Govt formulating rules, regulations to curb corruption - Athauda
The most senior parliamentarian representing the Kegalle district,
Athauda Seneviratne, who had held a number of portfolios in the past and
presently functions as the Senior Minister for Rural Affairs, expressed
his views on a number of issues at an exclusive interview with the
Sunday Observer recently.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: You are a very senior politician who had held different
portfolios such as Deputy Minister, Provincial Chief Minister and
Cabinet Minister. Now you are Senior Minister for Rural Affairs. Are you
happy with your present position and could you elaborate the functions
and responsibilities involved in your present portfolio?
A: To be frank, I would be happier to be a Cabinet Minister in
charge of a particular subject. Because in the past, as Deputy Minister
of Plantation Industries and Cabinet Minister of Labour, Mineral
Resources and Minister of Justice, I contributed a lot to national
development. I innovated a number of projects, introduced new
methodology and executed a substantial number of programs under each
ministry that I had been in charge of.
But, as you know, with the change of ministers, the same programs are
not carried out continuously as we do not have a national policy on any
To the second part of your question, I would like to say that
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has given me this responsibility since he
knows very well that I am a man who feels the pulse of the rural masses,
having rubbed shoulders with them right through my political career.
My work mainly involves co-ordinating with all the ministries in
respect of rural development activities and getting all stakeholders'
ideas, views and aspirations in connection with rural development
island-wide irrespective of differences.
Q: The main Opposition, the United National Party alleges that
the senior party stalwarts are sidelined to accommodate young favourites
of the party hierarchy. What have you got to say about it?
A: The main job of the present day Opposition is mere
vituperation on issues rather than constructive criticism. We are a very
united coalition government. We quite understand the fact and reality
that the President had to allocate a number of ministerial portfolios to
constituent partners to garner their support in eradicating the
three-decade old terrorism. We needed a two-thirds majority to be a
It is not possible to take stern measures against anything unless you
are on a solid foundation politically.
Q: You were noted as one of the most vociferous and firebrand
members of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). What made you desert your
grand old party and join the SLFP?
A: Well, I was interested in politics from my school days. I
studied Marxism-Trotskysm and the political theories and ideologies of
all great political leaders. I was voluntarily dragged into the LSSP
under the able leadership of the late Dr. N.M. Perera. I represented the
Ruwanwella electorate in Parliament from the LSSP and took took all
possible measures to address the grievances of the people of my area.
However, the LSSP along with the Communist Party (CP) joined the SLFP
and formed a government in 1970 under the leadership of the Late
Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The LSSP broke away from the Alliance in the
mid-seventies and functioned on its own.
It should be stated that when a small party joins one of the two main
parties, its credibility and personal identity declines to a great
extent. That is what happened to the LSSP and the JVP in the past and
its happening to the Hela Urumaya at present.
When the leader of our party, Dr. N.M. Perera died, the party was
further weakened. I had been carefully watching the developments and
finally suggested to the LSSP and CP that we should dissolve our parties
and join the main SLFP. Almost all Central Committee members agreed to
my suggestion including the then leader of the party, the late Bernard
Soysa. However, I had constant conflicts and differences of opinion with
Batty Weerakoon who vehemently objected to my move.
My personal political philosophy is that we should understand the
realities and adjust ourselves and change our political stance to suit
the modern trends. Finally, I made up my mind and quit the LSSP and
joined the SLFP.
Q: What is the position of the LSSP today, especially in the
“three koralas” which were supposed to be the cradle of the LSSP?
A: Politically, it has become a nominal party. There is just
one member elected from the entire Kegalle district, as he maintains a
cordial relationship with voters irrespective of any party politics, not
because, he was an LSSP member.
Q: Do you think that you do a better service to the people of
your area as an SLFP member rather than as an LSSP member then?
A: As a Minister, I have to work, not only for my area, but
also for the entire country. However, I always keep company with my
people from my area who had elected me to Parliament continuously for a
long time. It's a pleasure for me to be with them whenever possible.
Q: There is an allegation against all UPFA parliamentarians in
the Kegalle district that they are grooming their siblings and children
to replace them in future without allowing any other upcoming youngsters
of the party to enter Parliament. What have you got to say about it?
A: I was not personally interested in getting my son,
Parakrama into politics as he was better off in his profession and
neither was he keen to enter politics. However, former President
Chandrika Kumaratunga insisted that my son should come forward as we
didn't have a single medical doctor in our party at that time.
