Former Speaker and UPFA Hambantota District Parliamentarian, Chamal Rajapaksa, commenting on the selection of the next Presidential Candidate said, no consensus has been reached yet between the SLFP and SLPP. In an interview with the Sunday Observer MP Rajapaksa said what is critical at this juncture is to reinvigorate the two political parties and thereafter decide to join hands to form a broad political front. It is important for both parties to discuss on what grounds they would join hands and added that it is time for all to sit together and deliberate on the most suitable Presidential Candidate.
Q: Many names, including those from the Rajapaksa family have been guessed as the next Presidential Candidate. Can you throw some light on this issue as you too have said, ‘ I am also ready’ ?
A: It is good if everybody is getting ready for an election. At present the SLFP and the SLPP are organising their parties at the grassroots level. Some other political parties too are joining hands with them. All should sit together and deliberate on the most suitable Presidential Candidate. There is no need to panic. First, it is important to reinvigorate ourselves as strong political parties and thereafter decide to join hands. When we feel the pulse of the masses it would help us to decide on the suitable candidate.
Q: SLFP stalwarts such as, Duminda Dissanayake and Mahinda Samarasinghe have confirmed that Maithripala Sirisena will be their next Presidential Candidate. Unless there is a broad front headed by a candidate acceptable to all sections of the country it will be a futile race. Your comments?
A: If the SLFP and SLPP contests separately they will field their own candidates. If the two parties contest jointly, we will field the candidate who can fulfil the aspirations of the ordinary people, particularly the rural masses. Hence, the most suitable candidate should be selected after careful consideration.
Q: Have the SLFP and SLPP reached consensus on the suitable Presidential Candidate?
A: To my knowledge there is still no consensus reached between the two parties. First, both parties should discuss on what grounds they would join hands, and then move towards the second round of discussions. No such dialogue has been initiated so far.
Q: Most people are of the view that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa should not have accepted the premiership under the 52-day Government. What is your view on this?
A: I also think so. Due to the unfavourable economic situation and political instability in the country, and as requested by President Maithripala Sirisena, the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa accepted the premiership after consulting the JO parliamentary group. It would have been better if this arrangement had been made in a more systematic manner. It should have been checked whether the required number of MPs to form a Government was available and a document with their signatures should have been handed over to the Speaker. The failure of the 52-day Government created disillusionment in the minds of the people. However, the incumbent Government is becoming unpopular day by day due to their policies, such as forming another National Government.
Q: What is the reason for the SLFP and SLPP to oppose the new Constitution that is being drafted? Do you think it would split the country and endanger territorial integrity?
A: A new Constitution is not necessary at this juncture as it would create tensions in the country. The tenure of the Government is now approaching its end. As in 1972, if the Constitutional Assembly should meet and provide the opportunity to all stakeholders to air their views on the new Constitution, even taking two or three years, the aspirations of the people would be met. When documents prepared by a ‘hidden group’ are presented in Parliament, it would certainly give rise to unnecessary issues. Obviously, there is a group who depend on funds provided by the INGOs and some Western countries. This has created the impression that such international organisations and foreign countries exert undue pressure on our country.
Problems cannot be sorted out by enacting a new Constitution. Although the Provincial Councils were created under the Constitution, it has failed to resolve the problems in the North and the East. If there is a genuine desire to find a solution, all those political parties in the North and the East should become stakeholders of the Government. If a new Constitution is to be drafted merely to help certain sections to consolidate power or cater to their political interests that cannot be accepted.
The people at the grassroots level don’t talk about Constitution making. They have to face hardships in their day to day living. Except for a few Tamil political leaders, the ordinary people in the North do not want a Constitution. When I was undergoing training as a Police Inspector, my roommate was a Tamil, and we were friends. We didn’t have any issues. Today, various political leaders create problems to realise their narrow political objectives. If there is a mutual understanding among the communities, it wouldn’t be difficult to resolve problems. Sinhala, Tamil and English languages should be made compulsory for all, to facilitate the exchange of ideas among the communities.
