BREXIT… Govt Backed Wrong Horse
Posted on June 29th, 2016

By Shaahidah Riza Courtesy Ceylon Today

Joint Opposition and United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Leader MP Dinesh Gunawardena shares his thoughts on the RTI, Audit Bill, BREXIT and Provincial Councils….
He feels the government will not be able to handle the economic repercussions of the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union (EU) adding that ‘by supporting their conservative friends abroad the government had neglected securing the interests of Sri Lanka. In an interview with Ceylon Today he stressed that the government should hold discussions with the Opposition, in order to put in place safeguards to sustain the Sri Lankan economy in the wake of the UK exiting the EU.

? Is the Joint Opposition pleased with the Right to Information Act?
A. We expressed our views regarding the shortcomings and there is a process that was agreed to be followed at a Parliamentary Committee meeting in relation to views expressed by us about regulations and amendments to be made in the Act such as the amendment we have proposed to Article 5 which was suppressing all forms of information of a particular nature in relation to the economy etc. We are pressing for an amendment that Parliament should be vested with power to call for any document of the nature defined in the proposed amendment and to which the government side agreed. We are looking forward to the government keeping its word on this. There are also some clauses relating to punitive action against the publication of certain types of information which we deemed to be suppressive in nature and hence objected to them.

? Has the government got the infrastructure, the monetary resources and the human resources to implement the RTI?
A. I guess so. The contents of the Bill refer to the fact that it will take a few months to be effectively implemented. That itself shows that the government will need a lot of planning and resources to move on with the RTI.

? What are your views with regard to the delay in the Draft Audit Bill?
A. The Audit Bill has not seen the colour of day. Parliament was promised this more than a year ago but it has not yet been presented. Thus, when it gets delayed in this manner, the general opinion formed in our minds is that in the context of various failures in government’s management of the economy there are dubious reasons for the delay.

?Taking the Constitution as a whole, has the Joint Opposition made its own recommendations for reform?
A. We have clearly stated our positions and our members sit in the Constitutional Committee and other subcommittees. Of course, the government must be having something that’s already drafted which it knows we will not agree to. Everything has to be placed on the table for discussion and our stance has been clear on all matters relating to our sovereignty, unitary State, supremacy of Parliament, national planning, our national anthem etc. The government is not clear on its stance relating to the Executive Presidency, electoral reform and Provincial Councils.

?Should the PCs have more power?
A. We have made some proposals. Instead of more power, the PCs should be fully overhauled. We have called for more powers to be given to local authorities to enable them to serve the public better and conserve public finances which would finally go to local authorities.

?The UK voted at the EU referendum last week. The polls revealed that the majority of the public wanted to leave the European Union. How will this impact Sri Lanka? Can the government handle the possible repercussions of the UK leaving the EU?
A. The government failed the people by backing the wrong horse instead of considering the welfare of the country, just to help out its conservative friends. But the issue is a bit more serious. It’s not an issue that emerged overnight. This has been building up for years in Britain. A proper study should have been made before rushing their ministers at State expense to England and canvass for one party with no thought of the possible repercussions. The basic thing is the government failed to understand the opinions of the British people, which indicated that the British people wanted to come out of the EU. Why did they want that? The government should have looked into this. They chose to leave the EU because the British people were losing, suffering and facing economic hardship. This is one of the key issues on which the people have voted the British Prime Minister and his team out.Obviously this will lead to various repercussions in trade agreements with and investments in Sri Lanka. It should not be considered an affair only for the government. The whole country will face this problem, therefore, the government should have a clear dialogue with the Opposition on these matters.

?This would impact on GSP plus, would it not?
A. The GSP factor is not going to figure much and in fact Sri Lanka should be able to expand its trade but it cannot happen overnight. The British Pound is collapsing and it will have its effects in the banking and financial sectors. So it is not an isolated problem but will lead to a whole lot of issues.

?The JO comprises many members from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). It was said at an SLFP media briefing that a large number of SLFP members of the JO would pledge their allegiance to President Maithripala Sirisena. Do you foresee this risk?
A. The SLFP MPs have been seated in the Opposition, opposing President Sirisena’s and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Government’s budget proposals and questioning the course the government has chosen. So our members are of one mind and they are very clear and true to the mandate which was given to them, and not on the mandate given to the United National Party (UNP).

?There has been a promise of infrastructure development but the recent floods showed that Sri Lanka has a long way to go. Has the country got the monetary resources to mitigate this problem in the long run?
A. Financial resources seem to be the biggest problem because the government is mismanaging fiscal issues. This is a major problem which the country is facing. In addition to that the government is accepting very difficult terms of the IMF and not giving priority to the issues that would help the country’s economy. So obviously, with regard to flood victims, the government is unable to pay the Rs 10,000 promised to them. Secondly, with regard to the Salawa armoury explosion the government is still unable to pay victims the Rs 50,000 they promised and are completely unable to manage the situation. Even a few days ago there were a few explosions. This was not reported in the media. They have forgotten these people. The Army has not been able to restore total safety in the area.

?The government seems to be having a plan to transfer armouries from populated areas to unpopulated areas. Is that correct?
A. The government says so but has not yet begun the transfer. I am sorry to say that the government makes many statements but does nothing.

?There has been much controversy about Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s term not being extended this year. Are you pleased with it?
A. The JO has taken a positive stand on this issue and we have over the past year revealed market, under his watch, which have impacted very negatively on the Central Bank system and the economy. We officially wrote to the President last month asking that the Governor be not reappointed and to probe further into the scams.
?Many members of the Joint Opposition have come out with several accusations against him. They have been in and out of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID), the Bribery Commission and the PRECIFAC. The investigations are still continuing but none has been brought to book. What is your opinion?
A. The Joint Opposition has very clearly taken the stand from the very beginning that the FCID has no legal authority. There is a laid down law enacted in the country, which has to be followed. If the established law is followed then false allegations cannot be maintained. They are trying to tarnish the image of political opponents.

?Do you think the government is maintaining a non-aligned policy? In recent months we have seen the government accommodating China with regard to Port City and other projects. What is your view?
A. I think we should discuss the foreign policy of the government separately. It does not have any consistency on foreign policy. But economic projects which had been stalled for one year have been resuscitated by awarding them to the same countries and the same companies. This shows that the government had been in error for one year, which has been negative for the country. We are in a serious economic crisis. So the government should understand the suffering of the people and the impact on the economy.

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