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