25th November 2001, Volume 8, Issue 19

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issuespic1.jpg (18064 bytes) Hunting with the Tiger

By Erskine

The existence of a secret agreement between the LTTE and the UNF is the government's hobbyhorse these days. By insisting there is a pact between the Greens and the Tigers, the People's Alliance hopes to

alienate the nationalist element among those who would otherwise vote UNF. By doing so however, the PA has pulled the rug out from under the feet of the poor Sihala Urumaya, who are now left without a cause. There is little to separate the war mongering Sihala Urumaya from the war mongering PA-JVP alliance, both of which appear to be committed to a military solution to the ethnic question. Problem is, not many of them are volunteering to go out there and fight for their cause, preferring instead to blow hot air from their armchairs in Colombo or, for that select few, their parliamentary seats.

Tempers are hot. Both Karu Jayasuriya and Ravi Karunanayake have pledged to resign their seats should it be proved that there is an agreement between the UNF and the Tigers. Mangala Samaraweera has offered to resign if it can be proved that there isn't. Samaraweera is astute. He might just as well have offered to resign if it could be proved that there isn't a silver teapot orbiting Mars, safe in the knowledge that proof in either direction is unlikely to pop up in his lifetime.

The latest twist has been 'documentary' evidence by way of an unsigned memo purported to have been written by Jayalath Jayawardena, complete with a photo of Jayawardena in the company of a group of men who, judging by their moustaches, are obviously senior rankers of the LTTE. For his part, Jayawardena has claimed that these are forgeries. From the point of view of any impartial observer, it does not matter: so innocuous is the content of the memo that Mother Theresa might have written it. What is more, it is dated 1998, a good long time ago.

The fact that Mangala Samaraweera has chosen 1998 as a starting point is not without relevance. That was the year (February 9, to be exact), that Chandrika Kumaratunga gave an interview to 'Time' magazine. In that exchange, Kumaratunga made some startling revelations. One was that she spends two hours each day learning Tamil (well, four years hence we haven't seen much application of that; we wonder whether this is another element of her fantasy life, like that Sorbonne education). Another was that she is given to daydreams, the content of which involve "Walking on the streets of London or Paris or Sri Lanka, just looking at things.".

But all that is hardly news. The punch line in her exchange with 'Time' was rather more startling. "She began by offering peace negotiations with Prabhakaran, dangling an extraordinary incentive" 'Time's' Anthony Spaeth noted. "The President told 'Time' she promised Prabhakaran an autonomy package, and also said if he stopped fighting he could run the northern province, using his guerrillas as a police force, without having to face elections for up to 10 years."

Three and a half years later, Kumaratunga has not denied this statement. Now she accuses the UNF of being willing to offer the LTTE an interim administration for three years with no mention even of absorbing the Tiger cadres into the police! If Ranil Wickremesinghe's alleged three-year offer is as evil as Kumaratunga claims, then surely her own ten-year offer is the mother of all evil?

Sadly, the issue here is not one of an interim administration: it is one of an enduring peace. And the only way that can be negotiated is through talks. For all Kumaratunga's and Samaraweera's hysteria about the alleged LTTE-UNF pact, any kind of solution to the ethnic problem necessarily involves constitutional reform. And any far-reaching amendment to the Constitution must have the consent of a two-thirds majority of parliament, the Supreme Court and the country at a referendum. Not Ranil Wickremesinghe, Jayalath Jayawardena or any number of UNF MPs in concert can pass into law a devolution package for the north and east otherwise. It is hardly the kind of reform that can be implemented purely through an agreement between the UNF and the LTTE, even if such does exist. What is more, now that both the UNF and the LTTE have formally denied that such a pact exists, Wickremesinghe could hardly draw it from his hat and 'betray the country' after he wins the election. The issue is dead.

Nevertheless, Kumaratunga and the PA continue to harp on it because they have nothing else to offer the electorate. No progress, no development, no success of any kind. Sadly for its cause, the UNF's commitment to 'gentleman politics' is letting it down rather. If Wickremesinghe chose to fight back, he could cite not just Kumaratunga's ten-year offer mentioned above, but her husband Vijaya's visit to Jaffna where, at an LTTE training camp, he picked up an LTTE T-56 and used it for target practice, the target being the effigy of a Sri Lankan soldier. That is on photographic record. Ditto for Kumaratunga, who allowed herself to be photographed seated on the same bed with the LTTE's leaders. The UNF has also been too genteel to mention the widespread perception that the LTTE was instigated by senior ranks of the PA to assassinate Gamini Dissanayake, Kumaratunga's rival at the 1994 presidential election, clearing the way for her to become president. And of Kumaratunga's appointment of Vasantha Rajah, a senior ranker of the LTTE, as chairman of Rupavahini Corporation, the UNP has elected to keep completely mum.

Then there was the time in 1988 that Sirimavo Bandaranaike sent her son Anura, complete with SLFP election manifesto, to the north to meet with the LTTE's Dilip Yogi and cut a deal. Bandaranaike, with typical clumsiness, was caught out and exposed. At every election since, the SLFP (by whatever name) has attempted to cut deals with the Tigers so as to promote its own parochial interests, never the national interest. In 1994, the rewards far exceeded mere tacit support: the UNP candidate and fifty others were blown up to the PA Government's patent delight. It was despite that, that Kumaratunga boasted of having facilitated Anton Balasingham's exit from Sri Lanka for medical treatment, a subject his wife Adele writes about in her memoirs. What is more, the EPDP, in their manifesto for the December 5 election, have renewed their claim to Eelam. Ironically, the EPDP is a constituent party of Kumaratunga's own PA, and its leader, Douglas Devananda, is a member of her cabinet and the PA is not contesting in Jaffna either. No secret pact there!

The reason why gentleman politics is no counter to Kumaratunga is because she would not recognise a gentleman if he were served to her on a silver platter with watercress garnish. She not only leads the most corrupt administration that has ever been visited on Sri Lanka, but she is to boot an extraordinarily fluent liar. Her only achievement of note these past seven years has been to construct a multi-billion rupee presidential palace for herself, and such is her inefficiency that even that is nowhere near complete. This is a woman who, on her own admission, has discussed with equanimity the murder of newspaper editors with her ministers. Just last week she talked of killing people who, in her opinion, were killers. Her law is the law of the jungle, and it is not to Debrett's 'Book of Etiquette' that gentlemen must turn in learning how to deal with her.

Kumaratunga takes the people for fools, claiming a family history stretching back 900 years (in fact, it cannot be traced for even a third of that). The people are told the most outrageous lies in the belief that it is the serf's duty to believe his master, no matter what. That is why she pulls out of her hat, with religious sincerity, the 'UNP-LTTE' bogey every time an election comes over the horizon. By December 6, she will have forgotten all about it. Until the next election.

Given that the PA and JVP are fighting on a common platform with the hope of forming the next government together, the JVP too, is mouthing the same propaganda. They have elected to forget however, that the IPKF was brought to Sri Lanka to contain the LTTE in the north only because the JVP unleashed violence in the south. Then, rather than giving the Indians an opportunity to take the Tigers on, the JVP, led by Wijeweera and the SLFP, began an agitation to expel them. Eventually, so as to take the wind out of their sails, Ranasinghe Premadasa unilaterally did expel the IPKF, ensuring that the war would continue for the next decade with the loss of thousands of lives.

The PA and JVP have now joined forces in a raw thirst for power with nothing to offer the nation but invective. They have cast aside the prospect of peace for a continuation of the war, to the prosecution of which Kumaratunga's contribution has been to send her son off to the safety of a British University. War is for other mothers' sons. This is the cynicism with which the PA and JVP run with the hare and hunt with the tiger.


Bursting Satty's bubble of mayhem and gore

Darling Satty,

It's this Tiger connection dearie, that is getting me all hot under the collar. I knew you had the knack of flogging a dead horse when it grabbed your fancy, but this is ridiculous. Odd fish my good woman, one would think you were a tad jealous of these connections, so called, the way you snap at them.

