UNP Colombo District Candidate M. S. H. Mohamed - Pic by Ruwan Walpola
Fight Cancer Team founder M.H.S. Mohamed, contesting the Parliamentary Election as a United National Party (UNP) candidate from the Colombo District, shares his views on inter-community relations, why he decided to try his hand at politics, and what he hopes to achieve if elected
by Nuwan Senarathna
Q: Why did you decide to contest the election?
A: First of all, I must say I am not a politician. I am a social worker. Politics is a muddy field but I believe we can bloom and rise about it like the lotus emerges out of the muddy pond. There are two main reasons why I chose to contest. The first one is by 2025 cancer will be the most deadly disease in the world.
I lost my son to cancer. We have only one national cancer hospital and I have spent more than three years at the Apeksha Hospital. I have seen lots of shortcomings in the system and how people have died because they do not have access to proper equipment and treatments.
The PET scan was one of my son’s requests. That is why I started that project and I was able to raise Rs. 250 million with the support of fellow Sri Lankans within a very short period of time. Now we can scan around 100 patients a month.
I had money to pay for PET scans. However, PET scans are a basic need for cancer treatments. That is why I formed a team to fight cancer. When I was taking this effort forward some people attempted to sabotage my efforts just because I am a Muslim.
I was also able to find out the reason why all the State-run hospitals have very little facilities. I went to both private and State hospitals. During that time I got to know various doctors and eventually they started to share the truth with me. Some even revealed the commissions they get from the pharmaceutical mafia.
I could not save my son’s life but I am determined to prevent that happening to someone else. Therefore I started to study this system and I believe it was my responsibility as a citizen to look for solutions.
We have signed Rs. 1 billion agreement with the Health Ministry. We were able to do that for innocent patients in this country. It was for hormone therapy and for that treatment we need a linear accelerator.
It costs more than Rs. 1 million to treat a patient at a private hospital. Doctors get massive commissions for these treatments.
Therefore some doctors attempt to sabotage these efforts in order to get their commission. Racism was used to stop our efforts. Despite all these challenges we worked hard to raise awareness and eventually the public gathered around us to fight cancer.
Prof. Senaka Bibile was one of the very first people who spoke about this pharmaceutical mafia and his death is still a mystery. And I have also felt that something might happen to me as well. With all these feelings I knew I had to have political power to fight against these forces and serve innocent Sri Lankans. I felt I can do something more and better with political power. But I must say I am not a politician I am a social worker who is trying his best and has committed his life to protect all cancer patients from this pharmaceutical mafia.
Q: What is your view of inter-community relations in Sri Lanka?
A: I have travelled to many countries but I have never seen a friendlier majority than the Sinhalese. They are always willing to work with minorities and trying to live harmoniously. I think there is a hand full of racists in the Sinhala community but unfortunately, social media has made a big difference and amplified their activities to give the impression that every Sinhala Buddhist is a racist, which is not true.
I must say there are very few racist Muslims, but unfortunately, social media shows that every Muslim is a racist, which is completely false.
This raises suspicions among communities and that is not healthy for the harmony of this country.
Today we do not have genuine reconciliation. Several decades ago we had Muslim leaders who were committed to promoting reconciliation, for example T.B. Jayah, Sir Razik Fareed were leaders who worked really hard. They fought to gain independence. But in the recent past, I did not seen such a Muslim leader.
There are several political parties that were formed based on race. That indirectly opens the door for racism in the country.
The racism came from outside. There was no racism in the country. Most of these Muslim leaders did not have the right mix of policies and as a result we did not have strong leadership. Unfortunately, the end result was that in a single day more than 230 people died and more than 500 were injured, which was a black day for Sri Lanka.
I have wealth in my life. I do not want the life of a parliamentarian because I had a more comfortable life than that. I had more luxury vehicles than that. Therefore I do not have any expectation of having a better life after getting elected to parliament. I think we need good leadership. We need to bring Muslims leaders’ forward that are capable of ending this racism and promoting reconciliation.
Q: Why did you choose the United National Party?
A: Lately, I felt I was stuck and I was wondering what I should do to make things right and achieve my goals. Then one day I was invited by the United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to contest at the General Election.
