Unit puts education sector in limbo
By Dharisha Bastians And Easwaran
Still reeling from the spate of
interdictions of prominent national school principals, the
bowing to Big Brother?
mechanism: now dissent from Muslims
dilly-dallying puts CPC on the edge
politicisation of tsunami reconstruction
rape of Lahugala National Park
affair: JVP seeing red
gun's for hire
for Wimal from President’s House
Unit puts education sector in limbo
Mahinda Rajapakse, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Tara de Mel
By Dharisha Bastians And Easwaran
Still reeling from the spate of
interdictions of prominent national school principals, the education
sector was rocked further last week after more school children took
to the streets to protest the removals, and angry questions were
raised about the right of the Special Presidential Investigative
Unit (SPIU) to execute the removals without the green light from the
Public Service Commission (PSC).
The SPIU was set up by President
Chandrika Kumaratunga last year to look into irregularities in Grade
I admissions and has so far effected the removal of five national
school principals, completely by-passing the PSC, which under the
17th Amendment exercises disciplinary control over public servants.
However, last week saw the commission
claiming that the grounds for interdiction given by the President's
investigators were insufficient, giving rise to a number of accusing
fingers being pointed at the unit and its legal right to effect
Speaking to The Sunday Leader,
Secretary, PSC, Lakshmi Goonewardane said that the PSC had in fact
written to the Education Ministry informing them that the
documentation submitted as grounds for interdiction of several
principals were insufficient. "We asked them to submit further
documentation before we grant covering approval for the
removals," said Goonewardane. The PSC Secretary added the
commission had received more documents from the Ministry which they
were now studying, after which a decision will be made about whether
it approves of the removals or not. "If the documentation
proves insufficient, then the commission will not grant its covering
approval for the removals. However, it will take the commission
about two or three days to finish studying the files," she
Responding to the allegations the
Education Ministry says the PSC cannot handle everything from
appointing principals to investigating their activities.
An official of the Education Ministry
who wished to remain anonymous told The Sunday Leader that
Secretary, Education Ministry, Tara de Mel appointed the SPUI to
carry out inquiries into grade 1 admissions at state schools with a
view to gathering comprehensive information which the PSC will be
unable to fulfill considering that their current responsibilities
"After a recommended principal
goes through the interview board the PSC takes the final decision on
the appointment as principal to a state school based on the outcome
of the process. That together with all their responsibilities is
already too much so we can't expect them to carry out inquiries as
well," he said.
Furthermore, despite some of the
charges against the principals relating to fraud and illegal
admissions into schools, law enforcement authorities are yet to be
brought into the scene to conduct investigations, except in the case
of the principal of D. S. Senanayake College when the CID got
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry says
one of the reasons state school principals were under investigation
or in some cases interdicted following allegations that they
received financial assistance for the school from students either by
request or as donations.
The Ministry says this goes against the
government policy of free education at state schools around the
"The state pays the principal and
teacher fees, maintenance costs, provides books and other stationary
as well as equipment required by state schools. All this is done
with the intention of providing 'free education.' There is
absolutely no need to get donations or money in any form for the
school from students," the Education Ministry official said.
Old boys associations of state schools
whose principals have been interdicted or are being probed say the
money given by the state is inadequate for maintenance, especially
in the case of large Colombo city state schools.
A member of the Ananda College Old Boys
Association (OBA) told The Sunday Leader the financial requirements
of a state school in the city and the requirements of a rural school
differ and cannot be placed on the same budget scale by the
"That is like comparing an apple
with a grape," he said.
The OBA member noted that sports
equipment like cricket balls and bats, basketballs and tennis balls
are some of the items not provided by the Education Ministry.
He also said that the OBA handles the
regular maintenance of the school swimming pool and tennis court
while also supplying musical instruments for eastern music classes.
The Sunday Leader learns in the case of
Royal College Colombo, whose principal is also under investigation,
approximately Rs. 1.5 million is required monthly to educate around
Of this Rs. 390,000 is spent to pay the
salaries of non-registered teachers. The balance is used for the
maintenance of the school, the payment of salaries for the school
sports activity coaches, functioning of sports associations and
school telephone bills.
At Ananda College around Rs. 7.6
million is required to educate a student population of 4,500. Most
of the money is provided by the OBA and well-wishers as the state
cannot cover such huge costs.
The Education Ministry for its part
says it has no objections to an OBU providing financial assistance
to a state school as long as it does not come directly from the
pocket of a student.
"We are totally against
that," the Ministry official said. "All the money we give
is audited and kept track of while at times on request we even audit
the money that flows in from the OBA," he added.
State schools in Colombo complain that
if additional financial assistance from students is prohibited most
of their development activities will be hampered, giving the already
booming private schools an added advantage.
"There are several international
schools in the country which provide high class education including
Information Technology (IT). If we stop students paying for 'extra'
educational activities which will only benefit them, students from
international schools will have a better opportunity at getting
employment. Most students from state schools lack IT knowledge and
if a state school is providing such education at an additional cost
from the student it should not be stopped," an OBA member of
Ananda College said.
In this context he noted that the
Ananda OBA had introduced a programme together with Informatics
Computer Institute where students learn to operate a PC and get a
recognised certificate for a very meager rate.
"The Education Ministry told us to
stop the programme saying it violated state policy of free
education. Students who had the opportunity to get computer
education for a very affordable rate of around Rs. 200 now must pay
more than Rs. 30,000 to get the same education outside or not get PC
education at all. As the world changes we must change with it or we
will remain behind the line," the Ananda OBA said.
Meanwhile, as the SPIU continues its
probe against more state school principals, the basis of the
investigations are still being questioned.
Secretary, Old Boys Union, Royal
College Colombo, Abhaya Amaradasa told The Sunday Leader that they
are curious about the basis under which their principal is being
"We first want to know what he is
probed for. If the principal is interdicted we will first have to
see on what basis he is interdicted, study the accusation and then
state our position," he said.
Amaradasa said that the current
principal of the school, Upali Goonasekara has improved the
infrastructure of the school and is widely respected by the
When asked if he could pinpoint any
irregularities in grade one admissions Amaradasa said that he could
only comment on the admissions of old boys' children which he says
"As far as admitting children of
old boys to the school goes there is a system followed where the
children are assessed and given points based on a circular issued by
the Education Ministry.
"Once the final points are
calculated the school authorities make the final decision on the
admission of the child to the school. So far no one has disputed
admissions, so that cannot be the basis for the inquiry," he
Principal, Anula Vidyalaya Nugegoda, Y.
P. S. C Jayatillake is also under investigation by the SPIU.
When asked to comment on the basis of
the inquiries Jayatillake said she was unable to discuss the issue
as she is a public servant.
With more interdictions in the offing
protests by parents and students alike are bound to be seen during
the coming weeks.
The participation of students at recent
school protests has drawn the attention of the state and rights
groups who say the children should not be part of such campaigns.
The Education Ministry has already
instructed the police to ensure students stay within the boundaries
of the school at a time of a protest.
The National Child Protection Authority
(NCPA) says it is totally against students taking part in protests
while noting that interdicted principals are responsible.
"There should be awareness created
among the parents against them permitting their kids to take part in
protests. If the parents want, let them protest but keep the
children out of it," Director, NCPA, Prof. Harendra de Silva
Prof. de Silva says by permitting
students to take part in agitation or protest campaigns they are
taught to be aggressive which could scar their future.
"Principals sack students if they
act aggressively in school against teachers or principals. But when
it comes to trying to clear the name of a principal they use the
students as a tool, teaching them negative aggression in the
process," he said.
The NCPA says there is a system for a
principal to go through and a legal process to follow to find out if
he is guilty or not which should be utilised to clear his or her
name instead of instigating protest campaigns with the participation
Prof. de Silva says the Education
Ministry should issue a circular strictly prohibiting students from
taking part in any form of protest.
Meanwhile, daily school activities at
Ananda College and D. S Senanayake College continue in a tense
environment against the backdrop of protests over the interdiction
of the principal.
- Ananda PTA
The JVP is spreading its tentacles into
the school system and even at this crisis scenario within the
education sector the party is attempting to fish in troubled
waters, charge the Ananda College Parents and Teachers
Association. The PTA alleges that the principal appointed to
oversee matters at the school following the interdiction of
former Principal, B. A. Abeyratne, was a political appointee
affiliated to the JVP. The Acting Principal, P. S. Nonis, the
received his appointment after the more worthy candidate the
Education Ministry picked for the job, Jayaweera, had turned
down the post.
According to the leaflets and
propaganda issued by the PTA, a special discussion was held on
April 11 at Nonis' residence. Secretary, Cultural Affairs and
National Heritage Ministry and JVP MP Vijitha Herath, Anil
Geethalal attended the meeting along with Principal,
Rathnavali Balika Vidyalaya, Hema Jayawardena, who is a well
known supporter of the JVP. At the meeting, Nonis was urged to
accept the position of principal of Ananda College and do
everything he can to set up an Old Boys' Association which was
supportive of the JVP.
The PTA says that Ananda College has
never been involved in politics and calls for a stop to all
moves to politicise the school.
The Ananda College Old Boys Association
has alleged that the stand in principal of the school, P. S.
Nonis, who was appointed following the interdiction the school
principal B. A Abeyratne, was a political appointee.
According to reports, the Education
Ministry had appointed one Jayaweera to take over as principal
but he had refused to accept the post.
The OBA says Nonis was later appointed
with the backing of the JVP with the intention of infusing
their policies in the school.
Nonis was advised to form a JVP backed
student union in the school to get them involved in future JVP
Meanwhile, Nonis is reported to have
stopped pirith ceremonies conducted at the school every
morning which has further agitated the Buddhist monks who
teach in the school.
clash in Cabinet
Last Wednesday's cabinet meeting proved
extremely heated, with the President and Prime Minister at
logger heads over the principals' issue. A screaming match
ensued between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Premier
Mahinda Rajapakse after the Premier demanded that the
President put a stop to inquiries by the Special Presidential
Investigative Unit and removing the heads of state schools
over the issue of Grade I admissions.
