Says people radicalised by the ISIS operating in Sri Lanka
Q Religious extremism and racism are creating chaos in the country. As a party, The Jathika Hela Urumaya could be the political party that started highlighting prominence of one ethnic group, considering the recent past. What is your view of the current situation in Sri Lanka?
We are a pragmatic political party. We were against terrorism. Our Governments were promoting an enemy-centred strategy. It is not a population-centred strategy that was developed in the Western countries, where the Governments provided populations with requirements and isolated terrorists. But it never worked.
Whatever that was being said by many as well as experts of military affairs did not work. Our strategy won.
It is not ethnic based but our strategy targets terrorists.
Unfortunately today we are not focusing on the real issues in our country. We have the best example with the bombing in Manchester UK. It was a radicalised youth operating alone who exploded. How many such lone wolves are operating in this country? Top foreign intelligence agencies have been warning Sri Lanka on this threat. We have not paid enough attention. The BBS, Jamiyyathul Ulamah, Thowheed Jamath are visible. Legal action can be taken against them when they break the law. But the threat I mentioned earlier is invisible.
It is proven by intelligence agencies that persons radicalised by the ISIS are operating in Sri Lanka originating from various countries. And also the foreign elements – especially from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Maldives are operating in Sri Lanka in hundreds. We know that. It will become a serious threat in the future to the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.
Persons radicalised by the ISIS are operating in Sri Lanka originating from various countries.
Q If that is so, isn’t it a responsibility of the Sri Lankan intelligence agencies?
Definitely. But unfortunately in the past few years without handling the real culprits we were discouraging the Sri Lankan intelligence services. Excellent officers have left the service. There is a void now. Those who propagated against our military intelligence should take this responsibility. In this backdrop we are at more a serious threat than what is visible to the eye.
Q Coming on to your subject area Mr. Minister, the collapse of a seven storeyed building in Wellawatte was an eye opener. Media reported that the owner of the building surrendered to the Police. What is the current situation of the investigations?
The reason behind this is speculated as a structural failure. There had been a proper drawing for a three storeyed building. But the owner, on his own, has raised it to seven floors. The rear side of the building was actually built encroaching the reservation kept for the Wellawatte Canal.
This he has built as a reception hall. The front part of the building was for an apartment but there was no such apartment. Both buildings did not have proper approval and were without the Certificate of Conformity (CoC).
A recent survey done by the Urban Development Authority found that over 1,800 constructions were done without adhering to standards within the Colombo City.
And along the Wellawatte Canal reservation, there are 18 unauthorized constructions. These buildings are dangerous for the people to live in as they are substandard. Above all, there aren’t any procedures followed to ascertain the stability of these buildings.
Therefore, we request the people who intend to buy or rent out apartments to seriously look in to the documentation, approvals of the buildings especially the certificate of conformity (CoC). Whether the companies have these authorisations issued only by the relevant institutes, like the UDA.
Q In a recent press briefing you mentioned that this would be an eye opener to the Government and the authorities to dig in to construction works, which did not meet the standard requirements. Does it mean the Government will tighten the law further?
We must tighten the law. Substandard constructions obstruct traffic, the water flow and devastate the low level areas and the precious environment.
Q In a recent press briefing you mentioned that there could be issues the officials would face when attempting to take action against these low-standard constructions. What are these factors holding back the process?
The law itself is not strong enough to implement as it gives loopholes to the constructors to get away from the crime.
And the other problem is that the number of Government institutes involved in permitting construction. There is no proper coordination among them. Ideally it should be one single authority, at least at the monitoring level.
And the corruption in this system is a major problem. This exists among the officials as well as politicians who get involved in these businesses directly or indirectly.
Many of these constructors and contractors have political blessings. Mind you, even the Wellawatte building owner was not arrested – he surrendered and was then placed under arrest. It happened because of our intervention. If we did not intervene this tragedy would end up as another unresolved problem. It is high time we take a stern decision. As these types of problems are likely to recur and therefore the law enforcement agencies and the relevant authorities must take action without hesitation.
Meethotamulla was chosen as the site because the protest against the sanitary landfill at Waga. Blomendhal was chosen because of the protests against Meepe landfill.
Q Contractors building low quality buildings has been an open secret. People have experienced that – be it an apartment, office building or housing schemes. Can’t the authorities take direct action rather than waiting for residents to complain?
