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4th June, 2006  Volume 12, Issue  47

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

Issues

A Christian perspective on the Da Vinchi code movie ban

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

President Mahinda Rajapakse has ordered the Public Performances Board to ban the screening of the movie ‘The Da Vinci.....

More...


 Top Issues Stories

  > Declaration by the EU Presidency on LTTE and Govt.

  > Temple Trees drama live at BMICH ( ....Pot Shots)

  > Mahinda and the violence against N-E civilians

  > NLB kicks own goal on corrupt deal

  > Fort suffocated

  > Constitutional Council: It's now the Speaker's call


A Christian perspective on the Da Vinchi code movie ban

President Mahinda Rajapakse

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj  

President Mahinda Rajapakse has ordered the Public Performances Board to ban the screening of the movie ‘The Da Vinci Code’ in local cinemas and on local television channels. Apparently the Catholic Bishops Conference  made the appeal through an epistle ."The decision to ban the film was taken on an appeal by the Catholic Bishops Conference in Sri Lanka", President Rajapaksa  reportedly told the Daily News.

The film directed by Ron Howard starring Tom Hanks is based on the novel written by Dan Brown. The book has remained on the best seller's list  for three years at a stretch since it was first published  in 2003. It has been translated into 44 languages and has sold 52 million copies so far. 40 million copies were sold in North America and at least 100 million Americans are estimated to have read the book. The film released two weeks ago grossed the highest box office sales for North America the first week and shows signs of being a Hollywood block buster.

The " Da Vinci Code" (DVC) has raked up a controversy. There is no doubt that the Controversy has contributed tremendously to its sales. Now the film too seems destined to be a hit due to the same. Banning the movie in some Countries will no doubt lead to a boom in pirated VHS or DVD's. This is what will most probably happen in Sri Lanka. Even as I write this article there comes news that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi has ordered the movie banned in that state too.

The Catholic Bishops of Sri Lanka as well as leaders of the Christian Clergy in Tamil Nadu have sought and obtained a ban on the movie. They seem grateful to the rulers for adhering to their wishes. I have seen the movie twice so far and intend seeing it again. The first time was for entertainment. The second ( possibly third ) viewing is due to a spirit of inquiry. While understanding the reasons which prompted these Christian Clergymen to request a ban I want to state after seeing the film  that I am not in agreement with them on this.

The request for  and decision taken  to ban the film can be critiqued for  at least four reasons.. Firstly it can be condemned on the basis that it infringes upon the right to free expression and artistic freedom. Secondly it can be criticised for its abuse and misuse of power. A decision to ban a film can only be taken by the Public Performances Board. In this case the President has imposed his decision arbitrarily. Thirdly it can be  seen as an unwarranted overreaction. A sledgehammer has been used to swat a fly. Fourthly it can critiqued as an affront  to the Christian faith. The Catholic Bishops are supposedly acting in the interest of Christianity but the end result of this initiative would actually be insulting to Christians.

It is the fourth aspect that I wish to amplify further in this article.Let me state at the outset that I write this piece in my personal capacity as a Christian and not in my professional capacity as a Journalist.This piece is written primarily from a Christian perspective as I believe fervently that Bishops, Moderators, Presidents and Chairpersons of the Christian Religion cannot decide unilaterally on what films should be viewed or not viewed by the faithful flock.

My background as a Christian first. I am  Protestant not Catholic. My father was an Anglican and mother a Methodist. I was baptised, Confirmed  and attended Sunday Schools in Methodist Churches. The greater part of my secondary education was in three Christian Schools. Two of them  were Anglican  Schools in Colpetty  and Mount Lavinia while the third  in  Vaddukkoddai was  run by the Church of South India (Jaffna Diocese).

I have worshipped in Anglican, Methodist  and CSI churches and appreciate the finer points of all three denominations.. The ritualism of the Anglicans, the importance afforded in  Methodism to the  Laity  and  the CSI promotion of indigenous cultural norms in worship are all acceptable to me. Though not a Catholic I have also spent much time within the portals of St. Lucias and St. Anthony's when I was in Colombo. The only Christianity with which I am uncomfortable is that of the new evangelistic variety . I am old fashioned in my faith which thanks to God's grace has been sufficient enough for me.

