Although the report of the Local Government Institutions Delimitation Appeals Committee on the Demarcation of Boundaries was handed over by its Chairman, Ashoka Peiris to Cabinet Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, Faiszer Musthapha, the Minister refused to accept it.
Both Peiris and Musthapha have traded remarks and accusations on the matter. In relation to this fiasco, the Nation’s sister paper Rivira Sunday Edition granted the duo an opportunity to state their case before the country.
Q: Why did you reject the Delimitation Committee report?
In actuality, what I expected was a complete report which contained the signatures of the five members of the Committee (including the Chairman). Yet, only three had signed. I did not say that I could not accept it because three had signed. I asked the Chairman whether he informed the other members in writing that they need to sign. Then the Chairman said that he had not but had done so only verbally. I told the Chairman that this was not a matter involving kids in a kindergarten but a matter of responsibility concerning the country and therefore to obtain the signatures of all. Then the Chairman said that he would obtain the said signatures within seven days and present it and therefore said that he would not give the report now. However, in the media it was reported that I had rejected this report. In order to reject, I must receive a report. I received no such report.
Q : Are you saying the Chairman did not hand over the report?
No. He did not give a report to me.
Q : If it wasn’t to hand over a report, why did the Chairman come to meet you?
This is what I am asking too. I am not a member of the said Committee. If such a report is being handed over, all members have to sign and all members come to hand it over. In a Committee that has five members three talk of a report while stating that they cannot find the other two. This is a joke. Are the two signing it or not? If they are not signing, what are the reasons for such? Handing over such a report, instead of mentioning the aforementioned concerns, is both illegal and unethical. This is what I pointed out.
Q : Is it with responsibility that you say that you did not reject the report?
Yes. I did not reject the report.
Q : The Chairman had stated that you had purposefully absconded on the report.
This is nonsense. As the relevant Minister don’t I have a responsibility to ask why two did not sign it and only three did? What they have stated is that they need to read this again and therefore that they need to be given more time. I did not interfere with anything because I wanted to protect the independence of the Committee. I did not exert any influence in any way. At the very least, I didn’t even attempt to find out what the said report contains. Yet, we had a great need to finish this soon.
Previous such Committees danced to the tune of the Minister. I did not do this. In actuality, what I think happened was that the Chairman could not bear up the pressure exerted by the media. Unlike us, he cannot cope with pressure.
Q : Isn’t this an attempt by you to justify the course of action you took?
Anyone can say anything. There is no debate regarding that.
Q : What is the nature of this pressure that you say was directed towards the Chairman?
It is like this. The media constantly called him and asked as to when this report was coming out. He wanted to get away from this and therefore wanted to give the report quickly. However, the report is incomplete.
Q : The Chairman has stated that the reason why the report could not be given soon was because there was a lack of resources.
I have never received anything in writing with regard to a lack of resources.
Q : Are you saying that you were not informed in writing?
No. This is what I am saying. I challenge that I was not informed of such. I provided the required monies for this and did things with a good intention.
Q : Even though it was not stated in writing, this must have been informed verbally, was it not?
When educated persons do things, shouldn’t they be done according to a certain way?
Q : Regardless, at a time when the delimitation must be completed soon, instead of waiting for all five signatures to be on the report, what is wrong with accepting it with the signatures of the majority?
It is easy to put forward legal arguments in this regard. I appointed five. The Chairman told me that only three of them had signed it and that the other two were requesting for further time in order to sign it. So I said that instead of three signing it, it is better to complete this by getting all five signatures.
Q : There are shortcomings in Bills and Acts brought by this Government. Why does this happen? Aren’t skilled persons appointed to attend to these matters?
No. These persons gave a great commitment to do this job. I must thank them for it. The Chairman is a skilled administrator.
Q : Didn’t you leave the country as part of an organized plan to delay the report?
When I left, there was a relevant State Minister. I went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The moment I came to know that the State Minister had resigned, I came back. This is an utter falsehood.
Q : Even though you say that no influence was brought to bear on the Chairman, this is not the truth isn’t it?
I did not exert any influence. However, he had stated that I was holding him back and hindering him and his work. He had also stated that the two main political parties (the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party) were doing the same. The truth is that he tried to save his reputation by pushing this matter onto me.
If he is a public servant shouldn’t he work straight? Stating that I was holding him back and hindering him and his work is the kind of story children in a Montessori are expected to say. Why, should I have a stick in my hand? He is a senior secretary. He is elder to me. If he is saying that I was holding him back and hindering him and his work, it is the statement of a juvenile. He is bringing dishonour to himself. Sometimes, he may be seeing ghosts in his dreams.
Q : Isn’t this a ploy to postpone the Local Government election?
Am I not the General Secretary of the United People’s Freedom Alliance or United National Front for Good Governance. Others are frequently shouting asking for the election to be hastened. I too want to do this. This is not a ploy to postpone the election. This is not a joke. This is a serious matter.
Q : If the intention was to hold the election soon, wasn’t accepting the report with the three signatures the best thing to do?
If Asoka Peiris had told me that two had refused to sign, I would have accepted the report. However, what he said was that they had requested for more time. After that, it was my request that we sent letters to them via registered post asking them to sign it within seven days. By that time, even that wasn’t done.
Q : As the Minister of PCs and LG what do you make of the Development (Special Provisions) Bill?
When acting with regard to the powers of PCs, it is following extensive and comprehensive discussions with the PCs that these kinds of Bills must be brought. The adverse impact of not doing so is being felt now. I frequently say that when bringing these kinds of Bills, one has to first discuss with the PCs.