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Various views are expressed for and against the recent Budget and the Deputy Minister of Cultural Affairs and North Western Development, Palitha Thewarapperuma spoke to Weekend Nation on the economic situation in the country.

Q: The Minister of Finance prior to presenting the budget said that he would present a budget that would stun the Opposition. Many people say that voters are the ones stunned now and not the Opposition. Your comments?
The government had to prepare a budget with a heavy financial burden on its back due to enormous loans taken by the previous government. Now the Eelam war is over, peace dividends should be passed to the masses is the demand. Though, the war is over the heavy debt should be paid back. This budget was prepared without burdening the general public. I don’t say this budget is flawless.
Mahinda Rajapaksa being in a politically formidable position went for the Presidential election two years earlier because he realized that he could not continue in power due to his inability to repay the debts.
We are paying for the past sins. He boasted about vast developments. If so, he should have won the election overwhelmingly, but it was a big lie to fool the people. If there are flaws in this budget, our government is prepared to correct them.

Q: Do you mean that this budget will be revised several instances like the previous one?
What is wrong in rectifying defects.

Q: You are a politician mingling with rural folk always. Have they felt any benefits from this budget?
The economy should improve for the rural masses to feel the benefits. Employment and business opportunities should expand. More time is needed to deliver these things. This budget is both good and bad. Increasing the fine for minor traffic offences is wrong. On the other hand, when you see reckless driving of some drivers I feel they deserve massive fines. Fine increase cuts both ways.

Q: These are the excuses your government always makes for your failures. But you have been in power for some time.
Correct. There is no point laying all the blame at Mahinda’s doorstep. There should be unwavering firm policies that will not change with the change of governments or ministers. For example, take the Education Ministry. Current Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam does not continue the good work done by former Minister Bandula and Bandula does not appreciate the good work of Akila. With this mindset of politicians a country cannot be developed. To achieve fast progress in a country progressive thinking of politicians is a sine qua none.

Q: You also blame the previous government for taking massive loans and say the present government has to tax people to repay these loans. On the contrary, the Opposition blames your government that the people are taxed due to mistakes committed under your government’s watch.
Any wrongdoer should be punished. Mahinda Rajapaksa should be severely dealt with if he is in the wrong. Neither the present President nor the Prime Minister is above the law. That is our stand we uphold according to the Yahapalana government. The COPE report reveals some rogues who have swindled the State coffers and we want them all punished.

Q: You are always concerned about the school-going young generation. Do you agree giving them free computer tabs?
There is always a good side as well as a flip side in any action. The policy of giving free tabs to schoolchildren is done with the intention of empowering them to gain extra knowledge. But, in my opinion, it is far better to provide more facilities to underprivileged schools instead.

Q: Many people say the price reduction of a few commodities is to hoodwink the people. Do you agree?
Revenue is needed to govern a country. Previous leaders DS, Dudley, JR, SWRD and the likes sacrificed their own wealth for the benefit of the nation but such leaders are very rare and far between now.
We should face the reality. There should be tough laws and strict discipline in order to develop the country. Attitudes should be changed for better.
By merely giving five kilos of rice or reducing the price of a kilo of dry fish by five rupees is not the way forward. It’s a joke.

Q: Your motto is that not only the people but politicians should also lend a hand to develop the country. Can you elaborate on it?
We shouldn’t ask the people to tighten their belts unless we also tighten our own belts. We can cut down our own unwanted expenses. The President has shown it by example. But it is not enough. He should demand his colleagues to follow suit. I am not a rich politician. Yet I don’t use the official vehicle, charge the house rent from the government and forgo the entertainment allowance. For these reasons villagers hold me in high esteem. When constituents suffer, we should not wallow in luxuries. Parliamentarians should not be given liquor permits to open bars. It only does harm to the society, not any benefit.

Q: Attitudes should be changed, you say. Can you explain it further?
It should be started from the top. We must understand the reality in our own soil. Recently I visited China. Surprisingly, the workers in that country possess the real power. Our youth as many as 300 or 400 a day visit me seeking employment. Some have failed in Mathematics but are reluctant to accept minor grade employment. Presently, there is a shortage of labour force in the country. Soon we may be compelled to recruit them from India and Malaysia.
Self-seeking politicians have already ruined the country. We need patriotic leaders who put the country before self. Or otherwise the country will face a severe crisis. Sirimavo Bandaranaike during her regime, in my view, took some very progressive measures to develop the country. But for political expediency that strategy was abandoned.

Q: The initial popularity of the Yahapalanaya has dwindled. Do you agree?
Not only the citizens but we too are frustrated with the present regime. The UNPers toiled hard to bring this government to power but are disappointed now. They do have internal squabbles within the unity government, nevertheless we have to forge ahead settling them amicably because we gained power to serve the country.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was immensely popular in the aftermath of winning the Eelam war. We also hold him in high respect for bringing peace to the country after 30 years of separatist war. Now see what happened to him. Due to nepotism and amassing wealth he completely ruined his political career and reputation. He completely misjudged his popularity. By attempting to comeback to power he lost the respect the people had for him. This is a good lesson for our leaders too. All should realize that there is a limit to the patience of the voter. People should use their ballot wisely to elect honest and patriotic politicians to build a new political culture. The country needs law-abiding administrators as well as disciplined society to forge ahead.

By Chandana Kariyawasam (chandana@rivira.lk)
(Translated by Ananda Elkaduwa)