Now about the ban. When challenged with a tricky question Jesus Christ replied by saying "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto the Lord that which is the Lord's". The worthy Catholic Bishops have crossed this line when they invited "Caesar" to invade the spiritual realm. They have preferred to let the state's writ  interfere with what is essentially an issue affecting the Church.

President Rajpakse lost no time in banning the film out of concern for Christian sentiment. Politically he lost nothing and had everything to gain. A large number of Christian places of worship have been attacked in the past few years . No action has been taken to protect Churches or punish the culprits responsible. But as for banning the movie demand  action has been prompt.

The Catholic Bishops have set a  disturbing precedent in invoking state power to restrict a fundamental right of the people for a parochial purpose. . By doing so they have forfeited the right to be in the vanguard of protests in other situations where the state tramples on fundamental rights of  the people in the future. There may come a time when public expression of Christian beliefs too could be banned on the grounds that some Religious leaders are offended. The Church will be rendered mute in such a scenario.

Once Church leaders request and obtain favours like this from the President a Quid Pro Quo could be expected. This may hamper the commendable role played by some sections of the Catholic Clergy in leading protests against Social injustice. A case in point is Norachcholai. I will not be surprised if the Church is compelled to go "silent" on the  Coal power plant issue in the future.

Let me return to the film which  like the novel  is a mystery thriller. Some of the controversial points made like the role of Mary Magdalene in the life of Jesus Christ for instance has been stated by many other people at different times. In DVC those views are wrapped in attractive, new  tinsel. Fact is mixed with fiction in the form of fact.This is its magic.I do not not want to provide a synopsis of the story or review the film. What I want to do is to briefly address some of the controversial points in the film that trouble Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular. I simply wish to place the facts I know alongside the "facts" shown in the film.

The DVC says Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.He had a daughter by her. According to the movie Jesus wanted Mary to lead the faith after him. But Church leaders like the Apostle Peter forced her to run away with the child . In later years Mary was depicted wrongfully as a prostitute. The twist that DVC provides is to use Leonard Da Vinci's "Last Supper" painting as proof. The youngish figure with long hair on Jesus's right is supposed to be Mary Magdalene and not John says DVC.

What are the facts? Mary Magdalene was certainly close to Jesus. She  wept at Jesus's tomb. She was the first witness to the resurrection. Jesus even asked her to go and tell the disciples about him being risen. There is no proof that Jesus was ever married to her despite this theory being bandied about for many, many years. If such a thing had happened St. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians would have cited it in support of his case that Apostles could marry. He did not.

According to Church historians the confusion aboit Mary Magdalene was due to Gregory (the great) in the sixth Century. It was Gregory who associated the Mary Magdalene mentioned in Luke chapter  eight with the unnamed sinful woman or prostitute mentioned in chapter seven of Luke's gospel.Yet there is no historical evidence of any vilification campaign against Mary Magdalene.

As for the painting the figure on the right has from the earliest times been regarded as John the youngest and most affectionate of his disciples. When Jesus talks of someone at the last supper going to betray him the disciples query Jesus. John leans on Jesus's shoulder. Now DVC says the figure was Mary. It does not seem correct. Artists of that era used to draw youths as having feminie features. This is what Leonard Da Vinci seems to have done.

Apart from the Mary Magdalene marriage argument the DVC also irks Christians by its assertions about the Bible and Christ Jesus. About the compilation of books into what we call the Holy Bible the DVC dismisses it flippantly observing it "was not a fax from Heaven". With regard  to Jesus the DVC says " almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false."The DVC also  refers to the historic convention in 325 AD at the ancient city of Nicea in what is today modern Turkey.It is here that the divinity of Jesus and the infallibility of the Bible was promulgated." until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless " says the DVC.

Again the answer to these assertions is that the DVC mixes fact with fiction in the guise of fact. According to Christian Scholars the DVC author Dan Brown seems to have relied on Arianus for most of his arguments about pre - Nicene convention.This man from Alexandria  propounded the argument that Jesus though a great man was not the son of God or God in flesh. It was this thesis of "Arianism"  that was keenly debated and rejected at Nicea in 325. This was a convention held by Constantine the First Roman emperor to declare Christianity legal. Constantine  a new convert legalised Christianity in 313.