But politics is stranger than fiction. And this greens-tigers link is stranger than the lion sleeping with the lamb if you catch my drift. Unfortunately in the Satty version of the political bible, the tiger sleeps with the elephant at your beck and call, in your fanciful dreams. Which makes you a bit of a pimp m'dear if I may be allowed to observe. But less of all that and more of the other.

By the other I mean these priceless utterances of yours. Those gems that fall pell mell from your rouged, bee stung lips. I was shocked and surprised at what you said in Tissamaharama dear. A sacred sort of place too. If murder was not positively lurking in the recesses of your dark mind, I don't know what was.

As you threatened to kill mercilessly anyone who killed one of yours, I felt a shudder pass through my curving spine. As you preached your days sermon on the mount, and said there was no sin in killing a murderer, I remembered just in time that the bo leaf was first brought to Devanampiyatissa at Tissamaharama. I may be wrong, not being so hot on Buddhist history, but the spot you must admit, is rather sacred to over 70% of the Paradisians.

I don't know if you learned these minor legal ramifications in your lofty studies at Aquinas or your alleged postgraduate studies in some elusive place of learning in France, but here in Paradise, instigation to murder is really not even a mitigatory defence. I hate to burst your bubble of mayhem and gore, but this eye for and eye business will not help you in a court of law, though I will admit a pliant chief justice might. And knowing you darling, with this tooth for a tooth policy, you will get the wrong man. But then, I can't blame you. In a different sense, Thellie has repeatedly got a rotten egg herself.

I'm a teensy weensy bit puzzled about this alleged Jayalath Jay and the Chelvam letter dear. Hmm. Given the penchant you and yours have for flowery forgeries, I cannot say I'm totally convinced. No matter. In politics only a suspicion will suffice.

While I acknowledge your ingenuity dear, in milking this spurious Tiger connection dry, I can't help wonder at those 45 love letters exchanged by you and your loving buddy at the time - Praba. And I mean the Tiger chief too. What about those cheery times you had with the Anton and his female kangaroo, all captured on Kodak too. What of your late hubby visiting a Tiger training camp and training a machine gun at a target cut out of a Paradisian soldier? Captured on Konica I think. I merely ask for clarification dear. These are trying times for all, and though my vote is always for you dear, I'd like to be doubly sure this time.

Tell me what is your stand? Since we all know that you have been, and will in the future, talk to the tigers, especially so, since a certain Perumal connection cannot keep you a way from the Jaffna boys; What I ask again is your posish? Do you want a war that is eating paradise to continue? I suspect as much. Those commissions on arms are too much to give up for your folks nooo?

Do tell dear. Is sonny boy Vim fighting with vigour and vitality at the front too like his fellow paradisians? Or is he in some lab in old Blighty, stroking a furry friend. Not that I have anything against vets dear, in fact he'll have a ready made job as chief doc for the parliamentarians, no sooner he passes out.

I was equally non plussed dear about the sudden arrival of Somawansa Ameray last Thursday. No doubt with your triple blessing. Though reviled as a sinner by his victims, he is no doubt hailed as a saint and a saviour by you. Tch. Tch. Have you forgotten your late hubby's demise already? No doubt as the only surviving member of the JVP terror politbureau that snuffed out so many, and like a demented Queen of hearts, cut off the heads of all and sundry, Somay will make a goodish ornament on your political platform.

But why is the dear chappie leaving before election day? On December 3rd I'm told. Lusty seems to think (I, m'dear not having a mind of my own) the wanted murderer ( I think he means Somay) will not have protection for all the atrocities he committed twelve years ago, after December 5, and a green victory. And predicting a green victory he has decided to vamoose before the day of reckoning. My theory is slightly less forbidding. No doubt the chap has to attend a Christmas party. He may have signed himself up as a Santa Claus understudy or something.

At least now he has the protection of the PSD. Poor chappies. Having to guard the blighted fellow despite him having beheaded scores of their friends if not relatives. The army and the police if I remember right, were his prime targets in those days.

I say dear. Somay and you have both been in exile in old blighty no. How quaint aney. You can catch up on lost time now over a crumpet. I'm sure Somay would have acquired a taste for it in twelve years of exile. Ask him dear, whether he too scrubbed floors in ye olde England.

The daily noise was noising on about some Bandas who have come to town and have been infected with the virus. Are they talking about you and mallo? Have you two been inhaling the whitish powder these days too?

Finally dear, this Tiger connection canard is getting rather tedious. If you have anything new up your sweaty sleeve this may be the time to pull it out.

Toodle oo


Of highways and backroom 'access'

By Frederica Jansz

Yet another backroom deal is close to being secured. An award for a multi billion-rupee tender may be given to a company that was disqualified by a Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) during the pre-qualification stage last year.

Similar to the controversy surrounding the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway, which The Sunday Leader highlighted last week, we have found that 'commissions' amounting to millions of rupees may have passed hands in order to allow a disqualified tender applicant to make a viable bid to construct a section of the southern expressway funded by the Asian Development Bank.

This time around, Kumagai Gumi Co. Ltd, despite having failed to score an overall minimum of 60 points in order to pre-qualify and make a bid for the project, are being allowed to do so together with two other contenders who have passed and secured the necessary points to make a bid. Not only were Kumagai allowed to make a bid - their price has been accepted and they have been passed for recommendation to a Cabinet Appointed Tender Board by the Technical Evaluation Committee.

Before making this decision, the technical evaluation committee of which Director Maintenance of the Road Development Authority, M. W. A. S. Wijesinghe is Chairman, wrote in an official report that Kumagai Gumi Co. Ltd., scored only 54 points during the pre-qualification stage. Wijesinghe reiterated at the time together with four other members of TEC that "Hence this applicant is not recommended for pre-qualification."

He further noted that Kumagai under the financial capacity component had scored minimum marks of only 20 points out of the required 40 points. In addition Kumagai was unable to score a single point with regard to the bid capacity criteria and scored a maximum of only 20 points when evaluated on technical capability and experience.

TEC found when studying the extent of working capital of Kumagai that the last balance sheet dated March 31, 2000 showed the company had a negative financial liability of USD 2, 342.24 million, which exceeded the companies current assets.

Wijesinghe wrote, "the liquidity position of the company had declined during the last three successive years." He added that despite Kumagai having furnished a letter from Sumitomo Bank Ltd., about the availability of a line of credit to the value of USD 35 million operative for 40 months (which would serve to finance the proposed project) TEC," he said, is of the view the proposed line of credit is not significant to improve the liquidity position of the company.

Despite all these concerns and observations, Wijesinghe for some reason did an about face and later allowed Kumagai to make a bid, which has been accepted, for the multi billion rupee project.

Wijesinghe is backed in his strange and yes, even astounding decision by the other four members of TEC, namely; Dr. G. L. Asoka, J de Silva, (Director, Engineering, RDA), V. P. Gunasena, (Director, Audit, RDA), D. G. S. Chandralal, (Deputy Director (MFAP), RDA) and Upali Dahanayake, (Director, Department of National Planning).

In order to call this tender, the government has obtained a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), towards the construction of a section of the southern expressway from Kurundugahahetekma to Matara. It was decided by the cabinet of ministers and President Chandrika Kumaratunga that this part of the project would be implemented through a single contract.

A newspaper advertisement was placed, calling applications for pre-qualification of construction contractors. The notice was also made available on the internet. The ministry of foreign affairs took necessary action to give publicity for this project among ADB member countries using Sri Lanka missions abroad.

A document was later approved by the Cabinet Appointed Tender Board (CATB) giving details of pre-qualification information, pre-qualification questionnaire, project information and the criteria required for evaluation of applications.

N. H. Zarook, Project Director, for the ADB funded section of the southern expressway confirmed that a bid from Kumagai Gumi Co. Ltd., has been accepted and that this award will be made in January 2002. Asked to explain how Kumagai has been allowed to make a bid after having been disqualified during the pre-qualification stage by TEC, Zarook was unable to reply comprehensively. He would only say that as far as he is aware the short-listed bidders had all passed the pre-qualification stage.

