13th January 2002, Volume 8, Issue 26

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SPOTLIGHT

Kumaratunga cornered in Ponnambalam murder

Evidence that President Chandrika Kumaratunga knew the identities of the murderers of All Ceylon Tamil Congress Leader Kumar Ponnambalam for the past several months mounted last week when an inspector of police, Nuwan Vedasinghe, swore on oath that he helped type the damning report that informed the president of the background of the killings as far back as September 2000.

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By The Insider

When Kumar Ponnambalam was murdered in cold blood in January, 2000, we editorialised his death as follows:

"The late Kumar Ponnambalam had many enchanting qualities, one of which was his abysmal failure in politics. Ponnambalam was given to calling a spade a shovel, a disdain for euphemism that failed to endear him to many. Of course, he went further than that, adopting apparently extreme positions not so much because he believed in them, but because he wanted to provoke the intellectually less adept to think. They didn't, and they killed him. The Sinhalese have a phrase for such murders: they say, garandiyek maruwa - 'they killed a rat snake.' A rat snake is large and apparently formidable, but harmless. Kumar was just that.

Although Ponnambalam, despite several attempts, was never elected to office in any capacity, he continued to be a thorn in the flesh for the Kumaratunga establishment, the outspoken enfant terrible of the Tamil cause. He was never taken seriously by the LTTE, and he himself was mortally scared of the rebels. When TULF Leader Neelan Thiruchelvam was assassinated by the LTTE, Ponnambalam was careful not to point his finger at the Tigers. The provocative outspokenness of this advocate of the Tamil cause however, was clearly too much for Kumaratunga."

Why it was her cousin, Anuruddha Ratwatte's son Mahen, who organised Ponnambalam's murder is a mystery. The ACTC leader could not possibly have wronged Ratwatte Junior. No doubt Ponnambalam's numerous provocative and belittling utterances critical of Kumaratunga served to irk the president. And even as Kumaratunga is known glibly to use her license to kill, as her Tissamaharama Doctrine exemplifies, it would surely be testing the public's credulity to think it possible that mere banter by Ponnambalam could have caused her to wish him dead. Or would it?

Just days prior to his murder, Kumaratunga no less was on national television launching a blistering attack on Ponnambalam by innuendo. Days before that verbal attack, Ponnambalam himself wrote an article, launching a scathing attack on the president. The president's television address was on January 2, 2000. Kumar was murdered three days later, on January 5.

This was a time the president, having returned from London after medical attention following the Town Hall bomb blast was breathing fire.

It should be also recalled that it is at about the same time, the president herself alleged plans were afoot to kill an 'editor or two' by a minister, the minister being S. B. Dissanayake, who in turn has charged that it was the president who was mooting such plans.

During the past three weeks we have published convincing evidence that both the police and Kumaratunga were aware by September 2000 at the latest that Ponnambalam and Satana newspaper editor Rohana Kumara were murdered by people very close to the president.

An official report from the Director of the CDB to the President of Sri Lanka dated September 7, 2000 informs Her Excellency succinctly that Anuruddha Ratwatte's son Mahen commissioned two underworld thugs, a reserve Police constable Sudath Ranasinghe and Moratu Saman, to murder Kumar Ponnambalam. A third assassin, one Sujeewa, also joined in the killing. It went on to say that Mahen Ratwatte was harbouring Ranasinghe until he surrendered, in connection with another offence; that when questioned, Mahen Ratwatte had the audacity to tell the Director of the CDB, 'Why are you worried? All the top people know about the assassination'; and that in addition to everything else, the Ratwatte family is harbouring and consorting with yet another criminal, Dhammika Perera, who is wanted in connection with no less than 17 other murders!

As for the Murder of Rohana Kumara, and the two abortive attempts on the life of the editor of The Sunday Leader, the police and Kumaratunga have been aware at least since September 2000 that they were committed by the notorious underworld criminal, Baddegana Sanjeeva, whom Kumaratunga knowingly retained in her Security Division and upon whose murder she sent a wreath of flowers condoling his demise.

In fact, SSP Wickramasinghe in his affidavit reveals, upon the president being told of Baddegana Sanjeeva's involvement in Rohana Kumara's murder, she had allegedly said Sanjeeva must be sent abroad.

