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Sunday, 28 February 2016

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Reginaldís convictions


Reginald Cooray who commenced his political career with the inception of the Provincial Council system, made his journey into Parliament after becoming Chief Minister of the Western Provincial Council and climbed the ladder of politics to become a Cabinet Minister. Recently appointed Governor of the Northern Province by President Maithripala Sirisena, the politician who earned a reputation for his non-communal policies and politics, contends his non-communal policies would be an advantage when he functions as the Governor. When addressing grievances of the people of the North, building better understanding, reliance and good faith are paramount in the present context, he said.

Excerpts

Q: Your appointment as Governor of the Northern Province was a follow-up to your long journey in politics. Did you accept the appointment by choice or were you made to accept it?

A: All what I have gained is because of my faith. This appointment is a result of the present circumstances. I am happy about it.

Q: After engaging in active politics for quite a long time, how did you make up your mind to accept this position, which is considered a non-political appointment?

A: I think everybody does politics but the way of doing it is different. If someone says, he or she is not involved in politics, that is also some form of politics. Everything revolves round politics. I am happy with this appointment. Since the inception of my political career, I have never been communal-minded. I have no regard for class, colour, caste, creed or sex. I never considered these factors in my political career. I was a Marxist.

They talk about international brotherhood. I am a Buddhist. According to Buddhism we must respect everyone, irrespective of these differences. In my political career, I have sacrificed much to maintain my non-communal policy in politics. I am happy with this position.

Q: For a person from the South, becoming the Governor of the Northern Province which is pre-dominantly a Tamil dominated province, it is a chal lenge.

Do you think your appointment is accepted by the people of the North?

A: We are human beings. Colour, culture and language may be different but basic values are similar. If it is these basic values that matter, I think I can manage. When I assumed duties, representatives from almost all political parties came. I am happy because they are friendly with me. I will manage.

Q: There were instances where people in the North resisted the appointment of Sinhala speaking personnel from the South, especially those having a military background as Governor of the North. Do you think you too will face this issue?

A: We have misunderstood them. They opposed communal-minded people. Though I am a Sinhala Buddhist, they accepted me because of my non-communal policies.

Q: In the Northern Province, basically you need to deal with politicians of the Tamil National Alliance. Will they cooperate with you when conducting the affairs of the Northern Province?

A: In a broad sense, President Sirisena appointed me to serve the Tamil people whether they are from the TNA or any other political party. My intention is to serve the Tamil people, the masses. Since this is my purpose, I can work with all of them. I do not consider their differences and contradictions and it is no problem for me.

Q: Devolution of power and powers vested with the Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is still being debated. Do you think there is a need to give more power to Provincial Councils as demanded by the northern people at present?

A: Everything depends on better understanding, reliance, good faith and friendship. When these qualities donít exist, they must be separated, they need to be empowered and have separate councils for them. This is due to the lack of confidence and reliance. If we can build that confidence, all the other issues will be solved. At this moment, to build that reliance, some sort of devolution is required. That is why we say the 13th Amendment is a foundation for that journey.

Q: What sort of mechanism do we need to address the other grievances of the Tamil community?

A: Whether it is the 13th Amendment or going beyond it or something less than that, is not the question. Everything depends on better understanding and confidence. Recently the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council visited the Naga Viharaya.

He told me that he will visit the Maha Nayakas in Kandy one day. in the same context, President Maithripala Sirisena released Sivarajah who tried to assassinate him. These are symbolically important to change the mindset of the Tamils. Singing the national anthem in Tamil and Sinhala didnít cost us anything but sent a good message. This is necessary to build that confidence.

Q: The people of the South have no trust in the provincial council system, when it comes to the Northern Provincial Council. Do you think that there is any justification for this mistrust?

A: It is not only the people of the South, even those in the North are the same. Both sections are not fully in favour of the 13th Amendment. Anyway it is a good start.

Q: There is a demand for the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Do you think there is a necessity to do so at present?

A: According to the Constitution there should be a referendum to decide whether it should be merged or demerged. At this point of time, it is immature for me to comment.

Q: What is required at present is the development of the North on par with the other provinces. Will you be able to get development of the North back on track with the support of the political hierarchy in the North?

A: Development is necessary. There is no argument about that. But who will take the credit for development is the question. Let it be with the peopleís representatives in the North.

Q: Do you think the development process in the North is going on satisfactorily under the present Northern Provincial Council?

A: At the inception there were problems. They will soon correct their mistakes and get back on track.

Q: What sort of ideas you have in mind for the development of the North and to address the social issues in the North?

A: My intention is to build good faith, confidence and reliance. That is important. If these qualities are absent, then there are risks. We need to build confidence and then move towards development and address other issues.

Q: Do you have any specific plan to enlist their support to develop the North?

A: We should get the support of the Tamil Diaspora to develop the country and not to divide it. We have no objection to them investing their money or their participation in developing the country for the betterment of the people, but not to divide it.

Q: Do you have any specific idea to enlist their support?

A: I have an idea but the main thing is to cooperate with the present leadership in the North.

Q: Avoiding the recurrence of another armed conflict should be the most important aspect when serving as the Governor in the North. How can you ensure that?

A: Donít raise that question again. People in the North have no such idea in their minds. By raising that question, we rouse their emotions.

Q: The issues of resettlement, release of lands being occupied by the Security Forces are the key issues that have to be addressed in the North. How will you address these issues?

A: I think the President has set up a special committee to go into these matters. They are complicated. We have to give back their lands and resettle them. We canít have a general rule. We have to take it on a case by case basis. Facts and figures vary from case to case.

Q: You have to work with the military personnel and also with the general public in the North. How do you balance this out?

A: When a government is in operation, the military the police and civil administration function. I do not function with anybody. They have their tasks, let them do it. If something goes wrong I will mediate.

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