Lack of clear policy hampering Coalition Govt.: Bogollagama

Friday, 17 June 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

“For the first time Sri Lanka is witnessing the broadest possible coalition, but it is unable to work in terms of clear policy,” said former Minister and former Sri Lanka Freedom Party Chief Organiser for the Kotte Electorate Rohitha Bogollagama.

“The Government is there to govern, not to revise its own trajectory of development,” Bogollagama pointed out, in an interview with the Daily FT.

He also condemned Government’s decision on agreeing for a UN resolution against its own country. “It would have been dealt with as we agreed at that stage. We agreed to a domestic probe entirely within the domestic mechanism though our judicial system,” Bogollagama added. 

Following are excerpts:



Q: What is your opinion on the current political situation in the country?

I would look at it in a manner that is not very pleasing both to the local and to the international community. On the local front, the lack of clear policy directions overall is not stimulating the economy. Added to that there have been several calamities associated with natural disasters and then lack of proper management in the post-mortem of these disasters. 

Budget 2016 getting revised over and over and sends some chills to the business community in this country – on whether the Government is firm and also means what it wants to say. Whether it is ‘walking the talk’ is a major issue the Government is confronted with. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is articulating a line of policies. The trajectory of implementation is in the hands of the Finance Minister. He is the one who brings the proposals before Parliament. The revision takes place by some section of the Government through agitations. Now all in one the promoters, introducers and the revisers in the same missionary trying to work doesn’t mean anything good is going to happen out of that. 

For the first time we are witnessing the broadest possible coalition, but it is unable to work in terms of clear policy. This is the main issue I see in terms of the political instability associated with the Government. Everyone feels there is lack of proper direction. This is something initially the Government has to come up to resolve. The Government is there to govern, not to revise its own trajectory of development.


Q: Currently which party do you belong to? 

I am a member of the SLFP. 



Q: Are you a supporter of Maithripala Sirisena or a Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalist? 

There is no number plate that I carry of special denominations. It’s the SLFP that we represent. Having been the SLFP Organiser for Kotte, though I am not one now, I am part of the SLFP. The issue is, internal differences or individual factors should not cloud the progress of the party. We have seen factions and divisions in both parties. But the party has remained as a party. Today Maithripala Sirisena is the President of the country and therefore he is heading the party.



Q: Do you accept Maithripala Sirisena as the Leader of the SLFP? 

Of course. I firmly accept President Maithripala Sirisena as the Leader of the SLFP. That is the legitimate position, that of Maithripala Sirisena heading the SLFP and as a member of the SLFP it is the de jure position and also a de facto. 


Q: What is your take on the role of the Joint Opposition? 

The Joint Opposition was created because of a mandate issue of the people. At the last Parliamentary election, people voted for an identity of Mahinda Rajapaksa with that of the SLFP. The campaign was led by Mahinda Rajapaksa and the ones who got on board with him were the ones whom the people supported. Having got the people’s mandate, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s mandate, the people did not expect a joining with the UNP. We have to understand this clearly. It was given by the people for the SLFP to be represented in Government. 

Since the SLFP could not get the absolute majority in Parliament, ultimately the President formed a coalition with the Government with a section of the SLFP who opted to join the President and form a so-called National Government. But the ones who carried the mandate may be wisely thought their mandate was not one that was extended up to joining a UNP Government. Therefore, they have now formed into a group in Parliament calling themselves the Joint Opposition. I think that evolution is something in the political process that cannot be avoided because they have to face the people once again in another four years’ time. 

A lot of Joint Opposition members are gaining ground amongst the people as the ones who are opposing the UNP. I don’t think they are opposing Maithripala Sirisena; they are opposing the UNP-led Government. Therefore, the formation of the Opposition as a group in Parliament is an obvious conclusion to the evolution of the mandate given by the people. 



Q: Why have President Sirisena and the SLFP taken a U-turn on abolishing the executive presidency? 

I think President Sirisena has done away with the major correcting areas for democracy associated with the executive presidency at the beginning of his term; whereas he brought in the 19th Amendment straight off and put a limit on the number of times the executive president can get elected. 

Secondly, he has also given powers of appointment of key positions of government to a very transparent process and procedure through the Constitutional Council. Thirdly, he has not required any executive positions rather than environment and Mahaweli against what was acquired by the previous President. So this is a very vast contrast in terms of executive power in the hands of the President today and that of the previous President. 

The next stage is more transparent. The Constitution amendment or the new constitution is now under discussion. We have to give some time for it to come out so that we can have more direct and serious discussion on the issues associated with that. But overall I think President has exercised his mandate given to him sufficiently, maybe there is more to do but we need to give him some time. 


Q: What is the final conclusion of the SLFP committee appointed on ‘constitutional reforms’? 

I am not a member of that committee and not fully aware as to the current level of deliberations. But that the executive presidency needs to be abolished is the view of the wider section of the SLFP. I too believe the executive presidency should not be in place in Sri Lanka. It is time for us to look at more vibrant system of government where powers have to be vested as a key executive in the prime minister’s hands. 

Many countries have done well under the parliamentary system of executive government. A good example is how India is functioned. One goes in, one goes out. There is no two tier level of executive control over the direction of the government. We have to head towards that. Maybe we should have a senate in order to have checks and balances in the house and also to have a second assessment on key parliamentary bills and constitutional issues, etc. There is a good model in India. Senate also can have some elements of nominations coming from provinces so that will have a wider and even representation. These are factors I like to see happening in Sri Lanka. 


Q: What are your remarks on the current economic situation in the country? 

