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Pot Shot

 Tourism industry battered and bruised


Basil’s tough talk and MR’s damage control


Mahinda Rajapakse, Basil Rajapakse
and Maithripala Sirisena

The provincial councils of the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces were dissolved by the government after closely studying the results of several surveys.

Many in government believe that unlike the eastern provincial poll, the outcome of these two PC elections would play a very decisive role in stabilising the government. As President Mahinda Rajapakse has realised the importance of the elections, he has decided to play the main role in the campaign for the two PCs.

Soon after his return from an overseas tour, the President summoned a meeting at Temple Trees with the government members in the PCs to discuss the elections to be held for the North Central and the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils.

The President at the meeting made an important statement. He said that at a time when the opposition was carrying out a campaign stating that the people were against the government, elections such as the PC polls should be held to counter the criticism and show the government’s popularity among the people. Rajapakse then asked the representatives to work hard to ensure the government’s victory at the PC polls as they were crucial for the government.

A file for each

The President then summoned each PC member individually and handed them a file. Each file contained a list of tasks to be handled by the respective PC member and the state institutions he would have to align himself with to carry out the campaign.

Although the meeting with the PC members ended without any debate on the campaign, the next meeting summoned at the Presidential Secretariat was an important one.

The meeting was for the heads of all PC institutions. Rajapakse chaired the meeting flanked by Basil Rajapakse and Maithripala Sirisena on either side. Sirisena made a brief welcome speech and Basil made a speech soon after.

Basil who is neither an office bearer of the SLFP nor a minister in the government attended the meeting as the President’s brother.

"We did not summon you for a meeting only to say that you need to work on the campaign for two more elections. I know that many of the chairmen here worked hard during the Eastern Provincial Council elections. I also know very well how a few ignored their work. I will say one thing. This time around no one will be able to ignore their duties. There will be no room for it.

Well aware

"I am aware how our ministers worked during the last provincial council elections. Some ministers went with their families, stayed at hotels and enjoyed themselves for weekends and returned to Colombo. They used the period to go on picnics. There were also some who went to the east in the morning and drove around till dawn and returned to Colombo. Another lot just visited the east on days when we went there to attend meetings. They would just show their faces to mark their presence and then return to Colombo.

"I will relate one incident that took place. The local government heads complained to the President that a minister who had been put in charge of a certain institution had not showed his presence at all. The President was angry and I asked him to look into it. The President called this minister and asked how he was doing. The Minister said that he was exhausted after working for the elections. The President then mentioned an electorate and asked if it was raining there. The minister responded by saying that there were occasional showers. The President then asked if the occasional showers were being experienced in the seat given to him for the elections or on the seat he was sitting on at the time. The Minister was stunned. The President then told him that he knew everything that was going on. That was how we got the work done," Basil said.

He then said he had another secret to tell.

More secrets

"I will tell you another secret. During the period the Eastern Provincial Council elections were being held, a special police team was deployed to each post at the entrance and exit to the area. One of the tasks allocated to them was to maintain a chart of each and every minister who entered and left the area. When the elections ended, I received the chart. I showed it to the President. When you look at the chart, you can easily see the kind of work carried out by the ministers. Therefore, this time around, apart from the election campaign, we are going to launch another secret operation to determine the honesty of the ministers. We will need your help for that.

"It is the ministers and parliamentarians who enjoy all the perks unlike you, but when there is an election, they try to ignore their work. We have decided to identify such ministers to keep them in their due place in future. If we get your help, then the work will be easier," Basil said.

Hearing Basil’s words that were insulting to many of the SLFP ministers, the heads of the provincial institutions were left looking at each other trying to decide what has become of the SLFP.

Everyone began to whisper as to what Basil was trying to do given the silence maintained by the President and the SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena. During Basil’s speech, Sirisena had either been resting his head on his hand or looking at the ceiling of the Presidential Secretariat.

Damage control

The President, who spoke after Basil, had then tried to minimise the damage caused by Basil’s speech.

The President had thanked everyone who worked hard during the eastern polls and said that everyone should enjoy the victory together. He also said that the war was entering a decisive moment and the government would continue the war till the end.

Rajapakse also reminded those gathered that it was not a SLFP government that was in power, but that it was a coalition of many parties. Therefore, he asked everyone to work in a manner that would not hurt any of the parties in the government.