Speaking firmly, the Premier said that
the principals' issue was causing great damage to the
government, adding that if the situation is allowed to
continue public protests against the government will also
Snapping back the President said that
as the Head of State and Education Minister she had every
right to investigate into and make decisions about the corrupt
practices of principals.
"These are rogues... they have
stolen money on a huge scale... I can't allow rogues like this
to be protected," said an angry Kumaratunga.
Refusing to be deterred the Premier
continued his onslaught saying that the President was
attempting to create a 'Lawrence Mafia' like the one that
existed during the tenure of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
He added that he was the Prime Minister of the country and the
President had a duty to listen to his views on the matter as
President Kumaratunga chose not to
respond to this, saying instead that she had decided to
appoint the SPIU because the Bribery Commission which would
ordinarily look into things like the principals' issue was
An incensed Premier went on however
that the SPIU was also investigating into the activities of
ministers and even himself and his wife and not just the
principals. Rajapakse said that as soon as he heard this he
had called up the Presidential secretary and instructed him to
order the SPIU to stop the investigations immediately. He
added that as Prime Minister, he had every right to do
bowing to Big Brother?
Dharisha Bastians and Easwaran Rutnam
Since time immemorial, Sri Lanka's
significance in history has been born from her strategic location
along the Eastern trade route. Almost all explorers and traders
traversing from the orient to the Middle East, their ships laden
with exotic spices and silks, called at one of Ceylon's ports.
Sometimes the seafarers decided to anchor in paradise and go no
further, contributing to the ethnic mosaic the country has become
today. To this day, Sri Lanka's harbours are one of her most
precious resources and an integral part of her economy, with 70
percent of ships travelling from the Far East to Arabia transiting
in Colombo for refuelling and maintenance.
But with India all set to dredge the
shallow Palk Strait to create the 'Suez of the East', there is
concern that Sri Lanka's harbours will be by-passed altogether, with
ships heading towards the
Middle East being able to save almost a day's travelling by
using the canal. Dredging the canal would also effectively negate a
need to develop Sri Lanka's southern ports, plans for which have
been in the pipeline under successive governments for some time now,
since the need to travel around the island to get to the Arabian sea
would cease to exist.
It would effectively mean that Colombo,
the country's busiest harbour, would become nothing but a feeder
port, with Tuticorin, a southeast Indian harbour playing host to
almost all oceanic traffic along the historical trade route.
Sadly, the Sri Lankan government has
put up little or no resistance to the Sethusamudram project, despite
serious environmental concerns in addition to the economic
implications. With public awareness about the project being low, the
anti-Sethusamudram lobby too has been paltry at best, limited to
environmentalists gravely concerned by the damage to bio-diversity
resources in the Gulf of Mannar in particular and the straits
The tropical waters of the Palk Strait
and the Mannar Gulf is rich in marine ecology, home to endangered
species of sea turtle, dolphin, dungongs and whales.
So far, the government has held one
round of expert level talks with the Indian government in New Delhi
- back in January this year. The Sri Lankan government delegation
was led by Chairman, National Aquatic Research Agency, Kapila Perera.
At the end of the talks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a
media release saying "on the question of the Sethusamudram
canal project, it was agreed that an exchange of views on the
economic and environmental aspects in relation to Sri Lanka would be
arranged between the technical experts of India and Sri Lanka."
According to the Foreign Ministry, the Sri Lankan delegation raised
issues particularly on the environmental aspects of the project.
According to the Indian High Commission
in Colombo, further talks are scheduled in the near future. The
talks will focus on the mutual concerns of both governments with
regard to the proposed project.
"The consultation with Sri Lanka
is a completely different aspect of the Sethusamudram project,"
says First Secretary- Commercial Affairs and Economy, Indian High
Commission in Colombo, Sanjay Sudheer. According to Sudheer, the
project is not a bilateral one and therefore, consent from Sri Lanka
is not necessary to go ahead with the dredging. "The government
of India has decided to go ahead with the project as per the budget
proposal last year and all preparations are going ahead as
scheduled," said Sudheer.
However the Sethusamudram project is
meeting with strict opposition from environmental activists on home
soil as well. A group of green bodies have protested the proposed
canal and have even taken their objections to the Madras High
Courts. Their contention is that if the channel is dredged, the Gulf
of Mannar and the Point Callimere flamingo reserve will be seriously
affected. The environmentalists also cite an UNESCO supported study
in the 1990s that talks of underwater volacanoes that would be a
constant threat to the canal.
As for the Sri Lankan green lobby,
environmental activists in the country have charged that the
government is yet to conduct a proper study into the project to
properly ascertain the impact dredging the Palk Strait would have on
the marine ecology in the area.
But the environment is not the only
thing at stake. Naval authorities told The Sunday Leader last week
that while the ecological impact of the Sethusamudram project was in
focus now, sooner or later the security aspects have to be
considered as well. Navy Spokesman, Commodore Jayantha Perera said
that while the threat to national security was minimal, it is not a
factor to be wholly ignored either.
While business leaders have expressed
concern about the Colombo port being seriously affected by the
Sethusamudram channel, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority appears
unwilling to comment on the issue at all. According to one official
at SLPA, an assessment of the kind of impact the canal will have on
Sri Lanka's ports has not even been done yet, despite India forging
ahead with the project. So what then is the Sri Lankan delegation
discussing during its consultations with India?
If there is one beacon of hope for
detractors of the Sethusamudram project, it is that India has been
trying to get the plan off the ground for over a century now. The
idea was first mooted in 1860, while India was still under the yolk
of the British colonial masters, by Commander A.D. Taylor of the
Indian Marines. Commander Taylor proposed cutting a ship canal
through Rameswaran Island, connecting the Gulf of Mannar with the
Palk Straits. Since then, India has been trying, under successive
regimes even after independence, to implement the plan and make its
own harbours, especially Tuticorin and Cochin more lucrative. The
plan, Indian authorities say, is to make Tuticorin a transhipment
hub akin to Colombo or Singapore.
Hundreds of years ago, when the
country's north and northwestern ports of Kankesanthurai (Urathota)
and Mannar (Maanthota) enabled ships to ply a shorter route through
the Palk Strait and onward to the Middle East, a project like
Sethusamudram would never have seen the light of day. But with Sri
Lanka's ethnic conflict having made both harbours virtually defunct
and Colombo having assumed pride of place along the shipping route
instead, India has spotted a goldmine. The only saving grace might
be, as Ports Authority sources maintain, to develop KKS and Mannar
into international standard ports in order to compete with Tuticorin,
since all three ports would then be in line with the canal.
If despite the protests by
environmental bodies the project goes ahead, taking a lesson from
our forefathers might be the only way to circumvent the economic
fallout for Sri Lanka. But with public apathy towards the issue, the
main opposition United National Party having already come out in
support of the Sethsamudram project and a government literally at
sea, Sri Lanka may be left with no choice but to bow down to Big
Brother after all.
is the Sethusamudram project?
Sri Lanka lies about 100 km off the
southeastern coast of India. The two countries are separated
by the narrow Palk Strait. The waters of the strait are too
shallow to allow any ship transit between the Gulf of Mannar
and the Palk Bay on the north. As a result ships travelling
from one coast of India to the other coast have to circumvent
the entire Sri Lankan island, increasing the travel distance
by about 900 kilometres.
The Sethusamudram project aims to
create a canal that is deep enough to allow ships transit. If
the canal is dredged, ships travelling towards Europe and the
Middle East will be saved about 36 hours travelling time, and
a distance of approximately 402 nautical miles.
The Sethusamudram canal will be created
over the Adam's Bridge, the shallow sand stone reef separating
Sri Lanka from India and is expected to be about 300 metres
wide. It is projected that about 12 metres of sediment from
the Adam's Bridge area may have to be removed and the waters
of the Palk Strait between Kodikkarai in India and Jaffna in
Sri Lanka may also have to be deepened. The project involves
digging a channel linking the Palk Strait with the Gulf of
Mannar 44.9 nautical miles in length.
The cost of the project is estimated to
be US $ 400 million. According to the Indian High Commission
in Colombo, the project is a massive exercise and India is
currently focused on raising funds for the ambitious project.
Once in place, the canal will pave the way for the development
of the Tuticorin and Cochin harbours, since the channel would
effectively make the two ports the ideal transit points for
westward bound ships.
Strait has an unique eco-system - NARA
The National Aquatic Research Agency
(NARA) has been tasked with making representations at the
meetings the Sri Lankan government contingent holds with India
about the Sethusamudram project. For environmentalists, the
dredging of the canal is a sensitive issue, and one which NARA
has taken up at the single discussion held in New Delhi so
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Head,
Oceanography Division, NARA, T. Arunanandan explained why the
dredging of a 300 metre wide canal in the Palk Strait is a
sore point with the green lobby.
Lying between the Arabian Sea and the
Bay of Bengal, the Palk Strait has a unique eco-system. The
waters of the Arabian Sea are high in salinity, while the
waters of the Bay of Bengal holds more freshwater, and as a
result the Palk Strait consists of a mixture of the two,
giving rise to it being a highly productive area, rich in
bio-diversity resources. According to Arunanandan, the Palk
Strait and the Gulf of Mannar are breeding grounds for species
of whale and dolphin as well as the endangered species,
dugongs. The area is also full of pearl beds, coral reefs and
Arunanandan says that the depth of the
water in the Palk Strait, through which the Sethusamudram
canal is to be dredged is insufficient in some places along
the proposed route of the canal, meaning that the Indians
would have to dredge about 80 million cubic metres of sand.
"The problem that arises from this is where the dredged
material is going to be dumped. What if the sediment material
enters this sensitive eco-system? It will result in the
possible destruction of coral reefs or lead to coral bleaching
in the areas. Furthermore the sea grass beds, the oyster beds
and other species of marine life could be affected by the
silt," he said.
Another issue that NARA had raised with
the Indian government is the possibility of a maritime hazard
and a resultant oil spill could cause extensive damage to the
Sri Lankan coastline.
mechanism: now dissent from Muslims
Ashraff, Velupillai Pirapaharan, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Rauf
By Frederica Jansz
then Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe said that an interim administrative structure for the
north east should not be in conflict with the laws of Sri Lanka
since it could result in a successful legal challenge.
The former Premier expressed this view
in a letter dated May 27, 2003 addressed to Norwegian Foreign
Affairs Minister, Jan Petersen. "This administrative structure
will have to be efficient, transparent and accountable; safeguard
the interests of all communities in the north and east; enable the
LTTE to play a significant role and it should not be in conflict
with the laws of Sri Lanka which could result in a successful legal
challenge," he wrote.
This may just about sum up the concerns
currently being expressed in relation to a joint mechanism between
the present UPFA government and the LTTE to help distribute tsunami
aid in a fair and justifiable manner.
Curiously, when Wickremesinghe went
ahead and signed a ceasefire agreement with LTTE Chief Velupillai
Pirapaharan, he did not face as much opposition as President
Chandrika Kumaratunga is now being forced to deal with as she
prepares to sign a joint mechanism agreement with the Tamil Tigers -
much of which is emanating from within her own ranks.
Rifts in the coalition
The JVP though a government ally, have
threatened to torpedo the government if Kumaratunga proceeds with
signing a joint mechanism agreement with the LTTE. Sri Lanka Muslim
Congress Leader, Rauf Hakeem has already slammed the proposed
mechanism proclaiming it to be "a dead duck" while
insisting the Muslim community will not be used as a mere post box
for such initiatives.
National Unity Alliance Leader, Ferial
Ashraff, another constituent party of the government, has stated her
party position maintaining NUA will not support the initiative as it
would grant "a lion's share" to the LTTE and thereby place
the Muslim community in the east in a precarious position.
And Head, Muslim Peace Secretariat,
Javid Yusuf while not rejecting the proposed mechanism outright,
claims he is open to discussing the issue with the President, who
has promised Yusuf an audience to do just that.
Yusuf maintains since the Muslims were
the most affected in terms of numbers by the tsunami in the north
and east - they should either have equal or majority representation
within the structure of a joint mechanism.
According to figures we gathered,
51,823 Tamil families living in Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee
were affected in the recent tsunami, as against the lower figure of
45,346 Muslim families in these three districts. A total of 3181
Sinhalese families fell victim in the same areas, while 686 Burghers
living in Batticaloa were affected.
But figures have been hard to verify as
divisional secretaries and other Colombo-based government officials
all have varying figures on the displaced and survivors of the
recent tsunami which rise and fall constantly.
A higher price?
So, Javid Yusuf then may be right when
he says it is the Muslim community that paid the higher price in
areas of the north and east. Or, he may just also be very wrong.
Nevertheless, the issue of establishing
a joint mechanism, one which the LTTE has made very clear must be
completely under their control albeit with Muslim representation, is
a knotty problem left it appears solely to Kumaratunga to resolve.
Perhaps, merely by placing her signature to the document.
The current impasse which may or may
not lead to a very serious situation has nevertheless arisen now, as
the disparity exists not in words or due to a mismatch of
perceptions but in the very core and central issues pertaining to an
'interim administration' framework, which is perceived to be linked
if only susceptibly, to the joint mechanism proposal.
A politico-administrative structure for
the northeast with wider participation of the LTTE, via a joint
mechanism to distribute tsunami aid will perhaps offer them wide
scope and power to rule administratively in areas of the north and
A fear expressed in so many words by
the JVP, while the Jathika Hela Urumaya has vociferously maintained
that they will never support such an initiative as they do not agree
that such power and privileges should be granted to
The bottom line is that the government
cannot offer the Tamil Tigers less, as they are bound to outright
reject any proposal that does not grant them a power base.
It could be argued that the government
should have discussed and grappled with the core issues regarding
the structure of the state, whether federal or quasi-federal and the
degree of substantial devolution of power which could be given to
the LTTE first, before getting on to matters of rehabilitation and
reforms, which obviously would have got into its correct perspective
eventually, when the most crucial matters were agreed upon.
But in the context of getting urgently
required financial aid to the north east which was considered to be
the hardest hit in the recent tsunami, such an argument may at this
current juncture just be too theoretical or even absurd.
Unfortunately, the Muslims appear to
have been completely ignored when a road map for a joint mechanism
was outlined. Hakeem, Ashraff and Yusuf all claim they were never
privy to details of the proposal - whatever the package deal is to
be, is yet to be given upfront for study.
If only they had been included by the
consortium of architects that drew up the proposals - namely the two
peace secretariats, both government and LTTE as well as Norwegian
facilitators - perhaps a lot of the dissent, much of which is
emanating from the Muslims, could have been prevented or ironed out.
But that being said, The Sunday Leader
learns from reliable sources the proposed joint mechanism indeed
lends fair representation to the Muslims and when made known would
brook little justification for opposition.
However since the details of the
proposal remain a closely guarded secret, we can only surmise this
to be the case.
In the same breath, it is important to
make the point that if details of a joint mechanism remain shrouded,
then so do amounts pledged by donor countries and their terms and
conditions, such as whether they are loans or grants or outright
aid, in the aftermath of the tsunami, are all wrapped in mystery.
The President makes one statement; she
is then contradicted by Treasury Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundera who
says something else, while the Central Bank issues figures which
contradict both the President and Dr. Jayasundera.
Even definitions of populations
"in need" of emergency humanitarian assistance
post-tsunami, are inconsistent.
It is no small wonder then that the
LTTE has outrightly accused the government administrative mechanism
of being corrupt, inefficient and bureaucratic. The accusation may
well hold water, but coming from the likes of the Tamil Tigers, such
sentiments carry little weight in this part of the country.
The issue at hand is that the ground
situation must be viewed in practical terms. Perhaps it would bode
well for the UPFA's Marxist allies to consider a project initiated
by PAFFREL in 2003 called, "Promoting Co-existence in Areas of
Inter-ethnic Tension in a Democratic Process."
This one-year project was sponsored by
the Australian Agency for International Development (Aus-Aid),
Colombo, and implemented in 12 selected districts.
The objective was this. That after the
signing of the ceasefire agreement a gap existed between the
conflict and sustainable peace. Since the peace building process is
a dynamic one, the project intended to facilitate transformative
change from protracted tension and violence towards sustainable
In settings of protracted violent
conflict, peace building requires a proactive change in
relationships. This project focused on relationship building while
exploring the realities of interdependence and seeking to clarify
visions for the future. By facilitating community reconciliation and
co-existence among communities in conflict areas by creating a
network of organisations, religious groups, women's groups, youth
groups, and citizens groups, the community sought to work
consistently to propagate ideals of co-existence and evolve
strategies to cope with varied ground situations and current
problems based on the experiences, linkages and mutual confidence
built up through shared efforts and activities.
The need of the hour in this context,
maybe to now broaden Sri Lanka's understanding of federalism. For
the first time in nearly two decades, a tentative peace between the
LTTE and the Sinhala majority government has raised hopes in Sri
Lanka that the cycle of violence that has plagued the country may
finally have been broken.
Although, the peace is tenuous at best
and fighting could perhaps resume at any time, the LTTE's agreement
to share a joint mechanism to initially distribute tsunami aid marks
a break from its previous demands of an autonomous Tamil homeland in
the north and the east of the country.
With the LTTE's apparent willingness to
thereafter perhaps accept a federal structure for Sri Lanka, the
need to promote a deeper understanding of federalism, its different
forms, and its ramifications for both the Tamils and the Sinhalese,
as well as other groups such as the Muslims, becomes a paramount
issue facing all Sri Lankans.
The need for such a course of action
must surely be necessary as the parties to the conflict, the
government and the LTTE, have realised the need to negotiate for a
peaceful resolution and yet the process of reaching a lasting
settlement has posed major challenges.
A gap exists between the parties
involved in the peace process - the government and the LTTE - on the
one hand and on the other, the people in the country who have
experienced the trauma of war and whose future depends on the
success of the peace process. In this situation it becomes necessary
to identify the important issues connected with the entire process,
so that they can be given priority.
But if in-fighting and continued
opposition to a joint mechanism continue between government allies,
opposition forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, it may
well lead to a further deterioration in humanitarian conditions.
These regular rounds of verbal struggle
will only repeatedly trigger further population displacement.
NGOs have access to affected populations, but movement of
people and supplies is - and will likely remain - stagnant,
controlled by the government and unlikely to produce an end to the
conflict leave alone bring relief to the tsunami affected in the
north and east.
Despite some improvement in the
responsiveness and capacity of humanitarian agencies in recent
years, limits imposed by budgetary constraints and bureaucratic
competition among the major UN agencies and international NGOs - as
well as the problems associated with operating in conflict
situations - will continue to hamper the effective delivery of
humanitarian assistance in a post-tsunami phase.
Thus,while major donor countries will
continue to respond quickly and provide substantial amounts of
humanitarian aid in short-term emergencies resulting from natural
disasters, funding for humanitarian aid in long-lasting crises, as
currently is the case in Sri Lanka will, however, continue to fall
well short of targeted needs unless signs of achieving a settlement
between the government and the LTTE emerge.
The foremost issue that must not be
brushed aside or forgotten while modalities for a joint mechanism
are argued over is that thousands of people affected by the recent
disaster include those who still, four months after the tsunami,
require such basic needs as food, water, shelter, and medical
And if we are to go by a statement made
by Presidential Advisor Mano Tittewela, then as many as 60% of the
tsunami affected are those who live in the north and east. A
percentage that is shocking by any standards as behind the drawing
boards and arguments, the ground reality is that 60% of nearly one
million tsunami survivors continue to live in the north and east and
are desperately in need of aid.
dilly-dallying puts CPC on the edge
P. B. Jayasundera and Susil Premajayanth
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
With government officials still at sea
over finding a solution to the present crisis in the petroleum
industry with regard to the restructuring of the Ceylon Petroleum
Corporation (CPC) and the entrance of a third player to the market,
confusion reigns in all quarters of the sector.
