“If Adolf Hitler and Champika Ranawaka contest the presidential election in 2020, I will definitely support Hitler, not because he is good but he is
better than Champika Ranawaka,” said Pivithuru Hela Urumaya Leader Udaya Gammanpila, in an interview with the Daily FT.
He also spoke about the no confidence motion against the Finance Minister and the “incompetence” of President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in managing the country’s economy. He also revealed the reason behind Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘silence’.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Why do you want to bring a no confidence motion against Ravi Karunanayake?
A: When the UNP was in the Opposition, they agitated the education community forcing Government to spend 6% of GDP for education. When we explained why it is nearly impossible, in turn they said ‘we would do it if we were in power.’ Now they are in power and they have realised they cannot do it. Therefore, they exaggerated the Government expenditure on education in the 2016 Budget to deceive the Parliament and the entire nation.
Firstly they calculated the value of lands and buildings owned by schools. Then they calculated the rental value of those properties. In economics this is called the opportunity cost. Their calculation for 2016 is Rs. 121.4 billion. They added that item as an expenditure of the Government for education. These school buildings have been built by previous governments; lands have been acquired by previous governments. Therefore costs of these buildings and the properties have being already included in the previous budgets. Showing it again will amount to double counting error often discussed in economics.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake committed this blunder to deceive the Parliament and the entire nation to show that they spend nearly 6% for education. In 2015 we are going to spend Rs. 62.1 million for education. That figure would increase to Rs. 186 billion in 2016 according to the Budget. It is more than fourfold. But out of this Rs. 186 billion we have to reduce the falsified figure of Rs. 121.4 billion. Then actual expenditure on education is Rs. 64.6 billion. In the previous year it was Rs. 64.1 billion. This is just 3.5% higher than the previous year. But they falsely demonstrated it as four times higher. The figure is lower than inflation. So if you take the real value sans inflation, real expenditure is less than our expenditure in 2015.
Since Minister Karunanayake attempted to deceive the whole nation, we have lost confidence in him. Therefore we have planned to bring this no confidence motion exclusively on this issue.
Q: You don’t have the required numbers. How confident are you that the no confidence motion will succeed?
A: Recently the President offered vehicles and funds allocated from development activities along with other perks for UPFA Parliamentarians in the Opposition in order to get their support for the Budget. It is shame on the President to openly offer such bribes to secure the Budget being passed. In this backdrop we may not be able to succeed in our no confidence motion. However we are confident that we can destroy public confidence in Karunanayake. If he continues to remain in office even after the no confidence motion, he would not have the acceptance of the public. If he is a gentleman, he should resign forthwith. But we don’t expect that kind of decency from Karunanayake. After discovery of such a huge deception, he should have resigned by now.
Q: What was Minister Karunanayake’s response to your charges?
A: Knowing Ravi Karunanayake very well, I don’t expect him to resign or to admit the blunder committed by him. I don’t think there are any more Thilak Marapones in this Government.
Q: Knowing it’s not going to succeed and the Finance Minister will continue in office even after the no confidence motion, are trying to gain political mileage by bringing this to Parliament?
A: If our Parliamentarians are deaf and blind because of perks and privileges, we should use all available opportunities to educate the general public about this huge fraud. Their representation in Parliament has been deceived by the Minister of Finance. This no confidence motion will enlighten people about the massive deception associated with this Budget. This is not the only case; this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Q: What are your remarks about Budget 2016?
A: During the presidential election they promised a minimum guaranteed price of Rs. 50 for a kilo of paddy. They brought it down to Rs. 38 in this Budget. Their excuse was that if they increase the price of paddy, in turn the price of the rice will also go up, which is the main food item of Sri Lankans. I have a humble question to pose to the Government; didn’t they know the relationship between paddy and rice prices when they promised Rs. 50 on 8 January? Did they realise this relationship only on 20 November? From 17 August there was a Parliamentary election, they continued to pledge to give a minimum price of Rs. 50. After securing the victory of two elections they are telling the truth. Our Government never promised Rs. 50 for a kilo of paddy because we knew it was not practical.
It is the same with tea and rubber. They promised Rs. 90 for a kilo of tea leaves. But it goes between Rs. 45 to Rs. 50. Although they promised Rs. 350 per kilo of rubber, it trades between Rs. 180 to Rs. 200. This story reflects their ingenuity in politics.