After his speech, the President walked among the chairmen and spoke to them in a more cordial manner.

Basil however had left for his office but the meeting gave a clear indication who was calling the shots in the government.


NFF’s party pooper does it again

The National Freedom Front (NFF) formed by JVP defectors Wimal Weerawansa and Nandana Gunathileka opened its party headquarters on Thursday, June 19 morning. The opening was held amidst the usual interventions that take place where the NFF is concerned.

This time around, like during previous occasions, the intervention was caused by Gunathileka’s legal wife. It was Gunathileka’s legal wife who created a disruption at the launch ceremony of the NFF as well.

Spouses of the NFF members were not invited for the ceremony held to mark the launch of the NFF. However, Gunathileka’s legal wife, who is now separated from him, wanted to attend the function. She entered the venue, but was prevented from entering the hall. Unable to convince the security personnel to permit her in, she called Weerawansa’s wife, Sashi, who immediately arrived at the scene.

Locked out

Sashi, kicked open the door and entered the hall, much to the dismay of Gunathileka and Weerawansa, who at the time was making a speech.

However, the latest incident was when the party opened its headquarters last Thursday.

Gunathileka’s wife wanted to attend that event as well.

Sashi agreed to take her to the venue without any hesitation. However Sashi had told Gunathileka’s wife that she would not be in a position to accompany her inside as she had an important appointment. As promised, Sashi had taken Gunathileka’s wife to the building located in Jayanthipura, Battaramulla. Sashi had left the place after dropping her.

The problems began soon after. The security personnel at the venue had prevented Gunathileka’s wife from entering the premises.

Gunathileka’s wife had then started to shout at the security personnel. Her son, who was also with her had begun to cry in the middle of the chaos.

However, the security personnel had managed to make sure that the scene was not caught on tape by any of the media personnel present at the time.

Domestic issues

Gunathileka’s legal wife is currently staying at a house given to her by a JVP parliamentarian at the Madiwela housing complex. The house was initially given for Gunathileka and his family. However, Gunathileka later separated from her, but the wife continues to stay in the house.

Later Gunathileka was given a residence in Madiwela as well. The wife then said that she did not like staying at another person’s house and asked for the house allocated to Gunathileka.

Gunathileka immediately handed over the house to parliament, leaving his wife with no option but to continue to live in the house given by the JVP parliamentarian.

While Gunathileka is busy with the government, it is the JVP that has been left to fend for his wife and family.


Berty gets set for internal battle over CM stakes

The North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils were dissolved one year before their term ended.

Soon after the decision was made to dissolve the two councils following results of a survey, the President summoned the two chief ministers from the provinces and informed them of the decision.

Although North Central Province Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake agreed with the President’s decision, he was not too pleased to hold an election in the province one year earlier.

Dissanayake who called some friends to his residence soon after the decision to dissolve the councils was announced had made some interesting comments.

"This is a fine state of affairs. The people in the country have nothing to eat. They play out money under the guise of the war. After that, when they want to check the people’s pulse, they take us for a bite. If they wanted to check the pulse then the President and his brother could have dissolved the Southern Provincial Council and held an election there. That is the way to do it. Instead they have dissolved the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils and are trying to destroy us and the government as well," he had reportedly said.

Basil’s plan

Even as Dissanayake was making this statement, a plan was being hatched against him at the Presidential Secretariat. The plan is to name a secret candidate for the chief ministerial slot in the North Central Province due to the decline in Dissanayake’s popularity and the alleged corruption charges leveled against him in the Anuradhapura District.

Basil Rajapakse has now taken the matter into his own hands and has shown the results of the survey to many. Basil also spent the last few days trying to find a new candidate to be included in the government list of the Anuradhapura District.

Basil had first proposed the name of former army chief of staff and present Sri Lankan Ambassador to Malaysia, Nanda Mallawarachchi to be included in the Anuradhapura district list. A rumour to the effect was also circulated by the Presidential Secretariat.

However, the proposal had to be dropped because Mallawarachchi had informed he had no intention of contesting any polls.

Now the name of North Central Province Governor, Karunaratane Divulgane has been proposed in the list in place of Dissanayake.

Close to CBK

The plan is to appoint Dissanayake to the posts vacated by Divulgane when he resigns from the posts to contest the election. Divulgane would become the government’s chief ministerial candidate.

