Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti believes that the current Unity Government, which has been in the echelons of power for merely two years, has fleeced more public funds than the Mahinda Rajapaksa Presidency, which lasted for a decade from 2005-2015.
He also said it was up to the voters of the country to decide whether to proceed with the same political backdrop, where it was a shift of power between the UNP and the SLFP, or take a decision to change the political landscape of the country by voting for leaders of a different flavour altogether. The decision is altogether in the minds and hearts of the people, he said.
Here, the COPE Chairman and JVP MP in conversation with Ceylon Today.
?: Now the Presidential Commission of Inquiry has found enough and more incriminating evidence linking former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran and son-in-law Arjun Aloysius to the Bond Scam and that Mahendran was personally responsible for manipulating the deals, which was the beginning of the end of the economy. What is the next step and why are the wheels of justice not in motion with all the evidence against him and Aloysius?
A: Now, the issue is whether the recommendations of the COPE report will be implemented or not. Then, if they are found guilty, Court proceedings will be instituted and the moneys which were a loss to the government, to the tune of Rs 15 billion, would be recovered. The culprits should be brought before the law. These are some of the immediate priorities which have to be attended to now. If they are deemed not guilty, then the economy would have to suffer a loss to the tune of Rs 15 billion. Now, what is left is the implementation of the recommendations or not.
?: What are the other corruption allegations against this government?
A: There is nothing in the surface that is visible. But, the members of the present government are carrying on just as the previous government and they continue to rob. They came to power on a mandate to fight corruption and they have made more money in these two years than the 10 years of the previous two regimes of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The present government has placed the country in a huge debt trap. They continue to borrow to repay the existing debts and they get deep into the mire. Now, it is selling off all the valuable resources and the assets of the country. There is also no restriction of the wastage and this perfidious government is getting unlimited tax free limousines for the politicians and at the same time, they scream that the government is in debt and there is no room for welfare spending. That is how the hypocrisy worked in these past two years.
?: So, do you think that this government is robbing as the previous government or do you think that it is more than the previous government?
A: The corruption is continuing unabated and this government has robbed much more in these two years than the 10-year-old Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. That is the difference.
?: By the scheme of things that is visible today, it is almost visible and predictable that this government will continue till the next presidential and parliamentary polls in 2020. The government has almost two thirds majority and there does not seem to be a risk element for the government at all. So, what is the issue?
A: It seems that there are two sets of people. One segment rules and the other are ruled. So, it is the taxes of the ruled that the rulers are levying and that is what is levied to meet the expenses of the government. The corruption goes on and this seems to be continuing from government to government. It is the people and the voters who have elected these politicians, the very same politicians who have not been able to find a solution to even the garbage issue. If the voters want to have the same hardships, the loans of the country, the taxes and other charges of the government, let them vote for these types of governments and let them suffer in the same manner. If the people also want to have slashes in the education and health services, there is nothing wrong in electing these types of governments.
?: Then, what is the solution?
A: The solution is to change governments like this. It is also the people who elect governments and change them as well. If the people want to change the government, then we are claiming that we are suitable and the masses are also saying this.
?: But, the heart of the matter is that you have not any day won an election and secured a majority. So, how can you afford to talk?
A: So to do that we have to win and that is not something that we have not yet done.
?: But the people and the voters still have scary memories of the carnages that the JVP created in both 1971 and 1988-1989. So, how can you blame them?
A: Then, in that case, let the people remember the antics of the JVP in the past two insurrections and suffer at the hands of the government. Then let the people continue with governments that given them slashed subsidies, give additional taxes, which also promote malnutrition and diseases like dengue, then it is all right to have a government like this. If the people are adamant that they want something like this for the rest of their lives, then there is no alternative. It is as simple as that.
?: But the home truth is that according to the present Constitution, there will be no single political party which will be able to successfully form a government with a clear working majority and that is the form whether you like it or not. There will be the continuity of Hung Parliaments. What is your solution?
