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    Guns and goons rule Gampaha

The body of the slain JVP supporter Balage

By Nirmala Kannangara in Gampaha 

With the Western Provincial Council (WPC) election just two weeks away, all major political parties have their campaigns in full swing. But the downside is the escalating election related violence — especially in the Gampaha District.

Gampaha recorded the first election related death in the province last week.

The opposition accuses the ruling party of misusing state property and state machinery for its campaign amidst police apathy — charges the UPFA District Leader Prasanna Ranatunge refutes.

“The UNP and the JVP have already conceded defeat. Accusing us of various things is a face-saving act. Even without any propaganda work, we will get a thumping majority,” predicted Ranatunge.

Both the UNP and the JVP have accused the previous provincial administration of failing to fulfill people’s aspirations.

Revenue has dried up

UNP District Leader Lawrence Madiwala who has served in all previous WPCs alleges that the revenue generated when the UNP ran the first WPC has dried up due to the misuse of its successors.

“When I was road development minister, that ministry alone invested Rs. 430 million in the National Savings Bank and the Bank of Ceylon. When the UPFA assumed office, the WPC administration invested the income with Pramuka Bank and lost much money,” he claimed.

He said, besides malpractice and inefficiency, there was violence directed against ethnic minorities in a systematic manner, particularly in the Hendala and Wattala areas.

“The Tamils and Muslims comprise 40% of the population. Some have been threatened not to vote. When senior legislator John Amaratunge was campaigning on April 7 in Hendala, unidentified people in masks, green T-shirts and caps similar to that worn by the military arrived in two jeeps and threatened him that he should not canvass in the area. I have sought police assistance and lodged a complaint with SSP Peliyagoda, but to no avail,” Madiwala said.

Police accused of being partial

The JVP too accuses the area police of being partial and alleges that even murder is being overlooked in the district for political expediency.

“The trend is such that any person affiliated to the government could easily kill his rivals and have no charges framed against him. There is evidence to prove that a National Freedom Front (NFF) legislator’s vehicle has been used in the murder of our comrade, Nandana Balage. The vehicle owner is at large despite eyewitness accounts,” alleges JVP District Leader Waruna Rajapakse.

Sources requesting anonymity said associates of Labour Minister and UPFA Kelaniya Organiser Mervyn Silva have begun to roam the Kiribathgoda area following a  protest staged by residents regarding admissions to Grade I in a popular school in the area ­— Viharamahadevi Balika Vidyalaya.

People who spoke to The Sunday Leader claimed that former MP Neil Rupasinghe was busy mobilising Samurdhi niyamakas to campaign for the party.

General state of neglect

Gampaha also has other concerns. Residents fault the WPC administration for failing to eradicate the mosquito menace, unplanned developmental activities, increased pollution due to ad hoc industrial projects and a general state of neglect.

“The roads, culverts and the drainage systems need repairs. It is one of the worst maintained districts, and sad too, when the province is said to be an economic hub,” residents complained.

The Gampaha District is one of the most industrialised districts and the second largest contributor to the national GDP.

Since the liberalisation of the economy in 1979, most of the country’s enterprises and industries are largely confined to the Western Province and many in Gampaha District play an active part in the country’s economic growth with two important Free Trade Zones (FTZs) located in Katunayake and Biyagama, besides the country’s only international airport being situated in Katunayake.

Although the second largest contributor to the country’s economy — being second only to Colombo — it is nevertheless beginning to stagger in the face of the current general economic meltdown.

Ethnic minorities in Gampaha being threatened by goons – Lawrence Madiwala

UNP Gampaha District Leader Lawrence Madiwala claims the dissolution of the WPC was a clear indication as to how the government intended using its resources to secure electoral victory.

According to Madiwala, the Tamil and Muslim communities in Hendala and Wattala areas have been threatened by government goons and warned not to cast their votes.

“Though this is the reality in our district, there is police inaction. The incidents are also not widely reported due to fear of reprisals,” he added.

Further, Madiwala accused the previous WPC administration of failing to upgrade the schools and added that a future UNP council would allocate ‘enough funds’ to the education sector and ‘would not appoint unqualified people to head provincial educational institutions.’

