Wickremesinghe might not be the favourite son of the country to
some in Sri Lanka, especially among the lot who consider him
selling out to the Tigers. Be that as it may, none could take the
achievements away from his fledging administration.
will go down in history as the first prime minister who was able
to sustain peace negotiations with the LTTE for an year and in
that time period make sure that the guns fell silent.
reasons for the success may vary and Wickremesinghe himself has on
occasion observed that the peace process owes a lot to the changes that were
brought about in international politics with the September 11 attacks.
held an informal meeting with his cabinet on Thursday morning. The
meeting commenced at 10:30 and went on till 3 in the afternoon with
lunch thrown in. At the meeting the Prime Minister said that the
government had survived the worst year ever.
new governments from 1970 to 1994 soon after assuming power have charged
that the Treasury was empty. According to Wickremesinghe, when his
government took office, it was 'really' empty. The Premier also called
on the cabinet to work as a team and warned that a war in the Gulf would
have far-reaching economic effects, but that they could not be passed on
to the people full scale.
had a good word for the media, observing that reporting had been fair by
plans to hold such informal meetings once every month.
year that has elapsed has also meant that the euphoria that welcomed the
cessation of hostilities and then peace talks have subsided
considerably. Just browse through the media entourage that gallops
behind the government delegation, numbers have reduced considerably.
the process in the Prime Minister's own words to parliament two weeks
back entering a critical stage, distant rumblings of opposition keep
getting louder. Opposition parties are making sure that the ground
arrangements are in place to pounce on the opportunity, when the talks
hit a major snag.
most prominent of such developments last week was Opposition Leader
Mahinda Rajapakse's visit to India. The visit materialised following
Rajapakse's trip to Jaffna in the company of Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and
A.H.M. Fowzie. The trip itself came in for some stick in the
pro-opposition press, but soon after the trip Rajapakse was on his way
to India at the invitation of the Indian government.
fact that the Indians have been watching the developments taking place
in Colombo with unfeigned unease is old news. And so is the issue that
the PA has being wooing the Indians. Not long ago Anura Bandaranaike,
Mangala Samaraweera and Sarath Amunugama took wing to New Delhi.
his departure on February 2, Rajapakse met with Indian High Commissioner
Nirupam Sen during the weekend. The two held discussions for more than
two hours. The meeting was a forerunner to the series of meetings that
would take place in India.
India, Rajapakse met with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and
Foreign Minister Yaswant Sinha. During these discussions, Rajapakse had
observed that India should play a much more involved role in the present
peace process. The Indians for their part have given the assurance of
their support to the opposition.
the meeting with the Indian Premier, Rajapakse said that the PA was not
on a mission to derail the peace process and was fully supportive of the
negotiations. The opposition's concerns were that the LTTE was not
adhering to the conditions agreed to in the MoU and that a solution
should guarantee devolution of power without dividing the country,
according to the Opposition Leader.
trip comes at an interesting intersection in his short career as
Opposition Leader. It is no secret that sections within the SLFP have
been trying to undermine his power.
reason behind the change of heart of possible crossover candidate
Richard Pathirana is his desire to undermine Rajapakse.
the likes of Bandaranaike and Samaraweera have been sharing the stage at
protest rallies with the JVP and taking the occasional swipe at
Rajapakse, the man from Hambantota has been busy trying to get his own
protest campaign off the ground. Later this month he will once again
take to the streets with pots and pans.
started off his campaign taking the issue of the high cost of living as
the main line of attack while the JVP and its supporters took on the
peace dealings. Now Rajapakse is aiming to unite the two issues, taking
the slogan that the government was using the false glow of the peace
process to deflect criticism on the cost of living.
Rajapakse was in New Delhi, the biggest threat to his success, a
possible JVP-SLFP tie up took another step forward. Another meeting
between the two parties was held at President's House with President
Chandrika Kumaratunga assisted by Nimal Siripala de Silva, Maithiripala
Sirisena and D.M. Jayaratne representing the SLFP.
