by Ranga jayasuriya
Minister Bathiudeen has allegedly turned the Mannar district into his fiefdom, say local community leaders. He openly discriminates against Tamils in favour of his supporters, in resettlement projects, they allege.
The minister was earlier at the centre of a controversy after he tried to tamper with a list of beneficiaries of a development assistant programme funded by the Indian government.
Under the programme, the Indian government was to donate 175 boats and fishing equipment to a group of fisher folk who had been selected through a need based survey.
The minister who turned up at a preparatory meeting demanding that 160 fishing boats be handed over to a list of recipients handpicked by him from among his supporters.
The Bishop of Manner, Rayappu Joseph, and local community leaders opposed the ministerial order and the Bishop wrote to the fisheries ministry highlighting the irregularity. Later the Indian High Commission, the donor, overturned the decision by the minister.
“He (Minister Bathiudeen) is doling out government development assistance to his supporters and the people who really deserve the assistances are overlooked,” alleges the Bishop, the unofficial ombudsman for many thousands of hapless Tamils.
The bishop says he has regularly petitioned the president about the racially discriminatory practices in resettlement and local development activities promoted by the minister.
“Ninety eight or 99% of government jobs in the district have been given to his supporters. He has politicized the government development programmes in the district’, adds the bishop.
The bishop alleges that the minister has ordered clearance of 600-800 acres in a forest land in Manthai West in Mannar, and is now planning to distribute the land among his loyalists who are predominantly Muslims.
Four hundred and seventy landless Tamil families who inhibit the same village have been overlooked by the minister, according to the bishop, who says that when he raised the issue, Minister Bathiudeen used his parliamentary privileges to slander his image.
In another coastal village, one of the most under-developed, according to the bishop, the local fisher families planned to set up a sea cucumber plant with the help of the local parish priest. “Those people are poor and had been waiting for government approval. Then the minister suddenly appeared from nowhere and told the local peoples, ‘you have to support me if you want to get this done.’”
“Then he appointed a rehabilitated LTTE intelligence wing cadre as the manager, but only for name’s sake. And the minister got one of his relatives, who is an iron trader in Medawach- chiya to actually run the project and that man took home the lion share of the profit. Local people who mooted the project got very little in return for their labour. They launched a satyagraha. Later the ministry of fisheries stepped in and promised to rectify the irregularity,” said the bishop.
Repeated telephone calls to Minister Rishad Bathiudeen on Friday went unanswered. His media secretary, contacted by LAKBIMAnEWS said the minister was unavailable and offered to get back with an official response. “But no promises,” he qualified. courtesy: LakbimaNews