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Sunday, 28 April 2013

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Govt formulating rules, regulations to curb corruption - Athauda Seneviratne

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 subject.

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 stable government.

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 America too.

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 also increased.

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 actions.

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 terrorism.

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 peacefully.

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 come.

 

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