1st September  2002, Volume 9, Issue 07

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Pssst, Mahinda might hear! That appears to be what PA Galle District MP Richard Pathirana who is supporting government moves to introduce an amendment to clip President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s power of dissolving parliament, is saying to Power and Energy Minister Karu Jayasuriya at the funeral of IGP Lucky Kodituwakku, while the opposition leader seems to be keeping his distance Photo by Asoka Fernando

Grand opening for Govt-LTTE talks

 By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The forthcoming peace talks between  Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Front government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Velupillai Prabhakaran will be inaugurated on a grand note in Sattahip  with government representatives  of both Norway and Thailand expected to participate in the opening ceremony.

The preliminary round lasting three days will be held from September 16 to 18 at the Thailand first fleet naval base premises in Sattahip, a small coastal town east of the Thai capital Bangkok.

The talks would get off the ground with a grand inauguration ceremony that will be open to the media after which the press will be barred from witnessing further deliberations. Norwegian officials functioning as facilitators will be present at the negotiations in an observer capacity.

The spacious naval facility has been the venue for similiar opening ceremonies like that of the annual joint US - Thai “ Cobra Gold”  military exercises.

It is about 74 miles south of Pattaya, a popular sea side resort well entrenched on the tourist map.

The leaders of the respective  delegations Prof. G.L. Peiris and Anton Balasingham will deliver inaugural addresses.

The key note speech will be given by Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Sukhumband Paribatra.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen and his Deputy Vidar Helgessen will also address the meeting.

Over 350 persons representing the print, audio, visual and electronic media of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Norway and other countries and agencies are expected to cover the event.

In addition, diplomatic personnel from concerned nations will also attend.

The preliminary round of talks will hinge around problems affecting civilians in the north-east and also factors impeding the speedy return of normalcy in those areas.

The main issues to be discussed are those like refugee resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction; the problem of  militarised high security zones; the implementation of ceasefire agreement provisions like the removal of fishing ban etc., and the release of detainees under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Contentious issues like the setting up of an interim administrative council for the north-east along with core issues like constitutional reform etc., will not be taken up in the initial sessions.

Each session of talks will formulate the agenda for the next round of talks. Decisions arrived at will be implemented within a suitable timeframe and progress reviewed regularly.

The composition of the respective delegations are expected to change as the talks progress depending upon the agenda. Apart from government and LTTE representatives, outside experts will also be inducted when the opportunity arises.

Expertise from Switzerland, Canada, USA, Britain and India is available it is learnt.

Leaders from the Muslim and plantation Tamil communities will also participate in the talks at the appropriate juncture when relevant issues are discussed.

The LTTE has announced its delegation led by its political adviser and chief negotiator Anton Balasingham. The others are Adele Balasingham, Viswanathan Rudrakumaran and Jay Maheswaran.

Rudrakumaran a New york based lawyer will be the team's legal advisor. Australia based Agricultural scientist Maheswaran will provide expertise on resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction matters. Adele Balasingham will function as the delegation's secretary.

The government is yet to announce its delegation formally but it is known that Prof. G.L. Peiris will be the head and is likely to include  Milinda Moragoda, Rauf Hakeem and Bernard Goonetilleke.


Govt. reluctant to release four Tigers

The scheduled exchange of prisoners between the government and LTTE has hit a snag because of a  reluctance to release four Tiger members involved in serious acts of crime.

The swap was to be in Omanthai on Saturday, August 31, when 23 Tamil detainees were to be released by government authorities to the Tigers who in turn were to hand over seven prisoners in their custody.

The seven comprised six soldiers and one naval Captain Ajith Boyagoda who has been in LTTE hands since 1994.

The LTTE had provided the government with a list of 23 men being detained in the south who were admittedly LTTE operatives.

The Attorney General’s Department has objected to four of these persons being released as they are said to be hard core Tigers involved in serious acts of crime.

Although the LTTE insists that all 23 men should be released for the swap to take place government sources said that they were confident of the LTTE agreeing to the 19 at this stage.

LTTE senior commanders Theepan and Bhanu were expected to hand over the seven prisoners.

The exchange of acknowledged LTTE’ers was expected to facilitate the smooth release of other non-LTTE Tamil detainees languishing in jails for years without trial.


Mangala silent on assets

People’s Alliance Matara District MP, Mangala Samaraweera has not declared his assets and liabilities to parliament despite the fact that he is compelled to do so by law.  Samaraweera has blatantly flouted the law, which clearly stipulates that all parliamentarians must furnish complete details of their assets and liabilities to parliament by end June this year.

Samaraweera’s assets declaration is particularly suspect given that when he lost his cheque book recently together with a secret document outlining details of a constitutional coup, there were cheques written for upto Rs. 200,000 and more.

All the said cheques had been personally signed by Samaraweera.


