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Makings of a 'Gota-po'...   A monk's arrest that... Mervyn - a law unto himself


A war hero's battle with persecution


Janaka Perera

By Vimukthi Yapa

Some facts are indeed stubborn. A stubborn fact about a man called Janaka Perera, one time Sri Lanka Army Chief of Staff and diplomat turned politician, is that he evokes extreme responses. A perpetual newsmaker, he is either loved or hated - with equal passion.

His sudden appearance in the political arena has upset many, not just government ranks but also his own party, the United National Party (UNP) that is plagued by its own leadership battles.

Perera is a battle-hardened soldier. As such, despite being a novice, he opted to cut his teeth in politics by seeking public office from Anuradhapura, a district he has no real link to. But the unprecedented mandate he received, a personal vote for a decorated officer who has fought many a fight in defence of territorial integrity, has paid off.

He has managed to put his main political opponent Berty Premalal Dissanayake to shame with a mandate that is almost double. After a mere 40 days of campaigning in Anuradhapura, Perera has ended up as the Opposition Leader of the North Central Province (NCP) and is now settled in the district.

Viewed with suspicion

Janaka Perera courts controversy, there is no denying that. And his aggressive military persona has often earned him powerful enemies and lasting friends. Months before his entry to politics, he was banned from entering military camps through a special circular. His Lakjaya Foundation, founded to assist war affected military personnel and their families was viewed with suspicion by the powers that be.

It is in this context that Perera finds controversy following him and sometimes overtaking him.

During the recent NCP campaign, Perera was the single candidate who had to deal with the highest level of politically motivated violence. His supporters were harassed or attacked, homes burnt and security personnel arrested at will.

Today he finds himself surrounded by a fresh controversy of plotting to assassinate an unidentified VIP.

The charge goes back to the recent NCP polls when the original plot was hatched to draw in Perera to an inescapable controversy that would prove utterly devastating to his newfound political career.

According to intelligence sources, there is every likelihood that over this cooked up charge of plotting to assassinate a VIP, that the emergency regulations could be effectively used to arrest Perera and to indefinitely hold him.

The beginnings of the 'assassination plot' are of recent origin. On August 23, the night of the election, one of Janaka Perera's vehicles used for campaign purposes, broke down. During the day, Perera used it to visit some booths. When the vehicle broke down, some of Perera's supporters went to tow the vehicle back.

A snap roadblock

As it was especially risky to leave a vehicle unattended during an election campaign, Perera's supporters wished to bring back the vehicle immediately. But strangely enough, there was a snap roadblock, one that created the impression that it was specially created close to where the vehicle was.

Manning the roadblock was ASP Vas Gunewardena who was specially sent from Trincomalee to Anuradhapura, an interesting development given the fact that roadblocks are generally managed by low ranking police officers, not above the rank of Sub Inspector. But this one was managed by an ASP.

According to Anuradhapura Police sources, Perera's men were promptly arrested on the charge that some of them were army deserters. All six men together with Perera's driver were arrested.

Soon, it transpired that there were no deserters and the plot thickened altogether in a different direction. HQI Sarathprema, the officer in charge of the Anuradhapura Police Station after verifying that there indeed were no deserters released the men. But he insisted that there were two pieces of 'unauthorised' radio equipment in the vehicle.

Sophisticated equipment

The HQI insisted that the equipment was very sophisticated despite the existence of a certificate for sale and hire, duly obtained.

By now, the contentious issue was that two walkie-talkies and a knuckle-duster were discovered in the vehicle in police custody.

Further, it is learned that HQI Sarathprema insisted that there were also a schedule of VIP movements and suspected that those who were conspiring to assassinate VIPs were possibly using the said vehicle.

But strangely enough, the so-called VIP movements schedule was of UNP NCP chief ministerial candidate, Janaka Perera's own campaign schedule and that of his wife. Yet, when recording a complaint against Perera's supporters, the police maintained that the so-called VIP movement schedules included a name "Mr. Wajira Perera" - the wife of the UNP candidate.

Subsequently, the CID questioned the six persons.

Giving the impression that someone is truly after Perera's blood, it now appears that there is a serious attempt to implicate not just Perera but his close associates in an alleged assassination plot by invoking emergency regulations to retard the retired General's political journey.

Driver questioned

On September 9, the CID questioned the driver of the same vehicle, Somapala Ranaweera. The reason for questioning him was that he had signed and received the radio communication equipment on behalf of Perera.

Then they began to close in on Perera himself. On September 10, the day Janaka Perera took oaths before UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as a UNP provincial council member, he was summoned by the CID for questioning.

Adding a sense of drama, just before the ceremony got underway at Sirikotha, Perera had an anonymous telephone call from someone who warned that he should be 'careful.'

"I have never plotted to kill VIPs. That's the first time I heard about any such. The sequence of events prove alarming by any standards," notes Janaka Perera.

Meanwhile, the authorities were also focusing on the retired Major General's close associates.

A Perera loyalist, retired Major N. G. Chandrasena was singled out next. He was one of the most attractive speakers and a reluctant politician on Perera's platform.

Phenomenal commitment

According to army sources, Chandrasena's commitment to the armed forces had been phenomenal and his credentials incomparable.

Just to give an idea, Chandrasena is a decorated officer who holds a record for the highest number of gallantry awards in one year. He holds two Weera Wickrema Vibhushana (WWV), four Rana Weera Padakkama (RWP) and four Rana Sura Padakkamas (RSP), totaling to 10 gallantry medals.

