21st April 2002, Volume 8, Issue 40

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Chaos at UGC as president interferes with tertiary education

By The Insider

THE University Grants Commission has been engulfed in a crisis following the refusal by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to appoint the nominee of Tertiary Education Minister Kabir Hashim. The incumbent chairman, Ranjit Mendis, formerly professor of dentistry at the University of Peradeniya, succeeded Leslie Gunawardena in March, 2001, when the latter took to politics. The crowning point of Mendis' lackluster tenure as chairman was the leadership he gave to a party political 'Appeal to voters' published in the Lake House newspapers in the run-up to the December 5 general election last year.

Showing a degree of partisanship little becoming the high office he held, Mendis lobbied university faculty wanting to get on the right side of the People's Alliance government to subscribe to an advertisement critical of the UNF, then in opposition. The ad, drafted personally by Mendis, referred to a 'conspiracy' by the UNF, which was, he said, sponsored by 'Groups among big business interests who owe massive debts to state banks.' Mendis went on: 'Self-seeking and corrupt politicians have been 'persuaded' by these businessmen to betray the trust placed by the people for substantial financial gain.'

"Should corrupt businessmen be allowed to install a puppet government ready to bow to their demands?" he asked, adding, "Should we take the risk of letting the country slide back to the dark days of the 1980s or even possibly a dictatorship?" He called on the voters to "teach conspirators an exemplary lesson... and return the People's Alliance government with a clear parliamentary majority."

Despite Mendis's lobbying from a position of considerable influence, most members of university faculties declined to subscribe to the advertisement. Among those who did were professors Vijitha Kuruwita, Carlo Fonseka and S. Arulpragasam, all known as hangers-on of the PA regime. So desperate was Mendis for signatures that many of those who were called upon to sign were probationers anxious to secure tenure appointments and therefore dependent on the UGC's goodwill. The majority of them (almost 100) lacked PhDs, the basic qualification to lay claim to being an 'academic.'

When the results came in on December 6, Mendis was understandably crestfallen. As a political appointee, and more so one that had taken sides so blatantly, he knew he had no choice but to resign. With the appointment of the benign Kabir Hashim as minister of tertiary education however, Mendis saw an opportunity: he professed to change sides. Claiming to have been coerced into organizing the anti-UNF advertisement, Mendis produced an ace that would secure his credentials with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It turned out that his wife, Shanthi, as doctor by profession, has been treating former President D. B. Wijetunga for the past 20 years.

Drawing on Wijetunga's patronage with the UNF administration, appeals were made to the prime minister to retain Mendis as chairman of the UGC. Kabir Hashim had however, in the meantime, decided Mendis' partisan politics were incompatible with the high post he held. He asked Mendis to resign and obtained the prime minister's consent to appoint Ananda Kulasooriya, a much respected senior professor of botany at the university of Peradeniya, in his place. Importantly, Kulasooriya has no links or affiliation to any political party. On February 9, 2002, Hashim wrote to President Kumaratunga, requesting her to appoint Kulasooriya as chairman, UGC. Faced with a fait accompli, Mendis resigned on March 15.

Kumaratunga however, was not about to accept the departure of one of her favourite lap dogs with good grace. Having sat on Hashim's letter a full two months, on April 8 she wrote to the minister outlining what in her view was the 'progress' made by the UGC under Mendis in the past year, concluding, 'Under these circumstances I am of the view that the present chairman should be allowed to serve his full term.'

As she has done so often in the course of her eight years in office, Kumaratunga has now sown chaos on yet another key government institution. The minister in charge has expressed a lack of faith in the incumbent, Mendis. Mendis himself has resigned. The minister has in turn nominated another distinguished academic to replace him. And Kumaratunga has capped it off by insisting on the retention of Mendis, who has openly accused Wickremesinghe's UNF of being a 'puppet government' installed by 'corrupt businessmen,' with the country rapidly sliding into 'the dark days of the 1980s or even possibly a dictatorship.'