The entrance of a third player to the
industry has attracted heavy criticism from the trade unions
claiming it would be detrimental to the country's economy on the
Under such circumstances, the cabinet
of ministers at its meeting held on November 18, 2004 on the subject
of "present crisis in the petroleum industry adversely
affecting the national economy," considered the cabinet
memorandum dated November 15, 2004 forwarded by Power and Energy
Minister Susil Premajayanth on the subject and decided to appoint a
cabinet sub committee consisting of Minister Premajayanth, Commerce
and Consumer Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Finance
Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Transport Minister Felix Perera and
Small and Rural Industries Minister, K. D. Lalkantha to study and
make necessary recommendations to overcome the crisis in the CPC.
The final report of the sub committee
was handed to the cabinet of ministers on February 18 this
year and the main recommendation out of the 13 recommendations
of the committee is to divest the one third share held by the
Treasury with the CPC. (See box)
However, the committee as findings has
also attached an annexure which shows a Forex drain chart due
to the divestiture of one third share with the Lanka Indian
Oil Company (LIOC).
It explains that LIOC is expected to
make a net profit of Rs. 2.5 billion a year and assuming at
least Rs. 2.2 billion (US$ 22 million) per year is remitted
out of the country from this profit, the cumulative net income
of the Treasury by 2007 would be US$ -12.6 million.
This means due to the LIOC deal,
although the Treasury has not so far incurred a loss in its
cumulative net income, it would begin by 2007 - US$ 12.6
million. This amount however, would steadily increase and if
the present trend continues, by 2014, the Treasury would incur
a loss of US$ 164.3 million in cumulative net income.
sub committee report
The next annexure shows that assuming a
similar amount of Rs. 2.2 billion (US$ 22 million) per year is
remitted out of the country by the respective third player, the
cumulative net income of the Treasury by 2007 would be US$ -13
million. This means a loss of US$ 13 million, which would increase
upto US$ 167 million by 2015.
However, it further states that if 49%
of the remaining one third share is sold to a foreign company, there
would only be a slight change in the figures given in the charts.
Under such circumstances, voicing
strong disapproval to any form of divestiture of the one third share
with a private sector company leave alone a foreign company, the
Petroleum Common Services Union (PCSU) claims that the proposals
forwarded by the cabinet sub committee to study on the petroleum
crisis should be implemented, the government is yet undecided on the
course of action to be adopted.
The unions are up in arms against the
entrance of a private sector third player and while alternative
proposals have been forwarded by the PCSU, the government has still
not granted its approval to them nor forwarded any counter proposals
However, according to Power and Energy
Minister Susil Premajayanth, they have drawn up a new set of
proposals where the one third share of the petroleum industry
currently under the Treasury would be divested with the newly formed
public sector company.
According to the proposal, 10% of the
company will be owned by the workers, 5% by dealers while 33% will
be put on the
This proposal Premajayanth planned to
submit to cabinet
after the arrival of President Chandrika Kumaratunga from overseas
last week. However, he did not present it to cabinet
When asked about their opinion on the
Minister's new proposal, the unions observed that they were not
aware of any such proposal adding that Premajayanth cannot present
any proposal to cabinet without first consulting the unions.
Premajayanth maintains that the
government is yet to come out with its final decision as they are
yet to hold discussions with the unions.
"I have asked the Treasury
Secretary to call a meeting with the unions to discuss the contents
of the proposal," he said. Till then whatever proposals
Premajayanth has drawn to resolve the crisis would have to wait.
The unions have also requested the
government to define the word "restructuring."
"What is this restructuring. Is it
privatisation in another word?" they question.
Their grievance is that whenever they
reached out to government officials for an explanation they were
greeted with silence.
The PCSU also charged that if the
government brings in Bharath Petroleum as the third player, then a
new Indian monopoly in the market would be created along with LIOC
to break the so called existing CPC monopoly.
The PCSU maintains that there need not
be any confusion if the government follows the recommendations
forwarded by the cabinet sub committee.
Explaining the adverse impact that
could be created by the entrance of a private sector third player to
the market, Head, PCSU, Ananda Lakshman explained to The Sunday
Leader that the amount owed by other public enterprises - CEB,
transport sector, forces, etc. - to the CPC amounts to Rs. 5,864
million and in case a private sector third player was in operation,
these enterprises would face a serious threat as they would not be
provided with the necessary fuel for their operations.
"A private sector company would
never run at a loss and if their payments are not met on time, they
would simply stop providing fuel to the institutions that are
defaulting them," Lakshman explained.
The CPC has been compared to a monster
that survives on state money. Calling it a loss making enterprise,
officials have also said that if not restructured fast it would
result in state
banks coming under immense pressure.
Lakshman also points out that
in 1994, CPC was a profit making company.
In 1994, CPC recorded a profit of Rs.
He asserted that it was political dilly
dallying throughout the last 10 years that has converted the CPC
from a profit making entity to a huge loss making one.
"Can the government reduce the
price of fuel by selling away the CPC?" he asked.
Lakshman questioned as to why the
Treasury has so far paid up to Rs. 38.2 billion to the LIOC as
subsidies when the CPC is yet to receive money from the Treasury.
He noted that CPC has thus far been the
highest tax payer to the Treasury.
In 2003, the CPC has paid Rs. 25
billion as taxes to the Treasury.
"If the Treasury makes the
payments and other state institutions pay their dues then there
would be no cash crisis in the CPC," Lakshman said.
He charged that the CPC cash crisis is
not the fault of the workers, but of the officials who have worked
with a laissez faire attitude.
Lakshman said that there are more
questions than answers with regard to the CPC issue, adding that the
joint unions would not allow the government to sell the one third
share or privatise the CPC.
"The Treasury's one third share
has to be divested with the CPC or else a public company, which is a
subsidiary of CPC," he said.
The PCSU charged that they have no
faith in Minister Premajayanth or the Treasury officials as they are
only "playing a double game."
"Although officials say the
country would gain if the one third share is divested with a private
company and the CPC restructured, it is not so," they said.
Premajayanth observed that apart from
the initial sum received by the state at the sale, the government
would not stand to gain anything further as it would then be the new
would stand to make the profits.
"Once you sell that's it. There's
no turning back and apart from the initial sum, the government
doesn't get anything," he said.
While indecisiveness and political
dilly dallying take centre stage in the government, the future of
the country's fuel industry hangs in the balance, waiting for a deus
ex machina to save the
history of the CPC cash crisis
In 1994, CPC was a profit making entity
which recorded a profit of Rs. 600 million.
However, by 1998 due to bad management
decisions, CPC showed signs of instability.
The same year, a committee headed by
Dr. P. B. Jayasundera and Mano Tittawela recommended
The level of inflation during the time
was on the rise and the government decided not to apply a
pricing formula and the CPC was on a Rs. 16,500 million bank
The World Bank then advised the
government to stop making political decisions that could be
detrimental to the survival of the CPC.
The pricing formula, was introduced as
However, the formula, was properly
applied only during 2002 and 2003. By 2003, the losses were
brought down to a considerable level. According to the
formula, fuel prices could be increased each time by a minimum
of 25 cents or a maximum of Rs. 2.
With the dissolution of parliament and
calling for elections in 2004, the pricing formula was not
applied from January 2004.
During the same period, global fuel
prices kept soaring and the Treasury had to dole out
Unable to bear the burden further, in
mid 2004, the government had its first price revision followed
by another in August.
Even with the price revisions, the CPC
was facing a cash crunch due to the high manufacturing costs.
However, the CPC is yet to receive
subsidies from the Treasury and cash owed by other public
formula to be reintroduced
Power and Energy Minister Susil
Premajayanth said the pricing formula would have to be applied
to remedy the present cash crunch experienced by the CPC.
Speaking of the high taxes paid by the
CPC, Premajayanth observed that it is indeed a problem.
However, last week he presented a
cabinet paper to set off tax payments due from the CPC for the
last three months against the losses.
"If fuel is not subsidised, then
the other option is to set off the taxes against losses,"
he said, adding "we will gradually apply the pricing
not being restructured
Treasury Secretary Dr. P. B.
Jayasundera maintained that the government is yet to decide on
the solution to address the present crisis, adding that
currently, the one third share still remains with the
Dr. Jayasundera noted that there was no
issue about restructuring the CPC as it is only the CEB that
is to undergo such a process.
"CPC is not being restructured, it
is only the CEB," he said.
He however said that the Treasury has
already on previous occasions discussed the matter with the
trade unions, adding that it was now up to the government to
decide on the matter.
When asked if the Treasury would incur
a loss of income by the deal signed with LIOC, which would
also apply to any private sector third player, Dr. Jayasundera
responded that there would be no such loss.
He also said that to remedy the present
cash crisis in the fuel industry, the country should look at
ways of increasing its capacity to refine crude oil.
"If we refine crude oil in the
country, then the cost involved will be much less," he
If oil is refined in the country, a sum
of US$ 7 per barrel could be saved.
Dr. Jayasundera explained that with
global oil prices moving up, the country would need to adjust
He observed that out of the total
petrol consumption in the country, less than 25% is used by
the poor, while diesel consumed by the transport sector is
quite minimal when compared to the mass consumption for
Dr. Jayasundera noted that if a barrel
of crude oil remains at US$ 55, the government would have to
spend up to Rs. 15 billion for fuel subsidies for 2005 alone.
of the cabinet sub committee
one third share to be divested with the CPC
to be paid back in equal monthly installments to be given out
to renovate CPC filling stations.
A regional distribution policy to be adopted to improve
the services and productivity of the dealers and staff to face
the competition from other players
Sign new agreements with CPC dealers to ensure they
would not leave the network.
a price revision that would create a common price for fuel and
remove the Rs. 2 subsidy on fuel sales within the city
The formation of a regulator.
Start a facility to export fuel to Maldives and
renovate and increase the capacity of the existing facilities.
a suitable general manager to the CPC
Restart the shipping oil section and begin the shipping
oil operation in the Galle harbour
Treasury to set aside money for each public enterprise to be
released to the CPC when the respective institution purchases
fuel from the CPC
Restart the agri chemical section under a new plan
sections in the existing agreement with LIOC, which would stop
them from going beyond their one third share and prove
detrimental to the CPC
into consideration the country's security network, begin
utilising the Sapugaskanda refinery as the store at China
player and the BPC
While CPC is already competing with an
Indian owned company - LIOC, bringing in a third player from
the same country would corner CPC further.
