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Politics

   

 Massive misuse of state resources irks UNP, JVP 


Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Robert Blake, Patricia Butenis and Ravi Karunanayake

As the Southern Provincial Council poll gets closer to D-day on October 10, the opposition spoke as one on a significant matter: the misuse of state resources by the government. A leading member of the UNP stated that it was a vulgar display of misuse of power. They were he said, taking it up in parliament but the misuse continued unabated which only showcased the arrogance of the ruling party.

Sunil Handunnetti of the JVP said that whilst his party was doing well and especially so if it was a level playing field, was vociferous in his condemnation at the misuse of state resources for the sole benefit of the ruling party. The state media he said was not fair in the least. It was a damning indictment on equality and suggested that the elections could not possibly be fair.

This column was reminded of Navin Dissanayake’s pronouncements sometime ago on this very subject. Suggesting that to a leading UNP Member of Parliament, he said that Navin’s behaviour at that time was shocking as he had dragged his father too into the mire. Such was his brand of politics and if Navin wished to take that line he could but it was not for the UNP: they were made of sterner integrity than that.

Working hard

Sagala Ratnayaka had his work cut out for him in Matara: He was putting in his miles as were his troops. They were loyal and were working hard to make as best an impact as they could in light of the ever increasing use of state resources by the government. Most of the candidates including the UFPA types could not match the resources of Sajin Vaas Gunawardena.

No sooner was it announced that his sibling Manoj, was incurring significant losses at SriLankan Airlines – well over USD90 million – Sajin was already “to ing and fro ing” with considerable ease, matched only by the President himself: Sajin was transporting himself all over the south by personal helicopter! The helicopter is being operated by Deccan for the moment and Sajin is said to be planning on using it at an aviation training school after election use. No one can deny that he is a class act with his “out of the box” ostentatious strategy.

The President not to be left out of the hustings at which he is an absolute natural, toured the south exhorting southerners to vote for the UFPA. In between opening a state of the art administrative block in Hakmana and other official events also in the southern area around Tangalle, he was hosting meeting after meeting – twice daily – at the family grounds in Medamulana. Some 3,500 attend each of these meetings where they meet the President, listen to what he has to say and obligingly assure the President that they would indeed, vote for the UFPA.

The meetings are lively affairs with the crowds cheering the President with great passion and the President openly enjoying himself. He put across a powerful message. There was a need he said, for opposition at every level, within the party, the district, the province but it had to stop there. There was no room he said for opposition to the motherland. That was unacceptable and he took to task those that went abroad and spoke ill of the country. ‘Our problems are ours, we don’t need outsiders interfering. We can talk and discuss and solve these issues amongst ourselves’ was his message.

Though this went down well in a backward electorate he was in fact paying a back handed compliment to Ranil Wickremesinghe in that Ranil could get the international community to do his bidding over that of the President. In Vakarai, the President opened a state of the art school and stated that communalism was now history. There was he said, just two groups: those who love the motherland and those who work against the motherland. We will deal with the second category and it was the people’s responsibility to help his government do that.

Vote of confidence

In other speeches he spoke of the responsibility of voting for the UFPA; he wanted he said a thumping vote of confidence from the south to rival the Uva if need be.

Almost as the President was stating his take on the loyalty of some of his subjects, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga was in India, telling anyone who would listen that despite the war being over there was a fear psychosis in this resplendent isle. The former Head of State slipped back into Sri Lanka and caught a flight to New York as quietly as she could. She was attending the Clinton Global Initiative 2009 in New York. Reports also reached this column that Harry Jayawardena was in New York for this event.

The Beverley Palace was continuing to be constructed amidst a much higher level of security with the villagers and the estate workers placed on high alert – and with cameras and camera phones banned from the site for prudence at least if not privacy and security.