There is another reason for Basil to attack Dissanayake. That is the close friendship between Dissanayake and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

When Kumaratunga visited Anuradhapura on several occasions, it was at Dissanayake’s residence that she had her meals. In London too the duo had some discussions.

Therefore, on several occasions, Basil asked Dissanayake to release statements to the media attacking Kumaratunga. Although Dissanayake did not refuse the requests, he did not make any such statements.

Other option

If by chance Basil’s plan to name Divulgane as the chief ministerial candidate does not work out as planned, then the other option would be to contest the election keeping the chief ministerial slot open.

In such an instance, Basil would hope that another government candidate would receive more preferential votes than Dissanayake.

Dissanayake is well aware of the plan being hatched against him at the Presidential Secretariat.

Dissanayake too is now engaged in taking several steps that would counter Basil’s strategy. Therefore, if Dissanayake is not named as the government’s chief ministerial candidate, it is likely that he would take several decisions that would rattle the party.


Karu’s plan with Mahinda backfires

Many were the headlines in the state media and several private media on a brewing internal conflict in the UNP. Such stories have not been new to the UNP.

Although internal debates are not new to the UNP as well, a certain section has expressed great interest in the so called conflict within the UNP. It is none other than the 17 UNP defectors headed by Karu Jayasuriya.

Jayasuriya and his group decided to defect from the UNP, join the government and accept ministerial portfolios to teach a lesson to the UNP leadership and enjoy the perks of office, fearing they will have to spend six more years in opposition.

However, in what was apparently a raw deal President Mahinda Rajapakse handed several lameduck ministries to the UNP defectors. During initial discussions the defectors had with the government, the request was to make Jayasuriya the prime minister.

Criticised in private

Although Rajapakse agreed at first, the decision was later changed and the 17 defectors were given ministerial portfolios that they later began to criticise in private. They also began to be critical of the treatment meted out to them by the President and the government. They then began to say that they would have been better off if they were with the UNP. The defectors then began waiting for an opportune time to rejoin the party.

It is in this backdrop that the UNP’s so called conflict emerged. Believing the time was right the defectors then began working on ways to return to the UNP. Gamini Lokuge, Dharmadasa Banda and several other defectors held secret discussions with the UNP through Parliamentarians Ranjith Madduma Bandara and Ravi Samaraweera. The discussions were held to look in to the possibility of the defectors returning to the party and continuing with their work from where they left.

Madduma Bandara and Samaraweera went for the discussion with Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s consent. They held several rounds of secret discussions.

News then came out that another group of 17 defectors were having discussions with UNP Parliamentarians Lakshman Seneviratne and Johnston Fernando. When questioned, Fernando denied having such discussions.

However, the defectors decided to meet at Jayasuriya’s residence to discuss how best they could split the UNP. The plan was to return to the party as a decisive factor when the conflict reached a crisis point.

Defectors’ plan

The defectors decided to work according to the plan.

The President before long heard of the secret discussions and he inquired from several ministers from the defectors group about it and asked them to report to him on the crisis.

The defectors tasked Rajitha Senaratne, Mano Wijeratne and Hemakumara Nanayakkara to find more details about the crisis in the UNP. However, Jayasuriya who understood that the President was aware of his secret dealings with the UNP, met Rajapakse and informed him of the defectors’ plan. He told the President that the plan was to allow the crisis in the UNP to worsen and then for 12 defectors along with him to return to the party and capture the leadership.

Judas’ master plan

Jayasuriya also pledged that once he secured power in the UNP, he along with the UNP will support the President.

Rajapakse responded by saying that Rukman Senanayake has been widely accepted as the alternate leader in the UNP and that Jayasuriya’s return to the party with a few others would not change anything. However, the President tactically avoided expressing either his pleasure or displeasure about Jayasuriya and co.’s decision to return to the UNP.

Soon after Jayasuriya’s meeting, the President summoned the state media heads to Temple Trees and asked them to carry news items that boosted Senanayake’s image.


High drama in the UNP Working Committee

Many have been the reports of a controversy within the UNP. However, the UNP parliamentarians whose names have been associated with the ‘controversy’ say that the intention is not to split the party and join the government.