Zarook refused to comment on the report submitted by TEC, which clearly identifies Kumagai Gumi Co. Ltd., as having been disqualified at the pre-qualification stage from making any bid for this project.

The Sunday Leader meanwhile has found that Kumagai was allowed not only to make a bid but to make an alternative bid as well in order to make sure that on the surface of the matter at least, it would appear that their bid is the lowest. And so it is - by Rs. 291 million.

This is how they fixed their bid in connivance with government officials including members of the RDA. They made two financial offers. One is for Rs. 12, 545,531,250. The second is for Rs. 12,491,206,137.90. Of these two offers, Kumagai have further offered a discount of Rs. 1,899,000,250 on the first offer and a discount of Rs. 1,900,661,137.90 on the second offer.

The other two short listed tenderers have made the following bids. Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd., has proposed a bid of Rs. 13, 360,342,516.69. China State Nopawong - Civil Joint Venture has in fact made the lowest bid of Rs. 11,669,111,660 with a discounted offer from this amount, amounting to Rs. 10, 881,401,660.

It does not take a mathematician to subtract the second discounted offer (of Rs. 1,900,661,137.90) made by Kumagai against the company's second bid for Rs. 12, 491,206,137.90. After making the necessary subtraction, Kumagai's second offer is Rs. 291 million cheaper than China State Nopawong.

This is because both China State Nopawong and Hyundai Engineering and Construction Ltd., were not 'in' on the 'deal' as it were, and made only one bid with a discounted offer unlike Kumagai who was allowed to make two bids.

Meanwhile, in this instance too, Daewoo Consortium in a joint venture with Hanjung was among the four short listed bidders who were evaluated at the pre-qualification stage by TEC. The joint venture had to later opt out of the process when Daewoo had been forced to admit that the company is facing a financial crisis and was unable to provide a credible allowance of accounts for 1999 - 2000.

It is this group of companies that previously together with a joint venture of Keangnam has already been awarded a multi billion rupee tender by the government to construct the Colombo - Katunayake expressway.

During the evaluation process of the above tender, The Sunday Leader has proof that Daewoo-Keangnam were on that occasion too disqualified by TEC, on conditions of bankruptcy and inadequate technical capabilities. However, the joint venture company was later asked to re-bid when President Chandrika Kumaratunga stepped in and insisted they be allowed to re-negotiate their proposal. The final result was that TEC was forced to recommend Daewoo-Keangnam to the CATB and the award was duly made. The middleman in the entire deal was none other than presidential confidante and friend, Ronnie Peiris.

In this instance the Access Group are the local representatives for 'Boskalis' the dredging company sought to serve on this project together with Daewoo-Keangnam, Korea, joint venture.

Sumal Perera, Chairman and CEO for Access, said that the Access Group would be involved in sub-contracts again, to help construct the southern expressway and would work in partnership with Kumagai Gumi Co. Ltd., in the event the latter won the tender.

The fact of the matter is that despite being disqualified at the prequalification stage Kumagai remained undeterred. They had friends in the right places who made sure that the company was asked to submit a bid towards the project. A bid that will perhaps name them the winners given their crafty manipulation of the financial offer - thus making their proposal appear to be the lowest in comparison to the other two tenderers.

Kumagai has also demanded in its bid document that the company be allowed to remit a sum of USD 75 million out of the country against expenses incurred for the project.

China State Nopawong Civil Joint Venture has requested that only USD 50 million be remitted out of the country. In this instance the government stands to save USD 25 million from being remitted out of the overall project expenses.

This very important clause however is being overlooked in order to accommodate a company that by all counts does not qualify to win this award.

"Our bid is the lowest"

James Stevenson, Deputy General Manager for Kumagai Gumi Co. Ltd., said that despite the company having been disqualified at the prequalification stage by the Technical Evaluation Committee, the company was asked to submit a bid for this tender "as there was a lack of sufficient competition,"

Stevenson added that the bids were accepted on November 1, 2001 and he has been made to understand that "our bid is the lowest."

The other two companies that have made a bid are Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd., and China State Nopawong-Civil Joint Venture.


Highway to fishermen's death

By Neranjan de Silva

While the whole world celebrated World Fisherman's Day on November 21, the villagers of Dikowita, Wattala, took to the streets to pay homage to the victims of the shooting. With the blessings of the Buddhist monks and the priests of the church, they walked along the streets to protest the action which took the lives of their loved ones. Hymns and prayers were to be heard from all over and the cries of the innocent fisherfolk filled the salty air.

The protests for better wages carried out by the Dikowita fisherfolk had ended up with gunshots fired, by police personnel from the Peliyagoda Police Station. Pressurised and harassed, with poverty on their heels due to their salary being reduced to Rs. 30 from Rs. 500 per day, every fisherman took to the beaches of the area on November 20. They did this to protest against their low salaries, demand a better salary and to bring a stop to the extraction of sand by a Korean company.

The Korean company is involved in the construction of the Colombo-Katunayake highway brokered by president's confidante Ronnie Peiris, which in turn has crippled the fishing industry, thrusting these innocent people into hardship.

Apart from this, they also protested against the mining of the coastal area which has brought about erosion as well as sea water that comes in with the sand, making the water in their wells black in colour and salty. As a result, the fisherfolk are also deprived of drinking water.

Huge pipes extracting the sand are said to also suck out the fish roe together with fishing nets, taking them to Muthurajawela. The fishermen who were left with no jobs as a result, appealed to the relevant authorities about this situation and have suggested that the government give them a daily income in order to survive.

Seven policemen from the Special Operations Division of the Peliyagoda police who were present at the scene opened fire on the fisherfolk with live ammunition and then declared that they were forced to take this defensive action due to the violent situation created by the fisherfolk. Five of the protestors died and one of them is in a very critical condition, while 17 suffered heavy injuries. As a result of this violence, six police personnel and a priest were also injured. DIG Daya Jayasundera, however, was of the view that regardless of the outcome, the police were correct in the action they took.

The villagers also set a bus (61-2760), belonging to the Korean company on fire because it transported the seven policemen involved in the incident, said a villager.

The police personnel who arrived at the scene at this moment were said to have been very amicable towards the protesters and at one stage helped them to remove the 500g bolts attached to the pipes. The Chairman of the Hendala Fishing Society, M. A. Austin Gunawardana, told The Sunday Leader that the fisherman in the area were thrown into hardship by the project launched by the Korean company involved in the construction of the Colombo-Katunayake Highway. Gunawardana says that he repeatedly requested aid from the government and that he was finally granted a sum of money, which when divided left each fisherman with only Rs.30 a day. With tears running down his cheeks, Gunawardana also said their lives were in danger and that all they wanted was to get a little bit more money to fight hunger.

When the villagers protested, having no other alternative, MP Neil Rupasinghe who visited the protestors on the shores of Wattala had told them that he was helpless to make any alternative decisions for the time being and agreed to the removal of the pipes.

The fisherman have also allegedly been subject to many threats and acts of violence by the Navy personnel in the area, who take a big quota of their daily fish. A.A.D Karunathileke, also a victim of the incident, alleged that whenever they are unable to meet the necessary quota, they are severely beaten by the Navy and that they have no other option other than to give in to their demands.

After making several appeals to the authorities, left with no other options, poor villagers of Dikowita whose daily wage was reduced from Rs.500 to Rs.30 took their stand by the beaches of Wattala together with their religious leaders.

"Protests have been very peaceful and we never even raised our voices," said Rev. Nihal Liyanage of the Dikowita church. He also told The Sunday Leader that these are innocent people who are trying to keep their families alive by fighting for their daily bread and they will in no way take any action against the police. He also told The Sunday Leader that there was no warning given to the people prior to opening fire and that they were very brutally shot at repeatedly.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, the Police HQI of the Peliyagoda Police Station, Chandana Galappaththy accepted responsibility for the firing, and said that the enraged villagers attacked the police, who were forced to open fire in self defense. He also said that the police were attacked with stones and sticks at many points and were forced to continue the firing along their route. When The Sunday Leader visited the site where the shooting occurred, neither stones nor any other objects could be found around the area.

