President cannot accuse anyone of being rogues – they’re all under him in the same Cabinet – Maithri Gunaratne
Posted on February 3rd, 2018

Courtesy The Island

Just months before coming into power through the yahapalana coalition, the UNP was a house divided with a faction led by Maithri Gunaratne and Shiral Laktilleke calling for Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ouster from the leadership. The aborted march in 2014 by UNP dissidents from Devinuwara to Colombo which ended in Matara amidst running street battles between the two factions is still remembered by many. Today, three years into the yahapalana government, the UNP dissident faction has formed its own political party, the United National Freedom Front with the banana comb (kehel ewariya) as its symbol. In this interview, The Island speaks to Maithri Gunaratne about the prospects of the UNFF vis a vis the UNP at the forthcoming local government election.

Q. There is the expectation in some quarters that the banana comb may be the wild card at this election as far as the UNP is concerned. On the one hand there is profound disappointment among the UNP rank and file about the way they have been treated by their own government and then there is the fallout from the bond scam. How well do you think you will be able to perform?

A. When we go house to house we find that about 40 to 50 percent of the people have decided not to vote. I’m not referring only to the UNP voter but voters in general. The UNP voters who were not going to vote look upon us with favour because they are aware of our struggle to reform the party.

Q. When you do house to house campaigning and you talk to UNP voters, to what extent does the bond scam seem to have affected them? Everybody is talking about the bond scam, but the mechanics of it are too complicated for ordinary grassroots voters to understand.

A, Once the yahapalanaya government came into power in 2015, the UNP was upbeat and if they went to the polls before the bond scam, they would have got a clear majority to rule the country. But when they finally went to the polls they were tainted with the bond scam but at that time (In August 2015) it had not come out so explicitly. At that time the Prime Minister was trying to browbeat everyone and shove it under the carpet. Despite all that suppression, the UNP could not secure a majority in Parliament because of this bond scam. Then the UNP had to go begging to the President and form a so called national government.

Thereafter more and more details of the bond scam came out and Ravi Karunanayake had to resign as Finance Minister. If the Prime Minister also had resigned, the UNP could have bounced back. But after the bond commission report was published, he added insult to injury by asking Tilak Marapone to report back to the party on the action that needs to be taken. This is once again like appointing three UNP members to study the Central Bank bond issue. Tilak Marapone has said that Ravi Karunanayake should go. Ravi Karunanayake has gone already. Now they are asking him to step down from the position of Assistant leader. That is an internal matter of the party. What does Tilak Marapone have to say about the fact that Ranil has been in charge of the Central Bank? Isn’t the minister in charge of the central bank responsible?

When news of the first bond scam came out the PM appointed a three member committee and he hushed it up and he got Sujeewa to go into COPE and tried to subvert that parliamentary process. Then he got Sujeewa to go to court and to get a stay order preventing the COPE report from coming out. All that goes to show his involvement in it. So what I am saying is that no UNPer worth his salt can vote with Ranil Wickremesinghe this time. No UNP leader has ever been labeled as a person who has robbed the country. The President only talks with no action. He has all the power. With the stroke of a pen he can remove Ranil Wickremesinghe from the Prime Ministership.  He can also remove the Uva Province chief minister. Now the UNP is trying to say that the Prime Minister has been exonerated. I am insulted by what they think the common man’s level of intelligence is.

Q. When it comes to allegations of corruption, there was that major coal tender scam which took place under an SLFP minister. Who really is clean in this government? The UNP and SLFP have both been implicated in major corruption scandals.

A. There is no yahapalanaya at all in this country. I have stood against corruption and the price I had to pay for that is to lose whatever position I held.

Q. We see the President claiming that everyone is a thief other than members of his own party.

A. What the President must understand is that he cannot accuse anyone of being rogues because they all come under him as the head of the cabinet. He is not taking action to remove these people. If he does not remove the Prime Minister and the Uva chief minister by the by the 10th of February, I don’t think the SLFP deserves a vote. He cannot play around with the intelligence of the people of this country.

Q. The present situation in this country is unprecedented because the President is under investigation by the Australian Federal Police over the allegation of soliciting and receiving bribes from the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation and this company has been blacklisted by the World Bank on suspicion of paying bribes to obtain World Bank funded project contracts. Then the Prime Minister is implicated in the bond scam. Other members of the SLFP are implicated in the coal scam. What we seem to be having in power is a complete Kleptocracy. Where are we heading? We have never had a situation like this before.

A. It’s clearly going to end in disaster. I am now in the upcountry in Hatton, Norwood and Maskeliya. There is garbage all over on the roads and in the waterways. In another country, the people would have been on the streets. There is absolutely no governance. I am ashamed and depressed to see the direction in which this country is going. If the people of this country don’t take a firm decision at this election, this country is doomed. If they vote on party lines, just because their grandfather was in the UNP or the SLFP, then this country will never come out of this morass. I formed this party because I personally don’t want to feel that I didn’t do anything to stop this rot.

Q. We were discussing the feeling of despondency in the UNP. Some people expect your party to be a beneficiary of the prevailing mood. The UNP now seems to have gone back to the hopeless state they were in 2012 and 2013. If at all the situation may be worse today than it was then. But to what extent is Maithripala Sirsena responsible for the plight of the UNP? He took the best ministries after the August 2015 election and gave them to his cronies which left nothing for the UNP.

A. No you can’t say that. The Prime Minister could have demanded the best ministries but he did not. In my view, the Prime Minster has absolutely no interest in running the country or looking after the UNP supporter. He only wants to have a good time while in office. That’s all. See how many times he has gone abroad and see how many weekends he has spent in luxury hotels all over the country.

Q. It is true that the UNP leader should have stood his ground and demanded the best ministries. But wasn’t it also incumbent on Maithripala Sirisena to give the UNP the best ministries because he was elected largely on UNP votes.

A. The UNP was happy with whatever they got, so in fairness I don’t think you can find fault with the President.

Q. Wasn’t there a standoff lasting some weeks immediately after the August 2015 parliamentary elections because the two sides could not agree on the allocation of ministries?

A. That was because some powerful ministers lost their portfolios as a result of going into a so called national government. One example is Champika Ranawaka who had the power and energy ministry in the 100 day government. But after the August 2015 election, power was given to Tilak Siyambalapitiya and energy was given to Chandima Weerakkody. Key ministries had to be broken up. In any case, all this was due to Ranil Wickresinghe and the Bond scam. Otherwise it would have been a UNP government and they would have had all the ministries.

Q. Given the fact that the UNP encouraged their voters to vote for an outsider on two occasions in 2010 and 2015, is there a possibility that a section of the UNP vote will gravitate towards Maithripala Sirisena this time? At least Sirisena had the backbone to get the best ministries for his people. He seems to be delivering a better deal to his followers than RW is delivering to the UNP rank and file.

A. There is that possibility. My message to the voter is that it is their responsibility to see that the proper people are elected. The United Nation Freedom Front is a new party and we are contesting in 64 local government areas including Colombo, Dehiwala-Galkissa, Negombo Kotte, Galle and so on.

One Response to “President cannot accuse anyone of being rogues – they’re all under him in the same Cabinet – Maithri Gunaratne”

  1. L Perera Says:

    Sri Lankan politics and it’s economy is at its nadir. It is now left to voters to make it swim or sink. The choice is theirs and in a democracy the country gets the government it deserves.

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