Karuna personally kill
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
The brazen abduction and brutal
assassination of the well-known journalist Dharmeratnam
Puvirajakeerthi Sivaram who wrote in........
accidents - who's to blame?
standards over security
strong medicine for CPC headache
May Day slight
when the iron is hot
Karuna personally kill 'Taraki' Sivaram?
body lying at his residence
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
The brazen abduction and brutal
assassination of the well-known journalist Dharmeratnam
Puvirajakeerthi Sivaram who wrote in English and Tamil under the nom
de plume Taraki and as D. P. Sivaram is the latest tragedy in an
endless cycle of violence affecting the Tamils of Sri Lanka. The
right to life is the most important of all human rights. Without
life no other rights can be had. This fundamental basis of all other
rights has been cruelly denied to many Tamils in the past years.
There seems to be no end in sight to this evil spectre that goes on
devouring the children of the great "Thamil Thai" (Tamil
Sivaram known to his friendsby various
names such as "SR," "Siva" and "Ram"
had been enjoying a good drink in amiable company. His companions at
the Bambalapitiya restaurant on that fateful night of April 28th
were freelance journalist cum political activist Kusal Perera,
health sector trade unionist Ravi Kumudesh and an NGO coordinator,
Prasanna Ratnayake. It was 10. 25 p.m. when the quartet came out of
the Bamba waterhole.
Ravi and Prasanna bade good bye and
walked towards the Kollupitiya side saying they wanted to take a
three-wheeler to Borella. Kusal and Siva walked towards the
Wellawatte side talking to each other. The idea was to finish their
private discussion and then board a bus to go home.
Perera and Sivaram were at a bus stand
near De Vos Avenue when the latter received a call on his mobile
phone. Speaking in Tamil the 46 year old bi-lingual journalist
walked a little ahead while Kusal stayed behind looking out in the
opposite direction for a bus. At one point he saw a Pettah -
Panadura bus coming and turned to Sivaram to alert him about the
What he saw unnerved Kusal. A silver-grey
vehicle was parked on the road near Sivaram. It was a Toyota SUV
with the number plate WPG 11. Kusal could not see the other digits
properly. Two men were trying to push Sivaram into the vehicle. A
third man was standing near the open door. The motor was running
with a fourth man at the wheel.Suddenly they gripped Sivaram from
behind and began forcing him to get into the vehicle. Sivaram was
grappling with his abductors. Though they were in civvies they
exuded an aura of 'uniform.'
Kusal Perera says that he saw this
scuffle and tried to go near them shouting "Siva" and
"Sivaram." The abductors succeeded in pushing Sivaram into
the vehicle. Two men gestured menacingly at Kusal and got in
themselves. Kusal says that he panicked as the vehicle sped off. The
entire abduction occurred right opposite the Bambalapitiya police
station. He then went home and alerted a number of people about the
Subsequently it was revealed through
eyewitnesses that four men had been loitering outside the restaurant
from about 8. 30 p.m onwards. Two men were speaking in Tamil to each
other while the other two spoke in Sinhalese. According to an
eyewitness one of the men had called someone in Tamil on his mobile
and wanted the "Vaahanam" (vehicle) to be sent. With the
wisdom of hindsight it was realised that the vehicle called for was
the one in which Sivaram was abducted. Since it arrived very quickly
it must have been ready and waiting close by.
Upon learning of the abduction,
Sivaram's wife Yogaranjini, also called Bhavani, contacted her
brother living in Mattakkuliya and went with him to the
Bambalapitiya police station to lodge a complaint. Sivaram's
colleague and friend Rajpal Abeynayake also informed a number of
officials including Army Commander Lieutenant General Shantha
Kottegoda who promised to issue an alert to all military
It was about an hour past midnight when
the Talangama police station received an anonymous telephone call
informing the cops that a body was lying on the bank of Diyawanna
Oya alongside the Sri Lanka - Japan Friendship Road. When the police
went to the spot near Kimbula - Ela junction about 500 metres behind
the Sri Jayewardenepura parliament complex they found a dead body
lying amidst the shrubs. It was identified later by friends and
family to be that of Sivaram's.
Sivaram was gagged with a dotted
serviette and had his hands tied behind his back. He had been hit
with a blunt instrument on the back of his head. This seems to have
been done to prevent his struggling. The brave fighter that he was,
Sivaram would have obviously resisted his abductors valiantly and
therefore was made unconscious.
Sivaram seems to have beenshot at point
blank range with a 9 mm Browning. One shot had cleanly entered his
neck and chest. The second had penetrated his hand and entered the
body. Contrary to reports in the Tiger media there were no signs of
torture. Two 9 mm empties were found near his body. There was very
little blood at the scene.
The body was then taken to the Colombo
JMO office fora post mortem. Dr. Jeanne Perera, head of forensic
medicine at the Colombo Medical Faculty conducted it. When the media
contacted her afterwards she declared "there was no torture or
assault. I say that vehemently."
Continuing, Dr. Perera said "he (Sivaram)
had been given one blow on the back of his head and then shot twice
on his shoulder blade and neck while he lay on the ground. The
killing occurred where the body was found. The swelling on one of
his eyes was not the result of a blow but due to the vibration when
the bullets pierced the body."
She also placed the time of death at
about 12.30 to 1. 00 a.m.
The assassination of "Taraki"
Sivaram resulted in severe worldwide condemnation of the cowardly
murder. Among those who issued statements were Prime Minister
Mahinda Rajapakse and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera. The
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was conspicuously silent on the
killing. The JVP, particularly its articulate senior leader Wimal
Weerawansa had launched vicious personal attacks on Sivaram in the
recent past. He was referred to as a Tiger terrorist.
One top diplomat who issued a statement
of condemnation over the killing was the Japanese Ambassador, Akio
Suda. One reason for this was that the Tokyo envoy had been
interacting closely with Sivaram who was scheduled to visit Japan
shortly. He was involved in a project concerning the influence of
Japan in South Asia with special emphasis on Sri Lanka. By a
coincidence (or deliberate?) his body was dumped near the Lanka -
Japan friendship Road.
Four special teams of police sleuths
are conducting investigations into the killing under the direction
of Senior Superintendent Sarath Lugoda. Over 75 people have been
questioned and have had statements recorded. Media reports state
that no "breakthrough" has been achieved. Given the fact
that he was abducted opposite the Bambalapitiya police station in a
vehicle parked in the vicinity and that his body was discovered in
the high security area surrounding parliament few people expect the
police to be successful in their mission.
It is widely believed that the last
call Sivaram received on his cellular phone was from the abductors
or someone linked to them. It must have been done to distract
Sivaram's attention and also to clearly identify him. Besides,
Sivaram had received four calls and made two calls while at the
restaurant. The mobile can provide a number of clues about possible
abductors. That phone is yet missing.
I have been calling the number 777 -
311 - 380 daily from April 29th onwards. It was off and silent on
29th and 30th. It was on, ringing on May 1st. It was off again on
May 2nd and 3rd. It was on again on May 4th and 5th. The ringtone on
the mobile plays lines from a hit song in Rajnikanth's latest movie
Chandramuhi. It was indeed sad to hear Asha Bhosle sing the lines
"Konja neram, konja neram konjip pesa vendamo" (Can we not
kiss and talk for a little more time) in a melody set by Vidyasagar
in Sri Ranjani raga.
