It was a sudden decision taken by MP Athuraliye Rathana Thera, who served in the capacity of senior advisor to the President, to resign from this post. The following interview with the monk is aimed at finding out what his next move in politics would be.
- Any proposal that comes before the Cabinet would go before this Policy and Planning Committee
- The agreement with Singapore had been signed without any scrutiny
- The Joint Opposition is only keen on staging protests
Q What made you suddenly decide to resign from the post of senior advisor to the President?
When you mention about senior advisor to the President, it is imperative that all the wrong doings of the Government fall on my shoulder as well. I too became a respondent. I wanted to release myself from being in such situations. These situations aren’t obstacles in my way if I wish to continue working with the President. If he calls me I am ready to offer my advise to him at any moment.
Q What are the wrong doings of the Government?
The bond issue surfaced during the first quarter. The relationship with Arjun Aloysius, the behaviour of Arjuna Mahendran and the economic loss caused to the country and state institutions that were connected with the alleged Bond incident are considered as a large scale robbery by the people. There has been no period like this in our country where our political nudity was exposed to such an extent. The United National Party (UNP) didn’t follow the concept of National Government. Decisions were held among a small group.
Q You once stated that despite you holding a position, no advice was sought from you. Does it mean that this position was useless?
If you look at what has taken place during the recent past it proves that our advice was not required.
Q Though your advice was not asked for the facilities the post brought you were quite adequate.Your comments.
When acceptance this senior advisor’s post I was given a vehicle which was 20 years old. I have not used the Petrol allowance, cash nor any other thing. I visited Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee more than 40 times to popularise ‘Farming without the use of dangerous chemicals’ and spent my own money. People wont do this today. As a result I didn’t save a cent.
Q One cannot be absolved by blaming only the UNP when a national Government is in office.Your comments.
The President should also take some responsibility in having the Economic Management under the UNP. I say this because we gave power to the President and he is the one who presented the country with a plan for development.
Q Have you intervened in matters so as to direct the Government on the correct path.
We sent our request in writing to the President to formulate a committee on economic policies and planning. The President made a promise to the people and we requested that it be implemented. Any proposal that comes before the Cabinet would go before this Policy and Planning Committee. Then the proposal would be monitored and amendments, if any, would be made before it comes back to the Cabinet. The agreement with Singapore had been signed without any scrutiny. This proposal was presented to both the President and the Prime Minister, but they did not consider it and now they say that committees were appointed from both sides.
Q Now the Singapore Agreement has been signed. Why didn’t you tell this beforehand?
I made my protest verbally regarding the Singapore Agreement. I had discussions with Minister Malik Samarawickrama and the Prime Minister separately and pointed out the harm that could be caused by this agreement. Though it is mentioned that this is a Yahapalana Government the signing of this agreement has been done violating Democratic principles. The situation the country is in as a result is even worse than during the J.R. Jayewardene regime. Despite this agreement being signed in the presence of the President, he seems to be unaware of it. At present the President can be compared to a decoration that’s carried during a festival. When this agreement was proposed the President should have consulted the advisory committee or me, as the senior advisor. Why I say this is because I made many sacrifices to bring him to power. Some say that this is the work of the Prime Minister. I have my doubts over that because I am made to understand that this was the work of Malik Samarawickrama. This agreement had been presented to the Cabinet in English. There are, many in the Cabinet who do not know English. Even if one knows English it is difficult to comprehend the Technology in it. This is not a colony of the British Empire. This agreement would not only harm the local industrialists and professionals it would also seriously affect the country’s independence as well. Without having a national policy with regard to trade signing of this type of agreement is futile. Environmental regulations are not covered by this agreement and it is an illegal and anti-social agreement.
The Govt. is now thinking that through ‘Gamperaliya’ it can win the people over. I am of the opinion that the President, as the Leader of the State, should state clearly to the country the path he wishes to take
Q Those who drafted this agreement says that it can be amended.
I earnestly request from the President as an individual, who sacrificed much to his victory, to discuss this issue with the professionals. I have already made this request in writing and have handed over to him all the documents connected with it.
Q Do you still believe that there is room to guide the Government on to the correct path?
What I say is to correct the wrongs and win back the honour of the people. To remain silent in the face of wrongdoings is not the answer.
Q Do you think that the Government has enough time to correct itself through reconstruction?
The Government is now thinking that through ‘Gamperaliya’ it can win the people over. I am of the opinion that the President, as the Leader of the State, should state clearly to the country the path he wishes to take. It appears that he has no stability. He is not sure whether a constitution requiring a referendum would be brought in. This is the same position with regard to the economic policies. Before everything else he should commit himself to carry out the policies he put forward to the people to stabilise the country.
Q At a time when Rathana Thera is becoming independent the President is embracing the party. The split between the Political camps that were behind the 2015 change has also contributed to the ruination of the Government.Your comments.
It is good for the President to be in a party which may have been affected in a different way.
