Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was said to be one of the colourful Presidents in the Asian region, amidst having to face political attacks from his opponents, said that he did his best for the country and he could defend himself on that. He also pointed out the presence of the Chinese was only to invest in projects and they had not influenced him otherwise.
On becoming the next Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the ex-President said, “The Constitution allows me to become the next Prime Minister. Firstly, we will have to win and then we will decide who should be the Premier.”
Excerpts of the Interview:
Question; One of the major crises faced by Sri Lanka is the external debt. The current Government and its supporters blame your Government for that. What is your response?
Answer: The loans we took from China, Japan, the ADB and other sources were not for consumption but for the development of the country. If you go around the country you can see the road network, schools and new government buildings that we built. The improvement of the Colombo Port, construction of the Hambantota Port and the Mattala Airport, were all projects completed under my Government. But the current Government’s policy is to use loans for consumption. They have no development work to show for all the loans they have taken. They have taken nearly USD 14 billion in foreign currency loans at commercial rates of interest in just two and a half years in power.
Q: If you were in power now, would you have made the projects turn profitable?
A: All new projects take some time to become profitable. The whole intention was to utilize the projects for the benefit of the people. We were voted out before the next phase of developing these assets commenced.
Q: How do you see the foreign policy of the current Government, especially with China?
A: As soon as the present Government came to power, they stopped all work on the development projects started by my Government, especially the Chinese funded projects. But after a while, they allowed China to go ahead with those projects. I thought they would take the projects from China and give them to India or Japan, but that did not happen. Finally, they had stopped work on these projects for no reason.
Q: What did your Government exactly suggest to the Chinese with regard to the Port City?
A: We gave them something like 50 acres out of 450 acres from the Colombo Port City in exchange for building it. There are no loans taken for this project and the payment was to be in kind. The rest of the reclaimed land could have been leased to local companies and investors from Japan, America, or India. This was to be a commercial venture.
Q; If you come to power at the next Parliamentary Election, will you change the policies of the current Government?
A: We can always negotiate terms again with all Governments doing business with us. I will not stop work as the present lot did, but there is room for negotiations.
Q: According to you, this Government is also banking only on China and not on other countries?
A: During our time China, Japan, India,and many other countries participated in development projects in this country. The Chinese have a very quick decision making system which makes it very easy to do business with them.
Q; But seeing the debt crisis, even Japan is now of the view that no more loans should be given to Sri Lanka. What do you think of that?
A: As I said earlier, in just two and a half years this government borrowed something like 14 billion US dollars in foreign currency commercial loans. So everybody in the world knows that Sri Lanka is in a debt crisis. The financial markets know that the IMF is trying to rehabilitate Sri Lanka.
Q; But wasn’t this debt trap because of you and isn’t the current Government only trying to settle it by taking more loans?
A: When I took over in 2005, the debt to GDP ratio was 96%. My government brought it down to 70%. Under the present Government, this suddenly shot up to 83% in just one year. Now the IMF has put them on a programme to bring the debt to GDP ratio back to 70% by 2021. So all the efforts of the IMF are aimed at bringing the debt level back to where I left it at the end of 2014.
Q: What is your strategy to get back to power?
A: We are waiting for an election.
Q: Why do you think they are postponing it?
A: Because they are scared of the voting public.
Q: Do you intend becoming the next Prime Minister?
A: The first thing they did as soon as they came to power was to pass laws preventing me from contesting the presidency again.They also introduced laws which they think will prevent Gotabaya, Basil and even Namal from contesting. But there is no legal bar to my becoming Prime Minister.
Q: So, you want to be the Prime Minister?
A: The Constitution allows that. First we will have to win and then we will decide who should be the Premier.
Q; If you will not contest, who will be the candidate?
A: When the time comes, we will decide on the best candidate to run for the presidency.
Q: Could it be your brother Gotabaya?
A: He says he is not interested in contesting elections.
Q: But we are sure you are working towards becoming the next Prime Minister, are we wrong?
A: We will see about that later. The current President said before the election that the Presidency has too much power and that we should revert to the Parliamentary system making the PM the leader. But they did not do it. Now the President has changed his mind about the Executive Presidency, the SLFPers say.
Q: Under which symbol will you contest? Have you decided?
A: We will decide at that time. There are many options. The Joint Opposition will be our base when we face the next election.
Q: When you lost the last Presidential Election you blamed it on an international conspiracy. Do you still stand by that?
A: Yes, it was obvious that certain foreign parties were involved in that election.
Q: Don’t you think you fell out with the West over war crimes allegations which you did not address properly?
A: No. All that is nonsense. There were no war crimes here. It was the China factor. Everybody thought we were getting closer to China. Well, I had to think of developing my country. I always made the first offer of a development project to India. But their systems are very slow. That is why I approached China.
Q: How is your relationship with India now? Prime Minister Modi visited you on two occasions when he came here on a Government invitation?
A: I would say my government did not have the time to establish a rapport with the present Governmentof India the way we had with the Congress Government that was in power earlier. Shiv Shankar Menon has commented on the understanding we had with his Government.
Q: After two and half years you claim the government has not done any development projects for people to benefit. Are you sure they will be defeated at the next election?
A: The people who voted for change are dissatisfied and the government is not holding elections due to the possibility of defeat.
Q:So, you stand a chance of winning?
A: Of course.
Q: Do you see a split between the coalition partners in the Government?
A: Yes. They are already quarrelling with each other as you can see.
Q: I interviewed General Jagath Jayasuriya who said he is willing to testify about war crimes in any Court the Government sets up.At the same time General Sarath Fonseka is accusing General Jayasuriya of war crimes and says he also can testify. How can we resolve this issue of war crimes charges and the blame game?
A: Everybody was shocked by Fonseka’s statement. An Army Commander should not behave like this. I think the interview Jagath Jayasuriya gave you was a reply to Sarath Fonseka.
Q:What should General Fonseka do?
A: He should shut up.
Q: Why is the Joint Opposition opposing the new Constitution? Have you looked at the new Constitution before opposing it?
A: The Constitutional Assembly has been putting out documents which make it clear what the new Constitution will look like. Why do we need a new Constitution? If there are issues in the existing Constitution, we can have specific amendments. The main issue was to do away with the Executive Presidency. That is where it started, but the incumbent President says he is going to contest again.
They have no mandate to change the Constitution. (Ceylon Today)