The United Nations should know that the incumbent government is worse than the previous government, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa said. In an interview with Ceylon Today he elaborated the incident that took place a fortnight ago during the Hambantota protest which he claimed was a peaceful one, where several protesters were assaulted by Police. Upon his arrest he tweeted to the United Nations stating that Sri Lanka Police arrested peaceful protesters who were protesting against national assets being sold and is stifling opposition voices.
Your father, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, stated in an interview with Ceylon Today that he regrets the sour relationship he had with India. In view of that, don‘t you think the Hambantota protest was counterproductive?
A. Sri Lanka’s relationship with India was based on trade, commerce and culture. But today it has become much politicized. The traditional relationship we had with India has totally changed and now it is completely political. We have approached India for all the projects. If you look at the history, even the Katunayake-Colombo highway was initially started with Korean funding, I believe, in 1986. It never took place. Then we approached Japan, and then India. When Rajapaksa came to power in 2005 he approached India to build the Hambantota Port, but nothing happened. When you are running a country you have to make sure that you deliver what you promised to the people. We can’t wait till another country decides when to do it. So, whoever comes first we have to go ahead with that. That was one of the reasons most of the countries in the world had a negative impact on my father and his vision. Because of the aggressive approach he had for development, solely because we went without traditional economic partners. We couldn’t wait for them. If we had waited for India to start the Hambantota Port project, it would take time.
Three governments waited for 20 years for Hambantota Port to take off.
At a press briefing on Wednesday (18) the Minister of Fisheries who also represents Hambantota claimed that the Joint Opposition (JO) had held a meeting to remove him from the “scene”, which many would interpret as a threat to his life. It is said that you were also present at the meeting. What really happened?
A. It’s a lie. Nothing like that happened at all. During JO meetings we talk about issues relevant to the people and not about Mahinda Amaraweera.
Hambantota District has three MPs, namely Mahinda Amaraweera, Sajith Premadasa and you. With regard to addressing the issues of people, how does your work differ from theirs?
A. We have a vision. We have a long-term plan. The present situation is that the other two do not have a vision for Hambantota.
They don’t have any idea as to how the infrastructure functions. If you ask them about their plans for rainwater harvesting, irrigation plan, or rainwater waste management plan, they wouldn’t know. They wouldn’t have an answer for Hambantota Port and Mattala Airport. These two projects should have a collaborated waste management system. You can have individual waste management system for the port and the airport. They don’t have a plan, but we do. If you ask them about their programme to control floods in the future, especially when you build a port, airport and a highway, naturally you block the underground water flow system – but they will have no idea. You need to have a mechanism to collect the rainwater and gradually put it to the sea.
The difference between our government and the incumbent one is that we had a vision and we were working towards it. We know what we should do next. But they do not know what they should do next. As a representative for Hambantota, I look at developing individuals and enhancing domestic economy. We made sure that the money circulation in the district and in the country is kept alive. So, the farmers got their subsidy, they got the market to sell their produce, the government made sure that they were given a stable price. We also developed the education sector in the area paying particular attention to developing schools.
When you got into politics, would you have preferred to foster your political legacy by starting off in the Opposition?
A. I did think so at one point. But at present, if you look at the government and taking their incompetence into account, I am happy that I started my political career while being on the government side, with a leader such as Mahinda Rajapaksa who set the country on a rapid development process. Subsequent to having this experience, I am now in the opposition where the government is inept. So, one day when the current Opposition comes back to power we will have the opportunity to do substantial work and take the country forward. The former Opposition struggled to come to power, but now they do not have any idea what to do while in power. When we come to power, we will be able to set the country on a positive development course.
We have a culture of ageing politicians. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa suffered defeat yet he is keen to be active in politics. In fact, the same can be said of the Prime Minister. Don‘t you think the older politicians are dominating the political sphere without paving the way for younger politicians?
