Mayor Muzza speaks out

Friday, 28 February 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

“I am a UNPer, I will stand with the UNP” Mayor of Colombo A.J.M. Muzammil, who locked horns with United National Party following his wife’s nominations being denied, said he will not get actively involved in helping the party win at the upcoming Provincial Council elections. “I was not wanted. If I was not wanted, why should I go and get involved?” queries Muzammil. “I am the Mayor of Colombo. They never consulted me for the nomination process. I have told the Leader that I will not associate myself not because my wife was not given nominations but because I was not consulted as the Mayor. This is an insult to my office. Therefore I am remaining calm,” he added. Asked about his close links with the Government and especially the Defence Secretary, the Mayor asserted: “If I had gone in for a confrontation with the Government, they could have paralysed the council, they could have disabled the council and got it dissolved. What happened to the UNP when we formed a Government in 2002? We failed to work in cohabitation with Chandrika Bandaranaike. Today Ranil Wickremesinghe would have been the President of this country if that Government completed its full term. People like Ravi Karunanayake who are politically ignorant went and disturbed the Government. He led it without knowing the implications that were going to come. That cost Ranil Wickremesinghe’s presidency and today the UNP is suffering because of that. These guys are still trying to do the same thing.” Following are excerpts from the interview: Q: As the Mayor of Colombo are you satisfied with your accomplishments? A: I am the happiest Mayor in the recent past in the history of Colombo City. Q: How would you describe the support you get from the Government? A: Although I am the United National Party elected Mayor; although they have the power at provincial level, Parliamentary level and Executive level, the Government did not try to dismantle the Colombo Municipality. The Government has extended the Municipal Council the required support for the development of the city. They have not stopped any development programs that were envisaged towards making Colombo City a comfortable city for everyone. In short, the Government has extended its full support to the Municipal Council. The Ministry of Local Government and especially the Defence and Urban Development Ministry have extended their fullest support and cooperation to the council irrespective of all types of administrative matters. Q: There are allegations that more than the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), it is the Urban Development Authority (UDA) that is carrying out most revamping projects in Colombo City. Your comments? A: I don’t know whether these are allegations. Why should there be allegations? I am the Mayor of Colombo. It is a UNP council. But the work is being done. You need both hands to clap. The Government and the Municipal Council are like the two wheels of a cart. One wheel cannot move without the other wheel. There may be all sorts of rumours; but the fact is the city is developing. Take the World Bank project which is supported by the Defence and Urban Development Ministry; the Victoria Park, Municipal Council Square, development of the Galle Road and Slave Island areas – all are designed by municipal engineers and municipal consultants. The World Bank has given the required funding. The Local Government Minister has also got a soft long term loan of US$ 260 million to develop all the pumping stations and provide us with necessary heavy equipment like water browsers. Under this project the underground sewerage systems and sewer lines will be purified. We will be developing the roads from Wellawatte up to the Galle Face centre road. Modernised walkways will be coming up very soon. These are massive projects. The Municipal Council is also contributing to the counterpart required funding. In the first phase we have invested around Rs. 400 million. When it came to expediting the completion of beautification of city prior to CHOGM, the Municipality has spent Rs. 1 billion. Therefore, like I said before, the work is being done and it does not matter whether it is the Municipal Council or the Government which is doing it. Q: Are you denying there is interference by the UDA? A: There is no interference. We have considered them all as partners in development. Look at the development of the Viharamahadevi Park. Thousands of people gather there every evening. It is a World Bank-funded project maintained by the Municipality. It is a service we are providing for the people. Q: You seem to be very fond of the Defence Secretary. What type of relationship do you have with Gotabaya Rajapaksa? A: The problem is this, when things are happening, when things are developing, a few people try to give various interpretations to say that I am working according to the whims and fancies of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There is nothing like that. You must understand one thing. Look at what he has done for the development of the city. If it wasn’t for him the Municipal Council would never have done it. Let me give you one example. The ownership of the Race Course was handed over to the Municipal Council 10 years ago. What did the council do? The Municipal Council couldn’t even build a toilet. You cannot allow these things to idle. The Defence Secretary took over and now the Defence Ministry manages the Race Course; it has become a landmark