The economy is not doing well. I am happy to note the Prime Minister’s positivity in terms of encouraging a liberal exchange system in the country where people can bring in dollars or other currencies and have a free market. But currently there is lack of investor confidence. We have not started on mega projects. The execution of some of the infrastructure projects have to be expeditiously carried through, so that people will see the development happening confidence will grow with that. With that the money will flow in and it will trickle down to the rural masses to the economy as well.


Q: But the Government is hopeful of reviving the economy, especially after securing the 1.5 billion IMF loan. Your views?

It’s a structural adjustment loan that has been given and it’s coming in tranches. Therefore the effect of that may not felt so fast to stabilise our needs. I think we need more money to come in. It’s an issue of raising credit but again it’s important that we get our foreign direct investments also generated and to make our banking system very vibrant for receiving foreign currency deposits, etc. So the people will bring money and give confidence to the economy and to the others to look at Sri Lanka. 

I believe that the Prime Minister’s lead in terms of trying to address the fundamental issues associated with the economy and also the structural changes needed for the directions of the economy are important because you have to address these things at least once in decade. I think it is the time to do so. When there is a crisis only you can also have the opportunity. If this Government can turn this economic crisis that the Joint Opposition and the rest of the country is speaking of into an opportunity to address the key issues, stimulate more investments and direction to the trajectory of implementation, that is the best opportunity one could have under very grey conditions. 


Q: What are your thoughts about people’s agitation against the recent tax hike and the cost of living?

I don’t think there is agitation. We have not come to that stage yet. We are still in the stage of complaining. We are witnessing a lot of complaining by people. I personally experienced this in Kurunegala District and in the plantations. Workers don’t get enough wages for the day. The wage they get is not enough to sustain the day. They are cash-trapped and find the cost of living unbearable. Sometimes people can stomach it for a while and the clouds will pass over. But at the same time in the event it’s going to hurt them too much and too fast then I think what the Joint Opposition is blaming the Government of might get registered in the working class in this country. 

The rural masses to some extent can sustain their livelihood because they live in their own houses, they have some cultivation, and they have no transport cost as much as urban dwellers. For the urban dwellers, from their energy requirements to food requirements to transport to schooling, all these added costs have to be borne. This is something the Government must immediately address. 


Q: What is your stand on the ongoing controversy over the Governor of the Central Bank? 

With regard to these allegations, the Government of Sri Lanka as a whole must speak for the Central Bank Governor and say, “These allegations are not correct. These are allegations that have been looked into and there is no justification to raise these allegations.” But here I find a section of ministers are speaking against the Governor being reappointed.

Their names are very clear. They sit in the same Cabinet, they govern the country together and they are raising the issue that the Governor is not suitable. In a situation like this, who are we to pass judgment when the Ministers are having their own judgments on individual concern? I think COPE is probing into it. The people are making representations through the public media. The Sunday Times has carried a public survey. These are factors that register we need the Governor to be the most right person to be that office. He is a trustee of our monetary system. But the Government must take a stand. 

One section of the Government says we don’t want him. Others say to reappoint him. What will happen to foreign confidence? Whom are they going to believe? It’s not our opinion that matters – the Government’s stand is what matters. The Cabinet must come up with a clear stand. This Cabinet must resolve this so that they can send the strongest possible signal for the Central Bank and to the country and to the world. 



Q: How would you describe the no confidence motion brought against the Finance Minister and continuing heavy criticism against him?

My opinion was that the no confidence motion was brought in a legitimate manner in Parliament. I don’t think they expected to win that no confidence motion. But they managed to discuss the issues and most importantly public awareness was created. 

In the event the Finance Minister was allowed to sustain the Budget he brought for 2016 without revisions, we would have tested his true contribution in terms of his proposals. Now can we reach the goals that he meant to reach in terms of revenue, projected development proposals? Any deficit associated with reaching the goals, who can be blamed now? Is it the Finance Minister individually? Or on the ones who have jointly worked together to change what was originally proposed? If a Finance Minister says something in a budget, it must go on. But here is where the Finance Minister’s Budget has been revised and now the revised budget is failing. Who should be held responsible? This will be a continuing debate. 


Q: As a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, what are your remarks about the present foreign policy? 

Retackling the war at the highest point of terrorism which the West is today experiencing; we eliminated that scourge from Sri Lanka under Mahinda Rajapaksa. For that we canvassed the world’s assistance and corporation fully and comprehensively for which we got. Now that was a major success story that cannot be compared in any manner with any of the regimes both previously and present. 

We couldn’t have achieved the war victory without international support. We didn’t have the weapons, we didn’t have the boats, and most importantly we had to bring in the technology. What is now important is not to succumb to the international pressure we are now hearing. On one side there is a probe by the Commissioner of Human Rights. He has said it must be a comprehensive procedure and process of investigating into the allegations. 

These allegations fundamentally associate with a lot of areas, even war crimes. Now once you open up a probe, there is no limit to what you are going to probe. You cannot stop halfway. 

That’s why our local military establishments have become very concerned. These probes might lead to grave consequences for individuals in Sri Lanka because the standards are international standards which are meant to last for a very long time.

In my opinion, the cooperation that was extended for a UN resolution against your own country was bad. I believe that would have been dealt as we agreed at that stage, for a domestic probe entirely within the domestic mechanism through our judicial system. 

In the 1971 insurrection there were Supreme Court Judges who sat through, punished people and sentenced them and rehabilitated others. 

The LTTE was not a foreign arm in Sri Lanka. It is a local terrorist body that got indigenous as well as a subject of Sri Lanka. So we don’t have to have a foreign arm in this at all. 

Whatever these resolutions are, they must manage not to succumb to resolutions. That is the strength of what foreign policy should be. 

Today the Government is in a better position to do so. There is change in administration and they can highlight it. Because you are having a more independent assessment that you can make the right thing. 

That is where the Government is weak. Not standing up sufficiently against foreign intrusion.

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