It is he who founded the Parachute School of the SLA in 1990 under the instructions of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

In 1996, Chandrasena was awarded the highest number of gallantry awards for acts of bravery among the three armed forces and notable services as a living soldier.

He also holds a PhD from the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and is the Sri Lankan Representative at the Centre for South Asian Conflict Research and was conferred a doctorate in defence and peace in Sri Lanka.

An unsuspecting Chandrasena on August 27 telephoned Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse for an officer. Chandrasena knew the Defence Secretary fairly well, having served in the army together.

Responded aggressively

When Chandrasena explained his request, Gotabaya Rajapakse has allegedly responded aggressively. It is reliably learned that Rajapakse allegedly thundered that he has received instructions to arrest him (Chandrasena) and that he (Chandrasena) would not be forgiven at any cost for going against the Rajapakse administration.

Chandrasena has made a statement to the police the very same day, on September 9, claiming that the Defence Secretary responded to him in an unbecoming and aggressive manner when an official request was put forward to him and that he had serious reasons to fear for his safety.

He further stated to the police that during the recently concluded NCP election, the police had acted in a biased and unprofessional manner by refusing to record complaints by UNP supporters and not investigated the recorded complaints denying them justice.

He had also referred to several incidents including the arson attack on Dr. R.A.C. Johnpulle's Anuradhapura residence that was demonstrative of the politicisation of the police force, as no action had been taken so far.

Lost confidence

Chandrasena had further stated that he had lost confidence in the police force and that he made a public statement to this effect by giving a media statement recently, openly condemning the police for its lack of commitment to maintain law and order.

He has concluded his statement; "therefore I believe that there is an imminent threat to arrest me and to keep me in custody by fabricating charges that could aid such arrest."

Police sources confirmed that the very next day, on August 28, an official representing the Intelligence Branch of the Sri Lanka Police had visited Chandrasena's Nugegoda office and questioned employees without obtaining permission to enter from the proprietor. Chandrasena according to sources was attending a wedding at the time of this visit.

On September 5, an unknown person had walked up to him at a function and warned him to leave the country immediately for his own safety.

It is in this backdrop that he happened to record a statement with the police, given that his experiences with the defence establishment had hit an all time low since his call to the Defence Secretary.

Questioned by the CID

In the meantime, the reputed security company that sold the radio communication equipment to Janaka Perera also had its proprietor questioned by the CID on Friday, September 12.

Meanwhile, an angry UNP feels that Perera is proving too much of a challenge to a government that was growing complacent with its own power.

UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake alleges that having rigged the NCP poll, the government could not stomach the fact that Perera received an unprecedented mandate from the people. Now they want to incarcerate the man and block his progress. He is seen as a catalyst for the UNP to gain popularity and the government fears that, he said.

"The government manipulated the election. By doing that, the President robbed the mandate of the people and Berty robbed the mandate of the SLFP supporters," notes the defiant Janaka Perera who feels that he is being incarcerated and unduly tried with a view to disrupting his political journey.

Punishment would come

Perera feels that Anuradhapura, a sacred place where the Sinhala race flourished and where the Sri Maha Bodhi is found and is said to be blessed and protected by Lord Pullayar, punishment would come in a way that people could see it and understand why.

Meanwhile, all he wishes to add is that it would be in the interests of every soldier, sailor, airman and policeman not to have decorated officers like Chandrasena falsely implicated.

"These are respect-worthy officers who have given life's best years to defend the country. What is being done to him is a disgrace," adds Perera, referring to Chandrasena.

What needs to be remembered in the ugly game of politics is that whatever Perera's and Chandrasena's political beliefs may be, at one time, when the country needed them the most, they fought bravely with risk to life and limb. It is a commitment that should not be forgotten merely because they have chosen to be identified with opposition politics.

It is tragic that real heroes like Perera and Chandrasena have to oftentimes attempt to clear their names, file legal action and show defiance when the CID appears utterly incapable of apprehending the real criminals in society who roam free. It seems that they are eager to investigate two radio communication sets and a knuckle-duster just so that they please their political masters.

Wither justice?


Makings of a 'Gota-po'


Gotabaya Rajapakse, P.B. Jayasundera and Sarath Silva

By Ranjith Jayasundera

While the battle between the judiciary and the executive is fast turning into a simmering pot set to burst at any minute, a case recently heard in the Supreme Court had led to Chief Justice Sarath Silva questioning in open court how the Defence and Finance Secretaries formed a private security company for duties that should have been performed by the army or police.

The case stems from the Defence Ministry's move in October 2006 to set up a private security firm called Pramuka Arakshaka Lanka Limited. The company was formed in typical Chinthana style, like Mihin Lanka and Lanka Logistics and Technologies (LLTL), in effect avoiding the oversight of either parliament or the Auditor General.

Pramuka Arakshaka Lanka was set up as a limited liability company with 205 shares. 100 of those shares are held by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse. Another 100 shares are held by Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera. Defence Ministry Lawyer Mohan Peiris (P.C.) and four Additional Secretaries of the Defence Ministry hold one share each.

Registered address

The company's registered address is that of the Defence Ministry at 15/5 Baladaksha Mawatha, behind the Taj Samudra Hotel at Galle Face. The company's secretary is SLT Chairperson and LLTL Company Secretary, Leisha Chandrasena.

