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1st  May, 2005  Volume 11, Issue 42

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Interview

"I was compelled to prorogue the council" 

Western Province Governor and a strong trade unionist, Alavi Moulana says he had no other option but to prorogue the council when charges of corruption were levelled against Western Province Chief Minister, Reginald Cooray. Justifying his decision, one time labour minister under the PA regime, Moulana says when there was provision for prorogation in the constitution, he saw no other reason either to dissolve the council or hand over Cooray to the CID. "When allegations are made against an individual, he must be firstly given an opportunity to prove his innocence. If this chance is not afforded to him, then it is very unfair. This is exactly what I have done," he told The Sunday Leader in an interview.

Following are excerpts;

By Wilson Gnanadass

Q: Why did you prorogue the Western Provincial Council and on what basis? Did you fear that the council would go into the hands of the opposition if the vote of no confidence was allowed to go ahead?

Alavi Moulana

A: Proroguing a council under the constitution is not anything illegal. I was compelled to do so when I found that there was a crisis situation. Majority of the SLFP members of the council approached me and requested me to prorogue the council as the chief minister was charged with corruption that was to be followed by a no faith motion on him. So I had no option but to prorogue and commence an investigation into the charges levelled against Chief Minister Reginald Cooray. I think I have done the correct thing by doing this. Because I have given an individual an opportunity to prove his innocence.

Q: If the majority of the council wanted Chief Minister Cooray out of power, why didn't you in your capacity as the Governor dissolve the council?

A: Well, if I had done this, my action would have been the most unreasonable one. Because I would have given into the hands of those who oppose everything whatever the government proposes. For instance the opposition party in our country only knows to oppose. When we are used to this type of politics in our country, I in my capacity as the Governor had to take my next choice very cautiously. Dissolution means accepting the no confidence challenge thrown by the opposition. Now is it fair to do so? I think it is unfair. Also why should I dissolve the council thereby giving the impression to the entire nation that we are accepting the charges against the chief minister? And also why should I dissolve the council where there is a clear provision in the constitution to prorogue council in case of an emergency?

Q: In this case it is not only the opposition that has called for the removal of Cooray. But even the UPFA's principal coalition partner - the JVP has asked for the removal?

A: Yes. In the recent past the JVP has been constantly opposing and protesting against the government. It does not matter. But the thing is this. Even the SLFP has no intention of safeguarding a corrupt person, if he/she is found guilty. Now how do we find out whether a person is guilty of corruption? It is only through an investigation that these facts could be unearthed. And that is exactly what I am doing.

Q: Both the UNP and the JVP have levelled charges of corruption against Cooray. Is there any truth in these charges?

A: Well, the charges may prove correct or prove wrong. Nobody knows. This is why I am going to start an investigation.

Q: If the majority of the council charges that Cooray is corrupt, why didn't you allow either the CID or the Bribery Commission to take over the case and conduct a proper investigation?

A: Is it fair to hang a man and then commence investigations? My conscience did not permit me to allow this motion to go ahead. Also, majority of the SLFP members including the chief minister made several requests for me to prorogue the council. Also since there was provision for prorogation for two months, I prorogued only for two weeks to carry out an investigation. You see in Lanka's politics, mud slinging is a common thing. You don't have to be a rogue to be branded a rogue. So we who are holding high office must be careful in taking decisions. I did everything according to the law.

Q: It is learnt you have been forced to prorogue the council by President Chandrika Kumaratu- nga. Is it true that you came under immense pressure from the President?

A: I will not involve the President in this issue at all. Actually at the time the no confidence motion idea was mooted, the President was out of the country. It is true that she met the party leaders 24 hours prior to my decision to prorogue the council. But the President never put on me any pressure. I had to act according to the powers vested in me.

Q: What is going to happen on May 17 after the prorogation lapses?

A: Well it will be business as usual. By that time the investigations would have been concluded and I assume debates based on the decisions of the probe would follow.

Q: Who is expected to hold investigations into the charges against Cooray? Who has the authority to appoint the investigators? You or the President?

A: According to the constitution, I have the powers to appoint a team. And I have decided to appoint most probably a two member team comprising retired officials from the judiciary. The appointment would be done this week itself so that the team could commence investigations.

Q: Don't you think it creates a bad precedent when councils are prorogued every time a member or the chief of the party is challenged?

A: Well, in Sri Lanka's politics as I told you earlier, most of the time the charges are baseless. It is natural for any opposition to always find fault with the ruling party. And once the ruling party takes the opposition seat, this is repeated. So whenever the opposition challenges one's confidence, it does not mean that we have to go on dissolving the councils. Also this has happened for the first time under my authority. So I did what I should have done according to the provisions in the constitution governing the provincial councils.

Q: Muslims say you are blocking all attempts to create a separate Muslim Affairs Ministry. Is there any truth in it? If so why?

A: Well, Muslims may say this. I am sure these so called Muslims are some of my own colleagues. It does not matter. It is I who told President Chandrika Kumaratunga not to create a separate Muslim Affairs Ministry and further suggested that I be her advisor for Muslim affairs. President is the minister. And up to date we have been looking into the issues of the Muslims in a very orderly manner. To date there has not been any single complaint against our administration.

Those who go on protesting against my involvement are those who cannot do a thing. For instance, I am a member of the clergy and from the Sunni sect who are the descendants of Prophet Mohamed. I am very particular about the school of thought practiced by the Sunni sect. Today, so many Muslims are trying to divide the community by creating various sects and as long as I am going to live, I am never going to allow this to happen.

I strongly believe I am the most worthy person to hold this post and that is why I suggested to the President. If President was to create a separate ministry, I think every year she might have to change the ministry because there are so many parties in parliament. I am also the President of the Sri Lanka Muslim Federation. The federation represents the entire Muslim community in the country. There would be conflicts if a separate ministry was created at present. This is why I told the President to do this way.

Q: Large number of Muslims who were affected by the December 26 tsunami still complain that the state has not given them sufficient relief. What in your capacity as the advisor to the President on Muslim affairs have you done about it?

A: I am not trying to say there are lapses. But nobody can say that the state has not given them. The tsunami has caused damage to the mosques to the tune of Rs. 365 million. The government in addition to looking after the interests of the Muslims is also prepared to repair and build mosques.

So how can the Muslim community point fingers at the government? I have lost 21 of my relatives due to tsunami. Now can I keep shouting and crying? The claim that Muslims are not getting enough is all politicised. They are made for the political mileage of some parties.

Q: The SLMC and NUA have rejected the proposed joint mechanism to distribute relief in the north and east. Do you think this is justifiable?

A: I think all Muslims should fall in line with the government's policy to evolve a mechanism to distribute relief in the north east. Whether one likes it or not, LTTE controls a major portion of our land and if a relief operation had to be fulfilled in the LTTE controlled area, there has to be an arrangement between the government and the LTTE. And the joint mechanism is all about that. It has nothing to do with separation as most of the left parties think. The SLMC cannot make any demand because in my view the SLMC is not fit to lead the Muslim community.


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