PA general secretary challenges Amunugama 

By Wilson Gnanadass

Various members of the People’s Alliance (PA) holding press conferences without proper approval from the leadership is to be taken up at the next PA group meeting, PA members said.

They pointed out that members like Sarath Amunugama, Mangala Samaraweera and Nimal Siripala de Silva were arbitrarily holding press conferences and airing their own views to the press without proper authority.

During the last group meeting PA MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra raised this issue and wanted clarification.

The Sunday Leader learns Sarath Amunugama’s claim that he is the PA media Spokesman is also to be questioned at this group meeting. They pointed out that he is not the media spokesman.

PA General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne told The Sunday Leader that Amunugama is not the media spokesman.

He also said the party general secretary becomes the official media spokesman according to the party constitution.

He also said though they hold press conferences, they were not expressing the views of the PA. “Therefore, nobody could hold the PA responsible for the statements they have made so far,” he told The Sunday Leader.

He also said that he being the party’s general secretary is not called for the party leaders’ meeting. Referring to  the confidence motion to be presented in parliament, Jayaratne said one day of debate in parliament is sufficient to pass the motion, as against the wishes of others who demanded two days.

The former minister said when too much of time is allocated for the members to speak, they end up repeating the same thing. “It does not make sense. This is why I say one day is enough, but of course if 20 members who have asked for permission to talk request for two days, I think the party leadership should honour their views,” he added.


Rs. 650,000 for derailment probe

By Shezna Shums

A staggering sum of Rs. 650,000 has been claimed by three individuals who were appointed by Transport, Highways and Civil Aviation Minister Tilak Marapone, to investigate into the train derailment that took place on January 13, at Kiruwalapitiya.

Minister Marapone appointed a three member committee immediately after the incident took place and The Sunday Leader  learns the committee had requested this huge sum of money. The inquiry over the incident was carried out by the committee for a period of 23 days.

The committee appointed by the minister was chaired by Oliver B.Weerasena. The other members were Professor W.M. Karunadasa and Dr. T.A. Piyasiri. The appointment was made on January 15. The Sunday Leader learns that the final report of the committee was handed over to the minister on April 10.

Meanwhile, Transport, Highways and Civil Aviation Ministry Secretary, Cecil Amarasinghe in a letter addressed to the Treasury  Secretary, Charitha Ratwatte has requested approval for the payment of this amount.

The letter dated June 4, states as follows; "Hon. Minister of Transport, Highways and Civil Aviation appointed a committee comprising Oliver B. Weerasena (chairman), Prof. W.M. Karunadasa (member) and Dr. T.A. Piyasiri (member) on 15-10-2002 to investigate the intercity train derailment on 13-01-2002 at Kiruwalapitiya."

"The committee had 23 days of sittings for the inquiry and preparation of the report. The final report of the inquiry was handed over the Hon. Minister on 10-04-2002."

"The chairman and members of the committee have requested payment of Rs. 250,000 and Rs. 200,000 each respectively for this assignment. The Hon. Minister has approved this payment considering the urgency and importance of this inquiry."

"I shall be thankful if approval is granted for this payment and a financial allocation of Rs. 650,000 made to the railway, as the departmental budget carries no provision for this unforeseen payment."

When The Sunday Leader contacted the General Manager, Sri Lanka Railway, Priyal de Silva, he admitted the committee was claiming this amount and added he could not comment further regarding this transaction. Asked whether the money has already been paid to them, he said he did not know.

"I am only carrying out orders. You have to speak to the secretary for any further information," he told The Sunday Leader.

The ministry secretary could not be contacted for comments. The Sunday Leader also made attempts to contact the Treasury secretary but was told he was abroad.


SLT permanent employees asked to sit for fresh examinations  

By Wilson Gnanadass

A decision taken by Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), inviting its permanent employees to sit for fresh examinations to fill the A-5 engineers posts, has been severely condemned by 14 qualified assistant engineers.

The chief executive officer of SLT in a circular (no. 53/2002) dated August 6, issued to all staff under the title 'Recruitment of Engineers (Grade A-5),' has invited permanent staff to sit for fresh examinations, which qualified assistant engineers and technical officers have termed 'unfair' and 'unreasonable.'

According to a circular (no.41/96) signed by former Managing Director, Telecom, R.D. Somasiri, "The terms and conditions of employment applicable under Sri Lanka Telecom Limited will be not less favourable than those terms and conditions that were applicable under Sri Lanka Telecom."

According to another circular which describes the nature of recruitment, there are three different ways of filling vacancies for the posts of engineers. One is promotion through experience. Secondly, to recruit graduates from universities, and thirdly to promote qualified technical officers.

The Sunday Leader learns that the former CEO, Telecom, H. Kamitsuma has accepted the promotion of engineers through experience and qualifications without fresh examinations by a circular (no.66/99) dated October 1, 1999.