The private security industry is one that is completely dependent on the Defence Ministry. Each private security firm and private security guard needs to obtain a license from the Ministry to operate, and separate licenses are also required to bear firearms. This new company, supposedly owned by the Defence Ministry and Treasury, is thus in a position to scuttle its competition towards its own end.

Whether it is a company actually 'owned' by the Defence Ministry is a yet unanswered question. When The Sunday Leader contacted both the Defence Ministry, telephone operators were unaware of Rakna Arakshaka Lanka's very existence. More so, parliamentary approval was never obtained for the formation of this company and investment into its shares.

Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL) has since taken over security at installations owned by the already cash-strapped Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, the Hambantota Harbour and Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT).

It is the manner in which the company took over security at SLT that saw it brought before the Supreme Court in July. The security of SLT installations in the Central and Southern Provinces was tendered in November 2006 and awarded to a security firm named C.P. Lanka. That company was awarded a three month extension to continue their services until the end of April 2008, in order to allow SLT to call a fresh tender as per proper procedure.

Tenders

SLT thus opened a tender, L8/01/SEC/2008, for the provision of security services for its installations in the Southern, Central, North Western, North Central and Western Metro areas. C.P. Lanka and several other firms submitted bids, and meanwhile SLT had on May 1 extended C.P. Lanka's existing contract in writing, by another two months until end-June.

In early June, the tender was mysteriously scrapped, and a new tender, L8/01A/SEC/2008, was called and several companies re-submitted their bids. The Defence Ministry's RALL did not submit bids for either of these tenders. While the tender board was reaching its decision, SLT again extended C.P. Lanka's South and Central Province Security contracts in writing, from July 1 to August 1. However when the C.P. Lanka guards had reported for duty at several Central Province installations, they were confronted and turned away by employees of Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited, who had taken over security in the cover of night.

RALL had no contract with SLT and was not a bidder in any of the tenders. They would in any case have been ineligible to bid as the tenders required a minimum of three years experience in the private security industry - RALL had none, and was incorporated less than two years ago.

Hundreds unemployed

In a heartbeat, over 400 security guards working for CP Lanka were unemployed, due to an arbitrary off-the books decision by SLT to terminate their employment contract and give their jobs to a company in which the SLT Chairperson Chandrasena had a clearly vested interest.

C.P. Lanka was even harder hit. As per their contract with the individual guards, arbitrary termination required that they pay each of the 400 employees three months salary, or Rs 15.3 million.

RALL then on July 6, published an advertisement in Irida Lakbima newspaper to employ 'junior security officers' for a company affiliated to the Defence Ministry. According to court documents obtained by The Sunday Leader, C.P. Lanka had noticed the ad, received "reliable information" that SLT was to sack them from the Southern Province also, and fearing the worst, filed a case in the Supreme Court to prevent SLT from unfairly terminating their contract.

The defendants were Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera, SLT Chairperson and RALL Secretary Leisha Chandrasena, and Attorney General C.R. De Silva. The lawyer for the petitioner was Attorney J.C. Weliamuna.

When the case was taken up on July 25, it was heard by none other than Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, who took his rulings on government excess and corruption to another level entirely. According to lawyers present in court, the Chief Justice had been on fire from the start of the hearing. He warned President's Counsel Mohan Peiris, who represented the respondents, that he was putting himself at risk, as he too would be made a respondent as a director of the company.

CJ livid

"You should know where you should serve and where you should not," the CJ had warned. "Ultimately you will also be held responsible for these things." He also questioned how ministry secretaries could serve upon the boards of companies such as RALL. "How can a secretary of a ministry serve in a business venture in another capacity?" he is to have asked, eliciting no response from Peiris.

It was noted in court that RALL was not a body assigned to any ministry by the President, and that it did not come under the oversight of either Parliament or the Auditor General, and thus was a law unto itself and the Defence Secretary alone.

Chief Justice Silva also noted that Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera had resigned from the RALL board of directors before the case was filed. Jayasundera was replaced not with another Treasury representative, but by a private citizen named Mahinda Saliya Marukkudeva of Mahabodhi Mawatha, Kadawatha.

 With Jayasundera's resignation, the company was left totally in the hands of the Defence Ministry with no Treasury or other government oversight whatsoever. Again in May 2008, one of the Defence Ministry Additional Secretaries, Santha Kumara Sirisena, resigned as a director of RALL, and was replaced with another private citizen, Arunthavanathan Ravindran of 2nd Lane, Ratmalana.

Chastised

The Chief Justice's most scathing comments according to lawyers present in court however, were saved for SLT Head, Leisha Chandrasena. Silva chastised her on the immorality of her abusing her position as state-appointed SLT Chairperson to subvert procedures and give business to a company in which she had a vested interest.

When Mohan Peiris cited 'security reasons,' stating the specially trained and armed people were necessary to provide security at these state institutions, the Chief Justice had snapped back "why don't you give it to the army or the police?"

"That is free of charge, and it's what the people are paying for," he noted,  no doubt leading to the question in the public mind whether a private army was in the making.

The fact that the tender evaluation board had actually come to a decision to award the security tender to some of the bidders makes the move to hand over security to RALL an even more flagrant abuse of power. An SLT accounting officer said that the company has not received a contract from RALL, and no invoices have been raised as of yet. She said that they have however been informed that the RALL guards would have to be paid Rs 1000 per eight hour shift.

This would require three guard shifts (Rs. 3,000 in wages) per post per day. Before the Defence Ministry company was brought into the picture, SLT paid Rs 475 for a 12 hour shift, and two guards on 12 hour shifts were able to man a post, costing SLT Rs 950 per day per post.