Do you see anything wrong in children following in the footsteps of
their parents? I don't see anything wrong in that. There are enough and
more cases in both main parties. Not only in Sri Lanka, but in India
too, this is the same. There are examples in the United States of
Q: The Government eradicated the three-decade-old terrorism
and the people were happy and expected a lot of relief as agreed by the
Government prior to the eradication of the same. However, the cost of
living has skyrocketed and people find it difficult to make ends meet.
What is the reason for this?
A: Well, the Government is placed at a very complex position
in the economic sphere with regard to the rehabilitation program in the
Northern and Eastern Provinces. The Government has to spend a
substantial amount of funds on infrastructure development,
rehabilitation of LTTE cadre in addition to the welfare measures taken
to uplift the living standards of the affected people.
People should realise the fact that after the Northern Province was
liberated from the clutches of terrorism after almost 30 years, the
devastation which took place over there cannot be rectified overnight.
It takes time. Our Government is fully committed to provide public
utilities and amenities to those innocent civilians who had been
deprived of them over the past so many years.
We have to make the people feel happy and peaceful so that there will
not be a resurgence of a similar unfortunate situation in the future.
Simultaneously, our Government is going ahead with mega development
projects, improvement of the road network and providing State employment
opportunities to qualified youth while granting subsidies on essential
requirements to the needy.
At the same time, the world market prices of some consumer items have
gone up and we are also reluctantly compelled to increase the prices of
these commodities and services.
Q: Opposition parties, trade unions, voluntary organisations
and even university teachers associations are aggressively agitating
against the unbearable cost of living, especially over the latest tariff
revision in electricity. How do you look at this situation?
A: The cost of living has been increasing over the years,
since independence, under every government. That is an accepted fact. To
remedy the situation, the Government should increase production and
productivity of the services and provide adequate employment
opportunities to the unemployed.
It is true that, the cost of living is high at present. At the same
time, do not forget the fact that average per capita income has also
substantially increased which means the buying power of the people has
It is the right and the duty of the Opposition parties and trade
unions to agitate against the Government on the cost of living and some
trivial issues. A stable government is not least bothered by such
Q: Opposition parties allege that there is an unprecedented
degree of corruption in most important State institutions, resulting in
the poor masses in the country being burdened. Your comments?
A: I do not want to whitewash any corrupt officials or
organised teams which plunder the State coffers. If there is any, they
should be brought to book and dealt with accordingly, irrespective of
their positions or personal affiliations.
Mismanagement and corruption had been there under all previous
governments too, but it is doubtful whether proper action was taken to
curb this menace. However, the present Government is formulating new
rules and regulations to bring the culprits to book.
Q: Some constituent partners of the UPFA are not happy with
the recent electricity tariff hike and suggest various alternative
methods to reduce the tariff. How do you view this scenario?
A: The new electricity tariff had been prepared by
professionals in the trade who want to provide an uninterrupted and
efficient service to the nation. Some people make various utterances to
the media to gain some political mileage over this situation. There is a
saying that you can't “fool all the people all the time.”
Q: The Tamil Diaspora and some international organisations are
directly attacking the Government and are engaged in a campaign to
tarnish the image of our country and isolate us from the international
community over the alleged war crimes supposed to have been committed
during the latter part of the humanitarian operation. What would be the
final outcome of this and will there be a negative impact on the economy
of our country in future?
A: As you know, the ruthless LTTE movement was a very strong
outfit which had spread its tentacles all over the world. It was
considered as the deadliest guerilla movement in the world and even the
world superpowers were under the impression that it was invincible.
Four previous presidents in the country tried to defeat the Movement
through different means with the support of the international community,
but none of them was successful in achieving peace. However, President
Rajapaksa militarily crushed the Movement, which had been a cancer to
the nation for nearly three decades.
The Tamil Diaspora was not happy and had managed to influence the
international community, providing false information that certain war
crimes were committed during the latter period of the battle against
We know these plans well and had already taken measures to educate
the international community through our missions abroad.
At the same time, we have invited the international community to
visit Sri Lanka and see for themselves the work that has been carried
out for the benefit of the Tamil people in North and the East.
We have won the war against terrorism and now we have to win the
hearts of the Tamil community by our actions. It is not possible to
achieve everything that we expect immediately; it takes time. I am sure
that when all our positive plans are precisely executed, we will
establish inter-communal harmony and everybody will feel as Sri Lankans
and not as Sinhalese and Tamils. I don't think there will be any direct
impact on our economy when we address this issue carefully and
Q: My final question, you had been a successful politician who
had rendered a great service to the country for a long time.What is your
next step or expectation in your political career?
A: I am a very contented man who has no great expectations,
but after daily religious observances, I pray that I be granted good
health and a long life to work for my countrymen for a long time to