Mahinda Rajapaksa still an SLFPer - Mahinda Samarasinghe
By Rasika Hemamali
Minister of Ports and Shipping Mahinda Samarasinghe says a majority those in the Joint Opposition, who support the 'Lotus Bud' have accusations of corruption against them.
How is the SLFP preparing for the upcoming Local Government Elections?
A: We are contesting under the 'Betel Leaf' of the United People's Freedom Alliance in certain areas and under the Hand symbol of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in others. There is no doubt at all that we will achieve an excellent victory. The people have understood by now, that only we were able to submit a clean list of candidates. We have put in a lot of effort to nominate individuals who are in favour of good governance and who are against corruption and terror.
Even then you have granted nominations to the wife of a former member, who had celebrated his raping of 100 women and also has provided a post as an organizer to the member who made a teacher kneel in Nawagaththegama. While there are several such appointments, can you talk about a clean administration?
A: Overall we have tried to bring in new faces. About 90% to 95% are new faces. The situation has compelled us to grant only few nominations to the former Pradeshiya Sabha Members of the UPFA, this time. We have rejected the others. For example, a case has been filed against the former Chairman of the Walallavita Pradeshiya Sabha in the Kalutara District by the Bribery Commission. He had been arrested by the Bribery Commission officers, when he was counting the bribe money. We had no intention whatsoever of giving such a person a chance. Today he is the lead candidate for the 'Lotus Bud' in the Walallavita Pradeshiya Sabha. We can point out more and more such examples. We have granted nominations to women as well. All of them have come forward to contest in order to establish a clean administration in the Pradeshiya Sabhas and Municipal Councils which they represent.
A considerable number of persons who had voted for the common candidate on 8 January 2015 expected that the thieves and corrupt people will be punished. However, nothing has happened. Therefore, their expectations and trust have collapsed. Aren't you scared to face the people again under the same leadership?
A: I do not know when the investigations related to the fraud and corruption of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government will be completed. However, most of those seated in the opposition who support the 'Lotus Bud' have accusations against them. Even those investigations have commenced. The CID and the Bribery Commission have made arrangements to take some of them to Court too. We cannot say when those cases will be completed. I, of course say that even now it is too late. However, the relevant officials say that these things cannot be inquired into in a hurry. There are two and half years more for the General Election.
It is clear that before that time, these things must be sorted out and completed. Further, we can say very clearly that the present government has acted transparently and with accountability regarding transactions. The Treasury Bond Commission, established by the President, is a good example. As a result of that, even a powerful minister had to resign from his post. The Chairman, the secretary and the two powerful Ministers of the UNP had to give statements to the Bond Commission. The Prime Minister went voluntarily to give statements. That incident itself is enough to prove that the behaviour of our Government is not connected to any political revenge and also if a fraud has occurred we will act upon it without bias until we find out the real truth. No one has ever acted with such accountability in our history. I will mention a very good example for that. When the Prime Minister went to the Bond Commission, the President did not prevent him from going. The Prime Minister did not expect any favouritism from the President. The former President said that if he was the President he would not have allowed the Prime Minister to go to the Commission. Here is the difference.
Some nomination papers of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Podujana Peramuna and a few of those from the SLFP were rejected. Won't these rejections be an obstruction to the election results?
A: You say it is Mahinda Rajapaksa's Podujana Peramuna. You cannot say that.
Why is that?
A: Mahinda Rajapaksa is an Advisor to the SLFP even now. His photograph has been still displayed at our Party Headquarters. It is wrong to put the label of the 'Lotus Bud' on him just yet. There is not enough evidence to put the label of the 'Lotus Bud' on Mahinda Rajapaksa, still. He always says that he is someone who loves the SLFP. Not only him, even if other Members of Parliament or Members of Provincial Councils get onto the Podujana Party election stages, we will throw them out of the Party. Whatever the statements made by various people prior to the Elections are, every member of the SLFP should remain with the SLFP, anyhow. They cannot join another party and support it.
Hasn't Minister Dilan Perera said that, wherever the SLFP's nominations have been rejected, the people have to vote for the 'Lotus Bud'?
A: That, you have to ask him. However, no such decision has been taken by the Party. It must have been his own opinion that he voiced.
Chief Minister Isura Devapriya has said that using Mahinda Rajapaksa's photograph in the SLFP's propaganda is not a problem?
A: There is no problem in that. He is an Advisor to our Party. He is a former leader of our Party. Only the SLFP can use Mahinda Rajapaksa's photo. It is being used even today. We have a right to use it even in the future. We hope that when the President holds meetings at district level, Mahinda Rajapaksa too will come and sit there on the same stage. Our stage is open to him always. However, if he is supporting another Party, at this Election, then we will have to take disciplinary action against him.
It was against Mahinda Rajapaksa that, Maithripala Sirisena, as the Common Candidate, came forward in 2015 from the Opposition. Then how could Mahinda sit on the same stage with Maithripala Sirisena?
A: In the year 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena signed his Manifesto as the General Secretary of the SLFP. He never left the SLFP. Within five days after he was elected to the post of President he took over duties as the leader of the Party. He accepted that post on a request made by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mahinda Rajapaksa represents Parliament as an Advisor to the Party as well as a member of the SLFP.
They are finding fault against the agreement on the Hambantota Port. What do you have to say about that as the Minister of Ports and Shipping?
A: There is no problem at all with that. It has been handed over to, two Sri Lankan companies. From the port, during the first quarter, we received close to US$ 300 million and the cheque was accepted by the Prime Minister, at the point of receiving he said that it was by far the largest direct foreign investment which Sri Lanka has received within a period of 40 years. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority and the China Merchant Port Holdings Company together will hold a discussion and take a decision on how to invest that money within the Port. The total investment expected is US$ 1.12 Billion. By June 9th, this will materialize. The two companies got together and decided to bring the Hambantota Port into operation by investing US$ 168 million. It is expected to invest a sum of US$ 600 million within the next 5 years. This is a massive investment. It can be considered as the most massive investment in the history of Sri Lanka.
Can you guarantee, as things are, there will be no issues regarding the ownership of lands?
A: No one needs to get excited about this procedure. We have not sold any lands, similar to the Port City or Shangri-La. The previous Government had sold them off as free-hold land. But this has been only leased out for 99 years. The area of the Port City which was sold off earlier as a free-hold land has been turned into a 99-year lease. The area which had been sold to the Shangri-La Hotel cannot be turned back thus. Since the Army was asked to move out very quickly they are now working from 15 different buildings. A sum of Rs 5,000 million is being spent because of this.
Are not the people worried and disgusted over these leases?
A: I do not think so. If there is any negative opinion among the people regarding the Hambantota Port or any disgust, the first to protest will be the employees connected to those entities but out of over 11,000 employees not one single employee took to the streets in objection. Even today they talk good about it. They know that if this wasn't done, it would have badly harmed their job security. In a democratic country there are various opinions and various political agendas. Each cannot be stopped.
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