Wednesday, January 01, 2014 - 3.40 GMT
Critics of Sri Lanka have a misguided notion – President
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that those who crticise the Human Rights record of the country are either those who have not visited the country or those who are the voices of the LTTE.
"All those who criticise us including those who have never set foot here and those who do not know what Sri Lanka looks like or her history or what happened in the period from 1983 to 2009 are those who accuse us without any evidence," he said in an interview with the Daily Mirror conducted via email yesterday.
The President while admitting that successive governments have been weak in defending allegations against them said allegations of Human Rights abuses which he termed as “malicious propaganda" was initiated in the 1980's.
"They simply act as the voice of the defeated terrorists. They are both within and outside Sri Lanka . I don’t have to tell you the scale of the malicious propaganda that was set in motion since the early 1980’s. As governments, we have been weak in countering these and presenting our case forcefully. The only abuse is that we defeated the brutal terrorists which some people labeled as unbeatable," he said.
Referring to allegations of human rights abusers, the President took a defiant stand against the accusers of Human Rights violations and asked where the “human rights crusaders" were during the thirty-year-conflict.
"I reject that our government abused human rights. I cannot comprehend how those same people who accuse us now, waited in stoic silence when the terrorists for nearly three decades massacred thousands of innocent men, women, children, pregnant women etc. and governments of the day looked helplessly being unable to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. Where were the so-called human rights crusaders then?" he said.
Q.1) What plans do you have for the year 2014? Is the rumour that you would be calling for a Presidential election in 2014 true?
We have been consistently working towards pre-determined goals. The whole country knows what our plans are. Why I say this is because we are the first government that shared with all citizens what the government plans to do for a period of 10 years. We did that first in 2005, through the Mahinda Chinthana, our election manifesto then. We fulfilled the most difficult promise in that, eliminating terrorism.
Then again in 2010, we submitted to the people for their endorsement, ‘Mahinda Chinthana ,Vision for the Future’.
Tell me, which government placed before the people, a development agenda as an election manifesto and then went about implementing each of those proposals endorsed by the people, one by one. You can see what has been achieved in this short period of 4 years and 8 months after we eradicated terrorism from our country, in May 2009.
Tell me of one government in our country’s history which has done so much of development work in such a short time. Even when we were fighting the most brutal terrorist outfit in the world, we did not forget development; education, health, agriculture, infrastructure development etc., were all well executed, but all our work accelerated after we established peace. That’s the peace dividend you and I are enjoying today.
In 2014, we will complete more major development projects, a few expressways, more development in ports, reclamation of the sea and building a new city of Colombo , new irrigation schemes such as the Deduru Oya, Power and Energy projects harnessing eco-friendly energy sources, not forgetting education and health. The Northern Railway totally destroyed by the terrorists will be fully restored and completed in 2014. We will also extend the Southern railway beyond Matara this year. I also want to see higher productivity in all the sectors.
You are asking me about the next presidential election. As it is, I cannot call for a presidential election in 2014. You will have to wait and see how the political scene unfolds. Obviously, elections are called when the environment is most conducive for such an election.
Q. 2) Are you happy with the performance of the government this year? What are the positives and the negatives that you see in its performance, and how do you intend on alleviating the negatives?
By and large, I am satisfied with the performance of the government, particularly because we were able to launch some landmark projects that were so necessary for the country’s forward march.
Shouldn’t I be happy when we were able to complete projects that have been on the drawing boards for decades, such as the Katunayake Expressway which was planned as far back as 1965, build the country’s second international airport that was only a dream for people in the South, launch a large number of major irrigation projects, bring under cultivation a large extent of fallow rice fields leading to self-sufficiency in rice, take quality education to rural areas through the 1000 secondary schools project alongwith the Mahindodaya laboratories that will provide rural children the same or better education facilities than most urban schools, affording the opportunity to the rural masses to become digital communities, having increased IT literacy to around 45%, to witness a large number of star class tourist hotels that are attracting tourists like never before, and to see the changing landscapes in cities and rural areas?
In short, every Grama Niladhari Division has had at least one or two life changing projects either completed or about to be completed. I can go on and on with more success stories. Of course, we could have done more had we had more resources. I am also happy that we were able to restore total democratic rights of the people in the North which the terrorists deprived them of, for many decades and hold free and fair elections to the Northern Provincial Council.
I am also very pleased that our hosting the CHOGM in 2013 drew many accolades from all leaders who attended the meeting. It called for meticulous planning which I am proud to say, we were able to achieve. This will be a memorable event for all of us. Many critics of Sri Lanka could see for themselves what has been achieved. We had nothing to hide and through hosting CHOGM, we were able to show the whole world what we are capable of.