For the Parliamentary election there was an attractive advertisement telecast by the UNP. The advertisement talks about buying a car when Ranil Wickremesinghe comes to power. They promised hundreds and thousands of people who were using two wheels, saying that they would be able to shift to four wheels after the victory of Ranil Wickremesinghe. During the last two months they increased the prices of vehicles twice in massive amounts. What was the excuse given by the Finance Minister? He says there are too many vehicles on the roads. Didn’t they know vehicles are imported? Roads are limited? Fuel was imported? Didn’t they know these things on 8 January?
Let’s say they forgot these things since they were in the Opposition; when they have been running the Government for the last 10 months, were they not aware of it? After securing the victory of both elections, now they come out with this story. We didn’t make such promises because we knew that we cannot reduce prices of vehicles anymore. But at least we wouldn’t have increased vehicle prices in such a big way as done by this Government.
Another complaint by this Government when they were in Opposition was the unbearable cost of living. On 29 January, presenting their Interim Budget, they reduced prices of 13 items. But those items were not essential. When we questioned, Minister Rajitha Senarathne said sugar and oil were bad for health and if we reduce those things people would consume more and get sick. Didn’t they think about those things during the election time?
They have increased VAT and Nation Building Tax as well as Port and Airport Levy. They have increased these taxes when the rupee is sliding down at an unprecedented pace. Last Friday the selling rate of a dollar was Rs. 144.93. When we handed over the Government on 9 January, it was just Rs. 131. If you assess the cumulative effect of increased taxes of the Budget along with the rupee depreciation, we envisage around a 10% price increase in the month of January. That will make a significant impact on the lower income tier of society because 10% is unbearable compared to the prevailing already very high prices.
Although they have exploited the people of this country to the maximum, they have not forgotten to grant unprecedented concessions to foreigners, true friends of this Government. They have paid their gratitude for helping them to come to power. Firstly they have offered Sri Lankan citizenship for $ 5 million. There are nations in the world which grant citizenship of a country for foreign investors after perusing their investment proposals. But there is no nation in this world as far as my knowledge which sells citizenship.
Secondly, the Government removed a special luxury tax imposed on land purchases by foreigners. We introduced that tax to totally discourage foreigners from purchasing land for investment purposes. Firstly local people who have no other place to purchase land will not be able to compete with foreigners since incomes are much higher than those of Sri Lankans. Secondly, it’s a security threat.
Jews originally made their settlements in Palestine purchasing land from the Palestine people. After several decades they became the majority in one part of Palestine. Then they demanded self-rule. It was granted in 1917, under the Balfour Agreement. They thereafter agitated for a separate state. In the end the United Nations had to intervene and do the same in 1948. The story of Palestine warns us that making land freely available for foreigners is a security threat.
Similarly selling citizenship is also a security threat. In Fiji, Indian migrants outnumbered the natives. Later, the Fiji Government was compelled to grant them citizenship. The end result was that the natives had to be governed by recent migrants from India. Through this Budget we have simultaneously committed the blunders committed by Fiji and Palestine.
There is no need of lifting the tax on lands to encourage investments. The Sri Lankan Government has the lease option for longer terms such as 99 years for foreign investments. Furthermore, if foreigners come to Sri Lanka for export-oriented businesses, they can incorporate a BOI-approved company and purchase land through that company.
Q: But when in power your Government too was accused of selling land to foreigners?
A: It is totally false. We had imposed a heavy tax on land transactions to discourage foreigners. That was imposed by us and removed by them. When we had that, whoever who purchased land had to pay the tax. They had to pay double of the actual price of that property. Secondly, although they were complaining we were selling land to foreigners, those were infrastructure projects.
Soon after the war there was a big boom in the tourism industry. Local hoteliers couldn’t meet up the demand and they didn’t have the money for expansions. Therefore, we invited big players in this industry to come to Sri Lanka. We provided land to them. When the big players in the industry are in Sri Lanka, they set standards. Then our Sri Lankans can follow their standards. In order to compete we need to follow the standards set by other countries. That’s why we had no choice but to provide those facilities. But that was not selling land to individuals. Those were projects with a purpose.
Q: How can a government achieve its long-term economic goals by granting too many concessions and reliefs to people?