SP Nanayakkara said the villagers surrounded his troops and that the police had tried to avoid shooting the protestors by firing into the air and added that they were using single rounds in order to avoid any damage.

Richard Jayawardana and Benedict Gunasekara, who were eyewitnesses, said that they are sure it was the Special Operations Division of the Peliyagoda police that was involved in the firing and that the people were shot like dogs. They also said that the policemen had kept on firing right along, and that a three wheeler driver was shot in the process, one kilometer from the scene of the firing.

Uswatakeiyawe Kaldiyawatte Sisilin Handalage, a relative of one of the victims who passed away was furious about the police attack and said that the police had no regard whatsoever for the citizens. She too had been assaulted while rushing to see her dead nephew and was in tears, as were Mary Felicia and Ebert Perera, parents of a gunshot victim, Lasantha Perera, who is currently being treated at the Ragama Hospital together with many others who were admitted after the incident.

M. A. Joseph spoke to The Sunday Leader and expressed his disgust towards the police who have ill-treated these people for quite some time. Joseph Ajith Nelson, a father of two, was also one of the victims and is currently receiving treatment at the Ragama Hospital. They stated that there was definitely a political background to the assault and they clearly wished to say to the public that they were only trying to fight for their right to have decent wages.

Member of Parliament, Neil Rupasinghe, told The Sunday Leader that Rs.25, 000 has been allocated and when divided it leaves a fisherman with Rs.4000 and that he has personally seen to it that they receive that amount. He alleged that the Chairman of the Fisherman's Union is responsible for this incident and that he was provoking the people to protest.

Further investigations are being carried out by SP Vithana and a team of officers in the Negombo Police under the supervision of OIC Pamunuwa.


Southern pot-boilers

By Amantha Perera in Tissamaharama

Just a year back, the district of Hambantota paid host to an intense battle between a young buck with a name to boot and the political royal family of the district. In battle, the youngster, Sajith Premadasa came up the winner against Mahinda Rajapakse and clan.

Premadasa had broken the hold of the Rajapakse's on Hambantota and was touted as future leadership material. The ultimate price that the winner and the voters alike have received is the rabid wrath of the losers.

Today Hambantota is a far cry from what it was a year ago. Locating a UNP office is like locating a wild elephant on the highway. They have become such an endangered commodity. The UNPers cry foul and point the finger directly at Mahinda Rajapakse, the man who has ascended the ladder of political power brokering with the crossover of the S. B. Dissanayake, G. L. Peiris and crowd.

UNP offices have been destroyed all across the district. Last year PA and UNP offices standing wall to wall was a statement of the shoulder to shoulder tussle that was going on. This time however, Rajapakse has decided he wants his little fiefdom back one way or the other. And the target numero uno is Premadasa.

Last Wednesday, Premadasa's supporters allege that Rajapakse himself had abused and threatened UNPers pasting posters. He had made his security search the UNPers and told them not to paste over his posters.

"They were pasting posters and Mahinda had objected to that. Posters are a sad fact of village level politics," Premadasa told The Sunday Leader.

Just outside Rajapakse's ancestral home in Tangalle, people were whispering how all houses visited by Premadasa had been re-visited by the Rajapakse crowd and the message had not been very cordial.

The about-turn in Rajapakse's attitude has been attributed to the loss a year back, which severely dented his national standing and propelled Premadasa into the political highlands. "It was the victory and the fear that this time it would be far worse," Premadasa observed.

He however has no plans of backing down and is continuing with his campaign work aided by his mother, former first lady, Hema Premadasa.

But the UNP has scalded down campaigning during the night. Premadasa has advised supporters not to plan meetings after dusk as it is too dangerous. And other than him, most of the other UNP candidates looked as if they were intimidated by the PA thug display and, the party's Colombo office too has been slow to react to the situation in Hambantota.

According to former JVP parliamentarian Nihal Galapaththi, UNP candidates who attended a meeting with the DIG did not air any grievances against Rajapakse which was all what they had done when the PA strongman was not present. Premadasa did not attend the meeting.

Police reaction however leaves a lot to be desired. Premadasa keeps bombarding them with faxes and other entries but so far very little has been done to counter the terror games. "When we requested the DIG to carry out his duties without taking sides, his reply was that he could only do so much," Galapaththi said. Despite the very obvious affection the ruling party has shown towards the JVP (none of its offices have been attacked and the party goes about campaigning without any hindrance) Galapaththi too blamed Rajapakse as the main instigator of violence. (see interview)

If terror gets to Premadasa, the PA will have the district for the taking. "The UNP totally depends on me for victory," he said. And he has been identified as the man to beat by none other President Chandrika Kumaratunga whose obvious feigning of not knowing his name at the Tissamaharama meeting belied the fact that Hambantota to the PA was Sajith and only Sajith.

At the meeting, Kumaratunga also gave the nod for violence by advocating an eye for an eye theory.

For his part, Rajapakse has denied vehemently his role in the violence. At a new conference in Colombo last week, he challenged Premadasa to bring forward the injured and said it was the PA which has been the victim of violence. At the meeting with the DIG however, according to Galapaththi, Rajapakse too failed to give the assurance that he could reign in his supporters.

The PA charged that the UNPer has brought in thugs from Colombo and is going all over the district with them. It is a fact that Premadasa travels with a large entourage. "These are friends of mine. If the government is willing to give me special protection, I will not want such cover," he told The Sunday Leader. And there have been reports that soon after the shooting incident involving his wife, Premadasa's supporters from Colombo had gone in hordes to Hambantota.

Despite such allegations, very few complaints have been made against Premadasa during the campaign. One such was that UNP supporters had threatened a group of JVP supporters pasting posters in Beliatte.

"I don't think that an election is worth muddying my image," the accused told The Sunday Leader, arguing that by resorting to violence, Rajapakse is jeopardising his future political goals.

In this equilibrium, the role of the JVP is very interesting. While tacitly acknowledging that they have been spared by the PA, the likes of Galapaththi are doing their best to get the disgruntled PA votes into their lot.

"At the election the PA will not be as strong and the UNF might gain. But to anyone who wants to form a government, the JVP will be crucial," Galapaththi said predicting that the JVP was eating into the PA base.

Such thoughts and the lameness with which the JVP has reacted to Rajapakse's gimmicks have not endeared the party to the UNP, nevertheless. "It is almost as if they are a silent partner," Premadasa lamented referring to how the JVP has been spared the mayhem that has been directed at him.

But both the JVP and the UNP agree that if the present trend continues, the district would end up out-doing the infamous Wayamba fiasco of 1999. "It will be a killing field." Premadasa's assessment was echoed by Galapaththi who predicted that the election would be the bloodiest ever in the district.

A lot will depend on how Rajapakse wants to play the game from here on till the end. With the tacit backing of the president and the might of the state machinery at his disposal, the temptation would be strong for him to take the route through the gun barrel to victory. The signs are that he will not take the democratic route that he is known to champion at national level when his little share of the pie is at stake.

The other two districts in the Southern Province are far better in comparison. In Matara, PA big gun Mangala Samaraweera is having the fight of his life with former ally turned foe Mahinda Wijesekera making sure that the UNP's presence is felt and felt good.

There were reports of burning of party offices, but when The Sunday Leader visited such areas, the offices had been put up once again. In Matara the PA is dearly going to miss the presence of Wijesekera, who topped the list, and Dallas Allahaperuma. The UNPers are confident that they could tilt the scale in their favour this time. However, the party that is likely to cash in may be the JVP which is getting most of the support Allahaperuma enjoyed earlier.

Galle also is a reflection of Matara where allegations of intimidation are not backed by the ground reality. All three districts are likely to see a tooth and nail tussle between the two big parties with the JVP carrying the potential to be the spoilsport for either.

A relatively non-violent election will favour the UNP no doubt. During the 2000 election PAFFREL noted that only 18 of 138 polling stations monitored in the Hambantota district were flawed beyond redemption. That, out of a total of 357. An indication that a free election would be to the detriment of the ruling party.

