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Younger MPs will get more responsibility in an SLPP government – Tharaka Balasuriya

ECONOMYNEXT – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will encourage younger, first-time Members of Parliament to take more responsibility, says the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna candidate for Kegalle District Tharaka Balasuriya.

He told EconomyNext in an interview that usually first time MPs like himself would never be given a Ministerial post in their first term, but he and several others were given State Minister positions in the caretaker government.

“Usually that kind of position would go to a second-term MP,” he told EconomyNext in an interview. “It’s good to get positions of responsibility when you have the energy and the enthusiasm,” he said.

“Sometimes when you are older, you may have lost the energy and the enthusiasm to make changes,” he said.

Balasuriya was also of the view that it has been a mistake for the government to declare victory over the COVID pandemic.

“We know from history that these pandemics come in waves,,” he said.

However he is optimistic that the world would find a cure and a vaccine as “an unprecedented amount of time and resources are being poured into the effort.”

Balasuriya says in reaching out to younger voters, particularly the first time voters, you need to understand them. “They are not in pursuit of vehicles or property, they are more interested in experiences.”

The former MP, whose grandfather, father and mother were in politics, believes that the import restrictions that are in place are important for the country to recover from the current economic crisis.

“It may be a blessing in disguise because it will activate the local economy, encouraging people to produce certain goods,” he says.

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He is quick to say that this does not mean going back to the economic planning of the period 1970 to 1977 when there were severe restrictions and widespread shortages.

“There are things we need to import like heavy machinery. But on the other hand, we saw last month for the first time in many years our exports have surpassed out imports,” he pointed out.

“It will also be hard for the government to raise cash from foreign sources, so it will be a very challenging time for whichever party comes to power,” he said.

The 47-year old who was educated in the United States and Europe is keen to develop Kegalle. He is concerned that after the Central Highway becomes operational his constituency will become “more isolated. We have addressed this issue with the President,” he said

Balasuriya says the poverty levels in Kegalle are high because it is mainly an agri-based economy.  “When the last government introduced re-exports many people here lost their livelihood,” he said.

He also said that Kegalle has a high level of education, one of the highest in the country, and because of that there is a lot of migration to the Western Province which has the jobs.

Balasuriya also sees an opportunity for developing tourism in the district. The Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawela attracts many visitors and Kitulgala is also a popular place for white water rafting and cycle tours.

“If we can develop these areas so that we get overnight tourists, then there will be dollar revenue for Kegalle,” he says.

Balasuriya is candid about the “Sinhala Buddhist identity” of his party. He says he believes “every country must have an identity.”

He gave the example of Singapore, which he said has built a nation based on shared values and Confucianism. “It is all right to have an identity but it should not be used to discriminate against any community or push them down.”

He said one community that needs to be helped urgently is the Estate Tamil population. “There are still places where two or three families are living together in a ten-by-ten room. This is extreme poverty and it cannot be tolerated in this age,” he said.

He said that the Yahapalana government talked at length about reconciliation, but he asked whether at the end of the five years whether the minorities had a better life. “Everybody was made to think that people will be holding hands and singing ‘Kumbiah,’ but that did not happen.”

Balasuriya says that the inalienable rights of all communities need to be safeguarded. “That is also something that goes beyond the power of government. We will oppose any attempt to take away the rights of any people.” (Colombo, July 28, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana