The Minister of Justice, Corrections and Constitutional Reforms, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, said he first offered to form a caretaker government and it was later that the request was made through the group of 53 independent members of Parliament.
The minister, in an interview with the Sunday Observer, said: “We pleaded with the main opposition SJB to take over the Prime Minister’s portfolio and the government, but they rejected the request. Then we invited the group of 53 independent deputies and the main opposition to form a government, but they also refused this request. Therefore, now the opposition cannot make allegations after denying everything. They are afraid to take any responsibility on behalf of the people. Therefore, it is a ridiculous allegation made by the opposition.
Dr Rajapakshe said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has issued an open invitation to the opposition to come and take over the government and the post of Prime Minister. If they didn’t, the president had to appoint a prime minister and a cabinet because he had no other choice.
Q: Do you think the proposed National Council would be able to reach a common consensus among political parties to resolve the current crisis?
A: In fact, we proposed it even before the 21st Amendment was introduced. I think this will help solve the current crisis to some extent.
Q: Some government lawmakers feel the attack on Galle Face protesters and the arson attacks on the homes of government politicians should have been averted if swift action had been taken by security forces and police. Your views?
A: Certainly it should have been avoided and there was inaction, especially from the police. Of course, the security forces cannot continue on the roads without a clear order. But the police are required to protect all citizens. The IGP gave an excuse but it is not acceptable. He said most of these OCIs were appointed at the request of politicians. First, he shouldn’t have done it. Second, it is the mistakes made by the politicians themselves. They pick their favorites who aren’t fit for those positions and ultimately they can’t even secure their own homes.
Q: Government and opposition members say this is not just a political crisis, but also an economic crisis, so all parties must work together to find a solution. Do you agree?
A: In fact, we knew people were going to start this commotion and get on the roads. This is why I submitted a resolution to Parliament to form an interim government with the participation of all political parties represented in Parliament. However, they did not lead in this direction and there was no consensus either from the government or from the opposition. As a result, we have to face a serious situation. Of course, the political crisis had been there for a long time even when the government in place began its work. However, the people realized that after that they went so far as to create an economic crisis. Only then people started to see it and started their protests and other unrest campaigns.
Q: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has expressed concern that the draft amendment to the 21st Amendment to the Constitution omitted several provisions of the 19th Amendment. Would you like to comment?
A: All organizations and individuals think they only know the right thing. When they sent four proposals, I think two or three are already there and one or more things are to be considered.
Q: Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said the government planned to introduce a diluted version of the 21st Amendment, adding that it should have followed the proposals of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL). Your comments?
A: In fact, it depends on their understanding of the Constitution.
Q: The 21st Amendment focuses primarily on reducing the powers of the executive presidency and restoring the independent commissions and the Constitutional Council that were introduced in the 19th Amendment. Could you explain?
A: In addition to this, the proposed 21st Amendment transfers certain powers to the Cabinet of Ministers. Once again, the 21st Amendment will be taken up for discussion in Cabinet tomorrow. If it is approved by Cabinet, I may be able to publish it on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Q: At present, the population is facing severe hardship due to rising fuel prices and this has affected all key sectors. What do you propose to get out of the crisis?
A: This is a long-standing problem. The escalation of fuel prices on the world market has contributed to the price increase. But there could have been a mechanism to cushion the difficulties encountered if we had funds there. The problem is that we no longer have enough foreign currency. As a result, the crisis is openly on the roads and arson attacks on the homes of some politicians have been perpetrated recently.
At present, there is also a sharp drop in tourist arrivals. The influx of dollars has been completely blocked. In protest against the government, some people do not send their funds abroad. That’s why we’re trying to get some consensus and get things back on track by introducing the 21st Amendment. Because we remember that under the 19th Amendment, the police and most of these institutions operated impartially to a large extent. When they completely repealed the 19th Amendment and brought in the 20th Amendment giving all powers to the President, then the government lost its grip on governance. That is why we must first restore political stability. It is very obvious that until then there can be no economic stability.
