Members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) should support the opposition rather than clinging to the Government that is becoming unpopular by the day, stressed Anuradhapura District UPFA Parliamentarian Shehan Semesinghe.
Denying rumours that several SLFP parliamentarians were to crossover to the Government, Senasinghe added, “I don’t think they are stupid to join the Government at this time. The wise decision at this time would be for the SLFPers to join the Opposition. SLFPers should now join the Opposition and strengthen democracy in the country and make sure the country goes forward.”
Q: What are your remarks on the local government elections being postponed indefinitely?
A: We heard that due to the incompletion of the delimitation of local government bodies, LG elections have to be postponed. Actually the Government should have held the LG elections quite some time ago, which they failed to do. It is not ethical for the Government to do this. Although it has come up with an excuse, I think the Government should take steps to hold the elections as soon as possible. People should have their representatives in the LG bodies. People are suffering and these matters need to be addressed and discussed at the local government level.
Q: If the election was held as scheduled, do you think it would have been favourable to the Opposition?
A: No, I cannot say that. But as at now, the Government has become more unpopular after presenting the Budget. This was the most disappointing Budget in recent history. This is what the people say. Therefore, having the election as scheduled will be advantageous for us.
Q: How prepared were you to face the LG election?
A: We had not decided whether we were going to contest as the joint Opposition or not. But we are part of the SLFP, so we are actually waiting till the party gives us directives on what we need to do. However, people are disappointed with both the UNP and the SLFP because this Government is formed by them. When we prepare for the election, we have to keep that in mind.
Q: Any truth to the rumours there are rifts within the joint Opposition?
A: No, there is no truth in that. There are no internal issues as claimed by the Government. The truth is we are in a constant battle with this Government to win our rights. It is unfair that the joint Opposition don’t get a chance to speak in the Parliament. As representatives of the people, it is our right to express our views and opinions in the Parliament. Unfortunately, the Government is depriving us of that right. They are a ruling party and the Opposition too is fixed by the Government. They don’t want an independent Opposition to function. This is against democracy. They should be happy because the leader of the Opposition is one of them. Then, there is a group in the Opposition who support them. Why do they have to suppress the Opposition?
Q: But isn’t there talk that some members of the joint Opposition are prepared to support the Government?
A: Yes, that is true. If the Government comes up with proposals that are good for the country, we will definitely support the Government. It is not whether we are against the Government or we are with the Government. We want the Government to be clear on every stand they take and make sure people of the country benefit from those decisions. The Government might expect the JVP and the TNA to support them on everything but they should not expect the joint Opposition to support them. If there is anything bad, we will definitely step out and criticise such moves.
Q: Is it true that MP Manusha Nanayakkara will crossover to the Government?
A: So far MP Manusha Nanayakkara has not indicated whether he will crossover or not. I read, in the newspapers, a statement by Nanyakakara that he will happy to be in the Opposition. Every member has the right to express their own views and decide which party they want to support. But I don’t think Manusha is stupid to join the Government at this time. The wise decision at this time would be for the SLFPers to join the Opposition. Because, following the Budget, the Government has become more unpopular by the day. SLFPers should now join the Opposition and strengthen democracy in the country and make sure the country goes forward.
Q: If you are offered a position in the Government will you not support this regime?
A: So far I have not been approached by this Government. Secondly, even if I am offered a position, I will not work with them, because it is against the wish of the people who elected me to the Parliament. I represent Anuradhapura which is a rural area. People regret the fact that they brought this Government to power. Since we are with the joint Opposition we have managed to convince people to support the SLFP. Their biggest disappointment is with the SLFP.
If you take the paddy issue, even today, there was a demonstration in the Anuradhapura town. This Government promised a certified price of Rs. 50 for paddy but today the price has gone down to Rs. 38. If they are unable to maintain a certified price of Rs. 50 for paddy, why did they promise it in the first place?
The rural economy is crashing day by day. The removal of fertiliser has affected the farmers in an awful way. When this Government came to power, I was so certain that they will remove the fertiliser subsidy and they have done it just how we assumed. They are trying to convince the people, saying the coupon is better but it is nothing but a mess. Look at the trouble the schoolchildren and their parents have to go through. Whether it is for fertiliser or school uniforms, the coupon system is not very practical. Unfortunately the Government has not realised this. They think they have suggested the best method. Without realising there is an issue, how can they address the matter? How can they provide solutions to overcome the issue? First of all they have to realise there is an issue.
The Government says the school uniform coupon system is working perfectly. If you take certain areas in Anuradhapura, people will have to spend more than Rs. 150 to come to the city and take the uniform material. The child cannot go to the city alone to get the material. A parent has to do it. They have to sacrifice half a day’s work or sometimes a full day’s work to travel to the city. There are so many practical issues linked to this coupon system.
People in rural areas are actually worried about their future. Now they fear vegetable prices will go up by mid next year. Prices of commodities will skyrocket by next year.
The Government has increased indirect taxes of commodities and services by 61%. The richest person in the country and the poorest person will pay the same amount as tax which is very unfair. The Prime Minister, Finance Minister and even certain SLFP members have assured prices will not go up but unbearable price hikes in commodities and services, by next year, is inevitable.
Q: What is the latest with regards to the no confidence motion against the Minister of Finance?
A: We have handed over the no confidence motion. We invite everyone who loves our country to support us irrespective of party politics. The Finance Minister has deceived the Parliament and lied to the entire country. I really don’t understand why the Finance Minister and this administration have made such a blunder. If they want to introduce new accounting methods, make it uniform. Such methods should be introduced to other sectors as well. Why only education?
The very next day after the Budget was presented President Sirisena made a statement, during a function held in a school, claiming that this Government is a historical one because it has allocated the highest funds for education. How can the leader of the country make such misleading statements? Is it correct to keep the people in the dark? Since 8 January we have submitted several no confidence motions. Unfortunately, none of them were taken into debate.
We may not be able to succeed but we have raised this issue and now the people know this Government has tricked them.
Similarly, if the Finance Minister can act in such an irresponsible manner, it is our duty to bring it to the notice of the people. That is exactly what we have done. There are members in the Parliament who do not want to support us in this no confidence motion because they don’t want to lose their perks. But let me tell you one thing, in the next election, people will decide the future of such politicians. We have our duty on behalf of the country.
Q: The latest trend is that members of the previous regime are openly criticising their own Government. What are your comments?
A: It only shows the calibre of such politicians. Why couldn’t these politicians make these charges before 8 January? Why did they wait till their Government was toppled to make these accusations? While they were in power they were seated in cabinet nodding and approving the decisions made by that Government but now they have become very patriotic and started criticising and blaming their own Government. Now they hail every single decision of the present Government. We should not waste our time discussing such politicians.
This Government’s biggest accusation is that Mahinda Rajapasa robbed billions of people’s money. That is an absolute lie but let’s assume he has played out money; but still he has done so much for this country; people in this country saw and felt development taking place. There is no doubt about that. What has this President done? What have this Government done? Has anything significant happened during the last one year?
For the first time, the Government has accepted their own Budget is a failure. We have never seen a single Government advertising and promoting its own Budget in order to prove it is a good Budget. If the Budget was such a brilliant one and was accepted by the people, why do they need to advertise? This is a waste of public funds. These advertisements clearly prove the Government is trying hard to get their first Budget accepted by the people.