5th September, 2004  Volume 11, Issue 8

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


Tank flop

Following pictorial revelations in The Sunday Leader and our sister publication Irudina last Saturday about the manner in which the JVP's 1,000 tanks project had dried up - pretty fast after the fanfare with which it was launched - Agriculture Minister Anura Dissanayake was spurred into action. Having summoned an emergency conference at the JVP headquarters last Monday to discuss the pictures published in the newspaper, Dissanayake and several other JVP MPs expressed fears that the news of a flop in their first major project would seriously damage the party's public image.

After speaking to Ministry officials prior to the meeting, Dissanayake had been informed that activities were not progressing as scheduled at the tank in Yapahuwa highlighted in the newspaper. It was decided at Monday's meeting that necessary arrangements should be made to cover up the little mishap via the media.

Several MPs suggested documentaries being screened about the success of the project on Rupavahini and ITN. Dissanayake however was not too pleased with this idea and maintained that whatever propaganda material should be disseminated via the private media. The Minister also urged that whatever publicity was obtained should not appear to have been an organised media campaign by the JVP.

The MPs then suggested that the tanks at which renovation activities were taking place as scheduled be chosen and media personnel taken to view the progress first hand. Dissanayake was afraid even that would appear to have been carefully planned. The Minister then met with Ministry officials and asked them which of the tanks were showing progress. He was informed that the Thalakola tank in Anuradhapura was a good example of how well the tank project was going.

Dissanayake spoke to the officials in charge of the renovation of the Thalakola tank and instructed them to inform media personnel from the Lankadeepa newspaper and Swarnavahini about the progress in renovation activity as if in passing and motivate them to visit the site. The Minister ordered that the photographs and video footage obtained during the visit also be provided to several other media organisations. Anuruddha Bandara of the JVP's special media unit was entrusted with the task of getting the photographs of the tank published. And so it was.  


To be or not to be?

After the tank discussion was concluded, the JVP MPs at Monday's meeting then focused their energies on the escalating cost of living. Several organisers said that the masses were fast becoming frustrated at the government and the JVP for their inability to curb price hikes. The parliamentarians decided that it was necessary at this point for the party to agree on a course of action in the face of this pressing issue.

The JVP decided that a series of statements released via the National Patriotic Movement (NPM) and public rallies and protests would be the order of the day.

Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa also said that they should use the NPM to rouse public sentiment against the LTTE's ISGA proposals.

"I have spoken to several ministers. All of them have told me that the rising cost of living cannot be curtailed - this is the reality. Even we're going to have to accept that," Weerawansa said.

His argument was that instead of speaking out against the cost of living or the prices of consumer goods, the JVP was better off opposing the LTTE and its interim administration proposals.

"If we start talking about the cost of living, in a few months we will have to withdraw support for the government. We are not ready for that, so we are going to have to adjust while being in government. So the best thing to do is to talk about the ethnic issue," Weerawansa told the gathering.  


Lalkantha pressing for agitation

Minister K. D. Lalkantha mentioned at the meeting that the trade unions were becoming increasingly disillusioned and frustrated. He warned that several unions were planning to form an alliance because of the incident of a police assault during a protest. He also said that if this happens they would lose control of the unions affiliated to the party. The Minister said his opinion was that they should use the compensation formula or the failure to grant a 70% wage hike to public servants as issues to step out on the streets. Several parliamentarians however, opposed these ideas.

Instead, it was decided to use the President's repeated appeals to the party to withdraw their case against the handing over of a Colombo port jetty to a Dubai based flour company without the necessary cabinet approval during the previous People's Alliance regime as grounds to launch a public protest. It was also decided that a letter would be issued to President Kumaratunga placing the JVP's protest at this matter on record.



Mumbo jumbo

The rumour mill has been hard at work in its efforts to determine the reasons behind President Kumaratunga's trip to London. There was much speculation about the date of her return and also information doing the rounds about the fact that she was engaged in an attempt to meet with LTTE Theoretician Anton Balasingham. Reports indicate that the President has indeed been trying to meet Balasingham via various channels during her stay in London, although all the attempts have proved futile. Having realised that Balasingham had received instructions from Wanni, Kumaratunga took off to Scotland with her son, Vimukthi. She is reported to have spent an entire week with Vimukthi touring the Highlands.

