Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) Legal Advisor and Minister of Agriculture, Environment, Minor Irrigation and Industries of the Western Provincial Council Udaya Prabath Gammanpila, in an interview with the Sunday Observer, touched upon many important issues, ….the TNA’s refusal to attend the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for dialogue.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: With your three-year experience as a Minister of the Western Provincial Council (WPC), do you believe that the PC system is viable and capable of reaching out to people at the grass roots level to contribute to their socio-economic uplift while also contributing to national development?
A: There is a common allegation that the Provincial Council system is a white elephant. I also subscribe to that view. With portfolios of a PC Ministry in hand, we have tried our best to get some work done by this white elephant.
During the past three years we have introduced a number of innovative programs for the benefit of the local community, especially in the agricultural sector in the province. These days the younger generation is reluctant to take to agriculture. They are averse to agriculture because it is neither a white collar job nor a professional job. As a result, labour is the biggest problem in the province. People who are capable with all resources available at their disposal also adopt a similar attitude. So, we have introduced a ‘School Agro Society’ concept in all schools in the province. We also hold competitions to choose the best home gardens in schools. Through this program, we have been able to re-introduce agriculture to the younger generation.
We have another program, Bindunu Putuvata Dethe Saviyak under which we repair damaged furniture in schools. We add value to school assets, spending comparatively smaller amounts and saving millions of rupees to the national coffers.
The monetary value of a table and chair, which remain dumped aside, is to the tune of Rs.5,000 after we repair them. This is one more way to reduce the felling of trees for timber. Protecting the environment and public properties are the underlying concepts of the programs.
We have introduced home gardening for middle class people living in flats and housing schemes with limited space. It is all about how to use limited space for agriculture. We have also introduced a home garden project for senior citizens who have the time but remain idle. We have introduced a number of similar programs proving that the PC system can be used for fruitful and effective programs for the society.
Q: Implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to devolve more powers to the PCs is being talked about for some time now. Your comments?
A: The Government has clearly set out its policy about the 13th Amendment in Mahinda Chinthana – Idiri Dekma (a vision for the future). There are certain political groups who support the 13th Amendment while there are others who oppose it such as the JHU.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has mandated the PSC to hold deliberations on the 13th Amendment and to make suitable recommendations.
The PSC was appointed by the Speaker of Parliament consequent to a motion by the UPFA Parliamentary Group. We have stated that we will go to the PSC talks with an open mind, without any preconditions or demands.
We invite the TNA to come and convince the majority community on the justifiability and authenticity of their grievances and demands. We have told them that if they can convince us in the PSC we are willing to accommodate any of their demands. I repeat ‘any of their demands’.
From the very inception, the leaders of the Tamil separatist movements exerted pressure on the majority community to win their demands. Mr. Chelvanayagam took recourse to satyagrahas, protest demonstrations and ‘hartals’. Velupillai Prabhakaran used guns and bombs to pressurise the majority community and now Mr. Sampanthan is using international pressure. By taking recourse to such pressurising tactics, they have done immense damage to the Tamil community. They should instead enter the negotiations process to convince us on the justifiability of their demands.
The majority community cannot be made to cow down through such pressurising tactics. Post-independence history bears witness to it. We have over and again demonstrated clearly that we will not give into separatist ideologies.
Neither the Western super powers nor regional powers can enact laws on behalf of the Tamil community. It has to be done in the Sri Lankan Parliament and, therefore, the TNA should join the PSC for talks.
By P. Krishnaswamy