This issue has been happening nearly for three decades now. Therefore we are seeking all possibilities to find out methods to take legal action against these poor quality construction works and their owners. The main element is corruption. We will eliminate this menace and the errant officials will be punished according to the law.
Q Are there provisions that allow institutes like the Urban Development Authority to intervene in to issues of this nature?
There are a few factors we need to sort out. After June, with more facts and data in our hands, we will analyse the situation further. And then decide whether we need to delegate some powers to local authorities. But with major constructions the responsibility will be with the UDA.
And regulations will be strictly implemented. Discussions are ongoing to introduce an online system for approvals, certificates, so there will be some transparency in the work.
Q Are there any cases where the Government agencies responsible for monitoring and controlling these issues have managed to bring those responsible under the law?
Currently there are 400 court cases filed by the UDA against substandard constructions. The cases are still ongoing.
Q Isn’t this is an indication of failure in urban development?
Yes, this is messy urbanisation. Development has been taking place without proper environment assessments, social impacts and not even the effects on traffic. It is a business operating without regulations.
Q Are we at a stage where we can rectify the issue?
To some extent we can control. If we adhere to the regulations and strictly enforce the law we have a chance. I have given clear directives to the Legal Department of the UDA to take stern action against the wrongdoers. If not, I will take necessary action.
Q Urban areas generates massive amounts of refuse. Many ideas were considered in the past as solutions to this garbage issue. What is the solution the Megapolis Concept is proposing?
There is a plan that is finalised and agreed upon. We will hand it over to the local authorities to implement. To facilitate them we will evaluate three international bidding processes for Colombo, Dehiwela – Mount Lavinia and the Gampaha District.
As far as Meethotamulla is concerned, the immediate perpetrator of this carnage was the Colombo Municipal Council. Saying that, I must stress that there were other indirect forces, that had an adverse impact on efforts of the CMC. The Municipality tried to give a solution on several occasions in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2014 and 2015, which had to be abandoned because of protest campaigns.
When Karu Jayasuriya was the Colombo Mayor in 1997, he tried to set up a sanitary land fill in Meepe. All the political parties led by MP Dinesh Gunawardane protested. Because of his initiative Karu Jayasuriya narrowly lost as the Western Province Chief Ministerial Candidate.
The solution he proposed for the garbage problem made him infamous. Thereafter almost all politicians were not ready to risk their political future with these kinds of issues.
Dinesh Gunawardane opposed several proposals I made. The proposal to Gazette the Waga area in Padukka as an urban development area recommended for a proper sanitary land fill and later, when it was relocated to Dompe. Despite protests the Dompe landfill was established. The same people who opposed are now making very emotional comments. Meethotamulla was chosen as the site because the protest against the sanitary landfill at Waga. Bloemendhal was chosen because of the protests against Meepe landfill.
But to solve the garbage problems we need sanitary landfills. The waste generated in Colombo is not only that of its permanent residents. The amount gets doubled because one million people daily commute to Colombo for work and seeking other services. Therefore this is a national issue. Everyone makes comments and no one was there to take the responsibility so now we at the Ministry took the responsibility.
We are a pragmatic party. Our target was terrorism. Our strategy won.
Q What is the solution now?
As of now we are discussing to dump the garbage in Aruwakkaru in Puttlam. Earlier there was a proposal in 2014. But this time it will be a different location but in the same area. The previous location had to be rejected as the Wildlife Department opposed it. These are the abandoned limestone pits that were used by the Cement Corporation a longtime ago. We plan to finalise the environment and social impact assessments by June. A Korean team of experts are in the process of designing this.
Q There was a major project under the previous Government to beautify the city through which certain key areas of the city became cleaner and breathable. Is there any particular reason to discontinue the project?
It is not abandoned. There are more serious issues the city is facing like floods and poor living standards of the low income level community. There are 17,000 persons in the low income level community. Waste water drainage is improper. These are the most affecting issues. The UDA is facing heavy losses in trying to maintain the beautification programmes. It has to spend Rs. 17 million a month just to maintain jogging tracks. And the Government is not funding the UDA for the maintenance because it is an autonomous establishment.
We are trying to fully focus on bringing solutions to flood control, waste management and traffic control. By beautifying the Vihara Maha Devi Park or maintaining jogging tracks we won’t solve these major issues.