Cost millions

Chandrasena's role has thus cost SLT millions of rupees to no benefit. For example, before July 1, around 400 guards from CP Lanka were employed at SLT institutions in the Central province, to man 200 posts. They were each paid Rs 475 per day and the posts were manned every day of the month. Thus the total cost to SLT of providing security services in the Central Province was Rs 5.7 million per month.

After Rakna Arakshaka took over, the schedules were re-arranged for the day to be divided into three eight hour shifts instead of two 12 hour shifts. A guard was paid Rs 1,000 for working an eight hour shift, and thus the cost of 30 days' security services for SLT in the Central Province from the Defence Ministry is Rs 18 million - more than three times what it was previously costing.

Although The Sunday Leader could not obtain official comments from anyone at SLT, Rakna Arakshaka or the Defence Ministry to verify these figures, a group of employed guards we spoke to also claimed that SLT was charged Rs 1,000 per shift for their services. "But this money is not all for us," they said.

"The other companies used to take Rs 50 as their commission and we would keep the rest. Now the government one keeps Rs 500 rupees and we get the rest. We make a little more money because they charge so much more, but most of it is not for us."

Army deserters

Two of them were middle-aged ex-army soldiers whose income was supplemented by their pensions. One of them was employed at a Colombo CPC installation and alleged that several army deserters were also employed by Rakna Arakshaka and thus were awarded protection from arrest. "We are not complaining though. Now we are not fighting the war, but we are employed for a reason. One day they will need us and we will be ready," the veteran said ominously.

 The General (Manager) of this 'army' is a retired army officer, a Major General, whom the guards we spoke to allege is paid "well over two lakhs."

The officer in question is Major General Egodawela, a retired officer with no known bravery awards in his career, but with strong SLFP roots. General Egodawela had a close rapport with the Rajapakse family well before the 2005 presidential election.

When asked about his achievements while in the army, officers of his vintage reply wryly with but two words: Elephant Pass. This is the man selected by Gotabaya Rajapakse to run his 'private army,' it was alleged.

It is quite possible that RALL can afford Rs 200,000 for a General Manager, since the company should be running at a phenomenal profit, if it truly does keep Rs 500 per eight hour guard shift. From SLT's Central Province installations alone they would make Rs 9 million per month; money that for all intents and purposes, is not subject to any form of government audit.

Impending disaster

After the July 25 Supreme Court hearing, it was clear from the Chief Justice's hard-hitting observations and comments that the case would lead to disaster for Gotabaya Rajapakse, P.B. Jayasundera, Rakna Arakshaka and Leisha Chandrasena if it continued.

With the petitioner company, C.P. Lanka, being a security company and thus dependant on Defence Ministry issued licenses for its operation; the Defence Ministry had all the leverage it needed to diffuse the case. In addition, one of the directors of C.P. Lanka, C. Palihawardena, is also supposedly a school classmate of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

With these and other 'Chinthana' style factors coming into play, C.P. Lanka was pressured into dropping a case that could have emerged into a landmark Supreme Court judgement. Their fear was so great that when we contacted Palihawardena, he claimed that he never had any problem with a Defence Ministry security company, despite a court affidavit filed by him to the contrary.

Within days of the case being dropped - and in violation of another contract extension issued by SLT to C.P. Lanka - Rakna Arakshaka guards took over control of SLT installations in the Southern Province also, denying entrance to the C.P. Lanka personnel.

The rationale touted by the Defence Ministry for running its own private security company is that it could provide employment for retired armed forces personnel. This is the message conveyed to both SLT officers and the Petroleum Resources Development Ministry.

Senseless

However, this is what most existing security companies do, since these retired soldiers and officers are the best-suited people to work in the security industry due to their training and experience.

The Defence Ministry starting their own private security company is senseless, as it in effect allows Gotabaya Rajapakse to select which former security forces personnel get the best retirement benefits, and thus cultivates more loyalty and cronyism at state expense. The formation of this company and the abuse of power by officials such as Chandrasena to employ its services in state assets when there is a conflict of interest dramatically increases the risk of Sri Lanka coming under a dictatorship.

Even when former Deputy Defence Minister Anurudha Ratwatte was accused of using armed forces personnel to wreck havoc in Kandy during the December 2001 parliamentary elections, there were service records, a chain of command and some level of accountability that allowed the public to find out what happened.

Rakna Arakshaka Lanka has no publicly accountable chain of command. The government has already demonstrated its willingness to deploy state assets and personnel for its election related and political work. With the armed forces and police however, there are limitations on what government cronies can do, even at the whim of their political masters.

Without a trace

Due to the structure of the services, policemen and soldiers on the ground have a plethora of officers to whom they are answerable between themselves and the Defence Ministry, making it more difficult for notorious orders to be given without a trace.

But with this company, the Defence Secretary has the unrestricted and arbitrary power to issue firearms licenses to thousands of ex-soldiers employed by him, and they would be a law unto none other than themselves given that the only arms of government who could control them by law - the police and the armed forces - also fall under the Defence Ministry.

Ordinary Sri Lankans need to have a serious think about whether there is to be any limit to the power of the executive and whether they will allow this government to continue arbitrarily infringing the rights and privileges of ordinary Sri Lankans.


A monk's arrest that stumped the JHU


Sarath N. Silva, Ven. Pannala Pagngnaloka Thero
and Suhada Gamlath

By Vimukthi Yapa

The Buddhists of Sri Lanka should perhaps shed bitter tears for what Sri Lanka has become and how a section of the Buddhist clergy, by no means the majority, dabbles in politics in a way that embarrasses those who want to believe in the Buddha putras and consider religion to be above partisan politics.

