- A responsible market mechanism is needed
- JVP for power devolution based on developmental needs, not ethnicities
- Won’t agitate for abolition of PC system now
- Will reconsider state institutions not economically viable
- How do you see the importance of this election when the government argues against it citing financial constraints?
This is a fully-fledged dress rehearsal. This election assumes the importance of a national election in the current context. Today, there is a government which people have no regard for. Likewise, the government does not care for the people. In an economic crisis like this, we need government and people to be cooperative with each other. That is something absent today at every level of the government in Sri Lanka – the President, Parliament and the Provincial Councils. One cannot govern a country in the way an estate is managed. A mutual understanding between the government and people is needed in a crisis situation of this nature. The local election is the opportunity for people to prove that there is no mandate for the current government to run the country. It will prove that the Ranil- Rajapaksa government clings to power without a mandate. People endure enormous difficulties. They can vent their depression through the ballot instead of resorting to violence if an election is conducted. This is the time for it.
People led protest marches but there was no change of rulers. Unless people are given the chance to express themselves democratically, they will take to other means. This election assumes national significance in that sense. When a ruler is detached from the people, he will be a puppet of a coterie of forces that includes influential elements and foreign powers. Then, Sri Lanka will be at the receiving end. If an election is conducted, it will message the world that the current government of Sri Lanka has no public support.
- The JVP, the core party of the National People’s Power, is a party that advocates socialism as its economic policy. Do you still believe in it or social market economic reforms?
We are facing a unique economic crisis. We have evolved our plans to resuscitate the country from the current abyss and restore the economy at least at the level that existed prior to 2019. We have identified rapid responses to the current crisis. Instead of focusing on a socialist economic model to develop the country in the long run, we have to work on a programme that delivers in the short run.
As for long term socio-economic development of countries like ours, only economic policies based on socialism offer solutions. If you leave out the countries that colonized others, only a few have entered the developed world. For example, India is a country blessed with all the necessary resources. Yet, it is not part of the developed world. Same goes for Pakistan and many other African nations. India cannot develop in the way Britain did. Britain looted India which is many times bigger than it in geographical terms. It means India has to evolve its own economic programme. In Sri Lanka, we have to work out our own economic programme based on socialism. That is to boost industrialization and agriculture. Then, we have to ensure equitable distribution of economic wealth. It is not mere economic development only. It is both social and economic development.
- India is introducing a lot of market economic reforms. The market forces prevail in a social market economy. In your economic model, how will the market forces play out?
The social market economic model is followed everywhere in the world. It is nothing new. Social market economic theory is nothing but propaganda carried out by the German Social Democratic Party at that time. It was an invention to implement capitalism under the garb of socialist policies. Otherwise, every economy is a social model. There is no economy without a market.
India’s richest one percent enjoys 40 percent of the wealth. We won’t’ strive for an economy with such inequalities. We have inherited such a distorted economy from leaders like Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa. In our model, the private sector is absolutely essential. Vietnam is country developing rapidly in social, political and economic spheres. The state sector has rigid involvement in vital sectors of economy there.
- There is a famous example cited by Germany when describing the social market economic model. The role of the state is likened to the role of referee in a football match. In the economic model, your party advocates, what specific role will the government play?
This example won’t work. It is not an example applicable to a country. Vietnam is a country like ours in terms of geographical size. You can look at the way they manage their political, economic, social and environmental affairs. It is the closest example we look at. We cannot look to the Chinese economic model. The government should not only formulate policies but also intervene in key sectors such as banking, energy and insurance.
Only people elect governments. Then, how can a government claim that it has no right over the economy. People entrust responsibility of handling economy, education, security, health and other sectors in the hands of the government. Today, a handful of corporate entities exercise control over the government.
In crisis situations, all those countries nationalized banks. In Germany, when the banks collapsed in 2008, the government bailed them out. BMW Company was bailed out in a similar fashion using tax money. It means government has responsibility in political, economic and social spheres. Referee has a role to play in a football match. What if spectators clash? Government has a bigger role to play than that of a referee.
- There are numerous loss-making public enterprises in Sri Lanka. In fact, it is difficult to find buyers for them. SriLankan Airlines is one of them. What is your plan to develop them?
There are some state institutions established without any logical corporate plan. The Mattala airport is one of them set up without any business plan and feasibility study. We have to analyze them from an economic perspective. Still, our main policy is to develop the state institutions and protect them. Only the state institutions can operate with a focus on economic, social, political and environmental aspects instead of solely being profit-oriented. The state institutions can set parameters in the market. Today, people search for MILCO products, for example. The market forces cannot be prevailed upon by issuing circulars. People look for MILCO products because of quality. MILCO does not have total control over the market. There is no harm of having other market players.
Today, what has happened to egg and rice markets? The government issues circulars to control the market. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) conducts raids. Only the market forces can decide on such prices. A market mechanism, responsible for people, is always needed.