It is however wrong for DVC to allege that Jesus was not regarded as divine prior to the Nicea Convention. An overwhelming number of  early Christians had  been worshipping Jesus as the risen saviour and lord  long before 325. Even before doctrinal regulations were formulated the early leaders had devised edicts of faith known as canons.These canons of faith affirmed this belief.

One example, according to theologians was the canon of prominent second-century bishop Irenaeus which  was derived on  1 Corinthians 8:6: "Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ."The term used was "Kyrios" for Lord.

The early Christians applied the Greek term "Kyrios" meaning Lord for Jesus.. In early translations before the time of Jesus the word had been used to denote "yahweh" or Jehova. The Jews used it only in divine terms. The Romans used the same term as a term of honour to denote the emperor. The Jews refused to use "Kyrios" for emperor reserving it only for God. It was this Kyrios term that was used to describe Jesus by early Christians long before 325. The earliest   extra-canonical Christian book  Didache  was written in the late 100s. In this book, the earliest Aramaic-speaking Christians refer to Jesus as Kyrios.

Early Christians also  acknowledged Jesus's divinity by imploring God the Father in Christ's name. According to Scholars " the early Church leaders, including Justin Martyr, a second-century luminary , baptized in the name of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—thereby acknowledging the equality of the one Lord's three distinct persons".

Contrary to what the DVC says " the  Council of Nicea did not entirely end the controversy over Arius's teachings,"  say Theologians nor did  "the gathering impose a foreign doctrine of Christ's divinity on the church. The participating bishops merely affirmed the historic and standard Christian beliefs, erecting a united front against future efforts to dilute Christ's gift of salvation.".

" The church leaders at Nicea rejected Arianism and affirmed that God and Jesus existed together from the beginning in the Trinity"  say Scholars.  This council produced the first drafts of what became the Nicene Creed, the  explanation  and affirmation of Christian belief that is repeated dutifully in Churches nowadays.

It is true that the Bible was not a "fax from heaven" as stated in DVC. The New Testament was formally approved in 367. What happened in Nicea in 325 was that some scriptural texts were discussed and debated. The four Gospels and St. Paul's epistles were widely accepted by early Christians. By 190 the Christians had codified as the "Muratorian"  canon most of the books found in the New Testament. The Nicene council saw  two of those books being excluded (Wisdom of Solomon, Peter;s Revelations) and two others being included (Hebrews , Johms book of revelations).

Those who codified the canon gave pride of place to who the authors were. Those written by persons who walked  and talked with Jesus were given importance. Letters and personal experiences were regarded as authoritative only if they were written by the Apostles or disciples of Apostles. This was proof of authentic reliability.

The selection process also gave priority to those documents with a constructive capacity to make the Church grow and flourish. Those documents going against the grain of established wisdom in the form of those books accepted in earlier times were rejected. This then was the Nicene legacy and not a conspiracy as depicted in DVC.

Among other controversial points in DVC is the way the "Opus Dei" has been portrayed in DVC. According to Scholars  the "Opus Dei" is a   conservative religious group within the Roman Catholic Church. " Opus Dei urges priests and lay people to strenuously pursue sanctification through everyday discipline. The group has taken criticism for its conservative views, zeal, and secretive practices. There is no evidence that Opus Dei has resorted to murder; nor has the Vatican entrusted Opus Dei to violently guard the church's deepest secrets, as is claimed  in The Da Vinci Code."

There is also the reference to the " Priory of Sion " in DVC . The movie projects it as the secret society protecting and preserving a dynasty founded by Jesus and Mary Magdalene.. Leonard Da Vinci and Isaac Newton being members. This Society does exist but not in the way suggested by the movie.

Contemporary  Researchers "  suspect that members of the real  "Priory of Sion" , founded in 1956, forged documents that placed major historical figures—such as Isaac Newton and Leonard da Vinci—in an ancient secret society by the same name.. There is no evidence that such a group existed before  beyond these questionable  documents." Tales  relating this group to a dynasty begun by Jesus and Mary Magdalene seem to be nothing other than  pure fiction.

There are many other points giving offence to Christians like the "Philip Gospel" and "Mother Goddess cult" around Mary Magdalene etc. All these issues in addition to the major ones mentioned above can be easily contested and trashed if the "Gospel according to Da Vinci Code" is effectively challenged. Asking for a ban on the other hand suggests fallibility and weakness as if Christianity has something to hide.

