astern Provincial Council (EPC) Opposition Leader and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) member, Singaravelu Thandayuthapani said they have decided to join hands with Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) to serve all communities without any difference in the province. “We will not neglect the Tamil people. We have reached this decision through our party leadership. I believe all will understand our motive when we actually function as a part of the EPC Government. But if we cannot serve our people while being in the national administration, we will not hesitate to walk out,” he said.
Following are excerpts:
Q: How did you come to an agreement with the SLMC at last?
A: As we always expected for a change in the EPC, it was us who first initiated a plan to form a government with the unity of all parties in the council. As we expected there was a change in the EPC after the presidential election. Since SLMC and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) crossed over to the Common Alliance at the Centre, it had an impact in the province. Following the crossovers the UPFA led government in the EPC was powerless as these parties walked out of the government.
Already Abdul Najeeb Majeed of SLFP was serving as CM during the last two and half years according to the agreement between UPFA and SLMC. We emphasized to the SLMC that both Tamils and Muslims are on equal proportion in the province.
Q: Why did the EPC thrice postpone the vote on the budget?
A: Usually an Appropriation Bill of a Provincial Council should be passed before the beginning of a year. But our budget was postponed couple of times, since there were problems in the then government. It was postponed because the SLMC members left the council when the Appropriation Bill was taken for voting and the UPFA Government was worried that the budget would be defeated if the SLMC did not vote. Since the budget proceedings were postponed, several government employees were not paid on time. Therefore, on a special request made by TNA leader Sampanthan to President Maithripala Sirisena, a special order was given to the Eastern Governor to pay the salaries of the government employees. Not only salary issues, several other functions that were based on the financial support of the EPC were affected. It is impossible to always obtain special orders to settle the issues; therefore, we unanimously supported the Appropriation Bill. Since all parties supported the budget it was unanimously passed at the EPC. Therefore, there are no obstacles in carrying out the proceedings of the EPC based on financial support.
Q:Why didn’t the SLMC agree to hand over the CM post to the TNA?
A: The SLMC was politically emphasizing that a Muslim representative should be appointed as CM in Eastern Province. This has been their long-term call. Even after the EPC elections in 2012, they continuously stressed that a Muslim representative should serve as the CM. But it should be noted that Eastern Province includes people of other communities too. Therefore, the CM should be appointed democratically based on the highest number of preferential votes. A CM in the EPC can be a Muslim, Tamil or Sinhalese depending on the preferential votes. At the same time we will not criticize their political policies in a negative way. We welcome their aspirations. But if they had agreed to give the CM post to the TNA, many people in the province would have appreciated their decision since there was already a CM from the Muslim community. The SLMC also pointed that a Tamil representative is elected as CM in the North; therefore, it is justifiable to appoint a Muslim representative as CM in the East. They should consider that the CM in the North was elected by the people, he was not appointed. We cannot accept their claim as we find it unfair. Yet we always wanted to work hand in hand with the SLMC and that had now happened.
Q: We understand that your party members are not satisfied with the decisions taken by the party leadership to join hands with the SLMC, since the CM post was not offered to the TNA. Is that true?
A: I don’t deny it. There are certain groups of members who are not satisfied. At the same time, it is important to note that even the people in the East are not satisfied. It is opined that the SLMC members cheated the TNA members by taking tactful moves to secure the CM post. Tamil people in the East are neglected and ignored in several situations, but had we been a part of the government we would not allow such a situation. We would ensure unity.
We want to make it clear that we have decided to join hands with the SLMC to serve all people without any difference. We will not neglect the Tamil people. We have reached this decision through our party leadership. I believe all will understand our motive when we actually function as a part of the EPC Government. But if we cannot serve for our people while being in the national administration, we will not hesitate to walk out.
Q: It is said that the TNA would be given the Ministry of Education at the EPC. Is that true?
A: Our party leadership, members and generally the Tamil people of the Eastern Province wanted us to take over the Ministry of Education and Lands. Therefore, I have conveyed the message to CM Naseer Ahamed. But official talks regarding ministerial portfolios are yet to begin.
Q: Have you decided on who would be appointed as the Deputy Chairman?
A: Once the ministerial portfolios are decided, it is easy to immediately decide regarding the deputy chairmanship.
Q: You being the opposition leader, why weren’t you involved in the five-member committee appointed by the TNA leadership?
A: I had other duties to carry out. When the five-member committee met the SLMC members, I had to meet the newly appointed Governor Austin Fernando to discuss about the Sampur resettlement issue to solve it immediately. But my colleagues at the EPC who were representing the discussions always made me aware of issues discussed.
Q: What were the other promises given by the SLMC, apart from the ministries and deputy chairmanship?
A: There aren’t any specific promises apart from ministries and deputy chairmanship. Most of the decisions will be taken by board of ministers; since we will also represent the board in future we will be able to take some solid decisions without harming unity among communities in the Province.
Q: The agreement between SLMC and UPFA was seized once the SLMC walked out of the budget voting. But how was it possible to form a government again after the same agreement?
A: We feel that the agreement between SLMC and UPFA was expired. When the budget voting was almost to be carried out, six members of the SLMC walked out of the council. If they actually followed the agreement they wouldn’t have walked out. Why did they suddenly walk out when the voting was to be called? When they walked out, the TNA and UNP members in the Opposition had 15 members and we seemed to the majority in the council. This happened before the presidential election in December 2014. Since they walked out, the former chairperson of the council Ariyawathi Galapathi adjourned the council knowing the budget would be defeated. The next day when the council met again for budget proceedings the SLMC boycotted the sessions, they were not seen in the council. Therefore, we feel the SLMC did not respect this agreement even before the presidential polls. It expired as soon as walked out from the council and also when they crossed over at the Central Government. This may be one of the reasons for people to be unsatisfied of the decision to join with the SLMC. Yet, now we shall think of the future.
Q: Why couldn’t the TNA form a government in the EPC with the other parties, in the face of Opposition by the SLMC?
A: We have only 11 members, and UNP has five members. When there were confusions in the EPC to form a government, UNP member Daya Gamage proposed to the TNA to form a government with five UNP members but with an important agreement to make him the CM of the council. Yet, we needed 19 members to form a government therefore, he said if TNA agrees he may convince others to join. However, the TNA leadership couldn’t accept his proposal as it was an individual proposal and not by other UNP members. Meanwhile, Pillaiyan and Iniyabharathi agreed to support us at the initial stages, yet they failed to extend their support during the latter part. Currently we have agreed to serve the people with the SLMC in order to maintain communal harmony in the province and for the betterment of all people.
Q: What action would you take forward to resettle people from Sampur after you form the national administration?
A: We have met the newly appointed Eastern Governor to immediately solve the resettlement issue which has been dragging for a very long time. Therefore, we believe we can successfully resettle the affected people.
Q: What are your plans for the people of Eastern Province after forming the national administration at provincial level?
A: We have plans to solve the social issues of the people in province, especially their resettlement and development. We will obtain allocations from ministries to carry out development activities.
We will solve employment issues by establishing small industries. We will mainly concentrate on developing villages.