24th October, 2004  Volume 11, Issue  15

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


JHU - A political tragedy

By Frederica Jansz 

Perhaps a telling indictment on the current status of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is the prominent statement displayed.....


Kawda mewata waga kiyanne?

By Frederica Jansz 

Six months into office, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her alliance government including the Janatha Vimukthi.....


JHU - A political tragedy

Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero, Tilak Karunaratne and Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero

By Frederica Jansz 

Perhaps a telling indictment on the current status of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is the prominent statement displayed on its web page which states 'under construction.' The specific page which is not available to surfers is that detailing the history of the JHU.

Deputy Leader, Supreme Sangha Council, JHU, Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero is convinced a "coup" by "religious fundamentalist groups" is the reason for the present havoc reigning within the JHU.

"There are many enemies to destroy this national front and national programme. They are fundamentalist Christian religious groups, also the Tamil Tigers and the other political parties. We have made many enemies," he said. And that is the understatement of the year.

Formed to protect and breed a pure Sinhala national heritage shortly after President Kumaratunga sacked the United National Front (UNF) government on February 7, this year, the stage was set for a right wing nationalist party of this nature to be born.

These monks have since stirred a recipe for racial discrimination and repression that can be compared with that propagated by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Islamic militants that call themselves Mullahs in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Is it no wonder they have cultured many enemies?

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha of course will not agree with this view - but how else does one term a Sinhala nationalistic party, other than on similar lines to that of the LTTE?

Holistic approach

Omalpe Sobitha Thero talks about a holistic approach of the parliamentary monks. The nation however is yet to bear witness. Fighting to keep on track as the party is wracked with controversy and conflict, Ven. Sobitha obviously means well, but even he can hardly defend current perception that the monks' entry into parliament has been but a terrible mistake.

The party's former founding member, Tilak Karunaratne having "washed his hands" off the monks who he says "became impossible to manage" in retrospect asserts that "this was an experiment that went horrendously wrong."

It was Karunaratne and former Administrative Secretary, Udaya Gammanpila together with sacked JHU Secretary, Champika Ranawaka who masterminded the birth of the JHU.

It is these three who are now being accused by the MP monks of staging a coup and attempting to take control by daring to question the priestly method of political administration. A moot point these monks have missed. And that is, once they have donned the mantle of being politician, then not only are they answerable to the lay members of their party, but to this entire nation.

That they do not think so only proves their political immaturity. If they believe they can walk the corridors of parliament without being held accountable for their monetary and other transactions, all because they are cloaked in a robe, then it is indeed a fool's paradise they live in.

The party came into being after Tilak Karunaratne, together with Gammanpila and Ranawaka merged policies of the Sihala Urumaya and its associated organisation of Buddhist monks, the Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya (JSS) to form the JHU and field some 278 monks at the last general election.

Thus, the JHU successfully managed to convince sections of the urban dwellers that the monks were the answer to curbing corruption and instilling a model type parliamentarian, one that would re-instill traditional values, respectability and decorum. So far, they appear to have failed miserably.

Interestingly, the JHU failed also to convince the die-hard Buddhists in Anuradhapura, Mahiyangana and Polonnaruwa that the monks indeed were the option to a better and brighter future in Sri Lanka. At the last general election they won three seats in Colombo, two in Gampaha, one in Kalutara and one in Kandy. The other two monks were elected on the national list.

Target group

The fact is, the target group for the JHU were sections of the middle classes. Frustrated with corruption and fearful of growing social unrest, the JHU appealed to certain levels in the middle classes when they pledged to clean up politics and establish a righteous society.

But six months into active politics, the JHU has fast realised they have bitten off more than they can chew. The party's 36-year-old General Secretary, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka has succeeded in getting himself steadily involved in one controversy after another.

Last week speculation was rife that he was contemplating a crossover to government ranks. Rumour has it that he had made the threat saying he would do so if "the laity" within the party continued to question his conduct.

Born in Uduwe and hailing from a family of the lower income group, Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero comes from a family of eight siblings. His father was a baker. He speaks about his 'poor' economic background claiming he joined the monk-hood at the tender age of nine, by choice.