Predictably in the aftermath of The Sunday Leader revelations, Kumaratunga last week wrote formally to IGP Lucky Kodituwakku stating that no meeting with Show Wickramasinghe had taken place as alleged by him, denying also in effect that she had read his report dated September 7, 2001. That Kumaratunga is a fluent and habitual liar has now been well established, and it would be testing the public's patience to give any credibility whatever at face value to her denial. In any case it rings hollow in the light of Kumaratunga's celebrated Tissamaharama Doctrine, in which she urged her supporters to 'murder those who you think are murderers'. That the president is a criminal is well established: her statement at Tissamaharama constitutes a crime in terms of Sections 100 and 101 of the Penal Code. It constitutes an impeachable offence in terms of Article 38 of the Constitution that she has sworn to uphold and defend.

It is also no secret that following the PSD's attempt to murder Minister S. B. Dissanayake, the president no less telephoned the police and directed that the arrested PSD officers be handed over to their Director Nihal Karunaratne. We also have it from Dissanayake that Kumaratunga plotted to burn down the presses of The Sunday Leader and Ravaya in addition to planning the murders of the editors of these newspapers, a charge the president first levelled against Dissanayake.

Kumaratunga's urging Kodituwakku to investigate Bandula Wickramasinghe's allegations are laughable. The police themselves have known the facts behind these murders all along and failed to bring the perpetrators to book. They have gone further, and been party to a disgraceful cover up. A political appointee of the worst kind, Kodituwakku can hardly now credibly initiate an inquiry into the complicity in murder of his own appointing authority, the president. The president's request to Kodituwakku tantamounts to seeking a cover up by a selected team of henchmen, possibly led by CID DIG Punya de Silva. In any event, it should not take Kumaratunga to call for the investigation. She is a suspect and the government should have by now appointed an independent team to probe the charges.

The question all these sordid details begs is, 'What is the UNF government doing about it?' Answer: nothing. The police under Lucky Kodituwakku has been miserably politicised. Policemen by and large seem to think that they have to side with whichever government is in power. This is precisely why the police have yet to act effectively against the baser elements of the UNF who are wreaking vengeance against their PA opponents. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe must act swiftly to end this malaise. Kodituwakku, a political hireling, cannot credibly retain his post. He must go and go now. What is more, the new IGP should have the strength and courage to act impartially and objectively, not cowing and bowing to the whims and interests of politicians, be they ever so high. More even than the politicians, the police need a new culture in Sri Lanka, and the government must not delay to introduce it.

Despite Kumaratunga's denial, another police officer, Nuwan Vedasinghe, has now stated under oath that he helped type Bandula Wickramasinghe's report to the president dated September 7, 2000, and also that he and Wickramasinghe went jointly and handed it to Temple Trees. What is more, he has named a third person, a computer expert named Duleep Samarasinghe, who helped type the document. It is now Kumaratunga's word against that of three others, none of whom has an axe to grind in this affair. Furthermore, he corroborates SSP Wickramasinghe on the damning evidence contained in the September 7 report as well as Wickramasinghe's affidavit stating he himself as the officer investigating the murder passed on the information to the CDB Director. And the report of September 7 and the affidavits don't stand in isolation.

Apart from more evidence to follow, telephone records, computer records, diary entries, etc. will also show whether Wickramasinghe in fact prepared a report, visited Temple Trees, spoke with DIG T. V. Sumanasekera and Sarath Gonagala at the relevant time, just for starters.

While the constitution bestows immunity from legal action on the president, it does not give her immunity from investigation. The police must investigate the murders in which she has been implicated, albeit post facto, and the government must act on their findings. It simply will not do for Sri Lanka to have a president whose hands are stained with covering up murder at the best and plotting it at the worst.


P Jayantha Vedasinghe's affidavit
 

I Keerthi Nuwan Jayantha Vedasinghe, Inspector of Police, Police station Ampara, being a Buddhist do hereby solemnly sincerely and truly declare and state as follows:

1. I am a the affirmant above named.

2. I am an Inspector of Police and currently function as the Personal Assistant to the Senior Superintendent of Police Ampara Division.

