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Sunday, 12 May 2013

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UNPís no-confidence motion defies parliamentary democracy - Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena

Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said democracy has today become a laughing stock thanks to the present Opposition.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that the UNPís no-confidence motion against Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Minister Dilan Perera over a petty issue is a serious blow to morality, political culture and parliamentary democracy in this country. There must be serious or specific allegations to warrant a no-confidence motion against the Government or a Minister.

The UNPís no-confidence motion is just another motion which has no basis or facts whatsoever.

Even the eloquent speakers of the Opposition failed in their mission. They all spoke rubbish and not the real issue.

The Minister said Sri Lankaís defeat of terrorism is a wake up call to the civilised world fighting terrorism with tooth and nail to act without delay. The affluent countries which are harping on human rights and democracy didnít utter even a word when 60 Bhikkhus were massacred at Aranthalawa and children were brutally killed at Kebithigollewa by the LTTE. Even destruction, killings and grave human rights violations in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq are not discussed at any world forum.

The UNHRC is completely silent about what is happening in Libya. They are still worried only about Sri Lanka. They have never visited our country but solely depend on third party information on what happened here three or four years ago. But they are blind to what is happening in Syria today. This is the discriminatory nature of human rights.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Is there a national agricultural policy in Sri Lanka?

A: Yes. The basic government policy is that we should not import anything that could be grown in this country. It also hopes not to use agrochemicals which are harmful to the human beings and also to minimise the use of chemical fertilizer.

Q: The misery of the paddy farmer is not solved since he cannot market his paddy harvest at a reasonable price. Eventually it is the private trader who will grab his produce. Could you explain as to why this situation cannot be eased?

A: We had been struggling to reach self-sufficiency in food. All our plans and programs had been geared to achieve this target. Today we have achieved it. Now we have only to think beyond.

There are some problems. Most of the food varieties grown in the country are not palatable to the foreigners. Brown rice is not popular or largely consumed in the European market. So we will have to introduce varieties suitable for export which will take little time.

Q: Post-harvest damage and lack of storage facilities are two major hazards to the paddy farmer. What action has been taken to solve this problem?

A: Not only paddy farmers, even vegetable farmers and fruit growers have also faced the same problem. During the harvesting season, there is a glut in the market and the excess produce has to be stored for the future. At the moment, we have this problem. Earlier the food produced were not sufficient for our own consumption. Now we have to think about the storage facilities. In the past, we had never witnessed vegetables being dumped because the supply was not sufficient to meet the ever-increasing demand. Now the production has increased a little, exceeding the market demand. In the future, we will have to adopt some means to meet the situation.

Q: The controversy on Arsenic issue goes on. The World Health Organisation (WHO) report too has confirmed the ill-effects of pesticides and other chemical applications on the people and the environment. What remedial action is contemplated by the Ministry?

A: Nobody can ever say the agrochemicals used for cultivation are not harmful to the human beings. It is harmful. But the optimum agricultural production has to be ensured. There is no country which does not use agrochemicals or chemical fertiliser for cultivation. The WHO report says that this could be possible, but not definite. The report has said that some chemical traces had been found in kidneys of the dead people.

In some cases the residue that they found is alien to our country, since the particular agrochemicals had never been used in this country. Some such residue also available in those specimens. That is what they had said. Therefore, you canít say all this had happened due to this particular variety or others. Now we have banned the import of those chemicals. That is the only measure that could be adopted.

Q: The vegetable cultivators complain that they donít get a fair price for their produce while it is reported that large stocks of vegetables are dumped as garbage at Dambulla Economic Zone. What has gone wrong?

A: I donít agree that the vegetable cultivators donít get a fair price. This kind of things may perhaps happen. The Dambulla incident happened immediately after the New Year. Our traders enjoy the New Year the most-sometimes 10 or 15 days. Every year immediately after the New Year, markets take about 10 to 15 days to return to normalcy. Most of the vegetables were watermelon, cucumber etc. Vegetables such as cabbage or leeks had not been thrown away.

Watermelon and cucumber are perishable. In any case, itís a pity to witness vegetables being thrown away. We can keep the vegetables in cold storage not beyond three days. So storage and transportation of vegetables is not a problem for this kind of vegetable. What I feel is that we will have to plan the cultivation of vegetables by taking all these factors into account.

We have agricultural committees set up in every AGA and district level. The planning of vegetable cultivation has never been under their purview. Most of the time they discuss what could be cultivated during season. That is not planned agriculture. If they decide that a particular area should cultivate sponge gourd, bitter gourd or some other vegetables we can do so as they have identified.

