UNP WILL DEAL WITH MPs WHO HELPED ALOYSIUS JOHN
BY RAVI LADDUWAHETTY
Gampaha District United National Party Parliamentarian, Minister of Tourism and Christian Affairs John Amaratunga said his Party will take regressive disciplinary action against all the UNP MPs who were in the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and who were allegedly found to have had dealings with Chairman of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. Arjun Aloysius, the prime suspect in the Treasury Bonds scam.
"Some have been found to have taken kickbacks as well and they will be made to resign from their Cabinet portfolios too if they are proved guilty, he told Ceylon Today.
He also said that the elections to five Provincial Councils, whose terms have ended, will be held in April 2019.
Here, he is in conversation with the Ceylon Today:
How do you see the UNP's prospects at the Local Government polls?
A: The prospects for the UNP are extremely good. The UNP today stands very strong and firm in the Local Government elections.
The UNP has overwhelming support in the Gampaha District in Parliament. It is well organized in the Gampaha District under the leadership of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. So, we have no doubt that the majority of the Councils will be won by the UNP. People are rallying round us as we can see from election meetings countrywide.
That is in the Gampaha District, which you represent in Parliament, but that does not represent the overall picture as far as a national perspective of the country is concerned. What is your assessment of the rest of the country and do you think that the rest of the country also represents your upbeat views on the Party? You cannot be unaware of the public pulse at national level, being one of the most senior leaders of the Party?
A: I have every reason to believe that the UNP is strong in the rest of the country as well. There are thousands of people who have come in their numbers to express their solidarity and support to the UNP. The District Organizers in other districts are also working very hard.
On what basis and with what authority do you say this?
A: Well, wherever Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visits for Local Government polls meetings, there is overwhelming support for him and the Party, which is a true indication and a barometer of the support that the UNP as a political Party enjoys.
Given the divisions and splits in the SLFP and the Podujana Peramuna, are you confident of polling in excess of 50% of the total votes where you are confident of cashing in on the splits?
A: Yes. We are very confident that we are able to poll in excess of 50% of the votes which will give us the mandate to govern the LG bodies with a majority.
Do you think that there will be a serious erosion in the votes given the adverse impact of the Central Bank Treasury Bonds probe report being released recently which the Opposition and particularly the Joint Opposition, are using as their biggest trump card?
A: No, not at all. The UNP as a political party and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have all been exonerated from the report of the Presidential Commission which investigated the Bonds Scam. So, we will not be impacted by the findings of the Bond Commission report.
In the event of no side getting the requisite 50%, with whom will you tie up? Will it be the SLFP or the Joint Opposition?
A: That is something that we will have to see at the end of the elections and at the time that the true results are on display for the public to see!
Now, the UNP is in political power at the National Level and you are asking for a mandate to rule the villages and the periphery.
But, don't you think that it is obligatory on the part of the Government to develop the periphery and the villages which are also located within the country and not in some locations outside the country, for which you already have a mandate?
A: We have a mandate to govern the country till 2020 and that will be done according to the policies laid down. The periphery and the villages will also be attended to in accordance with those policies. So, there is no change in that.
There seems to be attacks by the UNP on the SLFP and vice versa. But the indications are that Unity Government will stay on till 2020. Ministers Mangala Samaraweera and Dr. Rajitha Senaratne have publicly said that the UNP and the SLFP will be in partnership till 2025. Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has also said in jest that the Unity Government and President Maithri will hand over power after the arrival of Lord Maithri Buddha, which will be many eons! So, are these attacks on each other meant for public consumption and for the gullible voters?
A: No. No! At the end of the day, everyone is gunning for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Even most of the barbs and the attacks by President Maithripala Sirisena, at the polls campaign rallies are aimed at Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Your response defies all logic! If President Sirisena is wanting to attack former President Rajapaksa, why should he attack the UNP also on the polls campaign trail?
A: That is true. Despite the alliance between the UNP and the SLFP, the President is also trying to win votes for his Party. He is under tremendous pressure as he is the President of the SLFP and he has to make the Party go somewhere! That is why these virulent attacks are aimed at the UNP as well. But the Government will go on till 2020. That is for certain. Maybe, all these attacks between the UNP and the SLFP will stop after February 10, 2018!
Is this criticism carried out by agreement in "consultation, consensus and compromise, the famous last words of slain President Ranasinghe Premadasa?
A: (Laughs) The people should understand that this is the time of an election and that all the Parties have to act differently to win the votes for themselves and come on top, irrespective of the coalitions in the Government. These attacks are not meant to be taken seriously!
Do you believe that the Party decision to suspend former Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs Ravi Karunanayake from the position of Assistant Leader of the UNP will create a rift within the Party?
A: No. Whatever the issues are, the Party is more than the individual. You will also remember that President J.R. Jayewardene sacked his own Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs, Cyril Mathew, overnight over a small issue.
