Sri Lanka Brief
FeaturesWe will only leave the coalition only at a critical moment – Minister Weerawansa

We will only leave the coalition only at a critical moment – Minister Weerawansa

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Weerawansa: No future with Rajapaksas
” Q: Will you stay further, with ministers who deviate from the right path so much?
 A: In 2005 also, the government had these defects more or less. There was corruption then also. When we are in an alliance with a government, we have to deal with many factors that we do not approve. However, we may be forced to resign from a ruling coalition at a very decisive moment. The JVP also resigned from the government coalition not because of corruption but because of the Post Tsunami Operational Management System (PTOMS). Therefore, we cannot quit a government due to simple reasons. But we do not think twice of quitting the government in case the government is responsible to a problem that affects the country crucially.”
 We don’t trust Govt’s explanation on casinos- Wimal Weerawansa

Following are excerpts of an interview with Minster and leader of the National Freedom Front Wimal Weerawasna
 Q: Why are you against James Packer’s investment in Sri Lanka?
A: No MP who voted against the government or had abstained from voting, when the Gazette notifications in respect of the Casino Bill came up for voting had the aim of disowning such money to Sri Lanka. We are not unhappy if double that amount is brought to the island. But we do not mind the amount we lose in case these moneys challenge the cultural and economic framework of our country.
 
 Q: Don’t the existing casinos harm the country and the culture?
A: There are several casinos in this country at present. But I don’t think more mass-scale casinos are needed.
 
 Q: If you are so vehemently against them, why don’t you bring laws to close the existing casinos?
 A: The new Gazettes had problems. It not only permits casinos, but grants tax relief also. In future, anybody may be able to open a casino and get tax relief.
 
 Q: But the second Gazette clearly said there was no tax relief for casinos?
 A: Yes, but in the first Gazette, casino was in the list of projects that tax relief is granted. We avoided voting since we did not trust the answers provided.
 
 Q: As Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said, this is not a casino but leisure sports?
 A: One may argue if casino is included in leisure sports? We came to this decision (that is, not being present at voting) since the answer is not clear. Tax relief cannot be granted to casinos under any circumstances. We support wholeheartedly if tax relief is granted to local entrepreneurs. These projects come under the economic policies of the likes of Dr. P.B. Jayasundera. They may damage the country.
 
 Q: Jayasundera is Finance Ministry Secretary. But the President is directly answerable to this as the Finance Minister.
 A: Yes, but this proposal came through Abeywardena’s Investment Promotion Ministry.
 
 Q: Are you trying to save others by pointing your finger at Abeywardena?
 A: No. As a government, all are responsible for this.
 
 Q: What did the President say about this Gazette?
 A: I did not discuss with him about this Gazette.
 
 Q: Even after the vote?
 A: No. He did not ask me and I did not say anything new.
 
 Q: Actually, who is behind these moves? Are they powers above Cabinet Ministers like yourself?
 A: My view is that this is another spectre like that of Joe Sim to whom President Ranasinghe Premadasa allegedly surrendered his Sinhala Buddhist fundamentals. However, no casino established by Sim remains now.
 
 Q: What do you mean?
  A: Study Packer’s behaviour. It is different from a normal investor’s behaviour. He is open to local media. He gives interviews to media. As he was pondering this project, he became the brand manager of the Australian cricket team. He gives a wide publicity on casinos here through his website. He poses for photos with ministers and publicize them. His behaviour shows that he comes here not merely to open casinos, but to crack the Sinhala Buddhist magnetism the President has. Bona fide investors do not behave like that.
 
 Q: Who brought Packer to Sri Lanka?
 
 A: Somebody in the government may be connected to him. The question should be asked from Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena or Milinda Moragoda. They may know the answer.
 
 Q: That means these two are behind bringing Packer?
 A: I cannot provide an exact answer.
 
