If we join with the govt then the vote will tilt to the JVP or people will abstain from voting We have to form a new party!
BY SHAAHIDAH RIZA
An enormous anti government force has arisen which is spearheaded by the public who are disenchanted by the onslaught of corruption orchestrated by the incumbent government, said Joint Opposition member Mahindananda Aluthgamage. He went on to note that, as long as the SLFP is part of the government, the party will not be able to rally the support of the public for the forthcoming local government polls and that the people of the country have envisioned a different kind of leadership, which the JO would cater to.
There is a lot of speculation that the SLFP-JO and the SLFP-MS factions are joining forces. Can you elaborate further?
A. There are two committees; one from each side who are presently engaged in negotiations. It all depends on their deliberations.
We cannot say what is going to happen.
What will become of other JO members like the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna?
A. The committee will discuss in detail and then we have to put it to the party leaders and then get the approval from them before proceeding.
Last week SLFP Ministers Susil Premajayantha and John Seneviratne met with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to broker a possible deal to face the forthcoming elections together. Has former President Rajapaksa expressed his views to you all?
A. We do not want to give any comments pertaining to these discussions as the negotiations are still going on. We don't know what their requirement exactly is. We have our policies and they have their policies. They have to put all their suggestions on the table and see where it leads. Till the discussions have been finalised by the two committees we don't know where this would go.
It is two years since the MoU between the SLFP and the UNP took place. Have you all at least spoken to President Sirisena and asked him whether they will be going for an extension prior to polls?
A. If they are moving away from the UNP, there is no need for discussions, we are ready to work with them. If they are separating from the government, we don't want to have any discussions even tomorrow we can work with them. The biggest issue is that they are with the UNP government.
The SLFP was fragmented over the last two years. The decisions made by the hierarchy of the SLFP trickled down to its local government base. Even if the SLFPers in the hierarchy decide to unite how will you bring about some kind of cohesion for the Provincial Council and Local Government level?
A. Even if we come to a settlement it's a very big task for us to talk to our voters. When you go to villages and ask them, no one wants the SLFP Maithri faction and the SLFP Mahinda faction to settle their differences. What has happened is there is a major allegation levelled at this government. In fact since 2015 up to now there are so many allegations against this government. There is a negative trend building up against this government. There was a massive crowd that attended the Galle face rally.
They all are against the government. When the SLFP is in the government, the people view them as part of the government. At this juncture, there is an enormous anti government force which has been building up. There is a need for a new political platform. There is a need for a new Opposition. We are catering to that. Our issue is that when we join with the SLFP how are we going to attract our vote base as the people are not pleased that one part of SLFP joined the government. It needs a complete makeover. The people don't want to vote for UNP at all, they all hate UNP. But they have some sort of anger with the SLFP as they were with the government. So the public is against the government. If we are going to obtain these votes for the local government polls, we do have a problem with regard to having a joint venture with the SLFP. If they come out of the government definitely we can go ahead, and we can tell the public that they are not in the government.
Assuming that the SLFP Maithri faction extends the MoU with the UNP and extends the tenure of the unity government; will not the SLFP face a severe defeat at the local government elections as they are fragmented?
A. That is what the UNP thinks. The entire country wants a government change. Everybody is talking about change of government. They are not thinking of this as local government elections. There is a massive anti government force that has arisen and they want a leadership which is not UNP. So we have to cater to this and provide the leadership. If we go for elections while the SLFP is in the government, the people will not have confidence. So to get those votes, we have to come to some settlement.
