Media spokesperson of the United National Party (UNP), Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam says that despite various criticisms levelled by some groups, the new government does not provide protection or immunity to criminals and anybody who are involved in corruption. He added that despite the expansion of the cabinet, the government has saved a lot more by cutting down unnecessary expenditures and by putting an end to a system of corruption.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: The public has been widely criticising the ‘Jumbo Cabinet’ and the large number of ministries saying it is ‘unethical’ and ‘economically costly’. How do you view these criticisms?
A: No, we cannot accept that criticism. This is a national government formed combining two major parties in the country. This is a new system and a new experience. As a country, we will be able to accomplish many goals and many victories through the national government. Right now, we enjoy a very good level of acceptance as a country at the international level. Even at Geneva, we were quite comfortable to face the sessions because of the environment that we have created by establishing a national government to face the issues together. Indian and many other countries are coming forward to extend their help to us, and they are now looking at Sri Lanka with a positive light. Besides, we do not spend so much money on the ministers. A minister does not use seven to eight vehicles like in the past. There are only maximum two vehicles even for a cabinet minister.
Q: Are you indicating that the government now spends less money to maintain the new cabinet ministers than what was spent during the former regime?
A: The ministers do not use helicopters anymore. During the previous regime, most of the ministers used helicopters to go about the country. We do not do that anymore. Thus, fuel and maintenance cost is reduced. We do not have unnecessary expenses. During the last general election, even though the cabinet was not dissolved, as cabinet ministers, we paid Rs. 300 000/- on the three vehicles each of us used. During the previous regime, the system was full of corruption, and due to corruption, they threw away money than what we spend on maintaining the Cabinet. Even though a few numbers of cabinet seats have been increased, the amount we save is lot more. In my ministry, there is a huge saving of money spent on school uniforms because there are no longer massive scale commissions involved. Those who cannot simply stand our journey direct those criticisms at us.
Q: Questions are being raised related to the dividing of some of ministries. What is the rationale behind the formation of the new ministries?
A: Those will soon be sorted out. The issue is the gazette is not yet out with the descriptions of the duties and designations of the ministers. Once the gazette is out, all these issues will be sorted out.
Q: The Ministry of Higher Education has been linked to the Ministry of Highways through a single minister instead of linking it with the Ministry of Higher Education. What is the rationale behind that act?
A: There is no issue in combining any two or few ministries. There is no reason why the Minister of Education cannot handle the Ministry of Highways. Besides, there are state ministers appointed to those ministries. So, it is not a big issue. We cannot expect 100% ideal situation when allocating ministries, but there isn’t a considerable issue about the breakdown of the ministries.
Q: We see ministerial portfolios of the government given to those who are accused of having engaged in ethanol and drug dealings etc – which makes people question the credibility of the good governance government. Do you think the government has already disappointed the people?
A: The President has clearly stated that if there are allegations against anybody, the investigations into those allegations will continue regardless of the portfolios he or she holds, and actions will be taken accordingly. He reiterated that nobody will be allowed to influence the investigations and stop them from happening. We have formed the national government with those who were appointed by the people of this country to parliament. The UNP appointed the MPs and ministers from our side, and the President appointed the ministers from the SLFP side. That’s what happened.
Q: However, the JVP has accused the UNP and the SLFP of making deals to settle the cases of fraud and corruption allegations among the two parties sweeping the investigations under the carpet. How do you respond to that allegation?
A: We have no such a deal to sweep the investigations under the carpet. There is no necessity for such an action. The new government is a new type. It does not give protection or immunity to criminals and corrupt people. We have come together in issues of national interest. People can criticise anyway they want. If that is the case, there are criticisms against the JVP too. They also appointed defeated candidates through the national list. Nobody can do 100% right. We have initiated a new concept. If we can at least come to agreement 90%, that is what we expect.
Q: Further criticisms have been directed at both the SLFP and the UNP for ‘unethical’ appointments of members to Provincial Councils to fill seats that were vacant after the general election. Do you think there has been any discrepancy in the appointments?
A: Different people look at issues from different angles. Then they might find something wrong somewhere. We cannot say that those appointments are 100% right. Chief ministerial positions and Provincial MP Portfolios were distributed depending on provincial level strengths of the parties and people. As far as we are aware, there has not been any discrepancy in those appointments.
Q: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for the establishment of a hybrid special court by integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and investigators, as an essential step towards justice for the victims of the war in Sri Lanka. How does the government expect to initiate this mechanism? What is your take on the report?
A: Well, forming a hybrid court is not like getting a hybrid vehicle. We will take necessary steps in the future towards establishing what is required for that purpose. The report has not mentioned any name of those who are responsible for those crimes.
Many allegations that we thought would be directed at the country earlier have not been directed at us. This government has the ability to face these issues in a transparent manner, and especially, the President and the Prime Minister are capable of facing these issues and solving them without further complications. We have been able to correct the mistakes of certain things that happened during the previous regime and protect the integrity of the country.
Q: The Minister of Foreign Affairs has given an assurance that a credible mechanism will be established. However, people have been given various promises of that nature during the past as well. What makes it different from now and then?
A: In the past, as a country we were on the verge of facing serious situation at the international level. Former President Rajapaksa made many promises including the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. But he failed to deliver. I might not be able to mention the strategies we use as a country right now, but we assure that we can solve these issues without any threats to the unitary status of this country.
(Source: The Sunday Leader)