Politics over dead bodies

While the Western Provincial Council election campaign took a deadly turn with the recording of the first pre election killing of Nandana Balage, a JVP supporter, the Marxist JVP is now cashing in on the murder of its comrade.

The JVP member arrived in Colombo on April 4 to attend the ‘April Heroes Day’ celebrations of the party and stayed back to help in the election work.

Balage was not a candidate but yet fell victim to the escalating violence in the province.

On April l6, while the party cadres were travelling towards Veyangoda in a vehicle to decorate a venue, another vehicle had drawn up alongside and ordered the passengers to put down the shutters. The alleged assassin had threatened Balage not to support the JVP.

The vehicle bearing registration number WP PB-0674, a purple colour double cab, said to be the one used by the alleged assassin is now parked at Veyangoda Police Station. But the number plate has been carefully concealed from the public eye by covering it with tape.

Balage was the father of a two-year-old child.

The driver of the vehicle in which Balage travelled had allegedly seen MP Piyasiri Wijenayake and another National Freedom Front candidate in the other vehicle.

But Piyasiri Wijenayake is denying any involvement. He has vowed to quit politics if found guilty of having any connection with this murder. Amidst allegations of police inaction despite eyewitness accounts, Attanagalle ASP Ujith P. Liyanage said that the ongoing investigation will soon be concluded.

Large scale loss of employment a major concern

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema 

The Gampaha District in the Western Province has seen much development in the last few years. Most of the country’s enterprises and industries are confined to the Western Province and the Gampaha District plays an active part in the country’s economic growth given that the international airport as well as two Free Trade Zones (FTZs) — Katunayake and Biyagama — are located in the district.

Next to the Colombo District, it is Gampaha that contributes most to the growth of the national economy.

The Gampaha District stands well above the country’s official poverty line. The official poverty line at national level for February 2009 was Rs. 2887 and Gampaha District stood at Rs. 3059.

While contributing towards the country’s economic growth, the two FTZs have resulted in reducing unemployment in the district.

However, the impact of the global economic meltdown has resulted in many companies operating in the FTZs facing closure or large-scale retrenchment of employees.

According to a private sector trade union, the Inter Company Employees’ Union (ICEU), around 53 companies in the garment, building, warm clothes, cement, gem exporting and finance industries have shut down and more than 54,000 workers have lost their jobs.

The closure of the Synotex Company alone in the Gampaha District resulted in 3000 employees losing their jobs.

Meanwhile, many factories in the FTZs are also finding it difficult to pay the monthly salaries of employees. According to the ICEU, their overtime, bonuses, increments and transportation facilities have been curtailed.

Some companies have sent employees home on leave, ranging from one week to two-month periods and officials in some companies are also looking at extending the leave granted to employees.

The government as part of its economic stimulus package presented last December made several proposals to help the export sector. They include the granting of 5% of the export value as manufacturing relief to the apparel and leather product exporters, and the reduction of diesel and furnace oil prices, removal of 15% electricity surcharge, reducing the interest rate and cancelling the Economic Service Charge for a period of one year.

The Gampaha District plays a key role in the tourism sector as well.

Negombo, situated about 30km north of Colombo in the Gampaha District is a premier holiday destination in the country.

Negombo’s economy is primarily based on fishing and tourism, with the latter being a key revenue earner for the country. However, the tourism sector in the country has not fared well since the last quarter of 2008 due to the global economic crisis and the security situation in the country.

The government’s economic stimulus package had several proposals for the tourism sector, which include the providing of loans on concessionary terms, extension of loan repayment periods and reduction of interest rates, non charging of penal interest on late payments of loans obtained  by tourist hotels and the removal of the 15% electricity surcharge on all tourist hotels.

How these measures help Gampaha to come out of the economic crisis remains to be seen.

An upsurge in violence

By Arthur Wamanan  

Election monitors express serious concern over the escalating election related violence, claiming that the level of violence was much higher compared to the recently held North Western and Central Provincial elections.

Monitors warned that there was a gradual increase in election violence and that it would take a turn for the worse if authorities fail to curb it.

Spokesperson for Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), Keerthi Tennekoon told The Sunday Leader that the issue of duplication of polling cards has raised questions about the suitability of conducting the poll on April 25 as scheduled.

Names duplicated

According to Tennekoon, the names of at least 62,000 persons had been repeated on the voters’ list which could lead to a tremendous election fraud which could alter the final results.