University education in Sri Lanka now stands at the crossroads, with the chairman of the UGC being daggers drawn with the government, unwilling to quit and immune, thanks to his political alliance with the PA, to dismissal. Hashim's quandary now is how to break the deadlock: whether to hound Mendis out of office by exposing him to ridicule, perhaps going so far as to amend the UGC act so as to facilitate his removal, or losing face by retaining the delinquent chairman and making the best of a bad job. But that is hardly what the voters gave him a mandate to do last December 5. The electorate's judgement was firmly against Mendis and all he stood for. He himself put his and the PA's credibility to the test through the medium of the newspapers and exposed himself to jeopardy: he lost. Now, rather than accept the verdict of the voters and go gracefully, Mendis has decided to stay on and enjoy the fruits of his perfidy. That is something the UNF should not countenance. Mendis must go, and if he will not go the nice way, he should be hounded out with all speed.


Oliver hits back at Chandrananda

Former Commander for the Sri Lanka Air Force Oliver Ranasinghe has replied former Defence Secretary Chandrananda De Silva's missive that he alone could not have been responsible for concluding the purchase of two C130 aircraft after the government had allocated eleven million sterling pounds for three planes.

De Silva's denial to The Sunday Leader followed our expose on the matter early this year. Ranasinghe maintains that De Silva's explanation that no single person can be held responsible for military procurement is untenable

He asserts that while he was commander  the finger was pointed at him alleging that he individually procured equipment and planes for the SLAF. De Silva, who was at the time defence secretary, never once spoke up in his defence to maintain the same sentiments he has expressed when the finger of doubt was pointed in his direction.

04 April 2002

The Editor

The Sunday Leader

410/27 Bauddhaloka Mawatha

Colombo 07

Dear Sir

 

Where the C-130 Aircraft went

 

Reference your article which appeared in The Sunday Leader on 31/03/2002 under the above heading, the undersigned is surprised to read Mr. Chandrananda de Silva's reply where he states "As a result no single person in the process has decided by himself to the exclusions of others on any mater relating to procuments." In other words what he is saying is that a service commander or any other member of the process cannot be held responsible singly. A service commander is authorized to purchase up to rupees five million only, that is also with the approval of the tender board of the respective service. All other purchases beyond this must be approved by the ministry of defence.

"If Mr. Chandrananda de Silva can close his eyes and take his memory back to the period I was the Commander of the Air Force and he was the Secretary of Defence, I don't think he can forget the many articles that appeared in a Sunday newspaper alleging and made up under various captions pointing the finger at me. I ask Mr. Chandrananda de Silva why could not he come out then and say what he is saying today, that no single person had decided by himself but by a technical/financial committee appointed by the Secretary Defence and there after by a cabinet approved tender board and cabinet of ministers after presentation of a cabinet paper by the HE the President, the minister of defence. By not explaining to the public the truth at that time where he was duty bound, isn't it that Mr. Chandrananda de Silva purposely allowed "the dog to bark in the wrong direction" thereby misleading the public of this country?. Why? Is the million dollar question. Does not one get the impression that the stories were created for a purpose? Also being silent knowing the truth, isn't it that Mr. Chandrananda de Silva as Secretary Defence endorsed the contents of the articles and encouraged the public to believe them?

At that time I brought the contents of these articles to the notice of the HE the President. She said, "Oliver, they are trying to get to us through you, so just ignore them," so I did what the commander in chief said. However, Mr. Chandrananda de Silva the Secretary Defence never said anything to the press at least on the procedure of purchase in the government, but when the finger is pointing at him today he comes out to say that no single person could be held responsible but spells out a long tidy procedure in-order to safeguard him. Isn't it the done thing for a top bureaucrat, the Secretary of Defence, Mr. Chandrananda de Silva to enlighten the media and the public of the truth rather than keeping quiet there by encouraging a wrong picture to be created. On the other hand Mr. Chandrananda de Silva may have had good reason not to tell the truth to this particular Sunday newspaper reporter who was frequent visitor to the ministry of defence.

