Currently, there is no security threat in the country. If the Mahinda group says the LTTE is raising its head it gives lie to the claim that they annihilated the LTTE.
Matara District UNP Parliamentarian Buddhika Pathirana speaks about the Budget 2017 and various other political issues.
Following are excerpts:
Q.What is your opinion on this budget?
This budget is one beyond our expectations with a short-mid and long-term vision.
Q:As a grassroots level politician, in your opinion, how do the rural masses view this budget?
The present budget cannot be discussed in isolation considering only the rural masses. This is only the initial stage of the budget implementation. Dividends of this budget can be felt only in the coming year. In my opinion, rural folk are happy with the budget. Benefits of this budget are felt by the general masses of various categories. Some complain that nothing is mentioned in the budget about the fertilizer subsidy or relief package given to pregnant mothers. Those reliefs are already given and there is no need to repeat them in the budget. Though the Joint Opposition (JO) and other groups opposed to the government make a big hue and cry, there is no such strong opposition to the budget by the common people.
Q:But some Parliamentarians say MPs are scared to go to the electorates.
I don’t face such a problem. In reality, this is a populist budget. The Opposition raises a big issue over Rs.25,000 fine for traffic offences. It is only to discourage traffic offences and drivers should avoid such offences. I am a person who respects the law of the land. I feel taxes on certain items are inadequate. As an example, the fine for the illegal transportation of cattle is still Rs.100. It should be raised to Rs.100,000. There are many other areas which the Finance Minister has not touched upon. I am making a list of such items to be forwarded to the Minister for his consideration.
Q:Why does the Opposition protest when wrongdoers are taken to task?
These are to serve personal interests. We are not ashamed to face the electorate. But unfortunately the Joint Opposition is in this sad predicament.
Q: But the JO says in the near future they will send the government home?
The JO says such things to gain cheap political leverage. The JO is trying to form a political party like the DUNF, the party formed jointly by Lalith and Gamini. Very soon the JO faces the same fate the DUNF suffered.
Q:Offenders should be punished. There is no question about it. But the problem is whether Sri Lankans can afford such huge fines because our country belongs to the low income category.
It is mandatory for a driver to possess a vehicle licence, valid driving licence and insurance cover. The prime intention of this fine increase is to safeguard the lives of road users. Your grouse is that people who earn low salaries cannot bear such a big penalty. But think of the amount of money they spend on liquor and cigarettes and compare it with fines. It is a peanut amount. Some people don’t feed their children well but they spend that money on liquor. I don’t think it is unfair to penalize such offenders. Drunken drivers should be punished. Only a few people smoke or drink. But the owners of such industries are multi-millionaires. The paradox is our staple food is rice but paddy farmers are poor.
Q: If you think of the wellbeing of the country, why don’t you ban liquor and cigarettes?
It is not that easy. We are already taking steps towards that end. We have implemented pictorial warnings in cigarette packs. The previous government was dragging its feet to implement it.
Q: Mahinda Rajapaksa was rejected by the electorate and replaced with Yahapalanaya (good governance). Now the JO is saying they can hardly find Yahapalana followers.
I welcome the JO to visit Matara with me. Then they will get a earful from UNP supporters.
Q: The Prime Minister proposed to increase the wages of Parliamentarians. Is it fair to suggest such proposals while asking the people to tighten their belts?
You should pose that question to the Prime Minister. I personally feel that the emoluments received by MPs are inadequate if their dealings are honest. The tax exemption given to Parliamentarians is wrong and they should also be taxed.
Q: People don’t grudge if their representatives receive concessions but people are frustrated over the service they receive by their representatives.
It is the duty of the public to elect suitable people. On the other hand, the party should nominate proper candidates.
Q: But the candidates rejected by the people were selected through the National List. Who is accountable to it?
The UNP is not guilty of that.
Q: But they are in your coalition government.
I can speak only for my party. I am a diehard UNPer.
Q: Why do you whitewash the Central Bank bond scam culprits?
The COPE Committee report was presented to Parliament by its Chairman. The Prime Minister declared in Parliament that he advised the Attorney General to proceed with it to courts as the Central Bank comes under his purview. This is the view of our party.
Q: The main allegation against the Yahapalana Government is that it compromised the security of the country.
Currently, there is no security threat in the country. If the Mahinda group says the LTTE is raising its head it gives lie to the claim that they annihilated the LTTE. This is a canard spread by them to recapture power. The Aava Group is only an extortionist group.
Q: Is it true that the new Constitution undermines the unitary status of the country?
It is a damn lie. It is only in the drafting stage. We are now in the process of receiving suggestions. But it should be passed in Parliament with a two-thirds majority. Both coalition partners totally agree to the unitary status of the nation. Opposition Leader Sampanthan insists on going beyond that majority and holding a referendum.
(Translated by Ananda Elkaduwa)