Unprecedented development drive - Minister Rajitha Senaratna
*TNA holds May Day rally in Jaffna
*Inflation rate less than US
*Economic indicators better than US
*Foreigners testify to development drive
Soft and suave, yet tough and outspoken, Fisheries and Aquatic
Resources Development Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne does not hesitate
to call a spade a spade. In debates, he firmly stands his ground and
uses his trump cards to the point of cutting down his rival to size.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer the Minister said although
the Colombo elite may perhaps speak ill of the Rajapaksa administration
yet the stature of President Mahinda Rajapaksa remains solid, because he
liberated the country from the clutches of terrorism. Even the TNA held
a May Day rally in Jaffna after so many decades and the UNP and its
Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe could also go to the North.
The Minister said even foreigners testify to the post-independence
development drive launched in the country. Our economic indicators are
better those of the US. The inflation rate is less than that of the US
and is still in the single digit of 6.1 percent compared to 22 percent
in 2008. The unemployment rate is only 4.2 percent and it is over 8
percent in the US. That is why Sri Lanka is acknowledged as a country
marching forward for a better future.
Even the IMF and the World Bank have commended the significant
economic development achieved by Sri Lanka. Only a small political
problem remains to be settled early. If that is done, there will be
nobody to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa for another two more
Commenting on the role of the media, Dr.Senaratne said still our
media does not have Sri Lankan consciousness. They resort to
anti-government reporting to sell their newspapers. For the sake of
money, they will decend to any mean level. Even a minor clash is blown
out of proportion for financial gain and to going promotions in media
They hold the view that a good journalist should report anything and
everything. That is not professionalism.
Q: Is not the Western worldís treatment of human rights over
the concept of national State, sovereignty, territorial integrity and so
on, a means to interfere in the internal affairs of small countries?
A: No. The UN Charter is there to check whether they can
intervene in the internal affairs of any country only if it affects
peace and stability of another country or world peace at large.
If Sri Lanka interferes in the affairs of another country ,then the
UN has a right to intervene. Otherwise, the UN has no power to intervene
in internal problems of a country. Such problems have to be resolved
only by the people of that country. However the UN attempts to interfere
in the internal problems of other countries.
They intervened in Libya. The UN canít say Libyaís conduct has
disturbed any other country or the world peace. But they had intervened.
Likewise they are now discussing about Syria. The UNHRC is the only
forum where the human rights violations could be taken up and not in the
UN Security Council or any other UN body. The UNHRC has a mandate to
discuss the human rights violations of other countries. But I donít know
how far they can go or what action they could take. In the manner the UN
intervened in Libya and Syria, it cannot do in Sri Lanka.
The dictatorial Governments in Libya and Syria do not have the
peopleís mandate. But in Sri Lanka the presidency, Government and all
other governing bodies down to the Local Government level have been
elected with the mandate given by the people. Therefore, I donít think
anybody can intervene in our internal affairs.
Q: Assuming that devolution of police and land powers could be
agreed upon, what guarantee is there to prevent its abuse at the hands
of extremists? There were stories in the past that some clandestine
organisations forcibly settled people in Vavuniya State lands?
A: They talked about land rights because the Central
Government settled people from other districts in the North and East.
They said it was forced settlement and not voluntary settlement. Tamils
and Muslims say that they are in favour of voluntary settlement. That is
why this issue came up. When we take it up at international level,
everywhere where there has been separatist movements, in countries which
battled with Central Government.
Those disputes were settled by devolving power. The Division of a
country was prevented with the devolution of power. They never misused
power after they were given those powers. Because every Government
monitors them. Even under the 13th Amendment, if Police powers are
given, there will be a Police Commission.
The Police Commission can overrule any decision taken against the
Constitution by any Provincial Council on land or the Police. If police
powers are given, we donít need to arm them. According to the Police
Act, no policeman can carry arms, because its a civil force. Only a
baton will be provided to policemen.
The Police can settle day-to-day problems of the people in those
areas such as land disputes, disputes among the people and minor
criminal cases. Arms are provided to the Police only under Emergency
That is why Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has withdrawn arms
from and can carry only small arms. Certain powers are kept with the
Central Government. A DIG is appointed by the Central Government and he
is answerable to the Centre.
The Governor is also appointed by the President. The Governor has
powers to monitor and take actions if that goes against the Centre.
This is the first time the main Tamil political party in the North is
agreeable to devolution of power under a unitary Constitution. From
Chelvanayakamís time, they were demanding a federal State.
That is why that party was called the Federal Party. This is the
first time that the original Federal Party which is now the TNA has
agreed to devolving power under a unitary system. Itís a golden
opportunity for us.
Even land rights are given only to administer the land and the deeds
can only be signed by the President. So nobody can allocate lands. They
can only recommend and the centre will have to decide. There will be a
National Lands Commission where any wrong decision taken by the province
can be overruled. So all these measures are enshrined in the 13th
Amendment. Practically fearing Police and land rights is a bogus one.
