No room for our Opposition...:
....When mega projects begin operating
Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Dr. Rajitha
Senaratne said when the final results of the ongoing mega development
projects come to light, there will be no room for any Opposition in Sri
Lanka for many decades. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday
Observer said that under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa,
the UPFA would also turn into a political party similar to the parties
led by Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia and Park
Chung of Korea, which will be in power for decades.
The Minister said the UNP does not have a charismatic leader to
replace Ranil Wickremesinghe. Therefore there won't be any future for
the UNP. without attracting the protest vote against the Government, the
JVP has no other alternative. There is no protest vote against the
Government today. In this situation, the JVP has no vote base in the
country. As long as the Government is popular, the people will vote for
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: The Government recorded a resounding victory at the Local
Government polls. What were the reasons for this massive victory?
A: The people understood that this Government is a
people-friendly Government. The people have been liberated from the
clutches of terrorism. Now they are very happy because they can move
freely without any fear. The Government has done so much for the people
in villages, particularly to develop their infrastructure facilities
such as water, electricity and road networks. In addition, initiatives
have been taken to develop education and health facilities in rural
In addition to the mega development projects implemented, the
Government has implemented development projects in villages.
But there is a problem regarding the cost of living. However, the
Government has been able to give a good price for agricultural products
produced in villages. The price of tea, rubber, coconut, paddy and
vegetables have gone up. Therefore the people who are engaged in the
agriculture sector in villages are being looked after well. Though the
unemployment problem is not completely solved, a lot of self-employment
opportunities have been given to the people to uplift their
socio-economic conditions. This has resulted in inflation coming down to
a single digit. Poverty and unemployment figures have also recorded a
significant decrease while the per capita income has been increased.
These are the key reasons which enabled the Government to achieve
this resounding victory at the LG polls.
Q: The UNP could only win nine local government bodies. What
went wrong with the UNP? Can the UNP go ahead with Ranil Wickremesinghe
still as the leader?
A: At present the UNP does not have any program to move
forward. They don't have slogans which can attract the people. They have
a stale leadership continuously like the one the SLFP had from 1977 to
1994. The SLFP was also continuously defeated from 1977 to 1994 until
they changed their leadership and selected Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga, who was a new attractive leader. But still the UNP has not
been able to select that kind of leadership.
Even if the UNP leadership is changed, I don't think they have an
attractive figure. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was a member of
the Bandaranaike family which was a very popular and reputed family in
this country, unlike the Premadasa family. The Senanayake family of the
UNP also has no attraction. The UNP does not have a charismatic
alternative leader to replace Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Under these circumstances there won't be any future for the UNP. This
is the reason why the UNP could gain power in only just nine local
government bodies, which is less than the number gained by the TNA.
Q: The JVP could not win even the Tissamaharama Pradeshiya
Sabha though it campaigned on the basis of an "end to the deception of
Government". What happened to the JVP?
A: It clearly shows that there is no protest vote against the
Government today. Normally the JVP only attracts the protest vote
against the Government and they don't have any other alternative. As
long as the Government is popular, the people vote for the Government.
Therefore there is no protest from the people. So the JVP has no vote
base in the country.
Q: Although the TNA won some councils in the North, the UPFA
has also increased its vote base. How do you view this development?
A: This is a great victory achieved by the UPFA in the North.
During the entire election history, it was only the UNP and the old Left
which had support from the North. The SLFP never had any support in the
North or in the Tamil areas in the East. This is the first time the SLFP
led coalition gained support from the North. Though the TNA won most of
the local government bodies, they have gained only 39,000 votes. But the
UPFA has also reached very close to the TNA by obtaining 30,000 votes.
Being a national party, the UPFA obtaining so many votes from the North
is a positive sign. With the new development taken place in the North,
the next election will be very crucial for the TNA. If the UPFA can
address grievances of the Tamil community, the UPFA has a very good
chance to win the next election.
Then the fate of the TNA will also be the same as the fate of the
I am confident the President would be able to successfully fulfil
this task as well.
Q: The UNP has asked for a postponement of the rest of the
local council elections in view of Vesak. Has the Government agreed to
A: Anyway the Government also wants a postponement of these
elections due to Vesak. I think the UNP is now fed up with elections.
