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All Lankans will benefit by Govt’s progressive policies - Deputy Minister Lionel Premasiri

Social Services and Social Welfare Deputy Minister Attorney-At-Law Lionel Premasiri came into active politics in 1991 from Galle Municipal Council Election and then became a member of the Southern Provincial Council in 1993. These are the views expressed by him during an interview with the Daily News.

Q: What do you predict will be the result of upcoming Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial Council Election?

A: The Government will definitely win Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial Council Election. The people have faith in President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Government. Now the people do not eye short term benefits such as cheep food. They are eying long term benefits such as winning the war, total eradication of terrorism and developing the country.

All of us know that there are difficulties and the cost of living is high at the moment but the people have no desire to change the Government because they have already understood that they need a country to live in first to do everything else.

Earlier when there was a bomb blast, people set fire to shops and acted violently. But now they have realized that the Government is about to win the war eradicating terrorism completely. They already have a very good example for that. It is the Eastern Province. I decided to support President Mahinda Rajapaksa because of his genuine love for the country and its people. He has a very accurate Foreign Policy.

The largest amount of unused natural resources is in the North and East. The President has taken steps to enable all Sri Lankans to use these resources for the development of the country. It is future Sri Lankan leaders who are going to reap the benefits of excellent steps of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. I will continue to support him.

The members of the UNP and the JVP are now joining the Government after realizing that there is no hope for them in those two political parties. The UNP does not have a strategy to reduce the cost of living or the price of oil.

The UNP definitely requires reforms and it should be done as soon as possible. Without reforms the UNP will not be able to go forward and win future elections. At the moment UNP is doing `daily politics’. The UNP will never have a patriotic vision.

What the JVP does is fishing in the troubled waters while trying to cover up their nakedness. Their real face was hidden behind a thick curtain after they came into the democracy but only now the people have got the opportunity to see it in public.

Q: What do you consider as the burning issues in social service and social welfare at the moment?

A: It is lack of funds all the time. Social Service and Social Welfare has not been considered as something important from the beginning. It has not been considered as one of the important subjects so far.

Therefore only limited funds have been allocated from the National Budgets for the Social Services and Social Welfare Ministry all the time. This field needs much more funds and then a significant service can be done for the public.

At the moment the ministry carries out several important and useful services to the public, especially for the elders, disabled persons and needy families but the people do not know about these services and the assistance they can obtain from this ministry. The problem is that the little money which has been allocated for this ministry cannot be spent on publicity and advertising.

“We are not in a position to spend money on advertising campaigns and publicity stunts”, he added.

Q: How should we make use of the funds coming through NGOs?

A: We have to make use of the foreign funds which come through NGOs but at the same time we should not allow them to engage in wrongdoings in Sri Lanka. A significant amount of foreign funds comes through NGOs and often NGOs are being found guilty of various types of offenses.

The conduct of some NGOs cannot be accepted on any ground. What we should do is streamline NGOs. We should introduce a new system which enables all the NGOs function in Sri Lanka to register at one place under one institution. At the moment registration of NGOs is something very disorganized and takes place at several places under different institutions.

Q: Please explain the present situation of the Social Security Board (SSB) which is responsible for the pension schemes of the private sector employees and self employed persons.

A: At the moment only 1.5 million employees who are in the state sector are eligible for a pension. But there are 6 million in the private sector and they do not have a pension. The number of self employed persons is two million. The number of migrant workers is 1.5 million. The number of Samurdhi recipients is 1.8 million.

All of those do not have pensions. So far only 350,000 persons have obtained the membership of the pension schemes implemented through the SSB. That means there are a large number of persons in the private sector, self employed and Samurdhi recipients without a future pension.

A system should be created which include all Samurdhi recipients in the pension scheme implemented by the SSB. Their compulsory savings can be used for this. Only then they can receive a pension until they die. This will be a huge relief for a population that is growing old rapidly. Within another 25 years 25 per cent of Sri Lankans will be elders.

The percentage of disabled persons is 10 per cent and the school children represent around 20 per cent of the country’s total population. This means Sri Lanka will have nearly 60 per cent of dependent population in future. A pension scheme will be a big relief for an elderly population at that time.

Q: Do you have any plan to develop the social services and social welfare in Sri Lanka as a whole?

A: Nothing can be done without changing attitudes. Negative social attitudes should be changed. Positive social attitudes should be promoted in society. A caring society should be established. A majority of people suffer from various mental problems and they need counselling. Professional counsellors are required to do counseling in an appropriate way. The ministry has around 100 well qualified and trained professional counselors.

Prisoners, their families, victims of the crimes, families of migrant workers, Vedda community, gypsies and other minorities are some of the social segments that require attention and care of the ministry. They have grave problems. They are subject to social stigma and crimes such as rape and exploitation.

The Social Services and Social Welfare Minister has to coordinate with line ministries such as Child Development and Women’s Empowerment Ministry, Healthcare and Nutrition Ministry and Education Ministry in order to provide a better service to those social segments and solve their problems.

Q: How did you get into social services and social welfare?

A: It was my father who gave me the very first lesson on performing social services and social welfare activities. He used to take all needy old persons on an annual pilgrimage. He took them to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) every year and he did it free of charge.

My parents were engaged in different social services and I learned from them. When I was in the Galle Urban Council I carried out various social services and social welfare activities in different fields. When I was just a member of the Parliament I used to carry out social services. I did not wait till I got power and portfolios.

 

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