It is learnt there are nearly 40 vacancies for the posts of A-5 engineers, and that there are 14 qualified engineers who are awaiting promotion. Sources from the Telecommunication Diploma Association say that these engineers are from recognised institutions, either from the Institute of Engineers of Sri Lanka or Institute of Electrical Engineers, UK.

"Therefore, the management should consider promoting them without calling them for fresh exams," the union sources said. Meanwhile, the union officials also say that the five year management agreement reached between the government of Sri Lanka and the NTT expired on August 5, adding there have been no moves taken by the present government to renew the agreement.

"At a time like this, how could the chief executive officer send a circular to this effect, on August 6?" they questioned.

The Sunday Leader also learns, with evidence, that the management has made two new recruitments after the August 6 circular was issued to all staff. They are W.A.L. Wasantha, bearing the employee number of 10284 and working as an engineer - PABX, and B.S.B.W. Tennakoone, bearing employee number 10282 working as engineer - ISC & QSM. Both were recruited on August 14 and August 12 respectively.


Gloom of disenchantment over WSSD

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti reporting from Johannesburg

The South Asian disenchantment - or the home politics of dependency became quite obvious as the South Asian nations failed to have their government delegations led by either heads of state or government at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) currently in progress in Johannesburg, South Africa. Only Nepal is likely to have its prime minister leading the government delegation tomorrow at the final sessions.

With Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee not attending the summit in what was prematurely called a "disenchantment with the process of pre-negotiations with the summit," the entire region, it seemed, is covered by an appalling gloom of obvious disenchantment and disinterest in the WSSD process.

A senior Sri Lankan government negotiator on the basis of anonymity told The Sunday Leader that the lessons from Rio were quite bitter and admitted that in the process of negotiations, it was unlikely that the South Asian voices would be heard. He also added that the strength of some of the Asian teams did prompt the question about the seriousness of governments. "With weak teams, how do you expect to negotiate?" he asked.

Stressing on the issue of global warming, he said that South Asia was being vastly affected by this phenomenon which was "directly and strongly linked to the non-implementation of the Kyoto Protocol," which called for urgent emission control measures.

 "There was agreement on common but differentiated responsibility, which meant that the biggest polluters would set an example by controlling emissions. It was also a call for 'global and ecological space' for the developing world to grow in terms of economy. But I find a lack of commitment in the entire process - by the developed world to honour commitments and the developing countries to pressurise them to honour them," he noted.

He said that it was hoped that Johannesburg would not be a repeat of the Rio de Janeiro disaster, which had very little to show in terms of tangible results.

"The US approach infuriated the developing world for the stoic refusal to honour the pledges. President Bush backed out of the consensus by claiming that the Kyoto commitments were detrimental to their economy. That was the worst case of back biting we saw in the process," he said.

The senior official said that it was hoped that there would be a possibility of exerting regional pressure to attain the objectives.

In this backdrop, Forestry and Natural Resources Minister, Rukman Senanayake who is currently in Johannesburg leading the Sri Lankan delegation was of the view that often South Asia had been marginalised and hoped that the lessons from Rio would lead to a reversal in the previous approach.

Despite the high expectations, the closed door sessions have infuriated the NGO community that is largely present at the WSSD, which had led to the sending of a letter of protest to Summit Secretary, Nitin Desai on being excluded from the negotiating process.

The WSSD originally allowed participation by NGOs in the Vienna process, which is the stage prior to finalisation.

With emphasis falling on the need for implementation and a determined effort to "make things work," South African President, Thabo Mbeki has called for the political will to make things happen.

According to UN officials, over 100 presidents and prime ministers will attend the crucial discussions next week, and over 3500 media personnel have already sought UN registration for WSSD coverage.


Tender procedures violated at TRI - Committee  

By Wilson Gnanadass

A committee appointed to inquire into the construction of buildings at the Tea Research Institute (TRI) at Ratnapura has condemned the awarding of contracts.

The Secretary, Plantation Industries Ministry, K.A.S. Gunesekara in a letter addressed to chairman, TRI and co-ordinator, Tea Development Project has said that the committee appointed to look into the constructions has observed 'serious violations of tender procedures' with regard to the awarding of contracts to the laboratory and library, hostel and the administration block.

"It has been noted that Rs. 103.16 million has been allocated by Tea Development Project (TDP) for development activities in TRI, out of which Rs. 50.62 million worth of contracts were awarded to construction for the laboratory and library, hostel and administration block."

"But the earlier allocated amount for these three buildings was Rs. 22.145 million."

"And since the tenders were awarded for these buildings and construction was underway, I approved to pay the contracted amount for the buildings as recommended by the committee," the secretary has said in his letter.


