An ideal opportunity to market the Government - Minister Harin Fernando

Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando says, Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s resignation is a classic precedent that has never been set by any law maker or a Government, and is a novel practice established in Sri Lankan politics. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Minister Fernando said, we should not however forget, this is the second such occasion, since Minister Tilak Marapana also resigned and his resignation was not given prominence even by the media, unlike in the present case. As Government representatives, we will not defend anybody who is proven guilty. As long as he is not proven guilty, we would do what is right and suggest a free and fair inquiry, for all other perpetrators as well.

The Minister said, this is the ideal opportunity for the Government to market itself on how the freedom of speech and good governance prevails in the country. Everybody has been holding on to power. They have been changing or making amendments to the Constitution just to remain in power, while family bandyism has been a great menace to society. This is what we all got together and changed on January 8, 2015.

Q. You have alleged that there is a conspiracy hatched by the Opposition to ‘eliminate’ some prominent UNP politicians. Could you elaborate on this?

A. It is quite prominent in the current situation that this is more a vindictive role. If you really look at the situation, the Yahapalana Government was brought in by a certain sector of Ministers and MPs who are now more or less in the back seat, while the Government is run by a different sector of Ministers. As much as we appreciate the call of the National Unity Government, we now feel we have been overshadowed by a new group which is trying to take control. We don’t want any conspiracies against the President. The Ministers who initially voted for good governance are the ones who are being victimized right now. As regards the allegation levelled against the bond scam, I think all UNP Ministers in the National Unity Government have already suggested that they would do the right thing by the Government, as well as their party. However, we feel there is more to this and are alarmed at what is going to happen. So we want to make sure that we are there in whatever takes place.

Q. Will there be repercussions on the Government, especially the UNP group as a result of the Foreign Minister’s resignation?

A. What we wanted to see was that justice is done and the inquiry would take place without any interference. When the social status or confidence has been lost, it was only proper for the Minister to take a step back and prove his innocence. Your are innocent until you are proven guilty. But, this is a precedent that has never been kept by any former regime or Government when they had been accused of fraud and corruption. So, it is a novel occurrence in Sri Lankan politics. However, we should remember that this is the second such occasion because Minister Tilak Marapana also resigned on an earlier occasion, but that was never given any prominence even in the media. There wouldn’t be any repercussions on the government, as such. We insist that even if proven guilty, we will abide by what is right. As Government representatives, we would not defend anybody who is found guilty. We suggest a free and fair inquiry for all other perpetrators as well. This has been delayed for the last two and a half years which raises the question, where it went wrong.

Q. What would be Sri Lanka’s image when its Foreign Minister resigns in connection with the Central Bank Bond scam?

A. This is exactly what the good governance is all about. This is the European practice and also the modern world practice. If somebody is accused, he should be investigated. This is the ideal opportunity for you to market yourself or the Government to market itself on how the freedom of speech and good governance prevails in the country. We can’t think of a better example. Everybody has been holding on to power. They have been changing or making amendments to the Constitution just to remain in power, while family bandyism has been a great menace to the country. This is what we all got together and changed on January 8, 2015. So this is the significance of the new Government and I think we are living by example. However, whether the inquiry finds him guilty or not, he has set an example and made things easier for the Government, the Opposition and those conducting the inquiry, without using his political power. Who wouldn’t appreciate it? The international community would love to see how the freedom of justice works in Sri Lanka.

Q. Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne recently said, there are “kamba horu” too in the Joint Opposition. Why can’t you bring them to book without delay?

A. For the past two and a half years, the question asked is why it has been delayed. What we hear is that Police inquiries have been completed on 87 cases. But the judicial system has failed because they say they have too many cases on hand. But, the Presidential Commission has been very quick to act, even though it is a bond scam and it has been publicly shaming a person about a rental income or rental agreement issue and a phone bill issue that have taken the forefront.

Therefore, we feel it has been a vindictive journey. If the Attorney General’s Department can act so swiftly on these matters, why can’t they adopt the same strategy and get on with the 87 cases with the Presidential Commission, or at least a few cases? I think this is a victory not for the Opposition or the Government, but the civil society who actually had a voice behind it and wanted justice. They have won it. Similarly, they wanted justice from the previous government as well. They accuse us for not bringing them to book. We see a situation of wheels within wheels in this Government. So we want to make sure that justice prevails followed by correct decisions. We want to expose any conspiracy against the Government.

Q. You have asked to appoint a Presidential Commission to probe the alleged frauds and corruptions committed by the former Government. Would you like to explain this?

A. At present, it is being discussed both, by the President and the Prime Minister. The President assured he would in no way delay anything. He wanted the perpetrators to be brought to book since the day he assumed office. Therefore, he said the delay is not from his side. These matters are in the hands of certain other Ministers and they have to be dealt with. So, as young Ministers and MPs in the Government, we will discuss among ourselves in the coming weeks and take the right decision. The country has to move forward. We promised to deal with corruption when we formed the Government in 2015. Unfortunately, we have failed on that track because of the numerous cases that have to be dealt with, and they have not been brought to justice. So, we look failures to the people because we have not been able to deal with them. It is a serious concern for us all.

Q. The Joint Opposition alleges there are more sharks to be caught with regard to the bond scam. Can you throw some light on this?

A. The JO would like to catch more sharks because it is their only bread and butter at the moment to cover up their faults. That is the best way for them to hide themselves under some other scams and show themselves as pure. Twenty million people in this country don’t understand how a bond works, how this can happen and how it happened during the previous regime. It is very unfortunate that even the social media as well as the conventional media worked in such a manner that the people didn’t understand the bond and how it was dealt with. The ethics and the way things should have been handled and the conflict of interest too is questionable at this moment. I doubt very much whether there is anything significant, but the inquiry will tell us whether something has really happened. That is why we say it should be an inquiry on the bond, rather than a rental, housing or telephone bill inquiry.

Q. Do you think the Yahapalana Government should get the credit since the President appointed a fact finding commission to clear its name and its law makers?

A. Of course. Has the previous regime ever done such a thing? There were so many cases levelled against them. But, the media was suppressed and controlled, while white vans came and abducted the journalists. So they were not even able to talk about it. Obviously, that is what prevented the media from bringing them to light.

Q. What is the delay in prosecuting politicians of the previous Government alleged to have indulged in corruption, fraud money laundering etc?

A. At present, 87 cases have been inquired into and completed and placed before the Attorney General’s Department. So we will wait for the law to take its course. Unfortunately, they keep on saying that the delay is because they don’t have sufficient time to deal with each case, and similar such excuses. That is why I suggest to appoint a Presidential Commission to fast track this. Otherwise, until we end our term, we may not be able to bring the culprits to book. That is why we see former Ministers like Basil Rajapaksa coming in and saying they are so innocent and have not done anything wrong. Because, they feel safe now.

Q. Government politicians often speak of inordinate delay in the Attorney General’s Department. What measures could be taken to remedy this situation?

A. We are discussing it, and trying to find alternatives to overcome this. We, a group of 38 or 40 young MPs as well as backbenchers and a few second tier Ministers are discussing what alternatives we could find and how it could be adapted. We are seeking advice from the seniors as well. I hope we would be able to find a solution in the near future.

Q. What is your independent opinion about the Central Bank Bond scam. Should not the culprits be brought to book?

A. Of course. If there has been a loss to the country, it has to be recovered as the people of the country owned that money. We will support the inquiry one hundred percent. I think those who are found responsible should be brought to book without further delay. What would be admirable at this moment is, you should have the backbone to find the people within your own circle if they have done something wrong and bring them to book. That is what we promised and that is now happening in the country for the first time in the history of our politics. 

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