Usually the Opposition wants more and more elections. That is the role
of the Opposition. The Opposition has enough time to canvas and rally
round the people for elections. The Government is more occupied with
development work. But the Opposition in Sri Lanka actually hates
elections. Because they very well know what the outcome is? The election
means defeat for them. That is why they want us to postpone the
Q: The new local government bodies began work from April 01.
The Government also plans to bring in a new Local Government Bill to
give more powers to the local government bodies. How will this fit in
with the Government's development plans under Mahinda Chinthana?
A: According to this new amendment to the Local Government
Bill, every vote of the people given will be represented by a member.
This proposed bill is a mixture of the First Past the Post System and
the PR system. I have always supported this new system. Sometimes the
village is not represented under the present system. Certain villages
are not represented at all while some villages are represented by two or
three members. With these new amendments, the people in every village
will have their own elected member. That itself will lead for a better
development, because one person will be responsible to look after that
particular village. Then Government's development can be carried out in
small villages through these council members. That itself would empower
Q: Have you selected the best possible chairmen for the new
local councils? Was any action taken against those who engaged in
violence during the polls campaign?
A: Yes, the party has done its level best in this regard. As a
party it has considered the popularity of the member and the same way
they have looked into the discipline of the member as well. Therefore
the party has selected chairmen to local government bodies by
considering these both aspects. The party has given chairmanship to the
members who have obtained the highest number of preferential votes if
there are no allegations levelled against them. If there are any
allegations against a member who has received the highest number of
votes, the chairmanship has been given to the member who is second in
the list or to another person.
Q: Do you think such violence will reduce when the new
electoral system is introduced?
A: Definitely. With the introduction of the new electoral
system, intra party violence will be out. Today violence is not between
parties but mostly within parties. Therefore 90 percent of violence will
be reduced with the introduction of the new electoral system. This new
system must be introduced even to Provincial Councils and Parliamentary
elections as well. The present system maybe favourable to a person like
me. Persons who are popular have a better place under the present
system. But I prefer to the First Past the Post System. Even if I am
defeated, I would like to serve that particular electorate and develop
that electorate rather than running around the district.
Q: There will be no elections till 2015-2016. Will the
Government be this popular even after six years?
A: The Local Government elections and Provincial Council
elections will be held in 2015, by that time, the country will be very
much improved. Most of the development projects may not benefit the
people until these projects produce results. For example though we say
that we have done so many power projects, the people may not be
benefited until the final results of these major development projects
are seen. When the Kerawalapitiya, Norochcholai and Upper Kotmale
projects are completed, we will be saturated with power. When power is
produced by water and coal, the cost of production will be very much
less than diesel.
Then the people will have more power at a cheaper rate. This will be
felt by the people.
By the next election, the construction of the Mattala International
Airport and the expansion of the Bandaranaike International Airport will
be completed. Today some people say ships are not coming to Hambantota
harbour. That is a lie. When the building of a factory is completed, the
people ask where is the production? But we have to move machinery to the
factory and then begin operations. The same thing is applicable to
Hambantota harbour as well. In order to earn from oil bunkering, we have
to start the oil refinery at Hambantota harbour. Once that is started,
ships will start come to Hambantota harbour for oil bunkering. There are
about 70,000 vessels passing up and down just 12 nautical miles away
from the Hambantota harbour and they go hundreds of nautical miles to
Bombay or Singapore for oil bunkering. They would like to come to a
nearby port for oil bunkering. If we can tap 10 percent of these
vessels, we can earn over US$ 500 million per year.
The Singapore port has become congested and vessels are kept in the
out harbour for a few days. When these ships come to the Colombo South
Port, that rush will not be there and we will be able to earn another
US$ 500 million. That means these two ports can earn US$ 1 billion per
Then the people will reap the results. When the final results of the
on-going mega development projects such as airport, ports, power,
highways, second oil refinery and oil exploration come to light, there
will be no room for any Opposition in this country for many decades.
Under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the UPFA would also
turn into a political party similar to the parties led by Lee Kwan Yew
of Singapore, Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia and Park Chung of South
Korea. The party of the people in Sri Lanka is the party which liberated
them from terrorism and offered freedom plus development. Therefore the
UPFA would be a party similar to the parties in those countries which
will be in power for decades and decades.