In that context it  must be noted that the movie has not been banned in any of the pre- dominantly Christian Countries so far. Many Christian leaders in the West do not want to articulate a demand  seeking a ban  for two or three reasons. One is that many are democratic enough to genuinely  accept  concepts such as creative freedom and artistic expression. Secondly they are also smart enough to realise that making such a demand would only erode the image of the Church.

More importantly it is realised that  a campaign for such a demand could be counterproductive. In 1988 Martin Scorsese came out with his controversial "Last Temptation of Jesus Christ". There was widespread protests and demands to prohibit screening. The end result was massive box office sales for that movie.


What most  North American church leaders are doing now is two - fold. One school of thought urges Christians not to see the film. It is a form of voluntary ban that they seek. Instead of seeing DVC they urge people to go to theatres and see others instead. This is one way of driving a lesson home to money - conscious Hollywood they feel.

There is a second school of thought which sees the movie as both a challenge and opportunity. These sections want to exploit the curiosity and interest evoked by the movie. Despite the controversial viewpoint the movie does not provide a substantive basis for that. Much of what is expressed in the movie is simply not true. It is possible through reasoning on facts to disprove the DVC theories.


At the same time it is recognised that the movie and novel have succeeded in creating widespread awareness of the history of Jesus Christ and the Early Church.Attempts are being made to attract those interested due to DVC into seeking further knowledge. Books are being written, classes conducted , lectures arranged etc to counter the views expressed by the movie. The idea is to utilise the furore caused by the movie to foster further knowledge of Jesus and the Church . It is a subtle form of evangelisation.

It is this second course of action that I would have wanted the Church to take in Sri Lanka. For one thing the book is interesting but the movie is rather heavy and dull. Much of the movie depends on dialogue rather than action. Though attempts have been made to simplify the issues there does exist a lacuna at times in comprehension. Unlike the "Last Temptation" there are few visual images that are detrimental in any way to Christ or Christianity.

Thus only those with some degree of proficiency in English would understand the film. It simply would not have made any impact on the mono - lingual Sinhala and Tamil person who saw the film unless it was sib - titled. In such a situation the demand for a ban was totally unnecessary. Instead of banning the Church could very well have let the film  be shown and  issued perhaps a booklet in all three languages shedding light on the issues raised.
It could have gone on the offensive and  utilised any extra interest arising out of such viewing  to provide true enlightenment instead of being on the defensive and clamouring for a ban.The movie could have been both a challenge and opportunity to review and renew our  faith.
Some people may recall that movie "Jesus Christ Super Star". There is a song in that which  is of relevance -
"Day By Day,
For Three Things I Pray,
To Know Thee More Clearly
To Love Thee More Dearly
To Follow Thee More Nearly"

Movies such as "Da Vinci Code" may offend and upset some Christians. In the final analysis they will strengthen and not weaken our faith. We will know Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly.

Ultimately all religion centers around faith. It is the inter - face of rationality and irrationality. The birth and growth of religions such as Christianity have a mixture of sacrifice, cruelty, piety and ambition. Those of us who are Christians in Sri Lanka realise that some of our ancestors may have been converted due to a variety of reasons under Colonialism. This does not diminish in any way this legacy of faith that we are heirs to.. As for first generation Christians they would be zealously faithful as ,most converts are capable of being.

Against this backdrop  it seems unbelievable that eminent men of the cloth such as the Catholic Bishops should seek intervention of the State to protect our faith from movies such as DVC. Did they think that our faith was  so fickle that a mere movie can overwhelm our minds and crush our spirits? Did they think that Christians would get so angry that they would indulge in Violence and so required prevention?

The Bishops would do well to be reminded of that incident related in Mark's Gospel. Jesus is asleep in the boat and a storm rages. The disciples are afraid and wake him up. He calms the sea and chides them  about their fear and lack of faith. The Bishops worried about the impact of a movie also need to be asked  " Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?"

Let me conclude on a personal note. Two of the schools I studied were named after St. Thomas. He was the disciple who first refused to believe that Jesus had arisen. He believed only after examining the hands and feet of Jesus. He is referred to as Doubting Thomas. Yet it was this doubting Thomas who when convinced affirmed his faith with great clarity by uttering "My Lord and My God".