There is no gainsaying that much of the Sinhala Buddhists in the Western Province more than others, welcomed the advent of the all monk outfit, Jathika Hela Urumaya, and in the aftermath of the death of Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero, considered it timely that the saffron robed should take up the Buddhist cause in the political arena and work towards the preservation of the Buddhist heritage in a country supposedly thrice offered to the Buddha.

What the JHU later became is history, conspiracies and defections causing credibility crises time and again leading to immense disenchantment amongst the very people who voted the nine monks to parliament.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the JHU plays divisive politics even today, and the much-highlighted recent case of a Buddhist priest, Ven. Pannala Pagngnaloka Thero, being arrested for failing to answer a Supreme Court notice brings this stubborn fact to the fore.

Sentiments of the Buddhist clergy

The arrest of the monk no doubt injured the sentiments of the Buddhist clergy and the Buddhists themselves, especially when the likes of Mervyn Silva, his errant son Malaka and close associate Kudu Nuwan manage to evade the law at will.

Yet, the attempt of a senior public official to influence the superior court and the JHU's unrepentant move to embarrass the judiciary and forcibly obtain freedom for the arrested monk is a classic example of Sri Lankan politics and manoeuvering tactics.

Unimpeachable sources confirm that Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath, a devout Buddhist and a frequenter to Sambodhi Viharaya, Colombo 7 tried to lobby Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva to release the Buddhist monk who was remanded for contempt of court for failure to answer a notice issued.

With a worried President Mahinda Rajapakse, the JHU and even individual monks striving to show that they played the role of saviour of the arrested monk, it is none other than Ven. Kusaladhamma Thero's quiet contribution that eventually paid off.

The drama began on Monday, September 1, when a Supreme Court Bench presided by the Chief Justice issued a warrant against Ven. Pannala Pagngnaloka Thero for failing to appear in court after being noticed in a noise pollution case. The Welikada Police was directed to arrest the monk and he was later remanded.

Re-remanded the monk

Thereafter, though a bail application was submitted to court, the Supreme Court re-remanded the monk and fixed the case for September 15.

It is in this backdrop that agitated monks, instigated by different vested interest groups organised an ad hoc protest of their own within the Supreme Court premises on September 5. The main contribution in this regard was made by the JHU, wanting to secure Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero's release at any cost amidst growing pubic condemnation for failing to stand by the monk.

It is reliably learned that the President wished that the JHU monks took up the matter as the arrest was considered an insult to a President who projects a strong Sinhala Buddhist identity.

Leading the monk protest and ridiculing the judiciary within the Supreme Court premises was Ven. Rajawatte Wappa Thero, a monk with strong connections to the JHU.

Inside sources claimed that despite getting implicated in the sangha fiasco, it was another Buddhist monk who has broken ranks with the JHU who originally took up the arrested monk's cause, though without political motives. It was none other than Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara Thero who felt strongly about the remanding of the monk who is also from a neighboring temple and tried to correct a situation that he considered might go really wrong.

Urged a show of support

He took the initiative to telephone several monks in the area and urged that a show of support was necessary to try and get the monk released. But some of the monks did not wish to get associated with a monk now linked to the opposition.

While Ven. Gnanasara Thero contacted fellow monks and invited them to gather before the Supreme Court to march together, it is learned that it was Ven. Rajawatte Wappa Thero who tipped off the JHU that there was growing discontent among the Buddhist clergy over the situation.

It was a situation the political party was desperate to seize, given the fact that the cause for the arrest - the new noise regulations were introduced by the JHU itself not long ago. This was to be a face saving exercise, if any.

The JHU's intervention sadly was to be in the form of a protest before the Supreme Court, disregarding conventions and decorum. Judicial sources said that some of the monks were denouncing the Roman-Dutch law as they shouted their refusal to be bound by an alien law thrust upon the country.

Contempt of court

One may conclude that it was indeed merciful that the group of protesting Bhikkus were not charged for contempt of court, though reliable sources from the JHU itself confirms that being arrested indeed was their intention to draw more attention to the case and portray the monks as a wronged community.

It was pre-planned that the monks would not stand up when the judges walked in and it was hoped that the considerable saffron robed presence would influence the court to speedily release the monk, informed sources said.

The large number of monks who went to the Supreme Court to show solidarity with Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero refused to stand up as a curtsy in keeping with court convention when the Chief Justice and Justices Andrew Somawansa and Jagath Balapatabendi entered the court.

The Chief Justice informed counsel for the monk on that occasion court conventions have to be observed by every person.

Re-remand order

The matter turned sour when despite protests, the court issued a re-remand order for non-compliance with notice issued.

Some monks it is learned were also seen blaming Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and criticising his projected image as a strong Buddhist and associated with Sambodhi Viharaya, witnesses said.

Also, they were calling for the Malwatte and Agiriya Chapters to explain the position with regard to showing respect to the judiciary and whether or not monks be compelled to stand up before the court assembled.

There is another dimension to the post arrest trauma. President Mahinda Rajapakse was none too pleased with the legal development and felt he would have to take the blame at some point for what had transpired. On Wednesday (3) at the cabinet meeting, President Rajapakse openly worried about the serious situation that had arisen following the Supreme Court order remanding the monk for which he said blame was being apportioned to him. He felt that people would happily lay the blame on his doorstep though the judiciary dealt with the matter.

