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DateLine Sunday, 18 November 2007

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Government Gazette

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 stable?

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 us.

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 democracies.

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 Government.

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 UN's proposal?

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 respond?

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 far.

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 pipeline?

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 ground.

The construction of Moragahakanda and Kubukan Oya reservoir has commenced. We have identified lots of development projects in the Eastern region.

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 country.

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 upon there.

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 stance?

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 other.

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 plan.

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 on it.

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.

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