Harin speaks up on provincial and national politics, economy
Friday, 13 June 2014 00:00
Firecracker politician Harin Fernando believes he can muster a strong challenge to the Rajapaksa regime at the upcoming Uva Provincial Council elections.However, the United National Party Parliamentarian stresses that he has not made any decision nor expressed any interest to the party leadership about any desire to come forward as the chief ministerial candidate. “Any formal and serious requests made will be considered strongly by me provided my presence would boost the image and the outcome of the overall Uva provincial election campaign results,” points out Fernando.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Are you prepared for the upcoming Uva Provincial Council elections?A: The upcoming Uva election will be a very crucial election as this will be the last provincial elections before the next year’s presidential or Parliamentary elections. Most of the political analysts will be keenly watching the outcome of this Uva provincial election which will set the tone and the pace for next year’s presidential or Parliamentary elections outcome.
As a Member of Parliament, I am ready to contribute to the UNP in whatever the capacity the party hierarchy requests me to do so and my preparation has been ongoing and will continue to gather momentum with each passing day.
For me personal glory and status are not important. As a former sportsman and ardent sports enthusiast, I do believe my party’s victory and its supporters’ wellbeing is more important than my personal advancement.
Q: Are you the chief ministerial candidate?A: There have been numerous unofficial requests from the party leadership, Leadership Council, senior hierarchy, supporters and even from my family members to come forward as the chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming Uva Province as these segments of people seem to believe that I can muster a very strong challenge to the ruling UPFA regime, whose popularity is dwindling day-by-day.
I also wish to point out that there are many seniors and party stalwarts in the Uva Province so it’s up the party leadership to select the most appropriate, efficient and popular candidate as this would be a game-changing election in my opinion.
"I am at a stage in life where I am ready to make any sacrifice for the party and the betterment of the people of the Uva Province. I do believe there are plenty of good candidates to contest the Uva provincial elections from the UNP ticket. It’s up to the leadership, party seniors and the hierarchy to select the best who will pose a strong challenge to the ruling UPFA regimeI am no economist but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realise what’s happening in the Sri Lankan economy. The economy of Sri Lanka has come to a grinding haltThe Uva Province is the poorest province in Sri Lanka. People tend to think areas like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Ampara or Hambantota are the worst off, but factually speaking Badulla and Monaragala are the poorest. Out of the 225 administrative divisions in Sri Lanka, the poorest first five AG divisions are in the Uva Province"
Whoever the candidate that comes forward from the UNP or as an alliance would have my 100% cooperation, assistance and support. Like I have always done, I will work tirelessly for the victory of UNP and the people of Uva Province in any given capacity.
Q: Why are you contesting? Does this mean the UNP does not have a suitable candidate to contest Uva PC elections?A: Like I replied in your earlier question, personally I have not made any decision nor have I expressed any interest to the party leadership about any desire to come forward as the chief ministerial candidate. Any formal and serious requests made will be considered strongly by me provided my presence would boost the image and the outcome of the overall Uva provincial election campaign results.
I am at a stage in life where I am ready to make any sacrifice for the party and the betterment of the people of the Uva Province. I do believe there are plenty of good candidates to contest the Uva provincial elections from the UNP ticket. It’s up to the leadership, party seniors and the hierarchy to select the best who will pose a strong challenge to the ruling UPFA regime.
Q: You are a popular politician. Why are you going back to regional level from national politics?A: My growing popularity is not a result of any black magic or a miracle. Even before the time I entered Parliament, I have been involved in numerous charitable projects. Then from the time I entered Parliament I have been involved in ongoing social projects in the Uva Province, which have been mostly self-funded. I have sacrificed my time, resources, career and more importantly my own family, wife and kids to stay in Badulla and actively engage with the people in my electorate and the district. I believe the people in Badulla District and Uva Province have great confidence in me and they know I am genuine and humble and my intentions are pure and very sincere.
I have not decided to go from national politics to regional politics as it would be a temporary setback for my personal career, however if my party needs me to give leadership to the upcoming Uva Province, then I am willing to sit down and discuss in this regard with the top guns of the party.
Q: As a young promising politician, how will this move affect your future?A: To be honest, this is a catch 22 situation which needs to be carefully analysed. In business they say the risk return is profit or a loss, but in life I do believe in the theory of party before myself. More than my own future, I am more concerned about the future of the UNP, its supporters and the people of this country.