Today, the Venerable Uduwe Dhammaloka is the monk at the centre of a controversy. Soft spoken and charismatic, Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero is facing serious charges. His integrity is under question.

He admits he demanded the removal of former JHU Secretary, Champika Ranawaka. According to Uduwe Thero, the latter began pointing fingers at the monks and this, the monk said, could not be tolerated. He adds that while Ranawaka was making false allegations, he (Ranawaka) could not account or explain how he had accrued Rs. 8.9 million to spend.

Champika Ranawaka angrily denied the charge. "He is lying," he said, accusing Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka of breaking one of the five precepts preached by Lord Buddha. Ranawaka explained that Rs. 8.9 million was spent for the entire television campaign of the JHU in the lead up to the April general election.

He said this whole amount was funded by a single businessman - "A very honourable patriotic man highly respected in the private sector - not some casino owner or gambler."

Ranawaka went onto assert that since the money was spent to promote the election campaign of the monks, "it is they who should account for this money and not us," drawing a clear distinction between the monks and the laity of this party.


Meeting the writer on a late Thursday afternoon, Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero sat together with Dr. Lohith Samarawickrema who described himself as being a close friend and confidant of the monk and Treasurer, JHU, Tissa Abeywickrema. Insisting on being shown a statement of income, Abeywickrema after an intense search produced receipts which showed donations made from loyalists or dayakayas as the monks call party supporters.

Among the donations ranging from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 30,000 was one receipt made out to Jagath Sumathipala, brother of Thilanga Sumathipala for a cash donation of Rs. 200,000. The receipt indicated the donation was made together with a group of eight others. The names of the other eight however are not on the receipt.

Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka was at first puzzled as to why it would be improper to accept money from Thilanga Sumathipala. "What can be wrong with that?" he asked, saying Sumathipala's mother has also been a benefactor of the JHU contributing some Rs. 300,000. He believes though it was a group donation made together with 30 other people.

When told it is cause for concern given that Sumathipala earns his living from the gambling industry and is a bookie by profession, Ven. Dhammaloka replied even the Buddha accepted a donation from a prostitute.

"If a man is willing to change, then we must practice the teachings of the Buddha and follow suit," he said.

Elaborating further, Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero preached the art of forgiveness and compassion. He recounted an incident which he said happened when he was just 15 years old. Already a monk Ven. Uduwe said, a person who was very angry with him had attempted to poison him. He survived the attempt, but recalled how five years later this same person came to him seeking shelter and he housed him in his bedroom, having forgiven this individual for his attempt at murder.

Almost in the same breath, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka says he personally sees nothing wrong in accepting gifts. His justification for doing so is merely that these are "donations from ardent dayakayas."

In contrast, when questioned on some of these issues, Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero is embarrassed. He refuses to divulge any further details other than saying that a disciplinary committee is already probing charges against Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero.

Soon after the April 2 general election, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka and Ven. Kolonnawe Siri Sumangala submitted an expenditure statement to the Supreme Sangha Council which detailed they had spent approximately Rs. 6 million on their campaign. However, laity members claim the monks refused to divulge an income account.

Income statement

When questioned, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka denied this aspect saying an income statement was indeed submitted. He was however unable to produce this document if indeed it exists as proof to The Sunday Leader, even after we sat an hour in his company. He showed us his statement on expenditure insisting an account of income was somewhere around.

A confidant of the JHU speaking on grounds of anonymity said certain people in the UK had contributed sums of money to fund the election campaign of Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero. The monies had been donated to the Sihala Urumaya branch in the UK with specific instructions that it must fund the monk's election campaign. The funds were duly diverted.

Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka and Ven. Sri Sumangala may or may not have divulged an income statement but admit the party receives significant donations from sections of the local community comprising of businessmen, the military and state bureaucrats.

This was how the JHU during its election campaign had access to dozens of vehicles to travel around the country while distributing thousands of pamphlets and leaflets. It also carried regular TV advertisements which cost around Rs. 20,000 for 15 seconds.