They want to send this Ranil Wickremesinghe and the government home. What they promised to the public on 8 January is completely a different thing, and what they do is a completely a different thing. When Ranil Wickremesinghe came to power their main slogan was to stop corruption. They came to power on 8 January and on 14 February they robbed the government. The country suffered a loss of several billions. Following the working of the PCoI everything has been revealed. It has been proven by the commission that the bond scam is a government sponsored robbery. A leading party-UNP has organized the robbery, as the chairman, secretary and the deputy leader of the UNP was taken to the commission. It is sponsored by the government and planned by a major party. Everyone knows about this. On 8 January they said they are going to reduce the taxes and bring down the cost of living. Even in the last budget they increased the taxes. When they took over the government the government tax revenue was Rs 1,050 Bn. But they are anticipating revenue of Rs 2,034 Bn in 2018. Therefore for the last three years the Yahapalana tax is at Rs 938 Bn. These are direct and indirect taxes. A kg of rice is Rs 100. A coconut is Rs 120. A Packet of salt is Rs 90. The cost of living is increasing day by day. When they take the next rental from the IMF they have to find some sort of solution for the petroleum, electricity board and water board. Definitely they have to go for reforms. They have already signed with the IMF. We have the letter. Former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran signed the MoU with the IMF. They can't go for losses; they have to anyway increase the prices. So the cost of living will soar. In addition, they are also robbing the country.
They have brought a Constitution to Parliament and trying to amalgamate North and East. This is completely different to their mandate. Even though we have split, the people do not want to vote for UNP. But there are certain areas with the minority vote we might have a problem. The committee is negotiating. We are trying to come to an amicable settlement, if we can't do so, we can still contest separately and after we win we can get together and form the local government.
How? Will you all do your campaigning separately? Won't the people be confused?
A. We have already formed the JO, as opposed to the SLFP. Our problem is that the public is not with the government, so if we join with the government then that vote will go to the JVP or people will abstain from voting. We have to form a new party. If the SLFP is going to remain with the government, then the people don't have anyone to vote for.
You made a complaint to the CIABOC against the Prime Minister on corruption charges pertaining to the bond scam. What is the progress of that? You also made a similar complaint against the MPs who communicated with the COPE committee when the COPE inquiry was ongoing.
A. I am sad to say that the progress is very poor. The commission has not done anything, nor have they summoned anyone to give a statement. However, they witch-hunt the JO members who go the extra mile to find fault and therefore implicate them. For example, I am party to an ongoing Court case which has been initiated by the CIABOC, indicating that I had imported carom boards for the election and distributed to the party supporters. This was done by CWE. I had not spent a single penny on this.
They couldn't implicate me. Now they are planning to withdraw the case from the Courts and give it to FCID and try to establish a Court cases against me on charges of misuse of public property, so that they can imprison me for three months. This is yahapalanaya. Very recently the 'top man' of the CIABOC met with the AG and asked whether they could do that. My passport has been impounded. There is an ongoing high court case for Rs 1.4 Mn. However, the former Central Bank Governor's passport has not been impounded. The bond scam incurred more than Rs 150 Bn.
However you have been implicated for embezzling Rs 702 Mn from the money deposited for the Commonwealth Games which was aborted.
A. I was not involved in the Commonwealth Games. There was a separate committee for that. But, we have not taken a single penny from the government with regard to this allegation. Everything was sponsored, by the private sector. So there is no government money involved. When the commonwealth Games were being talked of then, Prime Minister was the Opposition Leader. He sent a letter to the organizers of the Commonwealth Games, indicating that if they come into power they are going to continue with the Games. So he has recommended this. Ajith Nivard Cabraal has given everything in detail, he was the committee chairman. I was not involved; I was more focused on the ministry work.
JO implied that the Gintota incident was to deflect attention from the Prime Minister who was to appear before the PCoI the following Day and that a UNP minister was involved. Do you share the same views?
A. Gintota incident involved a few UNP members. There was a huge allegation that the STF was withdrawn hastily after it was deployed. What exactly happened was that there was an incident in Galle, they deployed the STF and then they withdrew. Then the people started hammering each other. So who gave the instruction to withdraw the STF? Vajira Abeywardena's Pradeshiya Sabha member was leading this. So it is very clear that this is an organized riot. It is definitely government initiated. The papers reported that Abeywardena's PS member was present at the scene. Close to 65 shops and houses were burnt down. There has to be curfew and there has to be STF patrol for at least 4 to 5 days. When racial riots take place the allegations were always directed at former President and us. Now who is doing this? The public is having a fear that this is a government organized riot.
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