If violence escalates, what is the UNP and the JVP going to do? The latter indicated that it was preparing citizens' committees to suppress rigging. Such tactics have been touted by all opposition parties in the past but have rarely worked. In any event the PA is unlikely to prevent pro-JVP votes from being cast. But mass scale violence would affect the JVP vote base as well.

"I will not resort to violence at all. I will fight by non-violent means," Premadasa asserts. "What other means do I have?" Premadasa says that he will fight with his principles and policies.

If he can withstand the brute reality, so much the good for local politics. But, Rajapakse has not been graceful in defeat and will not be if another drubbing is on the cards for the PA in the district.

What is at stake here is not only the future of two political parties, but the destinies of two people born and bred under the influence that politics was theirs to rule.


"Nobody appreciated my clean politics"

Dallas Allahaperuma is a rare commodity in Sri Lankan politics. He is someone who is willing to take a chance for what he believes to be right. At last year's elections, he took such a chance. He conducted an election without any posters, any cutouts, with one single office, no vehicle parades and no polythene decorations. He staged a rally in his home base of Kamburupitiya where all three major parties, the PA, the UNP and the JVP, addressed the crowds from the same stage. And he won, barely, but won.

In the local political arena made up of hypocrites and despots under blue, green and red banners, Allahaperuma personified the dreams of the idealist. "I became a politician with the pledge to reinvent the violent political culture in this country. I have done it before, I am the mid-wife in this whole operation," Allahaperuma told The Sunday Leader a year ago.

Today the child has been killed at birth and the mid-wife knocked out of the system that he tried to change. There is no Dallas Allahaperuma on any of the lists. He packed his bags and left the official residence long ago. Today he is a tenant at his in-laws' house. A collateral causality of the S. B. Dissanayake led crossover saga.

It is a well-known secret that during the crossover episode Allahaperuma stood with Dissanayake. But, he argued that the battle should be fought from within. His aim was to change the party from the inside rather than ending up just another Sri Lankan politician who stood for personal gain. He also cautioned the others as to what had become of political crossovers in the past. "I told them that I was not going to cross over from the start," he told The Sunday Leader. While the others crossed over, he remained alone in the PA.

There he knew that he was isolated. There were many in the PA ranks who were out to get him. His attempts at creating a new political culture were laughed at by the ruling coalition rather than encouraged.

Even during the 2000 campaign, his efforts of holding multi-party meetings had been ridiculed by the likes of Mangala Samaraweera as attempts at harming the government. He took the only option open to him. He resigned from the SLFP and took leave from politics, at least temporarily.

"One reason why I quit was that what I did last year, the way I conducted the election was not appreciated by my own party. No one from the PA came up and said 'well done Dallas" Allahaperuma said dejectedly. "It was as if you had to be a rogue to be recognised." Today, according to him, his principles are appreciated more by opposition parties.

Ironically, Samaraweera has launched a campaign in Matara where one poster serves all 10 PA candidates in the Matara District , though he still gets a larger space and a bigger picture.

When he left, Allahaperuma left as graciously as he had won elections since 1993. He wrote to President Chandrika Kumaratunga and told her why he was leaving. He told the likes of Samaraweera that politics, PA style, was not his beat.

He then enrolled himself back at the Law College and is hoping to take the law exams. His close friends say that Allahaperuma is very much likely to re-enter journalism. But no one has discounted the man as a political spent force. He will be back.

He has confessed to friends that the coming elections would reveal to the country in no uncertain terms the decadence that is prevalent. His argument is that the principles espoused by him would be more appreciated thereafter.

His absence was no more poignant than on the posters carried by UNPers in Kamburupitiya at the beginning of the campaign protesting against political intimidation and thuggery. "If only you were here, Dallas," read one such poster. It is not only Kamburupitiya's loss, but the entire country's that the only man who took the risk of carrying out a free and fair poll, is sitting out the elections studying law.


"We are prepared to help anybody
form a government"

By Amantha Perera in Tissamaharama

On the eve his exiled leader Somawansa Amarasinghe was to set foot in Sri Lanka, The Sunday Leader met with the JVP's longest serving parliamentarian Nihal Galapaththi at the JVP's stronghold Hambantota.

Confident that his party would hold the key in the forming of the next government, Galapaththi dropped a bombshell of sorts during the interview. "We are prepared to help anybody to form a government. It does not matter whether it is the PA or the UNP. What matters is that the government is formed according to conditions laid out by the JVP," he told The Sunday Leader during the interview.

It is a well-known fact that the government has indicated that it was willing to form a government with the help of the JVP if it lacks the majority and has been indirectly aiding the JVP campaign. The PA suggestions have received the nodding approval of the likes of Wimal Weeravansha who has emerged as the biggest proponent of the pact. The JVP media secretary has also been an active propagandist in promoting the so-called UNP-LTTE pact.

Only time will tell whether Galapaththi's assertion was a ruse to deflect a backlash or whether it was a sincere intention.

Excerpts of the interview follow.

The Sunday Leader: How is the situation in Hambantota?

Galapaththi: No party has created a major problem for the JVP so far. There were one or two small incidents like the one in Agunukolapellessa where a PA provincial councillor named Gunasena had assaulted two JVP members. I went and spoke to him and told him that there is freedom for anyone to do politics. And I told him not to do such things in the future and act the way his national leaders are acting unless he is willing to lose the goodwill of the JVP. I warned him and made a complaint at the police. Other than that incident, there has been no other.

The Sunday Leader: What is the reason behind such a change?

Galapaththi: We do not create any problems for our opponents other than on the stage. We have not resorted to undemocratic means. We believe that we are not harmed because we do not create problems for others.

The Sunday Leader: But other opposition parties feel that the JVP is favoured by the government?

Galapaththi: I reject that notion. Even at the last election we spoke with grassroot level UNPers and made an attempt to make the election fair. When we were doing that in the Hambantota District it was then the PA that was making the same allegation. The JVP does not have any sort of a pact with any capitalist party. We are working to assure a fair election on December 5.

The Sunday Leader: Will it be that?

Galapaththi: On November 12 there was a meeting of all political parties and contestants with the government agent of Hambantota, SSP Hambantota and other police officers. We had a discussion of the situation.

No PA contestants were there, but they had representatives. We asked for a fair election unlike all others that were held. We feel that another Wayamba type election might take place in Hambantota. We said that we want to avoid this with the help of all other parties. We told the SSP that we can give the assurance on behalf of our followers that they will not revert to violence. And we requested the same assurance from him. The answer was that they (the police) could not give a 100% guarantee that there will be no incidents. I told him that what he was saying was that he expects these sort of things will happen.

On November 14 there was another meeting. Mahinda Rajapakse and other PA candidates attended this. There also the UNP spoke of the problems they were facing, but they refrained from outlining what they had said at the last meeting. I asked them whether they were scared but there was no clear answer from them.

We made the same request from both parties to control their supporters and from the police as well. The DIG who was there gave the same answer like at the 12th meeting. Mahinda Rajapakse said that he could not give the guarantee that I gave. He said that there were various people in his list. What that means is that this trend will continue.

The Sunday Leader: So, violence has only stemmed from the PA and not from the UNP?

Galapaththi: I believe that comparatively most of the violence in the Hambantota District has come from the PA. There has been a reaction to that from the UNP.

The Sunday Leader: You think that the JVP will get its full quota of votes under such circumstances?

Galapaththi: No, it will not. That is why we are trying to get the proper result through democratic means. We will not answer these with weapons and bombs. Our hope is to rally the forces in the district to create an environment for a peaceful election.

The Sunday Leader: Is the JVP thinking of protecting the booths?

Galapaththi: We hope to rally all the forces. We are holding discussions and are forming committees at village level to ensure a free and fair poll.

The Sunday Leader: What is your prediction for December 5?

Galapaththi: Going by the present trend, I feel that another Wayamba would be recreated in Hambantota and all over the country as well, irrelevant of who comes to power. We cannot project in quantities but there is going to be a big calamity.