3. I was appointed as the officer-in-charge of the Colombo Detective Bureau in 1994. I functioned as the officer-in-charge until November 2000.

4. My superior officer from November 1998, while I was OIC of the Colombo Detective Bureau was Senior Superintendent of Police Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe.

5. In late August 2000, Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe my senior superintendent informed me that he was required to meet HE the President and was going to Temple Trees for that purpose.

6. I state that Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe informed me that he could not meet HE the President that day and was required to meet her the next day at Temple Trees.

7. I state that after returning from Temple Trees on the second occasion Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe informed me that he met HE the President and during the meeting had informed HE the President information regarding the activities of Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte's sons, the Kumar Ponnambalam murder and doings of Baddegana Sanjeewa. I state that Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe informed me that after listening to him HE the President had required Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe to forward a report on the information that had been given by him regarding Minister Ratwatte's sons to HE the President.

8. I state that later Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe informed me to find a responsible and reliable person to type the said report since HE the President had wanted the report prepared secretly and confidentially.

9. I state that thereafter I contacted Mr. Duleep Samarasinghe whom I knew was an expert in computers as well as a reliable and confidential person and asked him to come to the CDB Headquarters.

10. I state that Mr. Duleep Samarasinghe came to my office and both of us assisted Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe to prepare a report addressed to HE the President.

11. I state that I can identify the said report that was prepared by Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe, Mr. Duleep Samarasinghe and myself and annex to this Affidavit a copy of the said report which has been signed in every page by me by way of authentication (Annexure A). I state that annexure A is a copy of the very same report referred to above.

12. I state that I accompanied Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe to Temple Trees to hand over the said report prepared by us. I state that after calling one Mr. Gonagala on Mr. Wickramasinghe's mobile phone, Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe went up to the gate of Temple Tress and handed over the report to a person. Thereafter, we returned to CDB Headquarters.

13. I state that matters stated by Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe in his report are on facts reported to him by me consequent to investigations conducted under my supervision. Further state that the informant was instructed by me to give all information to Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe. I knew that the informant had given all information to Mr. Bandula Wickramasinghe over the telephone in this regard.


Regulatory authority needed for gas market

By Amantha Perera

As predicted in The Sunday Leader last week, gas prices came down by Rs. 50. The reduction only applies to cylinders marketed by Laufs which will now be in the market at Rs. 350.

The reduction came as a request made by Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake seeking possibilities of reducing gas prices. Laufs had come back to the minister saying that it could bring down prices provided certain amendments are carried out in its agreement with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. Laufs buys its entire stock from the CPC.

Soon after the reduction, Karunanayake said that the ministry was looking into reducing the prices even further. And according to officials at Shell, Laufs, their only rival, could cut down prices even further. They argue that if the CPC stocks are provided to their company, the price could be brought down to Rs. 250 per cylinder. So if Shell is to be believed, Laufs still has a Rs. 100 mark-up to play around with.

Soon after the Laufs price reduction was announced, Shell wrote to Karunanayake stating its proposals on price revisions. However, it was not clear whether Shell had indicated that it can bring the price down. Shell officials were tight lipped about the letter and its contents.

The proposals refer to putting in place a pricing system through which the price could be set on a monthly basis. Now the price is set every six months. If a monthly price is set, the Sri Lankan consumer would have to get used to fluctuating prices every 30 days.

On the other hand, Shell had earlier indicated to the minister that it was unable to bring the prices down and looking at the CP Aramco price and the exchange rate, the price per cylinder would need to go up by about Rs. 20. The formula that has been suggested in the letter also involves the Aramco rate and the exchange rate, which means that it is unlikely prices can be brought down.

Minister Karunanayake also said that any operator could refill any cylinder. Which means that Laufs could refill Shell cylinders and vise versa. However, Laufs officials themselves revealed that the company does not have any intention to set about refilling Shell cylinders. In fact, the cylinder is the property of the company and the consumer gets to use it after the payment of a deposit. "It would be like Pepsi filling a Coke bottle," a Shell official said.

The Sunday Leader learns that Laufs is now awaiting written approval on the matter from the ministry. Ministry officials were reportedly going into the legal ramifications of such a move and it was not clear how long it would take to get the plan rolling. Last week's price revision would only affect 85,000 cylinders of the 140,000 tons that are consumed every year. Nevertheless, Karunanayake should be lauded for attempting to bring down the prices.