 Q: If we forget the ministers, this is eventually an act of the Head of the Government?
 A: Yes. The Strategic Development Project Act was introduced by this government. Betting and Gaming Act was introduced by the Premadasa regime. The present government amended it and initiated measures to grant tax relief for betting and gaming as well. We should have protested against this Act at that moment, but nobody did so.
 
 Q: Why did you evade that?
 
 A: We did not dodge it. We protested in our capacity but we failed to bring it forward as a nation. What happened recently was bringing the Gazette notification related to it. We object providing tax relief to casino through it.
 
 Q: Doesn’t the President know all these?
 A: He may not know, mayn’t he?
 
 Q: Can’t he understand what you say, at least a little?
 A: At this juncture, the focus is on multimillion investments. They may compare the foreign direct investment so far with the investment that comes with these three projects. Economic administrators must have such points of view. However, one may not be able to awaken the economy through measures that damage his identity.
 
 Q: Why are you silent after this ‘election’?
 A: The media spokesman of our party expresses the Party view to the country. There is no necessity I myself directly expressing those views.
 
 Q: But in the past, you were directly involved in matters?
 A: I do not need to rush into everything.
 
 Q: Will you stay further, with ministers who deviate from the right path so much?
 A: In 2005 also, the government had these defects more or less. There was corruption then also. When we are in an alliance with a government, we have to deal with many factors that we do not approve. However, we may be forced to resign from a ruling coalition at a very decisive moment. The JVP also resigned from the government coalition not because of corruption but because of the Post Tsunami Operational Management System (PTOMS). Therefore, we cannot quit a government due to simple reasons. But we do not think twice of quitting the government in case the government is responsible to a problem that affects the country crucially.
 
 Q: Aren’t there many other reasons for not withdrawing from the alliance?
 A: I don’t think we need to quit due to the casino issue.
 
 Q: Isn’t this against the Mahinda Chinthana Policy that you agreed when the coalition was formed?
 A: That is why we protest, but it is not yet a reason to withdraw the support to the ruling coalition. If we quit, we may have to stay out of the government every day. Each conflict in a government is not a reason to quit. We quit if the government acts against the country and if the government does not take action necessary for the nation.
 
 Q: What does the nation ask for now?
 A: Transactions with China have increased after war. But we do not export to China. They flood our markets with their goods. We have not made new investors who can go to that foreign market. We haven’t given birth to a production economy. We obtain loans from local banks and carpet roads which may be damaged soon. Do they generate income to pay back loans? A government must obtain loans to develop industries. We can open industries that may offer a good price for the Jak seed and King Coconut. We don’t see the government having such a vision. Capitalist development comprises bubbles. We are dazzled with them and wander without knowing the path to go.
 
 Q: Although you know the truth, you remain silent and even participate in opening projects?
 A: Yes, that is the paradox we have to overcome. This path may not bring good to the country. I don’t mean that infrastructure is not necessary. There must be a balance. We need to get loans with a plan.
 
 Q: Do you appear for what the nation asks for?
 A: Yes. We do it in a suitable way. The government thinks a bunch of people can handle everything since the war has been finished. But those couple of people alone could not finish the war.
 
 Q: Who are these couple of ministers you mean?
 A: As a media person you must investigate who they are.
 
 Q: Has the government changed track now?
 A: There is a shift of strategies.
 
 Q: That simply means deviation from Mahinda Chinthana policy?
 A: They have mixed up Mahinda Chinthana and Reawakening Sri Lanka. There is a hybrid now.
 
 Q: What may happen if the government follows the same path?
 A: If so, a new force must come forward to supply the needs the nation asks for.
 
 Q: Does that mean that the national movement that you are involved is in a conflict with the President?
 A: There was no conflict between the national movement and President Mahinda Rajapaksa after 2005. But today there are contradictions. We cannot prevent the national movement initiating its own independent political actions in case conflicts are not resolved.
By Shalika Wimalasena

Ceylon Today

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