Nevertheless, we will deviate from our general policy and reconsider the state institutions which are overstaffed and economically unviable any more. We will do a thorough analysis on what can be done.
When comrade Anura Dissanayake was the Agriculture Minister, I was his deputy. We made all institutions coming under our purview profit making in the span of 14 months. We cannot compare the way an institution is run to the way the country’s economy should be handled, though. Better management, elimination of corruption and proper leadership can resuscitate some of the state institutions currently deemed economically unviable. Yet, I don’t think it will apply for SriLankan Airlines.
- Whatever party comes to power, there are two ground realities. One is the debt burden. The other factor is that Sri Lanka is now a country declared bankrupt. What are your plans to deal with these two challenges?
In the long run for economic growth, these are the challenges we face as you stated. If we take over power tomorrow, we have to settle loans. We have indentified five aspects to deal with.
First, we plan for small external borrowings from relatively small, emerging countries such as those in G 20.
Secondly, we intend to go for an international audit on our external borrowings to detect frauds involved in working out them in the past. Central Bank officials with progressive thinking believe that one-third of external borrowings have been arranged with corruption and frauds involved. These officials believe at least one-fourths of loans to be disputed after such an audit. This was done in Ecuador. They were able to refer them to international arbitration. We hope we can find some redress in the settlement of these loans through an international audit commission.
Thirdly, we look for local manufacturing to save on imports. We will look at items that can be manufactured here within a short span of time. We have held talks with the industrial sector to identify such items that can be manufactured with the current capacity of the country.
Next, we will reach out to our expatriate workers. Until May 21, they used to send US $ 700 million remittance a month. It means they sent an amount in four months equivalent to the amount to be given by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If there is a people-oriented, progressive government, we can appeal to expatriate workers for foreign remittances – at least the amount sent previously. That is the best alternative for an IMF programme. An IMF programme will ensure us some money and guarantee. It won’t solve the problem though.
- Given Sri Lanka’s strategic positioning, Sri Lanka is caught in geopolitical contestation among world powers such as the United States, China and India. The JVP is a party that whipped up anti-Indian sentiments at one point. What is your position in managing relations with all these countries?
We have advocated a foreign policy based on equality with all. We remain engaged with all the countries for trade and economic activities. Today, it is not a unipolar world. It is a multipolar world with various emerging regional players. It is not India only. We can cite Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Australia, Brazil, Turkey and Iran as examples. There are about 20 such countries emerging as players in economic and political fields. It is no longer a US-centric world. We work with G20 countries according to a plan. No president who governed this country did it according to a plan. The Chinese foreign minister visited small island nations such as Kiribati and Solomon islands. It means the geographical size of the country does not matter. No Sri Lankan leader has undertaken a visit to the Middle East for years though we depend on that region for fuel supplies. Similarly, no leader has visited the African region. Nigeria is the fifth largest exporter of fuel in the world. Africa is a market for our rice products. We won’t handle foreign affairs only focusing on Western Europe and North America.
We will be honest in our dealings. We won’t tell one thing to India and another to China. We won’t deceive anyone. We know there is a dialogue between India and China though they are rivals. They also discuss matters related to Sri Lanka. We want to build a sovereign Sri Lanka.
- You were opposed to the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system. What is your stand now?
Building national harmony is a priority. Our position is that the 13th Amendment was imposed on us by India. It is not something evolved through a democratic dialogue. We stood against it at that time because the LTTE as a military organization was trying to divide the country. Today, the LTTE is no more. There is no immediate danger of the country being divided. Therefore, we believe in the evolution of a new constitution by approval of people by referendum.
As for provincial councils, we won’t call for their abolition until Tamils and Muslims come up with an alternative deemed better by them. Still, we have a debate whether the provincial councils are needed for the country’s forward march.
- Is the proposed new constitution a model based on unitary character or Federalism?
We have not had an extensive discussion in this regard. It depends on the circumstances. As a party, we are for power devolution. We have taken that position since 1965. It is power devolution not based on ethnicities but on developmental needs.
Power devolution would have led to secession of the country had it been done when the LTTE was militarily active. That is why we were opposed to it at that time. Otherwise we believe in empowerment of people at village levels. At the same time, we need to protect sovereignty of the country.
- You have raised voice against corruption. In addition to politicians, bureaucrats are corrupt. How do you curb corruption?
Political leadership should set an example first to root out corruption. Corruption multiplies in our systems. We have to end it. We have built an incorruptible political movement today. If we take over power, we can set an example. It will pave the way for reduction of corruption. There are other layers of society thriving on corruption. These layers have been built by politicians for the last 50 years since they, alone, cannot indulge in corruption. There is corruption involving bureaucrats, corporate leaders, media and judiciary. It is an inter-connected unit. Corruption has trickled down to villages. Corruption is in the DNA of Sri Lanka. We cannot end corruption merely by getting rid of the Rajapaksas and the Wickremesinghes. We need to develop online complain systems for people to complain about corruption.
Interviewed by Kalum Bandara /Daily Mirror