However the Elections Commissioner’s Department said that the issue has been ‘addressed.’

Tennekoon however in not convinced and demands to know how the details of an individual voter could be duplicated in the database.

“How was it that they could have entered the same name or the identity card number twice in the database? It is not a minor issue and there are no easy answers,” he said.

Top officials of the Elections Department plead innocence and state that the flaw was caused by a software problem.

The department officials said the software had been used for many years and that a suitable replacement was underway.

Question of credibility

But the CAFFE Spokesperson also raises the question of credibility, and questions the possibility of conducting a free and fair poll.

Tennekoon claims that the Elections Commissioner has gone on record saying that over 20 people had received more than one polling card, and claimed people should expect a situation much worse than what is being described by officials.

“Names of more than 62,000 people have been repeated. It is not something to be brushed aside so easily,” he noted.

Monitors also predicted intra-party rivalries taking a violent turn in the days to come. Executive Director, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL), Rohana Hettiarachchi said this trend was becoming apparent as so many political parties were contesting under the UPFA umbrella this time.

According to PAFFREL, 40 incidents of election related violence have been reported from the Western Province so far.

A majority of the 19 complaints have been reported from Colombo followed by Gampaha (12) and Kalutara (9).

Attacks on political offices

Sixteen instances of attacks on political offices have been reported. Hettiarachchi added that 14 instances of assaults have also been reported.

JVP member, Nandana Balage was killed in Veyangoda last week and five offices of the JVP were attacked in Pannipitiya. The offices of UNP Biyagama organiser Ruwan Wijewardene and Kaduwela organiser Sujeewa Senasinghe too have come under attack.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) stated that it had received 75 complaints of election related violence.

 “This time it is very bad. The last time, around 48 instances of election related violence were reported from North Western and Central Provinces combined. This time we have received 40 complaints from the Western Province alone. The situation definitely looks bleak,” commented Hettiarachchi.

Campaigning will end at midnight April 22.

Incidents from Dec. 14 to Apr. 10, 2009  

Assaults                                                                   46 

Election law violations                                             10

Impersonations                                                         0

Intimidation                                                               3

Misuse of state property                                          10

Total # of complains as @ April. 8th 00.01 a.m.       63


Gampaha         29

Kalutara           12

Colombo          22

Total                63

                                       (Courtesy CAFFE)

Gampaha must produce the next chief minister – Prasanna Ranatunga

UPFA Gampaha District Leader Prasanna Ranatunge claims that Gampaha voters are keen to elect a chief minister representing the district as Colombo and Kalutara have produced chief ministers before.

“On two occasions, I topped the UPFA list and I believe it will happen this time also. If I am appointed chief minister, I will give priority to education, health and road development. These are neglected areas,” Ranatunge said.

Refuting allegations levelled against him for misusing public property, Ranatunge said he never used government vehicles for his campaign but said the charge may hold true for other candidates in the UPFA.

Gampaha Fact File

Number of registered voters               —         1,458,275

Number of political parties contesting —                     11

Independent groups                           —                       4

Number of polling booths                    —                   978

Electorates in the district – Wattala, Negombo, Katana, Divulapitiya, Mirigama, Minuwangoda, Attanagalla, Gampaha, Ja-ela, Mahara, Dompe, Biyagama and Kelaniya — 13 in number

(Courtesy Deputy Elections Commissioner, Gampaha)

State sponsored violence rampant — Waruna Rajapakse

The JVP is openly accusing the ruling UPFA administration of resorting to killer tactics to suppress the JVP and secure victory on April 25.

JVP Gampaha District Leader Waruna Rajapakse claimed that while one party supporter has been killed, it was easy to predict further violence as polling date drew near.

Rajapakse who has served in the last two WPC administrations alleged government machinery was being used to curtail the strong JVP election propaganda and accused the Veyangoda police of failing to nab the owner of the vehicle that was used to kill  party supporter Nandana Balage on Monday, April 6.

 Accusing the previous WPC of not fulfilling the peoples’ aspirations, Rajapakse said  “Millions of rupees have been spent to maintain provincial ministries, but some have nothing to show for the monies spent. Not a single house has been built for the people, not even for the tsunami victims. The industries that were in operation for decades have shut down,” he noted.






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