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100,000 acres to be irrigated in next five years

Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said that people have realised that the UNP and the JVP have failed to perform their duties and are not capable enough to compete with the UPFA in the political arena. Therefore the people have lost their confidence in the Opposition. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the people will always put into power a party like the UPFA which is united and delivers the goods.

According to the Minister Sri Lanka has liberal types of rules and regulations in the water sector and people are used to wasting water. We have to change the thinking pattern of the people and educate them to save water.

Q: The Government achieved a remarkable victory at the local government polls. What were the reasons for this?

A: This unprecedented victory achieved by the Government at the local government polls has clearly shown that although there are issues on the cost of living, the people have placed their utmost confidence in President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government. The rural development work carried out in the villages during the past four or five years has made a tremendous impact on the voters. Therefore, the propaganda launched by the Opposition was unable to tarnish or diminish the confidence placed by the people in the President or the Government. The people were convinced that the Government has looked after the needs of the rural masses.

Certain national and international forces tried to tarnish the image of the Government and attempted to portray that the local government election should be made some sort of a referendum to test the credibility and popularity of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. However, the people who voted for the UPFA and brought this Government into power did not make protest vote against the Government to cater to the interests of these national and international forces. Although certain sections predicted that the voter turn out will be very little the UPFA obtained a very good voter turn out. The people extended their fullest support to the UPFA at the polls.

Q: Why did the UNP and the JVP fail to win the peopleís hearts?

Meet Nimal Siripala de Silva
Name: Nimal Siripala de Silva
Date of birth: 9th July 1944
Cabinet portfolio: Leader of the House and Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister.
Education: Nalanda College, Colombo and
Sri Lanka Law College.
Civil status: Married with one child.
Political career: Engaged in social and political activities since 1960. Elected to Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) as member and served as Leader of the Opposition of CMC from 1983 to 1989.
1989: Elected Member of Parliament from
Colombo district.
1994: Elected to Parliament again at the General Elections with 114,000 preferential votes. Appointed Housing, Construction and Public Utilities Minister.
1997: Appointed Health and Indigenous Medicine Minister.
2000: Re-elected to Parliament at the General Election. Appointed Posts and Telecommunication Minister.
September 2001: Health, Indigenous Medicine and
Social Services Minister.
2001: Elected to Parliament again from Badulla district at the General Election with highest number of preferential votes.
2004: Again contested successfully at the General Election from Badulla district. Appointed Healthcare and Nutrition Minister.
August 2005: Leader of the House in Parliament.
2010: Contested the General Election from Badulla district and re-elected to Parliament. Appointed Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister.
In the Cabinet reshuffle of November 22, 2010 re-appointed to the same Ministerial portfolio.

A: There are several reasons. Because some may think after the election is won, the Government or party in power may make certain grave mistakes and a protest vote will be created against the Government. The popularity of the President and the Government remains unchanged while the Governmentís development drive is being carried out successfully. Except the cost of living factor, there is nothing for the people to protest. But I think the Government has even managed this cost of living issue very well. The Government explained why the cost of living has gone up and that this is only a temporary scenario. The people accepted that.

With the propaganda campaign mounted by certain sections of the media and the Opposition political parties, some people would have thought the Government is going to collapse based on the cost of living issue. But the Opposition failed to convince this to the people The people have no faith in the Opposition as well. Either the UNP nor the JVP can ever come into power as people have realised that both parties have failed to perform their duties and they have no strength to compete with the UPFA. Naturally, people do not want to support the losers. At present the Opposition is so divided that the people have lost confidence in the UNP and the JVP. At present there are several factions and internal clashes in the UNP. Therefore the people have no faith in the Opposition. The people will always put into power a party like the UPFA which is united and delivers the goods. When there are internal clashes even without being in power, the people will definitely think that they should not vote that kind of political party into power.

Q: How is the campaign progressing for the rest of the polls, to be held presumably after Vesak?

A: Every poll is important for the Government. Though we are in power, we donít want to take any chances. We are entering into the arena on a victorious note. The polls have to be conducted to several city councils etc. They were somewhat tilted towards the Opposition previously. With the massive development being carried out in some local government areas, the people will realise that in order to fulfil their requirements, the government in power should be given the driving seat in these local government bodies as well, because the people want to develop their cities and their infrastructure facilities.

Q: How will the new Local Government Bill strengthen local bodies and how will they be able to better contribute to the development drive?

A: We have examined the shortcomings of the previous Local Government Bill. The new Local Government Bill has been designed to strengthen the administrative structure as well as the political structure of the local government bodies. We have done away with the preferential vote system and would go for the old system of selecting representatives from certain designated areas. Priority will be given to the relationship maintained by that local government member with the people in that area. In a situation like that the rivalry among candidates will be much less than in the present system. With regard to the administration, certain powers such as signing cheques of the councils has been taken away from the Pradeshiya Sabha chairmen, because there have been many complaints about corruption.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is keen that anything which leads to corruption in the local government bodies should be removed from administrative rules and regulations. I am sure the amending legislations will establish a better form of local government bodies with more representative characters. That will also enable more people who want to really serve their area to come into politics. Under the present preferential system, youth and women have not been able to get proper representation. The new Local Government Bill has also taken into consideration the ethnic communities when the electorates are demarcated. That will bring balanced representation in the local government bodies.

Q: The UNP is opposing the creation of the Colombo Metropolitan Corporation. But how will it help develop Colombo and suburbs?