CWC okay with wage increase  

By Wilson Gnanadass

Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) Leader and Housing Minister, Arumugam Thondaman yesterday expressed satisfaction over the wage increase the Employers' Federation has pledged to grant the plantation workers.

The minister told The Sunday Leader that though the increase announced by the federation was four rupees less than the amount demanded by his congress initially, he was to a great extent satisfied with it, as this amount seemed to be reasonable to meet present demands of the plantation workers.

The Employers' Federation last Thursday night agreed to grant Rs. 147 for workers in tea plantations and Rs. 131 for workers in rubber plantations for the next two years.

Earlier, workers vowed to commence strong union actions if their wages were not increased in keeping with the escalating cost of living.

Meanwhile, Thondaman said that he was also concerned about the plantation industry and added it was also his desire to demand for something, that would not lead to the industry facing natural death.

The federation, Thondaman said, has also agreed to grant the increase with retrospective effect from July 1.

"I think this is reasonable and we have no major complaints at the moment. All the workers are now reporting to work and there is no unrest in the plantations," he told The Sunday Leader.


SLPA houses for minister's stooges  

By Wilson Gnanadass

Ports Authority employees are up in arms against a decision taken by Ports and Shipping Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader, Rauf Hakeem for permitting the use of Ports Authority houses by his kith and kin.

According to well informed sources, four such houses are being used by SLMC members under the authorisation of the minister.

It is understood, two of these members are members of parliament from Digamadulla. They are B.M.M. Harees and M. Thaufeek. According to information received from the SLPA, Harees occupies a house at No. 380/84 Bullers Lane, Colombo 7, while Thaufeek occupies a house at No. 380/76, also at Bullers Lane in Colombo 7.

Besides, The Sunday Leader learns that Ports and Shipping Minister Rauf Hakeem's brother Dr. A.R.M. Hafis, who has been appointed as the minister's media advisor, is also permitted to occupy a house at Bullers Lane. The Sunday Leader learns that the coordinating secretary to the minister, who is not eligible to occupy a SLPA house, is permitted to use a house within the Ports Authority, which SLPA employees say is illegal.

Employees told The Sunday Leader that all these members have been in occupation of these houses since January this year.

Meanwhile, Harees in a letter addressed to the Ports Authority chairman has requested his house at Bullers Lane be renovated.

The letter is as follows: "My dear chairman, I shall be pleased to inform you that the following renovation works have to be effected to the house No. 380/84, Colombo 7, which has been provided to me.

1.            Expansion of the main parapet

2.         Fixing tiles for downstair hall

3.         Fixing tiles to both bedroom and bathroom upstairs

4.         A full repair of the front garage

5.            Providing A/C and fan for upstair bedroom.

"I would be much obliged to you if you could kindly issue instructions to the respective of the above attended to early."

The Sunday Leader learns that Harees also occupies a flat at the housing complex for parliamentarians situated at Kotte. He, according to informed sources, occupies flat No. D-4.

Ports Authority employees pointed out that there were several employees who are still on the waiting list to obtain these houses, adding such people are being deprived while henchmen of the minister were enjoying all the facilities that they do not deserve.

The said two engineers who have been on the waiting list for well over six years, have still not found a place at the SLPA. "These houses are given to employees attached to the operational side of the SLPA and also those who work late," the irate and frustrated employees told The Sunday Leader.


Jaffna trade fair a flop

By Wilson Gnanadass

Private companies that participated in a trade fair organised by the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Ministry in collaboration with Connaissance de Ceylan, (CDC) in Jaffna, have condemned the manner in which the fair was organised.

Several businessmen who took part in the fair told The Sunday Leader they had to face difficulties during the fair as the organising company was not prepared to meet their demands.

The Sunday Leader learns only 53 companies participated while several other companies withdrew their participation at the last moment. It is also shocking to know that around six to seven companies travelled up to Omanthai and returned to Colombo with disgust.

The fair took place from August 3 to 5, at the Central College Jaffna.

Some participants told The Sunday Leader that the company that took the responsibility to organise the travel arrangements had not communicated with the LTTE, resulting in the companies and the LTTE misunderstanding each other.

According to company officials, the LTTE which was not aware of the travel arrangements of the private companies from Colombo had refused to permit entry into its territory. As a result almost all the companies that went in several vehicles with valuable goods had to return to either Anuradhapura or Vavuniya to spend the night on August 1.

Some participants said they had to wait in queues for LTTE clearance prior to entering their territory for more than 12 hours. "We did not even have water to drink," they complained.

"Even in Jaffna, 40 to 50 percent of those who came to witness our goods were school children. The exhibition may have been a unique thing for the people of Jaffna, but we don't think this would have met their aspirations. But on the whole it was a good opening for business," participants who wished to remain anonymous said. The Sunday Leader learns CDC charged each stall holder a sum of Rs.65,000.

