Move aimed at targeting youth votes, says Tourism Minister

Prasanna Ranatunga, Tourism Minister.

Tourism Minister, Prasanna Ranatunga says the Opposition, similar to the strategy they followed in 2015 to defeat then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now attempts to spread falsehoods and misconceptions to tarnish the image of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. At present, they have launched a disinformation campaign to mislead the people that an environmental destruction is taking place in the country.

Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, in an interview, stated that the Opposition deliberately makes these attempts to upset the mindset of youths by targeting their votes at the next election.

He said the people are well aware of who set up jogging tracks in and around Colombo including those at Independence Square, Viharamahadevi Park, Diyatha Uyana, Bellanwila and Nawala.

Therefore, a leader who loves the environment will never allow it to be destroyed. However, certain sections with the help of the social media carry out a false propaganda campaign to discredit the good image of the President and the Government.

Following is the interview:

Q: Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, has demanded legal action to be taken against politicians and officials who have been accused in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that probed the Easter Sunday attacks before 21 April, 2021, otherwise they will get on the streets. Would you like to comment on this?

A: After the Easter Sunday carnage, the Cardinal was the religious leader who faced the biggest issue. Following the attacks, a backlash in the Negombo area was prevented due to the Cardinal’s influence. Otherwise, the Muslims in those areas would have faced a big issue. All Christians expected from the Cardinal that justice would be meted out for all those who faced this untoward incident. Therefore, following the Easter Sunday mass on April 4, the Cardinal made that statement.

The six-member Ministerial Committee appointed by which I was also a member has made nearly 70 recommendations after studying the report of the PCoI that probed the Easter Sunday attacks and Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security. The Ministerial Committee report was handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on April 5. The contents in the Committee report was revealed to the media at a press conference held on April 6. I think there is a very good response to the recommendations made by the Committee. The recommendations made in the PCoI report on politicians, Police officers and the Government officials who have been charged under the criminal offences for shirking their responsibilities were referred to the Attorney General.

The Ministerial Committee has also instructed that the recommendations be implemented. We have also instructed the IGP to conduct an immediate investigation regarding the Police officers who have been accused in the PCoI report and take legal action against them. Now the Attorney General’s Department and the IGP should immediately act to bring the culprits to book. This is what is requested by the Cardinal as well.

Q: The Cardinal speaking to the media questioned the Government as to why they are waiting further to initiate legal action against politicians and officials when the PCoI report has clearly stated the persons who should be held responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks. Your comments?

A: Actually, it is a task entrusted upon the AG’s Department. The AG’s Department has successfully conducted its inquiries. They have been given the report of the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. All the evidence given before the PCoI was not subjected to any external pressure. That is why a Presidential Commission was appointed by allowing the people to voluntarily give their evidence freely without any influence. The Police can conduct further investigations based on these evidences and thereafter that they can seek the AG’s advice on the action to be taken against the accused.

Q: The Cardinal has also called on the Government to take legal action against former President Maithripala Sirisena who has been found guilty in the PCoI. Could you explain?

A: There is no debate about it. The entire country knows the then Head of the State who was in charge of national security was aware of those incidents as recorded in the evidence given before the PCoI. It looks like he just allowed those incidents to happen. This is similar where if some thugs had threatened the parents that they would rape their daughter but they just allowed it to happen. Former President Maithripala Sirisena and all others of that Yahapalana Government should be held responsible for this.

Q: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the same group which spread falsehoods about white vans, crocodiles and sharks are now trying to propagate falsehoods and misconceptions regarding the environment with their target to tarnish the image of the Government. Would you like to comment?

A: Murders and underworld activities are still taking place in the country. Such incidents happen even in the well-developed countries as well. However, the present Government has taken steps to control crime and underworld activities.

A statement by the girl named Bhagya that the Sinharaja Forest is destroyed went viral on social media. Before she made that statement to the media, she should have first acted in accordance with the existing laws of the country. There is a law in the country which clearly stipulates the methodology in regard to the felling of trees.

Before that girl made that statement, she should have asked the Grama Niladhari in that area whether that land belongs to the Sinharaja Forest or otherwise. If that land belongs to Sinharaja, she should have asked the Forest Conservation officers as to why they allowed the felling of those trees. The irresponsible statement made by her gained a lot of publicity in the social media. When false information is circulated among the people, it is very difficult to rectify it.

Similarly, comments against the Government by some Sri Lankans working in foreign countries are on Facebook. It has been revealed that some people who have covered their faces spread falsehoods to cater to some political interests. Similar to the strategy they followed in 2015 to defeat then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Opposition through the spreading of various falsehoods and misconceptions is attempting to tarnish the image of the President. Now they also attempt to portray that an environmental destruction is taking place in the country. Actually, it is the youth who speak a lot about the environment.

