Muza upbeat on Colombo

Friday, 30 September 2011 01:43 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

United National Party mayoral candidate A.J.M. Muzammil speaks to the Daily FT, predicting his victory at the forthcoming elections. Pointing out that if elected his opponent Milinda Moragoda will have no power to run the council, Muzammil says Moragoda is only the horse and the jockey is Gotabaya Rajapaksa. “The horse has no choice; he has to go where the jockey asks him to go,” he adds.

He further notes that State machinery and power are being misused by Moragoda to carry out his campaign. Although there is no level playing field, Muzammil is confident that people will vote for him to make Colombo a better city.

Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Why should people vote for the UNP at the upcoming election?

A: I work at the grassroots level. There is more public anger towards the Government than before. Therefore, voting for UNP is their only option to get rid of this corrupt Government.

Even though the Government has been recording resounding victories all over the country, the Colombo base has been intact. UNP has won the Colombo municipality limit during all previous occasions. Maintaining the Colombo base is not an issue for the UNP. Our effort is to get a resounding victory in this election.

Q: Do you agree that although the UNP was in power you failed to address any of the pressing issues that affect the citizens in Colombo?

A: I totally disagree with that. May be one part of that question is true. During the last four years nothing could be done simply because the administration was in the hands of the Government. The municipality was managed by the Government by taking over the ‘spectacle group’ backed by UNP team. Later the Government appointed a special commissioner. This has been even endorsed by my rival candidate Milinda Moragoda. Therefore, don’t put the blame on the UNP.

Q: Before that, what have you done for the betterment of citizens in Colombo?

A: During the tenure of the UNP administration, we have never forcefully evacuated any citizen from Colombo. The Colombo Municipal Council has built apartments and even today people talk about those projects with much gratitude.

Late President Ranasinghe Premadasa built an international cricket stadium in the slums of Maligawatte. Before building this stadium he made sure that all of the people were moved to new apartments. That is how we have demonstrated in the past and surely we will continue such good projects in the future as well.

Meanwhile, we shouldn’t forget that it is the UNP that developed the majority of the sports complexes in the city of Colombo. It is the UNP that built a new city in Kotte, due to which we were able to shift government institutions over to Kotte from Colombo to reduce congestion. We developed land in these areas such as Kotte for the people who could afford to go live in a better locality. These are interconnected developments that took place during UNP regime.

Q: Do you agree that many things the UNP was unable to deliver during its tenure have been done by the present Government during a short period of time?

A: We will continue with the beautification programme even if we come to power. But what we are saying is that this beautification should not be only for a few segments of people. Poor people living in the congested areas must also enjoy the benefits of the beautification programme. You can’t talk about beautification for a small sector at the expense of suffering of poor people. Then the less privileged people will develop jealousy and hatred towards society.

Behind Temple Trees there are shanty areas called Apple Watta and Dobhy Korea. The President can see the suffering of the people from his own house. These people live in absolute poverty. There is no proper access to these areas, the drainage system is blocked right throughout, with stinking drains and stagnated water which leads to dengue mosquito breeding. This too is Colombo; don’t these people deserve better living conditions? Is it only the roads in Colombo that need to be beautified? Why can’t the Government beautify the lives of these people? Is this not discrimination? This is just one example; there are many cases like this.

People in slums in Colombo live in disastrous situations. There is no proper illumination, no proper sanitation or drainage facilities. They haven’t experienced any change in their lives for the past so many years. This is why we are saying the beautification should be enjoyed by all.

Q: Considering the way the Government has handled the previous elections, even if the UNP is capable of winning, do you think the Government will allow you to win?

A: I don’t have any issues with that. The Government has used similar strategies in the past. I am confident that the people will vote for us and that the Government cannot stop us from coming to power through cheap gimmicks this time.

In his manifesto Moragoda talks about right to information; but at the same time he is misusing the State media. He is trying to suppress the media simply to deprive the right of the people to hear my side. People have the right to hear about what I can offer them. But do I get the opportunity to do that? No proper coverage has been given to me so far. What happens to his slogan of right to information? Moragoda is only the candidate of the media but he is not a people’s man.

The armed forces in civil are canvassing votes for Moragoda. State machinery and power are all being misused by Moragoda to carry out his campaign. There is no level playing field. But I am confident that people will vote for us.