Q The friendly political groups that existed long ago are now becoming inactive.Your comments.
With the robbing of a state bank at the outset, these groups were in disarray. When the Budget that was presented did not relate to the path the country should take, people lost their confidence. Even the constitution would face the same situation.
Q In the absence of being affiliated to a party, does the political character known as Athuraliye Rathana still have bargaining power?
It is true that I was a member of a party, but I was always with the people’s movements. I believe that the people have faith in my conscience. That is why they invited me to address the cooperative movement which has the representation of hundreds of thousand individuals. How can you gather so much people without giving them a packet of rice or paying for their transport? It is my duty to represent this one million odd people and see to the national wants of the country. You can see whether I have bargaining power in the near future.
Q after attacking the Government and then walking out, with whom are you now trying to form a group?
I’m not going to join anyone. My standings are on principles. There are about one million who examine the pros and cons before voting. There are another five hundred thousand who spend days in meditation, listening to Bana and who spend more time in and around temples. They opine that the country cannot go on like this. But they aren’t taking a unified decision and are not moving on a definite path. Our aim is to gather this one million and form a National Council. We are aiming at constituting this National Council numbering about 500. Those in the council will be representing the Buddhist monks, scholars, engineers, professionals, journalists, artistes and others who are versatile in other fields. There are about 200 of them with us now. We are having discussions these days with the representatives of all these sectors. We should create a situation so that even the Cabinet cannot by pass this council.
Q There had been similar overtures made by the JVP, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Joint opposition to rope in the people. Isn’t this an indication that the intelligentsia whom you refer to is coming under one umbrella?
There is no issue in mustering them because people are aware what is right and what the broadest alliance is about. I have no personal issues with anyone. It could be the JVP or Front line, which can unite these forces. I do not want to be its leader, but will be its coordinator. Everyone should be taken in and if we have a common aim there is no point having a division. There are honest persons both in the UNP and the SLFP. But they are being held back. We must take them out. In the JO too there are a few important people. You will find some who believe in tribalism all over the country. They are attempting to appoint a tribal leader and maintain that he should be elected to power. Let us redeem ourselves from that thinking and embrace ‘Samma Ditty’ (right understanding). The Joint Opposition is only keen on staging protests. They have no vision. They have no clear idea about the Singapore Agreement or how the country could be developed.
Q Though you say that the JO has no vision, people voted for the Pohottuwa (The Bud) in large numbers and gave them a victory they never expected.Your comments.
A- When people want to protest they will vote in such a manner, but I do not think they will vote in that manner come the Presidential elections.
Q Environmentalists charge that during this Government more environment is being destroyed. What happened to your proposal for sustainable development?
At a time when the powerful and the not so powerful countries entered into agreements at the Paris assembly-given that we are in possession of our own raw materials- and when Europe was closing coal power stations, we forged ahead in preparing a power generation plan to construct five coal power plants with an output of 133 Kilowatts by 2025. There is no power generation plan as to how they are going to meet the power requirements for the next seven years. Despite the completion is earmarked for 2025 they would never be able to complete it. With the construction of the wasteful Norocholai, more than 500,000 Coal particles remain as leftovers annually. Coconut trees are dying and people are infected with respiratory sicknesses. What has the Government done in this regard? We have no future with a Government that is unable to take a Cabinet decision regarding the coal power plants issue. This is the most idiotic and corrupt decision ever taken by this Government. President Sirisena won the elections by stating that instead of coal power he would turn towards Renewable Energy solutions. The Environmentalists, thinking that a person who loves the Environment should be elected to power, cast their votes with much eagerness. The President who assumed power on these pledges is now giving leadership to the preparation of plans to establish coal power plants. The past three years are recorded as the period when Renewable Energy was barely used.
Q The Engineers serving the Electricity Board too present various statistics to prove that coal power usage is more economical. In that aspect how can people assume which is correct?
There is no debate anywhere in the world about closing of coal power plants. Engineers cannot argue against this. Political leaders are appointed by the people. Policies are framed by the Parliament and not by officials. There is a division among the Electrical Engineers. Some are for and some others against it. Engineers claim that they would bring the world’s best coal to Sri Lanka. There is no harmless coal anywhere in the world. The JO has no idea about this. They are only hell-bent on finding fault. They cannot build up public opinion. I did not see that even Gotabhaya’s Viyath Maga discussing this issue.
Q You insisted on the ban of Glyphosate. Although the Government implemented the ban first, it was removed later. Is it true that you moved on to Sustainable development as there was no alternative?
Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe doesn’t fancy the use of poisonous chemicals in cultivation. His vision has everything to do with the New Liberal Economic system. The President has no idea about the New Liberal System and he has no stability on anything. As a person who hailed from a farming colony I believed that I could convince him. There are many alternatives, and I too presented several of them. Now Glyphosate is sprayed in the Central Hills one again. The water that flows from there end up at the Kelani River and those who drink its water, drinks the water contaminated with Glyphosate. This herbicide and crop desiccantthen enters their bodies. I am ready to debate with anyone on this matter. As we have not followed the Modernised latest development strategies followed in Tokyo and Beijing, it is much easier for countries like ours to proceed towards sustainable development. We could save 100 billion that is being spent on fuel and fertilizer. What about the 21 billion spent on the importation of Lentils,15 billion on Onions, 53 billion on Sugar, 2 billion on rice, 314 million on Wheat Flour, 39 billion on milk products, 39 billion on fish, and 5 billion on oils and fats? Consider the colossal amount of money that is going out of the country as a result. When we have the sea right round the island who is the mad person who sets about importing salt. We are a nation that cannot produce our own requirement of salt, and milk. Most of the countries that produce milk do not have grass lands that have grass throughout the year. But we are supposed to be a greener country. Does New Zealand sell milk to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, or India? They sell milk only to us. None of the above countries have grasslands like our country.
Q Though you attempted to put into action several policies, you continued as a MP. If they declined to take your advice you should have accepted a Ministerial Portfolio and begun implementing these policies. Your comments.
I agree with you. I think in the future, whether I become the Minister of Agriculture or not it should be handled by a person with brains and a vision. Power and agriculture should be in the hands of two Ministers who love the country. A decision was taken to give money instead of fertilizer; it was later changed to give fertilizer once again. Then I raised the issue of what was going to happen to the 25,000 who implemented cultivation without the use of Poisonous inputs. The project we launched spending money would go awaste. I pleaded for a Cabinet Paper on this matter. Then again they decided that if those farmers wished they could obtain cash. Minister Amaraweera should be congratulated on this move. However up to now no money has been paid nor fertilizer been provided for the Yala Season. These farmers were induced to cultivate using compost, but on completion they are not paid. I am helpless as I cannot do anything.
Q Given the order in which these targets are achieved, can’t you make use of the next power change in 2020?
Invariably there should be a power change. But it shouldn’t to be done by a group formed by Rathana Thera. It should be a complete effort that calls for national unity. Our experiments in the field of agriculture were a success. My intervention, despite difficulties, should have earned state honours. I haven’t received any accolades. When the Ministry of Agriculture declined to coordinate with the officials of the same Ministry and conduct it under their direction as a pilot research, I steered this project. During the first season we proved how profitable it was to cultivate without the use of poisonous chemicals. We won the trial. These types of gains should have been announced to the nation by the President. I am sad that we did not receive that praise.
Q Salaries of MPs were to be increased by over 200%. Was the decision to do so an indication that those who have power wanting to serve themselves?
The people in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa zone have nothing to eat. Malnutrition is widespread. There is poverty in the farming zone more than we think can think of. Everyone is in debt. In the Polonnaruwa District, where the President is from, 50% of people have pawned their lands at interest rates ranging from 10 to 15 percent. Is it correct to increase the perks of the MPs at this juncture? They should think more about the people. I was against this move. All the wrong doings of the previous Government are being repeated by the present regime too. They should have stopped the Kandy- Kataragama Road and constructed the railway line instead. People arrive in Colombo from Gampaha daily in five trains. From Ruhuna people travel in two trains to Colombo. What they should have done was to develop the railway which is used by thousands to travel about and not provide facilities for the few who travel by cars. Prime Minister Dahanayake traveled daily by train to attend Parliament. The ruler should have the protection to protect the country. If they aren’t protecting the country why should they be protected? The Police, the Army and the entire countrymen are living in frustration.
Q Whatever happens the general public would vote for someone and bring him to power. Have you not taken a political decision yet?
I have taken two decisions. The first one is that the President is having all powers to rectify the injustices that have taken place. I have no issues with him. By resigning from the post of advisor does not mean that I have no connection with the president. Whatever opinion he asks for will be given by me. I will join him regarding any matter that he needs my assistance. This is the same situation with the Prime Minister. I have no personal grudge with him too. It is the same position even with the Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Two days after his defeat I spoke to him over the telephone. I am not inclined towards having personal disagreements with anyone. I am friendly with everyone and only criticise the policies. Presently my main task is not choosing Presidents, but preventing destruction. No matter who becomes the President, I cannot just wait and observe the destruction caused by this Government. This is my standing.
Q Like Mahinda Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa also admits that they acted wrong. If they are prepared to form a government after promising that they would not repeat what they did earlier are you going to join them?
Actually speaking I have no issues with them. Though they say they would rectify all their wrong doings, they are yet to realise what their mistakes were. Have they or those in the Pohottuwa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) declared to the country what their Economic policies are? What is their standing on poison-free farming and on the use of Glyphosate? Just because Dinesh Gunawardene declares that as members of the JO they are against it, have they discussed this matter? I am yet to hear of the Viyath Maga-innitiated by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa- discussing this issue. These issues should be discussed before they gain power in the country.