Crossovers small.... No storms, only winds - PM
Inviting all the political parties to join
hands with the Government to reach the remaining few yards to eradicate
terrorism, the Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake in an interview with the
Sunday Observer, said that the Government was stable and very confident
that it would pass the budget with an overwhelming majority.
He said that the doors of the Government were
open for anyone to 'come or go' and the Government does not intend to
prevent anyone crossing over to the Opposition.
Prime Minister Wickremanayake said that
crossing over to Opposition from the Government and vice versa was not a
new phenomenon and was common in democracies. 'I am quite confident that
the Government is very stable. There may be small winds blowing this way
and that way but they are not storms, remember they are only small
winds', he said.
Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
pix : Kavindra Perera
Q: At a time where the Government and Opposition are going for
buying over MPs competitively do you think that the Government is
A: Well. We are confident that the budget will be passed and
are also confident of getting a majority of votes. You said that the
Government and the Opposition are buying MPs but we do not buy MPs. We
have never bought MPs. But other people have taken our people away from
As far as we are concerned, we have opened the doors for anyone who
is responsible as a citizen of this country to join hands with us.
First, they should think about the country.
This is vital as we are reaching towards eradication of terrorism and
we have come a long way now. We have only a few yards to go to crush
terrorism. Better all of us unite for that purpose. We may have
different ideas on other issues but we can be united to free the people
from terrorism to allow them to live fear free lives.
Q: Do you think that more MPs would cross over to the
Government within the next few days?
A: Well. I am unable to answer a question like this.
Only the astrologer would be able to do that. You cannot prevent them
from crossing over and you cannot keep anyone by force. One gentleman
from the Government crossed over early this week. We cannot keep him by
force. He gave some reasons and wanted some seven questions to be
addressed. But when he was with us and until that day he did not mention
any of them.
It is very unfortunate a person of that calibre put forward seven
such demands. He was quiet and silent within our own group.
He has never indicated his demands to any of us or said that he was
unhappy until he crossed over to the other side. After crossing over
only he announced them at the Parliament.
There may be some who want to come to the Government.
There will be one or two people who want to go to the Opposition. So
it is not a new phenomenon and these things are happening in
Q: The deadline given by the JVP to support the Government is
running out. Is the Government ready to grant their four demands
including the abolition of the CFA?
A: No official communication stating their demands was sent to
us by the JVP upto now and we came to know about this from media
reports. The JVP Leader at a public meeting held at Maharagama has said
that if the Government honoured the four demands they will vote with the
I do not think that we can offer solution for one and two of their
four demands. There are internal communications going on now. They want
the APRC to be wiped out whereas we want the APRC to bring some results
to us. The CFA of course we can think about it because it is a dead
body. But the APRC is not like that it is important for us as we expect
a solution through that.
Q: If they submit a written document, will the government be
ready to grant the JVPs' demands?
A: No. Then there would be a dialogue with them.
Q: The UN suggested opening of a human rights office in
Colombo was highly debated recently. Is the Government considering the
A: No, the Government is against that and there is no
necessity for opening such an office here.
Q: If the LTTE come for negotiation, how would the Government
A: They should come for talks with no conditions. At the same
time we should retaliate if they provoke. We will reserve the right to
retaliate if they provoke. There cannot be a ceasefire as some people
want. Let talks go on and if they retaliate we will attack.
But no condition should be attached. We are ready to form a unitary
government within which power can be devolved. Those are the basic
principles within this framework which we can negotiate. But if they ask
for a separate state we would never agree.
Q: Do you think that the Government is able to fulfil the
pledges given to the people under Mahinda Chinthana.
A: Yes, Mahinda Chinthanaya is drawn for the purpose of
achieving new development targets drawn under a systematic plan. This is
a ten year plan and when one considers the work done within two years of
the Government one can be satisfied with the results that we gained so
As I mentioned earlier the Government is saddled with so many
problems such as increase in prices of oil, wheat flour, and milk powder
and even the power crisis. But under Mahinda Chinthana we have found
alternatives. The work that the Government did during the past two years
speaks all and I am impressed with the work that we did so far.
Q: Some people claim that the mega development projects under
this Government are limited to laying foundation stones. What are the
main development projects completed by now and how many are in the
A: They are in the pipeline but not completed. Some bridges
and roads are completed. But major projects such as the Weerawila
Airport, Hambantota Port, Colombo Port Expansion project, the power
projects such as Norochcholai and Upper Kothmale have taken off the
The construction of Moragahakanda and Kubukan Oya reservoir has
commenced. We have identified lots of development projects in the
Lots of projects have also been identified and are under way under
the Jathika Saviya village program. So one can never say that these
development projects are only limited to foundation stones. The work of
these major projects has already commenced.
Q: To what extent can we have hopes of a prosperous future
through oil exploration and are there any concrete plans to explore oil
in our territory.
A: Yes. A petroleum Secretariat has been set up to expedite
petroleum exploration activities around Mannar Coastal areas. The
government is having diplomatic level discussions to sell data to China
and India, which have expressed their willingness to explore oil in the
The experts confirmed the availability of oil in Sri Lanka and
hopefully according to experts we expect to reach the world oil market
by 2012. We are progressing in oil exploration.
Q: The first Waga Sangrama was initiated when Minister D. M.
Jayaratne was the Minister of Agriculture. Why did the government
initiate the second Waga Sangrama?
