidate to contest the forthcoming elections, is it so?
A: It will be very good if that happens. We want the same. We want to take an anti UNP struggle forward.
You also took part in a JO protest. Is there any use in these protests?
A: Yes, there are lot of benefits. The public, especially those from the Dompe Electorate were anticipating my defection and were delighted when I did so.
There were certain irregularities in the Postal Ministry with regard to EPF, and ETF of the workers in the postal sector. Can you enlighten us further on that?
A: The Postal Department is the oldest and largest department which has 25,000 workers. These workers had several issues. Most of these issues were sorted by the Public Service Commissions. The incumbent Postal Minister and secretary to the ministry have done the needful to address these concerns of the workers. As far as I am concerned, whatever has to be done by the ministry has been done to take care of their problems. There is a delay in other departments resolving the issues pertaining to the workers problems.
Presently you have concerns with the government; however did you also experience problems at your ministry?
A: As the ministry which oversees the Postal Department, we had requested funds for several projects; however we hardly ever got those funds. As a promise made by the incumbent government, the salaries of the government workers was increased by Rs 10,000.
We experienced a lot of problems in increasing the salary of 25,000 workers by Rs 10,000. Other issues like handling parcels and introducing sophistication to the sector has been raised and handled by the Postmaster General, Postal Department, and Trade Unions which amount to at least 30 unions. We tried our hardest to work in consolidation with all of them. Of course, there were many shortcomings.
Will there be any defections you know of, from the SLFPers of the government faction?
A: Yes, there are many in waiting.
Have they spoken about it? Do they have the same concerns as you?
A: Yes, they harbour similar concerns. Some of them have spoken about it; some have not done so yet. But they intend to defect soon. They will defect in large numbers when the forthcoming elections are announced.
Did you meet the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa yet? What are your future plans within JO?
A: Not yet, I hope to do so, when he returns. My political birth place is the Dompe Electorate. At present I represent the Biyagama. I want to do my political campaigning in Dompe.
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