New Year expectations of General Secretaries
As we head for yet another Sinhala and Hindu New Year, the Sunday
Observer spoke to the General Secretary of the United People's Freedom
Alliance (UPFA), Minister Susil Premajayanth and his vis-a-vis from the
United National Party, Parliamentarian Tissa Attanayake to share their
New Year thoughts - views on current political developments and future
Q: Do you think Sri Lanka, as a country has achieved its
targets during the past year?
S.P: Our first priority has been national security. Our brave forces
have achieved many victories in East, completely liberating towns in
Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts. Despite all battles, our economy
has shown a sound 7.4 percent growth. Infrastructure development
projects are on. Norochcholai and Upper Kotmale power generation
projects and the Weerawila Airport project have been launched.
President's visit to China has helped to find finances for the
Hambantota harbour project.
T.A: No, I don't think so. Since the last Sinhala New Year to this
New Year, people?s expectations have not been fulfilled. People expected
a better living standard and a safe environment to live freely. There
are allegations on human rights violations under a war atmosphere.
Q: What steps should the Government take or plan to take to reduce
the cost of living?
S.P: It's a two-way mechanism of increasing people's income as well
as production. Salaries of over one million government servants were
increased by 70 percent last year and the final phase is being paid from
this year. Under the graduate employment program, we found jobs to all
unemployed graduates up to 2004. 8,000 more who graduated recently would
be given jobs this year. We found more foreign jobs under state
patronage. Unemployment was reduced to 6.5 percent. Stock markets
recorded highest ever levels and more foreign investors came here. In a
bid to reduce the cost of living, prices of 14 essential items have been
slashed under a price control structure.
T.A: The latest Central Bank report said there is a 7.4 percent
economic growth. But we do not feel it is a realistic and practical
figure. People are not enjoying the benefits, though they claim such a
good growth rate. Cost of living is going up. We are a country which
mainly depends on imports. But when the Rupee is depreciating fast, how
could we face the challenge? We need strict discipline and big
Q: How do you assess the performances of our security forces in the
nation?s drive to eliminate terrorism?
S.P: When President Mahinda Rajapaksa took over, everything was in a
mess. He had to make several important moves to strengthen our security
mechanism, rebuild our intelligence. Under his able leadership, we
implemented several welfare measures to families of security forces
personnel, build houses for them. Our forces fought bravely to eliminate
terrorism and liberate the East.
T.A: We have to defeat terrorism. We all agree on that irrespective
of our political affiliations. But at the same time, we should find a
lasting political solution to the North East problem. Sri Lanka gained
several military victories and we all salute our heroes in the security
forces for those great feats. But the NE problem should be balanced. We
have been facing a war for more than two decades. It makes a big impact
on the nation.
Q: Will we be able to achieve peace during the coming year?
S.P: The President called an All-Party Conference to find a solution
through a dialogue. The SLFP's proposals would be based on a unified
country, but with more powers to the Prime Minister. In short, we have
proposed devolution of power right from village level. Yes, we could
definitely be able to usher peace under the leadership of President
T.A: I feel it's difficult under the present circumstances. The
Government seems to keep more faith on a war situation. But a guerrilla
warfare could not be overcome purely through a military action. The best
example is the US forces in Iraq. We have to give a solution not to
Prabhakaran but to the people in the North and the East. The Government
shows their reluctance to go for peace talks.
Q: As the General Secretary, could you briefly tell us what your
party's proposals for the conflict in North are?
S.P: The United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) consists of many
parties, with people who belong to all communities. But most of their
proposals are common. The SLFP is for an undivided Sri Lanka, with
maximum possible power devolution. It will be based on Mahinda
T.A: We have made it very clear. We have to find a solution while
protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. It
should be based on either Tokyo or Oslo declarations. The final solution
should be forwarded for a referendum. We will never support the division
of this country.
Q: Are you happy with Sri Lanka?s economic performance during the
S.P: As you know, the country has shown a remarkable 7.4 percent
economic growth, beating all odds. But one could question as to whether
the people feel it? It takes some time for the people to feel and enjoy
those benefits. For example, it would take 48 months for the
Norochcholai power project to make a contribution to the National Grid.