JVP was represented by General Secretary Tilvin Silva, Propaganda
Secretary Wimal Weerawansa and MP Anura Dissanayake.
of the issues that were to be taken up was to reach common ground in
dealing with the ethnic issue. The JVP has always maintained a solution
that is shrouded in Marxist ideology and now nationalism, while
officially the SLFP/PA position is at odds with such a solution.
JVP would never subscribe to the point of view that Rajapakse spoke of
to the Indian leaders. The next meeting between the two parties will
take place in the coming week.
the proponents of such a union, the thinking has evolved that with the
JVP's help, the PA can out do the UNP and get a majority. Pathirana was
shooting his mouth off of a victory in Galle with the JVP's help in
parliament and Bandaranaike aired the same line of thinking recently at
a party meeting in Gampaha - that with the JVP's help Gampaha would not
fall to the UNP.
JVP for its part has taken a decision that whatever partnership should
guarantee that the party enjoys the present 16 member representation.
a central committee meeting prior to meeting Kumaratunga and company,
Silva said that a tie-up between the two parties would be historic.
said that any union should see the two parties reaching an agreement on
not only the national issue but on the economy as well. The JVP's
proposal expectedly is to take a U-turn from the present policies and
change into a nationalist economy.
JVP has forwarded a 25 point document on its policy framework to the
SLFP. The JVP is also planning to hold a protest rally in Amparai on
JVP-SLFP tie-up nevertheless would not go down well with the other
constituent parties in the PA especially the leftist parties. Jayaratne
has been tasked with sounding out the constituent parties about their
opinion on a set of proposals that have evolved from the on-going
discussions. But as of last week, the PA General Secretary had not
received any official view from other parties.
her part, President Kumaratunga is still playing hide-and-seek on the
issue of dissolution of parliament. The attitude is probably a ploy to
buy time till the discussions with the JVP reach a final settlement.
Last week at a meeting of SLFP central committee members, she once again
reiterated that she was not looking at an election.
final decision with the JVP will first be put to the central committee
and thereafter referred to the PA executive committee.
UNP, however, is not taking the President at face value. The government
launched its own propaganda campaign recently, spearheaded by none other
than S.B. Dissanayake.
if Kumaratunga does not call for general elections, polls are looming on
the horizon in the form of provincial council elections. The first on
the list is the Wayamba election that is due in January 2004. Others are
due within the following five months.
was theinfamous Wayamba election in 1999 that was the beginning of the
end for the PA. The PA went on a rampage. The province was divided into
temporary fiefdoms under the charge of a cabinet minister. For example,
now UNF Minister and then Kumaratunga's confidante, Dissa-nayake was in
Anamaduwa helping out D.M. Dassanayake. The election was highway
at a disadvantage
a recent meeting with chief ministers, the President had toyed with the
idea of holding all provincial elections together. The deck has been
reshuffled since 1999 and the PA would be at a big disadvantage this
cabinet meeting that took place on Wednesday did not produce any
fireworks. The President gave it the skip and the ranks among the
cabinet were depleted due to the peace talks.
thing that happened was Prime Minister Wickremesinghe advising his
cabinet to get public officials to follow government policies.
"They should be able to guide, not be guided," the Prime
Minister told the cabinet.
reaction came after Water Management and Irrigation Minister Gamini
Jayawickrema Perera commented about officials.
government has woken up to the situation that any further deterioration
in the economy and a slow down in the peace process could spell trouble.
The international community too is keeping an eye on the situation.
Executive Director, UNICEF, Carol Bellamy met with the Prime Minister
and his point man at the peace table, Minister Milinda Moragoda, she
expressed her relief that the opposition to the peace process was filled
with only rhetoric, noting that if it was otherwise then the situation
next big blow-up between the government and the opposition is likely to
take place when the no confidence debate against Defence Minister Tilak
Marapone takes place.
opposition has been gunning for the debate for some time but the
government indicated its willingness to take it up just two weeks back.