The Sunday Leader: But there have been indications from the government that it is thinking of forming the next government with the JVP's help?

Galapaththi: What we have to say is this. From the time the JVP was formed, in our history, we have never been a support base for the capitalist class. There have been no coalitions. What we did on last September 5 was that we held a corrupt government by its scruff, a government that had created huge problems for the country; we brought it under our discipline. We entered into a legal pact for the betterment of the people. We reject the notion that we helped steady a falling PA government. We expect that at the next election there will be no absolute majority. The PA's result would be a bit confusing. We believe that the UNF would gain to a certain extent. Since there is not going to be a simple majority we believe that the JVP's support will become a necessity. We are prepared to help anybody to form a government. It does not matter whether it is the PA or the UNP or the LSSP. We do not have problems with personalities or parties. What matters is that the government is formed according to conditions laid out by the JVP.

Our proposals as outlined in our way forward document should be implemented. We expect that the PA and the UNF both would have to follow the proposals.


Batti: campaign amid terror

By J. S. Tissainayagam in Batticaloa

As the hired van with its occupants approached Oorani, in the outskirts of Batticaloa town, there was ample evidence something was amiss. It was flagged down at the checkpoint. Ahead, a bus had drawn up to a side. Its passengers were standing about, staring. Police in combat fatigues looked tense and jumpy.

In the distance was the sound of intermittent gunfire. There were no prolonged bursts, but a few rounds every now and then. In a few minutes however, the police gave permission for the vehicles to move on. The passengers boarded the bus resignedly and the van followed.

At the Oorani police station, an armed police contingent was getting ready to move out. They flagged down the van.

"Can you take some of us to town?" asked a sentry on duty, which sounded more a command than a query. Though loath to comply, one does not refuse such 'requests' in Batticaloa. Out of the station, armed policemen came pouring out, some of them obviously not battle-ready as they were in camouflage t-shirts and slippers.

The dice would have been pretty heavily loaded against us, the occupants of the van, had the police insisted on hitching a ride, because firing was still heard from the town. But at the last moment, they decided against it.

As the van approached the town, soldiers and policemen could be seen moving from all directions towards Thandavanveli, on the other side of the bridge. As the van crossed the open Puthu Paalam bridge, 20 to 30 men were coming towards it in single file. There was another short burst of gunfire and the moving column began taking positions behind any available cover.

Later, the policemen who had tried to commandeer the van could be seen swarming out of a bus and proceeding in the direction of the firing. All the checkpoints had been abandoned and the van entered the town without any hindrance whatsoever

Later that evening we found out what it was all about. A grenade was thrown at policemen on a road patrol, wounding three. The place was cordoned off and eyewitnesses claim the police began firing at random. After around 15 minutes an armoured vehicle was driven to the area which opened fire. Walls of the houses in the neighbourhood bear marks of both small arms fire and fire from the armoured car.

The most extensive damage was suffered by residents of the house behind which the incident occurred. There are strong allegations that the TV set and a van parked in the garden were deliberately targeted by the police. The family that was concealed in the back room narrowly missed bodily injury and there are bullet marks on the wall of the room they had taken refuge. The offices of Thinakathir newspapers also have bullet marks on the windowpanes. Fifteen boys in the area were arrested and assaulted, though all except three were released by the next day.

Parliamentary elections will be held on December 5 to elect a new government. But governments in the past 20 years have done very little to keep the type of terror described above from being unleashed on innocent Tamil citizens. To the Tamils, the performance of both the PA and the UNP has been woefully inadequate in warding off state terror and discrimination. Not only has the legislature consistently voted in monies to sustain a burgeoning defence budget, but it has enacted repressive legislation to restrict Tamils from exercising their rights as citizens.

"What have these MPs done for us? Do they know the suffering we undergo without hospitals, or transport and the difficulties we have selling paddy?" asked Vairamuttu, a farmer, in the LTTE-controlled Kokaddicholai, where Tamil National Alliance (TNA) candidates on Monday canvassed for votes for the first time in 14 years.

The TNA's campaign is based on the four principles that include de-proscribing the LTTE, lifting the economic ban to the Tamil-majority areas and beginning negotiations through the good offices of Norway. It has tried to portray that unity and a non-violent struggle to win Tamil rights are positive options available to that community.

"We are here to fight for Tamil freedom and retrieve our lost rights from Sinhala chauvinist forces," said N. Indrakumar, (Prasanna), Deputy Leader, TELO, addressing a pocket meeting at Kokaddicholai.

The TNA is targeting 210,000 Tamils residing in the district of whom 80,000 live in the 'uncleared' areas. The problem however is whether the restrictions within which they are competing, gives them the advantage they require.

Joseph Pararajasingham, TULF, managed to scrape through to be returned as MP at the last general elections. Votes exist in the 'uncleared' area for him to tap if he wishes to make the maximum use of the support the TNA is enjoying at present. But Pararajasingham seemed reluctant to canvass there for votes.

"I cannot go there; if I do the government will say I am a Tiger," said Pararajasingham. He went on to state he did not have to be physically present in the 'uncleared' areas to canvass votes, adding, "My supporters will campaign for me."

The intense battle for preferences has however compelled the members of the TNA to adopt an attitude of 'he who dares wins.' And in keeping with this spirit, A. Selvendran, another TULF member of the TNA, joined the campaign in the 'uncleared' areas on Monday.

Though the battle for individual preferences is ruthless, one of the tenets of the TNA is that there should be no canvassing for them. Candidates should only ask the voters to elect the TNA and not announce their preferences. The organisations instrumental in putting the TNA together campaigned that it (TNA) should be a representative of Tamil interests as a whole, and not the ambitions of individual politicians.

This however is violated with impunity, and ingenious excuses are trotted out by candidates to wriggle out of this limitation. "I announce my preference number of course, but tell the voters they are free to vote for anyone," says Selvendran.

An obstacle for the TNA in Batticaloa is the public's refusal to forget the atrocities once committed by some of the ex-militant groups that are now part of the TNA, such as the TELO and EPRLF. The TELO is earnest in trying to erase this image in the minds of the public. A TELO member stressed that one way whereby members of the other constituent parties of the TNA were trying to campaign for preferences was by alluding to the TELO's murky past. However, voters view positively TELO not being debarred from campaigning in the LTTE-controlled areas.

The TNA is also hindered by the fact its candidates do not hold great individual appeal to the voters. Though some of them are former MPs, their candidatures were not received with much enthusiasm at the last election either.

The bigger drawback for the TNA is their lack of organisational skills on getting the Tamil public to vote. With the police and the army backing the PA, it is feared that unless a systematic programme of action is formulated to bring voters to the polling booths, mass-scale rigging by the PA could affect the result.

The voters of 'Paduvankarai,' or the areas west of the Batticaloa lagoon which is under LTTE control, do not have a means of finding transport to the 70 cluster booths in Maankerni, Chenkaladi, Vavunatheevu, Kurukkalmadam or Kaluwanchikudy. Their dilemma would worsen if it rains

The fear of rigging looms large in Batticaloa, especially because the PA is given all the official support it could want. M. L. A. M. Hisbullah, the Muslim strongman of Katankudi and leader of the PA in the district, is said to make very few public appearances but is provided with the security of the sort that is usually given to a government minister.

With Hisbullah is S. Ganeshamoorthy, whose desperate attempt at joining the UNP was rendered unsuccessful. An unmarked van is among the panoply of means he has at his disposal, ample evidence of the terror the PA hopes to unleash on the electorate. Ganeshamoorthy's campaign is helped by Varathan, a ex-TELO member who was sacked for certain misdemeanours and has teamed up with the PA.

The campaign line of the PA and the other organisations that support it -- PLOTE, and Varadarajaperumal's independent group -- is obvious by their offices. They are situated cheek by jowl with the military and police camps.

The EPDP is allowed to bear weapons, which makes it more independent of the security forces. Its offices extend largesse to potential supporters that have brought the public to its doorstep in expectation of charity.

While the UNP is asserting itself in Jaffna by taking the campaign to its arch-enemy the EPDP, it does not appear to be so in Batticaloa. What is more, the UNP does not seem to know who is actually targeting it.