Mangala Samaraweera the chief proponent of the Grand Alliance expected it to be signed imminently; he was candid enough to admit that the date depended on the star gazers.  The grass roots have awoken, there was a new and renewed interest in the opposition parties’ supporters and it was fun but the financials remained as elusive as any. The UNP and the other opposition parties have to raise funds from their supporters and corporates whilst the UFPA has almost expeditiously got themselves the “state machinery” with which no one party can compete.

Some of the UNPers were speaking openly about substantial monies that their party had received from India in 2004. Significantly those people were wondering as to what happened to this money especially now that the party needed it the most. There was also the cocktail circuit talk, where it was speculated on that of the 40 odd MPs in the UNP, no sooner the parliamentary elections are over with, they too were set to cross over to the government benches. It was estimated that there would then only be a handful of core UNPers left at Sri Kotha.

Ravi Karunanayake had fruitful and frank discussions with the IMF team. There was no doubt said RK that there was a significant compliance requirement which the government would have to follow – if they were committed to receiving the balance of the monies under the loan arrangements. RK was also paying full attention to the debate on foreign policy on Friday in parliament.

A large gathering made up of the full spectrum of political parties and the diplomatic corps gathered at India House to bid farewell to Alok Prasad amidst much bonhomie.

The Supreme Court decision in connection with P.B. Jayasundera took most by surprise including Vasudeva Nanayakkara, the petitioner. He preferred to wait until he saw the reasoning before making a considered statement.

Spreading the message

 On the issue of the so-called “fear psychosis” Nanayakkara said that under President Premadasa in 1989, Mahinda Rajapakse and he went to Geneva to spread the message. In his view history had now vindicated their actions then. It was he said similar now. History will have to be the authority on the correctness of Sri Lankans making pronouncements about the “country situation” at international fora. People can say what they like now but the supreme judgement will necessarily have to be left to history, was his view.

Meanwhile the current Secretary to the Treasury had his contract extended by an year just a day prior to the judgment and speculation was rife that Dr. P.B Jayasundera would be appointed as the Secretary to the Cabinet.

The new Ambassador of the United States of America, Ms Patricia A. Butenis presented her credentials to President Rajapakse last week. She could well have got a hint as to what reception she should expect from the tone and tenor of some sections of the press. How she copes will be evident soon as she could not have arrived at a more conspicuous time in Sri Lanka.

The government has been shocked into accepting that bashing the West after the war has been concluded (save for the mopping up if indeed that is required) has its consequences. It is in the West that we market our products. It is in the West that we therefore get our aid. The West has an abiding interest in us purely for that reason and that alone. Unlike what the local politicians say to an uninformed local voter, there is hardly anything of interest to them to be obsessed with in Sri Lanka.

We have not found oil yet. We have no mines of natural resources in commercial quantities. Strategic positioning is too obvious only to our geographical neighbours. But when it comes to human rights, freedom of expression, rule of the law including good democratic practices the West does sit up and take notice when they are practised in the breach. Unlike the non effective sanctions imposed in countries like Myanmar by the West in the past, they now resort to selective, targeted sanctions proved to be more successful and therein lies the rub for Sri Lanka.

Winner

President Rajapakse stands to win the next presidential election due to the victory over the LTTE. The country is unanimous in its thinking on this, including this column. The strident style and postures adopted to oppose any voice of dissent be that from the West, NGOs or the media is not required and will neither enhance nor diminish his chances at the next presidential election. But for the people of Sri Lanka it will have a long lasting effect if selective sanctions are imposed in the future.

The style of pushing the war victory though effective for local political gain to an extent, has had its downside too. The Nishantha Muthuhettige episode could be termed as a direct fall out of this style of approach. Anarkali Aakarsha saying “I want to serve the people like my grand father did” is another. All want to ride on the popularity of the President and the success of the war.

The report from the Under Secretary of State for South East Asia in the USA, Robert Blake was to be presented to the Congress on  September 23 but has been held back due to a request in person by a Sri Lankan senior defence official. Whether the government required time to accede, take corrective action, propose fresh commitments or make amends will be known shortly. Meanwhile the circus rolls on and all eyes will be on the forthcoming southern election. War crimes report, GSP + and the state of the economy will take a back seat for the moment.