At the party leaders meeting two weeks back, the government had
indicated that it was ready to take up the debate by end-February or
debate, if it takes place, would once again see the two sides going
after each other on the pros and cons of the peace process.
if voters who put the MPs in office expect any constructive criticism to
take place, it would be little more than wishful thinking.
takes place at the House by the Diyawanna is no more than tomfoolery,
most of the time.
a Tiger, always a Tiger
week the country would commemorate the first anniversary of the
formal declaration of the ceasefire between the government and the
is no denial that the present ceasefire has achieved far more than
half dozen others that preceded it. But would the temporary lull
in fighting translate itself into a permanent solution. Only the
suicidally optimistic would be willing to wager on this.
of peace depends heavily on the LTTE and its tactics. A recent
paper by a leading researcher in Colombo sheds some light on the
direction that the LTTE seems to be taking. The final assessment
that could be gleaned from Muthukrishna Sarvananthan's paper
titled 'What Impedes Economic Revival In The North East Province'
is that despite all the posturing at the peace table, when it
comes to the ground situation, the Tiger is yet to change its
colours. And is very much the same old beast.
huge revenue collection by way of various direct/indirect and ad
valorem/unit taxes, the LTTE has not embarked on any
socio-economic programmes in the North East Province, whether in
their own territory or in government territory. Strangely, the
LTTE is expecting the government of Sri Lanka and the external
donors to undertake rehabilitation and reconstruction work,"
Sarvananthan, who is attached to the International Centre for
Ethnic Studies says. He based his assessments on fieldwork done
over 10 months.
say that the LTTE has not undertaken any development work might
not be totally correct. Supporters of the organisation could
always take work carried out by front groups in the LTTE's
support, for example the de-mining work.
it is true that the income is huge and that very little if any
immediate attention is paid to development work, unless bankrolled
paper has tried to quantify the revenue collected by the LTTE by
way of taxes and other levies. The calculation is that the LTTE
may be earning as much as Rs. 5 million daily, simply by taxing
goods and passengers on the A9.
additional Rs 2.5 million would be reaching the Tiger coffers
daily via taxes levied on Tamils and Muslims throughout the north
east. "This translates into an annual revenue of Rs. 2,340
million (Rs 2.34 billion)."
LTTE is also the biggest entity when it comes to farming and
fishing in the north east, especially in territories under its
control. Says Sarvananthan, "If we add these profits to their
tax revenue, the annual domestic income of the LTTE could be at
least Rs. 3 billion (roughly US $ 30 million), which I presume is
a very conservative estimate."
Rs. 3 billion is up and above what the LTTE is earning overseas
and is the amount that Sarvananthan is arguing that the LTTE is
not using for development. He is also not willing to buy the
excuse that the LTTE is spending the domestic revenue for the
upkeep of its cadres and machinery, observing that in times of
conflict the organisation was managing with very much less and
doing much more. The researcher is also confident that the opening
of the A9 and the access to government-controlled areas has more
or less provided the LTTE with a gold mine.
author also juxtapositions the two issues, one of the LTTE taxing
the population but never disclosing when and how the monies are
spent; two, the organisation seeking a tax-exemption from the
Colombo government when importing radio transmitters. "In
this circumstance, the tax payers to the LTTE would like to know
where the tax monies are going."
also came up with a strange find during his research for the
paper: that there is an exodus from the north east to the south
with the MoU. "The anticipated LTTE regime has prompted young
people (in particular) to leave the Jaffna peninsula, which is
paper details that during the first seven months in which the
ceasefire was in operation, there was a net out-flow of about
65,000 from the peninsula despite the influx of formerly displaced
persons. The exodus of sorts is matched by a capital flight from
the province to the rest of the country.
paper also suggests that there is evidence to prove the LTTE
appropriating material sent for returning IDPs and indulging in
economic nationalism, like banning the transport of vintage cars
from the north east along with a list of items that include
paper, which heavily deals with the economy of the north east,
argues for the removal of the High Security Zones (HSZ),
especially in Jaffna, which Sarvananthan feels is impeding growth.
the paper identifies clearly that if the north east and the rest
of the country is to move back to bygone eras of democracy, the
LTTE has to undergo a drastic character change.
of the observations made by the author would be more than anathema
to the Tigers, like desisting from taxing and publishing annual
LTTE should dramatically improve their governance - indiscriminate
recruitment, harassment of political opponents, occupation of
private dwellings without due payment should stop forthwith."
