“Catching thieves has become the biggest robbery and probing into corruption has become the biggest crime,” stressed former Western Province Health and Indigenous Minister Nishantha Warnasinghe.
“But this does not mean the previous regime was better or Mahinda Rajapaksa should once again come to power,” said Warnasinghe, adding: “It is just that this administration has failed to keep up with the expectations of the people.”
He further warned that defeated Rajapaksa and his loyalists were making use of every opportunity to get back to power by sabotaging the State mechanism and spreading separatism and terrorism in the country. “President Sirisena should be alert about this situation and take action to stop them immediately,” he said.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: WP Chief Minister Isura Devapriya claims you lost the ministerial post due to your arrogance and stubbornness. Is it true?
A: That is one of the most idiotic arguments I have ever heard. How can a budget be defeated based on someone’s personal traits? At the Western Provincial Council, all parties work as a team. We take decisions based on everyone’s opinion. So if someone says budget expenditure allocation of my Ministry was defeated because I don’t smile with others, I simply don’t know how to respond to such accusations.
Removal of my portfolio was a conspiracy. There is no valid reason behind this. If there were shortcomings in my expenditure, we would have brought amendments to correct those. If they thought I lack experience to function as a minister, the Secretary to the Minister should have complained to the Chief Minister. There is not a single such complaint. This clearly proves taking over of my ministry was a conspiracy.
I may be proud. I don’t disagree with that. This is how I was brought up. I believe in certain values and principles. I am proud of my political practice. But it is not a reason for the chief minister to take over my portfolio. Then they say I am not a team worker. When they bring unfair, unjust and unethical proposals, I don’t agree. When I don’t agree with what they propose, they say I am not a team worker. If I say yes to all, then they will hail me.
Let me be clear. I don’t have any personal grudges with the Chief Minister or any of the WPC members. We belong to various parties and hold different political viewpoints. But other than that I don’t have any personal issues with any of the members.
The truth is at the WPC I have to work with a group of ‘Mahinda loyalists’ who still hold a grudge with me because our party took leadership to oust the former President. They may give various excuses but they took revenge for ousting President Rajapaksa by defeating my budget expenditure allocation and taking over my portfolio.
Q: Is it true that the Chief Minister was aware of the fact that the health budget was to be defeated?
A: I am unable to comment on that. All I know is that Mahinda loyalists in the WPC wanted to take revenge from the Jathika Hela Urumaya for taking leadership to oust President Rajapaksa. They wanted to teach us a lesson. I participated in several WPC group meetings. I agreed to some of the proposals and ideas. But there were instances where I couldn’t agree because they were clearly against our good governance policies. Just because we hold portfolios, we cannot work against the principles and values we believe in. I clearly told them that it is our duty to respect the mandate that was given on 17 August and I reminded them that the Rajapaksa administration is now over. And it is a waste of time if we try to implement such proposals. Mahinda loyalists were not happy that and they wanted to take revenge from me.
Q: What is your next step? Will you continue to work in the provincial council?
A: I believe in certain policies and principles. Positions and possessions are temporary. We are not in politics to have positions. I have lost my portfolio. But my responsibility towards the people and the country will not end here. I will continue with what I have been doing. In future at the WPC, the Jathika Hela Urumaya will be working independently.
I have no intention of fighting to get back the ministerial post that was forcibly taken away from me. But this is clearly a threat to good governance. I strongly believe the President should take note of what happened in the Western Provincial Council. Actually this is a warning. The Chief Minister and the other ministers were appointed by President Sirisena. Rather than carrying out President Sirisena’s good governance program, they are working according to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s agenda. It is not a good sign and the President should take immediate action about this.
There is an allegation that all the employment opportunities in the council were taken by the Jathika Hela Urumaya. There is no truth in that. We followed the proper procedures. We published a newspaper advertisement. Suitable people were selected after an interview. Before us people were selected based on requests by ministers. Actually this was the beginning of this entire crisis. They were not happy because we followed the proper procedures.
Q: There are various views about the manner in which the Chief Minister took over your portfolio. Your comments?