The UNP's biggest blow to date in Batticaloa is the assassination of its candidate T. Jeyakumar, a police officer turned politician. It is declared openly in Batticaloa that the LTTE assassinated him. This is in keeping with Karikalan's warning some months ago that all Tamils seen working for the national parties would be viewed with displeasure, a matter that was carried in these columns earlier.

If this is not enough, the Rajasinghan group, known to be sympathetic to the Tigers, announced on November 19, "The death knell will sound on our soil for Tamil candidates who support the parties propagating Sinhala hegemony."

A. Sasitharan, a well known businessman in Batticaloa contesting on the UNP ticket was however not prepared to commit himself. "We are not sure who killed Jayakumar. Knowing how the Tigers have claimed their assassinations, this appears a mystery."

Sasitharan's enemy number one is the PA and its candidate R. Mylvaganam. Sasitharan alleges that on the night of November 12, a gang, which included Mylavaganam, had stormed his house and assaulted him and his wife. He says he can identify four members of the gang and that Mylvaganam had shouted, "I will kill you." Another member of ruffians had allegedly threatened Sasitharan with a knife.

Though he did not quite say it in so many words, Sasikaran seemed to suggest that even the Jeyakumar killing was the work of the PA. In keeping with this, he had informed the police that his life was in danger and that his escort should be increased from two policeman to four. Though a UNPer, he was confident the request would be granted.

The UNP's strategy of drawing up a list of five Tamil candidates (Jeyakumar's wife has replaced the dead man on the list) and three Muslims, is a subtle way of ensuring that Batticaloa's sitting MP in the last parliament -- the highly popular Ali Zaheer Mowlana -- is returned.

Muslim voter turn-out is traditionally heavy in Batticaloa, but there are only 65,000 Muslims in the district. Mowlana, though popular in the Muslim enclaves of Eravur and has pockets of support in other areas, will benefit enormously with Tamil backing. Analysts believe that all the Tamils who vote for a UNPer would not only vote a Tamil candidate, but cast a second preference to Mowlana as the district's chief UNP candidate.

But Sasikaran denies this. "I am fighting this election to become an MP myself, not anybody else," he claimed fiercely.

What is more, he said that the UNPers of the district had reached an agreement with the party's hierarchy where, in the event a Muslim was elected from Batticaloa, a Tamil would be appointed on the national list and vice versa. "By this agreement we have ensured that at least one MP will represent the Tamils of Batticaloa," Sasitharan said.

Be that as it may, Sasitharan said the UNP had a strong base among the Tamils in Batticaloa. He said this was a reason for the UNPers of the district to resist including the SLMC on the UNP list as has occurred in other areas.

This however has not diminished the chances of the SLMC. Abdul Kadar is expected to capitalise on the votes from the Muslim enclave of Ottamavadi, which developed in the late 1980s and 1990s into a bustling township due to the efforts of his party. The SLMC's campaign concentrates on Muslim security and the identity of the community.

The killing of Jeyakumar has put a dampner on the UNP campaign and it is not expected to carry on canvassing Tamil support in a big way for the election. The PA and its allies though active, do not move around without a strong security escort and such logistical problems hamper campaigns.

Though the LTTE has stressed its indifference to Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections, the TNA's campaign in the Tiger-controlled areas suggests that the Tigers are not averse to the objectives of the Alliance. This, with the UNP and SLMC having to rely only on the Tamil and Muslim votes in the 'cleared' area, makes one bold to predict that the TNA might bag three seats, with the other two parties one each.

The hitch however is that the rigging and malpractice the PA is expected to unleash could very well change the result. Asked as to what he hoped to do to avoid election malpractice, Sasitharan said, "I have spoken to the SSP. He is willing to play fair."

That perhaps is true, but if the non-PA parties want the elections to reflect their true strengths, relying on the good offices of the SSP or other government officers, will not be sufficient. There has to be a strategy and organisation to combat malpractice. Its lack could very well mean tragedy.

Sampling the'uncleared areas'

The plan to cross the Paddiruppu bridge into the LTTE-controlled areas and commence political campaigning there, after 14 years, seemed a good opportunity not only to cover the event, but see the 'uncleared' areas as well. A short ride by motorbike took me to Padiruppu.

The checkpoint at the Padiruppu bridge, guarded by the police which seemed to be platoon strength, was crowded with lorries bearing urea, bicycles and pedestrians crossing the point. We presented our identity documents, which were perused and we were allowed across the bridge.

There is a sense of elation as you cross the Padirippu bridge and look towards the vast expanse of smiling fields that roll on before you. Below, the waters of the lagoon are azure and wrinkle up under the soft breeze. Bird-life galore.

On the horizon to the west by the Gal Oya scheme near the 'Sinhala border,' are little hillocks of a translucent blue and mauve. Palmyrah trees standing brooding over a beleaguered land.

But the beauties of nature take second place as we ride from Poraitvu to Ambalanthurai and Kokaddicholai on roads flanked by the fields, all wide-open country, to witness the TNA begin its campaign in the 'uncleared' areas.

A little while later, two TNA vans, one with Prasanna and the other with A. Selvendran, arrive. The candidates offered poojas at the famous Thaanthondreeswara Aalayam (temple) before commencing canvassing. The campaign vehicles have removed their TNA pennants, which they were sporting in other parts of Batticaloa.

Prasanna spoke of what had befallen them as they crossed Padirippu bridge. The vans were flying their pennants and the police, stationed on either side of the bridge, had allowed them to pass.

They were stopped on the other side of the bridge. The officer acknowledged they were candidates going on campaign, but said that in the event the LTTE hijacked the van and it was later used in an attack, they would be asked to explain how it was allowed across the Padirippu bridge. He suggested that the party go back across the bridge, and if the Batticaloa police was willing to give permission, they would be allowed to continue their journey.

Going back across the bridge was rendered difficult by its narrowness, but they had made it. They contacted the OIC of the checkpoint, who said he would radio the request to Batticaloa. This was done and in a few minutes they were waved on.

"On the whole, the OIC seemed eager to help," said Prasanna.

On the road to the temple in Kokaddicholai is the point where Nizam, an LTTE cadre, was killed by the deep-penetration team of the Sri Lanka army in June this year.

After prayers, the candidates began distributing campaign literature outside the temple and by the Sri Ramakrishna Mission Mixed School. Outside the temple were women selling camphor and joss-sticks. Among those standing outside were Vairamutthu and Sivalingam, cultivators.

"We do not trust any political party, they do nothing for us. We will vote only if 'they' give us permission, otherwise we will not," said Vairamuttu. 'They' means the LTTE.

He spoke about the problems of selling farm produce, of poor medical facilities and transport. He was also wary of the security forces, the police and the paramilitary groups working with the government. He called paramilitary groups "TELOs," which seems to have become a byword for violent, quisling Tamils, though the TELO itself has joined the TNA.

"We are worried about these 'TELOs.' Even if we go to vote in the cleared areas, we will not take the youngsters with us, because they might get arrested," said Sivalingam, a man in his 50s.

Following a pocket meeting in Kokaddicholai, I left the canvassing candidates to the Tamil Rehabilitation Office (TRO) to meet Karikalan of the LTTE's political wing.

The building is a smallish, single-storey house. There were armed LTTE cadres of course, but it was not swarming with them.

Karikalan expressed the LTTE's disinterest in the elections to Sri Lanka's parliament. "Both UNP and PA parties are pushing the line of Sinhala hegemony. Nor are we backing any other party contesting elections for Sri Lanka's parliament," he said.

He pointed out the problems that beset the people in the 'uncleared' areas such as limited fertiliser for farming and the ban on tractors though the sowing time was coming to a close. Karikalan said that farmer societies should resist such unfair measures taken by the government.

Alluding to the shooting in Thandavanveli by the police and other incidents, Karikalan said the Tamils were the victims of security forces and police, which should be resisted tooth and nail.

I came back the way I came.


