Budget and Opposition under attack as Lalkantha opens fire
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 00:00
Despite all the hardship and misery people go through, they will vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa if he decides to contest tomorrow, says K.D. Lalkantha, Chief Ministerial Candidate for the Western Province.Lalkantha admits that due to the failure of the Opposition to win over voters, people continue to hail the Rajapaksa administration. While pointing out there is a mismatch between the actual desires of the people and policies of the JVP, he claims that if his party had a massive vote base like the UNP, it would have toppled the present regime by now. Lalkantha is a member of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna Political Wing and also functions as President of the National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) and National Organiser of Socialist Labour Association.Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What do you think about the Budget?
A: Due to the new taxes imposed in this Budget, a family has to pay an additional Rs. 3,700 per month to buy the same goods and services they purchased before the Budget. On the very next day the Budget was presented, prices of few essential goods were increased. This was a result of the new taxes imposed by the Budget.
This Budget has failed to pay any attention to the cries of the farmers, private or public sector workers. The most significant fact about this Budget is that it further increases the gap between the haves and have-nots in the country.
Minister Sarath Amunugama openly admitted in Parliament that over 54% of national revenue is distributed only among 20% of the total population. The remaining 47% of the revenue is dispersed among 80% of the population. Isn’t this a pathetic situation? It is too bad that this Budget has failed to take any measures to rectify this situation; it further increases the gap between the rich and the poor.
It is the policy of this Government to create a few superrich individuals in this country. The Government is studying countries like India where there are such wealthy people. They are wealthy enough to invest in any part of the world. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka we don’t have such investors. Now the Rajapaksa administration is trying to create a similar superrich in Sri Lanka. This is how the capitalists think. The saddest part is that the Rajapaksas want to be among these superrich.
Ultimately what is going to happen is that just like in India there is going to be a heaven and a hell inside this small country. The poor will have to starve when the wealthy enjoy all luxuries of life.
Q: Do you feel this Budget lacks clarity?
A: Yes. There is a lack of clarity in this Budget. This is the case with all budgets. People will only understand the Budget when they go to the market. When they have to pay extra money for the same goods and services they bought last week, people will understand the actual impact of this Budget. An average man cannot understand the brutality of this Budget, because all the important facts are hidden behind sophisticated economic terms and big fancy words.
In Sri Lanka 80% of the taxes are indirect; that is taxes collected when people consume goods and services. Tax paid on income or indirect tax is just 20%. The Government should rely more on direct taxes rather than further burdening the people by imposing more and more indirect taxes.
Duties imposed on imported pet food were relaxed by this Budget. An average man feeds his cat or dog the same food he consumes. This means he has to pay taxes for the food that he feeds his pets. But the wealthy, who buy imported food for their pets, do not have to pay duties. Even the cats and dogs of the poor have to pay tax for what they eat.
The Government spend an enormous amount of money on oil purchases. What they should have done was reduce taxes on vehicles running on renewable energy or consume less fuel as an encouragement. But they have done otherwise. This is why we say the Budget further burdens the poor in this country and has given more benefits to the few wealthy people.
Q: Do you agree that this is a development Budget?
A: Development does not mean only fulfilling material requirements such as building roads and bridges. Look at this country; we are known as a nation full of corruption, crime and bribery. On the other hand, when you look at the living standards of the people, can we agree that there is any development in this country? Do you think any development has taken place socially, culturally and especially mentally? Look at the men and women on the road; can you see a smiling face? The situation of the country has taken away the happiness of the people. There is no point of achieving such development when people are no longer happy and cheerful.
All regimes that were in power carried out various development projects. But, mark my words, none of the regimes had the slightest intention of developing the country. They only wanted the money in their pockets. By way of carrying out these projects they played out the money. Without such projects, how can they have commissions or bribes?
Q: So you do agree this Government has carried out development work?
A: Let’s take construction of roads; this is one of the main projects of this Government. These projects involve massive amounts of money. Carrying out some sort of a development project is the only way they can play out the money. One cannot rip off money without engaging in some kind of construction work. Therefore, they have created a way to earn the money. For example, the British built the railway tracks; we believe this as one of the major achievements. But their intention was different. They were not thinking about developing our country. The British built the railway line to dig out our resources. It is the same scenario with this Government. They carry out these projects with a different intention. They do not care about the wellbeing of the people, nor do they think about the future of this country.
Q: Do you think the Opposition has done its best in educating people about the negative impacts of the Budget?
A: I too agree that we have not done our best. There is lot to be done. There should be more active participation and involvement by the Opposition. But people too should accept what we are doing. When we tried to show the real face of this regime; people did not believe us. They continued to believe the Government, hoping it would do something, at least ease the cost of living. But now people have realised the grave situation they are in. They have realised that they need our involvement to get them out of this misery.
The voice of the Opposition can only be heard when people are with us. We cannot do this alone; we need the people to be with us. People blame the Opposition, claiming we are inactive. But when it comes to an election, how many boycott their opportunity to vote? This is the only opportunity they get to make a change. But they don’t make use of that opportunity. In Colombo District alone, nearly 40% of voters do not cast their vote. They cannot blame only the Opposition. They are equally responsible.