LTTE should desist from undertaking economic activities and
running a parallel public administration (including police and
judiciary) in their areas of control. They should exclusively
concentrate on what they have been doing very successfully in the
past two decades; that is, defending the Tamil nation. Fighting a
war is hugely different from managing an economy and running a
public administrative system. The two latter tasks require
completely different skills and knowledge, which the LTTE woefully
general, the LTTE should drastically reform itself in order to
qualify to solely represent the nation of Tamils."
paper (ironically first presented at a seminar at the Jaffna
University) and its contents are important in that they highlight
the need for assessment of the LTTE's track record since the MoU
in an objective manner and not through shades of nationalism, be
it Sinhala or Tamil.
paper clearly shows the LTTE's dual-purpose modus operandi,
simultaneously talking peace with the government while not willing
to let go off the iron grip it has over the populace. If anything,
the Tigers are strengthening it.
on double standards
ever a tragi-comedy is being enacted in this country it is now. Trashing
the memories of the dead, this government and President Chand-rika
Kumaratunga are bent on committing a faux pas of the highest order.
the cabinet meeting two weeks ago it was announced that the cabinet of
ministers headed by Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
will allocate Rs. 7 million as compensation to Ferial Ashraff and her
family for having tragically lost her husband - Leader of the Sri Lanka
Muslim Congress (SLMC), Mohammed Hussein Mohammed Ashraff - when he was
killed in a helicopter crash on September 16, 2000.
unprecedented sum of money is to be paid out of state coffers despite
the fact that other VIP widows have received a mere sum of Rs. 600,000
as compensation, including Hema Premadasa, whose husband was executive
president of Sri Lanka at the time he was assassinated.
of a total of Rs. 7 million, Ferial Ashraff is to be given Rs. 5 million
and her son Amman will receive Rs. 2 million. Rs. 1 million was also
proposed to be givento Madheena Umma, the mother of M.H.M. Ashraff who
has also since expired after her son died tragically.
proposal by the President to pay the deceased mother Rs. 1 million was
turned down by the cabinet.
a cent for soldiers' children
Ashraff is to receive Rs. 2 million despite being over 18 years of age
and a working adult. In contrast, children of soldiers who died in
action, if over 18 at the time are not paid any compensation monies. The
children of the late Major General Vijaya Wimalaratne is a case in
point. (See box).
monies have been allocated following a special commission of inquiry
concluded by retired Supreme Court Judge, L.H.G. Weerasekara, who has
made the recommendation that Rs. 8 million be given by the state to the
Ashraff family to compensate for the death of the late Leader of the
their haste to placate Ferial Ashraff and her family, the leaders of
this nation have forgotten that 14 others also died tragically with
Ashraff that fateful day.
their lives are not worth remembering and the blood they shed
inconsequential, as the government is yet to make any kind of a monetary
allocation towards the families of these dead people.
families of the two air force officer pilots who died in the crash will
automatically receive a monetary benefit of Rs. 1 million as
Flt. Lt. S.V. Perera and his Co-Pilot, Flying Officer R.P.S. Andradi
were both killed instantly when the helicopter crashed. Andradi had wed
just a few weeks before his tragic death that year.
young widow received Rs. 1 million as compensation from the Sri Lanka
Air Force (SLAF).
other members of the SLAF who died in the crash were Corporal G.R.
