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CM and Navy trade charges
BY Mirudhula Thambiah
People's attention has been drawn to the Eastern Province Chief Minister Hafeez Naseer Ahamed and his outburst at the Naval officer who was the compere at a school function organized at the Sampur Maha Vidyalaya by the Navy during the latter part of last week.
When the video of the Eastern Chief Minister reprimanding the Naval compere telling him to "get out, you idiot" was released, it raised many people's eyebrows. They did not condone the alleged misbehaviour of the Chief Minister towards a Navy officer. Others said it was an occasion when the power of Provincial Councils was ignored. The navy had apparently invited only the Eastern Province Governor to the school function, while the Chief Minister and the Education Minister were available.
The Eastern Chief Minister Ahamed accused Governor Austin Fernando of undermining his authority and also interfering with his duties. He slammed the Governor for not knowing the protocol under the Provincial Councils Act, and for not informing the compere that he was the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province.
High Security Zone
The incident took place at a school event organized by the Navy held at the Sampur Maha Vidyalaya which was recently released from the High Security Zone in the Sampur region. When the Navy released the school from their custody, they said certain development activities will be provided by them to the school authority. A science laboratory and a computer science laboratory were built under the sponsorship of the Navy.
To mark the handing over of both the labs, the Navy organized the event on 20 May, for which they invited the Governor and the US Ambassador Atul Keshap. It is learnt that it was on the Governor's invitation that the Chief Minister of Eastern Province and Education Minister C. Thandayuthapani attended the event.
Chief Minister Ahamed and Education Minister Thandayuthapani were seated at the first row during the event. As Governor Fernando and US Ambassador Keshap were invited by the Navy to distribute bags for students they proceeded to the stage.
From the stage the Governor signalled the Chief Minister to join the bag distribution. The Chief Minister asked the Education Minister to follow him to the stage. As they entered the stage the Navy compere stopped them from entering it. The angry Chief Minister who thought it was a disgraceful event to his authority lost his temper.
The Chief Minister Ahamed later said, the Sampur Maha Vidyalaya does not come under the purview of the Navy. It is under the Eastern Provincial Council, it was handed over to the council on 25 March. Despite the availability of both Chief Minister and the Provincial Education Minister, the Navy had invited the Eastern Province Governor and the US Ambassador for the event. They were invited to the stage to distribute bags to the students.
"Provincial Minister of Education and I were seated in the first row. The Governor who was on the stage invited the Education Minister and me to come on to the stage. The naval officers were not in a mood to even invite us to the event," he said.
"As I walked towards the stage, I also requested the Education Minister to come with me, when the Governor only invited me to the stage," Ahamed said.
"When the navy officer stopped me and the Education Minister from climbing the stage, it was a moment when the power of the Provincial Council was called in question. As the Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council, I had to question why we were not invited to the event," he said.
Commenting on the incident Governor Fernando told Ceylon Today, Sampur Maha Vidyalaya is a small school where they had classes up to G.C.E Advanced Level. It is not a very big school like Ananda or Nalanda. But it's a good school.
"I consider the Chief Minister's allegations in a very humorous manner. The Governor is not a person to ask a compere who should be invited or who should not be called upon. It is a matter for the organizers to do that. The Governor has certain functions under the Constitution," he said.
He also said, "The Chief Minister said it was the responsibility of the Governor to tell the compere who should be invited. However, it is not the Governor's responsibility and there is no provision to do so. It is like you are trying to give me a book, and I say I don't want it. You ask me to take it, however I say no. Then the book is in your hand and not with me."
When asked if the incident had caused any misunderstanding between the Chief Minister and him, he said, "When people make mistakes, sometimes we forget or we advise them. We did not have any problem in the past. I am the Governor and he is the Chief Minister."
The Ministry of Defence issued an order on Thursday (26) prohibiting the Eastern Province Chief Minister Ahamed from entering any military camps, following a joint request from the commanders of the armed forces to Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi. Navy spokesperson Captain Akram Alavi told Ceylon Today that the security forces also decided not to take part in any functions attended by Ahamed as a protest against his behaviour. Defence Secretary Hettiarachchi also said the decision was taken after considering a request by the security forces to take such an action.
No entry to camps
Navy Commander Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne said, "Our view is very clear, he will not enter any of our camps."
It is learnt that top military officials are now pressurizing the Defence Secretary Hettiarachchi and President Sirisena as they are demanding action against Chief Minister Ahamed.
According to reliable sources, an inquiry into the incident should be held by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Minister Rauff Hakeem.
When Secretary General of the party Hasan Ali was contacted he said, "I cannot comment on the issue, as the party has not yet decided to hold an inquiry into the incident."
Several attempts to contact the SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem were not successful.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday (27) has demanded a comprehensive report from both parties involved.
Wickremesinghe intends to hand over the reports to President Maithripala Sirisena on his return from Japan.
He has also requested both sides to stop issuing statements to the media until the President makes a decision on the issue.
Chief Minister Ahamed and Education Minister Thandayuthapani declined to comment further on the incident.
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