The question that begs to be answered is that if Karunanayake, who has been in the job for less than a month, could attempt such manoeuvers and succeed, why didn't the earlier regime? Why didn't anyone think of such possibilities when the deals were signed, a time when the exchange rate was not this high and competition would have created a clear advantage to the government to hammer out a deal that would have been to the benefit of the people?

The PA deals with both Shell and Laufs have come under criticism. While the Shell deal has been criticized as being one-sided and creating undue advantage, the latter has come under criticism from Shell itself, who has argued that when the CPC contract was awarded to Laufs, no open tenders were called and there was no transparent pricing system. However, there is no regulatory authority in place to look into these allegations.

That is the next step that Karunanayake has to take. He has to make sure that an independent regulator is there to look after the gas market since ministerial intervention at every nook and corner would not be the ideal situation. The need of a regulator was felt once again just days after the Laufs reduction was announced.

The Auto Gas Association of Sri Lanka wrote Karunanayake highlighting areas which it felt was detrimental to their industry with Laufs price revision. The Association predicted in the letter that with the reduction, vehicles using LPG would take a massive rise but most of the business would go to Laufs as it can give the best deal driving out competition. The Association also said that more and more vehicles would resort to using domestic cylinders for vehicles.

Charging that Laufs has already announced that it would do the conversion to gas free of charge provided the vehicles only use Laufs stations, the Association predicted, rather gloomily, "The proper conversion market which is already on its last legs would fold." The Association has been in the forefront of accusing Laufs of siphoning LPG meant for domestic cylinders to vehicular use.

However, appealing to Karunanayake would not have been needed if there was regulator in place. For that, the minister is not to be blamed. It was the job of those who carried out the deal and the market players at that time to insist for a regulator, as Shell has begun to do rather belatedly. The prevalent situation is so bad that Shell has complained to three government arms about its grievances regarding Laufs, and so far, has not got a single reply. The regulatory authority should be Karunanayake's next priority.


Prima's pricing formula

During the last two weeks, The Sunday Leader has been exposing the controversial Prima deal and this week we give our readers an idea of how the pricing formula in this contract will affect the end price of wheat flour to consumers.

Pricing is stated in the sale agreement under:

Pricing of wheat flour

(i) The government shall on or immediately before the effective date, fix the price of general purpose standard wheat flour in institutional packs ex-Trincomalee based on the formula set out below.

(ii) Barring force majeure, the buffer stocks need to be maintained and the following formula price shall apply only to General Purpose Standard Wheat Flour in institutional packs ex-factory Trincomalee till the expiry of five (5) years from the Effective Date i.e. till 19th June 2006.

Formula price (A+B) + C. where 0.74

"A" is the average of the last six (6) months before the first business day of the Relevant Time representing the closing FOB price of wheat mix quoted on the Kanas City Board of the Trade at the Relevant Time.

"B" is the sum of the cost of freight and insurances Ex PNW/GULF to Trincomalee and any duties, taxes and levies including any surcharge on import duty payable at the point of Customs.

"C" is the cost of packaging and additives.

The Sunday Leader contracted a leading commodity trader to comment on this formula and this is what he had to say.

"The effective date being 20.06.01 (assuming that the sale proceeds of US$ 65 million has been remitted to Sri Lanka governments a/c on the said date) the government would have fixed a price in Sri Lanka Rupees based on the above formula for wheat flour which is stated in the contract as "General Purpose Standard Wheat Flour." The institutional packing is not clearly explained and therefore Prima would be in a position to supply in any packing with any net weight of their choice which they can say is "institutional packing." Standard packing for wheat flour is 'New Strong Single PP bags of 50 kgs nett per bag with inner polyliner.' Price is stated as 'ex-Trincomalee.' It is standard practice in contracts such as this, that you mention specifically as 'FOB Tincomalee,' 'ex-warehouse Trincomalee' or 'on truck Trincomalee' etc. There is a cost difference involved for each of the above.

The mention of buffer stocks is misleading. Is this pricing applicable only for buffer stocks to be maintained for the government or is the price that Prima sells the wheat flour to the public? Or, is Prima permitted to sell wheat flour to the public at any price they wish and the formula applies only for buffer stocks?