There may be many people like Doubting Thomas around us. Perhaps movies and books like "The Da Vinci Code" may increase their doubts. At the end of it all they would I am sure re- affirm their faith and like St. Thomas proclaim "My Lord and My God".


Declaration by the EU Presidency on LTTE and Govt.

The European Union (EU) which listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation last week also passed strictures on the government and the Karuna Group which had not been placed before the Sri Lankan public. What the public heard was only the EU ban of the LTTE. Here is the full text of the EU statement.

Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union concerning listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation

 The EU Declaration and President, European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso

The Council of the European Union (EU) decided on 29 May 2006 to include the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) on the EU list for the application of specific measures to combat terrorism. This list contains the names of persons, groups and entities against whom, for reasons of their involvement in terrorist acts, specific restrictive measures have to be taken, including the freezing of funds and other financial assets or economic resources of the persons and entities specified, a ban on the provision of funds, financial assets and economic resources, and a ban on the provision of financial or other related services, directly or indirectly, for the benefit of these persons, groups and entities, police and judicial cooperation between EU member states:

The decision of the EU to list the LTTE should come as a surprise to nobody. Several warnings have already been provided to the LTTE, which the LTTE has systematically ignored. In its statement of 27 September 2005 (12669/1/OS) the EU stated that "it was actively considering the formal listing of LTTE as a terrorist organisation." The EU then called upon all parties to show commitment and responsibility towards the peace process and to refrain from actions that could endanger a peaceful resolution and political settlement of the conflict.

Unfortunately, this appeal has gone unheeded. The decision of the EU to list the LTTE is based on the actions of that organisation. The EU still sees a need for the LTTE to amend its violent course and return to peace talks, and will maintain its dialogue with the LTTE where such contacts, in the pursuit of the peace process, may help to bring about a return to negotiations and an end to violence. Listing the LTTE will not diminish the EU's determination to play its role as one of the Tokyo Co-Chairs. The EU stresses that its decision is directed at the LTTE, and not at the Tamil people.

3. At the same time, the EU calls upon the Sri Lankan authorities to curb violence in government controlled areas. In this regard, the EU stands by all of the findings in the reports of the SLMM (Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission). The EU urges the Government of Sri Lanka to act effectively on the commitment of President Rajapakse to put a stop to the culture of impunity and to clamp down on all acts of violence in areas controlled by the government. The EU further urges the government to ensure law and order for all citizens of Sri Lanka, and to investigate and prosecute all cases of violence that have so far not resulted in arrests or convictions.

4. The upsurge in violence is not caused by the LTTE alone. The EU strongly urges the Sri Lankan authorities to curb violence in government controlled areas. The EU notes with concern the growing number of reports of extrajudicial killings. The EU views the activities of the Karuna Group in the gravest possible light. These are clearly contributing to increased instability in Sri Lanka, and further endanger the peace process. The EU intends to keep the activities of the Karuna Group under close review, with a view to considering possible further steps.

5. The EU will keep the situation in Sri Lanka under active review, taking account of the activities of all parties to the conflict. It will remain ready to adopt further measures as and when they may be warranted by changing circumstances.

6. The European Union firmly believes that only a peacefully negotiated settlement can ensure a lasting solution acceptable to all. In this connection, the EU recalls the agreement reached in Oslo by all the parties involved to explore a specific institutional solution for Sri Lanka. It is the responsibility of all those concerned to act in the interests of all the people of Sri Lanka. The EU remains fully committed to the peace process in Sri Lanka. The EU sincerely urges all parties to put an end to violence and to return to the negotiation table, so as to relieve the Sri Lankan people from the ordeal of 20 years of persistent conflict.

7. The EU remains firmly committed to assisting the Norwegian facilitator in its work and to helping the two parties to the Ceasefire Agreement in Sri Lanka to resolve their conflicts and find a long term peaceful settlement for Sri Lanka. This, however, requires real commitment to the peace process from both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. The EU clearly expects all parties to respect the role and physical safety of the SLMM monitors.