A. They should take a break, but we shouldn’t forget that their experience counts a lot. If you look at experience, and if you take examples from our region itself, the political experience and exposure are vital to government. What they should do is to groom younger members. Unfortunately, the government has not done it. All the younger MPs are sitting with us as backbenchers. They were very vocal about us when they were in the Opposition, but today they are given minor ministries and kept aside. But the same old system continues. During our time we actually got every young member to get involved in development work. If you talk to any of the young members at that time, all of them were involved in their constituency’s development projects. They had a plan and decided what road to be developed and what industries should be brought in. They decided how the Urban Development Authority (UDA) should plan the city. They were given the exposure and the opportunity. The seniors should remain because their experience is very vital in this part of the world, otherwise the younger ones might take very immature political decisions which might lead to serious consequences.
The United National Party (UNP) still exists because of the Prime Minister. Otherwise there would have been a major leadership struggle. I have respect for the Prime Minister although I do not agree with his policies which are totally against mine. He is totally for privatization but I am not. He is totally for westernization and I am not. But when he leaves, the UNP will fall apart.
Look at the current state of the SLFP after Mahinda Rajapaksa left. There is a leadership struggle. There are so many leaders in the SLFP, although President Maithripala Sirisena says he is the leader. You can see that he cannot take a decision. Once the senior politicians move out all the parties will face serious problems. They should keep the active seniors. Politicians do not retire.
In the West, senior politicians could get into the United Nations or the Clinton Foundation.
It can be said you as the son of a President became a young MP through accident of birth and privilege. Do you agree?
A. There is some truth in it. Politics is all about winning elections. So, when you win elections you will face this. When you go for elections when your father is a Prime Minister or a President, of course they will win. That is understandable. Look at Sajith Premadasa. Ruwan Wijewardene comes from the Wijewardene family. If you look at the Gamages, Daya Gamage and his wife are both Cabinet Ministers. It is the same with Naveen Dissanayake, both the brothers are involved in politics. Ruwan Wijewardene is related to Ranil Wickremesinghe. That’s how the Asian dynasty works. Family politics plays a major role. At the same time you should get more educated young people to get into the system. But due to the witchhunt the government is continuing now I am sure no educated person will ever come into politics. If you take someone like Prof. G.L. Peiris to give a statement to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), do you think someone of that calibre would ever get into politics? If you convict someone like Lalith Weeratunge, will any educated person want to be part of the government if he is going to be locked up after 10 years? It’s a bad precedent. We saw this in the late 90s and early 80s. If it continues only those who are left in politics will be the ones who can’t be critics. There will be no fresh faces. Newcomers cannot survive. Who wants to go to jail for doing politics? Who would want to participate in a protest and express their views and end up behind bars?
Interestingly, when you were arrested two weeks ago due to the protest in Hambantota, you tweeted to the UN and stated that the government attacked peaceful protesters. But the same can be said of the peaceful protesters who were attacked during your father‘s tenure in Rathupaswela?
A. We had a couple of incidents during our time. We are not denying that. If you recall, the former Inspector General of Police (IGP) resigned at one point because of that. But today, the IGP is assaulting a civilian at the Police Headquarters, but no action is taken against him. You see the Navy Commander assaulting media personnel in Hambantota Port, but no action has been taken. He is in fact not only heading the Navy, but the entire tri-forces. Another ASP assaulted a protester in Hambantota and he gets a transfer to his home town! I tweeted to the UN to tell them that the government they selected is doing worse things than what we did.
The Treasury Bond commission concluded its sessions last week, and it is believed that they have asked for an extension.
Apparently, the Prime Minister might be called to give evidence. Do you have any comments?
A. It is good, if that is the case. It is a massive scam, but they are playing a game. But who is going to be liable? Is it Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Arjun Aloysius, or Arjuna Mahendran? Or is President Sirisena liable for appointing all of them?
There are talks that Arjun Aloysius is a friend of yours and that the Rajapaksas also did business with him.
A. Yes, we are childhood friends. And we did business with him. But I still maintain that Arjun Aloysius should have been arrested and questioned, rather than setting up a commission to investigate.