Q: Considering Sri Lankaís size and strong cultural, religious
and linguistic bonds the local Tamils have with their South Indian
counterparts, will devolution of power be a panacea for all ills?
A: Devolution of power has never led to secession during the
entire history. Where power was not devolved, those countries have
ceased from the main body. So this is a scientific module to avoid the
division of a country. If we look at South India, the DMK or AIADMK go
with the centre for elections.
Tamil Nadu parties fight each other with the help of the centre. That
is because power is devolved. Now they are fighting for power. That is
what will happen. The day we devolve power, they will not fight with the
centre, they will fight with each other.
They need the support of the parties of the South to have joint
collaboration to contest elections there. That is what has happened in
India and that will happen in Sri Lanka as well.
We must not allow extremists like Vaiko and Nedumaran in South India
or pro-LTTE elements to take up this issue. Extremism should be
annihilated. Democratic forces should get together. That is what will
happen in devolution.
Q: Donít you think itís a national responsibility on the part
of all political parties to participate in the Parliamentary Select
Committee (PSC) to resolve the problems faced by those in the North and
A:That is why I spoke even to TNA Parliamentary Group Leader
MP R.Sampanthan and informed most of the constituent parties of the
Government also maintain the same view. I asked the TNA why donít they
participate in the PSC? Devolution of power is a problem which has
existed for the past 60 years. We were discussing about it from the
1950s. So donít expect that it can be settled in 60 days. Whatever the
system or machinery proposed by the President, all political parties
should come to the PSC and represent matters.
I met Lord Naseby PC, Member of the House of ĎLords who defended Sri
Lanka in the House of Lords when I was travelling with him on the same
plane to UK.
He told me that when he met MPs and asked the views of the JVP, the
JVP had told him that they will not obstruct if the Laws are
implemented. The UNP had said that they will wholeheartedly support it.
Government MPs have agreed to support the 13th Amendment. The PSC is the
forum to settle this matter once and for all.
Q: As an ex-UNPer what have you got to say about the UNPís
selection of Jaffna for its May Day rally? Does it not augur well for
A: It is a positive development for a party in the South to
have a May Day rally in Jaffna. I am happy about that. That is why even
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that he was happy about the UNP having
the May Day rally in Jaffna.
I was happy when I heard the UNP joined the TNA to hold a May Day
rally. That is also a positive sign the TNA is willing to go ahead with
the Southern Sinhala parties for their activities. I was happy when I
saw the newspapers where Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and TNA
MP Sampanthan were holding the National Flag together. But TNA MP
Sumanthiran says it was a TNA May Day rally and not a UNP one. He says
it was not a joint rally. This is the first time the UNP held a May day
as an invitee of another party.
May Day rally under the aegis of another party means it is diluting
the party. He should have discussed with the TNA for a joint May Day
Q: Despite allegations that the Governmentís foreign policy is
faulty, the cost of living is unbearable and human rights violated, what
made the masses show their solidarity with the Government at the May Day
A: It is an acknowledged fact that the most charismatic figure
in the local political arena is President Mahinda Rajapaksa, although
the Colombo elite may speak otherwise. Because he liberated this country
from the clutches of terrorism.
That is why even the TNA could hold a May Day rally in Jaffna after
so many decades. That is why the UNP and its leader could visit the
North. Ranil Wickremesinghe could have carried a camera with him and
taken so many sceneries in Jaffna after so many decades.
When Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister he could not hold any meetings
in Jaffna. That means there is true peace in the country today.
The US is in a hell of an economic crisis. Our economic indicators
are better than those of the US. Our inflation rate is less than that of
the US and still it is only one digit of 6.1 percent. We should remember
that we had an inflation rate of 22 percent in 2008. Now it is one
fourth. Our unemployment rate is only 4.2 percent. It is over 8 percent
in the US.
Q: Certain print and electronic media have blown minor clashes
relating to religion, language or caste out of proportion to the
detriment of national fabric. Your comments?
A: Criticism is one way in which newspapers can sell. That is
how they look at it. In Tangalle, a foreigner was killed by a local.
That was highlighted and circulated around the globe immediately by our
The same thing happened in India. But nobody knew. Their media never
reported because it was disadvantageous to the country. But our media
highlight such incidents. The media does not have a Sri Lankan
They have anti-government reporting to sell the newspapers. To sell
their newspapers they will resort to anything for money. That is why
even a minor clash is bloated and created for financial gain.
Because they think a good journalist should report anything. That is
not professionalism. That is what has happened to the media.
Q: Poaching by South Indian fishermen and the threat from
Somali pirates are the two dangers our fishermen are confronted with.
There appears to be no easy solution. What is the position>
A: Somalian piracy is tragic. Because when there is enough
water here, our fishermen go round the world to fish. One problem is
they are not properly equipped. They can fish in the coastal waters.
