Born to parents who came from Ganemulla in Siyane Koralayala to Luxauyana farming community in Polonnaruwa, Maithripala Sirisena grew to be a clever and smart person with every passing day in his life. The destiny made him to be born few hours after the official inception of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – on the 5th of September, 1951. Maithripala Sirisena who was elected as the President of Sri Lanka on January 8 – the birthday of the founder leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, is the first president who hails from ancient Anuradhapura Kingdom after the era of Sri Lankan kings.
His father was an army official and his mother was a teacher. Maithri’s father came to Polonnaruwa with his family members since he was given land under the scheme of granting farming land to retired army officials by the then D. S. Senanayake government.
A bright student of Polonnaruwa Thopa Vidyalaya, Maithri later attended Polonnaruwa Royal College. During this time he paid great attention to political and social development in the country and this inherited curiosity developed due to his close relationship with the leader of Sri Lanka Communist Party (Chinese faction) Sanmugadasan. The prefect of the school Maithri who has inherited socialistic perspective and natural leadership qualities joined the youth movement of the Sri Lankan Freedom party when he was just 17 years of age on the invitation of SLFP MP Leelarathna Wijesinghe.
During the 1971 youth insurrection, he was arrested and jailed in Batticaloa Prison since he has shown great leadership qualities in democratic and social activities during his school days in this dark era of the nation. He entered active politics via the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Youth Wing led by Anura Bandaranaike. He was employed at several state and semi-state institutions in his youth and later became a fulltime SLFP activist in 1978.
In 1981, Anura Bandaranaike held chairmanship of the SLFP Youth Wing and Basil Rajapaksa was its secretary while Maithirpala was the treasurer. During the presidential election in 1982, Basil Rajapaksa joined the United National Party. Due to this reason, Maithripala shouldered the responsibilities of secretary loosing his opportunity to be the SLFP organiser in the Polonnaruwa District.
Elected to Parliament
He was elected to the parliament in 1989 from Polonnaruwa District and became the Deputy Minister Of Irrigation of the coalition government in 1994. With the reshuffle of the first cabinet of 1997 government, he was appointed the Mahaweli Development Minister.
From then onward Maithripala shouldered many responsibilities in his political life. He became the SLFP Deputy Secretary in 1997 and in 2001 he was appointed the general secretary of the party. While being the general secretary of the party for 14 years, he held several cabinet portfolios providing revolutionary and innovative leaderships for them.
This people’s leader who truly recognised the heartbeat of the common man introduced to the motherland many innovative agricultural projects by combining conventional and modern knowledge when he was the Mahaweli Development Minister. He initiated many concessionary grants to improve the standard of the farming community. Maithri also initiated important irrigation projects such as Moragahakanda, Kalu and Walawe Rivers.
The manifesto proposal of granting 50kg fertiliser bag for Rs. 350 became a reality due to the consistent effort taken by Maithri in this regard.
He was vehemently against the act brought to the parliament by D. M. Jayarathne –the then agriculture minister- to close the Paddy Marketing Board which was defunct at that time. He converted Paddy Marketing Board into a government institution when he became the Agriculture Minister of the 2005 government. Even now the granteed price for paddy is given via the resurrected Paddy Marketing Board by Maithripala Sirisena.
Api wavamu, rata nagamu
Maithripala Sirisena was the father of the concept of Api Wawamu, Rata Nagamu (let’s grow and improve the country) which was initiated to improve local food production on national level. It became a true scheme to make the farmer the king. Under this scheme Vap Maguls (Festival of Tilling) were conducted every year in each divisional secretariat and more than 10 lakhs of abandoned paddy fields were re-cultivated under the programme. Even some coalition partners of the government envied this programme since it became a huge success at that time.
His service for the country when he was the health minister during 2010 to 2014 is unmatched. He carried out a lone struggle to redress the nation from Cigarettes and Alcohol. World Health Organisation and Howard University appreciated his grand service in this regard in 2013.
The Cigarette and Alcohol act brought to the parliament by Maithripala Sirisena made waves in the country in the recent past. The act has recommended tocover 80 percent of a packet of cigarettes with pictorials that depict the danger of smoking. However, it is an open secret now that it was reduced to 60 percent due to the pressure of the invisible hands in the government itself.
Even though Maithripala Sirisena ardently needed to regulate Senka Bibile Drug Policy, pharmaceutical companies and government mafia in this field prevent it from becoming a reality. It was bad luck for the nation that the legal drafts of the act were lost in the Sri Lankan Department of Legal Draftsman.
In an interview with The Sunday Leader Mr. Sirisena noted that he stood committed to the implementation of the drug policy.
‘I would have easily taken money from mega drug companies and prevented the national drug policy from getting cabinet approval. With all the death threats I had from these drug companies, I still went ahead to introduce this policy in the country. But I was prevented to implement the drug policy in the country. I went to courts for two and a half years to obtain the order to put a picture in the cigarette packet to show the consequences of smoking. This too was prevented,’ he added.
He assured that ‘will amend the Bribery Act and will give all powers to the Bribery Commission to take action against the corrupted, in response to the corruption charges leveled against politicians.
‘I am a straight forward politician who has never been involved in any corruption or misuse of power. I have held many important ministries and have showed how to walk out from each ministry with clean hands. That was why the common opposition chose me as the Presidential candidate. If I am a corrupt politician no one in the common opposition will allow me to contest as the common opposition candidate.
‘I am going to abolish the executive powers of the president. I will ensure that law and order will prevail in the country as independent commissions will be appointed and when there are no executive powers with the President how can he interfere with the judiciary and police?,’ he said.
Addressing issues of the economy, Mr. Sirisena stressed that he will ‘strengthen the national economy by opening local industries and mega projects. Over the past ten years not a single local industry or mega projects that benefits the national economy was started. Once these projects are introduced, jobs will be generated and people will have money and have the spending capacity.
‘As stated in my election manifesto, people will get the benefit of a corruption free government within 100 days. That does not mean that it will take 100 days for the people to get the benefit of eradication corruption but will do it sooner than later as I want to see the people who have suffered economically all these years to know how much benefits they will get when the government is not corrupted. I want to see smiles on the face of each citizen of this country. I will not allow them to suffer anymore.’
He assured that prices of ten essential commodities including, sugar, dhal, milk powder etc. will be brought down immediately.
‘I will also bring down the prices of diesel, petrol and kerosene. By increasing taxes on fuel, the present government collected Rs.40,000 million annually. What has happened to this money? Even the poor motorcyclist has to pay this exorbitant tax. How unfair it is. By reducing the prices of fuel, prices of essential commodities will further come down sharply, he added.