The Tiger website "Nitharsanam"
known for its scurrilous attacks on perceived opponents came out
with a startling disclosure. It reported that Iniyabharathy, a
senior deputy of former LTTE Eastern Commander, Vinayagamoorthy
Muraleetharan alias "Col." Karuna was one of the
abductors. Within 24 hours Iniyabharathy and a Muslim companion, M.
M. Fowzer were arrested "accidently" at a check post in
Amparai. A random check had found a 9mm Browning and 16 ammunition
rounds in the vehicle. They were produced in courts and remanded
till the 14th. Since they belonged to the Karuna faction they are
detained for reasons of safety at the Moneragala prison.
If the sleuths are to make any
effective breakthrough it is imperative that they interrogate this
Iniyabharathy intensively. His name has already transpired in many
violent incidents in the Batticaloa - Polonnaruwa District border
areas. If the Kumaratunga regime is indeed serious about finding
Sivaram's killers and also about the intra-Tamil violence in the
east then this well known lieutenant of Karuna has to be questioned
further. If conducted genuinely such an investigation would be more
productive than a commission of inquiry.
The three companions at Sivaram's last
drink also need to be questioned more intensively along with other
patrons and employees at the restaurant at the time. It is obvious
that the abductors knew Sivaram was at the restaurant and were
waiting outside for nearly two hours. How and why?They need not have
waited that long if their quarry had come out early. Apparently Siva
and the rest had called for their first bill at about 9 p.m. But as
is customary on these occasions a decision was taken to prolong the
session. If they had come out after the first bill was settled the
abduction need not have been delayed. Now did the abductors have
prior knowledge that the tipplers were going to wind up around 9
p.m.? is a question needing answers. Another puzzle is why Kusal
Perera did not go to the police station right opposite immediately
and complain about the incident?
What is disturbing about the incident
is the deliberate efforts of the killers to convey a strong signal.
The Tamil media has highlighted two facts. One is that the abduction
took place opposite the Bambalapitiya cop shop and that the
abductors had been hanging around the vicinity without a problem for
hours. The second is that the body was dumped in the high security
area around the Kotte parliament where even a chief and supreme
person could not enjoy a romantic tryst without being noticed. These
facts are cited as proof of alleged state complicity and
The point missed however is that these
facts were not unintended mistakes but deliberately designed clues.
It was an unstated message delivered to those Tamils supportive of
the LTTE in general and Tamil media circles in particular. The
manner in which the exercise was done creates an impression that
agents of the state were responsible. This exactly is the objective
of the perpetrators who want to drive home a point to the country at
large and the Tamil people in particular. The symbolism of
parliament, the seat of power in this supposedly "Sinhala -
Buddhist" state is unmistakable.
A perplexing point is about Sivaram
being abducted and killed within two hours. There were no signs of
intensive questioning or torture. If the intention was merely to
kill Sivaram quickly then why take the trouble to abduct him? The
killers could have simply shot him dead at Bambalapitiya.
Shot and dumped
Instead he was taken somewhere and
shot. He was then dumped elsewhere. There was very little blood at
the spot where he was found. This could mean that he wasshot
elsewhere and brought here in a dying state. Though he died by the
banks of Diyawanna Oya the fatal wounds that oozed the life out of
him could have been caused elsewhere. The 9mm empties could have
been dropped near the body to show that he was killed here. The
technical expertise available to forensics in Sri Lanka may not be
state of the art.But if it was, a scientific probe may have
established that no shots were fired at the spot.
This then raises the question again -
Where was Sivaram taken to be killed? The simple answer is to the
place where his killer was waiting. Who then was the killer? The
answer is someone who could not take the risk of a field trip to
kill and had to get his target delivered safely to his fortress or
hideyhole. The Eastern Tamil grapevine is buzzing with the rumour
that Sivaram was killed personally by none other than Karuna
himself. The essence of this version is something like this.
Karuna was angry with Siva for what he
termed as "betrayal" by a Batticaloa Tamil. There was a
time when Sivaram was very close to Karuna and encouraged him to
establish greater autonomy for Batticaloa - Amparai within an
overall LTTE structure. Sivaram however did not want the LTTE to
split in any way as he felt that would only weaken Tamil
nationalism. When Karuna revolted and insisted on going his separate
way Sivaram opposed the move. He threw in his lot with the
At a time when most Eastern Tamils were
tacitly sympathetic to Karuna it was Sivaram who courageously defied
Karuna. This counterpoint to regionalism coming from an authentic
Batticaloa Tamil whose territorial credentials were exemplary came
as a boon to the beleaguered LTTE. Sivaram systematically exposed,
criticised, ridiculed and challenged Karuna. It was Sivaram who
revealed the fact that Karuna had floated a company in his wife's
and father in law's name with a capital of Rs. 25 million on March
8th, exactly five days after his "open" rebellion. Karuna
was exposed clearly as a charlatan.
When Karuna withdrew from Batticaloa,
Sivaram mocked him comparing him to Ravana retreating from the
battlefield. Sivaram also stated publicly that he was roaming about
Batticaloa without fear from Valaichchenai to Thuraineelavanai. He
said that people were warning him about Karuna but that he was
unafraid. Siva said proudly that he was not going to be chased by
anyone from his native land and practically dared Karuna to come and
get him. Sivaram's involvement in Tamilnet which reported the
Kottawa massacre even before the police knew about it was also a
According to knowledgeable eastern
Tamil sources, Karuna had made a vow that Sivaram was his mortal
enemy and that he himself will kill him personally. Karuna
apparently asked his minions in Batticaloa not to harm Sivaram
as"Taraki" had to die "endai Kaiyaale" (by my
hand). Karuna had returned to Sri Lanka after leaving his family
abroad safely. He remained protected in the south and directed
operations in the east. Despite denials it is known that he was
being "looked after" by a special wing of the Sri Lankan
Karuna's handlers had denied permission
for the killing of Sivaram in Colombo for a long time. Had it been
done earlier the task would have been easy as Sivaram travelled
about openly in buses. In a sense he was unafraid of death, being
ready to face Yaman at any time. Karuna's opportunity came when
police intelligence specialist, inspector Jeyaratnam went
"missing." It was suspected that the Tigers were
responsible. There was much resentment within the rank and file
leading to a situation where a demonstration was held in Colombo.
The powers that be decided that some
"symbolic" action had to be taken to contain this
simmering discontent. Sivaram already maligned by the likes of Wimal
Weerawansa as a "Tiger in Colombo" became the selected
target. There was a willing catspaw - Karuna. It was decided that
the killing should be done by Karuna and company with logistical
support by the "intelligence." Karuna's only condition
could have been that he be allowed to kill Sivaram personally and
fulfil his vow. This could have been adhered to and Sivaram instead
of being killed at Bambalapitiya was abducted and brought to Karuna
to be killed.
It appears that the LTTE is to some
extent aware of this. The Tigers have accused the state intelligence
and some Tamil groups of having collaborated in the assassination.
If the police sleuths are serious then this is the line of inquiry
they should follow. Realistically that does not seem possible and it
is only a matter of time before this murder too is added to the ever
increasing list of unsolved murders.
As far as the Tamil people are
concerned the story of Karuna killing Sivaram personally will become
an 'open secret.' The LTTE will not say so publicly for fear of
demoralising the Tamil media and giving Karuna negative credit.
Karuna and company will not claim it openly as it would cause
revulsion among supporters .
