A discussion conducted by the Rivira Sunday Edition with Minister of Social Empowerment, Welfare and Kandyan Heritage and Treasurer of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), S.B. Dissanayaka regarding the future of the national Government, the political position of the SLFP and the new Constitution.
Given below are a few excerpts from the discussion:
Q : There is at present a heated political situation within the SLFP. Certain SLFP MPs and ministers are making controversial statements about the national government. Why if there are no issues, did President Maithripala Sirisena urgently summon the SLFP MPs and Ministers and request their support to continue the government till December?
A : No. It is not like that. The MPs asked President Sirisena as to what would be done in December. He said that one need not be bothered about that and that we could look into such when it is December. No matter what is spoken, the mutual understanding and the camaraderie between President Sirisena and our group in the SLFP cannot be found among the other groups who are in the Opposition and are from the SLFP. We know what the Opposition says to us. We know the problems within those political Parties. It was SLFP MPs in the Opposition who stopped the series of rallies conducted recently by MP Wimal Weerawansa. We know about the issues within the United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil National Alliance. When taking into account the main Party groups, as President Sirisena said we are the ones whose conduct reflects the most in terms of brotherhood and mutual cordiality. We discuss anything openly. That is why it was said that we would take a decision in December.
Q : Why if there is such mutual cordiality and such discussions about issues, did State Minister of Lands, T.B. Ekanayake attempt to leave along with 18 others to be independent?
A : No. He has not said that. We met him afterwards. What he has said is that if such was attempted he would along with 18 others leave. The media will not put the reference to ‘if such was attempted’. Ekanayake and all of us together have taken a decision and are continuing on with the work. These decisions are taken when seated together with Sirisena.
Q : Are you saying that the coalition government will continue like this till 2020?
A : No. I do not know till when this will continue. What I am saying is that whatever we do, we must talk about such and do.
Q : General Secretary of the SLFP and Minister of Agriculture, Duminda Dissanayake stated that the next presidential election will be a battle between President Sirisena and Prime Minister and Leader of the UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Has there been an internal discussion within the Party in this regard?
A : No. There is no such discussion. However, our next presidential candidate is President Sirisena.
Q : However, the President previously stated that the presidential election in 2015 would be the only time he would contest for the presidency.
A : He stated such before he took over the Chairmanship of the SLFP. Therefore, such is not applicable to us. We are the ones who decide our party’s candidates. It is the party that decides. If the party decides, the President will because he is someone who loves the party and is someone who rose in rank along with the party. Therefore, he will not turn his back on the Party’s decision.
Q : Does the government not have money? The joint opposition is saying that the Government has resorted to laying their hands on the money from the tills in the temples because of the lack of money.
A : It is our previous government along with us that should take the main responsibility with regard to the government’s financial and monetary crisis. This is the truth. As the then Minister of Higher Education, I took Rs. 17.5 billion to build hostels in universities. However, they mature in 2017. This is the actual situation. Most of the loans obtained after 2010 mature after 2017. This was also one of the factors in deciding to go for the last presidential election two years before it was to be held. This is because when crisis situations arise, obtaining power for another term becomes one of the aims. That is why I said that it is I along with the previous government that has to take responsibility for this crisis. We all, including Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sirisena were there in that government. Therefore, it is not the incumbent government that is responsible for this crisis.
Q : Are you saying that this government’s economic decisions are successful?
A : It is not that this government too does not have issues in relation to the economic front. There are issues. This especially influenced a change being made to the post of the Minister of Finance. In the past, there were issues in the budgetary proposals. The people and foreigners became suspicious. The latter took whatever the money they had and left. However, things are moving in a direction where this crisis will be settled.
Q : Issues have come up with regard to the new Constitution. Is the new Constitution not being given priority?
A : Nothing is happening in this regard. We will put things as told by the Mahanayakes of the three Nikayas (Sects). As the SLFP it is our decision that nothing in the present Constitution should be changed. However, even though we discuss about a new Constitution, our priority is in relation to electoral system reforms, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. We voted in favour of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution because it was promised that electoral system reforms in the form of the 20th Amendment would be brought. Yet, to this day, the 20th Amendment has not been brought. Therefore, our priority is the 20th Amendment.