A: No, people must also feel that there is a need. At the time
Minister Jayaratne was the Minister of Agriculture, the country did not
face such serious problems. All the things were imported and the prices
were much low compared to today's prices. But now all the things are
expensive and ordinary people cannot afford the increase in prices of
imported food items.
So now the need has arisen and the Government cannot do anything to
bring down the prices of these goods. The most appropriate solution is
to grow the food items that can be easily grow in the country. That is
why the government commenced the Waga Sangrama and it is showing the
signs of success.
Q: People in the East, who are now freed from the LTTE
terrorists, have high hopes on the Eastern Reawakening program. What is
the progress of this program including resettlement of the displaced
communities in the East?
A: Resettlement programs are going ahead well. There were 84
refugee camps in the East but the number of camps has come down to 34
today. This clearly shows that most of the people living in those camps
have been resettled. Lot of work is being done in the East.
Several Ministries are working together co-ordinating these programs.
The Government has taken steps to develop the Eastern region which was
neglected to some extent, by providing infrastructure facilities and
resettling displaced civilians. There were 59,681 displaced families and
the Government is able to reduce the number to 14,277 now.
Q: The main allegation against the Government is the
escalating cost of living. Can the Government use the increase in oil
prices as a cover up to evade the issue?
A: No. We do not use it as a cover. I want to make it clear.
Everyone knows that the oil is imported to this country. So the prices
of oil are not dictated by us and they are determined by those
countries. So we cannot reduce prices but only thing we can do is to
give subsidies. The Government is doing it upto a limit.
But we cannot go beyond that limit and it will affect the economy of
this country. If everything goes well, in a few years when we have oil,
this problem would not be there.
Q: Some political parties claim that the present budget is a
pickle instead of a sambol where there are no clear indications on how
the budget deficits are reduced. What is your comment?
A: Take any budget, which was presented so far in the history
of this country, the same thing happened. The Opposition criticisess and
the Government praises. That was the response after a budget and however
much good budget is presented by the Government there is no single
instance in the Parliament that all the political parties agreed upon.
We cannot hope of getting 100 per cent agreement from the political
parties for a budget. So we are ready for any criticisms and as a
responsible Government we have offered so many relief to the people.
Q: They also claim that there are no measures to reduce the
high CoL and then how do you say that it is a people's friendly budget?
A: No. We have reduced so many taxes which were levied on
basic foodstuffs. Unfortunately those benefits did not reach the people.
That is why we are going to strengthen the co-operative movement and
allocated Rs. 200 million to this movement. So the Government has taken
steps to address the CoL.
Q: A mobile phone, a car, and a house are not luxury items but
the Government has imposed new taxes on them including a toilet tax. Why
so much of taxes on ordinary people instead of taking steps to prevent
corruption within the Government?
A: Yes, there is a claim that we are not taking steps to
eradicate corruption. But it is not so. For an example that there is a
revelation through the COPE report. Certain things have been commented
Upto now COPE is only a report on fact finding. What do we do
normally is we always send such reports to the Attorney General for
analysis and to take proper legal action for the issues mentioned in the
report. So the Parliament has decided to send that report to the
Commission on Bribery or Corruption. One cannot say that we are looking
the other way about it.
Certainly, we are not. As far as the government is concerned we are
not there to tolerate corruption and inefficiency. Wherever possible,
the Government will take appropriate action to prevent corruption.
Q: Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaran has said that the
on-going armed conflict will deepen the problem and called for a
negotiated political settlement to devolve power. What is the government
A: We always maintain that terrorism is one thing and the
grievances of the ordinary Tamil people are one thing. This is being
addressed through the All Party Representative Conference (APRC), which
is entrusted with finding a solution within the unitary state.
We are for devolution of power. So with the APRC we have to devolve a
particular scheme under which solution can take place within the unitary
state. That process is going on at the moment. At the same time the
terrorism will be wiped out. These two are not connected to one and
Q: The Opposition claims that present military operations are
carried out in an ad hoc manner without seeking proper military advice.
Is there any truth in this allegation?
A: No. We the politicians do not have hands in any of the
military operations. All the strategies and work is planned out by the
three Service Commanders and other relevant officers in the armed
forces. We only supplied what they wanted for operations.
All the necessary ground work for military operations to crush
terrorism is done by them and we do not interfere. They are working on a
Q: As a senior politician, who has interacted with veteran
Tamil politicians of the bygone era how do you see the Tamil crisis?
A: As I told earlier terrorism and the problems faced by the
Tamil community are two different issues. The ordinary Tamil people are
suppressed by the terrorists. I have so many Tamil friends who are
living here and they also feel that some justice should be done to them.
No doubt of it. But it cannot be dictated over the table through
military operations. Definitely not. We are well agreed to some
settlement through the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). Once
the settlement comes in we will place it before the people and then act
Q: Will the APRC be the only solution to end the national
problem and why is it getting delayed to reach a final solution?
A: It is getting delayed as we are trying to arrive at a
consensus but not a majority. So we have reached the consensus in two
major issues. One, we have agreed that the country should not be divided
and power should be devolved. All the parties in the APRC agreed.
There are some major issues that the APRC is now confronted with. One
is to what extent that power should be devolved.
This has to be decided now. Anyway, I have a strong feeling that they
will solve this problem and will be able to give us a plan. Once it is
given to us we will place it before the people. The Government would not
do anything in a secret manner and it will be very transparent.