Weerakoon, Leading Air Craftsman W.A.J.S. Ariyasena - who was also the
flight engineer - and W.M. Rupasinghe who accompanied the crew as a
MI-17 helicopter usually flies with an SLAF crew of five members on such
occasions. Apart from the two pilots, the other SLAF members are
entitled to only Rs. 500,000 compensation in the event they are killed
in action. All the monies are drawn from life insurance policies taken
for all SLAF members.
SLAF, Air Marshal Donald Perera said the SLAF has already paid Rs. 1
million in compensation for each of the two SLAF pilots and Rs. 500,000
for the other three air crew members who were killed along with the late
SLMC Leader Ashraff.
maintained that the SLAF "has no right to demand any further
compensation monies from the government."
explained that the SLAF were "merely operators in this entire
exercise" and that in such instances, however tragic, the SLAF
follows a standard criteria when making payment to families of air crew
killed in action.
to the Rs.7 million to be paid by the state to the Ashraff family, the
Air Chief said, "The SLAF has no right to bring the point up. It is
up to the government to decide if it wishes to make any additional
payment to the deceased families."
other individuals who died with Ashraff were his bodyguard Ajith Vithana
Gamage, his stenographer Periyathamby and two other security personnel
called Chandana and Sadeek.
freelance journalist named Nihamathulla also travelled with him on that
fateful day. Rafudeen, Kadirgamathamby, Mowlana from Galle and Azeez,
all of whom were die-hard loyalists of Ashraff, also died with him on
September 16, 2000.
individual merely known as an associate of Kadirgamathamby was also
killed that day - his name, however, to date remains a mystery.
families of these people have not been allocated any kind of
to Minister Hakeem, Hassan Ali said the commission when it concluded its
report focused only on compensation for the Ashraff family and for
Hakeem said the terms and reference of the commission appointed by
President Kumaratunga to prepare a report on the accident which killed
Mohamed Hussein Mohamed Ashraff had also mentioned for the commission to
recommend suitable compensation for the families of the deceased.
quantum of the amount of compensation would be at the discretion of the
commission," Hakeem asserted.
added that compensation for the others who died with Ashraff would be
paid according to standard state criteria as in the case of the air
force officers who were killed.
admitted that some of the civilians who were travelling with Ashraff
that day and were also killed "have been left out" when the
commission decided to dole outfive million smackers for Ferial Ashraff,
two million for her son and a million for Ashraff's mother.
said that usually a compensation scheme for VIPs allows for a maximum of
only Rs. 5 lakhs to be paid to the family.
this case, however, it has been on the terms and reference of the
commissioner," Hakeem said, adding that he will be putting up a
cabinet paper for approval for compensation to be paid to the families
of the other civilians who made their last journey with Ashraff that
fateful day in September 2000.
astounding fact is that not even Ashraff's bodyguard or other security
personnel who died with him qualified for any kind of monetary
compensation to be paid to their immediate family.
same twisted logic apparently applies to the other Muslims who were
killed that day, their sole mistake in life being their undying loyalty
to the late SLMC Chief, which finally cost them their lives.
even the SLMC does not consider these people important is clear when The
Sunday Leader tried valiantly to get a least two telephone numbers of
the deceased families.
three years later, nobody within the SLMC appears to have any contact
with the families of these unfortunates. When asked where they could be,
we were told "they were all Ashraff's supporters from the
if he will seek Rs. 5 million compensation for the others who died with
his predecessor and mentor, Hakeem said he cannot do so. "We do not
have that much money to hand out," he reiterated, asserting however
that the matter is for cabinet to decide.
L.H.G. Weerasekara, who chaired the commission to investigate the sudden
death of the late SLMC leader, said he had handed over his report to
President Chandrika Kumaratunga in March last year.
said he allocated for separate compensation monies to be paid to Ferial
Ashraff, her son Amman and the late M.H.M. Ashraff's mother, Madheena
exactly how much was allocated for each individual of the Ashraff
family, Weerasekara refused to say, claiming he could not remember.
also said it is up to the President to make the report public and that
he handed over his original copy to her upon completion.
asked on what basis he decided on the quantum of monies to be allocated
to the Ashraff family, Weerasekara refused to comment.
have since found that N.M. Shaheed, an attorney-at-law commissioned by
the SLMC to make representations to this commission of inquiry
specifically sought for compensation to be paid to the late M.H.M.
