By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Son of former Cabinet Minister General Anuruddha Ratwatte and new entrant to the legislature following the 2010 General Election, UPFA Parliamentarian Lohan Ratwatte seems determined to play his part in the government’s development agenda.
Lohan Ratwatte, who hails from a political family, entered active politics through his election to the Central Provincial Council in 2009. A product of S. Thomas’ Preparatory School, Colombo and Trinity College, Kandy, Ratwatte was awarded the prestigious Trinity Lion in 1987 for his achievements in rugby. However, Ratwatte was implicated in the shooting death of Papua New Guinean rugby player Joel Pera in May 1997, but was subsequently released as insufficient witnesses came forward to provide evidence. Again, in 2001, during local elections, he was implicated in the massacre of 10 Sri Lanka Muslim Congress supporters. The courts, for lack of evidence, exonerated him once again.
Sitting down with The Sunday Leader for a chat at the MP’s guest restaurant in parliament, Ratwatte discussed the challenges as a new parliamentarian and his plans to deliver, despite his checkered past.
Q: You have a checkered past and have been an accused in at least two murders. Now that you have entered parliament have you turned a new leaf?
A: Anybody can be accused, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have committed a crime. I have gone through the whole judicial process and cleared my name. On the invitation of the President, I contested the Central Provincial Council Election in 2009. I managed to come third in the province although I had not prepared to contest an election. My father has done a lot to the people in Kandy and has enjoyed a good voter base. I received 70,000 votes at the provincial council election.
Q: What are the challenges you face as a new parliamentarian?
A: The main challenge is that after winning elections, most come to Colombo and forget the areas and the people who elected them to power. There is now quite a lot happening with regard to development. I want to ensure that this development reaches the areas that I come from, the Kandy District.
Q: You have also been selected as a supervisory MP to coordinate the development work in the Kilinochchi District. How have you fared so far?
A: The President wanted a selected group of young MPs to move into the Kilinochchi district development programme and understand the issues faced by the people in order to report back to him. The President has given immediate solutions to the concerns highlighted by us. I’m in charge of the power sector in Kilinochchi. The area has been in the dark for the last 30 years because nothing has been done. The development that has reached the Jaffna peninsula through Uthuru Wasanthaya is now being diverted to Kilinochchi as well.
Rural electrification programmes have already been launched in 93 grama niladhari divisions in the district. Families have been resettled in 72 grama niladhari divisions. We have now finished 17 rural electrification projects and 12 more projects are still ongoing. We will provide electricity to the entire Kilinochchi District within two years.
Q: Do you believe you can deliver what is expected of you as a public representative?
A: Definitely. The bottom line is that people want their meals and a roof above their heads. The President and the government are aware of this and are doing everything possible to get the necessary infrastructure in place for the upliftment of the villagers’ lifestyle.
Q: General opinion is that most politicians today have entered the field for personal gain. Are you also in this for those reasons?
A: No. Although people think being a parliamentarian is easy, it is not so. You carry a lot of responsibilities of the voters who elected you. There is also the necessity to carry out development work and youth empowerment programmes. It is a very responsible job and I for one, cannot see any personal gain in it.
Q: People feared and hated the Ratwattes at one time. How do you contend with this now that you are an MP?
A: I won’t say the Ratwattes were feared or hated. The political leadership in the country was with the Ratwattes for a while. My father during his tenure as deputy defence minister started the war in 1995 and cleared Jaffna. If it was not so, the current administration would have found it difficult to win the war. Also, I have been elected to parliament from the Central Provincial Council. The votes that I received at the general election, which was 82,000, is an increase from the votes polled by me at the provincial council election. It is indication of the people’s regard towards the Ratwattes.
Q: As a new entrant to parliament how do you envisage Sri Lanka’s future?
A: I see a very bright future for Sri Lanka. The President has delivered on his promises. He has said that young MPs would be placed at the helm of development projects that are aimed at developing the country on the whole.