Senior Minister for Human Resources D.E.W. Gunasekara said emphatically that as far as the grievances of the Tamils are concerned, it could be solved only if the two main political parties, the SLFP and the UNP reach consensus and thereafter hold talks with all Muslim and Tamil parties.
The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said if this is not forthcoming, the problem will remain unsolved and inherited by the next generation.
The Minister said he does not want to put the blame only on the TNA, since all political parties have an equal responsibility to treat this as a grievance of the Tamils. Throughout world history, national questions have never been solved by one single Government or one single party alone. They have always been solved collectively by all political parties because they remained as national questions.
Therefore, the two major parties, the SLFP and the UNP have a bigger responsibility not to put the blame on the TNA or Muslim parties as they are the only two major parties who could come to power. If there is consensus, it would be difficult for the TNA or the Muslim Congress to keep away.
They will have to take their turns and come to a compromise. As far as discussions are concerned, there are no winners or losers. All should be winners and as such the compromise is the best which all political parties must aim at.
Commenting on the escalating crime, mostly of murder and rape, Minister Gunasekara said this is a phenomenon throughout the world and not specific only to Sri Lanka. This was created by the neo-liberal economic policies.
This has become a problem in India, South Africa and in most of the developing countries.
This is a byproduct of neo-liberalism. In a consumerist and neo-liberal society the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider. The lower segment of the society is getting marginalized, which affects the society while social and cultural standards are deteriorating.
The Minister said that the electoral system, neo-liberalist economy and Eelam war and its after effects are the three main factors which have contributed to the emergence of this new phenomenon in Sri Lanka. It is useless blaming the President, Government or the others. They can’t do anything.
The real socio- economic and political factors have to be analysed and then draw proper lessons. Most of the people remanded for sexual abuse and other crimes, care less for values or culture. They have become rootless creatures. The economists, social scientists, have to get together and decide upon a program to eradicate the root causes. The IGP can only apprehend the culprits and have them jailed after producing them in Courts.
Q: There are mega development projects launched in the North and the East facilitating the lives of the Tamil inhabitants. What is strange is that neither the Opposition nor any organisation talks about them and helps seek a solution to their problems. Your comments?
A: What is really taking place in the North and the East after terrorism is the accelerated infrastructure development. It has helped develop the economy.
The GDP in the Northern province has grown by 20 to 25 percent. Earlier the Northern Province’s share of the GDP was less than two or three percent. Today it is about five percent. It has exceeded even that of the Uva province by now purely due to the heavy investment on the infrastructure development.
That is of course a salutary and positive feature. On the other hand, the main grievance of the Tamil people in the Northern province is the question of livelihood. The North is not like other provinces. After the 30 year terrorism, special problems have confronted the Tamil people.
The economy was in a shambles. They were fighting not for livelihood, but for their own lives. I feel although if we have embarked upon a number of projects,we have not done enough to improve their livelihoods.
When I was the Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, I started a micro finance loan scheme to promote their livelihood development. That has worked very well. I got Rs.1000 million and started giving loans to the people at 4 percent interest with cabinet approval. Credit facilities were given to a maximum of Rs.250,000 to widows and small people at the rate of 4 percent interest that was the lowest interest rate in the country.
I managed to persuade the Cabinet to approve this lowest interest loan pointing out that according to the statistics the northern province people were always regular in repaying their loans. They have never defaulted their loans. The case of the Northern province is that if you take the statistics of all commercial banks and state banks, 95 percent of the borrowers have repayed their loans. The infrastructure helped generate the economy on a long-term basis. It also helped bus owners, and contractors. This does not have an immediate impact on the lives of the people.
It takes time. Since people had been suffering for 30 odd years and over 50,000 widows are there without husbands, we will have to give urgent priority to improving their livelihoods. Although much has been done, a lot is yet to be done.
Q: The Government has launched many gigantic projects to alleviate the misery of those in the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern provinces. There won’t be any problem of victory at the Provincial Council elections. How do you look at this scenario?
A: I normally go on the basis of reality. Unfortunately, I see a very undesirable development in the Eastern province, the polarisation of people on ethnic lines in all three districts – Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee. The dominant factor in the three districts is the existence of ethnically based political parties such as the TNA and the SLMC. The Sinhalese groups are also working there.
The UNP has announced a Sinhalese as the chief ministerial candidate for the Eastern province. Pilleyan too has announced his candidature. Then SLMC may have a Muslim chief ministerial candidate. These responsible political parties have pumped ideas into the minds of the people to think in terms of communal lines.
The SLFP or the UNP are not the major parties there. They will have to depend on other parties. Unfortunately, this is the special feature in the Eastern province. Actually this was a backward province.
Now a development process is going on to improve it socially, culturally, economically and politically. In another 5-10 years time, I think major political parties will be able to do something there.