Mahinda and the violence against N-E civilians

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Mahendra Percy Rajapakse now known as Mahinda Rajapakse is a man of many surprises. One facet of his personality is the impressive ability to pontificate. The Catholic bishops of Mannar and Jaffna were two pontiffs who witnessed this in full measure when they called on him last Tuesday (May 30) to outline the problems experienced in recent times by the ordinary civilians of the north - east. Chief among these was the violence.

Gothabaya Rajapakse and Douglas Devananda

There were newspaper reports about the meeting. This is what one report said about discussions on the prevailing violence. " President Mahinda Rajapakse has requested the Bishops of Jaffna and Mannar to urge the civilians to immediately bring to the notice of the police and security establishment, provide the necessary evidence and assist investigators, whenever violence is unleashed on civilians in the north and east. In the event of civilians encountering any difficulty in complaining to the police or military authorities, such complaints could be directed to the Government Peace Secretariat, the President told the Bishops.."

The news report also stated the following " Associated with the President at the talks were Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse, Secretary of Plan Implementation, Ajith Cabraal, head of the Government Peace Secretariat, Dr. Palitha Kohona, Chief of Defence Staff, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri and Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda.".

President Rajapakse's pronouncements project an impression that the average civilian in the north - east is reluctant to "immediately bring to the notice of the police and security establishment," and to " provide the necessary evidence" and also "assist investigators, whenever violence is unleashed on civilians." The President has also been magnanimous enough to proffer the advice that " In the event of civilians encountering any difficulty in complaining to the police or military authorities, such complaints could be directed to the Government Peace Secretariat."

I would have loved to see the faces of Bishop Thomas Soundaranayagam and Bishop Joseph Rayappu when the President made this statement. Both bishops are fully conversant with ground realities of the north - east. They know the nature of prevailing violence and the persons responsible. Being tactful and diplomatic the prelates would no doubt have maintained stoic silence.

What then is the reality behind north - eastern violence? It emanates basically from four sources. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil armed groups like the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) and Karuna faction, the Sinhala homeguards and armed hoodlums that are instigated by Sinhala chauvinist outfits and aided by the police and armed forces comprise three of these. The last but certainly not the least source are members of the armed forces and police themselves.

In a scenario that brings fresh meaning to the proverbial saying about the fence devouring the crops it is supposed to protect the preponderantly "Sinhala" speaking armed forces and police are mainly responsible for the violence against innocent Tamil civilians of the north - east. Against this backdrop where and to whom does the civilian complain? Even if they complain what action is taken?

Joseph Pararajasingham

Take for instance the killing of Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham. He was shot dead in the St. Mary's Cathedral of Batticaloa while attending midnight mass on Christmas eve. The assassins came up near the altar and fired just after Joseph received Holy Communion from Batticaloa Bishop Kingsley Swampillai.

The killers walked coolly away after the shooting. Joseph's five police bodyguards did nothing. The surrounding area was filled with security personnel when the service began. They had all mysteriously disappeared after the shooting. It is well - known that one of the killers was a Tamil "Sitha" from the Karuna faction. The other was a Sinhala army man in civvies. No action has been taken yet. Worse still the army website announced that the LTTE was responsible for killing their close supporter.

It was only a few months ago that Lakshman Kadirgamar was shot dead in Colombo. Kadirgamar and Pararajasingham were on opposite sides in politics. One was part and parcel of the government while the other was supportive of the LTTE. Both were democratic politicians appointed as national list MPs. Yet one killing received worldwide condemnation but the other was virtually ignored. Even the fact that the sanctity of a church had been cruelly vioated found no responsive chord in international circles. Subsequently some of Joseph's relatives in Batticaloa too have had to flee.

If a democratic politician representing the district for more than a decade could be killed in this horrible manner in full view of a church congregation in the cathedral in front of the bishop, what chance does the ordinary civilian have? If no action has been taken so far on this matter then what use is there in others complaining?

Tamil youth shooting

Let's take the shooting of five innocent Tamil youths in Trincomalee at the Dutch Bay beach. First it was made out that they were terrorists who died when the explosives in their possession went off accidently. Next it was said that they had died in a firefight with security personnel. Thanks to a fair - minded, courageous JMO it was proved later that all five had been executed mafia style. They were made to kneel and bullets fired at close range.

Even after the post - mortem, there were attempts to obstruct justice. The police on duty at the hospital intimidated the parents to sign statements that their children were Tigers if their bodies were to be released. Thanks to the leadership provided by a medical doctor parent the other parent's also stood firm. They got their children's bodies. Dr, Manoharan also gave valuable evidence at the judicial inquiry.

