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Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam contends that the rupee will be controlled using the money generated from the port. He made the remarks at a discussion regarding issues that have arisen in the country, in the governing party and the education sector and the solutions pertaining to them.

Q It is been said that the country’s situation isn’t good for the government, isn’t it?

No. There is nothing of that sort. There is quite a healthy empathy towards the government.

Q: Island-wide, there are strikes and protests. Are these positive responses?
The majority in the country has no such opposition to the government as you mention. Yet, this is the dream of a small minority. To this minority, the existence and presence of this government is an issue. Today, this problem is not only relegated to the groups to whom the joint groups provide support to, but also to other groups with many hidden agendas.

Q: Isn’t there some alarm in the government?

No. The government is not even slightly alarmed by any of this. The government is going on an extremely democratic path. The government is following this path while also reducing the debt burden into which the country was dragged into.

Q: Is there anything that the government has done?

The salaries of government servants have been increased. The cost of fuel has been greatly reduced. The prices of essential goods have been brought down. Money allocated to education and health has been increased. Can’t you see this path? We have started work.

Q: There is an allegation that the United National Party government is selling the country’s resources.  

No. We are not selling like that. It is the Rajapaksas who sold the country’s lands. It was they who even sold the army headquarters to Shangri-La. We give lands on a long term and short term lease basis. We managed to change the Port City that was to be sold, into a lease system. We are strengthening the economy that the Rajapaksas destroyed. To do this, we have to earn incomes.

We are managing the economy and moving towards a long term programme. What I say is that instead of trying to sabotage these efforts, all must help in these measures on behalf of the country. We are going to give the results of these to the people.
Q: There are crises including the cost of goods increasing. The price of a coconut is Rs 100.

So, what is there to do? There was a drought. Even young coconuts fell. There was a shortage of coconuts. Thus, the price of coconuts goes up. This is natural. The price of rice went up. We provided a solution to this. In time to come, we are in the process of taking steps to solve all these matters. We are seeking solutions for temporary problems such as this. These aren’t long-term problems. In the future, when we receive the monies pertaining to the port, we can control the value of the Sri Lankan rupee.

Q: Rajapaksa had stated that in two more years this government would be toppled.

The Prime Minister very clearly stated that in two more years, the results would be given to the people. How many times has this group said that the government would be toppled? When we were in the Opposition, we held on well. Yet, today, the Joint Opposition is breaking apart into smithereens.

Q: You were scheduled to receive the General Secretary post of the Party. What happened?

No. I don’t need positions in order to work. Even without a post, I went head to head against Rajapaksa at the General Election and garnered close to 300,000 preferential votes. In the governing party, after the Prime Minister, it was I who got the most number of preferential votes and this too without any position. Therefore, we do our duty on behalf of the country and the Party.

Q: Why does your Party have so many posts?

The posts haven’t been given yet. If they have to be given, they will be given. This is a decision of the Party. It is in order to strengthen the Party further. This is there in any party.

Q: Isn’t the school uniform scheduled to be changed?

Especially in far off rural areas due to the warm weather. The children are uncomfortable when having to wear their shirts tucked in and also wear a tie. On the other hand, it is only in our country that white is being worn. Because of this, the children don’t engage in extracurricular activities and sports. They try to protect their clothes. There are problems like this. We have appointed a committee of specialists to give us a report on this. We can put forward five colours and pick from them if we like. We are doing all of this for the betterment of the students. These clothes must be designed according to their suitability with regard to weather conditions. In order to do this, we don’t have to be stuck in traditional views. Depending on the need and requirement, we must seek to do good for the children. We will look at how to do this in the future. When we give this, those who like white can wear white and those who like colours can wear colours.

Q: What are the other changes?

In schools, pregnant teachers have to wear the Saree until the very last moment. We have decided to change this. As of now, we have selected several clothes. We have established a committee headed by lecturers of the University of Sri Jayewardenapura and through this, we have picked several clothes. We are going to give these to the pregnant teachers. We have already decided on this.

Q: Aren’t these kinds of decisions costly in terms of the
Ministership?

Could be. Yet, the question is, shouldn’t we take the decisions that have to be taken? What is the use of us being Ministers, if we think about the post or the Ministership and not take the decisions on behalf of the children and the country? If we don’t take such decisions, it is a disservice done to 4.5 million students in the country. Therefore, if instead of looking at these with a view of sabotaging it, someone should look at it fairly and constructively criticizes us, we are willing to accept the criticisms.
Q: There is an allegation that there is a group which doesn’t allow the Minister of Education to work?

It is like this. Though I oppose it, the mechanism hasn’t changed. While there are officers who aid in these efforts, there is also a group of officials attempting to sabotage it. We are trying to control this situation and move forward. Through the efforts of the latter group, what they are trying to do is to dig a grave for the children’s future. Also, we will not take any decisions that are damaging to the lives of the children in the country. These decisions are taken for the betterment of the country and the children.

Q: Where is the Volkswagen factory that the government started?   

It has been started. The groundwork is being laid. Within two years, the factory will be completed. The allegations are lies. In the future, when vehicles are being introduced to the market, these allegations will become false. We have no time to answer these allegations. We do what we have to do today and do it well. The mouths of those who shout will be shut.

Q: Has the crisis between you and the Provincial Ministers of Education ended?

I have no personal agenda. I have no issues with them. There are those who help and those who don’t. I have the responsibility of seeing to the qualitative aspect of education. I am doing that. There are serious issues in the case of the procedures adopted and mechanisms utilized when giving teacher appointments to certain Provinces. When I oppose it, problems arise. No matter what problem comes, I will take the correct decisions.

Q: The issues with regard to the salary anomalies in relation to the salaries of teachers and principals haven’t been sorted out yet, isn’t it?

No. They are being solved. They are being done systematically. The allowances of principals were increased. There won’t be a salary anomaly. We will fulfill all these things and leave no problem unsolved as far as education is concerned. Due to the obstructions of certain persons the graves for their children and grandchildren too is being dug. That they should remember.

(sujithkona@gmail.com)