Champika Ranawaka himself confirmed these advertisements were paid for by a businessman and Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka admits that vehicles he has given some of the other parliamentary monks to use were given to him by dayakayas.

The fact remains that Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero while standing accused of accepting "presents" from government ministers has been spotted enjoying their company as well. This by itself may not be a crime but when it is with ministers who stood accused of manhandling and verbally abusing the monks in parliament then it is matter for the party to sit up and take notice.

Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka was in August seen viewing the Dalada Maligawa perehera in the company of Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. It was whispered that Mervyn Silva was also present. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero says this was a mere coincidence as when he went to view the perehera he was shown to a special area reserved for MPs. He claims Mervyn Silva was not present.

Despite Ven. Dhammaloka's denial with regard to having accepted two vehicles from Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, we stand by our story that he did. We have previously recounted how both Ven. Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala and Ven. Ellawella Medananda at the last meeting of the central committee on October 4, confronted Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka with his denial asking him how he could say so when they had together discussed this previously and decided to keep it only among themselves. Neither monk has issued a denial since we ran the story quoting them both.

Days later in fact Ven. Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala resigned. Apparently in displeasure against being questioned by the laity within the party. Earlier, two other dissident monks, Ven. Kathaluwe Rathanaseeha Thero and Ven. Apparekke Punnananda Thero of Gampaha were forced to resign. Founders, Tilak Karunaratne and Udaya Gammanpila soon followed suit while Champika Ranawaka was sacked this month by the Supreme Sangha Council.

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha attributes all this to the fact the JHU is still "politically immature." But a more telling statement made by Ven. Omalpe Sobitha alleging that Christian fundamental religious groups are part of the cause for the conflict within the JHU lends a more sinister connotation to the fact that both the JSS and SU recently engaged in a vicious anti-Christian campaign.

The JHU thereafter spearheaded a ban on missionaries and what they termed to be unethical conversions. By this time more than a 100 churches had been torched or destroyed by thugs. Several police complaints accused Buddhist monks of being directly responsible. That is not to say any of the JHU monks were involved or instigated the attacks.

Opposition to a negotiated settlement

And even more serious is the JHU's opposition to a negotiated settlement with the LTTE. Bitterly resentful of Norwegian facilitators, the JHU has repeatedly accused the facilitators of being LTTE stooges and consistently called for a strengthening of the military.

On the eve of his election into parliament, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka told the media, "We do not see our campaign as contesting elections but as a measure to safeguard the Buddha Sasana and to prevent the country from falling into enemy hands."

In a 12-point programme the JHU declares that "the Sri Lankan state should be built, as in the past, according to Buddhist principles." Moreover the "national right of the Sinhala nation" is asserted above others on the basis that "national ownership of a country lies with the people who habitated it and built its civilisation and its culture."

And out of this melee, another important factor emerged. And that is that the birth of the JHU effectively split the Buddhist hierarchy.

Top prelates and sections of the media have strongly objected to the monks being directly involved in politics. A recent editorial comment observed, "The kings of Lanka would constantly seek the advice of the monks in order that they guide the destinies of their people righteously: And that is the way it ought to be today. Nowhere is it said that a monk should be the king himself."

And that mildly is putting it in a nutshell.

Kawda mewata waga kiyanne?

Anura Bandaranaike, Wimal Weerawansa and Varuni Amunugama

By Frederica Jansz 

Six months into office, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her alliance government including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna are still owing state media institutions over Rs. 22 million in dues having failed to pay for television and newspaper advertisements carried in the run-up to the April 2 general election.

The UPFA owe The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL) a sum of Rs. 10,819,049.30/-, the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation  Rs. 9,083,295.29, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Rs. 1,269,600, ITN Rs. 904,006.25 and Lakhanda Radio Rs. 126,500.

Letters sent to the advertising agency requesting a settlemetn of dues

The monies are outstanding despite guidelines which dictate that any political advertisements in the run-up to an election must be paid for upfront and that no political party will be allowed credit.