People have lost faith in politicians in this country. There is overall breakdown in law and order. Corruption, cronyism, nepotism, human rights abuse and mismanagement are rampant. After the end of a 30-year bloody war, people of this country had many expectations and aspirations but since the end of the war it seems the country is once again heading backwards.
I entered politics against the wishes of my mother, father, sister and my wife as they all wanted me to concentrate on the family business and live a peaceful life. I entered politics not with personal interests or agendas in mind, which is the case with most politicians. I have reached this level of popularity with the support, confidence and trust I have won from the voters of my electorate and the people across Sri Lanka.
In the event I do decide to contest as the Chief Minister of the Uva Province, I believe people will appreciate me for being unselfish, fearless and honest and a person who walk the talk.
Q: What plans do you have for Uva?A: The Uva Province is the poorest province in Sri Lanka. People tend to think areas like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Ampara or Hambantota are the worst off, but factually speaking Badulla and Monaragala are the poorest. Out of the 225 administrative divisions in Sri Lanka, the poorest first five AG divisions are in the Uva Province.
Having the President’s Private Secretary who also happens to be a close relative of the President, son of the Speaker and the current Chief Minister with the able support, power and financial resources of six cabinet ministers, two deputy ministers and six UPFA MPs, there has been no real upliftment of the living standard of the people in the Uva Province.
I am a firm believer in the policies of late Ranasinghe Premadasa, which is to create employment, provide housing, give good education, create industries and grow the value chain. I have plans to speak with the big apparel manufacturing companies and invite them to come and set up apparel and garment factories in Badulla and Monaragala District. Improving the plantation sector and tourism are my other significant plans for Uva. Developing small and medium enterprises would be very high up in my agenda too.
Q: Do you think you can win the Uva PC and if so, how?A: Sharing the strategies that we have in mind as would not be a wise move, especially since we are in the research and planning phase, so I will not go in to details. We will do a SWOT analysis of the ruling party as well as our own party before we come up with our game plan.
Right now there are some very interesting developments taking place within the UNP camp and the once-divided party seems be to be re-grouping to fight and eliminate this corrupt, inefficient and dictatorial regime. Everyone in the party seems to realise that as long as disunity, disharmony and mistrust exist, it is impossible to pose a strong challenge to the Rajapaksa’s mafia-controlled UPFA Government. We all must stop working on different agendas and falling prey to some individuals who seems to working as proxies for the Rajapaksa family. We as one party and one family must put the party and national interest first before ourselves.
On a positive note, some very senior members within the Government ranks who are disappointed and disillusioned have also expressed their support to our party hierarchy to send home this Rajapaksa menace as they clearly see that we are all sitting on a ticking time-bomb. The UNP will leave no stone unturned to make a strong challenge in the next year Uva Elections, which will cascade down and set the tone for the 2015 presidential or general elections.
Q: The UNP has lost almost 22 elections so far. How will you make your party win the upcoming election?A: The statement of the UNP losing 22 elections is of no relevance as if you compare the SLFP, or UPFA as it is called, now lost over 50 odd elections from 1977 leading up to 1994. When there is a change is sentiment and direction, the statistics hardly matter. People in this country across all sections have realised that there is real need for a change not only to boost the ailing economy but also to establish good governance, law and order and fair play for everyone.
Households are struggling with the skyrocketing cost of living, the general public’s debt burden is beyond their eyeballs; the pensioners are aware that this Government has even stolen and mismanaged their EPF money; students are aware that after spending over eight to 10 years of their lives in the university there is no job or demand for their degrees; the business community except a few cronies who are after personal financial favours are deeply disturbed with the mismanagement of the economy and Government’s high debt exposure; the education systems is in total disarray; the healthcare system is in an absolute mess; State entities like Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, SriLankan Airlines, Mihin Air and Ceylon Electricity Board are making record losses; the Police and judicial system are interfered with and manipulated; and this Government during its time has become very successful in making Sri Lanka world famous for being South Asia’s hub for class A drugs, ethanol, human smuggling, rape, murder and crime.
Despite the media blackout, the people are aware of what’s going on in the country. People see that it’s one family that is doing all the damage to this country. We will run a very effective grass root level campaign and create awareness of the UPFA Government’s splendid acts and will brief the public on how we genuinely intend to create a better tomorrow for the people of Sri Lanka.
Q: Despite the high cost of living and hardship, people still have faith in this Government. Why?A: Sri Lankan people were fed up with a 30-year civil war but when the war ended in 2009 they believed every single word President Rajapaksa said in relation to the economy, good governance, restoring law and order, etc.
