By Faraz Shauketaly
The leading challenger to the UNP leadership, Hambantota MP Sajith Premadasa shared his thoughts on transparency and political financing. Calling for a need to introduce political campaign financing reform, he admitted to a need but admitted to not having a blueprint per se. Excerpts of his conversation with The Sunday Leader:
How do you fund your political activities?
I make requests from various well-wishers and donors alike. They support me in my various development efforts and my political programmes.
Do you also have a personal income stream?
Yes what I get from my father’s estate and the money that is accrued from those activities, yes.
How transparent are your finances? Do you keep personal funds and political funding separate?
Yes, of course and I have done that all throughout my life. When I make requests for funding they do so voluntarily and I believe that it will serve its purpose.
Now that you have openly stated your intention of vying for the leadership of the UNP and in the past your desire to lead this country, will you bring the same level of transparency you personally practice, to your party initially?
Of course I will. I must be perfectly honest and say this, that there will be donors who do not wish to be identified precisely because they may become victimised and there may be political recriminations taking place. In fact what we need is a systemic transformation when it comes to financing political parties. In that arena we must have a path breaking, novel, revolutionary approach which provides justice both to the donors and the people of Sri Lanka. I confess that I have no blueprint right now that ought to be implemented but I think that Campaign Finance Reform (CFR) is something that is of great importance to our country.
Do you not think that politicians from all levels, right up to the presidency, find themselves beholden to their financial backers under the present system of political funding?
I think in most occasions it is a fact of life. Embarking upon political activities and being successful at it entails having a very, very successful fund raising machinery if one is to compete and prevail. There are some occasions when donors and supporters expect something in return. There are certain IOUs involved; these are facts of life.
And how do you fulfill those IOUs – not you personally, but politicians?
I have never had occasion to fulfill as such, by and large when you have a situation with various donors supporting you they do not overtly state that they expect something in return but there are some cases when implicit intentions are there. This is where the conflict lies. How does a politician operate? If the politician has an independent stream of resources when their campaigns are financed in a transparent and public manner, something like in the USA – even in the USA there are various deficiencies and shortcomings — by and large if there is a system where there is some sort of equity created in financing political parties, then it would bode well.
The present system perpetuates influence peddling and so on?
Yes, certainly that is a fact of life even though some people don’t want to talk about it openly. As a politician myself I have been giving it serious thought. It is a very important issue.
Will addressing this be a cornerstone of your leadership of the UNP?
Certainly an important issue that needs prioritising and needs addressing in a most comprehensive manner.
With Sri Lanka listed at No. 91 on the World Corruption Index what needs to be done?
Certainly there has to be a comprehensive and overarching regime that ensures that one minimises corruption with total eradication as the ultimate aim. As a political party that is responsible for good governance both in terms of ensuring a higher standard of living for the people and adhering to a higher standard of transparent and ethical and moral government, it is quite important that we have a good, constructive national debate and debate amongst political parties that addresses this menace of corruption.