Ashraff's mother as well.
the SLMC lawyers did not see it fit to seek compensation for the
families of any of Ashraff's security personnel and party loyalists who
died with the SLMC Chief on that fateful helicopter ride.
if the commission of inquiry by its terms and references were bound to
recommend compensation only for the Ashraff family, surely the SLMC
could have pushed the government over the last three years to pay some
kind of gratuity to the families of those men who died while on duty
with the late leader.
this had not even been considered is indeed a damning indictment on Rauf
Hakeem, Ferial Ashraff and the SLMC.
Justice Weerasekara took offence when asked if he had been under any
pressure to allocate such unprecedented sums of monies to the Ashraff
family when other VIP war widows have been paid a maximum of only Rs.
600,000, including the widow of a former president of Sri Lanka.
in my life have I been asked such a question or my integrity brought
into doubt," Weerasekara thundered, asserting his reputation
remains impeccable and he has never at any stage bowed to any kind of
pressure, political or otherwise.
refused to comment when quizzed further and asked if in view of national
interest his report should be made available to the public.
Weerasekara also refused to divulge details of attributing causes for
the crash, which killed Ashraff and many others asserting that it is the
President's prerogative to do so if she so wishes.
Ashraff, the only son of the late SLMC Leader when contacted refused to
make any comment on this issue saying it is up to his mother to do so,
if she so wishes.
war widows compensation
other war widows whose compensation monies are negligible next to
that allocated to Ferial Ashraff and her family:
Athulathmudali was given Rs. 600,000 after her husband Lalith
Athulathmudali was gunned down at Kirulapone in April 1993.
Premadasa, wife of the late President R. Premadasa said she too
was paid Rs. 600,000 as compensation after her husband was
brutally assassinated on May 1, 1993.
Jayakody, daughter of President Premadasa reiterated bitterly that
the government at the time did not even bother to conduct a proper
investigation into her father's killing. "It is easy to say
the LTTE killed him. But who ordered a military bowser to rush to
the scene of the killing and hurriedly wash away all the
evidence?" she queried.
the late SLMC Leader, to conduct a full investigation into the
murder of my father," Dulanjalee asserted "would reveal
too many secrets within government - that would be damning - this
is why to date my father's assassination remains a mystery."
Dulanjalee and Hema Premadasa pointed out that while they were not
interested in the quantum of compensation monies paid "it is
the principle that matters and in this context it is ludicrous to
pay Ferial Ashraff and sonRs. 7 million."
Dissanayake, wife of the late UNP Leader and Presidential
Candidate Gamini Dissanayake said that she too was paid Rs.
600,000 as compensation by the Social Services Department.
don't think it is at all fair that Ferial Ashraff is to be paid
Rs. 5 million as compensation for her husband's killing. What
about all those widows who have been left destitute as a result of
losing their husbands to terrorism? I firmly believe that the
government should make allocations to pay all of them the same
amount of Rs. 5 million each," Srima Dissanayake asserted.
Kobbekaduwa, widow of the charismatic Army General Denzil
Kobbekaduwa said she was paid a mere Rs. 75,000 as compensation
following her husband's tragic death. This amount, she said is
according to service regulations "which we have to go by - we
have no other choice."
Kobbekaduwa explained that all widows of soldiers, irrespective of
their husbands' rank during their lifetime, are paid Rs. 75,000
compensation if killed while on duty.
Wimalaratne, wife of the late Brigadier Vijaya Wimalaratne
posthumously promoted to Major General, also received only Rs.
75,000 as compensation when her husband died tragically with
son and daughter did not receive any compensation monies as both
children were over 18 years old at the time their father was
killed. In the event they had been under 18 they would have
received a sum of Rs. 75,000 as compensation.