Zero support for Justice Minister within UNP – Ajith P. Perera

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By 2017-08-16

By Shaahidah Riza

Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Ajith P. Perera, said the United National Party (UNP) will come to a decision about Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe over his reluctance to establish a corruption court. Perera, a senior UNPer, had been sparring with fellow UNPer Rajapakshe on establishing a corruption court, when the matter reached fever pitch last week leading to UNP backbenchers pushing for a no-confidence motion against Rajapakshe. In an interview with Ceylon Today, Perera claimed that Rajapakshe was satisfied with the status quo.

Excerpts follow:

?. What is the latest on the no-confidence motion against Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe?

A. The backbenchers have not yet decided whether they are going ahead with it or not. They are waiting for the Working Committee and the parliamentary group meeting to take place on 17 August.

?. What is the Prime Minister's response to the no-confidence motion?

A. We don't know what exactly his view is, but we will have to take a decision on Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. The delay in the judicial process is a serious issue. The Prime Minister is extremely concerned about that. We had some discussions in the Working Committee and the parliamentary group meetings, but unfortunately the Justice Minister didn't respond in a positive way.

?. The Justice Minister's reasoning is that with the power vested in him, there is only a very little he could do to expedite this.

A. We don't believe that. We don't want to interfere with the activities of the Attorney General's Department. We are not talking about interfering with the judicial process either. All we want is to have an efficient process. There is more than one way to execute this. Unfortunately, the Justice Minister is satisfied with the status quo. When you are satisfied with the status quo, you won't do anything progressive.

?. Wouldn't this give rise to division within the party?

A. There won't be any division. No one in the UNP is supporting the Justice Minister. There is zero support for him.

?. What would the corruption court entail?

A. It has a few elements. The first is establishing a special High Court; an anti-corruption High Court within the existing High Court system. Then you don't need to amend the existing law. It's an administrative action. You can have two or three High Courts and within that system you can have additional facilities. It's only about administration and facilitating these, it's not about interfering with the AG's Department. The other is to have continuous trials. In fact, having continuous trials is a rule according to the Criminal Procedure Code. Unfortunately, due to various practical reasons and lack of facilities, we are not following that rule. Having continuous trials is not a backward decision, it is a positive decision and it will be within the ambit of the law. That will ensure a fair trial for all.

?. How soon will this be established?

A. All depends on the Minister of Justice. Basically, it is his duty. In fact, the AG's Department is under the Minister of Justice. During President Rajapaksa's time it was under the President. He interfered with the AG's Department and he controlled it. We don't want to interfere with the AG's Department but we want to facilitate the AG's Department to accelerate these cases.

?: There is speculation that the UNP is pushing for a corruption Court because a majority of Joint Opposition members pushed for a no-confidence motion against former Foreign Minister and lobbied for his resignation. They allege that the corruption Court is to exact revenge on JO. Is there any truth in this?

A. It's nothing to do with former Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake's resignation. The resignation was basically due to pressure from within the party and not from the outside. It is a sign of good governance that will allow government institutions to conduct their investigations in an unbiased manner. His resignation will create a better environment for a fair investigation. This struggle against the delay of laws is a continuing process. I had to fight with the Justice Minister for the last one and a half years on these issues within the party and within the Working Committee, and the parliamentary group. Unfortunately, the Justice Minister ignored because he is satisfied with the status quo, which is the problem. I was pushing for a corruption Court long before Karunanayake's resignation. This has got nothing to do with his resignation. I am a man of principles; this is a very important issue for my party as well as for me. I am very serious about it, which is why I am continuously fighting for this and leading the struggle. I know that almost junior MPs of the party, state ministers and deputy ministers, including a few Cabinet ministers are all supporting me. I am on my way to achieve this target.

?. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that if a no-confidence motion against Minister Rajapakshe is taken up by the government, he will support Rajapakshe. Your comment?

A. That is not a surprise at all. Delaying of the laws will support the corrupt. I know that the former President's family members, including his wife, children and brothers are under investigation. Basil Rajapaksa and Namal Rajapaksa were served with indictments.