The left is the weakest in the Eastern province. Being a broader coalition, unfortunately we were not given a single place to contest even the Pradeshiya Sabha elections. We are trying to secure something at the Provincial Council elections. There is a tendency for the major political parties to prop up the ethnically based political parties.
In the Eastern province the national politics is at a lower edge. That is a very unfortunate situation. We in the Left are trying our best to salvage the people in the Eastern province from the clutches of communalism, chauvinism and fundamentalism. We are just thinking over what be could done.
We had elections in 2008 in the NCP and Sabaragamuwa few months before the conclusion of war against terrorism. The Eastern province had however been liberated.
Then Army was marching from Mannar to Kilinochchi. The whole attention of the country was focused on that. That was a contributory factor. In spite of all that, the percentage of the votes polled in the Eastern province was somewhere between 55 to 60 percent. My observation is that the highest percentage of polls was recorded firstly at the Presidential election, secondly Parliamentary election and thirdly Pradeshiya Sabhas. Last was the Provincial councils and the votes polled were less than 60 percent in other parts of the island.
I think the majority of the people are disinterested. But when the campaign develops, we may be able to get 55 to 60 percent votes. So I think the Government will do fairly well in both districts. Basically the progressive vote is there in Sabaragamuwa and NCP. The SLFP and other progressive forces are in a position to maintain their vote base.
Q: Discussions with Tamil political parties will not produce any results so long as they maintain their original agenda as could be seen from the ITAK convention in Batticaloa. Will the Government ever succeed in seeking a solution in this backdrop?
A: I am very pessimistic about the whole situation. As far as the grievances of the Tamils are concerned, I have a very realistic and scientific approach, since we have lived with this problem for over 60 years.
Of the 64 years since independence, we were engaging in this struggle for over 60 years. We should look back to explore where we have failed. I think we have failed in the task of nation-building.
The UNP Government’s disenfranchisement of the Indian labourers was the starting point of the grievances of the Tamils. After that, Sinhala Only Bill came in 1956.
That is how the Tamil grievances gradually developed. I say emphatically this problem can never be solved unless the two main political parties, the SLFP and the UNP who have the ability to form governments reach consensus and hold talks with all Muslim and Tamil parties.
If it is not forthcoming, this problem will remain unsolved and it will be inherited by the next generation.
I am not putting the blame on the TNA alone and we all have equal responsibilities. We must see this as the grievances of the Tamils. Throughout the world history, national questions have never been solved by one single Government or one single party.
They have always been solved collectively by all political parties since they remain as national questions. On economic policy or other issues, of course you can have different views.
But here is a question of life and death struggle and the existence of the society and the state.
That is why I emphasise the fact that the two major parties have a bigger share of the responsibility without putting the blame on the TNA or Muslim parties or any other parties.
The SLFP and the UNP are the only two major parties which could come to power. If there is consensus, it would be difficult for the Tamil Congress or the Muslim Congress to keep away.
They will have to come to a compromise. As far as discussions are concerned, there are no winners and losers. All should be winners. So the compromise is the best which we must aim at.
Q:The crime rate, mostly of murder and rape is escalating. At times it takes years for the suspects to be convicted. This is no deterrent to stem the tide. What is the solution?
A: Before we speak about the solution, we must see the root cause. Firstly this is a phenomenon pevaling throughout the world.
This was generated by the neo-liberal economic policies. This is not specific only to our country. This is problem to India, South Africa and most of the developing countries. This is also a by-product of neo-liberalism. In a neo-liberal and a consumerist society the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider.
The lower segment of the society is getting marginalised. This affects the society while social and cultural standards are deteriorating. new political culture is emerging.
Three special factors have contributed. First is our electoral system, second the neo-liberalist economy and third, the Eelam war and its after effects which have contributed to the emergence of this new phenomenon.
Therefore, it is useless blaming the police. They can’t do anything. Our education system has collapsed and family ties have broken down. So are the religious institutions, which have undergone transformation. As a result, “a society lacking traits of decency” has been created.
A social dialogue is necessary. It is also useless blaming the Government, President or others.
The real socio-economic and political factors have to be analysed. Most of the people who have been remanded for sexual offences and other crimes, are those who have become rich during the past 5-10 years. They have no values, culture or roots. I think the economists, social scientists, have to get together and decide upon a program to eradicate the root causes for escalating crime.
The IGP can only apprehend the culprits, produce them in courts and have them jailed. The root cause could be attributed to socio, economic and political factors.
Q: The child abuse is on rapid increase. Some wants to introduce capital punishment to stem the tide. What have you got to say about this?
A: I am totally opposed to the capital punishment whether it is for child abuse or any other offence. The new factor is the media. Rather electronic media or the social media and even print media – they are bent on making money.