While the President was thus relaxing, several changes were taking place at President's House back in Colombo. Many of them are believed to be attributed to the planetary changes scheduled to take place tomorrow, September 6. Several of the President's trusted astrologers placed calls to London to warn her to take the necessary steps to avert bad karma during this period. They instructed her to change the structure and style of several items at President's House, including the roof tiles, windows and doors. The President was also told that as soon as she returns to the island, a thovil must be performed at President's House to rid the home of bad vibes.

Kumaratunga sprang to action and instructed her staff back home to make all the necessary preparations for the thovil ceremony and to remove the fittings on the date designated by the astrologers. Accordingly, on August 27, several window and door fittings at President's House, 90% of which are believed to be of antique value were reportedly ordered to be removed and replaced.


Millions to get rid of presidency

Since coming into power at the April 2 poll, the government has been consumed with finding ways and means to abolish the executive presidency. In what is believed to be part of this tireless effort on the part of government legislators, a senior SLFP minister last week held talks at the Hilton Residencies Colombo with a young opposition MP, promising to credit Rs. 50 million in the bank account of the leader of his party if they should agree to support the abolition of the presidency.

The deal was, according to an insider, Rs. 50 million to be paid in Sri Lanka and another Rs. 100 million deposited in Singapore.

The meeting took place on an apartment on the 32nd floor of the Hilton Residencies belonging to a prominent family of the business community, last Tuesday. The senior minister also informed the opposition MP that as soon as the party voted with the government in parliament supporting moves to abolish the presidency, another Rs. 50 million would be credited in the leader's personal bank account.

The minister asked the young parliamentarian to consult with the leader of his party and submit his answer within a week, according to reports.


Bitter battles

Last week's story about Deputy Sports Minister Sripathi Sooriyarachchi's corruption allegation to the President against the Health Ministry's Triposha deal had Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva furious.

Believing it was the work of the pro-JVP group in the SLFP, de Silva called and complained bitterly to Minister Mangala Samaraweera who pleaded ignorance. Samaraweera said he too had no control over Sripathi or Ruwan Ferdinandez for that matter and that they were working to their own agenda.

Not convinced, de Silva then called Power and Energy  Minister Susil Premajayanth, who is also general secretary of the UPFA and said unless the mud slinging campaign is halted pronto, he too would have to start spilling the beans on Samaraweera and it was the UPFA that was going to be the ultimate loser.

The affable Premajayanth said he will do his best to bring about a rapprochement. 


Turning sour?

Soon after assuming power or taking up their positions in the opposition benches, the politicians of this country have a habit of making sure they're snapped with leaders or diplomats from the Bharat nation, in an apparent attempt to score brownie points with Big Brother. The landscape of Indo-Lankan politics is littered with stories of various relations between the Bandaranaike clan and the Nehrus of India. However, an incident during Bandaranaike's recent Indian visit indicate that ties between the two 'royal families' were now strained.

Bandaranaike's Indian tour received widespread publicity in the state media, possibly because he had specifically instructed media personnel before embarking on the visit that video footage of his meetings with Indian Premier Manmohan Singh and Congress Party Leader, Sonia Gandhi were to be aired repeatedly and given due publicity. Bandaranaike's anxiousness to obtain maximum publicity may perhaps be linked to the wide coverage Premier Mahinda Rajapakse's meeting with Singh received not so long ago.

All this preparation came to naught however, when Sonia Gandhi chose to ignore all Bandaranaike's attempts to meet her. Refusing to give up hope, Bandaranaike stayed behind in New Delhi for three days after he had concluded all his scheduled meetings waiting for a favourable response from Gandhi.


Forced to speak

Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe who has been engaged in party reform activity since being defeated at the April polls, visited Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya last week to distribute rations to drought affected residents in the area. While Wickremesinghe did not plan for speeches or comments during his visit, he was forced to do so because of the large crowds that gathered around him. Soon afterwards, Wickremesinghe also toured the housing scheme complex for people living in border villages, a project proposed during his tenure as Premier.

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