The greater danger is whether Sivaram's
murder is actually a strong, single signal or a forerunner of more
killings to come. The rumour that a powerful minister in
Kumaratunga's cabinet and an influential parliamentarian in
government ranks are "connected" to this special
intelligence unit and gave the green light for Taraki's murder is
frightening. The 'unofficial' sanctioning of 'official' state terror
is a development that needs to be deplored strongly. Only
international pressure can help to prevent state terror being
accidents - who's to blame?
Wijeratne and Felix Perera
By Easwaran Rutnam
Finger pointing was the order of the
day last week when private bus operators and the Transport
Ministry laid blamed each other for the rise in the number of
accidents involving private buses.
While the Lanka Private Bus Owners
Association (LPBOA) said the lack of a national transport
policy was the main cause for private bus accidents, the
Ministry simply said it was "errant driving."
President, LPBOA, Gemunu Wijeratne told
The Sunday Leader that if the present government had
implemented a national transport policy proposed during the
latter part of the previous regime, there would have been
better management and control over private bus operations,
which in turn would have prevented "errant driving."
Wijeratne noted that when he urged
Transport Minister Felix Perera to implement the national policy
after the UPFA government took office, the Minister together with
certain JVP ministers opposed the move.
"I could have done it with a court
order if I wanted to but that would have meant putting my life in
danger. Who would pay for my life? No one. That's why I left it to
the state to decide. But because of internal political pressure they
backed off," he said.
The Transport Ministry is of the view
that the proposed national transport policy, which encompasses a
joint time table between state and private buses, is a sinister move
by the private bus operators to take full control of public
transport in the country.
The state operates only around 25
percent of public transport which includes the rail network, while
private bus operators control around 75 percent.
"They are trying to indirectly
take over the 25 percent by calling for a national transport policy
which will see a joint timetable in place. With a joint time table,
the private bus operators will take control of operations during
peak hours, giving them a lion's share of the public transport
income," the Transport Ministry media unit said.
An official at the unit noted that
Minister Perera will support the implementation of a joint time
table only once the state transport sector is on par with the
"We need to control at least 35
percent of the public bus transport system to agree to a joint time
table. Right now, most of the profitable routes of the state buses
have also been invaded by private buses," the official said.
Meanwhile at a meeting held between
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and private bus operators last
week, the Premier had accepted that a national transport policy was
the need of the hour. However Minister Perera and provincial
authorities opposed it.
Wijeratne, who unsuccessfuly contested
the last parliamentary elections on the United National Party (UNP)
ticket, dismissed the claims saying his intentions are purely for
the improvement of the private bus sector.
The need for the national transport
policy comes in light of a spate of deadly road accidents around the
island involving private buses, most notable being the Yangalmodera
level crossing incident where an intercity train ran into a private
bus that attempted to creep through the closed gates, killing 35
Five days after that accident, another
private bus skidded off the road in Meddalanda, Polgahawela when
speeding, just half a kilometre away from the Yangalmodera level
crossing, killing two and injuring at least 21 others.
The LPBOA warned that more accidents
were to be expected after the Ministry and provincial authorities
failed to support a national transport policy.
Wijeratne said that drivers try to earn
the maximum by racing against the competition to collect commuters
waiting at bus stands, because their basic income is hardly enough
to maintain their families.
"Most days earnings go to the bus
owner, out of which a meagre sum is given to the driver and
conductor. That is hardly enough for a day's meal. So the more they
earn on the road the more they get in return from the bus owner. So
they speed and creep through rail gates to get as many passengers as
possible before the bus in pursuit gets to them," Wijeratne
He also said corrupt timekeepers at
some bus terminals work according to their personal agendas by
taking bribes from some bus operators.
They take bribes from drivers at almost
every bus terminal, which in turn is a huge loss for the driver who
will do anything to ensure he goes back to the bus-owner with the
expected daily collection.
"I emphasised the need to keep a
tab on these time keepers to President Chandrika Kumaratunga four or
five years ago but it went unnoticed," Wijeratne said.
Private bus operators say a national
transport policy will eliminate state timekeepers and create
provincial bus terminal companies which will ensure buses operate
according to strict rules and regulations at stipulated times.
The policy will also give some 45,000
private bus drivers and conductors operating in the island a flat
monthly wage including ETF and EPF, which will eliminate the need
for the drivers to compete on the roads for extra cash.
Meanwhile, the Traffic Police say they
will come down hard on errant private bus drivers and bus owners in
a move to stem the number of accidents witnessed in the recent past.
Senior Superintendent of Police,
Traffic, Lucky Pieris speaking to The Sunday Leader said that the
police have already implemented an islandwide operation to nab
speeding private bus drivers and called on the general public to
support the operation.
Police on the job
"We have only around 3,700 traffic
police on our roads which is insufficient to nab all the dangerous
drivers on the roads. We need the public and
agencies that have a part to play on the road to help us by
giving us information when they see a speeding bus or dangerous
driver," Pieris said.
SSP Pieris noted that at times when
errant bus drivers are caught by the traffic police, their relatives
and friends who have personal connections with senior police
officials try to get them released.
"This should stop. If someone is
guilty then he is guilty and should be dealt with according to the
law. All bus drivers should be under the impression that passengers
in the bus have a policeman like attitude and will be at the
receiving end if they break road rules," he said.
The LPBOA says the government must also
appreciate the service rendered by private bus operators over the
years by supporting the restructuring proposals via the national
transport policy which is a long felt requirement.
Wijeratne says if the national
transport policy is implemented more educated personnel can be
recruited to the private bus sector, which will in turn see a drop
in public complaints of unruly, inexperienced and dangerous drivers
and conductors on the roads.
Meanwhile with the ever-increasing fuel
prices, private bus operators will be operating at a loss but
Wijeratne said the current national policy on bus fare revisions
prohibits them from increasing the bus fares at any given time which
they will respect.
"We have told the government we
don't need even fuel subsidies for our operations. All we ask for is
the implementation of the transport policy which will sort a lot of
issues faced by the public transport sector," he said.
He further noted that a British
transport advisor by the name of Ken Williams who had visited the
island last year had also proposed a national transport policy to
streamline the private bus sector.
"The government realises how
important the policy is, but because of my UNP connections certain
elements within the state are refusing to support it,"
He says the only reason he extended his
support to the UNP was because the party believed in implementing a
national transport policy according to his recommendations.
"We held several rounds of
discussions on the policy every month under the UNP regime. But when
it came to the point where the policy was to be implemented the UNP
government was toppled and the transport policy was withheld,"
The President emphasised that his only
goal as head of the association at this point was to get the
national transport policy implemented. He promised
that he will step down from his post once the policy sees the
light of day.
national public transport policy at a glance
drivers and conductors will operate under provincial bus
terminal companies made up of bus operators in the respective
province for a flat wage and will receive EPF and ETF
buses will operate according to a joint timetable formulated
together with the state transport sector.
bus drivers and conductors will sign an agreement which
ensures they follow strict rules and regulations.
to the agreement bus operators cannot go on strike or they
will lose their jobs. At
least 30,000 new jobs will be created by the formation of bus
terminal companies in the respective provinces.
terminal companies will operate under a state regulator.
standards over security
By Dharisha Bastians
Recently, the UPFA government withdrew
the security given to former Resettlement, Refugees and
Rehabilitation Minister Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane, reneging on
a pledge made to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC)
and denying the opposition MP his right to safety. Public
Security, Law and Order Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake in a
hand written letter to the secretary to his Ministry
instructed that Dr. Jayawardane's security be reduced and the
jeep and motorcycle provided for his security personnel be
withdrawn in November last year.