Re-arrest of the monk

The worried President had his concerns intensified when the re-arrest of the monk was ordered due to non-appearance in court after being noticed.

Desperate times call for desperate actions. Making a last ditch attempt and trying to salvage some semblance of respectability on behalf of the President was Justice Ministry Secretary, Suhada Gamlath.

The same day the court ordered the re-remand of the monk, Friday, September 5, Gamlath hurried to the Sambodhi Viharaya. At the temple, there was Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and Chief Incumbent, Ven. Daranagama Kusaladhamma Thero in conversation.

Gamlath, according to informed sources threw caution to the wind and appealed to the Chief Justice to ensure the speedy release of the monk which was by now a growing concern among the Buddhist community. In turn, the Chief Justice castigated Gamlath for attempting to discuss a pending case with him and cautioned against any further discussions on the same matter.

Paid obeisance

Soon afterwards, Gamlath reportedly went to Welikada remand prison with Ven. Kusaladhamma and paid obeisance to Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero. The Justice Secretary has assured that President Mahinda Rajapakse would do everything possible to ensure a speedy resolution of the issue and to get him released.

Among those who visited the monk while under arrest, besides Justice Secretary Suhada Gamlath was JHU Parliamentary Group Leader, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana. At the Welikada remand prison, the JHU monk too had assured the fallen monk that the JHU would do its utmost to secure his release. But nothing came to pass.

By now the matter had become a huge political embarrassment for President Rajapakse and the JHU.

Making his stance public was the Maha Nayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter, Ven. Udugama Sri Buddharakkitha Thero. The respected monk came out in support of the Supreme Court and called for dignified conduct and due respect to law.

Respect the judiciary

Delivering his anusasana at the Asgiriya Pirivena where an English training programme was launched by Gateway International School, the Maha Nayaka Thero maintained that both monks and laypersons must respect the judiciary and its hallowed traditions to ensure discipline in the country.

The Chief Prelate also said traditions such as getting up when judges enter a courthouse or standing up in parliament when the mace is brought in, should be observed by all persons including Buddhist monks without deviations.

Meanwhile, it became incumbent upon Chief Prelate of the Sambodhi Viharaya, Ven. Daranagama Kusaladhamma Thero to play a significant role in the drama to ensure sanity prevailed.

Working hard to secure his release through legal means was the Sambodhi Viharaya Chief Priest, though no drama was associated with him and his attempts.

Released on bail

The Chief Incumbent visited the arrested priest and upon being released on bail on September 8, brought Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero to Sambodhi Viharaya.

In the meantime, the President sent a missive to Kusaladhamma Thero to come over together with Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero. Ven. Kusaladhamma Thero politely declined the offer to meet the President.

In the meantime, it is reliably learned that the Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero was quite clueless as to the drama that had unfolded on his behalf where the JHU had strived to take political advantage by showing a significant saffron presence. It is learned that the monk felt outraged by the fact that the monk political outfit had taken political mileage from his predicament.

It has transpired that Ven. Pannala Pagngnaloka Thero was granted bail based on his affidavit which explained the circumstances under which he unintentionally violated the court order.

It is reliably learned that the priest pleaded innocence with regard to the drama that unfolded within the court premises on his behalf and stated clearly that he had no intention of disrespecting the judiciary.

The monk, it is earned has apologised to court and disassociated himself completely from the disgraceful organised protest by the JHU monks that was a callous demonstration of disrespect for the law.

He further stated he did not get a clear message as to when he was supposed to appear in court and re-appear.

Without  political influence

It is little known that Ven. Kusaladhamma Thero assisted the monk in this exercise and to secure release without paying homage to any political influences.

On the same day came the Presidential invite for the monks to meet him at Temple Trees. Having refused once, Ven. Kusaladhamma decided to go, as the President went to the extent of sending a vehicle to the temple requesting a visit. So together went the Buddhist priests to meet President Rajapakse at Temple Trees.

While it was Ven. Kusaladhamma Thero's quiet contribution that eventually paid off and the arrested monk was released without outside influence, adding a further twist to the tale is the fact that the land upon which Ven. Pagngnaloka Thero has built his temple is not legally owned by the temple dayaka sabhawa.

Informed sources claimed that the President at the Temple Trees meeting pledged to clear the legality for the fallen monk and summoned Urban Development Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena to Temple Trees at that very moment and instructed that the matter be attended to immediately.

Avoid a collision course

It is also learned that it was at this meeting that possible methods to avoid a collision course with the judiciary was discussed and it was suggested that separate chambers be created in court rooms to have monks seated until their respective cases are called.

In the meantime, the JHU is now calling for the amendment of the noise regulations they themselves created and originally earned the wrath of all religious communities for interfering with religious activities. Now that the legislation had backfired and that too victimising a Buddhist monk, the JHU is now busy blaming the Asgiriya chief priest for his stance that both the clergy and laypersons should show respect to the judiciary.

An embarrassed President Rajapakse who expected the JHU hooliganism to have the desired effect causing the arrested monk to be released is likely to have a rethink now.

The arm twisting attempted by the JHU also backfired, as much as its legislation did. Needless to state that the constituent partner's failure, given its immense Buddhist identity is a massive embarrassment to the Head of State.

As we record all of the above that led to the politicisation of a monk's arrest over violating environmental regulations relating to noise pollution, let us also not lose sight of the fact that the initial regulations, much as the JHU may protest, oppose and publicly not acknowledge, were intended to quell the 'noises' that emanated from other places of religious worship, particularly mosques during call to prayer.

