Ranil Wickremesinghe

“Mahinda is not my opponent”
“Perpetual Treasuries will be investigated”
“I told the President it is unfair to remove Mahendran”

Prime Minister and Leader of the United National Party (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe boasted that his party had submitted ‘a clean’ nomination list for the upcoming General Election, adding that it was only the United People’s Freedom Alliance, among all parties in the fray, that has disregarded the ‘good governance’ concept in picking candidates.

Wickremesinghe was speaking to ‘The Nation’ said that all organizations and individuals that had backed Maithripala Sirisena in his presidential campaign are now aligned with the broad coalition led by the UNP.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Q:- Could you briefly describe your plans for a future UNFGG (United National Front for Good Governance) government?
We will be introducing a new system to the Parliament making all the MPs partners of the administration. Finance management of the country should be done by the Parliament.  The Cabinet of Ministers will be there and also separate committees to inquire into and monitor ministry activities.  Ministers and Deputy Ministers cannot be chairpersons of these committees.  My vision is all the political parties to follow the system of the Lichchavi princes.

Q: – Did the Opposition assist you in delivering the promises contained in the ‘100 Days Program’?
Yes.  We kept the promises.  Whether it is the UPFA or the SLFP, the MPs of these parties had to follow the guidelines set by their leader, President Maithripala Sirisena.  He gave his fullest corporation to keep those promises.

Q: – It is alleged that the Government you led did not allow the development projects to continue.  Is this true?
Development is about a strong economy for the country.  For that purpose, all the sectors should be given fresh energy. People should have money to spend. The general public did not have money.  Only a small section of society was enjoying all the privileges and benefits. We but a stop to this. Most of what you identified as development programs were project that benefited this special group. That is why we brought them to a halt.

They will resume once we set up a transparent system. New development projects will soon be introduced. International giants likes Volkswagen, Chinese Shipping Corporation and many others have agreed to work in Sri Lanka. We have begun discussions with two thermal power companies, an oil refinery company and several others.  There will be many mega development projects which benefit the public, and not politicians, thugs or their supporters.

Yes. It was not legally passed and that is why we had to temporarily halt it. The whole country knows that environmental tests were incomplete. We will sort out the issues.  We hope the work can resume soon.

Q: – Your manifesto speaks about five mega programs to develop the country for next five years. Can you elaborate?
There are five major factors to create good lifestyles for citizens. We have planned to create one million jobs during the next five years. The second is infrastructure development and welfare matters. We also want to create a corruption-free society while assuring meaningful freedoms. The Country’s education has many flaws and the system has to be corrected.

It was the UNP which began this economic system in 1977, but a lot has changed. We have to go with the developing trends of the world. We can’t run only with plantations and garments.

Q: – With the sudden dissolution of the Parliament, the Right to Information Bill and few other Bills were halted. Will you take those bills in a new Parliament?
Yes. We are going to take those as priority measures. The Right to Information Bill is almost done.   We have already amended the Executive Presidency system and now we want it to be complemented by a new parliament system. We have to amend the Constitution not to have any complex situation which disturbs such Parliament proceedings in the future.

Q:- Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is once again your opponent.  How do you assess this situation?
I don’t see any strong candidate from the Freedom Alliance. President Maithripala Sirisena is the leader of the Alliance and he is not contesting. On the other hand, the President has already said that former President Rajapaksa won’t be appointed as the Prime Minister even if the Alliance secures a majority.  No one has been named as a Prime Ministerial candidate.  So how can I consider him my opponent?

Q: – Mahinda Rajapaksa said President Sirisena’s speech was beneficial for the SLFP and that his revelations on the Central Bank bond issue was bad for UNP and especially you. What have you got to say?
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party has to decide whether it brought advantages or disadvantages for the country. I don’t think the former President can decide about this. The SLFP was erased under his leadership. Now he provides definitions for the good of the party. The simple matter gives us plus points.

My belief is that the finance administration should be done by Parliament. When the Central Bank issue came, we appointed a committee to look into it. The committee decided that the CBSL Governor Mahendran was not guilty.  Then the matter was brought to the Supreme Court and he was cleared once again.

We also decided to appoint a parliamentary committee to further investigate.  I said that I will also be giving evidence. The committee has not yet issued any report so far and what MP DEW Gunasekara said recently is completely wrong.