A: Firstly, why did they deceive people at the election? They were complaining that the Rajapaksa administration is making a lot of profits and it was individually enjoyed by the Rajapaksa family. They said the Government charged heavy duties on vehicles to maintain the Rajapaksa family’s luxurious life. Today they have increased those taxes. There must be a family which lives a super luxurious life. The Government is duty bound to expose this family. I am following their logic. They never said the Government is imposing taxes for road development or infrastructure development. There was visible development during the Rajapaksa administration. During the present year that momentum has suddenly ceased.
We can’t see a professional management in the economy to have a long-term view of the country. They don’t have a vision for the country. This Government failed to understand the economic impact of the taxes. Our Finance Minister has failed to bring his Budget speech in entirety. His Budget speech was in short of three pages. On the following day he apologised the speech was short of three pages. How can we expect these people to manage our economy? There was a huge protest against vehicle emission fees charged on two wheelers and three wheelers. The following day the Finance Minister said it was not applicable for those vehicles. Once he changed it, he will lose a significant amount of proposed income; he has to explain to Parliament from which expenditure item he is going to cut off to balance the Budget. Alternatively he should introduce new income means; he did none of these. That reflects that he does not understand what the Budget is all about.
Q: Although you are critical about its strategies, the UNP is believed to have a better and sounder economic policy compared to other political parties in the country. Do you agree?
A: Yes it did. President Jayawardena and President Premadasa were very good economic managers. But nobody considers Ranil Wickremesinghe or Ravi Karunanayake as good economic managers. This is Wickremesinghe’s fourth term as Prime Minister. His uncle may be a very good business manager; his family must be business emperors but it doesn’t mean that Wickremesinghe has the same qualities and is of the same calibre. He is not a clone of Jayawardena or Premadasa.
The UNP cannot survive on its past acquired credit. It should prove itself on performance. It failed to perform during the last 10 months. Instead of improving our economy, building our infrastructure, and bringing relief to people, it staged a drama called ‘we are catching thieves’. It has been staging this for 10 long months. People are now bored with the drama, but this Government has not realised that.
The present Government thinks it is still in the Opposition. It still possesses the Opposition mentality. It thinks its duty is to criticise the previous Government. We have changed our roles. We are here to criticise the Government and it is here to perform. During the Budget, Minister Karunanayake spent his first hour criticising the ‘so-called economic blunders’ committed by the Rajapaksa regime.
We must compare the objective economic figures of 2004 soon before the Rajapaksa administration and 2014, the last year of the Rajapaksa administration. In 2004 our GDP was $ 21 billion. It increased four times to $ 75 billion in 2014. We had only foreign reserves of 2.3 billion in the end of 2004. But it increased to 8.3 billion in the end of 2014. Government debt burden was 102% in 2004. But President Rajapaksa was able to bring it to 75.5% in 2014. Although the Rajapaksa administration has borrowed a huge amount of funds, our economy grew at a very high rate, resulting in the debt burden coming down from 102% to 75.5%.
Q: But there were always accusations against these figures. The Opposition claimed these numbers were distorted by the Rajapaksa administration?
A: When the Central Bank reported economy growth as minus, they accepted it as a correct figure. All negative figures published by the Central Bank were accepted by the Opposition and believed as the gospel truth. But all the positive numbers were rejected and therefore challenged by them. When the economy was booming, when the country was developing, the Opposition ran out of arguments and began to challenge the figures. These figures were felt by the people. We all witnessed the development taking place in the country.
On 5 November, the Prime Minister presented his midterm economic plan for the next five years. There were no benchmarks, no targets. But if you recall President Rajapaksa’s last Budget presented in November 2013, he explained what he expected Sri Lanka to be in 2020. Per capita, economy, unemployment, computer literacy, export and import, inflation – for everything he had a target to be achieved. Wickremesinghe’s economic outlook is mere words and concepts; there are no targets.
Q: Don’t you see any good in this Budget? Isn’t there a single positive measure taken for the betterment of the country and economy?
A: Actually in this Budget there are a few proposals we should appreciate. We are not only here to criticise this Government. If we see anything to appreciate, we will not hesitate to do that. In this Budget they have decided to deregulate the debt market and to encourage the capital market. Meanwhile, they have proposed to improve infrastructure such as cooling stores as a solution to price fluctuation of fruits and vegetables as well as them perishing soon after harvesting. Since there are no proper storage facilities, the middleman takes the true benefit from these crops. If the Government takes measures to introduce cooling stores, it would genuinely increase the farmers’ income.
