If Bond scammers are not prosecuted…President will lose his credibility –Bandula Gunawardena
BY ANURADHA HERATH
JO MP Bandula Gunawardena said in an interview with Ceylon Today that the President would lose his credibility if those who are responsible for the Central Bank Bond scam are not brought to justice.
Following are some excerpts:
Will the LG election be held with the current situation?
A: Joint Opposition (JO) is the political organization that fought for a long time for the holding of the Local Government election that would enable expressing the anti-government public opinion. When a Bill was brought to postpone the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council election the United National Party (UNP), Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) raised their hands to postpone the elections. We were the only ones who opposed it. We have desire to postpone the elections, as those who aspire to have healthy democracy.
However, the Joint Opposition did not engage in a significant struggle for holding the General Election that should have been held in March 2015?
A: You need not engage in a struggle. Democracy is not fighting for elections alone. It is the JO that has fought continuously, at times when all the democratic rights were violated. That is why MPs of the JO have gone to the extent of getting imprisoned. That is why they have been remanded without bail. It is because they engaged in such significant struggles that such situations arose.
Going back, during the last election even though both factions got together; you still polled less votes than the UNP. Now with the division, wouldn't you get even lesser votes?
A: We are a group taking one unwavering stand. That is the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA). President Mahinda Rajapaksa contested the Presidential Election as the Betel Leaf candidate. Unfortunately, he lost the Presidential Election.
Thereafter, it was he, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who gave leadership to our Parliamentary Group.
Then, you say you were elected to Parliament with Mahinda Rajapaksa policies, is that right?
A: Definitely, yes. When we secured 96 seats Maithripala Sirisena who holds Sri Lanka Freedom Party leadership said the people have not given the mandate for any single party to form a Government and therefore to coalesce with the UNP with our Ministerial posts intact. So, all 54 of us could have taken Ministerial posts if we wanted.
Well, why did you decline then?
A: We said it was not to do something like that, that the people voted for us and therefore to allow us to sit in the Opposition. So, he said those who like, can perform their role in the Opposition and others can sit in the Government benches. That was how we performed our role continuously. Our members don't like to contest under the Betel Leaf symbol because we don't have the UPFA Chairmanship, because of the lessons the SLFP taught us at the last general election and because we were not consulted on the appointment of National List MPs. It is as an alternative to that it has been decided to contest under a common symbol.
During the whole of the past period you made grave allegations against the Government. Now, are you not going to join that same section in the Government?
A: No. We will not join them. What we tell them is to leave the Government led by the UNP and come on the stand taken at the last Presidential Election and General Election. It is not the other way about. We are not doing what you imply.
As you were saying earlier are you putting the condition that either Mahinda Rajapaksa should be made Prime Minister or that you should quit the SLFP and come, in a roundabout way?
A: No. This is not a question of positions. The whole country knows that the Government came to this agreement for two years. A part of the SLFP joined the Government for that. By the time of this election, the two years are over. It is a very reasonable request, to ask them to re-join us when this agreement ends.
Will they join you?
A: I don't know. It is the election that will decide whether to leave the UNP led Government, remain with the Bond scammers or take the side of those opposed to ruling the country with UNP policies.
Do you think you could win if they don't join you and go on the same journey?
A: Yes. That's public opinion. The people who suffered during the three years 2015, 2016 and 2017 facing every kind of hardship, getting remanded without bail, getting imprisoned, engaging in demonstrations and picketing and getting hospitalised as a result will have to face more severe experiences under this police State concept. All the people can't be rounded up and put in prison.We are not given the time in Parliament to speak about the 5.7 million people who voted for us at the Presidential Election, having the majority in Parliament, and the 4.7 million people who voted for us at Parliamentary Election.
There is a question that has to be asked in relation to what you said. The Government has taken a decision to set up three High Courts. How do you see it?
A: Now the maximum is being done under the Police State concept. Even the President acknowledges that the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) is illegal. The Prime Minister of the country finalizing investigations, prosecuting and imprisoning those who are against him, those whom he doesn't like and those whom he doesn't tolerate is against the Constitution. So, the opinion of the Supreme Court has been sought, as to whether the FCID is illegal.
If you are to join up with the SLFP, wouldn't, its benefit even indirectly be given to the UNP?
A: The UNP has a tremendous benefit now. Who helped the UNP to implement this wile plan? Was it us?
Is not this benefit due to the division?
A: No. Now, the benefit is immense. They are all together except us.
UNP says it does not matter who does or does not join them, they can clearly win.
A: They have the right to say that. Even the JVP sometimes says that they will form a Government. Politicians too have a right to dream.
Committees were appointed by both sides for discussions relating to elections. Does it show that there are certain agreements between the two parties?
A: No. What the SLFP says is that although we are treated as enemies by them we of the SLFP including President Mahinda Rajapaksa don't treat them as our enemies. Therefore, when a written invitation is extended it is part of politics to agree to discussions. Sometimes, we make a written request and go to meet the President.
However, a story is spreading that the JO and the SLFP are upto a double game, is that so?
A: No games. Three have been appointed to the committee from our side. Three have been appointed from the SLFP. What is the game in this? Parties can make accusations. Anagarika Dharmapala was accused of being a thief, fraudster and a corrupt man as long as he lived. They tried to banish him.
You were a responsible Minister in the UNP, within the open economy set up. The charge against you is that you change policies as you change parties?
A: I have never changed parties alone. Not in my life. When there is a need to make a political change in the country, at that time, if it is decided by various forces that this Government should be formed or that. When a Government should be broken I have been a party to such decisions. I have not acted according to a personal plan.
Although you are an economics specialist why was the portfolio you got in the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration not commensurate?
A: I asked for a Ministry with a challenge. When there was a war at that time and a world food, petroleum and financial crisis I asked for the Ministry of Marketing Development and Cooperatives. We managed the economy at a time when it had totally collapsed. I was nicknamed plus-minus.
Now haven't the two main parties proved that they have failed to develop the economy?
A: I don't accept that. That is what the JVP says. Under every Government, relative to what prevailed at the time of gaining of freedom in 1948, there has been economic, social, political and cultural progress.
You have said before this, that you will unconditionally support the President in proceedings relating to the Treasury Bond Scam?
A: Yes. I very clearly did so. The UNP cannot escape this accusation although it makes various efforts. Not only will they be punished for this but the enormous amount defrauded must be given back to the public.
Also, a charge is being made against former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake that the Exchange Control Act has been amended to wriggle out of his cases. Where was the JO, when this was passed?
A: There is no Opposition in the country. The tame Opposition and the deal Opposition are asleep and it was only me who filed a case against this Act in the Supreme Court. The Court ordered to amend certain Sections.
Can MP Ravi Karunanayake go free in the cases?
A: No. He cannot escape like that. The Supreme Court has been very clear in its decision.
However, the JVP voted against this?
A: When there is a majority it would be passed even if they voted standing on their heads. No one went to Courts, did they?
JO raised a voice against, the media institution founded by Perpetual Treasuries, saying they would not give any news to them, and that they would even be against Government placing advertisements with them. Was this done to get attention?
A: I raised a question in Parliament. On 9 November Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera issued a Gazette Notification that rice, maize and fruits have been declared as articles coming under Excise Duty, for the distilling of alcohol.
But we have a big shortage of rice and import it. Under such circumstances the Government issues Gazette Notifications saying that beer can be brewed with rice to benefit the breweries belonging to Arjun Aloysius.
Also the former Finance Minister has given approval to set up a huge distillery at Kalkudah. We do not know whether President Maithripala Sirisena, the son of a farmer, knows that rice has been gazetted as a raw material to manufacture beer.
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