Amnesty international

What has happened thereafter is atrocious. It was this column which first spotlighted terror tactics being employed to frighten Dr. Manoharan. Later Amnesty International also issued a statement to this effect. Namini Wijedasa of the Sunday Island also wrote a vivid account of the troubles faced by Dr. Manoharan. After making a victim out of a son the whole family was now being victimised. They were living in perpetual fear due to the harassment and intimidation.Dr. Manoharan has written even to President Rajapakse about the family's plight. But has Mahinda done anything so far? No!

Who was responsible for the killings? According to the UTHR report Police Supdt. Kapila Jayasekera had allegedly masterminded the operation that had been carried out under the supervision of Inspector Perera. There were also media reports about an STF platoon being deployed in Trincomalee on the orders of National Security adviser, Kotakadeniya. The report said that the STF had been instructed to be hard. Kotakadeniya went public with the statement that Mahinda's brother and Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse knew of this deployment and had approved of it.

International focus

With international attention being focused on the incident 11 STF men and two policemen were arrested. No action was taken against Jayasekera . Every one on duty in the vicinity on the day of the incident should have been detained. The policemen on duty at the hospital should have been detained. The entire STF platoon should have been grilled. But nothing happened. Now comes the news that the bullets in the bodies do not match the guns in the STF possession. They are to be released shortly.

Rajapakse gave an indication of his mindset when he reportedly said that the suspects will be released unless people who saw the execution came forward to give evidence. How is that possible when all civilians were kept out by the security personnel and lights put out at the time of the shooting? Even if there was a witness would he or she come forward after witnessing the persecution of Dr. Manoharan's family? In my opinion the responsibility for the Trinco massacre goes way up. This explains the elaborate cover up and the despicable attempts to blame the victims for justice being denied.

Let's take another instance. Seven persons went missing at the Amman temple in Manthuvil. There were bloodstains and signs of violence. The army was observed "visiting" the temple at ungodly hours. The people complained en masse to the security forces. They did exactly what Rajapakse wanted them to do. But what happened? The army denied any responsibility and declared an unofficial local curfew to keep the agitated public indoors. The people scoured the shrub jungles and marshy lands in search of the bodies. The families of the disappeared gathered daily in front of the Varany camp. Nothing done so far!

EPDP implicated

Lets take another example. The Uthayan newspaper office in Jaffna was attacked and two killed. The EPDP was implicated. The attack came at a time when an international conference related to World Press Freedom was underway in Colombo. With international media attention focused on the incident the government was compelled to take action for demonstration purposes. Four students and two employees of an eatery were arrested as "suspects." All of them were innocent.

Speaking of the EPDP brings the Allaipiddy massacre to mind. Eight people including a four year old child and four month infant were shot dead in cold blood. Another three members of the same family were killed in Puliyankoodal. Another man was killed at Velanai West. Thirteen people were killed and 11 businesses attacked in Allaipiddy, Velanai and Puliyankoodal on the same night. The navy and EPDP were allegedly responsible. There were many media reports and even a statement by Amnesty International on this.

The EPDP is led by Douglas Devananda, its secretary - general. Devananda is a cabinet minister in the Rajapakse government. The recent statement by the four Co - Chairs points the finger at the Karuna Group and "violent" elements in the EPDP. With Devananda being in the cabinet the line of responsibility goes right up to government level. Yet not even an iota of action has been taken. In a show of solidarity President Rajapakse took the unusual step of visiting Devananda at his Layards Road residence and spending some hours. An emboldened Devananda is now criticising the AI and even the Co - Chairs for daring to accuse the EPDP.

Rape and murder

There have been many other incidents like the one at Nelliaddy where eight passengers in two auto rickshaws were fired at and killed by soldiers who even used rocket propelled grenades.In Puthur five persons from Vatharavathai were taken in for questioning. Their bodies were found near the army camp in the morning. In Punguditheevu there was the rape and murder of a 20 year old woman allegedly by the navy. No meaningful action has been taken against any member of the security forces so far.

