Democracy and media freedom prevail today - Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne
Health and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said
that the resounding victory achieved by President Maithripala Sirisena
on January 08 Presidential election has paved the way to change the
entire political scenario in the country. It is like the Middle East
Spring. What they did by bullet, we did by ballot. That is the
difference. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said
that this will change the picture, culture and the entire civilisation
of the country. It is a small step that we took, but it would be a
bigger one in the evolution of politics in this country.
Dr. Senaratne said that the Government would ensure full media
freedom to the journalists to fulfill their duties. Those who used
thuggery and involved in the murder of journalists, torturing and
threatening them to leave the country will be severely dealt with. Soon
after President Maithripala Sirisena's victory, I appealed to all media
personnel who had left the country to come back and join hands with us.
This is a new country. Now there is democracy and media freedom in the
country so that anybody can criticise us. Nobody should be scared
because there won't be any ‘phone-tapping hereafter. Nobody will be
followed by the NIB. There will be no more interference with the
political or social figures except in the context of the country's
security and nothing else. The State media will be made independent
under the present Government. All parties will be given an opportunity
in the state media to express their opinion. The Government would ensure
the right to information through an Act that will be passed in
Parliament soon. This would pave the way for the journalists to have
access to any transaction of any Minister.
Q: How would you explain this overnight silent revolution on
January 8? What basically underlined this sort of political change?
A: It is like the Middle East Spring. What they did by bullet,
we did by ballot. That is the difference. This is the trend everywhere
in the world against dictators whether they are military or
constitutional dictators. Here too the same answer was given by the
electorate. That is why we took a bold decision at that time and most of
the people expected that we will end up in political wilderness but we
achieved it within one and half month.
The entire political scenario in the country has changed now - it
will change the picture, culture and the entire civilisation of the
country as well. It is a small step we took, but it would be a bigger
one in the evolution of the politics in this country.
Q: The Sri Lankan voter is as enlightened as his counterpart
in Europe or USA in providing oxygen to a waning democracy. How do you
explain the democratic heritage of the Sri Lankan voter?
A: Actually this is a landmark decision by the electorate. The
entire civilised world waited for this result to work against the
tyranny of the Rajapaksas. The entire Europe, USA and all peace-loving
people in the world are very happy about this victory. Even our
neighbour India is also very happy.
There is no future for Sri Lanka without Europe, USA and India. We
should learn from Cuba today. Last year Raul Castro's daughter Mariela
Castro visited USA. She had an interview with the Time Magazine where
she said that there is no future for Cuba without relations with the
USA. She hoped for normalcy between USA and Cuba as early as possible.
Now US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro talk to each other. It is
a new chapter. Even our so-called socialists in this country who are
talking of American imperialism must learn from Castro. Fidel Castro is
an icon of revolution. His brother consulted him and took the decision.
If Fidel Castro can come to an understanding with the USA, why not we?
Here all revolutionists only talk of revolution. There is no revolution
here. Let alone sacrificing their lives, they are not even ready to
sacrifice their ministerial portfolios. But Fidel and Raul joined the
revolution even to sacrifice their lives if necessary.
Q: Bribery, corruption, kickbacks and payoffs on one side and
heroin, ethanol and such other dangerous anti-social vices were the
hallmark of the UPFA rule. Would you like to elaborate on this and how
those responsible for all these would be dealt with?
A: There were some UPFA Cabinet Ministers who were involved in
the drug business. That is why all the containers carrying drugs were
confiscated, but there were no owners. The owners were hanging around
the Temple Trees. There were ethanol manufacturers who had permits and
nearly five Cabinet Ministers also had ethanol permits. Even certain
Basnayaka Nilames had ethanol permits. Those who were looked after by
the gods are now being looked after by ethanol.
This is the country where we are living today. There are even
Ministers who are making artificial toddy. It is only the former
President who could issue ethanol permits but nobody else. He was the
same leader who talked about the “Mathata Thitha”. This is how they have
destroyed the country. The local alcohol consumption has increased. The
beer consumption too has increased by two or threefold despite the
“Mathata Thitha” program. That shows these are mere slogans only and
nothing else. We will cancel their permits and take legal action against
all of them. Those who resorted to thuggery and were involved in the
murder of journalists, torturing and threatening them to leave the
country will be severely dealt with.