The person who is having pending cases in the Courts, and those who have close ties to the accused are the ones who want these laws delayed. Not just Mahinda Rajapaksa, all other accused like Basil Rajapaksa, Gammanpila, Prasanna Ranatunga, and almost all the Joint Opposition members, who are facing investigations are supporting Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. That shows the real situation, that shows the strength of our argument.

?. Are you suggesting that Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is working according to the Joint Opposition's bidding?

A. It will be interesting to see what he would do next. I have nothing personal against him. I consider him to be a very senior lawyer and he is a very good friend of mine. But, I consider the welfare of the country first; we cannot face the people, especially my fellow lawyers who supported the Yahapalana process. They are all complaining and challenging us very seriously, there is no other option than expedite these laws. People need fair trials and conviction after fair trials. That is what we are fighting for, and that is what we want to achieve.

?. When one member of the Cabinet goes against the policies of the government, what happens to the collective responsibility of the Cabinet?

A. It is a tradition to adhere to the collective responsibility principle. I think it's very simple. When you agree within the Cabinet, you can't criticize the decision outside. If you do not agree with that decision then you have to resign. Gamini Jayasuriya on 13 A, opposed the Cabinet decision and resigned. Ronnie de Mel did the same.

?. Sri Lanka is considerably reliant on thermal energy. How does the financing of thermal energy work? There has been speculation that the CEB has been purchasing thermal energy from the private sector.

A. It is our policy to buy power from Independent Power Producers (IPP). If there is a correct, competitive, transparent, tender process, power can be obtained at the lowest rate. It's all about having a competitive process. There is no question of buying power from the private sector. We not only buy thermal power, even renewable energy such as wind and solar we will buy from the private sector. The private sector will have a very serious role and they will invest in power generation, and the CEB will buy their power at a competitive price. It's all about competition. That is the most important principle; we will go through a competitive process. I know that there are so many issues. But, we had our first competitive tender for wind a year ago, which was very successful. Then we had our first competitive tender for solar, which was again successful. The prices were reduced by almost 40%. Now we are in the process of buying 300 mega watt of LNG. We had a very bad experience about this tender. It wasn't a problem on our end, it was relating to the tender evaluation process and bidders' mistake. We will rectify that situation and we will create a better, fair and competitive environment on power purchasing.

?. We have a colossal garbage crisis. There are so many countries in the Asian region that are converting garbage into energy. Why is Sri Lanka lagging in this regard?

A. We have already signed four agreements with Waste to Energy producers. We were able to start this project a few weeks ago; I think we are going in the right direction following the disastrous situation we experienced. We will definitely be able to produce power from garbage in one and a half years.

?. Will Sri Lanka explore the option of nuclear energy?

A. It is in our long-term generation plan, but it won't take place in the near future. We are looking into that option as well. As of today it's expensive, and it is very difficult for us to find a correct place. I think in the next few years, with safer technologies it will be easier to manage. Nuclear energy will have a very good opportunity in our power system. As of today, we have one nuclear power plant in our long-term generation plan as an optional plant, it is not yet a mandatory aspect. But we are considering and we are doing our studies. Nuclear renewable energy will have a very good future in Sri Lanka.

?. Last year, there was an indication that Sri Lanka was exploring sea wave energy. Will Sri Lanka go ahead with that?

A. Actually, we have a lot of opportunities for sea wave energy. As of today it's expensive. We will encourage wave energy generators and we will support any research. We can see a very good future in wave energy too.

?. The Ministry of Transport joined with the Ministry of Power and Energy to initiate the electrification of the railway. What is the current situation relating to that?

A. Actually, the ADB is supporting us with that. A Rs 600 million loan is in the process of being approved. We have started our studies.

We have experienced some issues with the system, especially with regard to converting the existing system into electricity. Anyway, we are very serious about this, the ADB is ready to fund us, I think that will take some time to materialize.

It seems like the Ministry of Transport does not consider it a priority project.

But for me it is a very important project, in fact I did some work relating to that. Unfortunately, it is not within my power to expedite it.

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