Performance by musical group stopped

CDC, The Sunday Leader learns, has made a blunder trying to organise a musical show at a cost of Rs.450,000.

A musical group called "Harmony" was invited by Rehabilitation Minister Dr.Jayalath Jayawardena to perform in Jaffna during the time the exhibition was taking place. CDC it is learnt has not been able to properly coordinate with the LTTE, which led to this group being prevented from performing in Jaffna properly.

According to the available information, wide publicity had been given in a Jaffna based newspaper that this group would be accompanied by a troupe of cabaret dancers.

The LTTE subsequently warned the group that it cannot permit cabaret dancing in the north. Several attempts made to convince the LTTE, according to informed sources, had fallen on deaf ears.

The group though not prepared for a cultural show, had been told by CDC to tell the LTTE and the public, that they were going to perform a cultural show. "If the CDC did not know what we are capable of performing, why did they take us to Jaffna," some participants asked.

The first day all eight artistes who went from Colombo were able to partly perform with LTTE members also getting on the platform and performing.

"The second day, the LTTE had completely stopped the group from performing. The reason cited for this by the LTTE was that they were not properly informed as to what was going to happen and also because of the newspaper article that said that we were going to have a cabaret dance. This shows CDC and Minister Jayawardena have not properly coordinated with the Tigers, the trade fair participants complained. They also said the minister was helpless when questioned as to why CDC and his ministry could not organise this fair properly.  


More nurses needed

By Shezna Shums

A dearth of 15,000 qualified and trained nurses in the country is seemingly posing a major threat to the entire health sector, Administrative Secretary, Nurses Trade Union, Hector Francis has revealed.

Admitting that there are only 14,900 nurses in the country, Francis says in the next 10 years if remedial measures are not taken there will be a shortage of 42,000 nurses around the country.

He further blamed successive governments for not implementing proper planning. He said when new hospitals are built the government does not carry out a proper estimate of the number of nurses that will be needed. He said the country lacks trained maternity nurses and specialist nurses.

He said due to the present shortage of staff, general nurses are compelled to work even in the psychiatric wards without adequate training.

According to him the nurses union has contacted the Health Ministry regarding the lack of facilities and further requested for tutors to teach new nurses, but he says there has been no positive response from them yet.

"There are 12 nursing institutes around the country, but there should be two more built to meet the current demand. There is only a plan to build two such institutes in Peradeniya and Matara but nothing has been started yet," he said.

Referring to the number of students who graduate as nurses on an annual basis, Francis says it must be improved. "Every year only around 1000 students graduate as nurses but the figures should be 5000 nurses a year to meet the demands of the country," he said..

"Of the 94,000 who apply for nursing, only 12,000 are taken into universities. Even the number of tutors are in short supply. 200 teachers are needed to train these nurses but there are only 75 in the country. This is another inadequacy which affects the numbers of qualified nurses in the country," Francis told The Sunday Leader.


Book launch

Arundathie Abeysinghe's English Workbook I will be launched at the National Library and Documentation Services Board at 5.30 p.m on Wednesday, September 4. It is the first of a series of workbooks for children planned by the author for children in the 8-10 age group. Arundathie who is a Sunday Observer staffer is a graduate of Kelaniya University.


BBC chairman denies report

BCC Lanka Ltd. Chairman Milinda Goonewardene says he did not mention that Minister Lakshman Kiriella interfered into "internal transfers and internal matters" as stated in The Sunday Leader of August 18.

He said he only referred to COPE Chairman Jeyaraj Fernandopulle as interfering into "internal matters" not coming within the purview of the Committee On Public Enterprises to probe into internal administrative matters of the company.


Bala won't be coming

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham will not be coming to Sri Lanka before or after the preliminary round of talks in Thailand as planned earlier.

He will be travelling directly from Britain to Thailand and return to London instead of visiting the northern mainland of the Wanni for consultations with LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader and Minister Rauf Hakeem has sought a meeting in London during early September with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) political adviser Anton Balasingham to clarify certain issues connected to the forthcoming peace talks in Thailand.

Earlier Hakeem was expected to meet with Prabhakaran in Kilinochchi during the first week of September. Balasingham and Batticaloa - Amparai LTTE special commander Col. Karuna were to be associated in the meeting where a number of matters affecting Muslims were to be discussed.

With Balasingham's change of plan the proposed Wanni meeting too has been put on hold. Informed sources told The Sunday Leader that Hakeem's presence in Thailand for the preliminary round of talks was highly unlikely. The first round of talks will be of a bilateral nature between the government and the LTTE alone and not tripartite including Muslim leaders also.

Muslim and plantation Tamil representatives will participate in the Thai talks at the appropriate time when relevant issues affecting those communities are discussed The Sunday Leader learns. As such Hakeem participating at the talks on September 16 was ruled out unless the LTTE agreed,  informed sources said.

