State Minister M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, in an interview with the Daily Mirror, spoke about the current political situation in the country and also aired his views about the happenings in the east. He said that cooperation is absent among the ministers and the situation can’t continue as it is. Following are excerpts of the interview done with Hisbullah.
-It is unfair to blame Muslim Ministers for non-development of Tamil areas
-We even go behind officials to get our work done
-Previous Govt. did much work for us
-Muslim people were disappointed with the Rajapaksa rule because of BBS activities
-BBS is at large even during this Govt.
-SLFP and UNP Ministers do not cooperate with each other in the Unity Govt
-I’m a state minister, but I was never invited even for a meeting by my Cabinet Minister
-If this situation persists, we can’t continue to be in the Govt.
-Muslims aren’t that concerned about the cost of living
Q As a Muslim politician from the east, how do you view the preferences of the Government?
It is ok. The last Government helped with our activities. It did rehabilitation work. We have no problem with the present Government. We are continuing with our work. As far as the Batticaloa District is concerned, there is no difference. We have funding arrangements made with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the European Union. The Government has decided to carpet 1000 kilometres of road in the Batticaloa District. Tenders have been called for it. We will be able to complete road building in the district within a couple of years
Q As far as the Muslims are concerned, they voted overwhelmingly for this Government. How do they view the performance of the Government?
More than 95 percent of Muslims voted for President Maithripala Sirisena. The situation is not bad for the Government even now. There is a slight change among the Muslims, though. Even in the Muslim areas, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna is contesting.
Q There is an allegation that money is disproportionately allocated for the development in Muslim areas overlooking Tamil areas. How do you view it as a leading politician from the area?
It all depends on the politician concerned. We have to prepare proposals and meet with the ministers to get them implemented on the ground. I do it and go behind ministers, officials and funding agencies such as the World Bank. We push for the implementation of projects in our areas. The politicians hailing from Tamil areas don’t do anything. They just talk in Parliament. One can’t get anything done merely by talking in Parliament. When it comes to the elections, Tamils never vote for me nor any other Muslim politician. They vote for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) only. After the elections, it is our duty to work in our area.
We do some work in Tamil areas, but that’s not much. For example, I allocated Rs.25 million for school development in the Tamil areas. I allocated Rs.75 million for the Muslim areas. Even though I gave Rs.25 million, I did not get even a single vote from them. I built two schools in the Vavunathivu Division of Battocaloa by allocating Rs 25 million apportioned to me. Yet, I did not get even a single vote. I received only the Muslim votes. There were a few Tamil votes. Still, we do some help for them. Yet, Tamil politicians do not give even a single cent for us. There are four Tamil MPs here. They do not go behind the Ministers. They only talk in Parliament.
Though I am a Minister, I go and meet Ministry Secretaries, Additional Secretaries, Directors, and Accountants etc. But, the Tamil MPs do not do it. Then, how can they develop their areas? They have to work hard. That is why Muslim areas are developing.
When it comes to bureaucrats at the District Secretariat, they are overwhelmingly Tamils. They give priority to Tamils areas in the allocation of money released by the Government. There is a lot of funding channelled through the District Secretariat. We wanted to appoint a Muslim as an additional District Secretariat. The Government refused this. It appointed a Tamil to the additional post. We (all the Muslim MPs) made a request for it to be given to a Muslim. The TNA objected. We appointed one in the past. But, the LTTE killed him. Later, nobody came forward. All the key officials- accountants, project directors, project coordinators – are Tamils.
The politicians hailing from Tamil areas don’t do anything. They just talk in Parliament. One can’t get anything done merely by talking in Parliament. When it comes to the elections, Tamils never vote for me nor any other Muslim politician
Q With such vast division between the two communities, how can you achieve reconciliation?
It is continuing. There has to be common allocation. Percentage wise, it should be similar. Officials always object even to the resettlement of the Sinhalese. Some kind of strict procedure has to be followed.
Q In terms of national politics, how do Muslims view the situation?
Muslims voted overwhelmingly for President Maithripala Sirisena for some reasons. Some Muslims aren’t happy today because they feel that what happened during the time of Mr. Rajapaksa is happening even now. Mr. Rajapaksa’s party has fielded strong Muslim candidates throughout the country. It means there is some kind of change in the thinking pattern of Muslims. There’s a slight tilt towards Mr. Rajapaksa’s party.
Muslims aren’t that concerned about the cost of living. During our political meetings, we hardly talk about it. We are concerned about matters pertaining to the community. The former Government failed to take action against Ven. Gnanasara Thera of Bodu Bala Sena. He is at large even under the present Government. No one was arrested. At that time, there were incidents in Aluthgama and Beruwala. However, there were even incidents in Gintota after this Government assumed power. During the rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Muslims had no issue other than problems created by Bodu Bala Sena.
The previous rulers didn’t take any steps to control its (Bodu Bala Sena) activities. People now feel the situation hasn’t changed even under the rule of President Sirisena. Muslims aren’t politically concerned about issues such as the cost of living and similar other things. I have been doing politics since 1989. I have never spoken about the cost of living and other related matters ever since. We are only concerned about our security, safety and law and order.
Q When the cost of living is high, it affects your businesses. Muslims belong to a business community. How do you say it is not a matter of concern?
It affects their business trades. But, it is not the main issue. When the elections come, it is not the main issue.
Some Muslims aren’t happy today because they feel that what happened during the time of Mr. Rajapaksa is happening even now. Mr. Rajapaksa’s party has fielded strong Muslim candidates throughout the country.
Q How do you see the concept of the Unity Government?
It is ok. But, it needs more understanding. There are ministers representing the United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). They aren’t cooperating with each other. If we approach a UNP Minister, he will not help because we are from the other side. It happens the other way round too. There are state ministers appointed from either party. Their Cabinet Ministers don’t give them any responsibility. I am a State Minister. My Cabinet Minister D.M. Swaminathan is from the UNP. He doesn’t give one cent to me.
The Ministers of one party discriminates against the state ministers of the other party. There is a rift between the UNP and the SLFP. There are many issues in this Government.
There should be a clear demarcation of power among the Ministers, State Ministers and others. My minister does not give any work to me. He did not call me even for a single meeting during the past three years. I am fed-up. All the state ministers are fed up.
Two state ministers even crossed over to the other side. If the situation continues like this, we can’t work together.