If the government decides to bring in
Bharath Petroleum Corporation (BPC) as the third player to the
market, it would instead of creating a competitive environment
lead to a
battle of two against one.
However, the entrance of a third player
to the country's petroleum market is inevitable as the
tripartite agreement signed between the government of Sri
Lanka, Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and the CPC stipulates
that the market in the first few years be limited to three
The previous regime when looking at
sectors for liberalisation identified the petroleum sector and
decided to break the monopoly in the market by bringing in a
second player and then a third player later on.
The matter was overlooked by the Public
Interest Programme Unit (PIPU) under the Economic Reforms
Ministry under Milinda Moragoda.
The unit after analysing the pros and
cons of the matter decided it to be a politically strategic
move to introduce IOC to the local petroleum market, which
till then was monopolised by CPC.
The agreement states "and whereas
recognising the fact that the total retail market size of Sri
Lanka is not large enough to accommodate too many players to
operate in the petroleum sector, GOSL has decided to initially
restrict the number of participants in the petroleum sector to
three players for an initial period of five years from the
date of this agreement, consisting of CPC, LIOC and another to
be identified in the future."
The PIPU apart from introducing broad
sectoral reforms, also intended to introduce a multi sector
regulatory commission - Public Utilities Commission of Sri
Lanka - which would be the regulatory authority for several
fields including petroleum and electricity.
The ultimate goal with regard to the
petroleum sector by the UNF regime was to open the market and
keep the pricing formula among other decisive factors with the
Public Utilities Commission.
In such an event, providing subsidies
too would be possible as it would subsidise the product and
not an entity as a whole.
When asked about the danger in bringing
in a third player without forming the
regulator - Public Utilities Commission - which would
be the regulator for electricity and fuel, a government
official pointed out that to formulate such a regulator one
has to look at several aspects such as
legal framework and capacity building.
He went on to say that although it
would be ideal to have the necessary regulations in place
before bringing in a market player, it would also not be
practical to hold on to a deal merely to formulate the
However, he observed that in case the
necessary regulation is not in place, the important issues
could be included in the respective shareholder agreements.
politicisation of tsunami reconstruction
By Frederica Jansz
Post tsunami rehabilitation work in the
Hambantota District clearly displays the politicisation of a
tragedy where in similar vein to many NGOs and INGOs
profiteering off the tsunami the government too is exploiting
a bad situation.
For instance, in Hambantota, around
6,500 houses are to be built despite only 2,800 having been
destroyed and damaged as a result of the tsunami.
This housing project is considered a
political venture and not one required by the tsunami disaster
and its recovery.
Shelter for the tsunami affected in
Hambantota has turned out to be a very controversial and
political issue with a decision believed to have been made
primarily by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse to shift the
town to Siribopura, about 4 km interior from the present
Hambantota town. This is a vast area of land about 500
hectares, taken over from the Mahaweli Authority, the Forest
Conservation Department and the UDA.
- the site for the new town
and Premier Mahinda Rajapakse
Many organisations have undertaken to
build houses and the total number of houses to be built is 6,500.
Plans indicate they are all less than 500 sq ft. in size.
A separate project has been undertaken
by World Vision to build 416 apartment type flats in a 4.5 acre land
belonging to the State Timber Corporation which is situated within
Programme Manager - Training, World
Vision, Priyanke Madawela said World Vision is funding the
initiative after a request to do so was made by Prime Minister
Mahinda Rajapakse. He added all plans for the construction of the
flats are channelled through the Premier's office. Asked if the
flats are for fishermen who are to be re-located outside the 100
meter buffer he replied, "I don't know - the government will
decided on the allocation."
Other smaller projects by different
organisations in the coastal belt would add more than another 200
Coordinating Secretary to Sajith
Premadasa, P. Samarasinghe told us that Premadasa had sought
approval from the government to construct 1,000 homes for the
tsunami affected in Hambantota, but had received the greenlight for
He said these 200 homes are to be
constructed at Siribopura. "Thus far not a single permanent
house has been built in Hambantota - only some foundation stones
have been laid," he said. Sajith Premadasa who once prided
Hambantota as being his stronghold was not available for comment as
he is currently overseas.
And while politicians hailing from the
southern district vie for votes trading on the misfortunes of those
affected by the tsunami, a battle with a difference is also evolving
between INGOs and local NGOs.
Bitter turf battles have ensued between
INGOs and local NGOs working in the Hambantota and Tangalle areas.
The massive destruction caused by the
tsunami last Boxing Day proved ample feeding ground for hundreds of
INGOs that flocked to Sri Lanka - some with very sincere and good
intentions but many others with the aim of profiteering off yet
Pre-tsunami, there were about 14 NGOs
working in Hambantota. The two main NGOs in the field were the
Women's Development Federation (WDF) and the Green Movement (GM).
But post tsunami, most rehabilitation
work is channelled through an organisation called 'Helping
Hambantota' which centre was established through the Prime
Minister's office and is funded by the international NGO, Action
Helping Hambantota has a Co-ordinator
appointed by the Prime Minister's office, who is politically
powerful, while Action Aid has contracted the Indian born Saroj Das
to serve as programme and policy advisor to oversee work Action Aid
is sponsoring in the area.
Das maintains that Action Aid funded
'Helping Hambantota' only in the initial stages and that too for no
work connected with shelter but purely to sponsor the creation of a
web site which proposed to compile information.
"We helped by engaging some
technical staff and that was all," Das asserted, maintaining
that since then Action Aid has not received any other proposals from
Grappling with issues
He claims that Action Aid is funding
seven other local NGOs in the area - all of whom he asserted are
working having recruited only local staff.
Das stressed the point that the
government is the key actor in all rehabilitation work carried out
post tsunami in the Hambantota District. "All the NGOs merely
help fill the gaps," he said, asserting the non governmental
organisations are just helping coordinate work.
Das also maintained that 6,500 new
houses are to be built on the directions of the Prime Minister but
said he could not comment on why this was so when only 2,800 had
The offices of Helping Hambantota are
located in the District Secretariat building and their meetings are
chaired by the district secretary, giving them undue prominence as
an arm of the state. Helping Hambantota co-ordinates all
rehabilitation work with directions given by the Prime Minister's
The state mechanism for implementing
rehabilitation work is centred around the district secretary, his
subordinate divisional secretaries and other executives of state
organisations like the irrigation, land, agriculture, Samurdhi and
fisheries departments, the UDA, the grama seva niladharies, the CEB,
Water Board and Telecom. These state structures have all now been
made subordinate to Helping Hambantota.
And in this backdrop the government
continues to grapple with a key issue, that of permanent shelter.
One, yet not adequately looked into. There are two main camps of
displaced persons in the heart of the Hambantota town, one with 196
families and the other with 100 families.
A third, bordering the town along the
Tissa Road, adjoining a damaged Muslim mosque has 63 families. While
the state authorities recognise the first two, the third is not
recognised and is labelled "illegal squatters" as they are
within the 100 metre buffer zone. They refuse to move, claiming they
have a right to their property, though damaged.
The people in these camps have not been
told what they would be given in terms of compensation, whether they
would get houses that are being built or are to be built or how long
they would have to wait for any permanent solution.
Handing out money
Another controversy is the manner in
which the government had handed out the allocation of Rs. 5,000,
which was primarily for tsunami affected families. Many complain
that unaffected people have also been given the money as a result of
Recently Prime Minister Mahinda
Rajapakse was seen handing out money in envelopes to people in the
Tangalle - Matara area. Whether those recipients were all tsunami
affected was not clear while the Premier has offered no explanation
as to where he got the money from to give.
Meanwhile, some of the smaller NGOs
working in the area complain that having started off with little
projects in the aftermath of the tsunami they now face extinction,
as they cannot compete with bigger NGOs and INGOs that have secured
a place within the rehabilitation process with due recognition from
state authorities. Examples are the Su-Chi Buddhist Foundation
versus Action Aid.
Community participation dead
This has resulted in an exodus of
staff, including key figures of these local NGOs moving into the
fold of international NGOs for larger pay packets. The end result is
that, socially rooted local NGOs are dying out, without space for
activities, staff and funds.
On the other hand, village based
Community Based Organisations (CBOs) are totally politicised and
that prevents any independent intervention by civil society.
Although in the pre-tsunami period, it
was made a condition that community participation must be secured
for any project to be accepted for financial assistance, the donor
agencies have in the aftermath of the tsunami abandoned such policy.
In fact there is no effort by any
social organisation or donor agency to promote community or
stakeholder participation in the rehabilitation process thus making
the issue of civil society representation a dead issue.
INGO - more a headache
Residents in Amparai complain that Goal
International Humanitarian Organisation, an INGO based in
Ireland but operating in Amparai is dumping garbage in
residential areas in the Amparai District.
Goal is working out of an office in
Sainthamaruthu, focusing on relief and rehabilitation
activities for tsunami affected areas.
Residents complain that two public
places in Sainthamaruthu, the public playground and Jummah
Mosque premises have been filled up with waste by the Irish
These places have not been declared as
waste disposal sites. But Goal International has filled these
two sites with garbage cleared from tsunami affected areas.
The garbage is considered high risk being the debris and other
muck from areas battered by the tsunami and is thus deemed
dangerous due to the possibility of breeding disease.
Goal maintains they have got approval
from the municipality, the GA and the divisional secretary to
dispose the garbage on these sites.