The April 13 LTTE - SLMC agreement envisaged Hakeem attending the talks as a Muslim leader and not as a cabinet minister. It is learnt that the Tigers are not in favour of Hakeem being included as part of the government delegation this time.

NUA Batticaloa District MP, M. L. M. Hizbullah told The Sunday Leader they have now accepted Hakeem as the leader representing the Mulsim community and would arrive at a common Muslim agenda for the talks under Hakeem's leadership. He said both NUA Leader Ferial Ashraff and MP Segu Isadeen were also in discussion with Hakeem for joint action.


Business community appeals for lasting peace

Representatives of the business community have unanimously decided to appeal to President Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, all political parties and all political leaders to work towards bringing a lasting permanent peace to the country.

Lalith Kotelawala, the convenor of 'Peace for People' has said that the business community believes that peace can be achieved only if it is based on love and ethnic harmony of all races, religious and peoples of this country. " This peace should be based on freedom and the unitary state of Sri Lanka.

"We appeal to our political leaders not to lose this opportunity to bring us lasting peace after 18 years of conflict. It is we the citizens who have suffered and will suffer in war. It is our children who are orphaned, our mothers widowed and our youth crippled in mind and body and our nation destroyed and devastated," he has said in a statement.


Navy commander’s big lie

 By Frederica Jansz

Despite the fact that Navy Commander Daya Sandagiri had an almost brand new Mercedes Benz at his disposal, he lied to the then Defence Ministry Secretary and ordered another brand new Mercedes Benz, spending over Rs. 8 million for its purchase.

On February 12, 2001, Sandagiri who had just taken over as naval chief wrote to former Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva and stated, quote, “The commander of the navy’s car was transferred to former commander of the navy with the approval of Secretary/Defence.  In view of the above there is no suitable car available at present for the present commander of the navy’s use.  Therefore, to keep uniformity among service commanders, it is requested that approval be given to invite quotations from reputed car suppliers to purchase a diesel car with an engine capacity of 2200 cc.” Unquote.

When stating that the commander of the navy’s car was transferred to the former commander, Sandagiri is referring to former Naval Chief, Cecil Tissera.

He has however stated a complete falsehood when he says the car used by Tissera had been transferred to Tissera’s name for him to take home. 

When The Sunday Leader contacted Vice Admiral Tissera, he said that since he had served only three and a half years as navy commander he had not been entitled to take the said Mercedes Benz car home.

According to a government stipulation, service commanders are allowed to take home an almost brand new luxury vehicle upon retirement provided they have served a full term in office as forces commander. A complete term of office for a security forces chief is four years.

Tissera fell short of this stipulation by six months when he was abruptly asked to retire by President Chandrika Kumaratunga on January 1, 2001.  Daya Sandagiri was thereafter appointed as navy commander by the president in January last year.

Tissera subsequently appealed to the Defence Ministry to be allowed to take home the luxury Mercedes Benz car which had been purchased for his use but was refused permission to do so.

Hence, the car in question, which had run under 1,000 km at the time, was handed over to Tissera’s successor, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri.  Yet, Sandagiri kept mum and insisted the Defence Ministry invite quotations for the purchase of another brand new diesel car with an engine capacity of 2200 cc.

As a result, Rs. 8.9 million was spent to buy another Mercedes Benz car for Sandagiri.

That is not all.  In June this year, Sandagiri ordered that 20, brand new Mitsubishi Lancer GLX cars be rented from United Motors at a cost of Rs. 39,500.00 each, per month.

The cars were leased for the use of senior officers in the navy.  Out of this fleet of cars as well, Sandagiri ordered that one car bearing number NAHA 5199 (GP 8145) be allocated to his pool of vehicles.

Sandagiri already has at his disposal a fleet of 24 vehicles — solely for his use. The vehicles include six cars, six double cabs and a large fleet of jeeps.

Disgruntled naval officers point out that if Sandagiri had not used Rs. 8.9 million to purchase one Mercedes Benz car for him alone, this money could have been utilised to purchase vehicles for other senior naval officers.  Instead, a colossal sum of money is now being spent by the navy to rent 20 cars from United Motors, they said.


Development and destruction

 By Risidra Mendis

Development on this side and destruction on the other. This is the story of the Beira where the flow of clean blue water can be seen on one side of the lake and dull green on the other.

While the Urban Development Authority (UDA) spends millions of rupees on clean up operations in the Beira Lake, others through ignorance and lack of sufficient space use the lake as their rubbish dump.

While environment pollution has always been a never ending problem in Sri Lanka, the fight to save the last of the beautiful lakes and birds in the country still goes on.

The UDA has plans for a road from Pettah to Kollupitiya over the lake but to others the lake still remains a dumping ground. Take a walk along the pavement on Nawam Mawatha at any time of the day and all you see are plastic bottles and polythene bags, old papers, scraps of food and lumps of mud by the side of the lake.