In this country, it is becoming more
and more evident every day that politics takes priority over
everything else - even life. While the state is duty bound to
safeguard any citizen whose life is in peril, events of the
recent past, including last week's murder of Tamil journalist
Dharmeratnam Sivaram alias Taraki, raises many questions about
how the government is going about ensuring the safety of its
Life under threat
In the case of the Taraki killing, the
government's being loathe to rein in militant elements operating in
the south, often it is alleged hand in glove with the military
itself, resulted in a renowned journalist and editor being abducted
right in front of a police station in the heart of the city. Its
wilful negligence of security of others whose lives have been proved
to be under threat may in the event of a mishap, incriminate the
state itself in the murder of innocent citizens.
In the case of Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane,
the UNHRC in Geneva has held that the UNP MP's life was under threat
by racist elements in the south, after statements made by President
Chandrika Kumaratunga to the effect that the parliamentarian was a
spy for the Tamil Tigers. The ruling by the UNHRC on July 22, 2002
in response to a petition filed by Dr. Jayawardane in 2000, said
that the committee concluded that the failure of the state party to
investigate these threats to the life of Dr. Jayawardane violated
his right to security of person and said that Dr. Jayawardane was
entitled to an appropriate remedy. Sri Lanka is a party to the
Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, under which the UNHRC made its order.
In June 2004, Desmond Fernando, PC
writing to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requested that the
UNHRC's decision in the case be implemented. In his letter to Annan,
Fernando writes that although President Kumaratunga was given 90
days to comply with the UNHRC's decision, two years had already
passed and she has still failed to do so.
"Currently a party known as the
United People's Freedom Alliance headed by the same President
Kumaratunga is in power. Recently, Dr. Jayawardane was reliably
informed that his security would be reduced. This is a matter of
grave concern," he wrote.
Following Minister Wickreman- ayake's
order to minimise Dr. Jayawardane's security, appeals have been made
through the Human Rights Commission and even the speaker of
parliament to the President and the Inspector general of police. All
these calls however have so far fallen on deaf ears. Even a letter
to IGP Chandra Fernando from Chairman, National Police Commission,
Ranjit Abeysuriya, ordering that Dr. Jayawardane's security be
restored to full strength has been completely ignored, giving rise
to speculation that orders to the contrary are coming from higher
Party colours or policies
notwithstanding, a government is duty bound to protect any one of
its citizens requesting sanctuary or security because of a perceived
threat to his or her life. This obligation of the state is what
those justifying the government's subtle backing for the Karuna
Amman splinter group harp on. It is also this obligation that the
previous UNF administration afforded to then opposition
parliamentarian and current Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar,
security over and above levels provided even for cabinet ministers.
During the UNF regime of 2001-2004, Minister Kadirgamar enjoyed not
only all the security perks he was granted during the PA tenure of
1994-2001, he was also allowed to retain his official residence
situated, even still, in one of the few remaining high security
zones in Colombo.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, former
Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando said that after the signing of
the ceasefire agreement in February 2002, roadblocks and security
checks around the city limits were removed, save only four -
President's House, the back of Temple Trees which is the prime
minister's official residence, the SLT communications tower and of
course, Minister Kadirgamar's house.
In the UNF's maiden budget of 2002, the
Defence Ministry allocated Rs. 5 million, incorporated solely to
look after the interests and logistics of Kadirgamar's security.
Over a dozen escort vehicles, including jeeps and bullet proof cars
were provided for Kadirgamar and a large contingent of Special Task
Force personnel. The government maintained Minister Kadirgamar's
residence, including utilities and the unit behind the Minister's
home which housed his security personnel. The two watchtowers around
Kadirgamar's home also continued to stand. Furthermore, Kadirgamar
was even given a military escort during foreign tours.
"Even the then minister of defence
didn't get that much security," said Fernando.
Kadirgamar was not the only one either.
During the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration, many opposition
parliamentarians under any kind of security threat were afforded
security. EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda was provided between 20-30
commandos for his personal security because he was believed to be
like Kadirgamar, a key LTTE target. Devananda was also allowed to
retain his own armed cadres and all EPDP offices in Jaffna were
provided police security and assistance.
Furthermore, Wickremesinghe also called
for the enhancement of then Opposition Leader Mahinda
Rajapakse's security, the moment information was received
that Rajapakse's life was in danger - not from the LTTE as in the
cases of the others - but other elements. Rajapakse's security was
enhanced with two or three army vehicles, and an SLA major was
assigned to coordinate his security, according to UNF sources. And
when President Chandrika Kumaratunga decided to enhance former
Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte's security after details
of the Udathalawinna massacres during the December 5, 2001 elections
surfaced, the Wickremesinghe administration made no objection
whatsoever. So it was for Anura Bandaranaike as well.
This is because, Fernando says,
operated on the principle that the state was bound to protect anyone
of its citizens from any kind of threat. Even Minister
Wickremanayake, who with a flourish of his pen in November last year
left Dr. Jayawardane with barely minimum security, was allocated a
house by the UNF near Sirimavo Bandaranaike Balika Vidyalaya - a
house Wickremanayake occupied until the UPFA swept to power in April
Incensed at the treatment meted out to
Dr. Jayawardane, UNP members claim that there are only two possible
explanations for the government's withdrawal of his security -
either it is the government's perception that Dr. Jayawardane's life
is not under threat, despite the UNHRC ruling or it is a conscious
decision by the state to remove his security since that would
increase the threat. The latter, would be a particularly gross
violation of human rights by the state.
strong medicine for CPC headache
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Political bungling in the fuel industry
has converted the once profit making public entity to a massive loss
making one within a few years.
The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC)
has become a political hotbed with financial issues and most
importantly, the divestiture of the one third share of the petroleum
market currently held by the Treasury.
Amidst claims made by senior government
officials, including Finance Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama that the
CPC is a loss making entity and a "monster" living out of
state money and that a revival could only be brought by
restructuring the CPC, officials at CPC strongly dismiss them.
CPC Chairman, Jaliya Medagama observed
that had the government made the necessary payments for subsidies
and the pricing mechanism applied, the Corporation would have
recorded a profit of Rs. 4 billion.
Interestingly, in 1994 at the time the
PA took office, CPC recorded a profit of Rs. 600 million.
Government subsidy on fuel topped Rs.
14 billion, or nearly 1 percent of GDP in 2004, as international
crude oil prices kept rising steadily with no adjustment being made
in local retail prices.
Medagama said that the losses incurred
by the CPC were not the fault of the management, but that of delays
in making crucial decisions due to heavy politicisation of
However, the Treasury has so far paid
up to Rs. 38.2 billion to the LIOC as subsidies when the CPC is yet
to receive close to Rs. 8 billion as subsidies from the Treasury.
Higher than expected oil prices chipped
away Sri Lanka's 2004 growth from 6.0 percent to 5.4 percent, the
Central Bank said when it released its annual report recently. The
Bank also warned that economic growth will slowdown to 5.3 percent
if the domestic oil prices are not increased and heavy oil
consumption is not discouraged.
"Cautious use of fuel will help to
reduce Sri Lanka's fuel imports and foreign exchange," the Bank
said in the report.