A: We have to take very strong decisions to keep the city clean. The problems in urban areas are very much complicated. If we politicise the councils, development work will be at a stake. The establishment of councils with all the neighbouring cities is a very practical thing which can be done, because we canít take Colombo in isolation. In order to develop the infrastructure, we have to take into consideration the whole metropolitan area. There should also be a linkage to develop the area. It is very necessary to look at this as one structure. We have to deliver a lot of things such as clean and safe water, sanitation and maintenance of infrastructure facilities. All these have to be addressed. Most of the developed countries have adopted this model is a very practical model to deliver so much of development to those cities and keep big cities clean. I think this is the correct time for us to try this model.

Q: Depending on the success of this move, does the Government plan to have it in other key cities such as Kandy, Galle and Jaffna.

A: Not at the moment. We will have to wait and see how it works.

Q: Do you think the proposed new electoral system will help to reduce rivalry and violence during election periods?

A: Definitely. Inter-party election rivalry has emerged in elections. If we analyze, most election incidents take place within the same party. There are two themes of this piece of legislation. One is to get fair and better representation from the people at the grass roots level. The second is to reduce inter-party as well as rivalry within the same party. We have experienced the preferential vote system. I am sure this new structure will certainly reduce all its ills.

Q: How do you view the demand made by the UNP that the President and the Prime Minister should not hold ministerial portfolios?

A: The UNP has forgotten their past. We never wanted the executive presidency. It was introduced by President J.R. Jayewardene and the UNP. These are pwers given to the President in terms of the Constitution which was drafted by the UNP. The JVP which said that the executive presidency should be abolished had Sarath Fonseka as their presidential candidate at the last Presidential Election. While campaigning that the executive presidency should not exist, they themselves support the concept of the executive presidency. Their perception is not reflected in their actions. They canít have the cake and eat it as well. The UNP also says the Prime Minister should not hold ministerial portfolios. Former Prime Ministers like D.S.Senanayake, Sir John Kothelawala and D.B.Wijetunga, all held portfolios. From time immemorial in the democratic system, that had been there. There is no rationale in their argument.

The positive features of the executive presidency is that President Mahinda Rajapaksa never used the executive presidency for the detriment of the country. He made use of it for making far reaching changes in the country and eradicating terrorism which existed in the country for the past 30 years. Therefore, the executive presidency instrument was used by the President for the benefit of the people. It all depends on the nature of the person that holds that office.

Q: Turning to irrigation, what are the major new projects that your Ministry is planning?

A: Feasibility studies in respect of Moragahakanda, Kaluganga and Nilwala schemes are being carried out. Cabinet approval was given recently to study Kaluganga the flood situation in Kalutara and Ratnapura. Israeli experts have been entrusted with the study. They will make a broad master plan and put up proposals on how the situation can be controlled. We are funding the Nilwala project to ensure that Matara area would not flood by diverting the excess water to Hambantota. Then we have the NCP canal which takes water from Malwathuoya to Vavuniya, Chettikulam etc. The feasibility study is being done. We are confident that we would be able to find donor funding for this project as well. We have embarked upon these large irrigation projects to ensure that water will not be wasted and just flow to the sea without being used.

Q: Any plans to renovate unused tanks, canals and other waterways around the country?

A: The one thousand tank rehabilitation project is now in progress. In addition, the Ministry has embarked on a massive program for the restoration of tanks under the Dam Safety Program with the funding of Rs.8 billion provided by the World Bank. We have also received money from the Consolidated Funds for the rehabilitation of irrigation schemes such as Rambaken Oya and Hunugal Oya. There are new projects like Deduru Oya which are to be completed very soon. In the area of irrigation, we have embarked upon many development plans. Now we are looking for further development like Nakkala in the Moneragala district and other water resources in the country as well. Our intention is to irrigate at least 100,000 acres of new lands within next five years.

Q: How about the planned irrigation projects for the Northern province, where agriculture is recording a boom?

A: The North has been given grater priority. The Ministry has taken steps to improve the capacity of the giant tank at Kilinochchi. The Ministry will also improve the capacity of other tanks in the Northern Province as well. The Ministry is doing its best in the proper distribution of water to the Northern Province to conduct agriculture activities without any hindrance.

Q: Not many young engineers are turning to less lucrative fields such as irrigation. How are you going to address this problem and also prevent the brain drain in this sector?

A: After I assumed duties as Minister, I recruited 65 new engineers who had just passed out from the universities. We are trying to make irrigation engineering more lucrative and we are canvassing for more young people. We are recruiting technicians who are at the next grade level, especially with NDT and equivalent qualifications. We are trying to enhance their knowledge and capacity and provide them an opportunity to become engineers. I have suggested that universities should start a program for BSC Irrigation Engineering which is not found in Sri Lanka. We have only civil engineering. We will try to make civil engineers into irrigation engineers. We should have a special program as the need is so high.

Q: What are the initiatives taken to popularise concepts such as rainwater collection and drip irrigation, especially in the Dry Zone areas?

A: The drip irrigation system is a must. Because we can save a lot of water is being wasted. We have to give more incentives to farmers to put in place a drip irrigation systems. First we have to change the thinking pattern of the people and educate them to save water. Because they are used to wasting water.

Sri Lanka has liberal types of rules and regulations in the water sector. People are used to wasting water. For example, people in other countries start ploughing and all that with the rain as it comes.

But our people wait till we give them water and waste a lot of water. We have farmer organisations and conduct special classes to educate them to save water. However, harvesting water in the agricultural sector is not very practical. It is more practical for drinking and other domestic purposes.

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