These members say that their intention is to find solutions to the shortcomings in the party in order to establish a UNP government in the near future. They decided not to make any public statements and brought out their issues at the party’s last working committee meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting it was Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena who spoke of the unfair treatment meted out to him. He said that when his security personnel were withdrawn, he had to take the battle to the Supreme Court without any support from the party. He also said that he had no intention of speaking about the matter at the party’s working committee meeting.

Parliamentarian Johnston Fernando said that it was better to speak out rather than keep silent seeing the shortcomings of the party.

Finding fault

"I am now compelled to do something that I never wished to do. The campaign to go on bullock carts and toot horns was decided without lending an ear to what the majority had to say. People cannot be used and then discarded after the work is done. I am a Catholic and have no personal agenda. But there are now issues that have made it difficult to work with the party.

"The fact that we are getting weak is unfair for the UNPers who voted for us at the elections. I am speaking openly in a democratic party. This is the best place to discuss issues. But when we speak, if some one says that Lakshman Seneviratne and I have taken commissions that is wrong. I have not taken a rupee from the party," Fernando said.

It was Milroy who interrupted Fernando at this point. The atmosphere changed as soon as Milroy asked how long Fernando was going to take to end his speech.

Jayawickrema Perera, Dilip Wedaarachchi, Earl Gunasekera, Gayantha Karunathileka, Palitha Range Bandara and several others jumped at Milroy and said that he should allow Fernando to continue with what he had to say.

Super clan

Fernando then began to speak once again. "The power of the party has been taken over by a super clan. They tell the leader that we are winning elections, but they are wrong. They do not tell the real situation to the leader. People are not allowed to express their thoughts. Milroy is the best example of that. Saw how he interrupted me earlier? They are the ones who are ruining the party. A committee was appointed to identify those who did not attend the eastern elections. But I say that a committee should be appointed to look for those who went overseas during the election time.

"The Opposition Leader should act accordingly, but some one should be appointed to look into the functions of the party. Sajith and SB should also be given a place. But do not try to appoint committees, as they are of no use. The government will go for a general election soon after the provincial council elections. There are some in our party who are in power who want to get control of the party once we lose at the general election. We have no agenda like that. All we want is to make the party a winning one," Fernando said.

Seneviratne spoke next. "I speak these words honestly. You should keep your hands to your chest and ask yourself if we could go on like this. Can we make the UNP win if we go on like this? There has to be a great change in the party. If not we will lose at the next elections. It is UNP blood that runs through our veins and we do not work according to other people’s contracts. The working committee can decide what we need to do.

Stood by leader

"Since 1993, for 14 years, we have stood by the leader, and we too need some attachment shown. The party is left only with 40 parliamentarians. But why can’t we all go in one direction? Everyone is separated. The party leader can make a decision. I will never leave the party. I will attack Mahinda Rajapakse’s government today, tomorrow and thereafter," Seneviratne said.

Parliamentarian Naushad also said there were lots of shortcomings in the party, but said they have to be addressed and the journey has to be continued with the party leadership.

Gunasekera and P. Harrison said that the party could not proceed further with shortcomings. Renuka Herath said the issues needed to be resolved within the party.

Chairman, Homagama Pradeshiya Sabha, Manju Sri Arangala also spoke at the meeting.

He said it was not the time to revolt against the party leadership. He added that if that be the case, then it would be playing to the needs of the 17 UNP defectors and said at a time the party was preparing to face two provincial council elections, other people’s agendas should be kept aside.

Vajira Abeywardena also said that the party needed to address its shortcomings. Cader said that the party leadership should not be changed and added that Ranil Wickremesinghe was a pillar of strength to the party.

Wickremesinghe after listening to everything commenced his speech citing a jathaka story. He said that if there were any truth in the allegations leveled against him, he would accept them.

Equally at fault

"If there is something wrong, I accept it. But I am not ready to say that those who have found fault with me are 100% correct. Those who are finding fault with me also have responsibilities in the party. They have been given roles to take the party where it needs to be taken. Therefore, accept the shortcomings on your part as well.

"There are various ideas in the party. Let’s discuss them. That is why there is a committee for it. Forward your proposals to it and let’s do what we can. I am carrying out a massive campaign against the Mahinda Rajapakse administration and I am not ready stop that fight. I will take that fight to the streets irrespective of who is with me. I have organised a sathyagraha to commence from Colombo Central. I believe that everyone would participate in the event.