When they donít find enough fish in the coastal belt, they pass the
deep sea and encroach. But they donít have enough equipment to fish in
the deep sea. This is what has happened. This is why Somali pirates
In the same way 11 of our vessels were caught in other territorial
waters last year. Piracy has aggravated to such an extent that at the
last Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) session held in Australia, the
UK brought a resolution to ban our entire fleet of fisheries vessels for
fishing in international waters.
However, we defeated that resolution. Otherwise there are no
complaints about our fisheries industry today. When I assumed office the
industry had faced many problems.
We have not supplied the list and we did not attend the IOTC
sessions. For the first time, the IOTC sessions were held in Sri Lanka
in March last year. The Co-Vice Chair was given to Sri Lanka at the IOTC
sessions held in Australia this year. That is how the Sri Lankan
fisheries industry has been recognised at international level.
The only blackmark is that our vessels go into other territories.
Because there is a category titled Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU)
vessels. Our vessels belong to that category. But we have taken action
to de-register those vessels.
As far as Indian fishermen poaching in our waters, we have a
bilateral agreement. We donít report this to the IOTC. Otherwise the
IOTC can take action against Indian fishermen.
Our fishermen also cross the borders and go to India. We have settled
these matters amicably now. They are releasing our fishermen through
But when 20 of our fishermen crossed over to the Indian side, 2,000
Indian fishermen cross over to the Sri Lankan side.
So this is an ongoing problem. We kept silent because there was a
bigger issue before the UNHRC where we wanted Indiaís support to resolve
it. However India did not give the support.
Q: The future of canned fish production depends largely on
increased local consumption, export potential and price affordability.
Would you elaborate the importance of these where Galle canned fish
factory is concerned?
A: At the moment the Galle canned fish factory is only
producing 10,000 cans a day. Our target is to produce about 120,000 cans
a day. Sometimes, the second canned fish factory will be opened this
month which would produce another 10,000 cans daily. The third factory
will be opened in June where 15,000 cans will be produced.
They can increase the capacity later. All together we can produce
about 90,000 cans by the end of this year. The price of canned fish is
Rs. 100, which less than other products in the market. The price other
canned fish products are about Rs. 270. But our products are Rs. 170.
Most of the people who consume the Galle canned fish say it is tasty.
This will also reduce foreign exchange spent on importing canned
fish. It will generate employment. Poor people can also afford to
consume canned fish. There are particular fish that could be canned.
Q: Do you have any special plans to develop the fishing
industry as a strong source of foreign exchange?
A: Yes. Fish stocks are reducing due to the increase in fish
consumption. The Atlantic and Pacific are affected.
The Indian Ocean is not affected as much. I had discussed with
Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Government has agreed to allow Sri Lankan
vessels to fish in their territorial waters. I am going to sign an MoU
with Seychelles where they have sent a draft by agreeing that Sri Lankan
Vessels could come into their territory. Even our multi-day boats are
used only for coastal waters. We must introduce bigger vessels for the
deep sea and for international waters with better facilities which can
stay for a long.
We are going to bring a master vessel in a few months. We can send
the vessel to collect fish and supply food, ice and fuel. Then the
vessels can stay more using less fuel and catch more fish. I have taken
steps to develop all this step by step, then fishing will be a
sustainable fishing industry in Sri Lanka.
Q: What are the immediate benefits of lifting restrictions on
fishing in the North and East?
A: In late 1980a, the Northern Province provided 43 percent of
our fish produce. It had come down to seven percent by the time the
North was liberated in 2009. With all the facilities that we have now
provided to the North, fish production in the North has increased to 14
percent in 2011.
Fish production in the Eastern Province has increased to 23 percent,
we have got results. With time, we are hoping to increase production to
about 50 percent in the North and the East.
Q: You do a solid job of whatever portfolio you undertake. Is
this because you donít believe in ostentatious politics?
A: Yes. If you bring politics into the scene you can never
improve. I never give jobs to damage the industry. I need more jobs for
people who helped me to come to this position, but it should be done in
a proper manner.
If we can increase production, then we can employ more people. They
are monitoring every project and give me monthly report. I was first
given the Lands Ministry. When I took over that Ministry, the LRC was
running at a loss. In one year the then Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe wanted me to close it.
But I kept quiet and made it a profitable organisation. When I was
given the State Engineering Corporation (SEC) and the other Corporation,
they were not paid salaries on a fixed date as they didnít have money.
Even COPE has reported the net profit of the SEC was Rs. 290 million in
Even now I have brought down losses in all the corporations I handle.
I hope I can make every organisation profitable by the end of this year.
I have promised employees that a part of the profit will be distributed
among them. I will give the benefits for what they do and the way they
They know my vision. Up to now, I have been able to full fill over 80
percent mentioned in the ďMahinda Chinthana Vision for the FutureĒ in
relation to the fisheries sector.