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Sunday, 16 February 2014





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Focus on child-centred programs - Prasanna Ranatunga

Prasanna Ranatunga

Coming from well known political family in the Gampaha district, Prasanna Ranatunga started his political career after contesting the crucial Provincial Council election in 1993 from the Gampaha district and climbed the ladder of politics within the Provincial Council system becoming a provincial Minister and ending up as the Chief Minister of the Western Provincial Council in 2009. After completing 20 years in politics, this time too he is contesting the Western Provincial Council election from the Gampaha district as the lead candidate of the UPFA.

The Sunday Observer had an interview with the former Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga at his private residence in Udugampola about the forthcoming Provincial Council election as he is preparing for his campaign.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Can you explain what kind of changes you could make in the Western Province throughout your career as a Provincial Councilor, Provincial Council Minister and also as the Chief Minister of the Western Provincial Council during the past four years?

A: From 1993 to date I have served in the Western Provincial Council as a Council Member, Minister and also as the Chief Minister. By making use of my political experience and the knowledge gained by associating experienced politicians I was able to turn the Provincial Council system from a white elephant to a vibrant political system. I get positive responses from what I have initiated. When I was acting Chief Minister I was able to get the support of 71 members of the Council including the Members of the SLMC. Due to the political stability maintained in the Council we were able to implement a practical program for the benefit of the people in the province irrespective of the Financial and Administrative regulations. That is why I am getting positive response from the people at this juncture.

Q: Western province represent nearly 30 percent of the entire population in the country. As the Provincial Council do you think the Provincial Council could address the issues problems directly affecting the people in the province parallel to the development drive taken forward by the government?

A: I did not try to apply my vision when solving the problems of the people in the province. Mahinda Chinthana, the vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had all the solutions for the problems faced by the people.

It was not a list of promises but a program to address all the issues relating to the people. When the central government is continuing its program to construct highways, ports, airports, power houses I tried to adjust the mentality of the people to face future challenges. Children are the future of this nation and we focused much of our attention to build their capacity to face future challenges of the country.

To meet this challenge we increased the allocation for education from Rs. 800 million in 2009 to Rs. 2,000 million in 2013 to improve the physical and human resources in the school network in the province. We created a clean and beautiful environment in all 1,267 schools in the province by allocating Rs.75,000 to Rs.150,000 per school.

That created a conducive environment in the schools for the students to pursue their education.

We reduced the teacher student ratio from 1:26 to 1:20. Now for every 20 students we are having one teacher.

We plan to improve this further. During my tenure I have provided jobs for 12,000 graduates in the province. I also initiated a program to train the teachers in the province and now 99 percent of the teachers serving in the province are trained teachers. We also looked into the welfare issues of the teachers by expediting the process of providing pensions and introduc an insurance scheme for teachers.

When I took over the Council there were 196 half built buildings in those schools. By the end of 2013 we were able to complete more than 70 per cent of those buildings. We improved the education sector by managing human and physical resources properly. Through that process we expect to prepare the young generation of the province to take up the future challenges in the country.

Q: In politics you cannot always take popular decisions when solving problems. Do you think you also had to face challenging situations when solving issues in the Provincial Council?

A: I have always said that politics is governing the country. When governing the country we have to take unpopular decisions also.

During my tenure as Chief Minister I also faced such challenging situation when we decided to train teachers in the province. All trade union opposed this move when we tried to implement it. But at the end they all regretted what they had done.

I also faced a challenging situation after the Rathupaswala incident. But I was able to visit the two funeral houses and control the situation without dragging that incident further amidst the protests. On another occasion as the Provincial Transport Minister I took a decision to remove the flat roof private buses and short buses from the roads.

There were huge protests when I tried to implement that decision. But I implemented that decision without heeding those protests. Today such buses are not operating in the province. If we did not take up that challenge properly those buses would be operating on the streets even today. We should face such situations without any fear. Otherwise we cannot face challenging situation in politics and govern the country properly.

Q: In the Western province we see lot of development projects taking place. Apart form the development, the people in the province also get affected from these project the in the form of displacement and deprivation of their properties. Do you think these type of issues would make any impact on the election campaign?

A: Today we see massive development process is taking place in Colombo city. That has made the city more beautiful. When we go to Madras in India we have to be more careful when walking in the streets because the streets there are unclean. Earlier, Colombo was also like that. But today Colombo city is clean and people also try to keep the streets clean.

In the same way the slums in the city are also being replaced with new buildings. When we construct new buildings the people living there are provided with new houses. What is happening today is people living in those slums are obtaining new houses after selling their old one to other people.

This creates lot of problems. But people living in Colombo now realise the benefits they gained through these development programs.

We need lands for the development programs. But we are not removing them without paying any compensation or without providing an alternative place. We are paying compensations and also we are providing them houses. So that will not be a issue for us because people understand this situation properly.

Q: You are the lead UPFA candidate in the Gampaha district. What kind of assessment are you having about the UPFA team from the Gampaha district?

A: When we take a cricket team, when the team is selected, we have to play as a team. The team from the Gampaha district have been selected by a high level panel from the party after an interview.