"A 10 percent reduction in oil consumption will save US$ 150
million a year."
However, amidst all these issues, CPC
still remains one of the highest tax payers to the government.
CPC paid Rs. 25 billion as taxes in the
year 2003 and last year, excluding the amount set off against
losses, the amount paid as taxes was Rs. 17 billion. The total
amount due as tax for 2004 was Rs. 31 billion.
"Even while making losses, the CPC
has paid its taxes," Medagama said.
It is also interesting to note that the
cost of fuel is mainly dominated by taxes applied to fuel. Almost
half of the final selling price comprises of various
In February, the manufacturing cost of
a litre of petrol was Rs. 29.60, but the selling price was Rs. 57. A
litre of 95 octane petrol was manufactured as a cost of Rs. 32.20
while the selling price was Rs. 60. The huge
difference between the manufacturing cost and the selling
price are the taxes.
The taxes imposed on fuel in Sri Lanka
include three components - excise duty, VAT and the provincial
With regard to petrol, a fixed excise
duty is gazetted annually on the day of the budget presentation.
Currently, the excise duty on petrol
amounts to Rs. 20. The duties for
diesel and kerosene are Rs. 2.50 and Rs. 1.25 respectively.
The 15% VAT once applied adds on a
further Rs. 10 for petrol and approximately Rs. 8 for diesel.
Kerosene is however exempted from VAT.
A 1% provincial council tax is then
added on to the final amounts.
Medagama pointed out that a 1.5% dealer
discount and a 5% profit margin is also added to the prices.
According to trade union activists at
CPC, if the amount of taxes applied to fuel is reduced, it in turn
would reduce the losses incurred by the corporation. It would also
help the corporation function smoothly without making any drastic
Power and Energy Minister Susil
Premajayanth said that the government has no idea of reducing the
"We have not discussed about
taxes," he said.
Premajayanth pointed out that under the
current course of action adopted by the government, the amount due
from CPC as taxes is set
of against the losses.
After a lapse of close to seven months,
the government finally revised petroleum prices last week.
However, the price revision is a 10-12%
increase when compared with the international prices in a bid to
bridge the losses incurred by CPC.
The CPC would recover only about Rs.
800 million on the Rs. 3.5 bn subsidy tab in April.
Last week's revision saw the increase
of petrol by Rs. 6 to Rs. 74 per litre. Diesel and kerosene have
been increased by Rs. 4 and Rs. 3 respectively.
The corporation however is still losing
about Rs. 5.08 on a litre of petrol, Rs. 15.41 on a litre of diesel
and Rs. 27.07 on a litre of kerosene.
Sri Lankans use up to 30 million litres
of petrol, 130 million litres of diesel and 18 million litres of
kerosene a month.
Sri Lanka has a 650,000 barrel per day
market, with 60 percent of the country's needs imported as crude and
the balance as refined products from Saudi Arabia, Iran and
formula a must
CPC Chairman Jaliya Medagama said that
in order to stop incurring any further losses, the government
should implement the pricing formula on a monthly basis.
"Price revisions should take place
on a monthly basis," he said.
He explained that there was no point in
increasing prices once the corporation has heavy accumulated
Out of the amount due to CPC as
subsidies, Rs. 8 billion has been set off against taxes due
from CPC to the Treasury.
A monthly pricing formula pegged to
world crude costs was suspended since last September, with
fuel price revisions becoming a political hot potato amidst
the soaring cost of living.
"Under the price adjustment
agreement, it is the responsibility of the government to
adjust prices and if it does
not, it is the obligation of the government to pay the
difference. Price revisions need to be on a monthly
basis," Medagama said.
line of credit
The Iranian line of credit has expired
and the US$ 150 million Indian credit line has come into
Two consignments worth US$ 45 million
dollars have already reached the country.
The government is currently negotiating
a credit line with Malaysia.
"We have to negotiate with
Malaysia and we have the intention of taking it up when we go
there this year. We are in discussions to get extended credit
of 180 days," he said.
Average loss after the revision of
prices for the month of May 2005
($ per Bbl)
(Rs. per Ltd.)
Furnace Oil 180
Furnace Oil 380
Average Exchange Rate for April :- 100.16 Rs./US $
between average price and adjusted price
** Minimum loss after recent price revision
* Based on average prices of April
May Day slight
A record number of people entered
Colombo city on May Day to attend the various political rallies
scheduled throughout the day. Given the state of the current
political environment, each of the three main parties were keen to
show their colours with massive crowds and flamboyant decorations at
their May Day rallies. However, the over-eagerness on the part of
several party seniors to retain as many people at their respective
rallies, resulted in even more political tension.
Only a few hours after the May Day
rallies were concluded, problems within the UPFA showed signs of
coming to a head. For 12 months, the UPFA has attempted to put on a
brave face - thick as thieves on the outside while being fraught
with conflict and controversy internally. But as of last week, the
battles are being fought out in the open.
The JVP always goes out of its way to
hold their May Day rallies in style. This year was no different,
with the party's politburo deciding well beforehand to put on an
especially good show, not only portraying it as a May Day
celebration but as a show of strength and readiness to face an
election in the near future if necessary. It was a case of 'showing'
Last year, the two main coalition
partners held their May Day rallies together. But the politburo was
not too much in favour of a repeat of this scenario, with a majority
of the members saying that having a combined rally would harm the
JVP's own identity. Furthermore, many of the members were of the
view that in order to stay partners within the UPFA, the JVP badly
needed to display its strength.
JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe was in
full support of this. He said that it was important that the JVP
goes before the people not just as partners in the government, but
also as the opposition within the government. "So let's prepare
for this May Day rally as one of the main opposition parties,"
As soon as the JVP announced it was
going to hold a rally on its own, the SLFP also decided to hold the
first totally-blue rally in many years. The President, having made
this important decision, did not hand the organisation of the rally
to a single individual, but the entire SLFP headquarters instead. A
committee headed by SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena was
to organise the rally.
The United National Party looked
forward to its May Day rally with much enthusiasm, especially after
a series of surveys conducted throughout the island confirmed that
large crowds were awaiting the opportunity to come to Colombo and
attend a successful UNP rally. The UNP decided to bring in massive
crowds from each electorate and what's more film the crowds arriving
in order to gauge the organisational strength in each electorate.
The UNP leadership was of the firm opinion that this year's rally
had to be a big show. As a result, the UNP gathered the largest
crowd this May 1 at its rally held in Colombo.
One of the interesting aspects of this
year's rallies was that many party leaders and seniors at all three
major rallies spent most of their time on mobile phones. This was to
exchange messages about the crowds present at the rallies. The SLFP
and JVP were very keen to find out what the UNP turn out had been,
while the main opposition was doing some snooping about numbers at
the UPFA rallies too. It is traditional at May Day rallies for each
of the parties to come up with brand new slogans. While the UNP came
up with slogans against the SLFP and the JVP collectively, the real
battle cries were between the coalition partners themselves.
During the SLFP march, SLFP
headquarters staff in three vans began distributing thousands of
leaflets bearing the slogans to the crowds. Instead of criticising
the opposition, the slogans were all aimed at the JVP, with several
attacks against Amarasinghe and JVP Propaganda Secretary Wimal
Weerawansa in particular. Upon seeing the leaflets, several SLFP
parliamentarians loyal to the JVP began calling up JVP members on
their mobile phones. Minister Mangala Samaraweera and even Minister
Anura Bandaranaike, who was watching the march from a Pajero Jeep
parked nearby got wind of the foul leaflets. Soon, all the mobile
phones of all senior SLFPers began to ring incessantly. One call was
even made to Minister Sirisena asking him whether the SLFP slogans
were aimed at discrediting the JVP.
