Govt. sans credibility puts Nation in ‘bondage’

By Wilson Gnanadass
UNP front-liner and vociferous critic of the government, Lakshman Seneviratne has lashed out at the government’s decision to secure the US$ 500 million foreign Bond. He says that the government’s desperate attempt over this was because its credibility was at stake. He told The Nation that the government was not prepared to go before legitimate lending agencies such as the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) because of its poor track record. “The government’s track record is so poor that they are not even able to go for a loan through proper channels,” he said. He further charged that the government’s constant ‘attacks’ on UN officials and other foreign dignitaries, have tarnished the image of the country. “It is now beyond redemption. There is a limit to everything. But this government goes on without any sense of diplomacy,” he said.

Following are excerpts:
Q: Why is the UNP jittery over the government’s US$ 500 million foreign Bond?
I am surprised that only the UNP is getting worked up over this. In fact, the entire country should get upset. When there are other institutions like the WB, the ADB, to grant loan facilities at .05% interest rate, I don’t understand why the government should obtain a loan at 7.5%. When we get loans from the WB, the ADB and other legitimate lending agencies, we have to give a project report and they monitor us step by step. There is no room for pilferage. But when we approach others, they ask for immediate payment. We have to make a bullet payment. Everything will go haywire. When the Cost of Living has risen to 450 % and when we have to pay this interest in the first instalment, how are we going to pay the balance? The people who have requested for this loan should be jailed. This is a crime. This is highway robbery. And as a responsible opposition, we have the right to criticise.

Q: What impact do you think this would have on Sri Lanka in general and foreign investment in particular?
How many foreign investors have we got? None. The BOI will say we have signed up with 200 to 300. But that is only on paper. If people don’t have confidence, they will not invest. As it is, people can’t live with the money they earn. The buying power is lost. The local investors have already lost confidence. You see neighboring countries offer much more attractive facilities and the foreign investors would move there.

Q: The UNP has said that it would not be responsible for this issue, when it comes to power. Won’t this affect the country as a whole?
That is why we are telling the government now, when we are in the opposition. People should not later tell that the opposition did not warn the government of the great risk it has taken, to offer the foreign Bond. During the UNP time, the credit rating was something like A+. Today, it is minus B. For instance, when a person goes for a loan facility, he would also look for the credibility of that particular bank. This is common sense. If a bank knows well that it is not capable of offering services, then it should not offer them. Knowing that we can’t pay back the interest, why is the government going for this type of loan? When we are not credit worthy, they have given this money. Who are the people who are giving money? We do not know. There is no transparency.

Q: Why do you think the government is resorting to this?
Obviously, the government can’t get money from any recognised lending institution. This is because the country’s credibility is seriously questioned. The President goes to the US and says one thing, then goes to India and says another thing. So, the international community and, especially, the lending agencies have lost confidence.

Q: The ‘No Confidence’ motion against Minister Milinda Moragoda, has caused much confusion. Was this the party’s decision or the decision of a few within the party?
The party has not taken a decision as yet. But, by Monday or Tuesday, the party group meeting will decide on this. We are very strong in our decision to expose those involved in corruption. You can have personal friends but, when it comes to politics, friendship comes second. Milinda is a good friend of mine but, I can’t help saying this. I think the government must honour the COPE report. After all, the COPE comprises of eminent personalities from all political parties. It is an independent body to take such decision. Therefore, nobody should try to undermine the COPE report.

Q: But why only Milinda Moragoda, when there are other names also appearing in the COPE report?
We have to start somewhere. In reality, Parliament must bring ‘No Confidence’ motions against all the names that have been mentioned in the COPE report. What is wrong in doing this?

Q: There was a move to bring a ‘No Confidence’ motion against you. What is happening to that?
That was the brainchild of Minister Jeyeraj Fernandopulle, who put both his feet into his mouth. He has brains all over his body. He is the person who initiated the motion and I am also asking the same question you asked me. What has happened to the motion? I don’t know. They only said that I did not tell the truth in Parliament. However, everything I said is coming true. On June 6, I made a statement about abduction, taking ransom and so on. Then I was penalized. But weren’t what I said true? Instead of taking action against those who committed such crimes, the government opted to pin me down.

Q: The present government is in the habit of criticising top UN officials and other dignitaries. How do you view this?
It is a big mistake that the government makes. There is something called diplomacy. On behalf of the government, Minister Jeyeraj Fernandopulle is always hitting out at such top officials. He does not realise that his statements affect the entire nation. The international community laughs at us.

Q: The UN has requested to set up an office here to monitor human rights violations. The government is not in favour. What is the UNP’s position?
If a government is not guilty of human rights violations, then why reject such an offer. Obviously, the present government is guilty. If you are clean, then there is no need to fear or worry.

Q: Would a UNP government have given its consent to such a request?
In the first instance, if there was a UNP government, this situation would not have ever arisen. Even during our leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure, this never happened. Even if they requested and even if we wanted to turn it down, we could have done it in an acceptable way, which this government is not capable of doing.

Q: How successful are the UNP’s islandwide protest campaigns?
Very successful. Whenever the SLFP government comes to power, history repeats itself. The cost of living will go up and the international community will get angry with us. It is worse today.

Q: The UNP is sharply divided over the ‘marriage’ between the UNP and the SLFP-M. Don’t you think this would affect future elections?
It is not a marriage as such. They are not UNPers. As true SLFPers, they have signed a pact and agreed to work with us. If you go through the document, the contents are what the country needs at the moment. Some UNP members may be disgruntled but, we have to, at the end of the day, toe the line. The other good thing in the UNP is that we have differences but, we come to a settlement at the end of the day.

Q: There is a strong perception that Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe can’t become the head of State or, bring his party to power. Several astrologers have predicted this and political analysts have also pointed this out. What is your view?
Let me tell you one thing. The astrologers can go to hell. It is the will of the people that matters. As you know, Ranil Wickremesinghe is not a good actor. Unfortunately, people like to go behind actors. But look at their plight today. Everybody is suffering. People now feel that they made a mistake. But, I am certain, they will correct themselves. Even the Presidential election was lost by some 80,000 votes. So, with this amount of votes, Wickremesinghe could have become the President. When we look at the election results, we wonder whether it was preplanned. It is not Ranil’s fault.

Q: Do you see any chance for peace talks under this government?
I don’t think so. President goes globe trotting and says different things to different countries. He says there would be peace talks. But, in reality, there is no such thing. The LTTE, of course, should be wiped out. And we salute the armed forces and police for the wonderful job done.

Q: Don’t you think the forces are doing this under the direction of President Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces?
No. The soldiers went out courageously and we were lucky as well. During the UNP time also, we did the same thing. While fighting, there was a balance in the country. During Premadasa’s time, there were two insurgencies. The LTTE and the JVP. But we were able to balance the entire country. The investors came and tourism flourished. But today, it is only the war and the Sahodara Samagamaya that are doing well.

Q: The government has said many things about developing the east. Is the opposition aware of the kind of development the government talks of?
The government’s announcement about eastern development is a farce. These are just words. If you take their programmes, there are more than 40 new development programmes. But nothing is happening. Only huge hoardings.