A Statement from the Former PM while in Office
“We Will Pass the New Constitution”
“We will adopt the new constitution and implement it to solve all the problems of all people. We will implement it with the support of the TNA,” former PM
“We will adopt the new constitution and implement it to solve all the problems of all people. We will implement it with the support of the TNA,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said recently during an official visit to the Jaffna Peninsula when he met with journalists in the region. The Catamaran was also on site. The following is an extended statement made by the PM:
“Both you and us are fighting to establish independence in our country. Today we have an independent judiciary. There is an environment where all matters are raised and debated in Parliament. There is now media freedom. We took over a country that was heavily burdened with debt, but now the economy has somewhat recovered. We have started development activities. Development will also take place in Jaffna and other places. Works are progressing and I think it would be better and we would see development in every sector. On the side, we have done a lot towards reconciliation too.
We have set up the Office for Missing Persons and the Office for Compensation. I know there is much more to be done. That will be done in the future. We have had long discussions about the political solution but we were unable to bring about a new constitution. The reason is that we did not have a 2/3 majority in Parliament. We have had long discussions on what the ultimate political solution should be. Disappearances have occurred and have taken place in any war zone in the world. We can never avoid it.
We have also spoken about the issue of identity cards for journalists and obtaining motorcycle loans. Interest-free loan schemes will also be available. Further, facilities have been made to contacts with you and journalists of the south of the country. You have now additional opportunities for media training.
There is a memorial site in Jaffna for journalists who were assassinated. That site will be relocated when the street is widened.
The discussions on compensation have concluded. Now it has to be implemented. We need to take these forward. That is why I say that our candidate Sajith Premadasa should win the presidential election.
After that there will be a parliamentary election. I hope we would get at least 125 seats in that election and TNA would also get seats. So we would have 150 seats with other parties to support the new constitution. We will adopt the new constitution acceptable to all and implement it to solve all the problems of all people. We will implement it with the support of the TNA,” the PM said.
Here are the questions raised by the journalists and the Prime Minister’s response.
Journalist 1: What are the promises of the UNP to the Tamil people of the North and East?
PM: We will tell you everything in our election manifesto. We will be taking immediate action on the matter of missing persons. We will expedite the compensation process; we will also take legal action against offenders wherever they are; we will also have to establish a fact-finding commission.
Journalist 2: So far, actions have been taken only of four Sinhala journalists who have gone missing, why is there no actions on the incidents and crimes against Tamil journalists?
PM: We took immediate action on the assassination of MP Raviraj. But we never expected that twist of the case. We will, however, take action to address the problems of the media.
Journalist 2: As for the journalists, I am one of the journalists who was abducted and survived. When this government came to power, the then Minister Rajitha Senaratne mentioned my name and said that an inquiry should be initiated from the journalist. What problem does the government have when a kidnapped survivor is available to testify?
PM: We had less manpower; these cases have to be inquired into one by one. The entire police force cannot be involved in the investigation. We will conduct all inquiries; let’s start with the issues of the murdered.
Journalist 3: When an Indian journalist asked Presidential candidate Gotabhaya Rajapakse about the missing persons, he said, “No one who surrendered went missing”. What is the position of the United National Party in this regard?
PM: Many have disappeared in the interim period between the surrender and the end of the war. We have to exactly figure out its number and find out what happened to them. There have been cases of disappearances in the war zone, north or south, in any part of the world. We cannot avoid it. I did not observe difference in the number given by Gotabhaya Rajapakse and the official count.
Journalist 4: The Iranamadu drinking water project was introduced after the UNP formed the government. Rs. 2.6 billion was spent on the project which is now abandoned. Simultaneously, a different project, costing Rs. 3.6 billion was approved by the cabinet on 16 Oct, 2019. Abandoning of Iranamadu project has impacted the Jaffna Waste Disposal project costing Rs.400 million. What is the reason for this?
PM: We are ready to implement the Iranamadu project. If the political problem in the area is solved, we will act on it. The media in the Northern Province can help to solve the problem. We cannot implement the alternative plans immediately. There are actions to be taken before that. The Iranamadu drinking water project can be implemented immediately. The Iranamadu project has not been abandoned. Action is being taken on the feasibility of the alternative project. The Ministry of Finance shall notify the Cabinet on the alternative plan.
Journalist 5: What is the challenge the government faces in releasing the political prisoners?
PM: Some have been sentenced. Some people are being investigated. Some of those detained are involved in the murder of prominent personalities. Besides, the problem is how and on what basis to release them. Anyhow, only those allegedly had involvement in the main case are now in jail.
Journalist 6: Northern journalists are summoned to Colombo for hearings. Journalist Sobithan was summoned to the 4th floor in Colombo recently for an inquiry regarding a news published in Virakesari newspaper. A complaint had been lodged regarding the news at the police station. The editor is responsible for the newspaper. The journalist was summoned directly without his editor. The journalist had requested that he be questioned in Jaffna due to an injury. But the CID insisted that he present himself in Colombo. Similarly, a Mullaitivu journalist was called as a witness recently. The journalist could have been called to the nearest police station and inquired. Are they doing this to intimidate the media and make them vulnerable?
PM: If you let us know the name of the officer, we can ask the CID about this.
Journalist 6: The person who was was convicted of being in contempt of court, but was released after having been given a Presidential pardon. Again, the person has been charged with contempt of court in the north. But to this day, he roams freely. Do you think that there is more concern if it happens in the South and less concern in the North?
PM: You mean the accusation against Gnanasara Thero? We shall investigate that too.
Journalist 7: You said the new constitution progressed to the level of final draft. For that you need 2/3 majority to pass the parliament. You also said that you have faith in the next parliament to get it passed. So do the opposition parties agree with it?
PM: We will adopt the new constitution acceptable by all and implement it to solve all the problems of all people. We will implement it with the support of the TNA. Now you will have to excuse me, I have to be at the Church to meet the Jaffna Bishop at 5 am.
Journalist 8 (Female): You say the Office of the Missing Persons Office is open on the basis of reconciliation. It was said that the office will be declared open at 10 am on a particular day, but it was opened at 5 am by an unknown party. People are dying without knowing what happened to their loved ones. What is the benefit..?
PM: For the parents of the disappeared, their struggle is an independent one. We don’t interfere in that. The message we tell them is that inquiries will be accelerated. There are many missing persons in the South as well. We will investigate all that.
PM: Finally, may I ask you a question. Why there are no female journalists in the North…?
Journalist 8 (Female): There is no security in the country.
PM: I think you have no security from your men.
Journalist 8 (Female): No, it’s not like that. Both men and women are not safe if they are Tamil journalists in this country.