Here, the price specifically refers to ex-factory Trincomalee and is thus contradictory to what appears in the earlier paragraph.

Kansas City Board of Trade is the terminal market at which wheat futures (paper contracts) are traded. The Kansas City BOT futures contract for wheat is quoted in US Dollar per bushel FOB USA Gulf. For the period 20.06.01 to end of the year 31.12.01, the wheat flour price will be determined amongst other factors by the average of the Kansas City BOT wheat closing price on every single trading day in the six months before 20.06.01 for both soft wheat grain and hard wheat grain. Each succeeding year a new price for wheat flour will be fixed on the first business day of that year (1.1.02) taking again the average Kansas City BOT wheat closing price on every single trading day in the six months preceding. Why closing price of only six months was selected is unclear particularly when pricing is fixed for one whole year. (A price variation clause for fluctuating closing prices as well as for exchange rates is given as above).

Another factor is the cost of freight and insurance. These costs are mentioned ex-PNW/Gulf to Trincomalee. It is not clear how these are arrived at. Is it on any declaration made by Prima or an independent body or a recognised trade body? Is it on the average of six months or one year or that on the 'effective date?' Further, freight from PNW (Pacific North West) and Gulf (East Coast) to Trincomalee is never the same. Even if we consider a computation of freight and insurance from the USA on this basis as reasonable, how will it apply for other origin wheat such as that from Australia or India?

For eg. current rate of freight for a cargo load of 50,000 MT wheat grain from the USA, Gulf to Trinco would be in the region of US$ 18/- MT but from India, it would be no more than US$ 10/MT. The application of the formula for Freight and Insurance is thus misleading, if not mischievous.

In item "B" is included local costs such as duties, taxes and levies, which are always paid in local rupees whereas freight and insurance is paid for in US Dollars. How the local cost is to be converted into US$ to achieve the sum of "B" is not clear nor explained. 'Agreed exchange rate' is mentioned at the end. Where and how it will be applied, is not mentioned.

Item "C" refers to costs involved in packaging and for additives. No details of packaging is mentioned nor is there a list of additives. For eg. If Prima decides to change the current packing in bags into boxes, the government is obliged to pay the difference. Further, the government is obliged to meet the costs of packaging and additives (whatever they may be and changed at their will) as declared by Prima, however high they may be.

0.74 refers to a conversion quotient i.e. 100 kgs of wheat grain when milled gives 74 kgs of wheat flour and 26 kgs of wheat bran. This yield rate is true for only certain wheat frain such as that from USA, Canada, Australia etc., where the actual yield is even higher. For Indian wheat grain the yield is only 65%. How a 0.74 quotient could be applied universally is therefore beyond comprehension.

From the price variation clause which is stated above, it appears that only Prima (PCL) can decide to adjust the formula price if the mentioned variations take place. The important word here is 'may' and not 'shall.' Under items a) the adjustment of + US$ 20/Mtons refers for a 'statistical trend' whatever it means. These words are not defined and thus, meaningless. Same goes for exchange rates. For eg. on 1.1.02 if one US$ equals Rs. 100 and on 30.06.02 it is Rs. 110 and again on 31.12.02 it drops to Rs. 102, how are the prices to be adjusted? The meaning of the words 'statistical trend' should have been clearly defined."

He added, "It will be an interesting exercise to use the formula for all the purchases made by the CWE prior to this sale agreement and compare those results with the amount CWE actually paid, for the said cargoes. What is even more devastating is that no compensation whatsoever is given for the wheat bran (25%) which Prima gets from milling of the wheat grain."

As we have stated before, it is vital for this government to request Prima to re-negotiate this contract in everybody's interest. It is now known to us that Prima imported a large of Sort Wheat on a vessel named 'Navaring' in November this year, a quantity of 61,282 metric tons at a dectaral value of US$ 7,736,107 or a unit price of US$ 126,23 per metric ton C&FFO Colombo. They paid on duty or GST only NSL of 6.5 pct and stamp duty of 1 pct. This is the actual cost as declared by Prima. It will be interesting to see how the government will be called upon to pay under this formula!