A negative aspect is the time we have had to spend defending ourselves for having eliminated terrorism. See the external pressure on us, despite the great strides we have made. Is this the price we have to pay for having achieved the impossible? Is eliminating terrorism and restoring our people’s right to live, a violation of human rights? Our officials have had to spend valuable time to neutralise the malicious propaganda of the terror groups and their supporters. If not for this waste of time, all our energies could have been focused on to consolidating our achievements, reconciliation, and ensuring that peace we have achieved will be permanent.
Q. 3) There has been criticism against your government with regard to human rights abuses. What is your response to this?
Who criticises us? And why do they do so?
These are important questions we must think about.
All those who criticise us including those who have never set foot here and those who do not know what Sri Lanka looks like or her history or for that matter what happened in the period 1983 to 2009, are those who accuse us without any evidence. They simply act as the voice of the defeated terrorists. They are both within and outside Sri Lanka . I don’t have to tell you the scale of the malicious propaganda that was set in motion since the early 80’s. As governments, we have been poor in countering these and presenting our case forcefully. The only abuse is that we defeated the brutal terrorists which some people labeled as unbeatable. I have always maintained that we have given opportunities for people to present any grievance and that we have a rock solid judicial system which is time tested. I reject that our government abused human rights. I cannot comprehend how those same people who accuse us now, waited in stoic silence when the terrorists for nearly three decades massacred thousands of innocent people, men , women, children, pregnant women etc.,and governments of the day looked helplessly being unable to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. Where were the so called human rights crusaders then?
Q. 4) One notion is that although you and your government have a firm and solid foundation within the country, outside the country with the international community your government’s credibility is eroding.What measures are you taking to ensure that Sri Lanka does not isolate itself from the rest of the world?
I have already told you why our government is being targeted and by whom. I think most of the international community understands our situation and what we have gone through. Those who do not seem to take a fair view are those that are politically influenced by the remnants of the terror groups for some reason or the other.
One must examine and see who is at the base of destroying our credibility. It is the remnants of the terror groups that could not defeat our government forces who are spreading false stories, making bogus films implicating government forces and influencing the policy makers and certain political leaders of certain countries to pressurise Sri Lanka to do things which those same countries would never dream of doing had they been in our shoes.
Our friends in the global community understand what we have gone through, which is unparalleled in the whole world, and they are trying to help us in multilateral flora. I want to assure you that we will not be isolated in the global community.
All what we have asked is to provide time and space for us to consolidate the peace which we have won with such great sacrifice.
Q. 5) One of the main cries of the international community is that of allegations of war crimes against the Lankan forces and the government’s failure to have a transparent investigation. With the UNHRC sessions coming up and the threat by the British Premier, what measures have you taken to ensure a swift and transparent investigation into these allegations?
What is the transparent investigation they are talking about? Two or three years back, some panel was constituted outside Sri Lanka and without even visiting this country, without weighing all the evidence available, they just listened to some groups of people who influenced them in some way or the other, published a report that has been condemned by many right thinking people throughout the world as biased.
We had our own mechanism, the LLRC and who would dare say that those eminent men and women sitting as Commissioners were not independent and that they were lackeys of the government. Once their report was published the whole world latched on to it because most of their recommendations have been very fair and just. Some of the issues raised are complex and any government would require sufficient time to resolve them.
In regard to what the British PM said, I must emphasise that we are a sovereign government, duly elected by the people and that no one can threaten countries or governments. There is no one policeman in the world. What is the transparent inquiry they are talking about? In addition to the LLRC, recommendation of which are being implemented with care and diligence, a Commission of Inquiry has been appointed to report on the disappearances, missing persons etc. Anyone can come before it and place their grievances. Already, a total of around 10,000 complaints of which nearly 5000 are from Armed Forces, have been received.
The Commissioners are independent people of high standing; two of them were also LLRC commissioners. Who says that foreigners will be better and be independent commissioners? Who will give us the assurance that they are not biased? I once remarked that people in glass houses should not throw stones at others. I would like to recall those words again. Most leaders who attended the CHOGM appreciated what we are doing to bring about true reconciliation.
Q. 6) There is a belief that the UPFA rules the country on the rhetoric of the war victory over the LTTE but little has been done to ensure that the masses of the country are benefited. Why has the cost of living continued to rise despite peace within the country?
I told you what we have achieved and what our plans are for the future. Only someone who is envious of what we do, can say that we have done nothing for the people. For whom are we building highways, expressways etc., irrigation schemes, beautiful cities and so on? Can anyone living in Colombo say with a conscience that we have done nothing? See how Colombo has been transformed, and all that, came about after April 2010. I hope you could recall what Colombo looked like just 4-5 years back. The Race Course buildings, the Independence Square and its surroundings, Auditor General Department buildings, Waters Edge and its associated structures and the environs, beautiful waterways, Pettah, Fort and so on. What about other cities, Kandy, Galle, Matara, Gampaha, Jaffna etc., which are also looking very clean and orderely.