Now we pay Rs.15 to generate a thermal power unit but it costs just Rs.
5 to 6 to generate a unit by coal power. Then we could pass on that
benefit to consumers. We have several short and long terms plans.
T.A: No, I am not. The Central Bank report which records a 7.4
percent economic growth cannot be accepted. If that is correct, people
should benefit by that. If its true, the cost of living should come
down, more jobs should be generated with more infrastructure development
projects. Those are mere political statistics. In doing so, we lose the
opportunity of getting international grants.
Q: The UNP has declared that they would form a Government after the
Sinhala and Hindu New Year? Will this be a reality or yet another day
S.P: For the first time ever in UNP's history a large number of MPs
have crossed over to the Government. More importantly, those include
their Deputy Leader and several UNP veterans. With 17 MPs recently
joined and the six who came individually, 23 MPs have joined us, that is
almost one third of the total number of UNP MPs elected at the last
General Election. Having lost 14 successive elections, UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe could do nothing less but to make utterances like these
to halt the deteriorating morale of his party supporters. He tries to
take cheap and selfish advantage out of LTTE attacks. We now have 120
MPs, more than the mere 113 we had in 1994. We are stronger than before.
T.A: As the main opposition, we account for nearly 50 percent stable
vote base by now. Promises made at the last Presidential Elections have
not been fulfilled. There are shattered dreams all over. We supported
the Government to settle the NE problem but they rejected our support.
The Government cannot answer the problems of human rights, IDPs and the
cost of living. We will take this message across the country. We are
ready to meet the aspirations of the people.
Q: Former Eastern leader of the LTTE, Karuna Amman has said the
terrorists smuggled five aircrafts during the Ceasefire Agreement. Do
you agree with him? What is your impression on the Government plans to
have a referendum to determine the fate of the CFA?
S.P: Karuna has said the LTTE smuggled parts of four to five
aircrafts during the CFA. Two years ago, then Foreign Minister, the late
Lakshman Kadirgamar cautioned the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga
about the LTTE's airpower. That was also conveyed to the US, EU, India
and rest of the international community to develop a safety net. India's
Hindu newspaper too reported about two LTTE light aircraft in 2005. It
was Ranil Wickremesinghe who signed the CFA without even informing the
Parliament or even his MPs.
T.A: That's a malicious statement made by Karuna. It was way back in
1997/98 that the Indian intelligence RAW spotted the LTTE's air power.
This was subsequently proved through aerial video footages. I don't know
how many aircrafts the LTTE has. It's up to the Government intelligence
to find it out. It's this Government which has been protecting the CFA
for the last three years. We signed when we were in power for only 18
months. If the President wants to abolish it, there are provisions in
the CFA itself.
Q: What steps could we take to uplift the rural economy and develop
S.P: We have given priority to this vital area. All matters relating
to the development of rural economy have been brought under one umbrella
- one Ministry under the President. So far, 12,000 rural projects have
started in 4,000 grama niladari divisions. It is a project which
centralises the village. Road development and rural electricity programs
too have come under this venture. Even computer technology and internet
facilities have come under the 'Nanasala' program. We have also
concentrated on agricultural development in villages.
T.A: In any economy of a country, its rural economy takes pride of
place. We could find good examples from India and Thailand. Sri Lanka
too has tried various economic policies. We have only supported industry
but not rural economy. We have to increase production from rural family
units, concentrate on rural economic development.
Q: What is your wish for this New Year? Any special expectations?
S.P: Completely liberate the East from LTTE terrorism and its
dictatorship. We will strengthen our national security. But we could
continue to keep faith on a political solution to tackle the problem in
the North. That would be discussed at the APC. But similarly, we want to
put an end to terrorism in the coming year.
T.A: First is peace, an environment that would enable all of us to
live without fear. Then, a good living condition for all of us. We need
a solid practical program to eliminate poverty.