National unity government, after general election - Minister
Akila Viraj Kariyawasam
Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said that the manner in
which the President, Prime Minister and the Cabinet were conducting
their affairs was clear testimony to the democratic form of governance
as against the dictatorial nature practiced by the previous regime.
He told the Sunday Observer that during this short period, this
relatively small Cabinet had brought many progressive moves and
victories for the people.
The Minister said President Maithripala Sirisena during his election
campaign pledged to curtail the powers of the Executive Presidency and
vest more powers with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
Although these powers have not yet changed constitutionally, a
Government which is held accountable to Parliament has been set up. Now
everybody acts as one Sri Lankan nation.
During the past few decades, we experienced the repercussion of
certain elements promoting racism. Now Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim leaders
have made an effective contribution as one Sri Lankan nation to govern
All political parties including some progressive members of the SLFP
have also joined hands with the Government. Could we find a more people-
friendly Government than this, the Minister queried.
Q: There is much controversy over the lack of an educational policy.
University tutorial staff and academics too struggled for this. Could
you say whether you intend to introduce a new educational policy?
A: A national educational policy has become an urgent need today.
Certain steps were taken in the past but they did not become a reality.
We intend to formulate a national educational policy in the near
future. At present, a crisis situation exists in the education sector
such as formulating syllabuses , admitting children, recruitingand
training teachers and giving promotions.
Sometimes, accepted circulars have been violated. At present, the
quality of education has dropped to some extent.
A series of problems have cropped up in the education sector. We hope
to formulate a national educational policy and find solutions to
existing issues in the education sector. Today, some parents under the
influence of politicians come to the Education Ministry even to admit
their children to schools.
Various methods were adopted in the past to admit children to schools
from the list of politicians at times exceeding the limit.
Thousands of children who studied at Carlton Preschool were admitted
to Government schools. Moreover, those who held various portfolios at
President's House had sent lists to to the Education Ministry to admit
children to schools. As a result, most of the schools are chock-a-block.
Thus children who obtained high marks at the Year Five Scholarship
Examination were deprived of the opportunity of entering a good school.
We have laid emphasis on all these issues.
We have decided to take a balanced approach to teacher problems,
while a decision has been taken to implement Teacher Transfer Boards.
The national education policy to be formulated will focus on all
Q: What made you to stop naming schools, laboratories and the like
after politicians and school principals accepting money for school
A: As the Education Minister, I will take the decision to
systematically minimise bringing politics into schools.
At present, many schools are named after various politicians and they
were mushrooming. In our history, only a few schools were named after
politicians of the calibre of C.W.W. Kannangara and some others
considering their sublime service rendered to the education sector and
But the bad precedence that we witnessed over the past few years was
that a large number of schools were named after former President Mahinda
Rajapaksa. Even after I assumed office as Education Minister, requests
were made to name seven schools after the former President.
The present Government does not expect to name any school after the
President, Prime Minister or Education Minister.
Our objective is to stop political interference in schools. It will
take awhile for this to be a reality.
Q: A large number of village schools had to be closed reportedly due
to parents seeking better schools for their children and due to lack of
qualified teachers. What has really gone wrong?
A: Proper categorisation has not been made when teachers were
recruited. Teacher recruitment has not been made to fill the shortage of
Attention has also not been focused to train teachers systematically.
Only a few selected schools were developed while schools being closed
This is a serious mistake made in the education sector. The
Government intends to provide facilities to all schools and develop them
physically and quantitatively.
We hope to recruit teachers based on existing requirements in the
education sector and maintain a balance of teachers.
We also hope to give certain targets to teachers to increase the
percentage of students passing examinations.
Such attempts made by teachers will be appreciated and in the future,
a special allowance will be given to them.
The Government also hopes to increase allocations made to the
education sector. This would help to develop the school network and
overcome shortcomings in schools.
Q: The most pressing issue is grade one admission. How are you going
to tackle this problem?
A: Actually this is the biggest problem faced by us. Nearly 1000 to
2000 people come to the Education Ministry on public days seeking
permission to admit their children to Grade One.
I don't think admission to Grade One should be made through
politicians lists anymore. In future, we will formulate a method for
this purpose. We will also rectify errors in some circulars.
According to the methodology in the university sector, it is clear
that a student shoud know whether he is qualified to enter the
university or not based on the marks that he had obtained in the G.C.E.
Advanced Level Examination.
Nobody can interfere and change that process. A simiar transparent
methodol will be formulated for Grade One admission so that nobody will
come to the Education Ministry seeking permission to admit children to
These changes can't be made overnight. I need some time to make these
changes. In certain instances during the former government, children
were admitted to Grade One due to political influence.
A lot of injustice has been caused to some parents over this.We have
to mete out justice to them. This does not mean that there will be
We hope to systematically stop the admission of children to Grade One
through political interference.
Q: You have abolished Colonel posts given to principals. What was the
reason for this decision?
A: When I went to a school, I saw a photograph of a principal dressed
in colonel attire.
In the past, principals didn't govern schools with a military
mentality. The duty of qa principal is much more than that. They have
the principal service and the administrative service. There is a
procedure for them to get posts and promotions.
We will act based on official procedure.
We have stopped school processions wasting public funds.
