Arjuna Ranatunga is the Minister for Ports and Shipping in the Maithripala Sirisena administration. However, he is a renowned cricket star who pioneered Sri Lanka Cricket team to win the World Cup in 1996. Giving an exclusive interview to The Nation, Ranatunga said that the previous government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa had allowed his followers to be corrupt. “As the Top was corrupt, the whole system became corrupt,” he said while stressing that the new government’s efforts to pass the 20th Amendment and the Code of Ethics for politicians will change and clean the existings system.
Ranatunga also said the political culture which encourages votes to be traded for liquor, food and other benefits should be stopped immediately. He added that it is high time for Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to form its own government. He said his wish is to contest the next general elections under the hand symbol with the support of other parties. He also added that few politicians like Wimal Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dinesh Gunawardena and several others, who he opines have no political future, are playing a game with the aim of dividing the SLFP and strengthening the United
National Party at the same time.
“Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa must realize that he was defeated by present President Maithripala Sirisena. He should allow the present President to rule the country and lead the party. I am very disappointed to see the way he (Rajapaksa) is behaving. He must learn from other Presidents like JR Jayewardene and Chandrika Bandaranaike who vacated their seats peacefully when their terms in office ended They have shown very good leadership qualities. Only power greedy people behave like this. If not for the undue pressure Rajapaksa is applying, the SLFP can have its own regime even now,” added Ranatunga.
Here are some excerpts of the interview
Q: – What is the latest development regarding the Port City project? Has it been stopped? Will it be continued?
There are some issues with the Port City project. Issues are mainly with regards to obtaining permission. Some environmental and national security issues have been highlighted by several individuals and the project has been stopped temporarily. Meanwhile, a committee headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is working on the issue. The committee comprises a cabinet minister and I. We are working on it to identify both positives and negatives.
We, the government, don’t want and have no idea to stop the project, but we must be sure that it has followed the due procedure and rules and regulations. Being arrogant when handling the issue will not serve, but will make the issue more serious. We have to look at the issues seriously sit together and discuss the matter patiently with a constructive end in mind. My personal view is it should go ahead under an acceptable and respectable monitoring process.
Q: – Can you give a guarantee that the project won’t be stopped?
We have to wait till the report of the committee is released. The committee meets regularly and we even briefed the Prime Minister last Tuesday over the present situation of the project. But, we will come to a final decision soon.
Q: – If we assume that the project will be continued, what kind of benefits will it bring to Sri Lanka?
I really don’t know whether we will get any benefits. We have to do another analysis regarding the project.
Q: – What do you mean by “don’t know”?
The Thing is, almost all the documents relating to the project are very vague. I think it is better to wait for some time at least, till the committee report is out to find out the answers for some questions.
Q: – We have associated the term ‘good governance’ with the present government. What is your definition on good governance?
Well, it is like this. If you analyze the services of the ministries during the last 100 days, those were running pretty well. But, I know, a lot of people were not happy in the way in which we handled things. The reason was they were used to a different system. Our main concern was to stop corruption. I don’t think we can achieve it 100 percent. But, we are satisfied with what we achieved so far.
The Passing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution is a great victory. We are working on the 20th Amendment too. The Cost of Living has come down significantly. Fuel prices were brought down. We stopped all unwanted expenditure in the public sector. We did a lot which the previous government had never thought of, planned or discuss. We have allowed the general public to ***breathe/live comfortably.
Q:-But, some people who were pioneers in forming the good governance regime have been left out. For an example, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha left the government. Why do such things happen?
I really don’t know. He is a very good man to have in a regime. I personally feel that this is a big loss for the government. I can’t give you an exact answer for that question, but comparatively, I think, the government has delivered as promised. He is a man whom I respect a lot. We have worked together. But, this was the time to do more. We could have done much.
Q: – What is the present situation of ‘Code of Ethics’ for people’s representatives?
It’s still a piece of paper. There have been a lot of proposals made by few people and the committee is analyzing them. I don’t think that good people come into politics always. Businessmen began to enter this field and some have had very bad motives. Their motive is not to serve the public, but to keep their businesses running well with the blessings of the government. All kind of dealers who are into businesses like drugs, ethanol, alcohol, casino, bookie dealing are in politics at present. What can they offer the society as law makers? People laugh when such politicians begin to speak in the Chambers. This is not the kind of politics that prevailed in the country when my father entered this field.
Q: – Changing the electoral system was discussed extensively. But, it seems to be dragging. Will this become a reality?
Yes, it will. The new system will remove the preferential system. A lot of people have agreed to go for a mixed system where representatives are directly responsible for their electorates. The system will force the politicians to remain in the electorate and work for the electorate. Under the preference system, though you did nothing at the electorate, you can come back to the parliament if you have money. That’s what happened during last 15 to 20 years. After 2000, a lot of unwanted people entered Parliament.
I wrote to both Prime Minister and President and tried not to give them nominations, But, the reply given to me was that we will give them nominations and people will make their selections. I don’t believe in that. The party has to make that decision. Parties should not consider only those who have money to spend during election campaigns.
Q: – You have changed your party several times? My question is not why? But, Can’t we have a system which prioritizes policies instead of party politics?
Yes. That is a very good question. We need policies at national level. The question is what policies we have? Do we have a policy for sports, health or education? I am a person who does not believe in party politics. I love the country. I love to work with good governors. I am a born SLFPer. I take decisions thinking about the country not about the party. I left the Rajapaksa government, because I couldn’t work with them. When the decisions taken left me with my hands tied, I left them. I am even happy today about what I did.
I joined Fonseka, because I think, one of the best things for the country happened under his leadership. But, I realized later that I can’t do politics with him. I became independent and got the invitation to join the campaign to defeat the Rajapaksa regime, I joined former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The victory of Maithripala Sirisena is a great achievement of this country and I am happy and proud that I was a member of that team.
Q: – What are your plans for your electorate?
I have a lot and first of all I want to clean the area of corrupt politicians.
Hospitals, schools, religious places like temples, mosques and churches have been neglected during last few years. I have to assist people to develop them. Business personnel are struggling very badly. Sometimes, they have to pay bribes or do unnecessary favors for politicians. I have to change that culture. I don’t allow the entry of corrupt guys back in politics in my area as that is what people expect from politicians like me.