Provincial Council system could be used effectively Gammanpila
Tuesday, 17 July 2012 - 12:35 PM SL Time
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Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) Legal Advisor and Minister of Agriculture, Environment, Minor Irrigation and Industries of the Western Provincial Council Udaya Prabath Gammanpila, in an interview with the Sunday Observer, touched upon many important issues, including the RIO + 20 Summit, which he attended, the Private Member Bill of UNP Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe seeking to prevent Bhikkhus from engaging in electoral politics and the TNA s refusal to attend the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for dialogue.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: With your three-year experience as a Minister of the Western Provincial Council (WPC), do you believe that the PC system is viable and capable of reaching out to people at the grass roots level to contribute to their socio-economic uplift while also contributing to national development?
A: There is a common allegation that the Provincial Council system is a white elephant. I also subscribe to that view. With portfolios of a PC Ministry in hand, we have tried our best to get some work done by this white elephant.
During the past three years we have introduced a number of innovative programs for the benefit of the local community, especially in the agricultural sector in the province. These days the younger generation is reluctant to take to agriculture. They are averse to agriculture because it is neither a white collar job nor a professional job. As a result, labour is the biggest problem in the province. People who are capable with all resources available at their disposal also adopt a similar attitude. So, we have introduced a School Agro Society concept in all schools in the province. We also hold competitions to choose the best home gardens in schools. Through this program, we have been able to re-introduce agriculture to the younger generation.
We have another program, Bindunu Putuvata Dethe Saviyak under which we repair damaged furniture in schools. We add value to school assets, spending comparatively smaller amounts and saving millions of rupees to the national coffers.
The monetary value of a table and chair, which remain dumped aside, is to the tune of Rs.5,000 after we repair them. This is one more way to reduce the felling of trees for timber. Protecting the environment and public properties are the underlying concepts of the programs.
We have introduced home gardening for middle class people living in flats and housing schemes with limited space. It is all about how to use limited space for agriculture. We have also introduced a home garden project for senior citizens who have the time but remain idle. We have introduced a number of similar programs proving that the PC system can be used for fruitful and effective programs for the society.
Q: Implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to devolve more powers to the PCs is being talked about for some time now. Your comments?
A: The Government has clearly set out its policy about the 13th Amendment in Mahinda Chinthana - Idiri Dekma (a vision for the future). There are certain political groups who support the 13th Amendment while there are others who oppose it such as the JHU.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has mandated the PSC to hold deliberations on the 13th Amendment and to make suitable recommendations.
The PSC was appointed by the Speaker of Parliament consequent to a motion by the UPFA Parliamentary Group. We have stated that we will go to the PSC talks with an open mind, without any preconditions or demands.
We invite the TNA to come and convince the majority community on the justifiability and authenticity of their grievances and demands. We have told them that if they can convince us in the PSC we are willing to accommodate any of their demands. I repeat any of their demands .
From the very inception, the leaders of the Tamil separatist movements exerted pressure on the majority community to win their demands. Mr. Chelvanayagam took recourse to satyagrahas, protest demonstrations and hartals . Velupillai Prabhakaran used guns and bombs to pressurise the majority community and now Mr. Sampanthan is using international pressure. By taking recourse to such pressurising tactics, they have done immense damage to the Tamil community. They should instead enter the negotiations process to convince us on the justifiability of their demands.
The majority community cannot be made to cow down through such pressurising tactics. Post-independence history bears witness to it. We have over and again demonstrated clearly that we will not give into separatist ideologies.
Neither the Western super powers nor regional powers can enact laws on behalf of the Tamil community. It has to be done in the Sri Lankan Parliament and, therefore, the TNA should join the PSC for talks.
Bhikkhus in politics
Q: UNP Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has tabled a Private Member Bill in Parliament seeking to prevent Buddhist clergy from engaging in electoral politics. Your comments please?
A: We have defeated the Bill politically and ideologically. We have had media debates on it during the last two months. We raised certain questions on this Bill which remain unanswered by Mr. Rajapakshe. We have clearly shown that there are 227 disciplinary rules for Bhikkhus entering electoral politics and these have not been violated. Rajapakshe being a layman has no authority whatsoever to introduce disciplinary rules on Bhikkhus.
The Buddha himself was engaged in advising kings and administrators. Our Bhikkhus have been engaged in the government decision-making process throughout our 2,300-year history. This is the heritage of the Sinhala Buddhist monks. Mr. Rajapakshe has failed to counter these arguments and, therefore, we have defeated him ideologically. We had to take this debate to the leaders of political parties represented in the Parliament because it is the Parliament that has to decide on the future of the Bill and not the public. We met President Rajapaksa followed by a meeting with the UPFA Parliamentary Group.
On the directions of the President, the UPFA Parliamentary Group decided not to support the Bill. We met the leader of Rajapakshe s own party, the UNP. He very specifically said that Wijeyadasa s Bill does not reflect the stand of the UNP . They are yet to take a decision on it, but will call upon Rajapakshe to brief the UNP Parliamentary Group about the Bill. Both the JVP and the DNA also said that they will not support the Bill. The support of 150 MPs or a two-third majority is needed to have the Bill passed for a constitutional amendment. So the Bill will not get two-third majority support and will not get even a handful of votes. So we have defeated the Bill politically as well.
Q: Crimes, including sexual abuses, killings, robberies and other anti-social activities have increased at an alarming rate in the country. What reasons do you attribute to it?
A: I do admit that crimes have increased at an alarming rate. The main reason is that people have distanced themselves from religion. Moral values have deteriorated. Those who handle black money, who earlier indirectly helped politicians, have now come to the forefront of politics. Political parties give them prominence because they want their parties to win by hook or by crook. They have nothing to lose, but the people are the losers when they reject genuine politicians and elect crooks. The Buddha said we reap what we sow. The PR system was very advantageous to such anti-social elements because the electorates are large and voters had no chance of personally knowing the candidates.
RIO + 20 Summit
Q: You attended the Global Environmental RIO + 20 Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil last month. Media, the world over, have commented that the summit was a disappointment. Your views?
A: The 1992 RIO Summit was a huge success. Decisions taken at that summit were introduced and implemented as Agenda 21 the world over. World leaders, including US President Bill Clinton, attended that summit.
Consequently, people all over the world had high hopes on the RIO + 20 because the environmental crisis is growing out of proportion. It is virtually reaching an irreversible point. The people were hoping for immediate measures to arrest the uncontrolled emissions of carbon. The world has failed to control carbon emissions from industrialised countries. Global warming and climate change are the order of the day. The RIO + 20 was anticipated as a crucial forum at this juncture. In fact it was expected to be the most crucial event in the history of mankind. Unfortunately, all important world leaders evaded the Summit.
The US President did not even send his Deputy. He sent the Secretary of State. Leaders of England, France and many Western powers sent secondary level leaders. The Western nations are struggling to recover from the impacts of economic depression. The EU is going through a double depression.
They are not in a position to make any commitments towards sustainable future or to provide funds for climate change adaptation. Whatever problems they may face, the environmental crisis is a much bigger problem confronting the whole world. They have made the Summit useless. Mankind will face the adverse consequences of this decision.