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Despite people's grievances due to drought:

Comfortable victory for UPFA in Uva - Vasudeva

Minister of National Languages and Social Integration and veteran leftist leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara told the Sunday Observer in an interview that contrary to what the opposition claimed, the Government got a comfortable victory in the Uva PC polls to form the administration. The little reversal was because of the people's anger, wrongly directed at the government, for their grievances due to the long-drawn-out drought in the province.


Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara

The people have a commitment to the left-centred political tradition of the Government and will not deviate from that, he said. The election of kith and kin of politicians already holding office is not a healthy trend and it was due to the electoral system introduced by J.R.Jayewardene to keep the hegemony of the privileged class, he said.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: The opposition says that the outcome of the Uva PC polls marks the downfall of the Government. Your comments?

A: The government has secured a comfortable victory in the Uva PC polls, if you take the entire region as a whole. That is in spite of the difficulties that the people faced due to the long-drawn-out drought and their distress due to that. The other problem of the people was the soaring cost of living, not due to prices of food items, but due to the expenditures incurred on schooling and tuition, pharmaceutical items, the rising electricity bills, expenses on three-wheeler rides which they are compelled to take when bus transport is not available and bills on the use of mobile phones. But, in spite of it, the people voted the UPFA comfortably. This shows that they have a commitment to the UPFA and its left-centred political tradition, as opposed to the right wing. The hard left represented by the JVP also increased its vote, though it could not go beyond five percent which is its landmark.

Q: They are also claiming that a large majority of the plantation workers voted for them?

A: No. That is not correct. The plantation votes, in my understanding, became divided 50 percent on either side. The UPFA's traditional votes are there in the plantations and similarly there is a tradition among the plantation voters to vote for the UNP.

The votes were mainly divided between the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) led by Minister Arumugan Thondaman and the UNP union, because they are the largest two plantation unions. Most of the leaders of the plantation trade unions - Thondaman to Digambaram - are with the Government. There is nothing to crow about the votes of the plantation workers.

Q: Do you believe that the Government has adequately addressed the problems of the plantation workers?

A: No. I am sorry to say that. Their problems have remained unaddressed, unresolved and unattended by successive governments. The hundreds of thousands of residential units of the plantation workers is the main issue.

Except a few interventions done in housing sector - seven thousands houses were constructed on one occasion and a few hundreds houses on another occasion - nothing substantial has been done to address this problem.

They have no land, they have no house and they are like refugees. They are living in line-rooms at the command of the estate superintendents.

They must be extricated from the authority of the superintendents and it has not happened so far. Their living quarters are still under the authority of the superintendents.

Even if they have money and want to repair their living rooms or the leaking roofs, they can't do it without the permission of the superintendents.

What kind of slavery is this? This means that they are living in another Sri Lanka out of Sri Lanka's civil administration but under the administration of the superintendents who are appointed by private firms to administer the plantations.

They cannot be allowed to administer the lives of the people. It is a shame that we have not been able to stop the authority of the superintendents on the workers. The plantation bushes can be administered by them, the production can be administered by them, the service and the work can be administered by them but not the lives of the people. I think the superintendent's authority must be taken away.

Q: Complaints have been made repeatedly that more that 30,000 workers in the plantations managed by the Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) and the State Plantations Corporation (SPC) do not get work on an adequate number of days every month and, in many cases, the EPF and ETF contributions deducted from their salaries have not been remitted to the relevant departments?

A: The JEDB and the SPC estates are owned by the State and run by the State. I agree that they are run very badly.

These estates need to be newly capilised and improved in relation to productivity, with replanting, new planting, fertilisation and soil conservation methods.

All these have been neglected over the years. The EPF and ETI are monies recovered from the workers.

These monies have been used, or in other words misused by the administration. Those who committed this offence should be in jail for what they have done. This is cheating and misappropriation.

On the other hand the government should immediately sell some parts of these estates and pay up the EPF and ETF dues of the workers. It is the savings of their life and this denial is a tragedy.

Either the Government should sell parts of the estates to pay up for the EPF and ETF or the treasury must come in, as in many other similar cases.

The resources within the JEDB and the SPC should be utilised to do replanting and new planting and take other measures to increase productivity and profitability. Another alternative would be to evaluate the payments due to the workers and distribute the lands to them commensurately in lieu of the payments.

I am sure that if you give them them the land to cultivate they will do it very well, through outsourcing or other methods.

Q: President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed parliamentarian and leader of the National Union of Workers (NUW) P. Digambaram as Deputy Minister in the Ministry under you. How do you plan to work with him in promoting social integration in the plantation areas and other predominant Tamil areas?

A: I am very happy that he has been appointed as a Deputy Minister and Mr. Digambaram is a very useful person.

I treat him as my equal, not as my deputy. He will be very useful in carrying out the language implementation policy in the plantation areas, in other bi-lingual areas and in the predominant Tamil areas. He will probably take over most of my duties in relation to the Tamil-speaking areas.

Q: The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has stated in relation to the Uva PC polls results that the Muslims have distanced from the Government?

A: That is true. We would normally poll at least 20 percent of the Muslim votes. But this time around that 20 percent is gone.

The reason may be that strong action was not taken against the people who attacked the Muslims and made a mockery of their religion. The government failed to take action against the Bodu Bala Sena.Q: This month witnessed the visits of several political leaders from the Asian region to Sri Lanka, such as the visit of the Japanese PM, the Chinese President, political leaders of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) representing 33 countries and two leaders of India's ruling BJP. Do you think Sri Lanka is becoming a focal spot in the politics of the region?

A: It is a very healthy and very productive trend. They will get first hand information on social and human rights conditions as well developments in the many sectors including economic and infrastructural developments by visiting and going around in the country. They will see for themselves the freedom enjoyed by the people, contrary to what has been falsely portrayed by some with ulterior motives. I believe that the more we are brought to the focus of the world leaders the more it will help to change the world public opinion in favour of us. It will be beneficial to us. So we should encourage the visits of more and more world leaders to our country.

Q: The term of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on resolving the national issue will not be extended, according to reports.Your comments?

A: The PSC is a non-starter. The TNA, the UNP and JVP did not take part in it. So we will have to think of another way of discussions at a different level to involve all political parties represented in the parliament.

Q: How far have been successful in implementing the Government's official language policy in the North and the East during the past five years since the restoration of democracy?

A: The language policy has been very effectively implemented in the North and East. The government officials in those areas are mostly Tamils.

Therefore, the language problem does not arise. But there is no sufficient number of police officers who can speak Tamil and work in Tamil. Teaching Tamil will help only to converse and convey some ideas but will not help towards working in Tamil, including the work in the Courts.

So we need more people whose mother tongue is Tamil. Presently the Tamils are learning Sinhala and the Sinhalese are learning Tamil. There is a big demand for teachers on both sides. The number of teachers available and the resources to pay them is not enough.

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