The Beira Lake popular for its Buddhist Temple island is home to both humans and birds. While shanties cover one side of the lake, the opposite side is a highly commercialised area. This strange situation though beneficial in some aspects, also plays a major role in the lake’s destruction.

The story of the lake is interesting as it is used by many, depending on their requirements. To the 850 shanty dwellers, the Beira Lake is their sole sustenance. Water to wash and cook, fishing for their food and the dumping of garbage is all part of their daily lives. If not for the Beira Lake beside their houses they probably would have shifted elsewhere a long time ago.

A few feet away, two men stand by the lake. Their concentration is intense as they wait eagerly until the signs of a struggling fish is felt. Their only income is the fish they catch from the polluted lake. Despite the dangerous health hazard of eating fish from an unclean lake, the fishing goes on.

According to a fisherman, most often the morning catch is a good one. A few small nets spread on the ground with a handful of fish in the afternoon, was proof enough that this catch would not serve a family meal. “We sell a kilo of fish at Rs 60.00 but if you need a large quantity, you’ll have to come back in the morning,” the fisherman said. To the fisherman, all that mattered was selling his fish polluted or otherwise to a willing buyer.

However, unknown to the fishermen a plan to redo the area around the Beira Lake by the UDA will soon prevent them from earning those few rupees that keep their families going.

When The Sunday Leader spoke to Deputy Director, Project Management Division, UDA, H. A. Dayananda, he said that many plans are underway to make the Beira Lake and its surroundings a major tourist attraction in the future.

The sea water pumping project by the UDA, an ongoing one is done as and when the water gets polluted in the lake. A phase that commenced at the end of 2000 was completed in August 2001.

However, due to the constant pollution, a second phase at a cost of Rs. 12 million funded by a private sector company is presently in operation.

“The Beira has more than 1,500 waste and sewage outlets diverted to the lake. This is the reason for the constant pollution,” Dayananda said.

A Rs. 800 million project funded by the World Bank to divert sewage disposal in 1999 was completed in June 2001. “What we did was connect the other outlets to a main sewage line and diverted the waste materials to the sea. But due to many small sewage holes being connected to the Beira, the lake continues to get polluted. We have now commenced another project estimated at Rs. 30 million and funded by the UDA to divert these holes as well,” Dayananda said.

According to Dayananda, all these projects will be of no use if public awareness is not created. “We are planning on working closely with the Colombo Municipal Council to solve this problem,” he said. The lake is divided into four parts, namely, the East Lake, South West Lake, West Lake and the Galle Face Lake. While 75% of the work is completed on the South West Lake, the UDA has plans to give out this area for private investment next month, while the rest of the area and lake will be given out later.

“The best way to protect the lake and its surroundings is to make it a commercialised area where the private sector can develop it as a tourist attraction,” Dayananda said. While the UDA plans to relocate the shanty dwellers at Dematagoda, Dayananda says there were no protests from the people as they will be getting better houses.

All warehouses, industries, stores and buildings of inappropriate uses will be shifted to Peliyagoda by the UDA as 125 acres need to be cleared for the proposed entertainment plan. As for future plans, around the lake bank, a 6 X 12 metre wide linear park for the public and a bigger park together with other forms of entertainment will be constructed. According to the UDA this project will be completed by 2003.


Rape on the decline?

 By Shezna Shums

During the last six months, there has been a notable decrease in the number of “major crimes” around the island when compared with last year or even the year 2000. Statistics given by the Interior Ministry show that abductions, hurt by knife, homicide and rape have decreased.

The number of rape cases in particular has come down by five percent from last year. Also, when compared with the last two years, there has been a decline in the number of such cases. In year 2000 for the first six months shows a decrease of 44% and year 2001 another decline of 10%. This year, for the first six months there is a decrease of 5% in rape cases.

The figures show that from January to June in 2001 there were 574 cases reported and this year for the first six months 545 cases had been reported.

When The Sunday Leader contacted the Senior Superintendent of Police, Crimes Division, Police Headquarters, Mahinda Hettiarachchi as to how there is a decrease in rape cases, he said recent detections made by the police on these criminals has brought about fear in the others that there is always a possibility of them getting caught. He added that there has been no special police action that has resulted in this decrease. “Most of the rape cases are solved. So, offenders know that there is a possibility of getting caught.”

This decrease in certain crimes has been noted throughout the island. Assistant Superintendent of Police, Anton Dassanayake points out that the police is now more vigilant. When a crime is reported, a special team is appointed to probe into the case. There are patrols conducted by constables and inspectors in certain vulnerable areas in Colombo and other major towns which has helped reduce the crime rate, he observed. 

