Amidst all the ongoing political turmoil, we spoke to former finance minister Ravi Karunanayake, as he is quite an influential figure in local politics.
The reorganizing of the UNP is still a hot topic. Let’s start from that.
A committee has been appointed for reorganizing the party. It cannot be said how soon that will take place. But, there should be a radical change. We have to show to the people that the UNP is a flexible, down-to-earth party.
Party leader, PM Ranil Wickremesinghe has come under serious criticism. In a flexible and radical change in the party, do you say his time is over?
A leader cannot be made or ruined by a newspaper. But, a leader’s conduct portrays the party’s conduct. If there is something that needs to be rectified, that should be rectified. Our party needs flexibility. The question is how? The leader has the strength to make these changes. He has his weaknesses too. We admit that he has more strong points than weaknesses. Everybody is saying there should be a change. But, they have no answers when asked about the successors. We have to elaborate on this.
Will the reorganizing committee be making a positive response?
We have taken the first step. At this moment, we cannot say such and such persons should change. Performance will show the strong persons. I am saying that a leadership council should be formed. Some are saying that their father was such and such. That is useless. The talent should be considered. A person who cannot win the electorate, division is useless. Those who point the finger at us were badly defeated. Such things should change.
Those could have been changed when the Yahapaalana government introduced a change in the political culture?
I believe that a better change could have been possible had we formed a government of our own. Had that happened, I believe, all these problems would not have been there. We had a setback after a victory. The president was the common candidate. We have our agreements.
Is is justifiable to blame internal party problems on the coalition government?
Isn’t this coalition government the reason for all these problems? The real Yahapaalanaya is for the opposition. We have nothing. We have a government but we have nothing. We prepare the stage, but others perform. We too, can perform. Those who lost came from the national list and perform. Those cannot be covered up any longer. We have a backbone to speak about those things.
What has gone wrong in Yahapaalanaya?
I believe there was no target. There was talk only, no action. Both sides could not think alike and mistrust worsened it. Both the president and the PM are wrong. When they perform, we get hurt. The opposition prevails. I am saying this openly, there are mistakes and false accusations are made. When that happens, the wrongdoing gets covered up.
You are saying there was no target. If so, are the policy manifestos, economic plans presented false? Were they presented merely for the purpose of presenting?
We implemented the policy manifestos. We were attacked because we did something. But, what we mostly did was to boast, and there was not action. The UNP-led government started projects at a cost of millions of rupees. But, the media had only 10 per cent of space for them. The differences between the two have an impact too. Things being talked about were done 11 years ago. We did more in two years. I am mostly happy because we rectified the economy that was on its knees. The biggest worry is that the party then worked frugally, with competition among Premadasa, Lalith, Gamini and Ronnie. Now it has turned into jealousy. What is being done today is to subdue the others. Talent has no place. That is the malady in the UNP.
What the economic affairs committee led by the PM did mostly went wrong. In the end, the president intervened and annulled it.
Accusations can be made easily. I believe it took up too much time. There should have been a specific time-frame. I managed my ministry very firmly. If public officials are enough, no minister is needed to do otherwise. Bureaucracy is the country’s biggest problem. They have taken the people hostage. One third of the income goes to pay salaries. 10 to 15 pc more goes to pay pensions. What do the people get? Nobody talks about this.
What about your maintenance? That is not easy either.
(Laughing) That is a topic you like very much. Those who cannot be maintained should be removed. I don’t deny it, or else you will say we are protecting ourselves. But, there is wastage. I admit it. You should help us to rectify it. Take Singapore for example. They get paid enough and they do not need to look for more. It is the beggars who look for more from anywhere. In this country, politics is considered a free service. We have gained politicial strength after working in the private sector. That strength takes us forward. We too, are attacked. We have been made political beggars.
A main reason for this situation is that what you promised before gaining power was not fulfilled. A regime against fraud and corruption ended up being accused of having protected swindlers. That is valid today too.
I do not accuse anyone, because I too, have been accused falsely. Love is the solution for hatred. So, I look at this in a different way. The entire country is in a big problem. If we don’t think alike and work, we will be in for bigger trouble. Popular speeches are useless. What is best for the country should be done. I was criticized when I shaped up the finance ministry in 2015. That is not there any more. We have to think about the country, not about power. That is valid for Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maithripala Sirisena, Mahinda Rajapakse and Anura Dissanayake.
We should have a programme for the next 10 years at least. If not, Tamils will think their problems are not being looked at. The south will say something else. Muslims too, will say they are ignored. We have to look at all these, take decisions and work. We have to face the reality.
Why is it that the SLFP and the UNP have failed after nearly three years to have a common stand?
That is very unfortunate. The entire world is watching us. Nobody thought it will become a joke like this.
After the no-confidence motion, both parties said they would have their own government. But, that does not look like an easy task?
Yes. We can form a government. We could have done that in 2015 too. We need to set aside petty politics, work together in the next 18 months and bring about a transformation. If there is a will, there is a way.
But, some SLFP members have left the government. There appears to be no consensus between the president and the PM either?
Remember, we were able to defeat Rajapaksa in 2014. Many things can happen in 18 months. People should know that big talkers do not love the country. It is those who work who love the country. It should also be looked into if those who do work really work for the country or for their personal benefit. Ten honest persons are enough to make this country. Time is ripe to make that change. I am not sad, but I have been sidelined after doing all this. We have been attacked needlessly for having protected the party too. When they point one finger at me, four fingers are leveled at them. At the LG polls, I won my division 100 pc. Where are the accusations now?
Will there be justice in the next cabinet reshuffle?
Definitely, justice should be served. First of all, it should be asked as to why I was removed from the ministry. An explanation is needed about the accusations against me. The party is like struck with lightning since the day I was sidelined.
But, it is unlikely the UNP appears on your behalf?
Our party too, has black sheep, those who are jealous.
Will the UNP support the JVP’s constitutional amendment to abolish the executive presidency, which was also promised by the government?
Definitely. It is a traitor who cannot give 100 pc for that. We came to power with a promise to abolish it. Chandrika promised too, got elected twice, but did nothing. Mahinda too, got elected twice, but did not do it. It should be abolished. If that is not possible, there will be hatred in the country.
Those who oppose it say abolition of the executive presidency will divide the country and that separatism will thrive. Why can’t the truth of these be communicated to the people?
The executive presidency created this division after 1978. Such talk is like a drunkard trying to get up by leaning onto a lamppost. J.R. Jayewardene brought unity for the country. When we say it should be abolished, no finger pointing is needed.
Pictures – Nishantha Priyadarshana