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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 the Government.

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 areas.

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 UNP.

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 this?

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 elections.

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 the people.

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 year.

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 President.

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 and exports?

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 country.

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.

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