A three man committee inquired into all the purchases of aircraft and military equipment in the air force up to 1998. This report HE the President wanted completed in 2 months and was in banner headlines in interested newspapers. Not two months, but four years have lapsed now but the committee report is not out to the public yet. I was made to understand that it is with HE the President I hope Mr. Chandrananda de Silva has spelt out the procedure, like what he has done today thus saving time and energy of the committee.

I wish HE the President and Hon. Prime Minister will inquire in to all the air force and other military purchases up to date like how they inquired in to the purchases up to 1998 in the air force. The public of the country has the right to know the truth, and not a created story.

It is imperative to say and sad to note that two innocent officers are sitting in jail for a crime that they did not commit. The CID henchiyas and other means were used in order to ensure that someone's 'Pandora's box' is sealed for good, by placing these too officers on top of it.

As the editor of a prestigious Sunday newspaper you will always want to report the truth and I believe that no journalist wants to be a disgrace to the profession" by knowingly publishing made up stories to gain personal glory and money. As such please publish this letter in your valuable newspaper along with your analysis and comments in order to keep the public informed of the truth.

Anyhow, even after many years what Mr. Chandrananda de Silva now says to the world is that if something is wrong in the purchase of aircraft to the air force that he is responsible.

 

Thanking you

Yours faithfully,

Oliver Ranasinghe

Air Marshal


Sports shooting bodies fire the wrong bullets

By Frederica Jansz

No more is sports shooting in Sri Lanka confined to the parameters of Olympic sport.  In fact, an investigation by The Sunday Leader has found that only about 25 shooters, who are members of the National Rifle Association and other sports shooting bodies are dedicated to practical shooting. The others, who number in the hundreds have no interest in the Asian Games, SAF, Commonwealth or Olympic games.

Instead, their sole interest apparently lies in the acquisition of high-powered weapons, and shooting meets, which are not part of Olympic sports shooting.

The weapons for civilian members affiliated to these sports shooting bodies are issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on recommendations made by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

It has now been observed by both, the MoD and other senior military personnel, that some civilians who have obtained membership in these clubs have done so with the sole intent of obtaining high-powered weapons and building up armouries for their personal use.

We have found that in Sri Lanka, the simplest way to obtain a high powered weapon is to join a shooting club for three years and go through the NRA.  None of the civilians in this country are otherwise given the approval to obtain such high tech weapons other than cultivators, who are given a shot gun with a limited amount of cartridges.

This issue has been growing over the last ten years, during which time, a large number of civilians have steadily amassed high powered weapons for their personal use and to take part in shooting events that are not included as an Olympic sport.

For example, the NRA in 1992 introduced Practical Pistol Shooting (which is not an Olympic event), whereupon civilians began to import the following high-powered guns — 9 mm Browning semi-automatic pistols, 9 mm semi-automatic pistols fitted with aim points and scopes, .38 special revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, .40 semi-automatic pistols fitted with special sights and .45 semi-automatic pistols fitted with special sights.

Later, practical rifle and practical shotgun shooting was introduced, which again are not Olympic events.  For this, members of the various sports shooting bodies including the NRA imported .303 rifle, repeater shot guns, double-barrelled shot guns, over and under shot guns.

In addition, the NRA introduced silhouette shooting (also not an Olympic sport) where civilians have imported 7.62 + 51 rifles with scopes (as good as sniper rifles) and .44 magnum revolvers.

The rules and regulations by which the NRA is supposed to abide when approving the purchase of such weapons is ridiculous to the extent by which it has been determined that a member is required to shoot only three times a year in order that he may keep his weapons.

The situation is so bad and out of control that for the year 2001 the Technical Committee of the NRA recommended the purchase of many weapons out of which a mere 4% only are weapons used for Olympic sports shooting.

The fact that Sri Lanka’s national security as a result is being seriously compromised was cause for concern with the Defence Ministry in 1999.  On February 22, 1999, Malini Peiris, additional secretary, MoD wrote to Rear Admiral A. H. M. Razeek, who was then President of the NRA, and brought the following issues to his notice.