When there is a language barrier, the gap among the communities would broaden. If we can ensure close relations between the communities and give pride of place to justice and fair play, we can live in peace as a united nation. When people are obsessed with the idea of a new Constitution, the burning issues tend to be ignored. Another important matter is, we should not set up schools based on ethnicity.
Q: As the former Speaker, could you give reasons for the deterioration in the dignity and decorum of Parliament in recent times? Do you think this ugly development could be contained, if so how?
A: The conduct of some MPs doesn’t suit parliamentary traditions and they make speeches violating the Standing Orders of Parliament. Each parliamentarian has a responsibility to adhere to the standard rules and regulations of Parliament as the entire country and the world watch their conduct. The Chair can control this situation to some extent if he has the genuine desire to do so.
Q: Why did you, with UPFA MP Chandrasiri Gajadeera decline to participate in the Committee appointed to report on the November clashes in Parliament?
A: We declined as we were of the opinion that the ugly situation could have been prevented. As nothing was done to prevent it, we cannot blame one side. According to the Standing Orders, there is a certain manner to conduct parliamentary business. In terms of Standing Orders of Parliament 137 (1) “The Speaker may suspend a sitting or adjourn Parliament if the Speaker thinks it necessary to do so to maintain order.” Standing Order 137 (2) says, “Whenever the Speaker suspends a sitting, the Speaker shall decide when the sitting shall resume. Whenever the Speaker adjourns Parliament it stands adjourned until its next sitting day.” If the Speaker had acted according to the Standing Orders, MPs would not have been able to resort to such unruly conduct in Parliament. Had any action been taken against the MPs who misbehaved in the well of the House, it would have been depicted in the CCTV footage and the culprits could have been dealt with.
Q: There is public criticism against independent commissions. Are these commissions truly independent and if not why?
A: Independent commissions are appointed by the Constitutional Council. The composition of the Constitutional Council (CC) is such that the majority or nearly seven members are parliamentarians appointed by the incumbent Government. Sometimes, one or two MPs may be from the Opposition.
Therefore, the CC consists of more parliamentarians of the Government. Hence, I don’t see any justice in the composition of the CC because all politicians represented have their own agendas. The question might arise whether there will be any political influence when the most suitable person is appointed to the CC. The CC needs to be transparent. The appointment of independent commissions is essential but they should not succumb to the pressure of INGOs.
Q: There is a move to form a National Government with one SLMC member and the President is said to be determined not to increase the number of ministerial portfolios. What is your view on this?
A: We should not concentrate on being in power throughout as it is not in the interest of the country. People are aware that to form a National Government, more ministerial portfolios would have to be offered to the aspirants which would eventually be a burden on the country. Even more advanced countries have a relatively small Cabinet. When some who hold ministerial portfolios complain that they are overburdened with work, it means they are not fit to be Ministers. The Ministers are only expected to make policy decisions while the Ministry officials implement them. Government officials should be allowed to perform their duties independently. It would help minimise fraud, waste and corruption in the public sector. I think the performance of Ministers should be evaluated annually. If a particular Minister has failed to achieve his targets, he should be sacked.
Q: Government lawmakers complain that the authorities have failed to take action against the wrongdoers of the previous Government while Opposition members say the Government has launched a witch hunt against them. Your comments?
A: If anybody has committed an offence it should be investigated under the law. Clearly, these investigations have targeted only a particular group. No Government will be in power forever. Everybody should have a right to engage in politics. The FCID frames charges against a targeted group and punishes them. In the past the civic rights of the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike were withdrawn owing to some ulterior motive. However, some of those who supported this move regretted later.
Q: Government and Opposition law makers on Thursday (February 7) made a big hue and cry in Parliament when 12 MPs were trapped in the VIP lift in Parliament. Did similar incidents occur in the past, and if so what action was taken to rectify them?
A: These very same lifts have been there since the new Parliament was set up. These lifts are checked from time to time by the officers and engineers. Measures have to be taken to replace the lifts where necessary. Several MPs were trapped in the lift when it stopped working. I too had had to face a similar situation earlier.
But this time the MPs had been in the lift for around 15 minutes, which is a serious issue. There should be a competent technical team to attend to such emergencies promptly. The lack of such a mechanism is a serious shortcoming and Parliament administration should be held responsible for this.