Sunday, October 5, 2008


'Govt.'s supremacist agenda destroying peace hopes'

Rauf Hakeem

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauf Hakeem while accusing 'certain extremists' within the government of continuing with its supremacist agenda to spoil any hope of peaceful co-existence in the country told The Sunday Leader in an interview that unless a collective effort is made by the minority parties and other likeminded political forces it would be difficult to re-establish democracy in the country. With regard to the Army Commander's recent controversial statement, Hakeem said that the Commander should not make such statements, as it would result in contributing to the alien feeling of the minorities. "In politics, the armed forces should not indulge in giving statements, that this country belongs only to one race and that the others are permitted to live only at the benevolence of the majority. It is regrettable that no responsible person in the government had the courage to clarify this." Excerpts:

By Nirmala Kannangara

Q: Army Commander Sarath Fonseka had recently stated that this is primarily the land of the Sinhalese and the minorities should not make "undue demands." Do you think that this is a warning to the minorities not to make political demands?

A: In politics the armed forces should not indulge in giving statements as if this country belongs only to one race and that the others are permitted to live only at the benevolence of the majority. These types of statements will make nonsense of the fact that this country is a multi-ethnic democracy.

What some construe to be 'demands' is a matter for the executive, the legislature and the judiciary to resolve when the issues surface. The Army Commander should be cautious not to exceed his brief, resulting in contributing to the alien feeling of the minorities.

I was the first to respond without rage when this interview was published. It has now been roundly condemned by many minority community leaders. What is regrettable is that nobody in government has had the courage of their conviction to clarify this issue. This indicates the current trend of xenophobia.

Q: Why did you decide to quit the Eastern Provincial Council after being mandated by the people?

A: The decision was made by the party, which took the original decision, that the top leadership must resign from parliament to contest the election. It was our original intention to file a high profile team to meet the extraordinary situation where the entire government machinery was to be used in a display of unremitting abuse of power along with violence, intimidation, harassment and vast scale vote rigging.

There are capable representatives in the provincial council representing our party who will discharge their functions to respect the mandate the people have given us. It was felt that I should return to parliament and play my role in national politics while guiding those who are serving at the provincial level.

Q: Do you think that post Pillayan, the east has settled in the way that the government perceived it would?

A: I am sure the government is well aware that the situation is far from ideal and that the encouragement given to certain political forces to be armed with the excuse that they are facing a threat is seriously undermining democracy. The rhetoric of development in a climate where you deny the basic rights of the people to choose their representatives by excising their free will, is going to gradually result in radicalisation of even moderate political forces.

The cultural impunity, which is permitted to grow among the armed forces and the police is causing resentment and in time to come will result in serious consequences as the government doesn't impose discipline and ensure that the security forces and law and order machinery retains public confidence while recruitment and deployment should take into consideration the delicate ethnic balance that needs to be maintained and promotions, transfers etc: should be de-politicised.

Q: What is the eastern development agenda and are you satisfied with it?

A: The bilateral and multilateral donors have been always willing to assist in improving the infrastructure and livelihood of the people of this province provided the government could establish a proper civilian administration with a properly elected council.

There are target programmes to eliminate the suffering of conflict and tsunami affected populations, which are still in progress and will continue to be supported for some years to come. The selection criteria is driven by a centralised agenda through the Ministry of Nation Building without sufficient grassroot input and the conflict is being ignored.

The cheap political publicity that is sought from most of these projects and the rampant corruption and mismanagement are also noticeable.

Q: The Eastern Province Chief Minister sacked the Kattankudi Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman citing irregularities. It is learnt that he is now conducting investigations into the other pradeshiya sabhas as well to find out whether there are irregularities. What is your take on this?

A: The Chief Minister of the Eastern Province is a very inexperienced politician and he is allowing himself to be used as a cat's paw by politicians alien to his ruling cabal. It is a local authority where the opposition is in control. Isn't it surprising that this urban council headed by the suspended chairman, was selected as the best council by his own ministry?

