I challenge Minister Samarasinghe to state my role – Palitha Range Bandara
"It is over a year since I was appointed State Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training, yet, I have not been assigned any responsibilities nor have I received an area to handle. Therefore, I challenge the Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training Mahinda Samarasinghe to openly tell me my responsibilities and duties at the ministry," said the State Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training, Palitha Range Bandara speaking to Ceylon Today.
Excerpts of the interview:
?: What are the new plans at the Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training?
A: The Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training continues its work in providing vocational education and training. Furthermore, there is nothing different or new happening in our ministry apart from this activity.
?: Currently how many institutes attached to the Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training are facilitating students?
A: We have 11 institutes. Currently 10 of them are providing skills development programmes.
Also there are programmes for students soon after they sit the G.C.E Ordinary Level examination.
We have institutes like the German Technical College, National Apprenticeship and Industrial Training Authority and the Vocational Training Authority for those interested in studying to better their future.
?: You recently spoke in Parliament of certain irregularities at the ministry, can you explain further regarding these?
A: There are certain irregularities in administration. Also there were issues when appointments were made to the institutes.
As the State Minister, I spoke about the management and the work environment of organizations attached to the ministry.
?: What action will be taken against these irregularities?
A: It is pointless to investigate this matter at the ministry as seniors of the ministry had recommended those people. Therefore, a clean investigation cannot be carried out regarding this issue.
?: What is your conflict with your line Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe?
A: He does not invite me for any special occasion organized by the ministry. I have been serving as the State Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training for over a year, but, still I do not have the authority to make decisions at the ministry or to be a part of it.
And I have never been informed about any decision the ministry has made about skills development or vocational training. This has been going on for the past year.
?: Is it because you too represent two political parties?
A: That cannot be a problem, as President Maithripala Sirisena represents the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe represents the United National Party (UNP). It is a National Government concept so we have to learn to work as a unity.
The UNP brought forward President Sirisena as the common candidate and worked for his victory during the presidential election.
It is not a problem of representing two parties, it is happening because of a politician's ego.
?: So, do you have any responsibility at the ministry?
A: No, I do not have any sort of responsibility at the ministry. Furthermore, I challenge Minister Samarasinghe to tell what responsibilities have been assigned to me. I even raised this problem in Parliament so that President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe can take a stand regarding this.
?: Do you participate in foreign trips organized through the Ministry?
A: Secretary to the ministry went to Japan for a purpose of the ministry. I have been serving as State Minister for one year but I never got to participate or was told to participate in a foreign trip representing the ministry or the government, not as yet.
The minister and his sons are misusing funds of our ministry. I got to know this through sources that money at the National School of Business Management (NSBM) was misused.
This money is from students who enrolled for courses and these are being misused.
I never got a chance to go on foreign trips but as State Minister I should be invited for certain programmes otherwise what is the purpose of having a State Minister for the ministry.
?: So, is there a lot of irregularities at your ministry?
A: Yes, now there are some directors of institutes who are misusing State vehicles. Also, we received information that there was an assault within the ministry; but nobody is taking any action on these issues.
When certain problems occur, the secretary and the Cabinet Minister should bring up the issue and take appropriate action but nothing like that is happening.
If I had the power to take action, within three months, I will take action on each problem within the ministry and ensure our ministry is more productive.
?: Do you feel like resigning from your post?
A: Why should I? The UNP elected President Sirisena as the leader of the country. It was our campaign that helped him to emerge victorious; however, he gave opportunities and ministerial portfolios to candidates who could not even win at the general election. They should be grateful and be productive, but, they are only concerned about gains for themselves that's all.
We asked for posts because we want to work for the people. We did not ask for posts to get commissions or give free tenders.
?: You are blaming other politicians, but even you were accused of misusing a State vehicle What do you have to say about that?
A: Which vehicle are you talking about, I have never misused any State vehicle. It is a false accusation.
?: Is the government really inefficient?
A: When Chief Minister of the Western Province Isuru Devapriya and I participated in a well-known television programme representing the government; we were supposed to talk regarding the budget. But the Western Province Chief Minister Devapriya openly attacked the 2017 budget. But he is representing the government.
Therefore, definitely there is inefficiency in the government.
The most powerful person in the government is President Sirisena. Other politicians are being good to President Sirisena to gain benefits and sling mud against the government.
?: Why is there a delay in investigations?
A: First of all people should understand that it takes time to investigate issues. Just because, some individuals are criticizing the government for not being efficient on investigations, we are not in a hurry.
There is a law and a procedure to be followed, therefore, we cannot go over the rules and regulations like certain governments did in the past.
?: Does the UNP have competition at the upcoming election as new parties are being formed?
A: Not at all. If you are referring to the party trying to bring Basil Rajapaksa to power there is no threat at all.
We won elections before when these two teams were together. When they are separate it will make us even stronger.
People have rejected the leadership of the Rajapaksas. They will never want them back in power and it will be hard for any party to be a threat to the UNP because we are already very powerful.
?: What are the UNP plans for a victory at the Local Government election?
A: We have not planned anything special, but we want to develop the economy and give more benefits to the people who elected us as the government.
We have distributed electricity to the people and we have begun to develop more than 7,000 schools around Sri Lanka.
Also in January 2017 we will begin the construction of the Central Expressway, the Puttalam Expressway and the Dambulla Expressway.
There will be more job opportunities for people and we will ensure that the people will have a minimum wage to afford goods and services.
We have increased the salary of government employees and also reduced the prices of certain goods in the Budget 2017.
We also reduced the prices of medicine; therefore, we do not have to do anything special, just because the Local Government Election is coming up, as we have done what we promised, by economically developing the country.
After our government was elected we have given freedom, now people can protest and openly criticize the government, we won't do anything but give them solutions.
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