By Jatila Karawita

UPFA MP Prof Rajiva Wijesinha in an interview with LAKBIMA NEWS says that attacks on media should be investigated, and adds that if the police continue to draw blanks in all instances, ‘then we need to have better police training.’

Excerpts

Currently there are criticisms directed at the government for lack of accountability on various fronts and concerning major issues of the day. Some of the topics are the soaring COL, lack of coordination when providing relief to flood victims, failure to prevent attacks on media institutions and disappearances of media personnel etc. What are your comments?

Obviously any government will have to face criticisms. Your questions relate to two separate areas. One is happenings over which government has no control, such as the floods, and also the Cost of Living, which relates to problems all over the world. I don’t think the public at large criticize the government for these matters, though obviously political opponents will try to make political capital. However, it is important for government to respond actively and swiftly to alleviate problems, and I think this the government has done with comparative efficiency. Certainly, when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, I found that our Disaster Management Centre was most efficient in a crisis, and I believe this has been exemplified recently too.

With regard to attacks on the media, as I have said before, it is vital that these be investigated, and if the police continue to draw blanks in all particulars, then we need to have better police training. However, one problem with the continuing assertion of opposition politicians and their related NGOs, that government is responsible for the attacks, is that police are less likely to investigate thoroughly. That is no excuse however, and investigations, and indeed criminal proceedings if appropriate, should be more efficient

The government is ultra-keen on bidding for the right to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games and going ahead with various tamashas like ‘Deyata Kirula’ when the country is being gripped by a spate of issues on other fronts like floods, the havoc it has caused to vegetable and paddy crops in the North-East, and the South, and the imminent danger of a future food scarcity in this country. How do you look at this scenario?

No government stops its regular business because of emergencies, unless such business prevents dealing with the emergency. That has not been the case here. Government has to move forward too, and having the Deyata Kirula in Buttala was a positive move, as when President Premadasa used to have Gam Udawas in rural areas. Colombo thought it’s a waste of money, but I could see the positive impact of such events – that is why indeed countries compete so hard to get events like the Games, not to have a party, but because of the developmental benefits such events bring.

Also there are allegations and criticism directed at the government for its increasingly authoritarian style of governance and for its lack of accountability in dealing with major issues. Your take on this?

As mentioned, there are always allegations by opponents of any government, but I see no increase in authoritarianism, given the democratic basis on which government is based. There is full accountability, with all parliamentary mechanisms for this purpose operating effectively. You must distinguish between dislike for what a democratically elected government does and opposition to a government imposed against the will of the people.

Hasn’t the country’s two main opposition parties (UNP and JVP) being in disarray provided a perfect playing feild for the UPFA government to continue with its authoritarian and dictatorial style of governance?

I don’t understand why you claim the government is authoritarian and dictatorial, given its basis in the overwhelming support of the people. Also, you must recognize that the main opposition parties are in disarray precisely because the government did so well in its first term in satisfying the main aspirations of the people. Though it had a very thin majority, and though the UNP claimed that it was on the verge of collapse, the JVP continued to support the government until the back of the terrorist movement was broken, and then some of its membership continued to support the government because it thought it was doing a good job. The UNP used various stratagems to get people to vote against the government, but did not succeed.

The government’s loudly proclaimed claims about ‘good governance’ seems to have received a battering from the foreign media with the recent comparison by the New York Times newspaper of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to  a dictator. Though he won an election and gained power hasn’t the government’s current conduct allowed these prestigious foreign news media outlets to hang such damning labels on the government and its leaders? Isn’t there a kernel of truth into this and what are your views?

You must realize by now that media needs to be sensationalistic to survive, and foreign media readily accepts what it is fed if it is sensational. I do not know the comparison to which you refer, but I have spent much time refuting similar attacks by close attention to detail. You must be aware of the Guardian reporter who confessed that his source for a horrendous story was unreliable and he realized it was false, but would not publish a correction. You are aware that Hillary Clinton was wrongly briefed by somebody about rape in Sri Lanka, and the ambassador here apologized, though Mrs Clinton herself did not. In the end you should look at what responsible knowledgeable officials say, and you will realize that the tune has changed for the better with regard to what the government is doing.

Regarding the recent alleged attacks on the UNP-led protest march in Borella, the Lanka-E-News web site and the disappearance of journalists like Prageeth Eknaligoda, the government stands accused of committing these alleged acts. Haven’t these incidents created alarm in this country, and a groundswell of support towards the opposition with an election around the corner?  You also being an (alleged) noted liberal have kept mum on these alleged incidents. What is your take on it?

I was not in the country when the first two incidents occurred, but if you bothered to read what I write, you would see that I have made it clear constantly (see ‘The Great War Crimes Game 4’ in the ‘Island’ of February 15th for instance) that there are deficiencies in police investigations and we need to do much better in this regard. What I will not do is pre-judge the issue, not only because that is wrong, but because it is obviously silly to ask the police to investigate while claiming that government was responsible.

With regard to Ekneligoda, I did make inquiries last year, when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights, and have checked recently whether this has been done. Unfortunately there is no institution now as there was then to press such matters, and I hope this will be adjusted soon, either through the new Human Rights Commission or through a specially dedicated unit in government to deal with such issues, or both.

The opposition has been very critical of the government’s handling of the relief measures in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. What can you about to this criticism? Also the COL is soaring by the day and the government does not have any remedies to counter this problem. Isn’t this the truth and the reality?

Again there are two questions here. With regard to the first, the Resettlement programme has been amongst the most successful in the world. I have not visited for some time, but when I did go up, I could see that we had worked more quickly than the doomsayers predicted, and we had got essential services up and running. Obviously after such a long destructive war it will take time to get back to normal, but there were signs that the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi Districts will soon be enjoying a prosperity and access to services such as they never had in the past. True, the recent havoc caused by adverse weather will set things back a bit, but I believe even from that we will recover more quickly than most.
With regard to the Cost of Living, as you are aware that is a universal problem. In India for instance the Prime Minister is worried about inflation adversely affecting the ongoing economic miracle. No government can work wonders, and I think our people, who know what is going on in the world at large, will recognize that we just have to overcome this bad period. The foundations being laid for future development will help us when the current world crisis eases.

Isn’t the government’s favourite pastime to paint the opposition as a scorpion, uttering nonsensical stuff to deceive the masses. Will this ruse help the government with the LG polls looming on the horizon?

I think government has much better things to do. Your reference may be to a recent piece by me in relation to the statement by the Leader of the Opposition at the Regional CPA Conference. My point was not criticism of government, which is normal, but criticism in international fora, which has been an unusual and regrettable feature of the current opposition leadership. I don’t think many people in government or in the country were interested in what was said at that Conference, but I think it a pity that there are continuing efforts to denigrate us before foreigners. An opposition should try to win elections at home, not undermine an elected government by sneaking.

I don’t think this is an issue at the local elections. People are more interested in local issues, and politicians should work on what concerns people in seeking election.

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