The department has recently started a programme to keep a close watch on re-convicted criminals. A log is maintained and when these reconvicted criminals are spotted, it is noted and passed on to the relevant authority. Even underworld figures are identified and being closely watched, Dassanayake said.

Dassanayake stressed that even the judiciary is now very keen on rape crimes and these criminals,  adding that the media to some extent has helped reduce the number of these crimes, as people are aware that if a criminal is caught he is punished.

Executive Director, Women In Need (WIN) — an organisation that counsels the victims of such crimes — Savithri Wijesekere when contacted by The Sunday Leader said that they still get the same number of rape cases as earlier, and went on to say that she cannot really comment on the 5% decrease in rape cases as they don’t get the national figures. Most of the cases that WIN deals with are the ones referred to them by the police. Wijesekere said the number of rape cases have shown no significant change while pointing out that there has been an increase in the number of domestic violence cases reported to WIN where counselling and support is given to these victims.


Colombo’s snake man

 By Marianne David

The first time I met him, he had travelled all the way from Galle in a private bus — with a poisonous snake inside his bag.

Amal Wijesekera pulled out a small plastic box and non-chalantly put the snake in a cage at a lab at the Colombo University’s Medical Faculty.

“Now we can talk,” he said, paying no attention to the sweat that was streaking down my face.

For Amal, snakes are a lifestyle. He’s the kind of guy who carries a bag around so that he can put a snake into it if he comes across one.

His aim is to help develop anti-venom for snakebites in Sri Lanka, thereby helping save snakes and people. And he has never been bitten — “I’ve been lucky that way.”

Amal says that snake venom is 400 times more valuable than gold and that it is only now that Sri Lankan snake venom is being analysed.

The anti-venom being used for snakebite victims in Sri Lanka right now is from India. Amal says that because there are genetic differences between the snakes in India and Sri Lanka, a large number of vials have to be used when a man is bitten which has severe side effects. “If made from snakes in Sri Lanka, the anti-venom would be perfect.”

He has been working at the Colombo University for the past few years on a project named OX COL where he feeds and cares for the snakes and milks them amongst other duties. “I do it for my personal interest, not for the money. When I’m broke, I go fishing, I’m a good fisherman.”

Amal has been interested in snakes and their conservation for a long time and says, “people kill so many snakes everyday, about 800 to 1000. If we were to collect these snakes and put them in a snake farm, the venom could be collected and used.”

Amal has never followed any formal course — all his knowledge is through experience. “My idea is to do something for my country without taking my expertise abroad even though I could earn so much money there.”

There are 94 types of snakes in Sri Lanka, six of which are deadly and venomous according to scientific classifications. However, Amal thinks there may be more. “There are about 110 types of snakes with the new species,” he says.

“Handling snakes is always a different experience,” he says. “I concentrate totally on handling the snake, extreme concentration, it changes me totally because I know the risks. Taking such a big risk, I milk the snakes so that someday this large problem in Sri Lanka can be solved.”

Amal is always on call: he says that sometimes when he goes home, people have come there and left snakes there for him to release into a suitable place.

“When people find snakes, they bring them to me and I release them according to what type of snake it is. If people have a place to take snakes that they find, it would be great because they wouldn’t kill the snakes instead.”

Amal also lectures on snake conservation and says people need to be educated about snakes because there are a lot of myths many still believe in, which are not true.

According to him, the law against people being allowed to rear snakes should be relaxed. “It should be changed to protect the snakes, it is too strict. The government or some society must do something about this situation. For example, they could have snake farms like in other countries and they would generate a lot of money which could help towards developing anti-venom.”

According to him, so far, 32 kinds of medicine have been developed from snakes in Sri Lanka. Amal says a lot of money is needed for the anti-venom development projects and it is very important. “I would dedicate and risk my life to do whatever I can for this cause.”

Amal also plans to prepare lectures with a set of slides on snakes and go around Sri Lanka educating people on how to survive a snake bite, snake conservation and their value.

“A snake won’t do anything unless you do something to it. Snakes are innocent. There is so much that can be done by analysing snakes, scorpions and spiders in Sri Lanka,” he said.


Enjoining order extended

The enjoining order suspending the gazette notification on the capital requirement of finance companies has been extended till October 7. The new act specifies that finance companies fulfil a capital requirement of Rs. 75 million. Five unregistered finance companies — Isuru Finance, Kaido Finance, Yasunaga Investment, Laksavi Finance and Indra Finance have petitioned courts against the new gazette.

The Central Bank meanwhile informed The Sunday Leader that the new act will not have any effect on the 25 registered finance companies. Some of these companies’ capital is below Rs. 75 million.

However, there are hundreds of unregistered companies which will face closure if the new law comes into effect. According to papers submitted to courts there are only three registered finance companies above the new capital requirement as of  mid July this year.

 

 

 

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