Media institutions do not accept political advertisements unless payment is made upfront but with the state media being under the control of the UPFA in the run up to the 2004 general election, the party has literally gone to town, ironically pushing their slogan, "kawda mewata waga kiyanne?"

Triad Advertising Pvt Ltd., and its sister company Adpack Productions (Pvt) Ltd., handled the advertising campaign for the United People's Freedom Alliance.

Joint Managing Director, Triad, Varuni Amunugama, daughter of Finance Minister, Sarath Amunugama, said that they have made repeated requests to the government urging them to meet these costs but to no avail.  "We have spoken with everyone concerned," she said, when asked if she had discussed the matter with Presidential Advisor, Mano Tittawela.

Zuhair knows nothing

Chairman, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, M.M. Zuhair, on the other hand claimed he knew nothing about this.  "I am not personally aware - if this has come up for recovery then you will have to speak with the Finance Department," he said. Zuhair denied Mano Tittawela had discussed the matter with him and asked him to keep it under wraps.

We reliably learn that Tittawela had indeed discussed the matter both with Zuhair and Varuni Amunugama.

That the Chairman of the SLRC remains unaware that a sum exceeding Rs. 9 million is owing to the corporation only confirms the sorry state this state arm of the media is in under his stewardship. 

On May 28 this year, the accounts officer of the marketing division at SLRC wrote to the media manager at Adpack Production drawing attention to the outstanding balance of Rs. 9.8 million.  According to the letter, the monies are due for television advertisements carried for Tourism and Investment Promotion Minister Anura Bandaranaike and the JVP.

Another reminder dated October 15, 2004 this time from the finance manager at SLRC details the outstanding amounts stating that the letter is to be forwarded to the government audit branch.

Loss of credibility

Varuni Amunugama said Adpack handled the media campaign for the United People's  Freedom Alliance in the weeks preceding April 2, 2004.  She reiterated there is no hard and fast rule that insists on payment upfront for political advertisements but said credit is given in certain cases if the advertising agency lends an assurance.

"Since we are an agency with a credible reputation we gave these media institutions our assurance that the payments would be met.  What has happened now however is certainly not pleasant and our credibility is seriously at stake."

Ms. Amunugama added that if a push comes to shove, she is prepared to even raise a bank loan and meet the bills as she will not risk professional suicide as far as her agency is concerned.  "We definitely do not want to be known as an advertising agency that has no credibility and integrity," she said.

That the UPFA was using the state media as its private property and depriving them of their legitimate dues is also underscored by the fact that all payments due to the private media organisations were settled in time.

Joint Managing Director, Triad, Dilith Jayaweera confirmed to The Sunday Leader that the private sector  bills for the ad campaign were paid on time.

The media campaign carried out by Triad and Adpack on behalf of the alliance was done in three stages.  The first stage was titled: "Kawda mewata waga kiyanne?" (Who is going to be held accountable for these?) The second, "Than athi - karunakara yanna" (Now enough - please go) and the final, a song with the theme: "A new beginning - a change of government." Interestingly, in the backdrop of the UPFA, JVP and Bandaranaike refusing to meet these bills, the Finance Ministry however found the time and funds to fork out a whopping Rs. 8.6 million to purchase two brand new super luxury Nissan X-Trails for Treasury Secretary, Dr. P.B. Jayasundara and Mano Tittawela.

New X-trails

The two vehicles were purchased last month from AMW  at a cost of Rs. 4.3 million each. Dr. Jayasundara  chose the last available black Nissan X-trail which had been reserved by another customer but given to Jayasundara, while Mano Tittewela chose a beige.

The two vehicles come complete with leather interiors, power seats, climate control and are fully automatic.

Both vehicles were purchased just weeks before the government slammed a duty on all imported vehicles.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga arbitrarily took control of three key ministries including media last November, claiming the UNF was misusing the state media institutions. Now we know the reason why. Eleven months later, the President and her alliance government have clearly abused financial ethics, robbing state media organisations of revenue while also placing in jeopardy the reputation of a leading advertising agency.

All this while the government and its erstwhile partner, the JVP cry foul- finger pointing accusations at opposition parties and daring to preach principles of accountability and transparency. 


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