Steven Langdon working at the Goal
Sainthamaruthu office reiterated that the INGO is dumping
garbage in the two areas designated by GA Herath Abeyweera and
the Divisional Secretariat. "Its not just us but other
NGOs and local authorities too are using the same sites,"
But the GA Amparai categorically denied
having granted permission to the Irish INGO to dump garbage on
these two sites. When The Sunday Leader contacted Abeyweera he
said, "Definitely not. They have not sought nor been
granted any permission to use these two sites to dump
The matter remains unresolved as Goal
International continues to insist they possess the necessary
clearances to dispose of garbage on these sites. While
residents complain that government officials are not
attempting to streamline rehabilitation work in the area and
ensure both INGOs and NGOs follow state regulations.
rape of Lahugala National Park
destruction at Lahugala National park
Thousands of acres of forest land at
the Lahugala National Park have been and is continuing to be cleared
minus any state approval for chena cultivations and other forms of
Lahugala is a beautiful national park
by Arugam Bay on the east coast and is a place to see wild elephants
by the beach. Lahugala has gained international fame as the only
park where large herds of wild elephants could be seen at any given
But in an area dominated by Muslims,
UDA officials who requested anonymity claim they are powerless to
stop the rape of the forest lands and can only watch helplessly.
Over the last six months indigenous
trees such as Satin, Ebony, Tamarind and Pine have been struck down
as large tracts of virgin forest land are being cleared for various
Hoteliers in the area too afraid to be
named due to possible repercussions insist the rape of the Lahugala
forest is continuing unabated as state officials trapped in a vice
of corruption and in some instances intimidation are doing nothing
to stop the pillage of this forest.
Mass scale destruction
One hotelier said that an estimated
2000 acres of forest land situated along the highway that leads to
the Naula Tank have been destroyed over the last six months.
And in this backdrop, fresh allegations
arose that more mass-scale destruction of the forest is to follow,
this time at a village called Sarvodayapuram in order to
construct permanent homes for the tsunami affected.
It was alleged that more forest cover
is to be destroyed on the orders of the Government Agent for Amparai,
Officials at the UDA at Pottuvil,
requesting anonymity claimed that another 450 acres of forest land
are currently being cleared at Lahugala to build houses for the
But Herath Abeyweera when contacted
countered that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) he recently
signed with a non governmental organisation to construct 125 homes
for tsunami victims is not being done after clearing forest land.
When asked to name the NGO Abeyweera said he could not remember the
name of the NGO he signed the MOU with.
Nevertheless, he claims the land
identified to construct permanent homes for the tsunami affected had
been cleared a long time back during the height of the war with the
He says a large number of families
mostly Muslims who were displaced as a result had at the time sought
refuge at a place called Sarvodayapuram which the GA maintains lies
on the border of the Lahugala National Park.
He asserts that it is this area that has been chosen as
suitable land to build permanent homes for those who were affected
by the December 26 tsunami.
Sarvodayapuram is situated exactly on
the right of the main road which runs from Arugam Bay to Panama. The
Lahugala Forest lies on the edge of Sarvodayapuram.
Urban Development Ministry Secretary,
Thosapala Hewage maintained the same position as the GA for Amparai,
insisting that no forest cover is to be cleared in order to
construct houses for the tsunami affected at Arugam Bay.
He said 450 acres allocated at
Sarvodayapuram is undeveloped land not belonging to the Lahugala
forest and national park.
But when asked if he is aware that some
2,000 acres of forest land at Lahugala National Park along the road
to Naula Tank has already been cleared for business purposes, Hewage
said, "I don't know."
The border of the beautiful forest like
a balding 90 year old has in recent times been fast receding as lack
of state controls have failed to prevent encroachment and outright
pillage of the valuable natural resources at Lahugala.
Herath Abeyweera in fact admitted that
soon after the tsunami he had been compelled to give clearance for a
road to be cut running through sections of the Lahugala forest in
order to facilitate the travel of relief convoys which were
prevented from reaching the affected areas after the Arugam Bay
bridge was completely destroyed by the destructive waves.
And as the issue of permanent housing
charges are also being made that a Dr. Arulanandan in the
aftermath of the tsunami has re-constructed afresh a hotel just 50
yards from the sea, violating a government stricture which demands
no construction takes place within 200 meters of the eastern coast.
Dr. Arulanandan is the owner of Tristar
Hotel at Arugam Bay, Ulle which existed pre-tsunami on the beach at
Ulle but which he finished constructing after the tsunami, with no
objections brooked by state officials. It is alleged that
Arulanandan is backed politically and so state officials dare not
cross his path.
When we questioned GA
Abeyweera on this issue he said Tristar Hotel did exist on
the beach at Ulle before the tsunami, but he claimed he did not know
the name of the owner of the hotel nor if fresh constructions had
been completed in blatant violation of state law after the tsunami.
We could not contact Dr. Arulanandan for comment.
Separately another hotelier simply
known as Mumbo has also built a motel less than 50 yards from the
sea also at Ulle at Arugam Bay. Mumbo hails from Hikkaduwa and is
currently running this motel from where he hires out surf boards to
surfers who patronise the beach. Mumbo too appears to have political
protection as he like Arulanandan has not been ousted or warned by
Arugam Bay is one of the world's top 10
surf locations, situated on the idyllic east coast of Sri Lanka. The
closest town is Pottuvil, and it is within easy reach of Okanda,
Yala, Lahugala National Park, and Kataragama.
The legendary Vihara Maha Devi is
thought to have landed at Arugam Bay, or perhaps at Panama, a few
miles to the south, the site of an important Buddhist temple. The
drive north up the coast through Komari, Thirukkovil (site of a
fabulous Hindu temple), Oluvil, Akkaraipattu and Kalmunai towards
Batticaloa, through jungle fringes where elephants roam and past
numerous enchanting lagoons, is one of the most beautiful coastal
journeys in the world.
But more than 60% of the mangrove
forest in Pottuvil lagoon has also been destroyed over the past two
decades, a consequence of the recent civil conflict. And since the
conflict ended the mangroves are now threatened by new development
and by expanding farming activities. As is the Lahugala National
In June 2002 press reports highlighted
how an extent of 500 acres of virgin forest land in the Lahugala
National Park had been cleared by encroachers to put up temporary
Residents of the area led by K. M.
Gunapala of Waralande, Lahugala told a delegation of top officials
of the Environment Ministry and a group of visiting journalists,
that these encroachers had cleared the jungle saying that they would
be cultivating paddy on the cleared land.
Villagers in the area continue to
assert that illegal felling of large trees goes on unabated and
encroachers have made roadways into the national park to transport
Lahugala-Kithulana forest area which is
1,554 ha in extent was declared a national park by the government on
October 31, 1980.
Wild elephants roam the coastal plain
and the small but delightful Lahugala National Park about 10 miles
inland, has an astonishing range of birdlife which migrates to the
wetlands and the Yala National Park which begins about 20 miles to
- Frederica Jansz
affair: JVP seeing red
More than any other time in
history, mankind faces crossroads today. One path leads to despair
and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray
that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
It is the fervent hope of all parties
concerned that the decision would be correct - so says Waruna
Deepthi Rajapakse, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna group leader of the
Western Provincial Council.
Rajapakse is livid that at a time when
the Western Provincial Council is rocked by allegations of
corruption and a no faith motion has been submitted by the main
opposition United National Party, the powers that be have decided to
broker a compromise with the red constituent allies to sweep the
matter under the carpet.
Rajapakse is quite unhappy with the
presidential decision to prorogue the trouble plagued WPC and of
Governor Alavi Moulana's time buying exercise of pledging a formal
inquiry after a report. All of which is to take three weeks.
The no confidence motion bearing 36
charges with four relating to corruption and malpractice, was
scheduled to be taken up on Tuesday (26). But drama preceded the
"It won't serve any purpose. We
have decided to support the UNP on this one because corruption is
corruption," says Rajapakse, adamant that the government
decision to prorogue the administration was completely wrong.
What began as an anti-corruption drive
or a UNP political initiative to oust the chief minister of the
western province has now taken a dramatic turn. Going well beyond
the chief minister's fate, it has now become a make or break point
for the UPFA coalition with Chief Minister Reginald Cooray himself
crying foul and accusing the JVP, the constituent partner of the
coalition, of attempting to break the UPFA by working hand in glove
with the opposition UNP.
But Rajapakse is adamant that the Chief
Minister should go. And the prorogation drama has intensified the
JVP's desire to oust him.
At the very outset, the JVP was not
going to strengthen the hands of the UNP which submitted a no
confidence motion against the Chief Minister. The Marxists decided
not to get involved in a blue-green battle and to abstain from
voting at that point, only to change their mind a little later.
But maintaining silence or not taking a
political stance is not what the JVP's lusty rhetoric is all about
or the brand of politics they have been selling to the public for so
long. And the sudden prorogation, nothing of which was mentioned to
them when the JVP group held crisis talks with President Chandrika
Kumaratunga on Monday night, has been taken infra dig. This time,
the reds have seen red and are unwilling to reach a compromise.
"Irrespective of the sponsors of
the no-faith, the fact is that the Chief Minister appears to be
corrupt. He really must go. The President should not have prorogued
the WPC but should have promptly requested Cooray to step
down," says an adamant Rajapakse.
While saying so, the JVP has begun to
strike hard. It is no longer the UNP that is gunning for the Chief
Minister of the province, but by default, it is the JVP now willing
to bell the cat. What both parties now have in common with regard to
the issue is that whether it is the green or red, the cat really has
to be belled.
With the reds striking hard now, and
unrepentantly so on the joint mechanism as well as the Chief
Minister issue, the prorogation by Governor Alavi Moulana on April
26 only fuelled their fire.
The covert action taken on Monday (25)
night after a midnight discussion between the President and the
Governor intensified the JVP's anger. The discussions, according to
the WPC councillors were reminiscent of the impeachment drama during
President Ranasinghe Premadasa's regime.
Meanwhile, the UNP is demanding that
the prorogation be cancelled and dissolution be done and fresh polls
announced. The JVP's demand is more simplistic. That the Chief
Minister must go. And it is secretly hoped that the next chief
minister would be a more Marxist friendly politician, unlike Cooray.
Cooray meanwhile, on the fateful
Tuesday (26), arrived at the Chief Minister's Office at the WPC with
much fanfare. To witness his arrival, government council members
were present and accompanying him were chief ministers of the South,
Central, North Central and North Western Provinces - forming a
brotherhood of chief ministers. And national list appointed
parliamentarian Mervyn Silva joined them, saying Cooray has been
thoroughly wronged by all other parties.
