Rogues in all Govts should be punished- Akila Viraj Kariyawasam
By Ranjith Samarakoon
Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam says that the UNP could have formed a Government alone if they wanted. "But we formed a Government with President Maithripala Sirisena."
There are two charges against the Government. One is that it is not doing anything and the other is that one cannot see what it is doing either?
A: The second charge is admitted. We are doing a lot. A surprisingly large amount of work is being accomplished but media publicity is not given properly. Earlier, even the smallest detail was given big publicity. Now there is no publicity.
You won Kurunegala even with the former President contesting. But aren't the people who voted for you burdened with an unbearable cost of living?
A: We are doing a lot of work. But the prices of coconuts and rice have gone up a little. There are reasons for it. There was no rain for the last three seasons. The coconut yield has also gone down. But, we will solve this problem very soon. Even amidst all this we did a great deal of work. We gave assistance to thousands of temples. We built roads. We did a lot.
Most people change parties these days. Will there be defectors from your side as well?
A: A lot of people ask to join us. But we have no big enthusiasm for it. If we need we will take them.
Is it correct for the Prime Minister to make statements in Parliament about the work of the Bond Commission?
A: The Prime Minister can say that. We make statements according to facts, provided to us by officials. An official isappointed on trust. So, is the fault of breaking that trust with the Minister who appointed him?
In any case will the accused be punished now?
A: Definitely yes. The rogues must be punished. Rogues in all Governments, previous and present, must be punished. We have no allegations of taking commissions, bribes or committing fraud against us. It's the same with the Prime Minister. He has never faced any charges.
Examinations and cut-off marks are a big struggle for children. In such a situation is it wrong for children to attempt to get higher results?
A: Not at all. It is reasonable. But it is not reasonable to make question papers easy because of that reason. We have made education compulsory for thirteen years. We promote children to the Advanced Level class even if they fail the Ordinary Level examinations. We introduced 26 subjects for that. There are knowledge-based and vocation-based subjects among them. We introduced those subjects thinking of the country's future. Our aim is to produce trained professionals fit for the labour market.
Parents tend to admit their children to schools by giving bribes or through political influence. How do you face this?
A: I am telling you to disclose it if I have influenced like that. If children have been admitted by any means, it is on appeals. Have I admitted the children of my district to Colombo schools? No. I admit children by appointing a Committee and calling for appeals through that Committee. But not so many children have been admitted to schools through this Committee, as by all those so-called doctors.
Is the 'Nearest School is the Best School' project just another project?
A: This is the best project that has been implemented recently. This project has been instrumental in raising the standard of education in a big way. We are trying to make the nearest school the best school. A large number of facilities such as school buildings, libraries, laboratories and electricity have been provided. And also we recruited about 4,000 principals to maintain quality in schools. Educational Administrative Service officers have been recruited. We will recruit 5,000 more teachers in the future. Infrastructure facilities will be developed. The largest amount for education has been allocated in this budget.
Meanwhile, hasn't education been commercialized in our country?
A: Actually, it is because of the weaknesses in education that children go for tuition. Parents always try to educate their children somehow. Recently, 1,038 teachers have been recruited. They have been residentially trained. It has been planned to provide a year's training to those recruited to the Education Administrative Service. These methods are being adopted to salvage what has collapsed. So, what I have to say is that we should do our job well, rather than talk about tuition.
Aren't there endless allegations against the three-year-old Government?
A: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa didn't go for an election two years earlier because the country was in good shape. His Government was facing international sanctions and a huge burden of debt. We took over a country that was in dire straits and our journey was not an easy one. All the problems fell on us when we won the elections. The expenditure was more than the income.
We allocated a large sum for education. The public servants' salaries were increased by an unprecedented amount.
Most people, including you, thought that a Government could be formed by the United National Party (UNP) alone, but it wasn't possible?
A: No. We were of one opinion even before the election that in order to make the country more victorious we should form a Yahapalana Government with the two parties coming together. We could have formed a Government alone if we wanted. But we formed a government with President Maithripala Sirisena.
Even if you say so, aren't most of the allegations directed towards the UNP?
A: No. I don't think so. That is what those who joined the Government later say. We shouldn't care about such talk. We have to go on this journey, with intelligence and understanding. Irresponsible statements made by those who joined later are not relevant to us. However, they also need to have something to say, right? What we say in public as well as inside closed doors is the same. What we want is to get victories for the country. We would like to go along with all.
At the Cabinet media briefing, the two parties expressed two opinions about the existence of the Government. What do you have to say?
A: We will talk about it after the election. We are going on a journey protecting the President that we appointed. Some are scared for their positions. Some are putting forward their agendas hoping to win the election. We as a party with the power to form a Government of our own do not care for those.
The earlier United National Front fell in two years. Is it the same that is going to happen now?
A: No. We have that experience don't we? We go on this journey with mindfulness. The Government cannot be dissolved for five years according to the 19th Amendment. That is not a problem for us.
The President presented the Bond Report. Isn't that a terrible blow to the UNP?
A: No. He presented those recommendations. Next will be the judicial proceedings. We will be watchful. Everything will happen according to the law.
When something like this comes out on the eve of an election, how can the party ask for the vote?
A: This has to be understood. These are the recommendations of the Commission. They will be heard before the Courts. How can it be a problem for the election? Nowhere is there any allegation against the Prime Minister. But we are happy that these things are happening under our Government. This is a remarkable example. It is also the Prime Minister who gave the chairmanship of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). He has 40 years of experience. He has never robbed. People of the country know this.
However, there are grave allegations against former Minister Ravi Karunanayake. Isn't it difficult for him to escape?
A: There is also a proceeding before Court that will take place. Where the Court will decide whether he is guilty or not. He is innocent until he is found guilty. So, we will see what happens.
Why couldn't, the Prime Minister, who has so much experience, desist from giving responsibilities to such a suspicious character?
A: We appoint someone on trust. Arjuna Mahendran was a person with an international reputation. He was appointed because he had been a party to the development of countries such as Singapore. Connections in the financial field are valuable to a country.
That's why he was appointed. There was no way for us to know beforehand. However, we do not X-ray people before appointing them. We have a number of Presidents and Prime Ministers. Is it the fault with those who elected them?
You have taken on a controversial Ministry. Can you deliver?
A: Definitely, yes.We accomplished an unimaginable quantity of work. A colossal amount of money has been set apart for education. We are implementing the teacher-transfer policy. Thousands of teaching appointments have been given. Schools have been developed. The lives of hundreds of thousands of children have been made secure through the 'Suraksha' insurance cover. The programme to make tablets available is also being implemented.
But weren't criticisms made on the Mathematics question paper, recently?
A: It is a wrong allegation. We always take decisions after thinking about the future of this country's children. There is no rule to saying that every question paper must be made easy. We have already appointed a Committee to look into it. Everyone is trying to get 9 'A's. We don't set question papers to suit tuition masters or going by past question papers. So, those charges are only jokes.
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