Q: How prepared are you to face the upcoming local government election?
A: The present Government made a lot of promises in terms of reliefs and benefits to ordinary people in order to secure victory at the last two elections. It has miserably failed in meeting its promises. People are thoroughly disappointed. People who voted for this Government are disappointed with its performance. Then there is a threat to country’s security situation. They are closing down Army camps, releasing high level terrorists who are identified to be persons who committed great crimes. The very same Government arrests the military officers who were involved in defeating terrorism. The terrorists who were detained under the PTA are being released. National security is in jeopardy. This Government has no choice but to please and appease the separatist forces because they came to power with their support.
People are frustrated with this Government and therefore they are seeking an alternative. They urge us to come up with an alternative. As the genuine Opposition which has never supported the present Government, we are planning to place this alternative before the people at the local government election. There are nine parties with us as a Joint Opposition. Another eight parties except the SLFP fraction are already discussing to reach consensus on fielding a common list at the local government elections. The SLFP Opposition group is yet to decide. However, top leaders of the group such as Prasanna Ranatunga and Kumar Welgama have openly said that they would not be able to get votes if they go before people under the leadership of President Sirisena. I sincerely hope they will also join us.
Q: Will Mahinda Rajapaksa lead this alliance?
A: We have not decided that yet. We are not going to overly involve President Rajapaksa in our political activities, risking his office in Parliament. Sri Lanka is in crisis; people are badly in need of a strong leader. I hope that the people would need President Rajapaksa back within the next five years. Who knows, President Sirisena has failed to perform and he is under tremendous pressure and comes in for bitter criticism. If he can’t bear this pressure any more he might resign. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is also rapidly losing support of his own Parliamentary group.
We are not in a hurry to topple the Government. People brought this Government to power to see a change. Let them experience the ‘change’ for a little more time. But if there is a time people urge President Rajapaksa to assume the reign of the nation again, in order to be the president or the prime minister, the precondition is that he should be a Parliamentarian. Therefore, he should not get involved in our campaigns, risking his membership in Parliament.
Q: But the rumour is that Rajapaksa maintains a low profile and remains quiet because he doesn’t want his wife and children to be pulled up by this Government. Is that true?
A: There is no truth in that. It was we who requested him to not to get involved in politics because of the reasons I mentioned before. President Rajapaksa never got involved in our politics unless there was a real need. He didn’t get involved in our work until the declaration of the Parliamentary election. Do you think this Government will stop harassing his family just because he will remain silent? Therefore it is not correct to say he remains silent or he was silenced in order to stop attacking his family.
Let’s compare the first ten months of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena in presidency. President Rajapaksa completed his first 10 months on 19 September 2006. By then he had commenced the war against the LTTE with the objective of eradication of terrorism. He had commenced concreting rural roads after 48 long years. The Jathika Saviya project was launched to disburse Government funds for local requirements through district development committees. Thirdly, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been commenced after struggling to launch it for 30 years. People felt the country was moving ahead. Opposition Parliamentarians queued up at the door of the Presidential house to pledge their support to President Rajapaksa.
Let us take the first 10 months of President Sirisena which was completed on 9 November. What has he achieved? He failed to deliver a single promise. The 19th Amendment too was a blunder. That is why he had to pledge before the coffin of Ven. Sobitha Thero to abolish the executive presidency again.
There are two complaints against Minister Champika Ranawaka being investigated by the Police Department. One is for a Photoshop image of Lester James Pieris and the other one is regarding the disappearing of Prageeth Eknaligoda. While those two complaints are being investigated by the Police Department, President Sirisena appointed Minister Ranawaka to the Constitutional Council, which appoints the Police Commission. How can the Police Department be independent when the Police Commissioner is appointed by one of their suspects?
Q: We hear that Minister Champika Ranawaka will be running for presidency in 2020. Will you support your former political ally?
A: I know everything what you know about Adolf Hitler. But you don’t know most of the things I know about Champika Ranawaka. If both Adolf Hitler and Champika Ranawaka contest the presidential election in 2020, I will definitely support Hitler, not because he is good but he is better than Champika Ranawaka.