Upon the arrival of President
Kumaratunga on Monday who had to cut short her two week holiday in
London, two separate meetings were held with the SLFP councillors
and the JVP members.
At the meeting with the JVP members,
Group Leader Rajapakse was adamant and said there was no way that a
corrupt chief minister could be supported by a party that promoted
the highest political ideals.
Kumaratunga did not play her trump card
at that moment, but bided her time until both the meetings were
over. Summoning Governor Alavi Moulana for a crisis discussion, she
simply gave instructions to announce a prorogation and to
immediately issue the gazette notification.
Meanwhile, the JVP's politburo was
meeting and there, waxing eloquent was Wimal Weerawansa, the party
spokesman who assured that Kumaratunga did not have time to take any
drastic decisions and things were going to go their way.
Not so, he and the rest of the JVP
realised the next morning. To their utter dismay, they realised that
Kumaratunga had certainly struck and that too, without informing the
belligerent constituent partners of the rainbow coalition.
In the morning, the prorogation was
announced in the state media and the reds truly saw red and went
once more into an emergency politburo meeting to discuss what they
should do, now that the council had tried to buy time to decide the
fate of the Chief Minister.
JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe,
addressing the decision making body noted that if a prorogation
could be announced with such swiftness and sans consultation,
anything was possible. It was seen as another arbitrary decision by
Kumaratunga overlooking the JVP and the JVP decision makers once
more were livid with the style of governance Kumaratunga was
displaying of late.
Meanwhile, an angry Chief Minister
Cooray called some of the key politicians in the alliance and began
lamenting the fate that has befallen him. His grouse was that he
made a sacrifice on behalf of the party and quit parliament and
happily returned to the provincial council where he was more
comfortable, only to have the constituent partners of his own
government taking sides with the opposition to destroy his political
Yet, the UPFA seems to have simply got
stuck in an unenviable position today.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, JVP
Group Leader Rajapakse insisted that the charges were valid, the
party would back the motion. When pressed whether the JVP was of the
opinion that the charges were valid, he refused to commit to an
answer, but said that all corrupt elements should go.
Meanwhile, Governor Moulana does not
feel that the prorogation is anti-democratic at all. "The JVP,
a constituent partner of the UPFA has decided to vote with the UNP.
They informed me so. There is a political crisis, we should admit.
But, I think it is best that we take time off to consider everything
and then decide. Three weeks is not a long time in politics,"
Moulana explains that three weeks were
taken simply to get a report which the party intends studying before
deciding on Cooray. Thereafter a formal inquiry will be ordered.
"We would ensure fairplay," he assured.
But according to the UNP, three weeks
is certainly a long time and a time during which much wheeler
dealing could be done to secure the political end desired by the
government which is having serious disputes and differences in
opinion with its main constituent ally.
According to Opposition Leader, Western
Provincial Council, Kithsiri Kahatapitiya, the Governor's assurances
would prove absolutely futile because the ultimate decisions would
be taken elsewhere. "This report business is a farce. A formal
inquiry could be launched immediately," he said claiming that
the UPFA leaders were now working overtime to bend the motion in
He accused the government of violating
a democratic right of the citizens of the province to have the chief
minister removed. Angrily responding to the prorogation, he said
that the UNP members stormed in to the WPC on Tuesday morning to
protest against the covert decision to postpone sessions through a
"This is truly an undemocratic
decision. They had no business to do this. Now we demand the
complete dissolution of the WPC so that people may have the
opportunity to constitute a new council and elect a new chief
minister who is not tainted by charges of corruption," he said.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Governor
Moulana said that there was a need to check the validity of the
allegations and because the majority of the councillors have passed
a resolution expressing confidence in the incumbent Chief Minister.
"It is best that we take some
time," he insisted.
On this matter, Rajapakse is at
variance. He feels that the President should not have prorogued but
immediately removed the Chief Minister.
Rajapakse said that during President
Kumaratunga's meeting with the JVP last week she gave a firm
assurance that if charges against Cooray are proved, he would be
compelled to quit.
"We will hold her to that promise.
A formal inquiry would also reveal the truth," Rajapakse added.
Running out of patience
And the meddling with the WPC issue in
this manner is going to cost, not just the chief minister his post
but the UPFA its coalition partner. Being sidelined for one full
year in the decision making process, be it the tsunami relief
distribution, privatisation programme or the joint mechanism, the
JVP it appears, is reaching the end of its tether.
And by trying to manipulate and to
twist their arms into submission, Kumaratunga who is also not the
most popular with the Marxists has ensured that at the end of three
weeks, the reds would convert their votes into positive votes
against the Chief Minister.
The abstinence of the JVP would have
given the UNP a mere three member lead, but if they vote with the
greens, it would be the end of the road for Cooray and a big bonus
for the UNP.
A silent player in this entire saga all
along was the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) which also has four
sitting members. The SLMC, like the JVP was originally not
interested in getting involved in UNP political warfare with the
But the scales have by now heavily
tipped in the UNP's favour following the prorogation. The SLMC
leader who is currently overseas, angry over the strong arm tactics
adopted by President Kumaratunga has instructed the party to rethink
the original decision to abstain.
Earlier, WPC SLMC Leader, Shafeek
Rajabdeen decided to abstain from voting but the prorogation is
earning the wrath of the SLMC as well.
The SLFP has 36 seats in the WPC
excluding those of the JVP while the UNP has 39, the SLMC - four and
DUA and an independent group one each.
As trouble continues to brew at the
chief minister's office, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse was in the
mood to diffuse the tension. He invited all the UPFA councillors to
a conciliatory dinner last week only to be told that the JVP would
not go back on its word - not now.
And what was not openly declared by the
reds was their wish to replace Cooray with a more JVP friendly chief
While horse trading takes centre stage
for another three weeks, whether the greens and the reds would have
the resolve to see the motion through remains the big political
question. And also the relationship between the SLFP and the JVP -
now finding each other rather uncomfortable partners in a painful
for Wimal from President’s House
the JVP was not made aware of what the President’s final decision
was to be on the matter of the Western Provincial Council, the party
met on Tuesday (26) at their headquarters and made a series of
decisions with regard to the crisis. Chief among these was to keep
JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe hidden until the problem was over.
is nothing new for the JVP to keep its leaders in hiding. They did
so quite well during the 1988-1989 insurgency, all the while giving
instructions to their cadres operating in the open. The JVP’s plan
this time around, when they appear to be caught in a political
terror trap of their own making, is to keep Amarasinghe hidden so
that President Kumaratunga faces immense difficulties in arriving at
JVP proclaimed that a meeting between Amarasinghe and the President
was necessary over six months ago. Although they tried to schedule
this meeting through various ministerial and political channels,
President Kumaratunga stoutly refused to give him an appointment.
This was tit for tat. They had been waiting for a chance for revenge
for some time now, and when President Kumaratunga requested a
meeting with the JVP leader, the Marxists felt their time had come.
he was not surfacing, Amarasinghe was consulting with the rest of
the senior JVPers via telephone. It was during this meeting that
they got more news. There was talk that four SLMC members and one
independent member were preparing to vote for Cooray when the motion
of no confidence against him was brought by the UNP. There was more
bad news to follow. A UNP Kalutara District councillor and
Sellasamy’s wife were not in the island. So far, the JVP’s
decision had been to abstain from voting and allow the motion to be
passed. However, with the support of the four SLMCers and the
independent member, there was a very real threat of Cooray winning.
Talks about what to do went on at the headquarters till about 1.30
a.m. on Tuesday, the morning of which the WPC was to meet. Finally,
it was decided that having adopted a hardline, the JVP could not now
retract. So if there was a threat of Cooray winning, the JVP would
vote with the UNP to pass the motion. Amarasinghe agreed to this
plan as well.
JVP hinted that it was going to vote with the UNP on the no
confidence motion against Cooray at about 11 p.m. on Monday (25).
However, the JVP was intent on finding out whether the UNP was
planning to withdraw the motion at the last moment. To this end,
Weerawansa made several phone calls at an unofficial level, trying
to find out what the UNP’s position was. As a result of the
numerous phone calls, Weerawansa heard that UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe had decided at the group meeting to go ahead with the
no confidence motion.
Weerawansa received a call from a close acquaintance. Having
concluded the conversation he turned to his party members and said
— "That call came to me from President’s House itself. It
seems that the President has no way to prorogue the council. She has
said so at the meeting."
JVPers were pleased with the news. What they did not know was that
even as the telephone conversation between Weerawansa and his caller
was taking place, President Kumaratunga and Western Province
Governor Alavi Moulana had signed the gazette proroguing the
also on Monday night, Weerawansa received a phone call from a SLFP
provincial councillor who was against Cooray, giving him some
disturbing news. "The Chief Minister came to meet us and he was
all pompous and assured us not to worry about a thing, that by
tomorrow the JVP would have no where to turn. You better see what
this is about," the caller said. Weerawansa paid little heed to
the warning and the JVPers dispersed to get a good night’s sleep,
sure that Cooray would be defeated the next day.
at about 6.15 a.m. on Tuesday (26) all the JVP leaders’ phones
rang off the hook. This was after the SLBC in its morning broadcast
reported that as of midnight of April 26, the Western Provincial
Council had been prorogued, by an order of the governor. Shocked at
the news, the JVPers began calling all and sundry to find out if the
report was true. When JVP WPC Group Leader, Waruna Rajapakse called
Governor Moulana himself, he was told that the news was true.
Moulana added that a committee was being set up to probe the charges
against Cooray, and told Rajapakse that the JVP could nominate one
of its retired officers to the committee as well.
Rajapakse was not impressed. "We know that all you did was sign
on to this decision. But it does not bode well for your political
career. There is no point in investigative committees either,"
helpless Moulana could only reply — "but there is nothing I
can do about it."
dissolution over JVP
as the crisis in the Western Provincial Council deepened, the JVP
was also busy making plans about its future in the alliance.