However, we have decided to set up a new committee again in new Parliament including the present committee members after a discussion with the party leaders. The work of that committee will be finalized within a period of three or four months. That new committee will be entrusted to look at all suspicious cases and transactions at the Central Bank. This committee has been entrusted only a single issue, but there are a lot more cases to be investigated.

I admit here that what we have to look for is whether this Perpetual Treasuries Company knew about this thing before the auction. Who is the person who leaked information to a third party? We have information about a sister of the former Central Bank Governor and some unacceptable deals. All those cases will be taken under a new committee. Not a single regime in Sri Lanka has taken such strict decisions and actions. But, I will. I will definitely punish them after the probes. We can cancel their license, we can ask them to settle the loss to the government.

The committee has asked to find more details about the Perpetual Treasuries Pvt Ltd. I need to give evidence over the issue and after that we will take a decision what to do over his transaction. There has been a lot of frauds in the Bank and we will insist that the Parliament look into all such transactions.

Q: – The President told the media that you were asked to remove the Central Bank Governor from the post. Why was this not done?
No. He told me that most have told him to remove him. I explained to him that he has been cleared by the committee as well as the Court and that it was not acceptable to remove him in such a situation. I also told him that Mahendran and the Treasury Secretary played key roles in making the new budget of this government. “We will wait for the decision of Parliament and if the Parliament says he is wrong, we will remove him” I told him. That’s what happened.

Q: – When the UNP formed the regime in 2001, public was told to tighten their belts. What would happen this time?
Yes. It happened so in 2001, as we took over a country which the economy was completely gone down. It was a minus economy. Everyone told me that it would take at least four years to transform it into a plus economy. But, I took only one year to do it.

When we took over the regime this time, the cash flow was controlled by one single group. Demand at the market had gone down as people had no money to spend. We increased the salary of the people. We gave a certified price for the products of the farmer. With the concessions given to agriculture, Tea and Rubber farmers, they had money to during the last New Year season. By June and July we noted that the price of rice had gone up.

But, we were capable of meeting this as we were getting a good harvest. The difference between the UPFA and UNF is we are reducing the prices of goods, when the prices go down in the world market. The previous regime increased prices regardless.
Q: – There is an allegation that although the FCID was set up to punish wrongdoers and the FCID, no one has been punished so far.

No. The FCID has received around 200 complains of major financial malpractices and investigations of around 20 cases have already been finalized. During the process, persons like former Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, MPs Tiran Alles and Mahindananda Aluthgamage have take restraining orders. However, we have told the Courts that we need to finalize these cases soon in view of establishing law and order in the country.
It was I who signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2014 for Sri Lanka. We have to bring new laws. The FCID has to be legalized with more power to achieve aspirations of the general public.

Q: – What do you mean by FCID has to be legalized? Are you saying that it is illegal now?
No. That is not the issue. It is inside frame of the law. But, I meant it must be given more powers. There were thieves in this government too. But, we did not have the majority in the parliament and we had to face the problem of getting pass a new law on this matter. It is a huge coordination process. The investigators must have full power to do their job without any obstacle. Even in the UK, they have amended the law to facilitate investigations.

Q: – President Maithripala told the media that he dissolved the Parliament just to save you, when the no confidence motion was brought by the Opposition led by the SLFP. Is this true?
We told the Opposition to call off the no-faith motion before the 20th Amendment is brought in Parliament. They were not ready to withdraw. Then, we knew that it would be difficult for Parliament to function and gave them an opportunity to go before the people and find out who has the majority and the people’s mandate.

Q: – How can you expect a majority at the election as most of partner parties which were with you at the presidential election are not with you?
That is not something new. We have in a good understanding with them.  Fonseka’s Democratic Party, JVP as well as the TNA  are in agreement with us on these issues.  We have proved that it is the UNF which can drive the country towards true development. The former President is claiming for the 5.8 million who voted for him are still with him. But we have revealed the fraud and corruption of the previous regime. We also proved that it is only the UNF that has a plan to develop the country. In August, 1994 People’s Alliance won the election only with one majority seat. But, in November of that year they recorded a remarkable and significant victory.

Interviewed by Deepal Warnakulasuriya