People still respect Mahinda Rajapaksa for ending the war. They are tolerating all the Rajapaksa nonsense because of that. People should get over that mentality. This ‘ending the war, bringing peace to country’ has to end. People must understand the truth.
Q: Don’t you think it is your own failures and weaknesses that have led the people to act in such a negative way?
A: Who is this Opposition you are talking about? After 1978, when the UNP was in power, who was the Opposition? Was it the SLFP? No, it was the JVP that confronted with the UNP. And as a result of that confrontation, both the UNP and the JVP collapsed. Because of that Chandrika Kumaratunga was able to come into power. After 1994, what did the UNP do? Have they fulfilled their duties as the main Opposition? Ranil Wickremesinghe and his UNP did nothing. It was the JVP that fought alone.
Neither the SLFP nor the UNP have fulfilled their duties as the main Opposition. It was J.R Jayewardene who was the last to lead such strong opposition during Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime. When in Opposition, both the SLFP and the UNP seem to be following the same strategy; they never confront the ruling party. They wait until people become fed-up and once again elect them to power. This is what Ranil Wickremesinghe is doing today.
I have to admit that due to various reasons the JVP collapsed. People like Wimal Weerawansa betrayed our party for personal gains. Then there were others who tried to fraction our party. These affected the party in a massive way. We were unable to carry out our responsibilities and people felt this. It was the absence of the JVP that people misunderstood as the crash of the Opposition. The moment the JVP becomes active, the people will feel the strength of the Opposition once again.
Q: During the recent past we saw the JVP initiating various programs to revamp the party, but we are yet to see any changes. When will the JVP revive?
A: Like I told you before, our main focus during the past few years was to solve our internal matters and I am happy to say we no longer deal with these issues. We are now well prepared to face the local government election, general election and even the presidential election.
Q: The JVP was actively involved in bringing Sarath Fonseka into power. During the last election, it was proved that Fonseka secured more votes than the JVP. How do you see this situation?
A:There is nothing significant about that. From time to time political heroes emerge. During one time, Vijaya Kumaratunga emerged. He was even considered a threat to all leading politicians at that time. But look what has happened to his party today. These types of characters emerge from time to time. But unfortunately none have managed to survive. When people feel helpless and distressed, they try to find solace through these types of politicians.
Q: How would you describe the connection between the JVP and Sarath Fonseka at present?
A: Politically we follow two different paths. Sarath Fonseka follows the same policies as the UNP. We no longer try to unite political parties in order to confront the present regime. What we now try to do is bring together people and give them the leadership to fight against the present regime.
Q: Whose policies do people trust most? Yours or the others’?
A: I have to admit that most people do not accept or believe in our policies. Or maybe that they do accept what we are doing but do not want to elect us. When we meet people they praise us, saying we are their only option. But when it comes to an election, we are unable to secure the votes we require. This proves there is some mismatch. This is why we are now trying to understand the actual desires of the people.
Let’s take this example. We tell the people that Sri Lanka no longer have free education. We try to educate them about the importance of fighting for free education. But we don’t receive much response from the people. Then another political party comes and says that they will help to get children a popular school. People will vote for them, believing what they said. The way people think has changed and we too need to change if we want to be popular among people.
Q: How prepared are you to face the forthcoming election?
A: If we are to change this Government, we have to do it at a national election or a presidential election. But in order to do that we have to take certain initiatives. Winning the forthcoming election is essential. No matter how grave the situation in country at present, if Mahinda Rajapaksa calls for an election tomorrow, people will elect him once again because the Opposition has failed to win over the voters. We have to awaken the voters. We have to limit the number of seats at local government level. If we can secure more votes, people will have some hope and they will feel there is an opportunity. What we want is an entry to a long political journey that will decide the future of this country.
Q: This Government has carried out numerous development works in the Western Province. Beautification of Colombo is such a program. Under these circumstances, do you think a party like the JVP can challenge the Government?
A: What development work are you talking about? Well-laid pavements in Colombo 7, Colpetty and Kotte do not mean there is development in Western Province. The highest numbers of dengue cases are reported from Colombo. It is one of the dirtiest cities in the country. After one rain, half of Colombo gets flooded. People in Colombo know this truth. They no longer fancy these beautification programs. We can and we will challenge the Government.
Q: You are from Anuradhapura. How realistic it is for you to compete from Colombo?
A: Since 1996 I have been based in Colombo. I have carried out all my political work from Colombo. I have done all trade union work based in Colombo. All responsibilities given to be by the party I have fulfilled to the best of my ability. People in Colombo want a leader who is ready to fight for them; a leader who is capable of raising a voice for them. Sadly both the SLFP and UNP are unable to find a suitable candidate who can compete with me. I know I can do this.
Q: How would you describe the recent changes that took place in the United National Party?
A: The much-discussed Leadership Council will not do any good. The only remedy will be Ranil Wickremesinghe’s step down from leadership. The UNP has a massive vote base. If we had such a massive vote base we would have toppled this Government by now. I doubt the UNP will be out of this misery in the near future.