The Opposition deliberately makes these attempts to upset the mindset of youths by targeting their votes at the next election. The people are well aware of who set up walking paths in places like Torrington and also built the Diyatha Garden, Battaramulla.

We know the attempts made by the President to set up forest conservation areas including in close vicinity of the rivers.

Therefore, a leader who loves the environment will never destroy it. However, certain sections with the help of the social media are carrying out a false propaganda campaign to discredit the Government and the President.

 Q: Several Maha Nayaka Theras have directly told some Government lawmakers that the Government even though having a two-thirds majority have failed to meet the expectations of the people. Your views?

 A: Some of these bhikkhus change their sides from time to time. They have also been disappointed as they didn’t receive any portfolios. Even before the election, I requested the people not to vote for a candidate who is even connected to former President Maithripala Sirisena.

Today the people have realised as to why I made such a statement. At present, the charges made against former President Sirisena are also directed towards the Government as he is a part of this Government. Some of the SLFPers who were with Maithripala Sirisena got elected to Parliament as they all contested under the SLPP banner.

If they contested alone, none of them would have been elected to Parliament. They would have also faced the same scenario faced by the UNP. That is why I requested the people not to vote a single person who has links with former President Sirisena. These kind of persons attempt to destroy the Government. A similar group was there in the Government in 2015 as well. Some of these bhikkhus and others make these statements as they don’t have any portfolios. They have ulterior motives and there is no problem about it. As a Government, we have necessary strength to face these challenges. If we are in the Government, we all have to act together. Otherwise, they should quit the Government.

Q: Certain sections have raised their opposition to the Provincial Council system and say it should be abolished. Has any decision been taken by the Government to hold the Provincial Council elections?

A: No final decision has been taken so far to hold the PC elections. However, it is the responsibility of the Government to act according to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Otherwise, allegations will be leveled against the Government that it acts in an unconstitutional manner. When we were in the Opposition, we complained against the postponing of the Local Government elections which had created a complicated situation.

At that time, we demanded that the PC elections be held with immediate effect. Therefore, after we assumed office and if we attempt to postpone elections, it will be an undemocratic move. Therefore, we should go for the PC elections. If the PCs are going to be abolished when the new Constitution is drafted then we agree to that. If the PCs are abolished and a new system is introduced, we agree to that as well. We have given the opportunity to the people to decide on it.

A Committee headed by Ramesh de Silva PC has been appointed to make recommendations regarding the matter. When the Committee gives its draft, its recommendations will be made available for public discussion. The Government intends to act based on the consent of the people.

 Q: How do you view the recent resolution passed against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC?

 A: How many innocent people have been killed by the LTTE in this country? How many of those who had links with the LTTE terrorists are protected and provided with asylum in countries like the US and Canada? When Bin Laden attacked the US, they could go to Pakistan and kill him. However, those who had resorted to brutal killings in Sri Lanka are living in those countries without any hindrance.

They don’t utter even a single word regarding that. Those days, there were LTTE child soldiers in the North and the East but these western countries didn’t raise any concern about it. It was after 2009, that the children in the North and the East were able to go to school and conduct their education. The economy of the people in the North and the East were strengthened after 2009 by bringing their products to the South. The Northern railway track was built after 2009.

These Western countries never speak about those positive developments taking place. Some politicians in these western countries cannot win elections without the votes of Tamils. Therefore, they attempt to satisfy the interests of Tamils in those countries.

There are so many countries which vehemently violates human rights including the US. We don’t know what actions are being taken by the UNHRC regarding such grave human rights violations. If the present Government also acts according to the whims and fancies of some western countries as it was done by former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera by co-sponsoring the resolutions such as 30/1, they may be very happy. Whatever the obstacles come, this Government will never betray the war heroes or act in a manner which would be detrimental to the country’s national identity.

 Q: The Opposition complains that the cost of living and the prices of food commodities have gone up. Is there any truth in this?

 A: We do agree that the prices of rice and vegetables have gone up. A Committee was also appointed under the patronage of the President and it held extensive discussions over the past few weeks.

At present, the prices of rice and vegetables have been drastically reduced. Therefore, the people have been given some sort of relief. We have to remember the fertiliser subsidy was curtailed by the former Yahapalana Government.

As a result, the agriculture sector faced a severe setback. That was how the former Government treated the agriculture sector.

This Government has just completed eight months in office. The President has implemented a program to uplift the living conditions of those who are engaged in the agriculture sector and also to develop the country’s agriculture. However, certain sections have launched mudslinging campaigns against that as well.

Chena cultivation is mainly done in areas close to jungles. However, another falsehood is propagated that the environment is being destroyed. What the President clearly stated was that permission be granted to those who have already conducted their cultivations in those respective areas and not to clear or destroy new forest areas.

However, the Opposition along with some NGOs hold protests and demonstrations to give a wrong impression to the country. If we don’t develop the country from agriculture, it will be ruined in the future.