The Nation spoke to Minister of Posts, Postal Services and Muslim Religious Affairs, M.H. Abdul Haleem regarding how the United National Party (UNP) viewed the recent turn of events as regards to the Cabinet reshuffle, the proposed reshuffle of Deputy Ministers, State Ministers and State officials and Governmental officers of the public administration and the constant postponement of the Local Government Election.
Below are a few excerpts from the discussion:
Q : How does the UNP view the Cabinet reshuffle which took place?
The Cabinet reshuffle was nothing new. President Maithripala Sirisena mentioned such in his speeches. If necessary, the President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have all the right to make such changes. There is no problem in this regard. They know better than us about selecting persons and appointing them for and to appropriate portfolios. Generally, people expected changes to take place in the Cabinet.
There are however other cases. People expected some Ministers to have had their subjects changed, yet this did not happen. Even certain Members of Parliament have mentioned in other contexts when speaking about other matters in Parliament about certain Ministers who take commissions, who needed to be removed. Although this was the case, the required change as expected by the people and certain Parliamentarians, did not take place.
This is however not the final change. What President Sirisena stated was that amendments would be made with regard to the portfolios of Deputy Ministers and State Ministers.
Q : State Ministers have highlighted many grievances and many of them are disillusioned with some even threatening to quit the Government. How will the Government address this issue in terms of assimilating them effectively?
There are a few cases where certain Deputy Ministers and State Ministers have no powers. This however is not applicable for all those occupying such posts. Some are not satisfied with the work they have been allocated. In certain cases, some have not been given a proper place to work by the relevant Ministers in charge.
In other cases, Ministers have given them no subjects to handle on their own. There are so many such complaints. Such problems are indeed and in fact there. Changes that are made should be viable. The changes that have been made are viable. Adjustments can be made. Adjustments have to be made.
In the beginning it was mentioned that only a few Ministries would be changed. Subsequently, it was mentioned that all the Ministries would be subjected to change. The latter is what we expected. Yet, ultimately only nine changes materialized. These include the addition of Marapana PC and the changes to the portfolios of finance and foreign affairs. Still we as a Party do not know what else will happen in the time to come.
For an example, is Karunanayake going to be given only the said Ministry or also some other departments in addition to the Ministry? These include the National Lotteries Board, the SriLankan Airlines and certain other such State institutions and public enterprises which are rumoured to be given to him.
We will of course have to wait until the relevant gazette pertaining to the matter is out but it is however evident that these portfolios and subjects certainly will not go together and do not match. Previously, the subjects of postal services and telecommunications came under one portfolio, yet at present they are separate and under the purview of two Ministers/Ministries.
Q : How are the interests of the party being catered to via the proposed changes?
Party members are smart and have provided the Party with strong support. They canvassed all over the country on behalf of the Party. We hope that this time around they will get a break they deserve. The issue is that the Government is not only the UNP. Part of this good governance Government means that there are two Parties and both Parties are involved. There are Cabinet members who were defeated at the last Election but are currently members of the Cabinet even though they were not elected.
Q : The Government is rumoured to be further postponing the Election. Is this the case?
Regarding the Local Government Election, the previous Government had a delimitation committee. After we formed the Government, we reused the delimitation committee and they conducted their activities in district level bodies. We gave our proposals. Yet in certain areas, they have not included our proposals. Thus, some are not satisfied with the proposals of the committee which are to be gazetted. These matters were taken up in the Cabinet. We have to go for an Election. This must be expedited. Amendments must be made. Parties must give them to Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, Faiszer Musthapha PC and arrive at a solution. The Election cannot be kept on postponing. We think that the Election should be held. This will be done this year. In any case, we have to face it. We are prepared. We are also confident that we will win.
Matters are moving smoothly within the Government under the leadership of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Problems are discussed in the Cabinet. The Parties decide. There is no problem. We can go on till 2020 as is. Afterwards, we will have to take a decision regarding the future.