in the City of Colombo. But it is the council that collects the rates. Take the Dutch Hospital; it is a tourist attraction in the city. The Independence Square; go and see the number of people who enjoy these places. Who has done all these? It is the Defence Secretary who is carrying out these projects. When you want to criticise someone, you have to be constructive, it is only then that people will believe you. When someone is doing a good job of work, why can’t you appreciate it? The development is taking place and we have to appreciate that. Q: You said work that could have never initiated by the CMC is now being done by the UDA under the personal attention of the Defence Secretary. Does this mean he has more authority than the Mayor of Colombo when carrying out city development work? A: No. These properties did not belong to us. The Municipality does not have the kind of funds to carry out such massive development projects. I don’t have that kind of money. How can I spend over Rs. 1.5 billion to develop the entire Race Course? The Race Course, Dutch Hospital and the old Attorney General’s office, none of these properties were under the Municipal Council. Within the scope of our budget, these expenses cannot be made. We are already finding it difficult to maintain the existing libraries and community centres in the city. Q: Are you saying the UDA has more money to spend on developing Colombo than the CMC? A: It is the work done by the Defence Ministry. In most places they use the Army’s technicians and construction unit. Day and night they work. No one can harp on about it. What is their problem? Q: Will you cross over to the Government? A: Absolutely not. All this talk is because there are some people who are jealous of the development work. There is no treatment for that. They can say anything. If there is a possibility of me crossing over, do you think I would have ever tried to put forward my wife to contest from the UNP list? I have not mixed up my politics with this. I as a Mayor function for the development of the city. When the UNP has any protest against the Government, I have been in the front. Look at the way I have conducted my affairs in the Council. I passed three budgets. During the first two budgets the Opposition abstained from voting. In the third budget the entire UPFA team voted with me. That is the cohabitation that I am having. If I had gone in for a confrontation with the Government, under the guise of even development in the city, they could have paralysed the council, they could have disabled the council and got it dissolved. I have this experience. What happened to the UNP when we formed a Government in 2002? We failed to work in cohabitation with Chandrika Bandaranaike. She gave away even the Defence Ministry to us. By virtue of the Constitution the Defence Ministry is with the president. See the extent to which she extended a hand for the legislative government; when Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister, she gave the Defence Ministry to them. What did that UNP Government do? They went in for a confrontation with the President. People like Ravi Karunanayake especially tried to embarrass her. There should be some decency. Just because you have some legislative Parliament, you cannot put a finger into a lady’s handbag and say she has a tape recorder and weapons. You don’t do that to a woman. This is not our culture. We should have known the power she had in her hands. Ultimately what happened? She dissolved Parliament. This executive presidency was created by the UNP. The people should understand the gravity of what they were doing. I would say, as Prime Minister, even Ranil Wickremesinghe made a mistake. He should have managed to control his team. As the Mayor I control my team. Today we are surviving. If I had gone in for a confrontation, today I won’t have a council. Today Ranil Wickremesinghe would have been the President of this country if that Government completed its full term. People like Ravi Karunanayake who are politically ignorant went and disturbed the Government. He led it without knowing the implications that was going to come. That cost Ranil Wickremesinghe’s presidency and today the UNP is suffering because of that. These guys are still trying to do the same thing. Q: Do you have the support and backing of the UNP? A: Of course I have no problem with my councillors. I have no problem with my Leader. He has burnt his fingers once. He has the experience and he understands everything. Q: Why do you want to bring your wife into active politics? What qualifications does she have to obtain nominations to contest the upcoming Provincial Council elections? A: My wife was in the forefront. For the last four years she was activating the women’s front in the UNP. On 1 February, she was able to mobilise more than 6,000 to the Viharamahadevi indoor stadium just to show the strength. Even Colombo Central organisers were fearful. They put their foot down and told the UNP leadership that Mrs. Muzammil should not be allowed to contest. On 30 February morning you will know what I am trying to say. What else is there to say about the team they have given nominations? I will give you one example. Take Sarath Manamendra. He contested the Municipal Council and came last. He was the 56th member obtaining 190 votes. He is in the UNP list. I told the Working Committee that the UNP nomination list must be respected. They have left out people who are more popular in their electorates. That is because of the organisers. The organisers