In this letter, Peiris wrote, “the time is opportune for the National Rifle Association to assess the armouries owned by individual members as there seems to be an abundance of firearms of various categories which may be functional or defunct at present.  Meanwhile, they seek to import more and more weapons every year, which gets added on to their stocks.  Such individual cases may be looked into carefully before recommending any further acquisitions for the purpose of sports.  Otherwise it could pose a threat to the national security of our country.”

In fact, in 1971, during the insurrection, all rifles which were given to the NRA for the purpose of sports shooting, were withdrawn and as such the NRA stopped functioning.

Peiris also noted that in some instances it has been found that some persons who have not licensed their firearms in the proper procedure since 1997, now resort to adopt a short-cut through the NRA.  “Such requests cannot be considered by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the NRA,” Peiris stated, adding that those requests will be returned for necessary action.

Despite this missive from the MoD, our investigation proves that since 1999 members affiliated to the NRA and its shooting clubs have continued to import high-powered weapons that are not used for sports shooting.

It must be said at this juncture that former president of the NRA, A. H. M. Razeek did make an attempt to curb such purchases. For instance, at a council meeting on April 1, 1999, he told members that there is a growing concern over the issue of licenses and importing weapons by individuals at all levels and some sort of remedial action should be taken to prevent weapons falling into unauthorised hands in the future.

Despite these concerns the issue continued to grow. So much so, senior military officers have also begun to voice concern with regard to these sports shooting bodies where civilians as members are amassing quantities of high tech guns.

In September last year, Col. A. M. B. Peiris wrote to Brigadier Nimal Jayasuriya, director operations at army headquartres and stated his concerns with regard to the hiring of the Panaluwa firing range to the Sports Shooting Association (SSA). 

Col. Peiris at the time was general officer commanding of the HQ 11 Division, Army Cantonment at Panagoda.  He noted his concerns with regard to a shooting meet held by the SSA at the army firing range at Panaluwa from September 21 to the 23, 2001.

He observed that civilians who were members of this club had been observed carrying 303 rifles and SLR rifles (also known as sniper rifles) fitted with telescopic sights into the range complex at their own free disposal.

Col. Peiris noted that this was a serious breach of security in view of the existing security situation in the country. He stated that there are many avenues open to terrorists, subversives and other hostile elements (underworld groups, contract killers) to either hire or forcefully remove these rifles from the respective clubs and individuals in whose possession these weapons are being kept.  He said such high powered weapons can be used to eliminate targets (VVIPs, VIPs) at given opportunities (security lapses) from long ranges.

He appealed to Brigadier Jayasuriya to intervene in the matter and introduce a control measure to prevent possible attempts of assassinations on VVIP and VIPs by skilled and hostile snipers, who may be able to access these guns.

The matter however remains unsolved. Instead, many members of these shooting clubs which are all affiliated to the NRA continue unabated to import high powered guns that cater more, to inflated egos than to facilitate a sport.

We have also found that members of shooting clubs owning mini armouries trade their weapons for a price to one and another. Shanaka Rajapakse from the Negombo Rifle Club (NRC) bought a 9mm Tangfolio gun from Major Janaka Ritigahapola.  Noel Rodrigo also from the NRC purchased a 12g BRNO shotgun from Anil Wickremasinghe who is also a member of the same club.  Wickremasinghe also sold a .22 BRNO rifle to Anil Peiris, of the NRC. 

Reza Odayar from the SSA bought a 9mm Tangfolio from Gehan de Zoysa also of the SSA.  H. Wanigatunga, SSA  purchased a 12g BRNO shotgun from Lister Flamer & Co.  Saman Herat from the Nuwara Eliya Sports Shooting Club bought a .45 ACP pistol from Sarath de Zoysa, SSA.  K. Kumaranayagam, SSA purchased three weapons from his father, S. Kumaranayagam. While the SSA had bought two 9mm Glock weapons from two other sports shooting members namely, Vipula Perera, SSA and Captain Robin Jilla.

That is not all.  Our contention that civilians continue to build up on existing armouries is compounded with the fact that the present vice president of the NRA, Sarath de Zoysa, last year made an application via the NRA to import a second sniper rifle despite the fact he already owns one.