Unemployment rate soars

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The global recession and its impact on the local economy have resulted in a massive increase in the country’s unemployment rate and unrest among those who have lost jobs.

The Census and Statistics Department has stated that there have been 155,000 jobs in the industrial sector and 99,000 in the services that have been lost in the second quarter of 2009.

Releasing the data, the Census and Statistics Department stated that unemployment was no longer "down" and that there would be a further increase in the unemployment rate if the current trends were to continue.

The data that excluded the North and Eastern Provinces indicated a 6.3% increase in overall unemployment against the 5.5% recorded a year earlier. The National Center for Job Losers (NCJL) Convener Wasantha Samarasinghe said there has so far been no proper survey conducted by the authorities to determine as to how many people have lost jobs.

He told The Sunday Leader that although the Census and Statistics Department has released statistics for the second quarter of the year, there has been no survey conducted to account for the individuals who have lost jobs since July this year.

"There are companies that are being closed down every single day that go unaccounted. No one knows about these people who lose jobs and they are helpless," he said. Samarasinghe charged that the government has ignored the plight of the people who have lost jobs since the crisis commenced. "The government has to now address the issue given the large number of people who have lost jobs," he said.

He referred to a statement made by Labour Minister Athauda Seneviratne on August 4 that the government would implement an Unemployment Benefit Insurance Scheme to address the grievances of those who have lost jobs. "He promised to implement it by September. Now there are only a few more days for the month of September to end and the proposal has not even reached the Cabinet for approval," he said.

According to Samarasinghe, although the government has admitted to the need for the establishment of a fund to address the grievances of the people who have lost jobs, the mechanism has to be set in motion.

"The government cannot escape the present unemployment crisis anymore," he said.

He noted that if the government by the end of September does not take action, the NCJL together with the people who have lost jobs would march to the Labour Ministry demanding the compensation promised to them.

Samarasinghe added that the NCJL was in the process of collecting data of all those who have lost jobs due to the economic crisis. "So far we have carried out surveys in Colombo and Gampaha and received details of about 30,000 people who have lost jobs in the two areas," he said.

He further charged that the deal arrived at by the government with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to receive a billion dollar loan would result in a further increase in the country’s unemployment rate.

The Labour Ministry however has stated a much lower figure than that reported by the Census and Statistics Department.

Labour Relations and Manpower Ministry Secretary Mahinda Madihahewa said an island wide survey has identified 50,000 individuals who have lost employment since July 2008.

He told The Sunday Leader that of the 50,000 about 30,000 of the unemployed were from the outstations with the apparel sector being the most affected industry.

When asked as to the difference in numbers recorded by the Ministry and the Census and Statistics Department, Madihahewa said the Ministry calculations were based on the official termination reports received by the Labour Department.

According to the official terminations received by the Department, there have been a total of 46 factories that have closed down since July last year, of which 22 were from the apparel sector. "There are also some companies that have closed down after arriving at agreements with employees without informing the department. Such statistics are not recorded with us," Madihahewa said.

Referring to the steps taken to address the grievances of those who have lost jobs due to the economic crisis, Madihahewa said the Ministry has submitted a proposal to the President on introducing an Unemployment Benefit Insurance Scheme that would pay an allowance for employees who received less than Rs. 25,000 as monthly salaries at the time of losing their jobs. The scheme has been planned in a manner in which individuals who are applicable to enter the scheme would be paid a sum between Rs. 4,000 – Rs. 12,000 for a period of 24 months.

"However, nothing has been finalized yet and it is all in the discussion stage," Madihahewa said.

The final scheme according the Secretary would include proposals that would be introduced by the ILO consultant who is due to arrive in Sri Lanka on October 4 from Geneva.


 

 
 

 

 
Unemployment rate soars
 
 

 

 


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