Q: If you win the election will the Government allow you to carry out your work peacefully and efficiently?

A: In the recent past when there were elections the Government was making all kinds of promises that cannot be implemented. My policy statement is simple. I have not tried to build castles in the sky. I have clearly understood the practical problems of the people and based my policy statement those problems. We have ways and means and the required resources within the municipality limits to implement the projects included in the policy statement.

The Government in any case does not have funds to carry out the projects that it is promising to the people. I have been a provincial council member. The provincial council is under the management of the Government. What did they do? 65% of the revenue that was there for the provincial councils was taken away overnight. The Colombo Municipal Council has its own resources. We will utilise these resources in a proper manner without corruption and waste. My Leader is capable with his credibility in the international community to raise funds that are required to develop the city.

Q: In your manifesto you have failed to offer any novel concepts to develop the City of Colombo. It seems you were only trying to counter the policy statement of your opponent, Milinda Moragoda. Comments?

A: I have not countered Milinda Moragoda’s manifesto. My manifesto covers all the segments when it comes to developing the city; housing, sanitation and water facilities, illumination and economy. We have our own programme for putting up new apartments to relocate people in congested areas. We assure that we will not sell lands to foreigners.

Q: Milinda Moragoda has promised to build 35,000 housing units within city limits in the next three years and has pledged that no citizen will be relocated outside metropolitan Colombo. Even with such assurances, why do you continue to criticise his proposed urban renewal programme?

A: In an interview with a State-owned newspaper Moragoda had said that he has estimated to build 35,000 housing units with Rs. 10,000 million. There is a serious miscalculation here. He has once again got his calculations wrong. As we all know, Moragoda is well known for such calculation mistakes.

In fact Moragoda is making contradicting statements. In certain interviews he says he will continue to follow Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s programmes when a question was raised regarding demolishing of houses. This clearly proves that these are all election pledges. Why is Moragoda having double standards? Do you think people will believe him?

Let me be clear about one thing. Milinda Moragoda is only a figure. He is only the horse and the jockey is Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The horse has no choice; he has to go where the jockey asks him to go. Moragoda will have absolutely no power to run this council.

Q: What is your opinion about urban renewal?

A: I strongly believe that you cannot forcefully throw people out from their houses. These people have the right to live in their own houses and that right needs to be protected. The Government cannot act in such brutal way, whether it is urban renewal or any other programme.

Q: If you come into power will you look into the grievances of the people whose houses were demolished and not provided with housing facilities?

A: As a priority we will look into their problems and solve their housing issues.

Q: In this election you have to battle with once-strong UNPers such as Moragoda, Sirisena Cooray, Maharoof and Azath Sally. How would you describe this challenge?

A: It is demonstrated very clearly. When Moragoda contested from the UNP he secured 130,000 votes. In the following election he contested with the Government in power and he received only 9,000 votes within the municipal limits. It is proved beyond any reasonable doubt that people can change. The UNP will never vote for a betrayer. These people have betrayed their franchise.

Despite Sirisena Cooray being the mayor of Colombo for eight years and being a minister and a close supporter of late Ranasinghe Premadasa, when Cooray contested on his own at a Parliamentary election he secured only 1,200 votes from Colombo municipal units. Do you consider all these people as strong men? Remember they were strong only when they were with the UNP.

Q: What kind of impact has the UNP internal crisis had on this campaign?

A:When selecting the mayoral candidate, six candidates were interviewed by the party’s nomination board. I was selected by a secret vote and it was a unanimous decision. This proves that there are no fractions in the UNP. There are only different opinions. Tell me, who is not there on my election platform? Karu Jayasuriya, Sajith Premadasa, Rosy Senanayake and Eran Wickremeratne, they are all there canvassing for me. The question of disputes, fractions and issues has never risen from the day we started this campaign. This is the greatest victory we have achieved during the recent past.

Q: Do you receive the fullest support of the rebels?

A: There are no rebels. There may be different opinions but please do remember there are no rebellions in the UNP. The party has become much stronger than ever before. We are looking forward to work in a democratic manner in future as well. So I reiterate that there are no rebellions. I get the fullest support of all the members of the party.

This election is going to be a crucial one for democracy in this country. This is the opportunity to send the message to the Government that we don’t endorse corruption, abuse of power or living with fear.

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