A: My removal from portfolio was unethical. There are questions about the legal aspects as well. We are discussing with legal officers to see what action could be taken against this. Based on their advice we will take action in future.
On the other hand, the Provincial Council cannot have a budget. In the provincial council the Chief Minister presents a financial statement on behalf of the Governor. There is nothing called a budget. And I have not presented a budget so how can they say they have defeated my budget expenditure allocation? A section of the financial statement could not be defeated. If a section of that statement is defeated as they claim, then how can they say rest of the budget was passed?
Let me reiterate one thing, this defeat has not affected me in a personal manner. I am not disheartened or saddened by this defeat. We worked hard for a regime change. As we celebrate completion of one year, we need to keep in mind that our struggle cannot stop. The defeated parties are trying out every opportunity to get back into power. We cannot rest. We need to be on the alert.
Q: The Jathika Hela Urumaya was in the forefront to bring this Government to power. Are you satisfied with the change?
A: During the past one year, the boundaries of democracy have widened. We were able to bring in the 19th Amendment. New members were appointed to the independent commissions. The Constitutional Council was set up. We are satisfied about those aspects.
Then there is less pressure from the international forces. The negative image of the country is no longer there. That too is a significant achievement of this administration. Inside the country there is harmony among all ethnic and religious groups. These are the victories.
However, we cannot be satisfied about the measures taken to combat corruption. The Government has failed to perform to our expectations. This is where our frustrations begin. This Government vouched to put an end to corruption and financial irregularities. But they seem to have forgotten about their pledges.
Sadly, catching thieves has become the biggest robbery at present. Probing into corruption has become the biggest crime. But this does not mean the Rajapaksa regime was better or that Rajapaksa should once again come into power. They may have failed to catch the thieves but we feel there is a mechanism to prevent corruption taking place in future. Now that is a positive sign.
Q: Although you say there is harmony among ethnic groups and various religions, in the last few weeks we saw various incidents disturbing the peace in the country. What are your comments?
A: Yes, we are aware of such unfortunate incidents. But can’t you see that the defeated forces are behind these incidents? The forces behind Mahinda Rajapaksa are trying to show there is terrorism looming in the country. They are trying to show Muslim extremism is once again spreading in the country. It is a threat to the country’s national reconciliation.
We should not let these forces create separatism in the country. As the Jathika Hela Urumaya we too believe in nationalism and patriotism. But what these fake nationalists are trying to do is dangerous. They are a threat to the country’s peace.
Q: The previous Government’s development projects that were heavily criticised by this Government before coming to power have now been recommenced. Your comments?
A: The Jathika Hela Urumaya does not believe these projects should be completely stopped. Sri Lanka has signed MOUs with some of the governments so we cannot abandon such work. What we believe is after carefully studying these projects and if there are no major threat to society, culture or the environment, there is no wrong in recommencing these projects.
There is so much negative talk about Chinese projects. But just because they are Chinese funded, we shouldn’t look at negatively at these projects. Rather than criticising Chinese projects, what we should do is get funds for development work from ‘friendly countries’. When carrying out any project we must consider the national interest. That is the most important factor.
Q: The JHU is to undergo a structural revamp during this year. Tell us more about the changes that will take place in the party?
A: Year 2016 and 2017 are crucial for the country’s politics. As a party we need to change with times and especially be prepared to adjust to modern requirements. When the JHU was launched as a political party, our only focus was ending terrorism. But things have changed and the situation in the country has changed. The issues and problems have changed. There are some parties which still market the old issues such as terrorism and separatism. But such political parties cannot sustain themselves. People cannot be fooled all the time.
Terrorism is no longer our national issue. There are other important matters that need to be addressed immediately such as traffic congestion, garbage disposal, flooding of roads even after short rain, and developing our infrastructure given the vastly expanding middle class. These are just a few matters that we need look into. ISIS has become menace to all the countries. As a country how are we going to tackle this issue?
Q: Is that the only reason behind the JHU revamp? Or it to be armoured better to face Gammanpila’s Pivithuru Hela Urumaya?
A: Who is Gammanpila and what is his party? Gammanpila and his party should never be considered as a political party, because they are Rajapaksa’s mouthpiece.