"We are not slinging mud at
anyone. Nor is there any problem with our slogans. These are all
what was sent from the party headquarters so we are saying
them," replied Sirisena.
Meanwhile, several JVP-friendly SLFPers
had already called up Weerawansa and informed him what the anti-JVP
It soon came to light that the slogans
for the SLFP rally were created by Dr. Sisil Bandara Senaratne who
works at the SLFP headquarters. He is also a close associate of
President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Initially the President was scheduled
to attend the rally. However, about two days before May Day, she was
advised to stay away for security reasons. The intelligence reports
were indicating that the security situation was not good enough for
the President to attend a May Day rally. As a result of her not
attending, the guest of honour at the rally ended up being Prime
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse.
The Premier got into a jeep and went
from place to place along the route of the march to watch what was
happening at each point, speaking to supporters along the way. At
each point the Premier stopped, the shouting got louder. There were
also shouts of 'the future president!' and 'our future hope!'
everytime the Premier was sighted. Watching all this with a smile on
his face, Rajapakse finally stopped near the statue of S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike opposite Galle Face and stood there encouraging the
crowds. It was while he was at this point that the Prime Minister
received a special message. He was informed that Minister
Bandaranaike was also sitting in a jeep with tinted glasses and
watching the march. Rajapakse walked up to the jeep and knocked on
one of the tinted windows, prompting Bandaranaike to put it down.
"Why are you inside? Come out and watch," said the
Premier. Unable to refuse, Bandaranaike hauled himself out of the
jeep with much difficulty and watched the march proceed standing
next to Rajapakse.
But a few minutes later, the situation
became slightly uncomfortable as a result of the pro-Rajapakse
slogans. "Hurrah for the future president Mahinda Rajapakse!"
screamed the crowds as they passed the Premier. Both Rajapakse and
Bandaranaike grew increasingly uncomfortable as the chants continued
and did not once mention Bandaranaike's claim to the presidency.
Sensing this, the crowd began a new cheer. "Hurrah for future
Prime Minister Anura Bandaranaike!" they hollered.
Despite the appeasement moves on the
part of the crowds, it was obvious they had made their choice.
Unable to stand for much longer, Bandaranaike turned to Rajapakse
and said - "Now of course, I can't stand any longer even if I
am offered the presidency free of charge" and got back into the
comfort of his jeep.
meeting heats up
the midst of all the chaos regarding the restructure of CEB and
CEYPETCO, other crises cropped up over the week as well. This
political bombshell exploded following a statement by President
Chandrika Kumaratunga before a group of religious leaders at the
BMICH. At the meeting the President said that whether the government
collapsed or certain ministers lost their portfolios, the joint
mechanism agreement for the distribution of tsunami aid would be
Now it is no secret that the President
is in the habit of making grandiose statements one day, only to
retract them the day after. Usually, she adopts an aggressive tone,
bordering on the humourous. However, when she spoke to the religious
leaders last week, her tone was serious, quiet and full of resolve.
It did not take long in this very small
country of ours for news of the President's latest statement to
reach the JVP. As soon as they heard, they went about their usual
business of calling government ministers to find out the seriousness
of her words and whether she truly intended to sign the joint
mechanism with the LTTE.
Last Wednesday morning, JVP General
Secretary, Tilvin Silva received a letter from Additional Secretary
to the President, P. Dissanayake. The letter said that the President
needed to talk to JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe or a
representative group from the party on Friday (6) at 11 a.m. As soon
as he read it, Silva and later the other JVP leaders realised that
the President had summoned them to discuss the matter of the CEB
restructure. Keeping this in mind, the Marxists discussed their
action plan and what decisions they needed to make in this regard.
The JVP was intent to go before the
President fully prepared and with ready answers. So they discussed
the matter at length. From the morning of Wednesday, several rounds
of talks were held at the JVP headquarters. Amarasinghe spoke at
length at the meeting and several senior JVPers held discussions
with Minister Mangala Samaraweera as well while the meetings were
going on. Finally Amarasinghe issued Samaraweera an ultimatum -
"We have made our decision. If the cabinet paper to sell the
CEB is brought to cabinet, we will work to defeat it. This is not a
personal decision. This is a collective party decision. Before the
cabinet meeting tonight, you had better make a decision that will
keep the alliance standing."
Samaraweera, ever the peacemaker in
UPFA battles, urged the JVP Leader to refrain from being hasty since
this was a matter that could be easily solved. He also asked
Amarasinghe to allow Weerawansa to come and meet him. Nevertheless,
the JVP discussions and brain storm continued. Finally, the Marxists
made two decisions regarding the proposal to restructure the CEB.
The first was that if the cabinet paper to be submitted implied that
the CEB was to be sold, the four JVP ministers were to speak against
it. The second was that if as a result of the JVP's protests the
cabinet paper was not going to be approved, the ministers were to
make note of their opposition to the cabinet secretary and then keep
But Weerawansa had another problem.
"According the information I am receiving, Amunugama and the
President are adamant to get this paper approved. If such a
situation arises, we need to make a decision about how we are going
to face it," he pointed out.
However, Cultural Affairs and National
Heritage Minister, Vijitha Herath retorted that the Prime Minister's
opinion would also have to be considered before such strong-arm
tactics were resorted to. "The Premier is a decisive player in
the cabinet. And he says that the cabinet paper has to be
restructured. Minister Dinesh Gunewardena has also given us an
assurance that he is against the moves as well. So these people also
will support us in opposing this proposal," Herath said.
But Weerawansa was not content with
this, given the depth of the details he had received about the
submission of this cabinet paper. So he made a statement that left
the politburo members shell-shocked to the core.
"Don't place too much faith in the
Prime Minister. I have heard that the President is in the process of
setting a trap so that the Premier will also have to agree to
everything without question. I have also heard that the Prime
Minister is swallowing this ruse. So it is better that we ourselves
go perfectly prepared to the meeting," he said.
Finally it was decided that if the
cabinet paper was to be approved the JVP ministers would walk out of
the meeting after which the politburo would meet to make any further
or die for JVP
after the cabinet meeting drew to a close, the lights were still on
at the JVP headquarters in Pita Kotte. The JVP had even increased
security at the headquarters that night. The party discussed at
length what course of action was to be followed from the next day
(5) onwards. The meeting continued till the wee hours of the morning
and all decisions were unanimous.
The JVP decided not to attend cabinet
meetings until the CEB restructuring proposal was withdrawn. It was
also decided that the four ministers would remove themselves from
their ministerial responsibilities. It was also decided that from
this point on, the JVP would only agree with the government
proposals and plans on a case by case basis. A media briefing was
also scheduled for the next day and Parliamentary Group Leader,
Wimal Weerawansa was to make a special statement in parliament
regarding the matter.
Once the strategy regarding the CEB
restructuring was decided on, the JVP politburo moved on to the
joint mechanism crisis. During this discussion, Weerawansa used his
fancy mobile phone to find out what was happening in cabinet. He
learnt that the government was preparing to sign the joint mechanism
agreement. He informed the politburo of this.