A: Then this will be the future and also the country. Who cares? If this is what the country wants, so be it!
?: So, how can you be confident that you can form a government given that you can barely get the minimum number of seats in Parliament which has been the case all these years?
A: Let the people decide. Otherwise, the country will be the same which has been the same for the rest of our lives.
?: If the JVP forms a government will your management of the economy and the country will be the same or will it be totally different?
A: We will have as priority a production based economy and certainly not a beggar economy like this where people are taxed through their noses. The government should be levying taxes from the people after giving them a reasonable income. The people must be seen as stakeholders of the economy. Now, imports are double the exports and this must be regulated. Borrowings should be done only to match the requirements. There should be fiscal discipline. Wastage should be stopped. Corrupt people should be punished. The law should be applicable to all and be seen as fair to all. The environment should be nurtured. Garbage should be managed. Schoolchildren should not be treated by the government as a nuisance. There should be a short-term, medium-term and long-term plan for economic development. Pensioners should not be treated as a liability and there should be a plan to nurture them. The health service should be developed. The politicians should lead by example. We don’t mind if this government does that.
?: Now on a personal note. You are of course a university graduate in Economics. But, are you aware that 146 of the 225 Members of Parliament have not even passed their Ordinary Level Examinations? How do you see this?
A: The voters do not ask these questions at the time they vote and that is not a qualification on the ballot paper either. There is no qualification to become an MP. If that is required Party Leaders should decide on these candidates like the JVP.
?: So, don’t you think that political party leaders should also be held responsible for this abysmal state of affairs?
A: Yes. That is very true. They should also be held responsible for this. The criteria that political parties use as their benchmarks for politics is how many thugs a candidate could bring and what kind of money he can give the Party. Those are the criteria they look for and that is very sad. It is the politicians who should be blamed or all these shortcomings and not the people at all.
?: So, don’t you also think that people who have murder charges against them and people who have other serious allegations against them should not be given nominations?
A: I have thought on the same lines. To how many people have I mentioned and shared these views? We have shown the way by example. There is no one in our party who has been elected like this.
?: What are your thoughts on constitutional reforms?
A: That is indeed very necessary. The Executive Presidency should be abolished. This corrupt system of preferential votes should be stopped.
?: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing the nation from Galle Face Green on May Day, alleged that the government, through the new Constitution, will be compromising the nation and dividing the country and that all forces should be mobilized to stop that. How do you see this?
A: It was Mahinda Rajapaksa who agreed with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to give the North and the East self determination for ten years and other criteria like that. So, he could not talk at this stage or any stage, and if anyone was there to compromise the interests of the country, it was him!
?: What do you think of the war crimes charges? Does your Party advocate a domestic mechanism or a foreign mechanism?
A: It is indeed true that there was a war in this country. So, it is us who have to decide for ourselves what is best for us as nobody will be coming to our rescue.
?: What are your thoughts on the devolution process?
A: If the government considers the North and the East as two parts of Sri Lanka then adequate power must be devolved to them and also make them live honourably as citizens. That is their right. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that there is cohabitation and there is development equitably in the entire country. The people of the North are not only meant for getting votes at election times. What is necessary is not the devolution of power. The requirement is to provide with their rights. That is all. That is education, health, transport; infrastructure and a whole lot of others include connectivity.
?: But the TNA and the Northern political parties are not content with anything short of self determination. How do you see this?
A: Asking for what they want is their business. Whether to give or not is the business of Parliament. Anybody can ask for anything.
But they must ask it in such a manner that they get it. Some of the demands that they made may be valid in a war environment, but they are not valid in a backdrop which is devoid of war. They must realize that. On the other hand, the southern political leaders should understand the reasons which led to the war and ensure that those causative factors are removed and that there is no repetition at all in that regard. That is the challenge. The TNA should realize that they cannot have the whole pound of flesh and we should realize that we cannot deprive them the whole pound of flesh. The solution should be something in between.