His application for a .308 Remington rifle was initially not approved by the Technical Committee of the NRA on the basis that he already had a .308 rifle for practical shooting.

De Zoysa argued that his application should be entertained.  He stated that the Technical Committee of the NRA had on other occasions recommended the purchase of an extra rifle to one individual who wanted two 12guage shotguns for two different disciplines. He said that the .308 rifle he had was for International Practical Shooting Competitions (IPSC) and was not suitable for silhouette shooting and that was why he had applied for an additional .308 rifle.  Silhouette shooting by the way, is not an Olympic sport.

Elmore Rodrigo, Secretary, Technical Committee, NRA pointed out that de Zoysa had indicated in his application that the second rifle was also to be used for IPSC and not silhouette shooting. De Zoysa responded by saying this was a mistake and with the president’s permission was allowed to amend his application.

In another incident which occurred last year, the Sri Lanka customs seized a cache of fifteen .22 Chinese air rifles that had been illegally imported. Members of the NRA approached customs to sell these weapons to the sports shooting body. Customs agreed and it was decided by President of the NRA that these weapons would be distributed accordingly to its affiliated sports shooting clubs. However, The Sunday Leader reliably learns that instead, favoured members purchased two and three of these weapons to add to their personal armouries. 

In fact, the minutes of the NRA council meeting of November 27, 2001, state that NRA president, Air. Cmdr. Sunil Weerasinghe had stated that “the sale of these weapons had been carried out in the most improper manner while he was away from the island and therefore he wished to apologise to the council for such action.” 

Why Weerasinghe did not seek to recall those weapons and ensure the sale was carried out in a more methodical manner is not clear. When asked, Weerasinghe replied that after the guns had been sold “it was not right to ask for them back.” 

This is the bottom line.  Unfortunately for the NRA, its president is by tradition always a military service personnel.  The post is passed on from the Sri Lanka air force to the army and navy. The Commanders of each security force nominate persons of their choice to this post. 

The present president of the NRA Weerasinghe is one such person.  Having been nominated by chief of the SLAF Air Vice Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody, Weerasinghe heads this vital sports shooting body but has never taken part in a single sports shooting event in his entire life.  As a result, he is clueless with regard to the intricacies involved in running a sports shooting body. Weerasinghe in fact has never once even visited the range for a shooting meet. He arrives just in time to dole out prizes. 

The manner in which personnel for this top posting are chosen was initiated in 1972, when the MoD agreed to allow the NRA to function provided the president and general secretaries are elected from the services to control all weapons and ammunition given to the NRA for sports shooting purposes.

Therefore, every year, the three service commanders reach an agreement as to who should run the NRA and nominate a president and a general secretary. 

The NRA is top heavy not only with persons like Weerasinghe. Wing Commander J. C. Ranasinghe who holds the post of Hony. general secretary to the NRA has also never participated in the sport at national level. Squadron Leader K. R. N. N. Nawarathne, Hony. treasurer, NRA, is another person who has never participated at Olympic sports shooting events. 

At present, there are only four persons in the NRA council out of 20 who have taken part in Olympic sports shooting at national level. They are Sri Kumaranayagam, Vice President NRA, Lt. S. Ratnayake, assistant secretary (Pistol), Elmore Rodrigo, Secretary, Technical Committee and P/O D. M. P. B. Dassanayake, navy shooting representative.

Other local purchases and transfers approved by the NRA

Negombo Rifle Club - CZ 75 9mm pistol from CEFAP

Hill Country Sports Shooting Club - CZ 75 9mm pistol from CEFAP

Hill Country Sports Shooting Club (HCSSC) - BRNO .22 bolt action rifle from Lister Flamer Ltd.