Now, EPF in jeopardy

By Asgar Hussein

Ours is indeed a gullible nation. Even the politicians seem to have deluded themselves into believing that they can fool all the people all the time, and always get away with it.

As such, it came as no surprise when the government announced election handouts as a desperate last resort to hang on to power. Sadly, for an economy straining under mismanagement, this relief package could well be compared to the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

The echoes of the call for fresh elections had hardly died down when the government publicised its bag of vote-catching measures. It included an interim monthly allowance of Rs. 1200 to public servants and Rs. 750 to pensioners, one percent reductions in the national defence levy and stamp duty, the removal of the diesel vehicle tax, a 10% cut in cement import duty, reduction of turnover tax on bank borrowings and the subsidising of gas and wheat flour.

In addition, a large number of casual workers in the public sector who had completed six months of work were absorbed into the permanent cadre. Another notable decision was the raising of the Samurdhi allowance from January 2002. These increases ranging from Rs. 100 to Rs. 250 are targeted at all categories of Samurdhi recipients. These are over two million households receiving Samurdhi benefits.

Such measures would certainly help many citizens during this period of economic hardship, but their relief would be temporary.

With a near-zero GDP growth predicted for this year, the long-term ramifications of this move are apparent. Much concern has also been expressed over how it will impact on the stand-by arrangement between the government and the IMF in April this year.

Former Deputy Minister of Finance, Prof. G. L. Peiris disparagingly referred to the election handouts as a bag of seeni bola which insulted the intelligence of the people. He queried as to how the government intended to raise the required monies for this purpose without borrowing.

Assuming that the election handouts continue for a one year period, the cost to the government could exceed Rs. 25 billion even if one considers only the more significant measures.

For example, the salary increase of Rs. 1200 for the island's one-million strong public service would cost Rs. 14.4 billion a year. Similarly, the Rs. 750 allowance to the estimated 350,000 pensioners would cost Rs. 3.1 billion annually.

The relief package would also seriously impact on monies flowing into the state coffers. The lowering of the national security levy will result in a revenue loss of Rs. 6 billion a year, while the removal of the save the nation contribution would cost Rs. 1 billion in lost revenue.

The abolishing of the diesel vehicle tax could result in a loss of revenue amounting to more than Rs. 2 billion a year.

Collections from other taxes will also be greatly reduced due to the economic slowdown this year. All this combined with the cost of the election handouts means that the revenue position will fall well short of target, while expenditure (particularly current expenditure) will overshoot the target.

The relief package goes against certain IMF conditions which the government agreed to abide by when it entered into the stand-by arrangement. It was hoped to reduce the budget deficit from 10% last year to 8.5% this year, but now indications are that it might well exceed 10% largely due to the handouts.

The government has been compelled to undertake heavy inflationary borrowing from the Central Bank and commercial banks in order to meet current expenditure such as the cost of the relief package.

Director (Research), CT Smith Stockbrokers, Rajiv Casie Chitty noted that despite the deficit exceeding 10% of GDP, interest rates are at very low levels. This has been possible because the deficit has been funded by the Central Bank printing money.

He added that to curtail the budget deficit from expanding further, the authorities are likely to cut down on public investment/capital expenditure. As such, public and capital investment projects are likely to get delayed. The funding of the deficit has also been hindered by the reduction in foreign aid for Sri Lanka. The last aid group meeting in France was an utter failure, since no new funds were pledged.

In addition to the inability to meet budget deficit targets this year, there are other clear violations of the stand-by arrangement. For example, the government agreed to freeze all wage and salary increases, but could not fulfil this pledge. It also agreed to halt subsidies and let world market prices determine prices of consumer goods, but this commitment too was not kept.

Former Central Bank Governor Dr. Neville Karunatilake stated in an article last week, "Inflation was expected to be reduced to a single digit level, but what has been the outcome? The Colombo Consumers Price Index on a point to point basis is now at 14.3 per cent. There was a commitment to rebuild official reserves to $ 1.5 billion, but these reserves are now at $ 1 billion. The PA has totally violated the undertaking in the stand-by to freeze all wage and salary increases. Salaries of public servants have been increased, new employees have been recruited to corporations and departments, and temporary employees have been given permanency."

According to Dr. Karunatilake, such actions have resulted in the government being unable to proceed with the scheduled drawings under the stand-by, "and the arrangement has come to an automatic standstill."

The government was entitled to $ 253 million under the pact with the IMF, but thus far have drawn only the first tranche amounting to $ 131 million.

The government failed to draw the $ 30.5 million earmarked for the second tranche in end August. The third tranche was expected to be drawn on November 29. However, political developments have delayed negotiations on this matter.

Senior Resident Representative, IMF, Nadeem-Ul-Haque when contacted by The Sunday Leader said everything has been put on hold until elections are over, and thereafter they will begin negotiations with whichever party that assumes power. However, he was unwilling to comment on other matters pertaining to the stand-by in view of the forthcoming elections.

Some months back, Haque warned that the stand-by arrangement would lapse if there are radical departures from the programme. He also emphasised that the programme hinges on strict financial management by the government.

There have also been reports that the election handouts have resulted in the withholding of loans amounting to $ 800 million from donors. However, the Central Bank has issued a denial in this regard.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that donors generally consider whether IMF stipulated conditions have been fulfilled before pledging aid.

It is also pertinent to mention here that after announcing the interim monthly allowance to public servants, the government requested the private sector to follow suit. However, this was rejected by the private sector which considered it unaffordable and unrealistic given the present economic climate.

Meanwhile, there are allegations that the EPF is under funded, and that a deficit has arisen as a result of improper/fraudulent management of public funds. There are also fears that most members of the EPF risk losing out on their retirement benefits if this disturbing trend continues.

Prof. G. L. Peiris has stated that despite having invested over 97% of its funds in government securities, the EPF is under funded by Rs. 8 billion. In other words, the amounts due to be paid to members exceed investments that are to be realised to pay these members by Rs. 8 billion. According to the Central Bank's annual report (2000) member balances - the amounts that are due to be paid to members - stood at Rs. 223 billion as at end 2000. Total investments however, amounted to just Rs. 215 billion.

A well managed fund would have member balances lower or at least equal to investments. Such was the case in 1994 when members balances were Rs. 75.7 billion (following allocation of interest) while investments stood at Rs. 81 billion. This meant members were assured that their retirement benefits would be met when their working life ended. However, the Central Bank through the state media has attempted to mislead the public by claiming that in 1994, members balances were Rs.85 billion while investments were Rs.81 billion.

Thus if the present trend is not reversed, the funds available with the EPF will not be adequate to pay the members their dues. In the next two years there is a possibility that the shortfall would exceed Rs. 10 billion.

Any contention that the expenditure spent on the fund's administration could have caused the shortfall, does not hold water. The Central Bank has stated that administrative expenditure was Rs. 189 million in 1999 and Rs. 260 million last year, so even if this level of excessive expenditure is maintained over a 10-year period the EPF could have spent only Rs. 2.6 billion.

"It is noted that these investments do not include funds that may have been expended on fixed or other assets. However, it is incomprehensible that such a colossal sum could have been spent on fixed assets by prudent managers of public funds," said Prof. Peiris.

He also pointed out that around Rs. 1 billion has been invested in the stock market. Although the Central Bank annual report has not disclosed the market value of these investments, if one considers the poor performance it is likely to have declined by over 50% (i.e. a capital loss of Rs. 500 million). So this too does not explain the short fall of the EPF.

Though it may also be argued that part of the funds are kept as a float to meet immediate payment as when they fall due, it cannot be accepted that Rs. 8 billion be kept as a float. Furthermore, the inflows exceeded the outflows by Rs. 6.5 billion last year. This means the fund cannot be facing a need to maintain excess liquidity.

According to Prof. Peiris, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the deficit has arisen as a result of improper/fraudulent management of public funds. "It may be argued that the EPF will not have to meet all its liabilities at once. However, the fact remains that if this disturbing trend continues, the majority of the members of the EPF are in jeopardy of losing out on their retirement benefits," he added.

 

 

 

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