Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa says he has a proven track record, as Secretary of Defence and the Urban Development Ministry, in ensuring both national security and rebuilding the nation.
Following are excerpts:
You have no previous political experience. So, can you rule the country and solve its many issues?
A: What the country needs is a person who can take the right decisions and lead the country at crucial junctures. One need not have been in Parliament or Provincial Council, to have such characteristics.
Other countries employ modern methods to fight corruption. Do you have similar plans?
A: The culture of corruption prevailing in the country is a burden on the people and the economy. We need a strong political leadership to curb this.
It needs to be done with the combination of the law and modern technology. All it takes is an attitudinal change of the people.
When I took over the Defence Secretary post, there was a belief that terrorism could not be militarily defeated. But, we did that. We created that attitudinal change.
No political leader has so far been able to address the issue of inefficiency in the public sector.How do propose to tackle this challenge?
A: I will make sure that public sector employees will be able to take tough decisions on behalf of the country, without fear of reprisal. I will give them the legal protection to do that. I will put a stop to appointing failed politicians to top posts. It will be based on knowledge and expertise.
What is the guarantee you can give that you can do this?
A: We cannot allow State institutions to run at a loss. We cannot shut them down or sell them. We must make them efficient. This is what they did in the military. Posts were given according to knowledge and skill.
This is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa did. We have to follow the policies of the Government in power.
Over 52% of the population are women. They face unique problems. What is your plan to resolve security and other issues faced by women?
A: There is a special place in our culture for women. We can see more women at our rallies. Security is one of their main issues. They have to think of the security of children, from the moment they start schooling.
A woman has to protect children from the drug menace. And, she has to bear the cost of living.
We must ensure that women are not harassed in public transport. Although women have achieved high positions in all professions, they still have to face many problems. We are paying special attention to women’s issues. I have understood a lot about women’s issues.
Most candidates have forgotten about domestic workers in the Middle East, who bring in the majority of foreign exchange to the country?
A: We have paid special attention to these women. We will look into their families, and children, and the money they spent is properly managed. We will also look into the issue of unskilled workers being sent to foreign countries. We will given them proper training.
On the one hand you talk about relief packages. Then you talk about giving people to stand on their own without depending on handouts. How are you going to make this a reality?
A: Short-term relief will be given until the high cost of living, caused by economic issues, is resolved. Immediate relief package will be granted to Samurdhi beneficiaries, the old and the invalid.
Even the middle class will receive similar benefits. This includes a pack of dry rations, and other benefits for schoolchildren, the youth and pensioners.
Rs 100 voucher for gas, electricity at a concessionary rate and many other benefits will be granted. We will also offer housing loans at low interest rates.
There is a large number of unemployed graduates. They’re fed up with both main political parties. What do you offer them?
A: Graduates will be provided with jobs most definitely. There are 100,000 vacancies in the public sector. We will fill those vacancies without any political influence, only based on qualifications. There are many vacancies for unskilled jobs, which are usually filled by politicians.
This must be stopped. We need to find out reasons for poverty, and reduce it. This is something I’ve studied in China. We will utilise that knowledge.
The issue however is implementing the plans?
A: We have planned them and implemented and proved that it could be done. We found solutions by holding discussions with learned people. These are practical and they can be done.
You promised to reduce 10% tax on local entrepreneurs and removing some other taxes. If expenditure is to be reduced by providing relief, then income should be increased?
A: I have shown how the economy can be recovered. My focus is on removing complex tax system. I have introduced a simpler system. It is easier for officials to manage. High taxes can collapse projects. Then the Government will have to incur the loss. My method is simple and effective.
You said IT sector can bring in Rs 5 billion in foreign exchange. Is it practical in this country?
A: Future in IT. We can generate 300,000 jobs through this. We need to look at the global context when generating jobs. We can develop tourism sector into a Rs 10 billion industry. There 400 million middle class people in India. Same in China. These are our potential market. Government can play a role in facilitating them.
How do you increase production economy?
A: Unnecessary imports should be halted. I saw a factory building in Nattandiya. Only 20 from the original 100 are there today. This is the same situation in many places.