At present, principals and the School Development Committees collect
money haphazardly from parents citing various reasons.
To collect money, they need Ministry approval. If it is a provincial
school, they should get the permission from the committee of the
Provincial Secretary. Some schools have collected Rs.40 to 50 million
per year under the pretext of colourwashing the school and constructing
Money has been collected during the past without any audit query.
Sometimes, principals have personally taken money to admit children to
We will be strict about such things and rectify shortcomings.
Q: Will you review the examination process from the Year Five
Scholarship Exam onwards?
A: We are in the process of appointing committees for various sectors
to find out shortcomings.
The time has come to streamline these sectors. This is not a task to
be fulfilled by me alone.
All the decisions will be taken with the joint participation of
educationists, parents, teachers, principals and psychologists. When
these decisions are implemented, we will have to look into their
practical aspects as well.
We will also adopt a method to review the examination process. We
will not leave room for political interference or the examination
process while only competent people will prepare examination papers and
Nobody should entertain any doubts as we have already decided to look
into the process and streamline it.
The present examination process and some syllabuses should be
subjected to change. At the moment, we are concentrating on this aspect.
Q: People are somewhat perturbed over the tardy progress of the 100
day program. Are there any constraints or insurmountable difficulties
confronting the Government?
A: We are expeditiously implementing the 100 day program. The
Government has already brought down the prices of 13 essential food
This is more than what we pledged. Petrol, diesel and kerosene oil
prices have been reduced by an unbelievable amount.
Salaries of public sector employees have been increased by Rs.10,000.
There was not even a single occasion in our history where public sector
employees were given a Rs,10,000 pay hike.
The Government has appointed an anti-corruption Committee to look
into large scale fraud and corruption in the state sector.
The estimated expenditure of Rs.95,930 million for the former
President was cut down to Rs.2,560 million. Various progressive measures
have been taken to develop the education sector.
A committee has also been appointed to regularise international
schools. The Government will also set up independent commissions and
ensure the people's right to information. What else can the people
Q: Some social and political activists believe that it is best to
appoint a full fledged Presidential Commission with punitive powers to
probe into the plunder of state property. Your comments?
A: The Cabinet has already appointed a special committee to probe
into fraud and corruptions in the state sector.
Ministers Champika Ranawaka, Dr.Rajitha Senaratne and Dr.Wijeyadasa
Rajapakshe are members of this committee. It has already commenced
If there is a need, the Government can further strengthen its task.
Based on the findings of this committee, culprits will be brought to
Q: It bodes well for the country that the Tamils and Muslims did cast
their votes in an unprecedented manner this time. How would you embrace
this opportunity to facilitate reconciliation and promote the Sri Lankan
A: Now it is one Sri Lankan nation. We have experienced the
repercussions of promoting racism by certain elements over the past few
decades. Now all Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim leaders have made their
contribution as one Sri Lankan nation to govern the country.
All political parties including some progressive members of the SLFP
are represented in this Government.
Can we find a more people-friendly Government than this? Actually the
incumbent Government looks like a rainbow.
Q: What made the Government to appoint a National Executive Council
which is a novel device. Could you elaborate on this?
A: The National Executive Council was appointed following a request
made by the constituent partners of the Government.
As a Government, we should adopt new strategies on governing without
strictly adhering to traditional concepts.
Many other countries have also made such experiments to govern their
countries. Under these circumstances, we also went for this novel
Q: A situation in which the President and the Prime Minister with the
Cabinet will be from two different camps, is not in the best interest of
the country. Your comments?
A: I think this is a novel concept to govern the country. President
Maithripala Sirisena during his election campaign pledged to curtail the
powers of the Executive Presidency and vest more powers to the Prime
Minister and Cabinet.
Although these powers have not yet been changed constitutionally, a
Government which is held accountable to Parliament has already been set
The manner in which the President, Prime Minister and the Cabinet are
acting is testimony that this is a democratic form of governance and not
dictatorial rule as the previous regime.
During this short period, many progressive moves and victories have
been brought to the people by this relatively small Cabinet.
We saw the super luxury level rooms, offices and reception halls
constructed at Temple Trees during the reign of the former President
spending billions of public funds.
Dogs worth millions and air conditioned kennels were at Temple Trees.
People have realised the extravagant rule carried out by the previous
I don't think there will be another golden opportunity in the country
other than the the one at the moment.
Q: How prepared is the UNP to face a General Election in April or
May? Do you see any complications that President Maithripala Sirisena
who is now also the President of the SLFP, your main rival party?
A: There won't be any problem. The President is a thorough gentleman.
He has outlined the future forward march of the Government.
We will go for a General Election in April. The UNP will contest
alone for the next General Election. We hope to win this election and
there is no doubt about our victory.
A national government will be formed in collaboration with other
That would be a people- friendly government which would give relief
and concessions to the people.
It would rebuild the country's economy and generate employment
opportunities for youth.
The UNP consists of many leaders who can take the lead in this
revolution. President Maithripala Sirisena will give leadership to our
I think under the new Government, the country's future will be more
After the election, an environment will be created to put an end to
fraud, corruption and violence. I am confident that in the near future,
a series of progressive initiatives will be taken to ensure good
governance in the country.