Minister of Primary Industries and Senior Deputy Chairman of the United National Party (UNP), Daya Gamage
Q : Is there a crisis in the Government?
No, there is no such crisis within the Government. However, within the group, the members of which are stating that there are crises inside the Government, crises can be seen.
Q : Do you not agree that this Government has fallen out of favour with the people?
It is like this. Truthfully speaking, the UNP members have formed a bad opinion about the Government. There are two reasons as to why they feel this way.
Q : What are the two factors?
One is the development we brought about in the country when they along with us came to power in 1977. They are a little angry about the fact that the same pace of development is not to be found today. The other is the mindset created in the people by the previous Government. That mindset is one where people depend upon the Government. The other reason is Government jobs. All of us expect Government jobs. However, where only 500,000 are needed, the Government of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa filled offices with 1.1 million persons. Public sector jobs went up to 1.6 million. Today, the UNP members too expect Government jobs. No matter how difficult it was, we increased the salaries by Rs 10,000. That has become a big burden to our budget. That is because if all the Government employees do not work efficiently, it would be a great disservice to the people of this country. There is no more room to fill Government offices. It has taken us two years. In the context of the situation wrought on the economy by the Rajapaksa Government, we have managed to without exploding the bomb that is loans and debts, and having set that aside, created an environment in which development can be done.
Q : Although you say that, today young men and women are looking for jobs. Is there no Governmental programme to provide them with jobs?
We have a programme. That is what I said. We do not generate employment opportunities within Government offices. What we are looking at is to generate jobs in private institutions. And to generate self employment opportunities. As of now, employment opportunities are being generated in the country.
Q : You all promised prior to coming into power to generate 1 million jobs.
Yes. That is true. Today, even the Joint Opposition queries as to where these jobs are. They also think that it is the Government that must provide jobs. They know that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is completely opposed to Government jobs being provided. There is no crisis in the Govt – Daya Gamage This is because if we do not obtain help from the IMF, we will have to take money at very high interest rates. If we do that, it is going to be extremely difficult to do this. In the past, under UNP Governments, we developed this country by taking low interest loans and also aid. Even at this juncture, what we are attempting is to develop the country without taking loans at astronomical interest rates and without burdening the country. Our export income and revenue in 2005 was 38%. By 2014, it fell to 14%. A country’s development means that, that country’s export related income and revenue must be increased. This is because, if we do not increase the export related income and revenue, we will have to solely run the country on the basis of loans. Back then, the Rajapaksa Government obtained short term loans at very high interest rates. That is why this country fell into such an abyss.
Q : According to the latest reports of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, inflation has exponentially increased. A kilo of rice is Rs 100. A coconut is Rs 100. Inflation has not increased greatly. In general, the prices of rice and coconuts have increased. The years 2016 and 2017, were two highly unfortunate years, when many misfortunes befell the country. We were pummeled by the floods and the drought. As a result, our coconut and rice production decreased. It is in the context of the drop in the harvest that the prices have increased thus. This is of course a temporary thing. This rise in prices happens at all times. However, the prices of other goods have not similarly increased. In another couple of months, the problem with regard to rice and coconuts will be resolved. The price of gas too went up slightly. How much did we reduce it to? Other than that, we did not increase the prices of things, the prices of which we had previously brought down.
Q : Before coming to power, this Government spoke of an economic revolution. It was said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is a great economic revolutionary. It was said that many investors would come. Nothing has materialized yet.
Now, for two years on end, we have been setting the background for such. Now the conducive environment has been laid. Because of the situation that had arisen in the country, there was no way we could set in motion the economic revolution immediately. That is why I said that the people are angry with us in relation to two matters. We could not achieve the pace of development the people expected from us. However, we are doing certain things. Even when we take the expressways, we construct them after finding the money. Although Rajapaksa made it, it was during the time of Wickremesinghe’s Government that money was found for the Southern expressway. The Kandy expressway is being made into the Ruwanpura expressway. On the other hand, an expressway is being constructed till Dambulla. Today, we have touched upon these developmental activities.