By Anuradha Herath
Agriculture, Rural Economic Affairs, Livestock Development, Irrigation, and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister, P. Harrison, said Mahinda Rajapaksa began talking about abolishing the Executive Presidency to solve the crisis in the family.
Excerpts of the interview:
After the 52 Day Government it looks like you have won a lottery?
A: No, I have been given several portfolios. It is not only to me, the Prime Minister also has been given many Ministries. Sajith Premadasa and Vajira Abeywardena too have been given several portfolios. When the number of Ministries was limited to 30 this happened. When there was a National Government the subjects were spread across many Ministries. What has happened now is that they have been combined. In the past, too, there was a Ministry of Irrigation and Agriculture. One Minister had handled both Ministries. As a result I got several Ministries not that I won a sweep.
Don’t you feel it a burden?
A: I do not feel it a burden. As a responsible Minister I am working in the position.
So, it is until a National Government is formed and the number of Ministers increased, it is only temporarily that you have been assigned some sectors?
A: No, it is not whether they will be removed from me or not. Actually, if a National Government is formed the number of Ministers will increase then these subjects will be divided. That is fair and we cannot say anything about it.
The allegation is that Harrison has been assigned so many Ministries and that he is not looking into any one of them, properly?
A: I reject that allegation. I am carrying out this task with maximum commitment.
It was reported that you had several discussions to cross-over to the 52 Day Government. Is it true?
A: No. I did not get ready for any cross-over at all. I did not participate in any such discussion either.
Although you took over the Ministry of Agriculture, still there is no proper method for purchasing paddy and today farmers have become destitute?
A: We have, by now, made the required financial provisions for the Government Agents to purchase paddy. We have opened 207 paddy storage warehouses belonging to the Paddy Marketing Board. Then, we have implemented a programme to purchase paddy through Government Agents and Cooperatives. In addition, we have told wholesalers and all others who obtain loans in bonds, if paddy is of a certain standard – to buy a kilo of Nadu for Rupees 38 and a kilo of Samba at Rupees 42. We have already made a request and influenced them through Government Agents.
I think even banks have been informed. These have been done more methodically than previously.
Opposition Leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has agreed to abolish the Executive Presidency, what steps will you take as a Government?
A: Why has Mahinda Rajapaksa become the Opposition Leader in a rush? He was in power for 11 years. He came to power saying he will abolish the Executive Presidency, but, now he is in a great hurry, don’t you have a question about that?
Do you have a problem about that?
A: Yes I do have a question about it; to solve the crisis in the family, he put this problem forward.
First, tell me, are you in agreement with abolishing the Executive Presidency?
A: Very clearly. The UNP agreed to abolish the Executive Presidency, from then.
You are agreeing to this, because you are aware that Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot win again?
A: No. There is nothing like that. There is nothing preventing Ranil Wickremesinghe winning. We saw Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former Executive President being defeated at the last Presidential Election. So why is it being said that we cannot win. He could not even win the Parliamentary Election. Neither could he win the Presidential Election.
However, very recently, Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa made a statement that the UNP agreed to abolish the Executive Presidency because they cannot win and that Ranil Wickremesinghe will not be able to become the candidate even?
A: That is what Wimal Weerawansa thinks. That is not what the UNP thinks.
After saying to the media, the Presidency should be abolished, the UNP did not have any policy about it?
A: Why not? We continuously said so at our Party Conventions from 2008 onwards and we very clearly said so at our Party Convention in Kataragama, that the Executive Presidency should be abolished. We were on that stance. That expectation was there on the UNP stage from the time Maithripala Sirisena became the Common Candidate on the Presidential Election stage. He was appointed with that agreement.
If Mahinda Rajapaksa agrees with you on that, will you arrive at a decision to expedite it?
A: We are not ready to act according to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s agenda. The reason is because we are working according to our agenda.
Proposal for a National Government, is it still active?
A: Yes, very clearly.
So, that means that you too are of the same view?
A: Most definitely. The reason is in a National Government, it will not only be the UNP. A National Government is one proposal in our election manifesto. So, we still remain in that stance.
Do you have an ethical right now to establish a National Government?
A: Why not?
How can you set up a National Government according to the Constitution?
A: According to the Constitution, certain Parties have to come to agreements, with us, that they are ready to join us.
Show me how a National Government can be set up now?
A: Why, based on two Parties you can do it.
Which are the two Parties?
A: Once the Government brings in the proposal we will mention the two Parties.
Neither the JVP nor the EPDP nor the Alliance led by the SLFP have declared that they are in agreement?
A: How can you say that?
So, does that mean that even one of the Parties I mentioned has agreed to this?
A: No, no, what I am saying is how can you say that.
I am asking you because those Parties have explained their stance to the country already?
A: As much as their stance, there were many more views that they explained to the country. Just wait and see who will vote in favour of it after we bring in this proposal.
I am asking you again. The UNP put forward a member of the SLMC to enable them to set up a National Government. Is it Constitutional?
A: It was only a proposal. There are a number of other Parties who want to join.
Anyhow, what your actions prove is that you are trying to take advantage of a loophole in the Constitution in order to establish a National Government?
A: There is nothing like that. From the time we came forward for the election we talked about a National Government.
I am talking about the present situation, not the period prior to the 52 Days. Were there provisions for a National Government prior to that?
A: What was the previous situation? We were with the SLFP. However, that is not the only Party in Parliament. There are a number of other Parties.
Although there are a number of Parties, the question is whether they would stand with you?