A classic case 

This is a classic case of the only religious heritage the JHU seeks to protect, namely the Buddhist heritage also being ridiculed by others owing to the ill-conceived political motives of a party steeped in extreme views.

Strange it is for a party that speaks much about Buddhist heritage that it should anyway clamp down regulations, making temple administrations squirm. And other places of religious worship suffer in silence.

Such is the embarrassment that the JHU suffered that it had to hurriedly hold a press conference to announce that the regulations would be shortly amended.

The general thinking is that when the regulations were proposed it had no idea about the cultural practices in the country and were roundly condemned by all religious communities.

When politically embarrassed by the arrest of a monk thanks to regulations that were created by none other than the JHU, the party is now having a knee jerk reaction.

And it is pertinent  to question whether the same offer would have been made if a mosque, a church, or a Hindu kovil were found violating the law.

 And that's the JHU's legacy of misguided policy making and opportunism, a fact the devout Buddhists should carefully consider when they walk into the booth the next time to elect legislators.

In the end, all the slogan shouting and attempts to ridicule the judiciary had proved futile. A quiet monk who legally sought to help the affected Buddhist priest has shown the way - that it is not militancy but adherence to Buddhist living, which includes working within the legal system only, that can show results.

Hindu priests will get up

General Secretary, All Ceylon Hindu Congress and senior lawyer, Kandiah Neelakandan said Hindu priests would not be reluctant to get up and pay respect to judges in 'courts of justice.'

Neelakandan explaining the special reference to 'courts of justice' said that it should be remembered that the respect is not to the individuals coming on the benches but to the justices/judges coming in their robes to the benches.

"If that individual is outside court, he cannot expect the same respect," he added.

Neelakandan added that if anyone thinks/believes that one should not get up when the judges come on the bench, such person should enter the court after the judges have come on the bench and should also leave the court room before the judges leave.

 

Parliament tradition

A senior parliamentary source explaining tradition said that the Buddhist monks in the galleries stood up when the mace was brought in to commence the legislative business.

The source explained that the JHU monks who are legislators disputed this tradition and they were requested to enter the chamber after the mace is placed in its bracket and the Speaker has taken the chair.

"It is a new arrangement. After all, there is no convention to be guided by," the source explained.

 

Monks sit - JHU Leader

JHU Leader, Ven. Dr. Ellawala Medhananda Thero said that Buddhist monks were not required to stand up in court or in parliament, as there were only three instances for them to stand up.

The monks should stand up before Lord Buddha, in reverence of his teaching, the Dhamma and finally, for a senior monk. "Nothing else applies to the Buddhist priests," he explained.

 

Christians stand

Officials at the National Christian Council said that Christian religious leaders do stand up when judges enter a courtroom.


Mervyn - a law unto himself


Construction has begun in the land
in question (inset) Mervyn Silva

By Malaika Fernando

With threats, intimidation and a don't care attitude for the laws that govern the country, Minister Mervyn Silva continues to bulldoze his way through the media, law enforcement agencies, and has now moved to allegedly acquire by force, state owned land.

In continuance of his acts of intimidation, Silva has allegedly commenced the construction of a temple complex in a 3.5 acre land in the Mudun Ela area in Kelaniya belonging to the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC), without SLLRDC approval.

SLLRDC owns 360 acres in the Kelaniya area - Vedamulla, Mudun Ela, Manel Gama, Vanavasala and Dippitigoda divisions. Most of the lands in the Kelaniya area are maintained by SLLRDC as part of the Greater Colombo flood management programme and are considered to be reserved land.

The land allegedly acquired by Silva by force a few months back is located within the Mudun Ela project. The Sunday Leader a few weeks back highlighted the land in Mudun Ela being allegedly filled by persons connected to Silva.

Over three acres of the 12 acre Mudun Ela land belonging to  SLLRDC has been allegedly encroached upon by Silva to build a temple complex. Construction on the land has begun amidst protests from SLLRDC workers who have even lodged several complaints related to the issue with the Peliyagoda Police.

SLLRDC officials, who wish to remain anonymous, told The Sunday Leader that Silva's supporters in the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha had allegedly entered the land by force and taken it over for construction without obtaining any approval from the corporation.

Complaint lodged

SLLRDC had first lodged a complaint to the police on the alleged entry into the land by persons affiliated to the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha on July 30.

The Sunday Leader learns that around 2.15 pm on July 30, several persons including those attached to the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha had attempted to enter the land in Mudun Ela. When SLLRDC workers at the site prevented them, they had been informed the land was being used for a project launched by Silva with the President's consent.

However, disregarding requests made by SLLRDC workers, these people had allegedly entered the land by force and conducted a soil test.

SLLRDC had then lodged a complaint bearing number CIB3 293-300 with the Peliyagoda Police.

During the first week of August, another group of people had allegedly entered the land and conducted some religious ritual.

About a week later, construction work on the land had begun after the laying of the foundation stone.

SLLRDC has lodged two more complaints with the Peliyagoda Police on the alleged entry by force to the land without any approval. A complaint bearing number CIB2 173-206 was lodged on August 20 and another bearing number CIB2 205-232 on August 23.

However, when the police had called all parties for an inquiry on August 28, the respondents had failed to be present.

After allegedly entering the land by force and commencing construction work Silva had in writing requested SLLRDC Chairman for a 3.5 acre land to construct a temple complex.