Q: SLPP Secretary General MP Sagara Kariyawasam said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe must first resolve the economic crisis before making a constitutional amendment adding that such an amendment should not be drafted to target specific individuals which prevent them from entering parliament or becoming president. Would you like to comment?
A: It is common sense that everyone knows that if there is no political stability, one cannot expect economic stability.
Q: Right now, those protesting at Galle Face and across the country are calling for a change in the system and not just a change in personalities at the head of government. Would you like to develop your point of view?
A: The 21st Amendment is the only way to change the system in the country. All other things are just figurehead changes. But for the system to change, it will have to go through the Constitution in Parliament. We can’t do it on the road.
Q: Fifty-three SLPP parliamentarians, in a letter addressed to the President, expressed their refusal to take their meals in the cafeteria of the deputies in Parliament. Your views?
A: There are serious issues to address. Actually, that’s something I don’t want to talk too much about. The Parliament’s cafeteria accommodates 225 MEPs. Among them, I don’t think even 100 members go to the cafeteria every day, but it hosts 900 parliamentary employees there. On the one hand, they forbade us to have meals inside the Parliament. Meanwhile, people are claiming that MPs are consuming food in the cafeteria. That is why we told the Speaker, on the days when we are in the House all day, to allow us to bring meals from home. I think this will be the ideal solution.
Q: The main opposition party SJB alleges that instead of forming a caretaker government to find solutions to the current crisis, the government has appointed its own cabinet of ministers by simply changing personalities. What do you think of this allegation made by the opposition?
A: In fact, the opposition did not suggest forming an interim government. I was the one who first suggested this. Subsequently, we made this request through the group of 53 independent members of Parliament. It is therefore we who proposed the interim government and not the opposition. We were begging the main opposition SJB to take over the Prime Minister’s portfolio and the government, but they rejected the request. Then we invited the group of 53 independent deputies and the main opposition to form a government, but they also refused. Now the opposition can no longer make allegations after denying everything. They are afraid to take any responsibility on behalf of the people. Therefore, it is a ridiculous allegation they are making. You can’t blame the president on that.
He made an open invitation to the opposition to come and take over the government and the post of prime minister. If they didn’t, the president had to appoint a prime minister and a cabinet because he had no other choice.
Q: In your opinion, what are the immediate measures to be taken to deal with the current economic crisis?
A: This is what we do in common and it is mainly managed by the office of the Prime Minister and the Central Bank. They resort to various remedies to solve the problem. We collectively support it.
Q: Right now there is a demand to abolish the executive presidency and strengthen the 19th Amendment. Is it necessary to do so at this stage?
A: This is how you can have a Morris Minor chassis and repair the body of a Mercedes-Benz or you can have a Mercedes-Benz chassis and repair the body of a Morris Minor. It is a Constitution based on executive powers. If we want to abolish the executive presidency, we cannot do it by simple constitutional amendment. Then the whole country will be in anarchy. If we want to abolish the executive presidency, either we will have to opt for a new Constitution or we will have to make drastic changes. Whatever the people want, we can’t do it because the Supreme Court will certainly issue an order that will have to be approved by referendum. If there is a situation where we can opt for a referendum depending on the economic atmosphere of the country, we will do it. But can you do it now?
Q: Currently, there is an allegation that the dignity and decorum of Parliament has deteriorated. While several parliamentarians resort to unruly behavior in parliament, at present the people feel that all 225 parliamentarians should resign. Do you want to answer?
A: It is social jealousy and malice created by most of our media workers. They think they are very smart. When 10 to 15 people are shouting, media personnel also believe that the 225 MPs are in the same boat and some people also contribute to creating such an impression.
In our case, if they don’t want all 225 parliamentarians, we are prepared to abandon our portfolios and ask them to come and take over. If someone comes along and says they can do a better job, we’re ready to hand over our ministerial portfolios.