The JVP was to hold a special meeting
with the President on Friday (6). The politburo discussed how that
meeting was to be dealt with. The entire politburo was of the
opinion that the President should be told in no uncertain terms that
the joint mechanism agreement cannot be signed. Additionally, the
National Patriotic Movement was to be used to fight against the
mechanism and the JVP was to directly support this battle. Usually,
before the country, the JVP maintains that the NPM is a separate
entity. However, it was decided that for this particular battle they
would stand as one. It was the JVP's decision to publicly oppose the
As the saying goes, the best is yet to
to heart between Prez and PM
discussion took place between the President and the Prime Minister
at President's House on Wednesday as well. The talks began at about
11 a.m. and continued for about an hour and 45 minutes. The long
discussion took the staff at President's House by surprise since in
the one year after the UPFA came into being, President Chandrika
Kumaratunga and Premier Mahinda Rajapakse had never held such long
When he arrived at President's House on
Kumaratunga's invitation on Wednesday morning, the Premier peeped
into the waiting room on his way to meet the President. Inside he
saw SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem and NUA Leader Ferial Ashraff. Walking
into the room the Prime Minister greeted them and engaged in some
small talk during which the two Muslim leaders told him that they
had been summoned for talks about the joint mechanism.
At the meeting the President convinced
Rajapakse to accept both the joint mechanism and the CEB
Hakeem then asked the Premier why he
"I have no idea," said a
smiling Rajapakse, adding "I will only know on my way
out." Patting Hakeem on the back, the Premier left for his
meeting with the President.
On his way out, the Premier was all
smiles. Again he exchanged pleasantries with Hakeem before
proceeding back to Temple Trees. What was discussed at his meeting
with Kumaratunga however, remains a mystery.
eats humble pie
decision of jailed UNP National Organising Secretary, S.B.
Dissanayake to request a pardon from President Chandrika Kumaratunga
through UNP Colombo District MP, Milinda Moragoda took many party
members by surprise.
To most it was unbelievable that the
fire-breathing Dissanayake could even contemplate going on bended
knees before Kumaratunga particularly after the harshly critical
statements he had made of her conduct.
And with shocked members inundating
Dissanayake with inquiries over the pardon, S.B. went into denial
claiming it was purely Moragoda's idea.
Moragoda for his part, having got the
approval of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to make the appeal on
behalf of Dissanayake, formally sought an appointment with the
President on Monday, May 2.
The President's Secretary, W.J.
Karunaratne informed Moragoda that the President will give him an
appointment no sooner her diary becomes free. Kumaratunga it
appeared, was not in as much a hurry as Dissanayake.
This issue was to also surface at the
UNP political affairs committee meeting on Monday, May 2 presided by
Party Leader Ranil Wickre- mesinghe.
Amongst the others present were Deputy
Leader Karu Jayasu- riya, Chairman Malik Samarawickrama, Secretary,
N.K. Wera- goda, MPs, P. Dayaratne, G.L. Peiris, Lakshman Senev-
iratne, Mahinda Samaras- inghe, John Amaratunga, Jayaw- ickrema
Perera, Tissa Attanayake and Kabir Hashim.
It was John Amaratunga who broached the
subject of Dissanayake's pardon with reference to a story in the
Lankadeepa newspaper, which he claimed created the impression the
UNP on its own had decided to seek a pardon for its National
Organising Secretary. In contrast, The Sunday Leader had said the
request came from Dissanayake. He added it would look bad on the
party to fall at Kumaratunga's feet begging for mercy.
"What is the factual
position?" Amara- tunga asked.
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesi-
nghe used the opportunity to set the record straight.
Said he: "Milinda Moragoda came
and asked for permission on behalf of S.B. to meet with the
President and seek a pardon. He said it was a request by S.B. Then
when I asked SB, he said it was Milinda who proposed it."
Continuing, Wickremesinghe said since
S.B. has identified Milinda as the person to make the appeal, the
party should not stand in the way. Added Wickremesinghe - "Milinda
told me he will only go if I as the party leader approved it. Then I
said if that is what S.B. wants, Milinda could go."
The UNP Leader also made it clear the
decision was not one taken by the party, but one the party gave
approval for at Dissanayake's request as disclosed by Moragoda.
This detailed response saw Amaratunga
urging the party to set the record straight by issuing a
clarification on the Lankadeepa report, but Wickremesinghe was not
Said he - "There is no need for
it. Tamara also met me and said the party was not doing enough to
secure SB's release. I said we have been doing our utmost. I said if
anything more needs to be done, SB had to decide what he wants and
inform the party. Then Tamara told me they will watch the situation
till the end of May and take a decision on what to do."
Following the political affairs
committee meeting, the UNP Leader also explained the position to the
After Wickremesinghe explained the
details, Colombo District MP, Ravi Karunanayake asked whether there
was no one other than Moragoda to represent the party with the
Pat came Wickremesinghe's reply -
"What can I do? It was SB who suggested Milinda goes."
And so a man who breathed fire is now
all set to grovel before the President with no guarantee whatsoever,
she will show mercy.
when the iron is hot
workers on protest
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
At a time when the UPFA government is
bogged down by a multitude of concerns has the trade unions struck.
The pro-alliance unions and employees of the Ceylon Petroleum
Corporation (CPC), Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), the railways and
port workers have collectively decided to cripple the country's
vital services if the restructuring programme is followed.
At present, the CEB workers are on a
work to rule campaign which they commenced last Thursday and the
railways workers have ensured that the trains don't run anymore with
the threat of more to follow - in terms of strikes and suffering
caused to the masses.
"It is only the tip of the
iceberg," says General Secretary, Lanka Electricity Workers'
Union, Ananda Nimalaratne. "This restructuring we shall oppose
at any cost," he added.
There has been an imminent threat of
workers going on strike ever since the restructuring scheme was
announced. In March, the government announced the programme and
listed some 17 public enterprises for immediate restructuring. For
most, expressions of interest have already been called.
With mounting opposition against the
proposed scheme, President Chandrika Kumaratunga originally showed a
somewhat conciliatory attitude and appointed a cabinet sub committee
to study the consequences of the proposed restructuring only to be
reminded of the May 16-17 deadline of the Sri Lanka Development
As things stand, the government could
not have asked for more trouble than this - massive opposition to
their key economic programme aimed at meting urgent commitments
before the leaders go before the international lending community.
To combat the issue, the government no
longer has the support of its main ally, the Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna (JVP). In fact, spearheading the wave of strikes are the
JVP trade unions.
The cabinet meeting on Wednesday night
(4) was to be a make or break one. Power and Energy Minister Susil
Premajayanth was to present the amended cabinet paper for the
immediate restructuring of both the CPC and the CEB and it was not
to just decide the fate of the restructuring programme, but to an
extent, the future of the UPFA government itself.
The meeting commenced sans the
President but when she walked in much later, she was emphatic that
the draft cabinet paper had to be approved on the same day itself.
Her insistence led to the four JVP ministers to stage a walk out in
protest. Unruffled by the opposition, Kumaratunga insisted that if
the JVP persistently objected, the cabinet paper should be passed
nevertheless after recording the fact that constituent partner JVP
opposed the government decision.
The JVP, raucously condemning the
decision outside is blaming the PA for falling in line with
deadlines set by the international lending community who impose
conditions on the government. Further, it is alleged that the
conversion of the CEB into a state owned company is done with a view
to privatise it sans a two-thirds majority in parliament.