The gap between imports and exports is massive. How can you stop this?
A: We have to make the country self-sufficient where food is concerned. My goal is to increase production and reduce imports. Economy can be developed this way. Today, even tamarind, goraka and chillies are being imported. I am totally against refuse tea.
The name of Ceylon Tea is lost today. Why are we importing unnecessary things from abroad? We have the best gems and how many methods of cutting and polishing them exist? Today gem miners are facing immense problems. We should bring about proper management and protect the environment as well.
Do you accept that resources we have are adequate to build up our economy?
A: We have to move at the pace of the world economy, which has now turned towards Asia. See the countries like India and China. Economies have developed largely based on technology. We do not have gas or oil. But we have human resources. That is the base where economy can be built up.
There are 1.5 million new young votes this time. How do you target them?
A: We will focus on IT. Many youth do not know how to move forward through IT. Degrees are not required to do a job in IT.
You have said that you will increase university intake by five times. How can do that?
A: What we should do is not give up just because there is some problem. We ended the war in four years. We did that by increasing the Army personnel up to 500,000. What is important is not recruiting, but training them. We targeted defeating terrorism. The youth are our future.
More than 200,000 pass A/Ls but only 30,000 get selected to universities. We should find a solution. We can increase the capacity of universities by 20%. Existing buildings are adequate.
We can begin on a small-scale.
There are enough and more lecturers to be recruited. All it takes is political will power. If we could increase Army personnel in a short period why can’t we do this? There are a large number of vacancies in the country, especially in fields of teaching, fisheries, nursing and agriculture. Vocational training should be provided. Why do many who study science fail?
Education is centred on examinations. Children have lost their childhood. We did a good study on education. We will refer children to various fields from Grade 7. The quality of education rests in the hand of the teachers. Today, Germany is in need of 200,000 nurses. Why cannot we make use of that opportunity?
What are your plans uplift agriculture?
A: Some 33% of the population is engaged in agriculture. Unfortunately, even the World Bank says that we have to give up on agriculture. Food security is given pride of place in the world. The farmer is still poor. The Government should focus on this.
There was a controversy that you will provide subsidised chemical fertiliser?
A: This problem is low quality chemical fertilisers is mixed with quality fertilisers. There is good organic fertiliser in the world. Technology also exists at a high level.
We can very easily prepare quality organic fertiliser. We should bring in this modern technology.
We cannot ask the farmer at once to halt using chemical fertilisers. We have to gradually empower the famer and move towards producing organic food. The main reason for diseases is the chemical fertilisers. Vegetables valued at US$ 160 million are brought to the Middle East from Asian Countries. Why are we not able to add to this? We should work towards transforming the farmer into an entrepreneur who produces organic food.
You said that people have been misled for 70 years. But, during those 70 years, your brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President, a Minister and Parliamentarian for 27 years.Are you making allegations against him as well?
A: When he took over the country terrorism was prevalent. He was able to end it. Then there were a large number of challenges he had to face. It was to face them that he engaged in rehabilitation, re-settlement and development. He did that within a period of nine years. Now the people have been misled because promises that cannot be fulfilled have been given.
Ten years have passed since the end of the war but both the previous and present administrations still talk about national unity and reconciliation. How do you see this as the former Defence Secretary?
A: If we had answered development and educational needs of the people, there would not have been a war. Although Tamil politicians talked about federalism even in the past, there was no terrorism. Terrorism started since there was no development in their areas. Open Economy made farmers to suffer. Then after ’83, terrorism took another direction. This happened due then government’s fault.
Huge mistakes were made during the UNP era. No relief was given to farmers. The economy collapsed. Leaders said that Sinhala governments were not going to see them. The Jaffna Library was burnt. Votes were stolen at the Development Council Election. That is why the youth in the North were pushed towards terrorism.
Your opponents claim that the country will be militarised under your rule. Your comment?
A: As Defence Secretary and Secretary to the Urban Development Ministry, I have worked to develop the country. I have brought peace to the country. After the war, I engaged in tasks such as rehabilitation, removal of landmines, resettlement, handing back lands. I made it possible for the President to hold an election democratically. Without making absurd allegations see the things I have done.