As the leader of that group I have kept 100 per cent confidence on that team. But I know in this electoral process we cannot avoid clashes and confrontations even between two brothers. Therefore, we are trying our best to conduct the election campaign minimizing the clashes among our candidates and setting examples to the country.

Q: People from various fields are entering politics. During the past few weeks there was a debate about the entry of artistes specially actresses and vocalists in to politics. What kind of opinion are you having about the actors and actresses entering politics?

A: A fine discussion on this issues was carried out in the media during the past few weeks.

But if we take Vijaya Kumaratunga, he was a good actor and a good politician. Gamini Fonseka also played a good role in politics. We should have people from different fields in politics. But we should not bring people unfit for politics. The voters also have responsibility when casting their votes to such people. They should think whether these people would be able to carry forwards the responsibilities entrusted on them or not. If these actors and actresses can act responsibly there is no point in rejecting them also.

Q: Corruption in the government and drug menace in the country has hit the political stage in the Opposition. That has become the main theme of the opposition campaign. How do you react to these allegations and do you think this would make an impact on the UPFA election campaign?

A: The media is reporting lot about detection of drugs. How these news published in the media.

They are published because of the detections made by the Police and the Customs.

Police and Customs are government institutions. So, as a responsible government we have actively involved in cracking down these drug mafia.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has always stated that government is committed to crack down on the drug menace. Through these statements the hands of the government officials were also strengthened to act against drug dealers.

These government officials have been given free hand to act against them. But this is not a trend that had suddenly emerged in this country.

This has resulted after the introduction of the open economy. During the war also the LTTE brought drug to the country and they raised funds through drugs.

This has resulted due to various reasons and government is committed to crack down the situation. People look at this situation intelligently and they will decided who is correct and who is wrong. As the government is doing its part there are no worries for the Government at the election.

Q: Do you think the main Opposition would be challenge to the UPFA at the forthcoming election?

A: Today there is no proper leader in the UNP. It had great leaders like D.S. Senanayake, F.R. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake.

Today they have only dummy leaders. If they cannot keep their party in order how are they going to govern a country? But President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a strong leader is keeping large number of political parties under his leadership. The JVP is also now in total disarray and trying to face the election after changing their leader.

Therefore, people cannot keep confidence on any of the political party in the opposition. So at the last Provincial Council election some of the people opted to vote for the Democratic Party.

But now Sarath Fonseka is also going to barber shops and people cannot keep faith in him. Therefore, UPFA as a strong political party can face the election without any challenge from the Opposition.

Q: The violation of election laws, pasting of posters, banners and cut outs is also being discussed at various platforms these days. Do you think that you can conduct the election campaign without violating the elections laws?

A: Without violating the election laws we cannot do our election campaigns. These elections laws are very primitive ones.

The innocent candidates have no opportunity to display their number and cannot do house to house campaign also. They also cannot display their names in vehicles.

Those who are having money can have paper and TV advertisements paying huge sum of money. Therefore this is a unfair situation. Therefore, I believe that this situation has to be brought to the attention of the Elections Commissioner and these elections laws has to be changed.

The government and private radio and TV channels should equal opportunities to all political parties. If we have electoral divisions that will be good. Otherwise we need to change these election laws.

Q: Do you think that there are people who may become challenge to in the Gampaha district?

A: There is no challenge for me in the Gampaha district. Last time I received more than 186,000 votes in the district That was before I was appointed the Chief Minister.

The second preferential votes were obtained by Nimal Lanza. He obtained 75,000 preferential votes. I am confident that the programs initiated by me has reached the grass roots level people.

I have worked for the betterment of the government workers also. Therefore, I am confident that I will be able to get higher number of votes this time too from the Gampaha district.

Q: Are you expecting the Chief Ministers post this time too?

A: If I say no it that would be a lie. I am expecting the Chief Ministers post because I have worked for it and I am waiting for the people's response towards my service.

If people wish to make me the chief Minister they will do it at the election by giving their preference.

Q: If you are appointed the Chief Minister again what kind of a program do you have in mind for the Province?

A: I never expect to continue the same programs again. If we want that, the officials can do that. There is no need of politicians. We are here to do novel and innovative things for the people.

As a person who closely associates with the people I hear what they say and I take their ideas and create new programs out of it. That is how I implemented a program to issue Rs.100,000 each to 2,789 Dhamma schools in the province.

Through that program we could improve religious education among the students.

At the next Provincial Council I am expecting to implement programs targeting the children women in the province because they are the biggest partners in future development of the country.

Q: What kind of victory you are expecting for the UPFA in the Gampaha district?

A: At the last election we had 27 Members from Gampaha district and we obtained more than 68 per cent votes.

This time we hope to get 28 or 29 seats from the Gampaha district. We are expecting higher percentage of votes compared to lat time.

Q: Do you have any doubt about the victory at the forthcoming election?

A: I don't have iota of doubt about the victory. If we continue with the current response towards us I cannot imagine the future of other political parties, because people are having more confidence on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government.

There are shortcomings. But when we compare the things we have done during the past four years that is more than enough for us to obtain a historic victory at the Western Provincial Council election.


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