"Irrespective of who decides to avoid it, I will go ahead with it. I will continue with this fight in temples, kovils and churches. The government doesn’t feel anything just because we stand in the hot sun holding boards. We have to take to the streets with the people. No matter what forces stand against me, I will continue with the fight against the Rajapakse administration," Wickremesinghe said to wide acclaim.


Media talks turkey with politicos

The main political parties held a discussion last week following an invitation extended by five media organisations affiliated to the National Media Centre.

The discussion was held at the Sri Lanka Press Institute. The main aim of the discussion was to look in to the media suppression that is taking place.

The Working Journalists Association, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum, Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Association, Free Media Movement and the Federation of Media Employers Trade Union participated at the discussion.

The political parties were represented by Rauf Hakeem, Ravi Karunanayake, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Mano Ganesan and Ven. Akmeemana Dayarathana Thero. Ministers Dulles Alahapperuma and Rajitha Senaratne represented the government.

List of issues

The media personnel explained to the politicians issues faced by the media in the country during the last two years and cited some instances as given below:

• The government has been unable to complete any investigation held into the murders of journalists and threats and intimidation of journalists.

• The alleged forcible entry into the Rupavahini Corporation premises by Minister Mervyn Silva on December 27 and the intimidation of media personnel attached to the institution afterwards. Although the actions stopped following an order by the President, he continues to attack media personnel attached to the Sirasa. No action has yet been instituted against the Minister.

• The official website of the Defence Ministry has named several media institutions, personnel, editors and organisations as traitors and called on the security forces to take care of them. The same website in the name of the Defence Ministry has indicated the need for self-censorship.

• Hudson Samarasinghe, who conducts a vindictive radio programme trying to instigate people and shut certain media personnel and organisations, has been appointed as the head of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.

• The threat made by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse to the President and Secretary, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Sanatha Balasuriya and Poddala Jayantha on May 26, 2008 that their lives would be at stake if they continue with their fight for media freedom.

• The fearful suppression of the media in the Jaffna peninsula, where over 200 media personnel functioned at one point, has prevented media personnel from engaging in their profession in the area. The editor and news editor of the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna have been forced to live in the office premises due to the threats faced by them.

• Journalist J.S. Tissainayagam has been held by the CID for over 100 days without being charged. Journalist Parameshwari, who was released by the courts is being still addressed as a terrorist by heads in the government.

• Peaceful protests organised in line with the right to free expression being subject to attacks in Chilaw and Colombo.

The media personnel at the discussion highlighted that media freedom was associated with the democratic rights of the country. The need for a broad people’s force to call for the implementation of the right to information bill, establishment of the 17th Amendment, ensuring free and fair elections, abolishing the executive presidency, and protecting professional rights of the people were also highlighted.

Accusations

UNP Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake said that there was a plan now to change the management of media institutions to make them loyal to the government.

The media organisations said that when the Free Media Movement met with the President and called for the implementation of the right to information bill, the President had responded by saying it could not be done at a time the country was fighting a war.

Hakeem said that the President’s response was unacceptable and that most countries engaged in wars follow free policies. He reiterated the importance of implementing the right to information bill.

Karunaratne said that discussions could not be held with representatives of a government that was engaged in media suppression.

Alahapperuma, who denied the allegation that the government was suppressing the media, said a ministerial sub committee has been appointed to address the grievances of the media personnel and that from Friday (20), the committee would meet and decide the solutions to most of the problems.

Senaratne said that he in no way endorsed the suppression of the media and that he and several other members in the government have already raised a voice against the issue.

He also said that leaving aside reports by international media organisations, he should be handed the reports prepared by local media organisations.

It was Sunanda Deshapriya who clashed with Senaratne.

International media

"Don’t get angry with the international community. We work with international media institutions. We are affiliated to the IFJ. They stand for our protection and they have no other agenda. Those reports cannot be cast aside like that," Deshapriya said.

Alahapperuma then said, "I deny the allegation that the government is suppressing the media. But I accept that there is a problem. That is why a ministerial sub committee was appointed."

Ven. Dayarathana Thero said that the media needs to be more thoughtful when highlighting sensitive issues.

However, the two government members left the discussion early saying they had to attend the cabinet meeting.


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