By Mirudhula Thambiah
Newly-appointed Governor of the Eastern Province, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, in an interview with Ceylon Today says, “I created a problem by being selected as the Governor of the East. I will find a solution very soon. I know how to tackle them. The protesters will be satisfied when they see my work. I will see that every community is satisfied within two or three months. I will prove it.”
Q: How do you view the ‘hartal’ that took place in the Tamil areas of the Eastern Province last Friday (11)? Why do you think those from the Tamil community are against your appointment?
A: When a Muslim is appointed Governor, some from the Tamil community are against it. This hartal was unsuccessful and most shops were open. The problem is only among a few people. Other than that, people from all three communities-the Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese opened their shops and did not support the hartal, so it was a failure.
However, I do not blame them, because this is the current situation in the Eastern Province. If a Tamil representative had been appointed as Governor, the Muslim community would have protested. They may not have confidence in a Tamil Governor.
With the powers vested in me as Governor, I will establish a Secretariat with immediate effect under the purview of the Provincial Council in the East. The duty of that Secretariat will be to check on each issue and try settling issues using our powers, so that unity among communities can be established.
The only solution for this situation is to build a relationship between communities rather than blaming each other. My duty is to build unity among
You say people in either community would have opposed the appointment of a Governor from the other community. You say that is the current situation in the East. Why do you say so?
A: Although the war is over, there are many unaddressed issues within the Tamil and Muslim communities in the post-war period. There are issues related to land, culture, schools, jobs appointments, development, which affects both communities. So far, nobody has taken action to resolve these issues. Every representative emphasises on unity, but we cannot expect them to live together without solving the issue.
How would you act as a mediator among all three communities in the East to ensure and create reconciliation?
A: Although my religion is Islam, as Governor I will be a common man. I will appoint one representative from each community to the Secretariat. I will consult each of them for every issue in a community. I will always identify myself as a common man.
I will sort out issues within a short period through the Secretariat. Once the issues are identified through the Commissioner and other officials, I will solve the issues with all the powers vested in me.
When you were appointed, there were various criticisms that you will only support your own community and will take sides in the event of an issue. What is your view on this?
A: I am Governor now, so I can’t take sides. I am 100 per cent sure that I will not fail to work as a common man. When I took oaths as Governor, all the people in the Eastern Province became my brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.
The Governors appointed from Colombo cannot speak the Tamil language.
However, 80 per cent of the Eastern Province speaks Tamil-they cannot speak Sinhala. In my case, I can communicate in all three languages, therefore I can communicate with people from all three communities. A Governor appointed from Colombo will not be able to speak in Tamil and will not be in a position to understand the feelings of the people.
They might not understand how much the people in the Eastern Province were affected by war and may not know the geography of the Province. We cannot expect a Governor to put things in order within a short period. I am from the East, I speak all three languages, and I know the geography and understand the feelings of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala communities.
At the same time, there was no Chief Minister, Minister and Council when I assumed office as Governor. In such case, a Governor can take up the powers of the Chief Minister, Minister and Council to solve issues. I expect to take up the challenges and work day and night. Through which I will be able to deal with unaddressed issues as soon as possible.
There are allegations that extremist groups are functioning in the East. As the new Governor, how will you handle the issues created by these groups?
A: I would not say no. There are a few such groups; some of our boys have turned into extremists and they are not connected to society. We will teach them to avoid problems in future. We will ensure that they will understand the situation and work together in order to create unity in the region. We must educate these boys to understand the situation in the country and we will proceed with it.
Whom do you refer to as‘our boys’?
A: All are my boys. There are Muslim boys and Tamil boys.
There is a view that a North-East merger can bring about reconciliation among the communities in both Provinces and at the same time, there is much criticism against it. On which side do you stand?
A: Of course I will never support the North- East merger. The Supreme Court had demerged the Provinces. I will develop the East and will never support the merger.