Then the kind of glut could be avoided. Unfortunately this is not being done and the farmers too are not prepared to accept it. The reason is that some people had begun to grow tomatoe or sponge-gourd. ĎThat is their habit. Despite occasional losses, still they cultivate the same vegetable again. That is something inherent in the system. Even if they are instructed on the correct procedure the farmers would say that they can cultivate, but the government should purchase their entire produce.

There is no possibility for us to purchase the whole lot. Even the Paddy Marketing Board purchases only 8 to 9 percent of the total paddy production. The balance 90 percent is purchased by the private sector. The Government finds it difficult to intervene. The private sector should come forward. I am happy that there are a few private sector traders who have developed their industries. They export vegetable and have cold rooms at Homagama. They could help solve this problem in the future.

Q: The peasantry agriculture in Ruhuna had been neglected for centuries. Are there any new agricultural programs introduced to boost the productivity of those farmers who cultivate paddy and other food crops?

A: In the wet zone, the paddy cultivation is not profitable. Therefore, we will have to direct them to some other cultivation.

Most of the people grow paddy to ensure food security. Nobody can say the Ruhuna has been neglected. Specially the Hambantota district is rapidly changing into a commercial hub. In such a scenario, the agricultural sector will get low priority.

Airport, port and other business activities are coming up very fast in Hambantota. Some agricultural lands have been taken over for these projects. But Hambantota is going to be a key business hub soon, not an agricultural centre.

Q: The Opposition parties have criticised the inefficiency of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the private power generation companiesí arbitrary pricing habit as the main reason for electricity tariff hike. Why are not these probed?

A: Actually this is completely a new subject to me. I donít know what has really happened. But this complain had been there right from the beginning. I think the government might take it into consideration. When I checked it up, I was told that the contract with most of the private power companies would be over by the end of this year.

Then it will not be a problem. I think nobody should ever forget that the oil prices are invariably on the increase. Hydro power can meet only 30 to 40 percent of the electricity demand. The remainder is met by either coal or diesel power. The private sector power supply is about 10 to 20 percent of the total power needs of the country. Can that 10 percent create a big impact on the 90 percent of the power supply? The contracts of private companies are going to be over very soon and thereafter the CEB will be on full control.

Q: Is it not the fact that the UNP is so bankrupt as to revive Rizanaís case at this late stage when there are more vital issues, if they so desire to take up with the Government?

A: This is the problem that we have. The Government took all possible steps whatsoever to save Rizanaís life. Unfortunately the law of that country is such that even their King cannot change it. That was the reason why this unfortunate thing happened.

Q: The UNPís voting pattern and its more eloquent speakers keeping mum at the debate is proof of the fact that the no-confidence motion is ill-timed. Your comments?

A: A no-confidence motion against the Government or a Government Minister is a serious issue. There must be serious or specific allegations to warrant such a no-confidence motion. This no-confidence motion is one which has no basis or facts whatsoever. Even the more eloquent speakers of the Opposition had failed in their mission. They all talked rubbish and not the real problem. They should have proposed that the Government should change the existing law to prevent under-aged people going abroad for employment. That kind of issue would have been much more valuable.

Q: Is not the UNPís no-confidence motion on a petty issue, a serious blow to morality, political culture and parliamentary democracy in this country. Your comments?

A: Of course. Now democracy has become a laughing stock because of the present Opposition.

Q: Strictly speaking there are grievances equally suffered by the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. Are there any special grievances of the Tamils or any rights denied them?

A: There are problems which are common to all communities. For instance, problems such as unemployment and land are common to all communities. As the Sinhalese, we also have the land problem. For example, if there are five children in a family, all five cannot be assured of suitable lands for cultivation.

Even I myself canít assure my children of adequate lands to cultivate or build their houses. Therefore, the problems faced by the Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims are common to all. There are no specific problems pertaining to one particular community, area or locality.

Q: Sri Lankaís defeat of terrorism is a wake up call to the civilised world fighting terrorism with tooth and nail. Why should five star democracies try to ďprosecuteĒ Sri Lanka for fulfilling what they could not do?

A: They are talking about the human rights. Nobody talked about human rights when 60 bhikkhus were massacred at Aranthalawa and children were brutally hacked to death at Kebithigollewa by the LTTE.

Those affluent countries which are talking about human rights and democracy didnít utter even a word on atrocities committed by the LTTE. Destruction, killings and grave human rights violations committed in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq are not discussed at any world forum. Even the United Nations is silent about it. The UNHRC keeps mum about what is happening in Libya. They are still worried about Sri Lanka. They have never visited our country. They get information from third parties on what happened here in three or four years ago. They cannot see for themselves what is happening in Syria today. This is the discriminatory system of human rights of the United Nations.

Q: Will the Opposition rise up from its slumber and play its legitimate role in the interests of the country?

A: Had they wished, they would have done it long ago. Still they are not doing it. I believe they will not do anything in the future too.

 

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