A: How can you predict that? I didn’t know that you could foretell such things.
This is not a story about predictions, Minister?
A: I am saying that this proposal should be submitted to Parliament. Once, it is submitted we can identify the Parties who will support it and those who will not.
Whatever you say, during some interviews I did with the JVP and the Alliance led by the SLFP, they have expressed their stance to the country. That is why I am asking you with responsibility?
A: I am also saying this because I know about things.
Did you have discussions?
A: That is a different story, let’s ask that later.
Are you also giving jobs through your Ministries only to members of your Party?
A: There is nothing like that. Jobs are given according to qualifications and we have already recommended through Ministries, to conduct legitimate interviews and recruit people.
But some Cabinet Ministers from your Party have said in public that they provide jobs only to their supporters. Is that justified?
A: Party members have to be helped, see these things have happened in the past. During the time of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, they appointed as Samurdhi Officers who worked for their Party. Even the UNP gave appointments such as Cultivation Officers. Therefore, there should be justice for those who work for the Party, too. If not they would not remain.
While representing the Government, you cannot say that you are considering only Party members?
A: I am saying not only for Party members.
Your Party members say, first they have to be fed. Is that correct?
A: Do not misunderstand this. I said even members of the Party have to be treated properly. At the same time competitive examinations have been held and others with abilities have been granted an opportunity too. So, what I said was not that we were considering only our Party members, 100 per cent.
Alright. Are you in agreement with the notion that first you all have to be fed?
A: You have to ask that from those who told you that.
One of your Parliamentarians directly said this?
A: I do not know whether he said that. Although you are saying that, I do not know about it.
In the immediate past you raised a voice for democracy. But a basic fact of democracy is holding elections. The Provincial Council Elections have been postponed now for over one and half years. What is democracy without holding elections?
A: We have already said that we are ready to hold PC elections. If we try to look into the history of this we will have to face certain problems. However, if the elections had been held based on the previous system, it would already have been held and completed by now. Now, of course, a new system has been brought in. Do you accept the fact that PC elections were held whenever they wanted during the time of Mahinda Rajapaksa? Didn’t this problem crop up then? We didn’t ask for PC Elections to be held one now and another later. We told them to hold the PC Elections, all at one time and to hold the Pradeshiya Sabha elections in one go. We said the Presidential Election as well as the Parliamentary election should be held at the same time. However, in the past, when Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted he held the North Central Province and Sabaragamuwa PC elections, also used government resources and property for elections. There was force and election violence and those elections were unfair. They did not allow us, the Opposition, to hold a meeting in those places or set up an office. They assaulted people, killed them, and they destroyed media personnel who went to report on them, as well. Today, there is no such system. We are saying very clearly that PC elections should be held. But there should be a proper system. All Parties in Parliament haven’t got together for that. It is wrong to accuse only one Party in this case.
Do not accept this as an accusation, in itself. I am asking you this question, as it is your responsibility as a Government, to hold elections. Forget previous incidents for now and give me an answer.
A: The past can’t be forgotten. The future is built based on the past.
Actually, if it is only a technical glitch that has impacted this electoral system; shouldn’t the election be expedited, based even on the old system?
A: To go back to the previous method. We have to bring this Bill to Parliament and get it passed.
So why are you not submitting that proposal?
A: The UNP is ready for that. This is a tug-o-war between some Parties.
The SLFP was continuously against this. They are the ones who initially opposed it. We did present proposal to Parliament.
Anyhow, if it is not possible to abolish the Executive Presidency, a Presidential Election will have to be held this year. Will someone from your Party contest, at least this time?
A: Very clearly. The Common Candidate will be from the UNP.
Previously your common candidates were Maithripala Sirisena and Sarath Fonseka? Is it possible the same thing might happen again, this time?
A: It is based on those experiences that we have agreed upon presenting a Common Candidate from the UNP.
Is there no possibility of mentioning who it is?
A: No. I told you before. We will make the announcement in the future.
You have a Party Leader. Why can’t you talk directly about him?
A: I told you, we will tell you at the proper time.
Are you scared?
A: No, there is nothing to be scared of. I told you very clearly that we will be putting forward a Common Candidate from the UNP and that Candidate should be from the UNP. As a Party we too have a number of rules and regulations. Everyone in the Party will get together and decide and then the Working Committee will make a final decision. Also, there are many other Parties who are with the UNP. Their opinion too has to be sought and only then, based on the opinion of everyone we will name our Candidate.
You are answering very carefully as you are scared, rather than of the Party rules and regulations, that your Ministerial portfolios might get affected?
A: These are temporary things; we are waiting to give up all these things.
But back-benchers of your Party are speaking more directly than you do?
A: We speak with responsibility.
Does that mean back-benchers make irresponsible statements?
A: I will not agree with all what you are saying. However, as a Cabinet Minister, I have a responsibility. Also, as a senior of the Party, I have been a member of the UNP for 30 years. Therefore, I do not want to mention everything that comes to mind and also, I will not speak to fulfil another person’s requirements.
Is there a difference in what you say now, after getting the Ministerial portfolios, in comparison to what you said before?
A: No, I was a MP who has held the same stance throughout. I did not jump from here to there and did not go anywhere else either. I stood up on behalf of the Party, straight. I was of the same view during the 30 years when the Party won and when it was defeated, too.
If your leader gets on the Presidential Election platform, this year, it will be for the last time, wouldn’t it be?
A: I do not know about that. However, I am not ready to work as your newspaper wants me to.
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