A preliminary inquiry has been held in order to substantiate the fabricated charges, which seems to be minor administration errors.

We will be taking suitable legal action and expose the Chief Minister's malicious intention and get suitable relief.

Q: Following the registration of the people who have come to Colombo from the north, those who have come from the east too are now being subjected to a similar registration process today. How do you see this scenario?

A: This type of profiling will only result in a further polarisation of Tamils from the mainstream. It is amusing to see from the Defence Secretary downwards, the powers that be talking of the imperative need to enforce these measures saying that it is for the common good of themselves.

Why cannot the government and its security agencies initiate civil society monitoring groups and entrust them to do a survey to achieve the same objective? The indignity and hardships imposed on Tamils who were coming to government controlled areas with outrageous remarks such as to get back to the north if they have no business here is a manifestation of the racist mindset.

Q: It is learnt that the formation of a minority alliance is on the cards and then a grand alliance. Through these alliances what would you hope to achieve?

A: To allow certain extremists within the government to continue with their supremacist agenda unhindered and unchallenged is to spoil any hope of peaceful co-existence in this country.

Systematic manipulation of the media along with violent intimidation directed against journalists and politicians will have to be countered by a collective effort of minority parties and other likeminded political forces. Moreover in re-establishing democracy and respect for the rule of law we have been mandated to play a decisive role. We felt that this should be done in a collective or organised manner rather than individually reacting to the situation. A collective agenda is the best way to get out of this situation.

Q: As the former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PVC), in your interim report there were serious charges of fraud and mismanagement within public institutions. In the backdrop of illegal financial institutions hoodwinking innocent investors what are your observations?

A: My report to parliament exposed corruption and mismanagement within the Inland Revenue Department in particular. Many officials who were found to be corrupt had been left off the hook due to the patronage they enjoyed and negligent attitude in not taking the necessary steps to ensure that the culprits were exposed.

Failure to order a domestic inquiry as warranted by court with loads of incriminating documentary evidence and testimony obtained through vigorous examination before the Public Accounts Committee have been of no avail. Appointing a Presidential Commission of inquiry or producing some of the accused before the High Court is akin to locking the stable doors after the horses have bolted.

The other revenue departments such as customs, excise and motor traffic were also found out to be slow in implementing the necessary checks and balances to prevent widespread fraud and we have found that certain officials have deliberately introduced circulars to avoid audits.

I feel that some provisions in some standing orders in parliament and the Audit Act need to be revised. Robust scrutiny will make it possible to overcome these.

Q: After the liberation of the Eastern Province the government claims besides restoring civil administration that the area is secure. Do you agree with this position? Does that mean that there is peace in the area and that the Muslim community does not face any threat?

A: We must concede that the situation is certainly better than what it was but is not altogether secure as the government claims. The people are subjected to much inconveniences and harassment when coming in from other areas of the country. While acknowledging the fact some measures would be unavoidable there is certainly much room for improvement to make the public feel at ease.

Most Tamils live in fear since they are subjected to so much of misery and indignity. The government must learn to take civil society in to its confidence and gradually relieve the security forces from check point duties and have a better-integrated police force to take over these functions.

Q: There have been reports about regular LTTE infiltration in the east. Are these substantial claims?

A: No not infiltration, but reactivation of dormant cells, which the LTTE has deployed in many parts of the east. The Karuna rebellion assisted the government to a great extent in apprehending and killings some of these operatives. But it is ridiculous to claim that they have totally chased the LTTE away from the east.

Moreover they must understand that the LTTE is only a symptom of a disease. The disease is the refusal by the government to restore the dignity of the Tamil and Muslim people and let them enjoy substantial autonomy in their areas of habitation. Treatment for the symptom is not going to cure the disease and they must realise that the war is only a means to an end and not the end itself.

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