Q: How do you view the close coordination which is being
developed between the President and the Parliament after the
introduction of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution?
A: According to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the
President has to participate in Parliamentary debates at least once
every three months. Under the 18th Amendment, this is compulsory. When
the President attends Parliament, he can get an idea about the thinking
behind Opposition members. The President can face their questions and
answer their questions. The President will attend Parliament and keep in
touch with Opposition views. I think that is very good for democracy.
The Head of State will not only move with Government members but also
with Opposition Members. That would pave the way to producing a better
Q: What are the steps being taken to address the Indo-Lanka
fishermen issue? How will the revived Indo-Lanka Joint Working Group on
Fishing help in this process?
A: Indian trawlers cross our borders in hundreds and sometimes
in thousands, in an organised manner. I have provided satellite pictures
and other pictures to the Indian Government about the destruction of
corals due to such trawling. Our fishermen also cross the border. But
that is individually and not in an organised manner. Therefore there is
a big difference between Indian fishermen crossing our borders and our
fishermen crossing their border. I have met the Indian fishermen and the
Northern fishermen. I have got the Northern and Indian fishermen to meet
together as well. I have maintained that under international law nobody
can cross another country's maritime border.
This is the same sentiment expressed by the External Affairs Minister
of India. He has categorically stated that the Indian fishermen had no
right to cross the border. There is massive resentment among the
Northern fishermen due to the lack of action against these Indian
fishermen. The Indian fishermen come to the Northern side, take our fish
three days a week and go back. They come like an organised armed group.
Finally that is why our fishermen have taken the law into their hands.
Now it has come to a point where the two Governments are ready to sit
and discuss this matter. The first discussion was started in Delhi on
Tuesday. Our position is that the Indian Government can take any action
against our fishermen who cross their border but Indian fishermen have
no right to cross the border and come into our territory.
Q: What are the steps you are taking to increase fish harvest
A: I have taken many steps in this regard. My target is to get
rid of malnutrition in the country which is 21 percent among children at
present. The WHO predicts that it can be reduced to 12 percent by 2013.
But my target is to bring it down to zero. Protein deficiency is the
main reason for malnutrition. Nearly 70 percent of protein requirement
in this country is supplied by fish. In order to improve that, we have
to increase production. In order to achieve these targets, I have set up
several development goals for the coastal area. The Southern coastal
area is now saturated with vessels. But the Northern coastal area which
provided 43 percent of the fish production before 1983, had come down to
seven percent by the time the North was liberated from terrorists. We
have to develop the Northern fisheries industry to supply 50 percent of
our national fish production.
Deep sea fishing is another key area that should be developed. We
have taken steps to increase production by three fold. We have to go to
the international seas as well. At present 48 percent of the fish in the
Indian Ocean is caught by European Union vessels. I want to compete with
them and catch the Indian Ocean fish without permitting outsiders to
take our fish in the Indian Ocean. We intend to bring those fish into
our coastal areas of the country and to increase nutrition in the
people. When we talk about freshwater fishing, we have about 33,000
hectares of water inside the country and there are 12,000 seasonal tanks
in the country. We have selected 8,000 seasonal tanks and plan to double
the production by 2013. We have also commenced another project in lagoon
water to culture prawns, crabs and lobsters in lagoons. So we will have
a very good fisheries industry in this country by 2013. Today we are the
third productive force in the country. Once I achieve my target, the
fisheries sector maybe the first or second most productive force in this
Q: How has the lifting of restrictions on fishing in the
North-East contributed to increase fish harvest?
A: As I mentioned earlier, when the Northern Province was
liberated from terrorists, the contribution of the Northern fisheries
sector was seven percent. The contribution made by the Northern
fisheries sector has increased by 134 percent within a year. The
Ministry has also provided boats, fishing nets, credit facilities and
fingerlings for fresh-water fishing. With my new development program
with the Alfaizal Foundation of Saudi Arabia, which has pledged to
provide US$ 300 million to the Ministry. I will use these funds to
purchase over 1,000 vessels to be sent to the deep sea in the Northern
coastal belt and international sea to increase production.