That is why soon after President Sirisena's victory, I appealed to
all media personnel who have left the country to come back and join
hands with us. I even personally invited the owner of the Lanka Enews,
Sandaruwan to comeback and reopen his website.
This is a new country. Now there is democracy and media freedom so
that anybody can criticise us. Nobody should be scared because there
won't be any telephone tapping hereafter. Nobody will be followed by the
NIB. There will be no more interference with political or social figures
except in the context of national security.
Q: The current laws and the constitutional provisions are
totally inadequate to prevent abuse of power by politicians. Do you have
any plans to rectify these shortcomings?
A: The main thing is that the executive powers were exercised
by a single person to govern the country. The former President didn't
know what is good and what is bad. Whoever who helped him was looked
after. That is why there are lots of bribery allegations, against the
Ministers and other politicians, but nothing was investigated. All those
investigations will be relaunched. The Executive Presidency will be
abolished within the first 100 days and there will be a President who
abides by the law of the country and answerable to Parliament.
The Executive powers of the President will be removed. The President
will have to consult the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to take
decisions. So he will be a new President. We are giving full media
freedom to journalists to fulfill their duties.
The present parliamentary system will also be changed to the first-
past- the- post and proportional representation. Preferential voting
system will be done away with so that every constituency will have its
Another important aspect is the setting up of new independent
commissions. We will empower the Election Commissioner to conduct free
and fair elections without bowing down to any political pressure.
Whether it is President or Prime Minister, they won't be able to
interfere with. The other thing is the Police powers. The Police will be
able to enforce the law without any fear or bias. Reforms will be made
to the Public Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission.
There will also be an independent audit commission without any
political pressure. If anybody does any wrong, the Commission would take
action against him. We will give enough powers to this Commission too.
We will also give more powers to the Bribery and Corruption Commission
to act independently and take action against anybody who is involved in
bribery or corruption. All these will be fulfilled for good governance
within the first 100 days.
Q: The pruning of the jumbo Cabinet is a worthwhile step in
the larger interests of the country. Are there similar areas which
A: The entire structure would be changed. Politicians would
become genuine people's representatives and not Maharajas. We will bring
a new code of conduct in Parliament on February 2 for all people's
representatives from Pradeshiya Sabhas up to Parliament. With that,
whatever he represents, he will lose his membership, if he breaches the
law. With regard to the security of politicians, except for Police, no
other forces will be deployed.
Security will be decided on the security needs of each and every
Minister or the politician. At present security has been provided to
politicians haphazardly. Former Defence Secretary thought that the
security was his family property. Even the Beruwala Urban Council
Chairman was given Defender jeeps and STF security. We will investigate
all these cases. Security had also been provided for drug dealers,
illicit liquor businessmen and ethanol businessmen. All those people had
been given bodyguards by the Security Forces. He not only misused but
also ruined the Security Services of this country.
Even the dignity of the Security Forces was tarnished by giving
security to all types of people. This is not a private security service
to give security to anybody. There is a protocol to be fallowed as to
what VIPs should be provided with STF or Commandos. But he has not
followed any such procedure and an inquiry will be conducted against
Q: You have been very rational right through that the majority
should coexist with the minorities in the larger interests of the
country. The large number of Tamil and Muslim votes received by
President Maithripala Sirisena is evidence of it. Could you explain the
significance of ethnic harmony in the light of this?
A: We had an understanding with all Muslim and Tamil parties
without conditions. Earlier they always emphasised their regional and
ethnic claims. This is the first time in the history that Tamil parties
in the North have come forward to resolve the national problem and that
is for good governance.
They laid down five conditions which were entirely based on the
national problem, nothing about the Tamil speaking people. They have a
very good understanding. We have also the same understanding with the
SLMC and Rishad Bathiudeen's All Ceylon Muslim Congress. They never put
forward any conditions or signed any agreement.