The government explanation is that the
new draft is not the original cabinet paper but a much improved one.
Compounding matters was Finance
Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama who made a public statement derogatory
of CEB workers. While employees of the institution burned an effigy
of the Minister in front of the Kolonnawa oil tank installations,
there was at least one minister doing his best to diffuse the
tension that existed between the government and the workers of
different public institutions.
Coming out strongly against Finance
Minister Dr. Amunugama's statement castigating the trade unionists
was a former labour minister himself, Prime Minister Mahinda
While the government appeared to lose
control at the seams, Rajapakse convened a hurried meeting with the
CEB Engineers' Union on Tuesday night (3) where he declared that Dr.
Amunugama's comment that CEB employees were "rogues and
kalakanniyas" was wrong and uncalled for under any
Meanwhile, the CEB is continuing with
its work to rule campaign and will not abandon it until the
government gives clear assurances that restructuring would not be
Launching its protest, the CEB workers
shed all political differences and announced an immediate work to
rule campaign on Thursday (5) at 3 p.m. which continues to date.
"We are united in this effort. We
are all workers and this institution has to exist first. Public
enterprises are not to be sold for a pittance but to be protected by
the state," claims Ananda Nimalaratne.
Nimalaratne claims that there has been
a shortage of some 3,000 CEB workers since 1996 though the vacancies
have not been filled for nearly a decade.
He asserts that despite the heavy
shortage of workers, the available staff has done the work. What the
workers allege is that instead of recruiting the necessary
personnel, the new scheme proposes to retrench.
"That's the final analysis of
privatisation or restructuring. What real difference is there,"
With the work to rule campaign, he says
that the workers are within the legal parameters as it is not
illegal to conduct such a campaign. "We have not really caused
a disruption in the service. When we do, it will be felt," says
"Only then will the authorities
realise how much work the regular worker has been undertaking
despite the heavy shortage in workers," he added.
Nimalaratne however repents the fact
that the consumer would be made to suffer if they eventually move to
a disruption in service.
According to him, the government should
take the blame as they were compelled to resort to such drastic
measures. "It will happen. You have to blame the government for
it," he said.
The pro-JVP union leader lauded the JVP
ministers for having walked out of the cabinet last Wednesday in
protest and said that a government was duty bound to follow a
transparent policy at all times and to specifically work in
consultation with others when dealing with national issues.
The union leader felt pleased that
their opposition to the previous cabinet paper at least led to the
drafting of a new one and the shelving of the previous. However, the
workers maintain that any programme that seeks to restructure the
institution is totally unacceptable to them.
"The CPC should remain in the
hands of the state," Nimalaratne adamantly declares.
But according to Power and Energy
Minister Susil Premajayanth, that would be going too far. He
maintains that the decision to work to rule was rash as it is
necessary to restructure the institution.
Further, Premajayanth assures that the
new cabinet paper is not the same one that was to be presented a
month ago and was also "open for discussion." "I
think they should also show some respect to the government,"
says an obviously distressed Minister.
The CEB's financial woes are tremendous
and that the institution requires some quick fixing is a fact that
is difficult to deny.
The CEB already owes a mammoth Rs. 70
billion to the People's Bank alone. Further, it recorded a massive
loss of Rs 39.3 billion last year. It also has the biggest
transmission loss which is nearly 20% and in comparison to other
countries, sells electricity at very high rates.
According to the Minister, the daily
loss suffered by the CEB alone is a colossal Rs. 40 million. "I
think that merits some quick action," he adds.
The Central Bank report for the year
2004 also warned that the CEB is nearing insolvency unless
significant measures are taken to improve its performance urgently.
According to the Central Bank, the CEB
would require recapitalisation to ensure long-term solvency and it
also recommends immediate restructuring to prevent further economic
hardships and possible retrenchment.
Meanwhile, Minister Premajayanth is
ready to give only one assurance to the workers - that the CEB would
not be privatised and legislation would be introduced to this
effect. He says that under the new scheme, the CEB would be
unbundled into eight entities and would remain under a fully
government owned company.
But the unions are skeptical and blame
Premajayanth for being a pawn in the hands of a government hell-bent
on going ahead with a privatisation scheme, lending agency style.
"This company would eventually
sell everything off. That's what the new company would do,"
And beyond the electricity workers'
protest lies the next crucial group of workers, the petroleum
workers who are also gearing towards a strike.
The Treasury owns one third of the CPC
shares of which 49% are earmarked for restructuring under the new
According to government sources, the
losses incurred by the institution due to subsidised fuel rates is a
colossal Rs. 5,500 million in the first quarter of this year alone.
Explaining the financial predicament of
the CPC, Chairman, Jaliya Medagama says that the recent revision of
prices in petroleum products would only meet the loss suffered due
to soaring crude oil prices in the international market. "That
is hardly sufficient," he says.
According to Medagama, this increase is
no big help as the institution is still running at a loss.
With the revision, the CPC intends
cutting down the first quarter's massive losses by Rs. 3,011
According to CPC records, at present,
the loss incurred by the CPC on petrol is Rs. 9, Rs. 16 on diesel
and Rs. 30 on kerosene per liter.
The total loss suffered due to the
control imposed on fuel prices is another mammoth Rs. 14.5 billion,
all of which has made the institution weaken under debt burdens. The
government has so far settled only Rs. 8 billion following
negotiations with the CPC.
Minister Premajayanth has submitted a
cabinet paper for the balance payment.
Meanwhile, the prices of petrol,
diesel, and kerosene oil were increased with effect from Wednesday
(4) midnight. Petrol was increased by Rs. 6, increasing the price to
Rs. 74, diesel by Rs. 4 increasing the price to Rs. 46 and kerosene
by Rs. 3 with the price shooting up to Rs. 29.40.
According to Secretary, United
Petroleum Workers Union, Lakshman Ananda, the government is inching
towards privatisation and the workers towards strike action.
"This government seems unable to
handle this issue without selling assets to others," he
accused. Ananda is firm that other public enterprises billed for
"privatisation guillotine" would rally around them to
secure the institutions as well as the future of the employees.
As if the turmoil in the fuel and
electricity sectors isn't enough, train workers also have extended
support to the joint trade union action.
Some 250 trains have been cancelled due
to the ongoing strike upto Thursday night (5), according to senior
Railway sources claim that prior notice
was not given and the railway workers have struck work simply to
strengthen the hands with the CPC and CEB unions.
According to Transport Minister Felix
Perera, contract engine drivers have all been summoned to
immediately report to work but so far there has been no success.
"This is the worst they can do to the working class.
How do people sans private vehicles travel to work?" he
demanded to know.
"We are incurring significant
losses and these strikers are adding to it," he noted grimly
adding that while workers' rights should be protected, they also
should be mindful of their duty to the state and its people.
And the port workers are also lurking
in the background. They fear that now that the government is in a
militant mood, the controversial cabinet paper prepared by Ports and
Civil Aviation Minister, Mangala Samaraweera seeking to allow a
management takeover by the Strategic Enterprise Management Agency (SEMA)
for three years would also be pushed.
"The government thinks the iron is
hot. So do we," said an angry Secretary, United Port Workers'
All these could lead to one thing - the
drastic crippling of country's vital services. And it is a crucial
time for the UPFA administration. With the Development Forum just a
week away, what any administration would not wish for is such
massive labour unrest in the country.