All I want is to serve those innocent people and become a voice for the voiceless. I knew I have to be elected to the Parliament to do that.
Therefore I accepted the invitation as I wanted to cross the Diyawanna Oya. This is my end goal and I did not consider whether I was using a small boat or a ship to get there. All I wanted was to achieve my goals and for that the UNP was willing to give me a chance so I accepted that. I had limited choices so I accepted the offer and I respect the UNP leadership for choosing me and also if you consider the UNP’s history all the strongest Muslim leaders were UNPers so I know I have to fill that gap and continue their work for the future.
However, my intention is to represent all people and not to just become a Muslim leader. I hope I will be able to do what I am aiming for, once I am elected.
I felt I can do something more and better with political power. But I must say I am not a politician I am a social worker who is trying his best and has committed his life to protect all cancer patients. Today we do not have genuine reconciliation. Several decades ago we had Muslim leaders who were committed to promoting reconciliation, for example T.B. Jayah, Sir Razik Fareed were leaders who worked really hard. They fought to gain Independence. But in the recent past, I did not see such a Muslim leader
My intention is to represent all people and not to just become a Muslims leader. I hope I will be able to do what I am aiming for once I am elected
I am not expecting to earn from politics and my salary will be donated to Apeksha Hospital. I am a man who is capable of achieving goals and I have done that in my life. We are trying to develop Apeksha Hospital to be the best cancer hospital in South Asia by 2025
Q: What are your key policies?
A: I believe national integration and reconciliation are vital factors for any country. It is like for a family to be peaceful and happy, siblings should live peacefully and there should not be any fights between them. We should look at every Sri Lankan as our brother or sister. We have suffered from war for more than 30 years and we have seen what that has done to our country.
We cannot predict what will happen in the future. Islamic extremists will not demand an Eelam State. The threat we face now is different from what we have seen in the past. When it comes to this matter (terrorism) the danger is totally different. This could be more complex and it could drag on for many years.
We cannot think that just because Zahran is dead the threat was also eliminated with him. The extremism still exists. We do not have leaders who speak against this extremism and prevent any attempts for such extremism to enter our country.
I have won an award from the United Nation for being a national peace builder. I was the only person in Asia to win that while being a member of a minority community. This shows that I am qualified to become the bridge between the different Sri Lankan communities.
Q: If elected, what do you expect to achieve?
A: Only 11 people died from COVID-19 but during the past months, more than 7000 people died from cancer. Unfortunately, nobody talked about that. At the end of the day, if people die it does not matter what the cause is. According to official records, 38 people die daily from cancer. So I think we have to talk about this issue more than ever. Unfortunately only I speak about it.
I think getting the chance to be an MP will enable me to do things more conveniently and that will help me to achieve my goal to fight cancer. My voice will be echoed in the House and my speeches will be included in the Hansard. I can talk to the hearts of the people and I am confident that they will listen to me.
I am not expecting to earn from politics and my salary will be donated to Apeksha Hospital. I am a man who is capable of achieving goals and I have done that in my life. We are trying to develop Apeksha Hospital to be the best cancer hospital in South Asia by 2025. I also want to develop Apeksha Hospital to be the best hospital in Asia.
Q: How do you hope to contribute to changing Sri Lanka’s political culture?
A: I hope once I am elected I will be able to find people in the House that want to change this system and address these issues. Not all are bad people. There are a few that want to make a difference but they are silent because there is no genuine effort from anyone else and someone has to give this effort leadership.
Therefore I think I will be able to talk to them and share my views with them to change this system. I was able to bring more than 30,000 Sri Lankans to support my efforts. I was able to talk to their hearts. We should talk to the hearts of people and with that we will be able to end racism in this country and live harmoniously. Therefore, I think I will be able to find more like-minded MPs.
I hope I will be able to get the fullest support of the newcomers as they are fresh. I think it will be a bit difficult to change the minds of those who have already been elected before but I will keep trying. My voice will be heard and it will be amplified. When we are looking from the outside we cannot see the difference.
But once I am elected I will be able to get to know them in person and I am sure there are many MPs who will help me to achieve my goals. I have full confidence in Sinhala Buddhist Parliamentarians and others that they will help me to do this and hopefully the entire country will join with me to fight cancer.