Silva in the letter had requested for 3.5 acres of the land belonging to SLLRDC near the Bulugaha junction on the Kandy Road to build a temple complex as part of President Mahinda Rajapakse's concept of building temples.

The letter was written by Silva on August 15 and was received by the general manager's office on August 19.

Interestingly, Silva's request for a 3.5 acre land in Kelaniya to build a temple complex comes weeks after allegedly acquiring the land forcibly.

However, following the alleged acquisition of the land by Silva's supporters, SLLRDC had decided not provide water and electricity connections to the construction site.

Seeks help

Officials from SLLRDC told The Sunday Leader that following the corporation's decision not to provide water and electricity to the site, Silva had approached Urban Development and Sacred Area Development Minister Dinesh Gunewardena to intervene to solve the issue.

"Following a 'request' SLLRDC decided to provide temporary water and electricity lines to the construction site. However, no final decision has been made on handing over the land for the project," they said.

A few days later, SLLRDC Chairman had informed the Peliyagoda Police to temporarily suspend the inquiries into the complaints lodged by SLLRDC on the alleged entry and construction of a structure by force on a land belonging to the corporation as the matter was being 'negotiated between the parties concerned.'

According to SLLRDC officials, the corporation was yet to grant any sort of approval for the temple complex project to proceed.

However, regardless of the legality involved in the alleged forcible acquisition of a land, Silva and his supporters continue with the construction work at the Mudun Ela land.

The Sunday Leader that visited the land witnessed workers engaged in construction work.

In denial

SLLRDC Chairman meanwhile said he was not aware of any construction work taking place in the Mudun Ela land as permission had not been given for any such activity to take place (see box).

While the SLLRDC is still in 'discussions' over the issue, construction work at the land continues, as the helpless SLLRDC workers stand by, uncertain of the real position with regard to the land.

Apart from the Mudun Ela land, Silva has also allegedly acquired land belonging to SLLRDC in Manel Gama as well as in Vedamulla.

According to SLLRDC, the land in Mudun Ela consists of 150 acres and was acquired by the government for a development project.

Workers attached to SLLRDC allege that Silva with several of his supporters attached to the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha had forcibly acquired about 20 acres in Vedamulla in Kelaniya belonging to the corporation to commence a "green revolution."

BoI project

Interestingly, part of the land Silva and his goons have allegedly encroached on have been earmarked for a housing project by the Board of Investment (BoI).

The Sunday Leader learns that the said housing project would have helped the corporation earn a sum of Rs.300 million but the land has now been taken over allegedly by Silva for 'cultivation' leaving SLLRDC without any funds.

According to SLLRDC officials, the BoI project is now on hold till the land falls vacant.

However, during Silva's acquisition of SLLRDC land in Vedamulla, he had also allegedly encroached on land that has already been given to several employees attached to  SLLRDC by the corporation in 2005.

Former SLLRDC Chairman, Somaweera Chandrasiri in 2005, following a request made by the SLLRDC Workers Union to provide land to its employees who did not have either a permanent residence or any land had allocated land in the Vedamulla area to 21 employees attached to the corporation.

Construction goes on

When The Sunday Leader visited SLLRDC land in the Vedamulla division a few weeks back, we witnessed the land being demarcated and separated into small plots and vegetable and fruit plants cultivated in them.

Another section of the land even had a huge billboard erected with the pictures of Silva and President Mahinda Rajapakse and the so called expressing of gratitude of the farming community to Silva for allocating the land for cultivation in line with a concept initiated by him.

The only assets that bring revenue to the SLLRDC are the lands owned by it and they are the main funding source for the corporation. "It is through leasing out these lands that we get funds for the corporation as we do not get any Treasury funding. It is these earnings that help us maintain our 1,400 employees attached to SLLRDC," workers said.

Dinesh silent

Urban Development and Sacred Area Development Minister Dinesh Gunewardena when contacted by The Sunday Leader said queries on the temple complex being built by Minister Mervyn Silva in the Mudun Ela area in Kelaniya should be directed to the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC) Chairman.

 

SLLRDC Chairman in the dark

Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC) Chairman, Karunasena Hettiarachchi said he was not aware of any construction taking place in any of the lands under the Mudun Ela project as the corporation was still considering a request made by Minister Mervyn Silva for 3.5 acres to build a temple complex.

Hettiarachchi told The Sunday Leader that SLLRDC was not in a position to give land to any minister, but only to an institution. However, he said Silva has made a written request from the SLLRDC for 3.5 acres to build a temple complex.

"The request is still being considered and no land has been given to anyone," he said.

When asked as to how construction was taking place in the said land, if the land has not been officially handed over to any party, Hettiarachchi said he was not aware of any construction taking place in the land in question.

He added that since the matter was still under negotiation,  SLLRDC has requested the Peliyagoda Police to temporarily halt inquiries into the several complaints lodged at the police by the corporation with regard to forcible entry and construction on the Mudun Ela land.

As for the alleged forcible acquisition of about 20 acres in Vedamulla, Kelaniya by the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha, Hettiarachchi said since the land has been used for cultivation of fruits and vegetables, the land would be re-acquired once the crop is harvested.

"The land has been used for cultivation under the Api Wawamu, Rata Nagamu concept and once the crop is harvested, the encroachers have agreed to move out," he said.

Hettiarachchi said that since some of the land allegedly encroached in Vedamulla had been initially earmarked for a BoI project, once the land is released, the project would take off the ground.


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