are not contesting. Dehiwala organiser Sunethra Ranasinghe is not contesting. But she comes and dictates. She decided whom she wants in the list and whom she does not want in the list. How can a party function like that? Q: Are you saying you are not supporting the party at the upcoming Provincial Council elections? A: It is not about supporting. I will not get actively involved. I was not wanted. If I was not wanted, why should I go and get involved? I am the Mayor of Colombo. They never consulted me for the nomination process. I am responsible for five electorates with a multi-member constituency. They selected the team and then expect me to go and back them. They want me to go and cheer. I have told the Leader that I will not associate myself not because my wife was not given nominations, but because I was not consulted as the Mayor. This is an insult to my office. Therefore I am remaining calm. They have fielded the team they thought was the best; I don’t want to spoil that. Q: You are in this position because of the UNP. Is it fair to abandon the party due to a personal matter? A: There are two ways of looking at this. I strongly believe that I became the Mayor because I contested from the UNP. That is a decision entirely made by the Party Leader. The party believed that it was important to win the election and the UNP must have a winner. I delivered it against massive Government opposition. The party put forwarded a candidate in the Kandy Municipality. They gave it to former Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeratne. It was a UNP council, but they lost. I am not going to abandon the party. I am a UNPer. I will stand with the UNP. I will stand with my Leader. But I don’t believe other things are working well with us. I categorically told the senior members of the Leadership Council and the Leader that this is an important election for the UNP. I said we must not repeat the mistake we made in Central Province and North Central Province. I urged that we must have a nomination criterion. I said that we must ensure that all electoral organisers contest. We must force non-Parliamentarian electoral organisers to contest. The Leadership Council made a mistake of not coming out with proper nomination criteria. They must know how to play their game. I told Ranil Wickremesinghe, Kabir Hashim and other advisors to the Leadership Council to come out with a proper criteria and a better framework. The party should not allow the contestants to dominate. The contestants cannot come and dictate terms to the Nomination Board about the selection process. We can’t win elections like that. I am very disappointed with the Leadership Council for not consulting me before the nominations. I knew the ground situation more than anybody else. Q: How can you claim to be a strong UNPer when you have previously left the party on several occasions? A: Whose says these things? I have never left the party. I was instrumental in winning the executive presidency for President Ranasinghe Premadasa by getting the support of the late A.H.M. Ashraff. The results of the election were turned the other way the moment the Muslim Congress leader supported the UNP, and I got it done. I was able to form a UNP Government. When Gamini Dissanayake left the UNP and formed another party, I advised him to get back to the UNP. Then I was nobody in the party. My name was removed from the National Executive Committee at one time. At that time the late Ashraff invited me. He said he would never invite me to join his party from the UNP but since I was nobody in the party, he wanted me to work with him. At that time I left the party. I contested for Colombo from the National Unity Alliance (NUA) formed by Ashraff. He promised me to take me to Parliament from the National List. He said he wanted people like me in Parliament. Unfortunately he died during the election and Rauff Hakeem did not fulfil that obligation after he took over the leadership. But even though I was outside the UNP, I never criticised the UNP or the UNP leadership anywhere in public. Then came Parliamentary elections. Because we were in the Muslim Congress, we formed a UNP Government. I tried to get nomination but it was turned down. But I worked for Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe during the entire election campaign. After that at the Provincial Council elections, I asked for nominations but they refused. I told them that I was going to contest independently. I contested under the NUA symbol and won. I got elected to the Council. At that time the Council was UPFA and Reginald Cooray was the Chief Minister. He invited me to join them. But I never joined them. I remained in the Opposition and supported the UNP. My track record is very clear. I am not a man who has come from the SLFP. Of the eight, five in the Leadership Council are from the SLFP. My name cannot be tarnished. I have never contributed anywhere to the defeat of the UNP. But all those people who are there now were in the forefront to defeat the UNP. They claim they are more UNP than I am. I appreciate them. The more the merrier; let them come. I never crossed over like the present Leadership Council Chairman. Karu Jayasuriya crossed over with 17 people and strengthened Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government. He came back and we appreciated his coming back. We gave him the Deputy Leadership. But of course we must understand that the greater part of the damage was done to the party.

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