How do you view India’s role and interest in the development process of the East?
A: Indians have come forward to support us because they are our neighbouring country, and they have a set of citizens speaking the Taml language. I am also expecting to meet the High Commissioner of India after my appointment as Eastern Governor. I would request him to support the East.
I hope to work together and obtain maximum support from the Government of India for developing the East.
How do you view the emergence of alternative Muslim representation apart from the main political party that had been in the political arena for a long period?
A: People used to support the SLMC and then some other Party. After the war, the situation changed. Earlier, Muslims supported the SLMC and Tamils supported the TNA. Currently, both communities are represented by many parties. There are lots of youth groups emerging as political parties.
People voted for the SLMC in Ampara. But the Party failed to fulfil expectations. Then the people moved on to the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC). Naturally, people will choose some another when this party fails. They expect promises to be fulfilled on behalf of their community, village and rights.
People will change their mind if the representatives do not comply with
Soon after you were appointed as the Governor, TNA Leader Sampanthan met you. Tell us about that meeting?
A: He said the Tamil people had been badly affected during the war. He said: We have not taken any Cabinet portfolio but sat in the Opposition to fight for our rights. Therefore, no injustice should prevail.
I trust you, please look after our people. There had been injustices in the past’.
He also spoke about land and other issues. I promised him that I will treat everyone equally. Last Wednesday (9), 800 people came to meet me as it was the public day. I settled most problems on the same day. Following which people have conveyed this to Sampanthan. He commended me and said, ‘Many people have to run from pillar to post to solve their issues. Please continue to help them’.
Are you still agitating for a separate administrative unit for the coastal districts in the East?
A: This is a reasonable demand. A coastal administrative unit is a demand of the Tamil speaking people. All the Tamil speaking people go to the Ampara Kachcheri (District Secretariat) where all activities are conducted in Sinhala. The officials at the Ampara Kachcheri do not communicate in Tamil, but work and speak in Sinhala.
Our Ashraff’s demand was to create a Tamil speaking administrative unit in any of the coastal areas. Let it be a Muslim or a Tamil officer; he only wanted officials to speak in Tamil to serve people’s needs. You can see this in Colombo, when a Tamil officer is appointed; it is a problem for the Muslims and vice versa. So for the past 30 years, they have been appointing someone from the Sinhala community.
How is it possible to solve all the problems in just three months? Are you repeating the same dialogue uttered by previous representatives?
A: 80 per cent of the cases are very reasonable. An employee from Pottuvil had been transferred to Pulmoddai, there seems to be no reason for this transfer. If they are to work in difficult areas, such areas are there in Pottuvil itself.
The system seems to be jumbled. I told the officer in charge to solve all remaining system issues by 28 February and I have to start the new system by 1 March. I know the officials will do a good job. I am not once-a-day Governor but a full time Governor.
There were allegations against the former Governor of the East regarding some unfair transfers. How will you fix this issue?
A: I was told that such issues existed. I have appointed a separate committee to rectify these issues. Some appointments were given without considering problems. I requested the committee to submit a report within two weeks time.
How will you address the illegal settlements in the East?
A: I have no idea about that. I am yet to study the issue.
How will you handle land issues in the East as it has been one of the burning issues for a long period?
A: There are many land issues. Issues are mainly about boundaries. We will implement a Governor-mobile service to settle these issues.
Will you exercise land and Police powers?
A: I will fully exercise land powers under the 13th Amendment. If anyone stops me from exercising I will go to Courts. Powers are given by the Constitution, nobody can stop it. Police powers can be discussed later.
Is it true you were appointed as a Governor because you failed as a Minister?
A: No, no… I was a very successful and good Minister.
I resigned because I wanted to do a job and prove. I am so happy.
I did not just get the post of Governor. I resigned from my seat. I wanted to go to the East and serve there when there was no Chief Minister or Council. I knew people would oppose my appointment. Unless you create a problem you cannot find a solution.