JVP politburo at its Monday meeting discussed how they were going to
launch their next attack. JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe also
presented his views at the meeting.
decision about the WPC shows that the President has no desire to
resolve the problems within the UPFA. She is trying to go forward
alone. So as a party we also have to make decisions as to how we are
going to face the President’s orders," he said.
in was JVP Parliamentary Group Leader, Wimal Weerawansa. He told the
politburo about a telephone conversation he had had recently.
"I couldn’t tell you yesterday, but Deputy Minister Lasantha
Alagiyawanna gave me another message. He said that if we don’t
agree to resolve the crisis the President would dissolve parliament
and go for an election. I didn’t take any notice. I told him that
this was an unofficial threat and also said that we were ready for
an election as well," Weerawansa said.
Weerawansa’s revelations, the discussions turned to another
matter. Amarasinghe said that since there was no way the provincial
council issue could be resolved and the joint mechanism signed, it
was quite likely she would dissolve parliament. There was the all
important question of whether the JVP ministers should resign their
portfolios as well. But Amarasinghe’s opinion was that they had
now found a way of going to the villages through the problems in the
had a problem about how to get to the villages. But now the perfect
environment is being created to go to the villages through the
provincial councils and urban councils. We have considerable
strength in Sabaragamuwa and Wayamba Provincial Councils as well.
Since even the chief ministers of those two councils behave like
Cooray, let’s create problems in them as well. We need to keep
creating similar issues in the pradeshiya sabhas and the
urban councils as well. Then the people in the villages will decide
and differentiate between the SLFP and the JVP. If we consolidate
our power in the villages, even if the President dissolves
parliament, we can still obtain a significant number of seats,"
giving his party members the green light to cause trouble in many of
the other provincial councils and local government bodies, the JVP
Leader also went on to appoint two member committees to decide on
matters regarding the agitation campaigns within the Wayamba and
Sabaragamuwa PCs. The committees were advised to discuss matters
with the UNP and bring no confidence motions against those chief
ministers as well.
is commonplace for politicians to issue press releases from time to
time. But last week saw one of the strangest releases seeing the
light of day, with the signatures of Media Minister Mangala
Samaraweera and JVP Propaganda Secretary Wimal Weerawansa.
Ironically Samaraweera was not even in the country when the release
was issued, which meant the entire statement was drafted by
Weerawansa himself. Why the media release drew such attention was
because of the terrible language that had been used. Such
terminology is certainly not becoming in the official statements of
UNP’s media unit demanded a meeting with UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe to discuss this media release. UNP MP Bandula
Gunewardenaalso participated in the meeting. Mostly discussed during
the meeting was how Weerawansa was terrorising not only the state
media but also private media institutions as well. Gunewardena said
that Weerawansa was now giving divisional heads at media
institutions instructions about how stories are to be run. The UNP
media unit also charged that Weerawansa had personally overseen the
way in which the UNP’s statement in response to the duo’s
derogatory press release had been censored and edited. However,
members of the unit pointed out, the Weerawansa/Samaraweera
statement had been carried in both the Lankadeepa and Divaina
newspapers completely uncensored. It was also said a senior
journalist attached to an Engilsh weekly was advising the JVP.
media unit told Wickremesinghe that although in its response the UNP
had quoted Weerawansa’s use of derogatory language, the quotes had
not been published. In addition to this, a whole section of the
UNP’s statement had been edited. The edited section read:
Mangala-Wimal duo do not have the strength to face criticism.
Recently they made a grandiose statement about The Sunday Times
being the only fearless and unbiased newspaper in the country. But
after one news item critical of them, that newspaper also becomes
the enemy. Then it becomes Ranil’s uncle’s newspaper.
Journalists are treated the same way. As long as Editor Lankadeepa
Siri Ranasinghe publishes news items that are favourable to them, he
is an honourable gentleman. The moment he publishes something that
goes against them, he is threatened..."
the Lankadeepa and the Divaina had edited out these
very same sections of the UNP release. The UNP media unit pointed
out that Weerawansa who was charging that journalists are being
dragged into politics is himself guilty of conducting his political
affairs as a journalist. Another section of the UNP release that was
censored reads as follows, they said.
Mangala Pinsiri Samaraweera forgets that before Wimal Weerawansa
entered politics, he worked as a journalist using the pen name
Wimalasiri Gamlath. Mr. Mangala Pinsiri Samaraweera also forgets
that Weerawansa still writes newspaper columns under pen name
Wanshanatha. But most regretful is that even Wimal Weerawansa has
forgotten these little details.
then again, it cannot be that he has forgotten. After all, this duo
thinks that everything in this world must only be fair to Wimal and
Mangala. Everything they say and do is right. Everything any one
else says or does is wrong. That is true even of the mobile phone
costing Rs. 150,000."
their tirade against Weerawansa, the UNP media unit also charged
that they had more information about the JVP MP’s terror tactics.
"He has gathered some of the personal details of several
journalists. He threatens them with these things and makes sure they
write the way he wants them to," they said.
up at this point, Gunewardena said "This must be why the JVP
MPs go around saying that although we have a media mafia, they are
the ones who know how to control the media."
was decided that some strict action had to be taken regarding the
collection of data about media personnel. It was decided that the
heads of media institutions should be called and informed about the
threats their journalists were receiving. It was also decided here
that the issue of threatening journalists and getting them to
publish news the way a political party wanted would be brought up in
parliament and the international community would also be kept aware.
inquiries are on at Upali Newspapers about how certain sections of
the UNP media release responding to the Wimal-Mangala onslaught
which were edited before publication had appeared in the Divaina newspaper
the next day.
PM in the dark
Mahinda Rajapakse returned to the island from Indonesia after a
successful tour there, having attended the 50th anniversary of the
Bandung conference. His departure from the island itself was fraught
with controversy, given the fact that it was a period during which
both the first and second citizens of the country were overseas and
Rajapakse himself had nominated an acting premier.
soon as the Premier returned to Sri Lanka, he was inundated with
questions from religious leaders, party leaders and his own
acquaintances about the status of the joint mechanism. After a
while, the same old questions began to irritate the Prime Minister.
Finally he was compelled to tell the truth. "It is true that I
am Prime Minister. But I don’t know anything about this joint
mechanism to talk about it. Decisions in this country are made
without consulting me. I have many grievances," he told his
inquisitive callers. Rajapakse added that the most important
decisions with regard to the country were taken without his
Buddhist clergy then advised Rajapakse to go public with this
information and tell the country where he stood. But Premier
Rajapakse replied that he was bound by collective responsibility and
could not tell the truth about the state of the government.
finally, the Premier decided to tell the people of the country that
he knew nothing about the progress of the joint mechanism
negotiations and issued a media release to this effect. What impact
this media release will have will only unravel in the days to come.
India fired up over defence
things were hotting up in the government at home, events that would
significantly affect Sri Lanka and its relations with India were
unfolding in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe believed in carrying forward the
peace process with a tight international safety net in place. He
initiated the defence pact with India because he was well aware that
India was this country’s largest trump card because of its
military strength and geographic proximity. Wickremesinghe hoped to
safeguard Sri Lanka in the event of another terrorist attack and
also keep the LTTE on the peace track with this agreement. However,
before it was signed, the UNF was ousted from power after President
Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved parliament and called a snap poll on
April 2, 2004. Following the election, it fell to the UPFA to
finalise the agreement. But several times after the UPFA took over
the reins of power, the LTTE warned that if such an agreement was
signed by India while President Kumaratunga was in power, it would
spell doom for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
this backdrop, the Indian government held several rounds of highly
confidential internal discussions. Recently, several South Indian
coalition partners of the ruling Congress met with Premier Manmohan
Singh and Congress Leader Sonia Gandhi about the proposed pact.
Among the parties were the MDMK, DMK, PMK and the UPA. Taking the
lead in the discussions was MDMK Leader Vaiko, who strongly urged
Gandhi and Singh not to sign the agreement, saying it would lead to
unprecedented problems in Tamil Nadu and among the Dravidians in
said that when President Kumaratunga’s patterns in the past are
studied, it becomes obvious that this agreement will not be used to
bring about a permanent peace. Instead, he said, there is a very
good chance of Sri Lanka being plunged back into war. Vaiko added
that the President of Sri Lanka had already signed secret deals with
Pakistan and China, both countries that have disputes with India.
stopping there, Vaiko went on to say that the Sri Lankan President
was pushing through the agreement using the fact that Sonia
Gandhi’s husband Rajiv was assassinated by the LTTE. Responding to
this, Sonia Gandhi responded that she had already handed over the
issue of her husband’s killing to the law and the issue could not
be dragged into politics. She said that even now it was her own
family that was looking after the needs of the LTTE female cadre
arrested in connection with Rajiv Gandhi’s killing, adding that
even though her husband was killed by the LTTE, the whole Tamil race
was not responsible for it. If the Tamil people will suffer as a
result of this agreement, I will go to all lengths to stop it, said
the Congress Leader.
with Premier Singh next, Vaiko and his team got his assurances as
well that under no circumstances would the defence pact be signed.
This was truly a victory for the southern politicians. They brought
this news back with them and held a media briefing in South India,
saying that they had convinced the Indian government not to sign the
defence pact with Sri Lanka.
gun's for hire
Having been compelled to give up his
deputy ministerial portfolio because of his thuggish antics and
finding himself at a loose end these days is UPFA National List
Parliamentarian, Mervyn Silva. Idleness does not suit this
legislator however, so it appears he has of late, taken on outside
contracts as it were, surfacing here and there on the side of
various different politicians and public officials, armed with rowdy
slogans and a dirty mouth, rather like a hired gun. Last week saw
Silva appear in public support of beleaguered Western Province Chief
Minister Reginald Cooray on Tuesday (26) and President Kumaratunga
on Thursday (28) opposite the courts carrying placards when the
interdicted principals appeared in court.
"Chief Minister Reginald Cooray
has been gravely wronged by several parties.."
- Mervyn Silva at the WPC meeting soon
after the council was prorogued on Tuesday, April 26.
The Silva hotline remains open for new
contracts. But beware folks, he is renowned for firing blanks.