Rising from the ashes

By Ranee Mohamed

They say you can't put a good man down, so it is with a good TV and radio station; for barely one hour after a major fire destroyed Sirasa's master control room, studios and and edit suites one two and three, they sprang back on air with a greater force.

Two hours after the fire, even Sirasa TV was there in our homes, live and clear, very matter-of-factly giving us their hottest news -- their own home news of the fire. Sirasa Radio started their broadcast one hour after the fire, underscoring the efficiency and professionalism of the Maharajah Group.

Sirasa, at Depanama, Pannipitiya who brought entertainment and news to the nation for ten years suffered their worst setback, when a major fire ripped through the studios Sunday last. The fire started at approximately 1.40 p.m. January 6. It was caused possibly by an electrical short-circuit.

Friends, well-wishers, journalists and political personalities rushed to Depanama the moment the news reached them. It was perhaps the only news-event that Sirasa missed while it happened.

Forty people were hospitalised with problems of smoke inhalation, but people like Sangeeth Kalubowila took time to go into hospital, for he waited till he finished his news bulletin to think about himself and his health and later sought treatment for smoke inhalation.

"There was smoke coming out and we could not go in. It was unbelievable," said Senior Engineer Priyal Udugampola.

Sirasa Radio first went on air on March 2, 1992 and Sirasa TV came into being on June 16, 1998. Ever since, Sirasa has gained strength and enjoyed immense popularity. Their breakfast shows, lunchtime TV, Adaraneeya Amma, Rasa Risi Gee, Hindi top ten, Sujatha, Kagede Gee Nada, Savanata Vadanak, Nonawarunu Mahathuruni are programmes eagerly awaited by hundreds of thousands of viewers.

"And nothing is going to change, we will continue with the same fare," said Group Director Nimal Lakshapathiarachchi.

"When I received the news of the fire, I was in hospital visiting a patient. I could not believe it. My first question from Sydney Chandrasekera, who telephoned me was, "Is it a fire which we can control," said Nilendra Deshapriya, Director of Broadcasting. "But Sydney answered in the negative and I rushed to the scene," said Deshapriya.

"The place was filled with smoke and employees were coughing. We lost a lot of machines, but our human machines were very much alive," said Lakshapathiarachchi. He said the employees were more interested in saving what they could.

"We will come back in a big way and we will take this opportunity to introduce the newest and latest technology -- technology of the next generation," said Mano Wikramanayake, Group Director -- Electronic Media Business of the Maharaja Organisation, speaking from his Dawson Street office.

"This is a big financial loss, but we have suffered several setbacks and this is a substantial loss, but we will come out of it," stressed a very confident Wikramanayake.

It is Thursday, January 10, 2002. It is hard to say that barely four days ago this place had a blazing problems. The pihibiya trees continued to fan a soft breeze and Sirasa stood elegantly up on that hill.

Inside, the newsroom was abuzz with happenings from all over. The only tell-tale sign was that hundreds of tapes were being wiped with pieces of cloth. There was a container full of tapes in the garden. We could hear news being aired and passed several sections with employees at their busiest.

Then came a time to don helmets and walk into a dark corridor; it was easy to imagine this place as a hive of activity. We were walking along the once-chic studios of MTV and Sirasa. It was heart-rending. Today it lay blackened, equipment, cameras and pieces of technology that one could not fathom.

In a different area, MTV and Sirasa were in full swing. There was no air-conditioning and no phones, but employees kept smiling into cameras and paused to wipe their foreheads.

MTV may have lost their equipment, but they have retained their greatest and most valuable assets -- their employees. Talented and dedicated, they continued to give the same high-quality fare to their fans. The professional approach of MTV and Sirasa and Shakthi TV, be it in presenting news, views, interviews and entertainment, has sent feet tapping and lightened many a heart. This is why perhaps fans rushed to their aid with food and drink the moment they heard about the fire.

Today, MTV is thankful to other TV stations, Rupavahini, ITN and Swarnavahini, for giving them all their support.

It is at a time of disaster that we realise how much we are appreciated and how much we are loved. Ten years is a long time and for ten years they have reported, and the viewers have decided that they are too precious to be allowed to go up in smoke.

 

 

 

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