As far as the advertising budget is concerned, I don’t know what is their latest figure. When I was the chairman of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation in 2000, the advertising budget in the corporate sector was around Rs. 6,000 million. Today you can imagine what amount of money is being pumped for advertising to promote the market. That money is not going for production. It is going for promoting the market and products and not for production. Advertising has become a booming industry today. Print media, television, radio and social media – they are making money. Today we have 18 million mobile phones for a 20 million population.
They are supplied by five or six companies. We could total up the money that they collect at the end of the year which are being sent out of the country – they all are foreign companies or foreign-collaborated companies. Money is collected by them monthly from every house in the country.
A proper balance of media freedom and responsibility should be there. Here we have the freedom, but no responsibility. So media policy should ensure a balance of media freedom. You may have freedom to criticise the Government and anything. But as far as the culture and values are concerned, media should be used properly.
Q: Has the Government taken action to implement COPE recommendations and also prosecuted those responsible for corruption and misappropriation of Government funds?
A: First I must say I am only the Chairman of the COPE. The COPE is a part of the legislature, which is not bent on punishment. It is not part of our job. Disciplinary punishment can be given by the executive and the legal punishment by the judiciary. When my job is over, I present the report to Parliament and from there to the Cabinet. The Cabinet has taken a decision to implement it and now it’s being implemented.
When I started this process in June, 2010, the Government departments and Ministries had not produced their annual reports for ten years. Today every institution has submitted its annual report for 2010. All financial accounts have been finalized for 2011 as well. This has never happened in the history of our country. So I am proud, my efforts as COPE Chairman had a direct impact.
Q: The Opposition alleges that Parliament’s dignity and decorum are on the wane and most Parliamentarians are absent on important days and sometimes questions go unanswered. What action will be taken to rectify the situation?
A: It is not an allegation from the Opposition but from the Government itself. The Speaker who has openly told this to Parliament, has appointed a Parliamentary Committee on discipline, propriety, traditions and security. I have been appointed Chairman of this Committee. Now the committee is collecting evidence. We have summoned former Speakers and they have given evidence. We also summoned the former Secretary General of Parliament, the editors of newspapers, professionals and associations. Next week, we will summon the Opposition Leader and the Chief Opposition Whip. The Leader of the House and the Chief Government Whip too have given evidence. The Speaker wants us to submit our recommendations.
There are seven members in our Committee. We will go ahead in collecting evidence and the Speaker will propose to formulate a code of conduct for the MPs inside and outside Parliament. There is provision for a Code of Conduct in other Parliaments. I went through the Code of Conduct in British Parliament, Indian Parliament, Canadian Parliament and Australian Parliament as well.
According to their Code of Conduct, if a parliamentarian brings disrepute to parliament, any citizen can send a petition to the Speaker so that he will hold an inquiry. Such provision is not in our country. Therefore, we have proposed to formulate a Code of Conduct. My observation is that since the introduction of the Executive Presidency, the image of Parliament has gone down. The MPs’ role has become rather insignificant. Those days, when the Prime Minister as the Head of the Government arrives at the House, all the members were in their seats and they conducted well.
Today it is not there because the President visits the Parliament once in three months. The role of the MP has also undergone a change. Today MPs are bent more on electoral work. Of course, they are doing part of the work of their electorate.
Q: Public discipline is a vital component of development as experienced by the capitalist America and Communist Russia. How do you explain its importance in the context of our own country?
A: Earlier there had been discipline in our country under the parliamentary system. From D.S. Senanayake up to Chandrika Kumaratunga, we had several administrations under Prime Ministers and Presidents and there was discipline in the country. Today there is an overall deterioration not only among the MPs but also in all sections of the society. Here again it is a question of going back to the socio, economic and political factors.
Q: Financial crisis in the Western world were attributed to the ills of capitalism. The Socialist Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. What is the way out for the developing countries?
A: Soviet Union collapsed for other reasons. That was not a result of an economic crisis. A number of factors are there. Soviet Union’s economic model was only internally based and not externally based. The Soviet Union existed in a bypolar world at that time – America and Soviet Union. Soviet economy reached a stagnation point as it was not a part of the world market. They produced only for their people.
That was one of the fundamental errors they made by assuming the fact that they were living in an another world. The global economy has to be taken into account and the interaction is also necessary. Then internal democracy also contributed to its fall. The economic crisis here is something different. Today we have witnessed a number of crises. From the inception of capitalism, there had been crises. Today in the capitalist world, the main economic sector is dominated by the international finance capital. That is the main difference between the previous crisis and the present crisis. This crisis started in 2007. Most of the economists thought that they would be able to solve this crisis immediately. All their political and economic solutions have failed. Now it has gone to Europe from America.
By Uditha KUMARASINGHE