The only two agreements that we signed were with the Common
Opposition and the JHU. We did it openly and there is no secret
document. The TNA also met the President. We discussed the grievances of
We will take action very soon specially to address the grievances of
the Tamil-speaking people in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Most of
these things can be done very easily and rationally. After that, we will
have an All Party Conference to resolve the ethnic issue.
The former President never wanted to settle this matter. They
couldn't appoint even the Governor or Chief Secretary to the Northern
Province Chief Minister which is their right under the 13th Amendment.
They were not ready to concede even the basic things, because the
former President and former Defence Secretary were so arrogant.
They thought that the minority communities are not the people of this
country. They all are our brethren. They all have their grievances. As
rulers, it is our duty to resolve those problems.
Q: Strictly speaking, there was no media freedom in the
country and the newspapers were forced to practise self-imposed
censorship for their survival. What had gone wrong?
A: That is why they thought that by suppressing the media,
they can run it. I always stood against this idea. In 1973, the late
Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike took over Lake House. The Times
newspapers were given to over Anura Bandaranaike. Then Dawasa newspapers
were sealed. All media was under Bandaranaike including the SLBC.
The late President J.R. Jayewardene had only an eight page tabloid.
But he won with a five-sixth victory. So this is mere nonsense of having
a State media. The State media will never be able to bring victory to
any Government. They can only ruin the Government in power. That is what
happened to the former President. The editors of Lake House newspapers
Who read these newspapers? Nobody believed what these newspapers
said. That is why the people are turning to the private media. The State
media will be made independent under our Government.
All parties will be given an opportunity in the State media to
express their views. We will give complete freedom to the press. We will
give journalists the right to information through an Act that will be
passed in Parliament very soon.
This would ensure the right of the journalists to access any
transaction by any Minister.
Q: By and large, the Sri Lankan voters basically voted for a
change this time. What is this change they hoped for?
A: Actually they voted for freedom and independence. That is
where the Rajapaksas couldn't be believed. The Philippines also had the
same development under President Marcos.
But the people rejected Marcos. The people protested against Marcos
and toppled him. Suharto also faced the same fate in Indonesia.
He also initiated massive development. Airports, roads and other
infrastructure facilities were provided. In fact, they had earned a lot
but there was no freedom for the people. Therefore, the people stood
against him. The same plight befell such rulers everywhere including
Gaddafi in Libya and Mubarak in Egypt. They had provided certain things
to the people.
But the people wanted freedom and independence. Here was also the
same situation. They built high-rise buildings, expressways, ports and
airports. The people wanted jobs and to get rid of poverty as well.
Finally, the people wanted freedom to write, express their views and to
read whatever they like.
That is the freedom. The poor wanted freedom to have three meals,
provide shelter and employment to their sons and daughters. These basic
needs of the people should be addressed. So all these groups came
together in quest of freedom.
Q: As a former Minister, could you give reason to the debacle
of the UPFA which was elected to office with an overwhelming vote? What
were your own experiences or tragedies you met if any?
A: The situation is similar to what was in 1970s. In 1970s,
the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike won with a two thirds
majority. But in 1977, she lost to J.R. Jayewardene for a five-sixth
This is the power of the ballot. Here also Former President Mahinda
Rajapaksa thought that there was nobody to compete with him. But Maithri
and we left the Government and showed how to defeat him within a short
span of one and half month.
This is a very good lesson for all tyrannies, not only for Rajapaksas
but even for the future rulers who try to ignore the people. This is
just only a quick project.
When we gave up our portfolios and all perks, some people thought
that we would be finished. We overcame the Rajapaksas and the tyranny in
the country. We won freedom and independence.
We will never allow anybody to sabotage. We will be very firm and
take action against all those who breach the law. This is a Government
for good governance. Good governance doesn't mean passive and it is a
very dynamic one. We have the courage to tackle anything created by this
so-called mighty families and the Opposition. We are ready to face any
threat and overcome it as we did in the recent past.
The worst struggle is now over. All other future struggles, will not
be so severe and we will face them successfully. We will give our people
a new country, new culture and a new civilisation. You would be able to
see that and when you all journalists reach our age, it will perhaps be