Minister Champika Ranawaka claims that when you took over the Urban Development Authority the loss was 445 million and when you handed it back the loss was 39,000 million. Any truth regarding that?
A: There was no loss at all. We transformed it into a profit-making institution. I initiated and completed all the UDA projects, nobody else. We brought new concepts and investors. The Dutch Hospital, Diyatha Uyana, Race Course… who did these things? UDA gets an income from these things.
Your main aim is to build a disciplined country. But many persons around you have allegations against them. Can you build a clean administration with them?
A: No person around me has allegations against them. I am not coming in as a politician. When we engage in an election campaign, it is the parliamentarians, members of Provincial Councils who work politically. But, personally, I don’t have such a group with me.
All candidates make promises during elections. But, less than 5% of those are fulfilled. What is the guarantee that you will implement your manifesto?
A: We held discussions with intellectuals and professionals and prepared a practical programme that can be implemented. We have made promises before and fulfilled them. People have doubts about those who have not fulfilled promises. I have shown results. I fulfilled my responsibilities for 20 years in the Army. I have gone beyond my duties and carried out work. Therefore, this election manifesto is one that can be implemented.
Is there a plan to bring back the 18th Amendment to the Constitution?
A: I have not considered an amendment to the Constitution. There are more important things than that.
You promised legal action against all connected to the Easter Sunday attacks. Do you think that weakness of the security forces is to be blamed for that too?
A: This is a very unfortunate thing. The Government did not give priority to national security. They considered national security as a very simple thing. We wanted to prevent such a thing from happening. That is why we were able to do great development.
Rehabilitation programmes were carried out well. We set up a security procedure too. We worked together with the Police, Intelligence and tri-forces. Intelligence was very powerful. Unfortunately, the Government did not take any notice of Intelligence.
Where did national security go wrong?
A: Intelligence was brought to a standstill. Officers were imprisoned and betrayed. It was this shortcoming that had an impact. For example, two police officers were killed in Batticaloa and Vavuniya.
A chief Intelligence Officer, who was with me, said that it was not something done by the LTTE. I told him to inform the CID. If a proper investigation done, it could have been halted. When the war ended, we realised that Islamic extremist groups began developing as a world trend. We set up internet groups to monitor them and prevent them. Some persons were trained. They were transferred here and there.
That had a severe impact on this. Even when intelligence sources had been given information about the place and date where these attacks would take place as well as their names and details, by foreign Intelligence, just think how low this country dropped to not to even take action regarding them.
The Government did not intervene where security was concerned at all. They were of a different mentality altogether.
Today, the CID is being used to pursue political opponents only. This Government should accept total responsibility for this incident. They tried to save each and everyone but they did not take action to find out where the mistake was made.
Do you have a special plan for eradicating drugs and the underworld?
A: You are aware that during my time the underworld and drug dealers were pursued. Once a teacher told me about a student who was caught with drugs, and urged us to put a stop to this. The underworld visited the home of that teacher. How can we discipline these children when there are death threats from the underworld? We can use technology to stop drugs being brought into the country. It should be handed over to the Navy.
Bringing in drugs on boats to the country has to be halted. If the number of Police officers is inadequate it should be increased. Police are responsible for law and order in a country where there is no war. The law has to be implemented separately for large-scale crimes. We carried out these things and proved that they could be done.
What is your estimation regarding victory?
A: I have great belief in the responses from the people. What the majority of the people in this country want is security. It is apparent from what they say and I feel it. They have placed a lot of trust in me. I can put in place plans required for security. Through Viyathmaga the decisions we made subsequent to discussions with intellectuals and learned persons, I believe that we can build the economy of the country. I have focused initial attention on rescuing people from poverty. With that I have seen something else initially as well.
Many do not depend on the Government but try to rise up with their own efforts. But, those things have collapsed. We are ready to provide the encouragement to rebuild them.
(Source: Ceylon Today – By Anuradha Herath)