Meezan Mohideen - HCSSC - CZ 75B 9mm pistol from CEFAP

Shirantha Peiris - Sports Shooting Club Nuwara Eliya (SSCNE) - Germanica 12g pump action shotgun from CEFAP

R. G. N. Joseph - SSCNE -  CZ 75B 9 mm pistol from CEFAP

SSCNE - Germanica 12g pump action shotgun

SSCNE  - CZ 75B 9mm pistol from CEFAP

A. L. M. Zubair - HCSSC - Remington Gamemaster .30-06 rifle from Lister Flamer Ltd.

Nissanka Senadhipathi - SSCC - Tangfolio 9mm pistol from Maj. S. A. Kulatunga

Mangala Jayasinghe - NRC - BRNO .22 rifle from M. D. P. Peiris of Chilaw

T. Velrajh - Negombo Rifle Club - Para Ord. .45 pistol from Errol Dharmaratne.


“Everybody has an armoury”

Air Commodore Sunil Weerasinghe, President, NRA, refused to take responsibility for recommending the purchase of high tech weapons for members of the NRA and other affiliated sports shooting bodies.

“These weapons are recommended and approved by the council. I don’t recommend the purchase of these weapons, the council does,” he said. 

He agreed that these guns are not used for Olympic sports shooting.  He asserted however that other forms of shooting activated by him are also part of sports shooting. “I agree it is not an Olympic sport but it is being done in Sri Lanka and in other countries,” he countered, pointing out that in that case, taking part in Practical Pistol Shooting and International Practical Shooting Competitions (IPSC) must also be abolished as they are not Olympic sporting events. 

Questioned on the threat to national security as a result of civilian maintained armouries, Weerasinghe replied saying, “Everybody has an armoury.  In that case sports shooting should be scrapped from Sri Lanka, if it is posing a great threat to the security of the country.”

Such a threat all depends on the individual, who is in possession of such arms and ammunition, he reiterated.

Weerasinghe admitted that he has never taken part in sports shooting at national or club level. “This is not necessary in order to hold an administrative post,” he said.


More high powered weapons

In November last year the Technical Committee of the NRA recommended the purchase of high powered weapons for the following civilians. 

S. Peramunagama from the Negombo Rifle Club was approved the purchase of a STEYR .308 bolt action rifle with scope. 

Suren Samarasinghe from the Sports Shooting Club,  Nuwara Eliya, was approved a STEYR scout .308 rifle with scope.

A. L. M. Zubair also from the Sports Shooting Club, Nuwara Eliya, was allowed to purchase a Remington 11.87 12g shotgun with interchangeable chokes.

Shankar Dharmaratne from the Sports Shooting Association a Remington 11-87 12g shotgun with 3 interchangeable chokes.

S. B. Pilapitiya from the Sports Shooting Club Nuwara Eliya a Winchester .308 bolt action rifle with scope

B. W. M. Reza Odayar from the Sports Shooting Association a Mossberg 9200 12g shotgun with interchangeable chokes.

Vidya Amarapala from the Negombo Rifle Club a CZ 85 Combat 9mm pistol with .22 adaptor and extra magazines.

MacArthur Gunaratne from the Sports Shooting Association a Mossberg 9200 12g shotgun with interchangeable chokes

Lt. Cmdr. A. D. K. P. K. de Alwis from the navy a Glock 21.45 pistol with 2 extra magazines

Harin Gabriel from the Sports Shooting Association a CZ 85 9mm pistol.


Making money out of a sport 

Elmore Rodrigo, Secretary, Technical Committee, NRA, dismissed any concerns with regard to civilians purchasing high-powered weapons.

“I am more afraid of the threat to national security from the vast number of 9mm pistols that are being purchased by members than any other weapons,” he said.

Rodrigo reiterated that he personally knows of many members belonging to various shooting clubs who has bought weapons without going through the recommendations of the NRA, but solely by using political influence.

He pointed out that Olympic shooting events are restrictive and as a result there are other forms of sports shooting which has been popularised. “The one sport that has been popularised in Sri Lanka is metallic silhouette shooting. There is a lot of interest in this form of sports shooting unlike the Olympic type of matches,” he said.

Rodrigo meanwhile claimed there are people within the NRA who are dealing in weapons. Who are earning by importing and selling guns. “I do not consider this a threat to national security.  But some people are making money out of the sport,” he alleged.

Rodrigo however asserted that no member of NRA has any weapon that can be compared to an assault rifle. “All the rifles purchased are semi automatic,” he claimed.

 

 

 

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