We need a vibrant Council with a forthright leadership - UPFA mayoral candidate, Azath Salley | Sunday Observer

We need a vibrant Council with a forthright leadership - UPFA mayoral candidate, Azath Salley

UPFA mayoral candidate for the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) Azath Salley says, with the support of all the UPFA coalition partners, he can definitely make a difference this time in the CMC. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, he said, this is going to be a historic election, as for the first time a different party leader has been selected to lead the UPFA campaign at the forthcoming CMC election. He said, the credibility of President Maithripala Sirisena would be the most important aspect of the LG polls as the people have placed their utmost confidence in him as a Leader who always fulfils the pledges given to them. This is going to be the winning point of this election.


Q. Who invited you to contest as the UPFA mayoral candidate and what made you to accept this invitation?

A. I entered politics in 1991, and started my political career in the CMC. Being elected a councilor in 1997 and Deputy Mayor in 2001, I have performed well with every community, irrespective of any party or religious differences. All we did in the Council was to transform Colombo into a beautiful, night city. You would have seen Hawkers Street and many other things prevalent in other countries being introduced to Sri Lanka. For the first time, Hawkers Street was introduced into Colombo where we were able to give five star foods at Rs.150 to the people. That was a carnival and we organized it on three or four occasions which was a total success, where several Ambassadors too participated.

We have not found any solutions to the problems faced by the people in Colombo. As they say, this is predominantly a UNP area and the Council too is UNP dominated. For the first time in history, this is going to be changed. The people have lost their hopes in the UNP. The UNP has not constructed any housing schemes within the city of Colombo. We don’t need a Mayor to come and say that former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa did a good job. Anybody who has the power as the brother of the President and the Government’s money at his disposal can perform well. But we performed in the CMC with the help of private sector participation and a clean administration. That is why Mahinda Rajapaksa regime arrested me and got 13 CID officers to investigate Azath Salley’s wrongdoings in the Council, but without success. I have also acted as Acting Mayor. I have done things which no Mayor has done in Colombo. During my tenure as Deputy Mayor, three editorials had been written on me. Nobody could point an accusing finger at me. I am thankful to the President and the SLFP Central Committee for selecting me as the UPFA Mayoral candidate knowing my competence and performances. All the SLFP organizers in Colombo support me.

Q. The UNP has put forward a very strong Mayoral candidate, Rosy Senanayake. Colombo being a traditional UNP bastion , do you think you would be able to secure victory over the UNP candidate?

A. It is not the person but the party that they vote for. Right through it has been the UNP. But, has the UNP delivered the goods is the big question today. They have not performed well. My concept was to run all the 20 departments in the CMC profitably because we utilize tax payers’ money. With my experience in the Local Government and the Council, I think I can effect the necessary change. The people want a person who can take the Council forward, and have pledged their support to me. I am a person who can work for the people and they can contact me any time of the day on my mobile phone.

Q. What are the main issues you would be focusing on during the election campaign? Garbage and housing? What kind of solution are you offering the people of Colombo for these problems?

A. My concept is CMC-private sector partnership. There are tenements and some unauthorized structures on most of the valuable lands in Colombo. We will identify these places. But we will not chase the people out like how former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa did. We will put up high rise buildings on the same premises and see that these people are settled there.

We will launch a massive development with the private sector so that Colombo will look more beautiful. Colombo needs to be one of the cleanest cities. When the then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew came to Sri Lanka, he said “ I am going to transform Singapore into a Sri Lanka ” and he did it. But President J.R.Jayewardene’s dream of making Colombo a Singapore could not be realised. Cleanliness, dengue mosquito menace, garbage and drainage problems still remain unsolved.

We could see the amount of fuel we burn daily, and the valuable foreign exchange on the fuel import that we waste due to traffic congestion. We should have a monorail system in Colombo. Although the former regime signed an agreement to start a monorail system, nothing happened.

I have been invited to contest as the UPFA mayoral candidate. This is going to be a historic election as for the first time, a different party leader has been asked to lead the UPFA campaign for the CMC election. With the support of all UPFA coalition partners, I think we can bring about a difference.

Q. Do you think the people of Colombo are ready for a change this time and prefer the UPFA to the UNP?

A. It is not a question of preferring the UPFA to the UNP, but Azath Salley to Rosy Senanayake.

Q. How about the credentials of the rest of your team contesting the election, especially, the mandatory number of women candidates?

A. We have got some very good women candidates including a Tamil lady who is the manager of a media station. In addition, a former principal of two leading Muslim schools in Colombo, Deepa Edirisinghe and the late Felix Dias Bandaranaike’s niece are also in our list.

Rusiripala Tennakoon who appears often on television on the Bond scam is also in the list. These are people with credibility as we want a vibrant Council. I will invite most of the retired engineers and people who rendered a worthy service to the Council, to be in an advisory capacity.

Q. This time there are no preferential votes and the LG polls are being held at Ward level. How will this affect the electoral chances of UPFA candidates?

A. There is an issue. Colombo has 47 Wards. With dual Wards coming in, we have a total of 66 Wards. So, there will be 66 candidates contesting and the rest will come from the List. Overall, there should be 25 percent women representation in the Council.

The National Unity Government will mark its three years in office on January 8. The former President and his family and some Ministers who robbed the country and many cases against them are still pending. So far, the UNP has not been able to convict even a single person in the Rajapaksa family. We could see the UNP also doing the same thing the Rajapaksas did. It is an issue the people are most disappointed in.

They said they would usher in good governance and put all those who robbed the country in jail, within three months of their coming into power. None of those pledges have been fulfilled so far. Today, from the President down to any Minister, Deputy Minister, MP or even a Provincial Councillor or Pradeshiya Sabha member has not been caught in robbing the country. The credibility of the President is the most important factor. The people have confidence in the President as a leader who always fulfils the pledges given to the people. That is going to be the winning point at this election.

Q. You have been a very strong critic of corruption either by the previous Government or the present Government. If elected to the mayoral post, what are your plans to minimize waste and corruption in the CMC?

A. I have fulfilled that during my tenure. When we were elected in 2001, we started the one-stop shop. We planned to computerize the whole thing and started it. But, it was all stopped during the tenure of Mayors, U.M. Imitiyas and A.J.M. Muzammil. Again we will bring back the one-stop shop.

Q. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is contesting many parts of Colombo. Do you think they have any chance of making a big impact at the forthcoming polls?

A. The SLPP is led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. If the former President and others with him had the guts to form a separate political party, they should have resigned their posts and contested the CMC election. He should have come forward as the mayoral candidate.

They would then see how they fare. He enjoys all perks as former President and also a Member of Parliament. Is it reasonable for him to do so? Who will join hands with them? The people have now identified this set of rogues who should not be elected. What can the people expect from them? They don’t even have a person to be named as the mayoral candidate.

The SLPP is represented by some very senior Parliamentarians, but they can’t even fill a form correctly. It is a shame. The nominations submitted by them for 11 local bodies were rejected. We will convince the voters and the people that they need a vibrant Council with a forthright leadership. This vibrant leadership comes from the top, that is the President, followed by me as the Mayoral candidate. We will deliver the goods and mete out justice to one and all.