Hambantota is a totally transformed township and is an area neglected for decades. Visitors to Hambantota are amazed at its modern outlook. Rural masses and most urban dwellers appreciate what we have done. Of course there are many groups who would want to say we have done nothing. That’s for cheap politics.
The cost of living issue is not as bad as you say, particularly for the rural people who are in the majority. They are the producers. They also must get good prices for their farm produce. We launched the Divi Neguma programme, purely to increase production and bring down the cost of living. People talk loud only when prices go up.
Never do they commend when prices drop. There have been times when farmers burned their crop because they couldn’t get a good price; then the government must come to their rescue.
What have you to say about our ability to keep the inflation down to a single digit? Today, one reason why the costs in households have gone up is because there are other expenditures such as many mobile phones, transport costs because people do not even walk little distances, more electrical appliances used in homes etc. No one can deny that standards of living have gone up. If people are careful and thrifty, many families will be able to live comfortably. With agriculture , small industries, and services sectors improving in performance, I am sure the cost of households will somewhat ease. I expect 2014 to bring more relief to the people because of low interest rates and better environment for higher production.
Q. 7) Many of your ministers have been accused of either indiscipline or large scale corruption.Why have you not taken any strong action against these errant ministers?
This again is malicious propaganda against the government. There are organised groups to do this sort of thing. I have always said that any accusations must have sufficient and sound evidence. Just hear-say won’t do. I remember how in the 1970 government of Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, eminent ministers were very unfairly accused of amassing wealth. Such accusations turned out to be baseless. Some of those people died even without having money for medicines. One thing that a politician has to have is a good name and a clean record. These canards will harm them in a very unfair manner. If people have concrete evidence of anyone doing misdeeds, our system has many organisations to investigate and bring them to book, irrespective of the position.
Whenever I have looked into some complaint, I have discovered that such complaints have been either cleverly crafted to sling mud at a minister or ruin his political career, and is mostly political enmity.
Q. 8) There is a lot of criticism from within your government that you have forgotten the old guard of the SLFP and are ignoring them. Many of your senior ministers have been those who have crossed over. Do you think you have ignored those who worked hard for the SLFP and you, and instead promoting those who cross over having been the biggest critics of you?
I know who makes these theories. This is to drive a wedge between myself and my senior SLFP ministers. There are the seniors who are duly recognised in the party and the government. SLFP respects seniority and the service rendered by the seniors to the party in difficult times and they have not been ignored. However, as a party we have to bring in new blood and give them responsibility. That is how democratic political parties prosper. All those who crossed over have joined the SLFP and are now with the SLFP. There is no discrimination once you are in the party. Everyone has his or her strengths and weaknesses and if they perform, they have to be recognised. I am also part of that old guard, so how can I ignore them? Some of the opposition parties must be feeling uneasy at the enormous strength the government has, and having tried every conceivable trick and having got consistently defeated at every election since 2005, this must be a new method to break the SLFP and the Government. Let us see at the upcoming elections how we fare and how others will fare.
Q. 9) As the leader of this country, in your opinion what is the biggest flaw of the Sri Lankans as a nation and how do you think we could do away with these weaknesses and move forward?
I am always someone who admires our people and their capabilities. I have always said that rather than looking to the expertise of foreigners, we must have faith in our indigenous skills and knowledge to carry us through. It has been proved over and over again. We, as a nation may have minor flaws, but we have strengths that other nations cannot match. Take the case of our eliminating the most brutal terror outfit in the world. It’s our own people who vanquished them, no foreigners, no mercenaries.
Another is the recent showcasing of Sri Lanka through CHOGM. Some foreign leaders commented that Sri Lanka has raised the bar and that in future it would be very difficult for any other country to host a better CHOGM.
My dream is to build a strong Sri Lankan nation, under one flag, in one united country. The Sri Lankan brand must be our future so that all our weaknesses can be mitigated. For us to achieve this most difficult task, we have to work harder, more diligently and ensure that our future generations are patriotic and national minded. The recent education reform proposals are designed to create a resilient nation that can withstand any pressure whether it’s external or internal. I have faith and confidence in our people to make us the ‘Wonder of Asia’.
Q. 10) What are your personal goals for this coming year?
As I have already said, I want to finish all the development projects as early as possible so that people will benefit out of them without having to wait for more time, ensure that our social infrastructure such as education, health, social welfare and livelihood schemes are implemented smoothly as they could have long term effects, bring maximum relief to the people because for no fault of theirs they have suffered for nearly three decades, lay a strong foundation for our children and young people so that they will conquer the world.
Last but not least, consolidate peace and harmony and achieve true reconciliation.
Let me also wish all Sri Lankans a bright future and a very prosperous and peaceful 2014.