In contrary to what was said, we can clearly see that one family has taken the whole country to hostage and is manipulating an entire nation. Realising the great dangers, we can see Opposition forces trying to unite and talking about a common candidate for the next year’s presidential elections. Even within the Government there appear to be huge cracks. Recent statements by Maithripala Sirisena, Wimal Weerawansa, Champika Ranawaka, Reginald Cooray, Wijithamuni Soysa, Vidura Wickramanayaka and Dr. Rajitha Senaratne give ample evidence to us that within the Government, senior ministers are unhappy, embarrassed and de-motivated with the way in which the Rajapaksa family has taken every single Sri Lankan to ransom.
The writing is on the wall for this present UPFA regime and beginning of the end will dawn with the Uva provincial elections. I am hoping and praying everyday that the senior party stalwarts will forget positions, perks, egoistic issues and their individual differences and will work towards party unity and harmony for the sake of the people of this country.
Q: What are your views about the present economy? What actions will your party take to resurrect the economy?A: I am no economist but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realise what’s happening in the Sri Lankan economy. The economy of Sri Lanka has come to a grinding halt. The excess liquidity in the banking sector despite the artificial reduction in the interest rates shows that the private sector is not borrowing any money to fund expansions and without expansions there will be no growth or new employment opportunities. SMEs are virtually dead and there is no leadership, assistance or guidance given to them whatsoever.
Almost 90% of the borrowing from the banks is by the Government of Sri Lanka. By the end of the year, our debt to GDP ratio will exceed 100%, which will put Sri Lanka in to a high-risk red zone. This will bring down our ratings; we will have to borrow at higher interest rates. In my opinion Sri Lanka’s debt exposure is similar to that of Greece and Iceland. The amount of money borrowed by this Government is almost four times the money that was taken by all the governments since independence so you can imagine the debt mountain or effectively the debt trap we are in.
In the banking sector I hear that Non-Performing Loans is at an alarming ratio. This means banks will further tighten the lending criteria, depriving the small and medium enterprises of much-needed funding, which will be major setback to uplift the rural economy.
The Central Bank seems to be boasting about bringing interest rates to single digit levels and eventually below 5% per annum but this is far from reality as I have not heard anyone being able to borrow for less than 12 to 13% per annum.
Despite all the hype and boosting the stock market, year-on-year growth is not even 5% although we are halfway through the year. When you compare the performance of equity markets like the US, Europe, India, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan or Korea, the Sri Lankan performance has been very poor and there seems to be gradual net outflow of foreign funds to better performing regional and other emerging markets.
We are not against the development of water, electricity, ports, airports, dams, bridges and highways, but all we say is carry out these projects in a transparent, ethical and professional manner. The highways, bridges and roads which we are building in Sri Lanka are four to five times higher than anywhere in Asia or even Europe.
Dr. Harsha De Silva and Eran Wickramaratne have statistically proven that the cost to build the Colombo to Galle (Southern) Highway and Airport to Colombo Highway cost is even higher than what Germany, Spain and France have taken to build their highways. Our cost per kilometre is even double the cost incurred by major European economies.
Today anyone could visit the once booming and buzzing free trade zones like Katunayake and Biyagama, which are now like ghost cities. Once-active British, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Pakistani and Taiwanese factory owners have moved to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysian, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, India and Pakistan.
One needs to look at what this Government has done to formerly profit-making entities such as SriLankan Airlines, Sri Lanka Port Authority, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Ceylon Electricity Board. During the UNP regime we had professionals and eminent businessmen like Dr. Parakrama Dissanayaka running the SLPA, Harry Jayawardana running SriLankan Airlines and Professor Mohan Munasinghe functioning as the key advisor for CEB. We appointed professionals and the best talent and gave them management independence and autonomy to turn these organisations around and run them profitably.
The UNP Government will always have the right people in the right place to run organisations. Unlike this UPFA Government, the UNP always believes that the private sector is the engine of growth and will always provide them the best possible assistance to expand businesses.
Q: Why can’t UNP topple the Government and come into power?A: The United National Party and its members are a democratic right wing party. We believe in democracy, we believe in the power of the ballot and respecting the feelings of the people. Since 2004 none of the elections have been held in a free and fair manner, but we will continue to fight against injustice, unfair play, elections-related malpractices and violations. We are on a regrouping and restructuring phase and we are confident that during the upcoming elections we will be able to record a much-improved performance.