This question is also in the light of there being UNP backbenchers who are Ravi Karunanayake loyalists such as Kavinda Jayawardena, Hector Appuhamy, Chaminda Wijesiri and others, and others who were paid Rs. 100,000 each month and offered cars to be Monitoring MPs of the Finance Ministry during Karunanayake's tenure there?
A: Well, that may be so. But these backbenchers also will realize soon that their Party memberships and their Parliamentary seats will be also at stake if they go against the Party hierarchy! They are most unlikely to risk that! You see, after President J.R. Jayewardene sacked Cyril Mathew, he was isolated, all his party cronies, numbering well over 25,000 ditched him. When political power eludes anyone, he is like a retired Police Constable, all by himself, without anyone to sing hosannas or to shower him with Dendrobium garlands!
Will the Party take action against the UNP COPE Members who had connections with Perpetual Treasuries Ltd Chairman Arjun Aloysius, which is a clear cut case of conflict of interests, although there is still no tangible proof upto now?
A: The UNP as a Party will take stringent disciplinary action against all these MPs who are holding Ministerial portfolios. They should be taken to task. It is also reported that they also took kickbacks from Aloysius! The Party will not tolerate any indiscipline from anyone, irrespective of however powerful and high and mighty they are. The inquiries will be held soon. They will also have to rescind their Cabinet portfolios, if found guilty.
Will they also be made to resign from Parliament?
A: No. We cannot do that. They are elected MPs JO Leader Dinesh Gunawardena told this column last Tuesday that the Opposition has a lot of debating points against the Government, such as the soaring cost of living, abuse of political and Police powers, et al?
A: I have been in both, Government and in the Opposition for the last 40 years and these are normal phenomena. All is fair in love, war and politics. They are the Opposition and their mandate is to oppose. To agree to disagree. We do not take these barbs seriously at all.
What is the plan to develop the villages and the periphery?
A: We will have to have development plans for the periphery as well in terms of industries, services such as exports and tourism etc. to develop the periphery. We have to find solutions for the lower income groups. But, as the age old axiom goes:" Letthe dogs bark, but the Caravan will move on!" The Government will go on till 2020. In 2020, the people will decide whether they will want the government to continue or not.
But, you are the Cabinet ranked Minister of Tourism. What plans are you having for the periphery? Will it be a higher proliferation of more hotels to the point of saturation ?
A: Hotels are mushrooming all over. Sometimes, I feel that there are too many hotels coming up.
With the completion of the Local Government polls, comes the Provincial Council polls? Will they be held on time?
A: That will be in April 2019. We will see the outcome of this elections and I will give you some comments on that too.
How will the Government face this issue in the light of the Report of the Delimitation Commission not coming yet? Will the Provincial Council polls be held this year with that?
A: That has been done for the Provincial Councils as well .
Will the Government also play the old trump card of having that also postponed in the manner in which it delayed the LG polls simply because the Asoka Peiris report got late?
A: No. The Delimitations have been done and the Reports are ready even for the Provincial Councils.
President Maithripala Sirisena, in a scathing attack on the UNP, said, at an election rally in Panadura last week, that the UNP plundered the Treasury within two months of assuming office. He said that the revenues which should have gone to the State Coffers have been plundered by Government politicians with business interests, a 'salted barb' at Malik Samarawickrema and Ravi Karunanayake! How would the UNP respond to this?
A: This is all an election gimmick on the part of the President. We understand that. We will not respond to anything like that until the polls are over.
Despite the UNP and the SLFP being in Government together, the cracks are very visible. Both sides are criticizing each other publicly! So, how can you govern together?
A: You must understand that all three front runners the UNP, the SLFP and the SLPP/ JO are contesting and they are trying to get the maximum number of votes!
Arising from that, the proposal of Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera to extend the liquor sale hours and the ability of women to purchase liquor and work in such establishments was vetoed by President. This is something that could have been discussed at the Cabinet but it did not happen that way. Prof. G.L. Peiris asked, with a tinge of sarcasm, at a news conference last week whether this was one Government or "several governments within the same Government! " How do you respond to that?
A:There is only one government and not several governments within the same government as alleged by Prof. G.L. Peiris. True that Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera proposed and the President opposed and that was also at a Cabinet meeting.
You are one of the most senior members of the UNP. How is it that you don't hold office within the Party hierarchy with all your commitments to the Party in both good times and bad?
A: In the party hierarchy, I am next to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in terms of seniority, having been an MP for the last 40 years. But, funnily enough, I am not holding any office within the Party. I have been with the Party both in happy and adverse times. Through thick and thin! But the irony is that there are many others who have been within who have entered Parliament much after me and those who have also come from other Parties, who are holding top positions today! That is UNP politics!
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