Then there was the Trincomalee violence. Tamil civilians were killed and Tamil owned businesses looted and attacked in the aftermath of a claymore bomb having being exploded in the vegetable market by the LTTE. The organised mobs went about their task systematically as members of the security forces stood by simply watching. Some even collaborated in the violence against Tamils. No one has been arrested so far for being involved in the anti - Tamil violence.

Victimised

Against this backdrop of the security forces and Tamil acolytes being involved in the anti - Tamil violence how on earth does Mahinda Rajapakse expect civilians to complain to the relevant authorities? Even if they did so has any concrete action been taken anywhere? The Manthuvil families complained but what has happened? On the other hand people who were courageous enough to seek justice like Dr. Manoharan are being victimised!

The worst indictment of the Rajapakse regime is the deliberate attacks on civilian areas.Aerial bombardment was done in Muttur, Kilinochchi and Udayarkattu. Naval gunboats shelled the coastal areas of Muttur East. The Army fired artillery including multi - barrel rocket launchers. The justification for this targetting of civilian areas was the suicide bomber attack on the Army Commander and the Sea Tiger operation against a naval flotilla. Whatever the provocation the Rajapakse regime had no right to retaliate by launching attacks on civilian areas.

Options

A Sunday newspaper had a piece about Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse and Cabinet Minister Mangala Samaraweera being in the operational headquarters when discussions were on about an adequate response. The two options were the "Dog option" and the "Lion option." The dog runs away when a stone is thrown but a lion fights back when attacked. The retaliatory aerial bombardment and artillery shelling was supposedly part of the "Lion" response. What hope does the Tamil civilian have when decisions are taken at a high level and described as " Lion option"?

As stated in these columns earlier the Rajapakse regime has adopted the targeting of Tamil civilians as deliberate strategy. In some cases it is retaliatory in nature for attacks on the security forces. In some cases it consists of reprisals after the attack. In some cases it is done to eliminate or drive out civilian supporters of the LTTE. In some cases it is simply indisciplined excesses committed confidently in a climate of impunity.

Justice denied

Mahinda Rajapakse is being arrogantly sarcastic when he calls upon affected Tamil civilians to complain with details to the security forces. He is neither stupid nor ignorant of north - eastern conditions to expect this to happen. Justice will simply not be done. Perversion of justice is the norm. The advice to tender complaints to the Peace Secretariat is a bad joke. Under the new boss Palitha Kohona, the Peace Secretariat has become a glorified propaganda unit disseminating misinformation and disinformation. The SLMM is becoming increasingly ineffective.

This then is the plight of the north - eastern Tamil civilians. There is no protection against violence. This is the ground reality. It is the democratically elected government which bears responsibility for civilian safety. Sadly there seems no way out when the state begins targeting civilians . Until and unless the Rajapakse regime is pressurised to remedy this situation there is no light visible at the end of the dark, dark tunnel. A terrible Tamil tragedy is unfolding.


President's silence deafening

NLB kicks own goal on corrupt deal

Kanchana, Dilhani and Sangeetha

By Kumudu Amarasingham

The National Lotteries Board (NLB) saga took yet another twist last week as a letter of correction sent by the Additional General Manager of NLBclaiming 

Anura Dissanayake 
and NLB letter to The Sunday Leader

not a single cent was paid to the actresses who posed for the NLB 2006 calendar was proven to be a blatant lie, with two of the actresses charging they had each received Rs.150, 000 as payment for posing in the calendar.

The actresses, Kanchana Mendis and Dilhani Asokamala, said that they had been paid only Rs.150, 000 each for modeling for the calendar, as opposed to the Rs.1 million that was supposed to have been paid to each model. According to the two actresses the money had been deposited in their bank accounts.

The letter sent by the Additional General Manager, NLB, Ashok Witharana, however said, "we can state without any fear that we have not paid even a single cent to any actress who appeared in that calendar."

This statement came in the wake of NLB chairman's sister-in-law, actress Sangeetha Weeraratne herself informing The Sunday Leader's sister paper Irudina, that she had been paid Rs.150, 000 for posing for the NLB 2006 calendar though, she said, she would 'like to say' she had been paid Rs.1 million because it would 'improve' her status as a top notch model and actress.

Not aware

Meanwhile the two actresses who posed for the NLB 2006 calendar charged they were not aware the pictures would be used to promote a political candidate, as revealed inThe Sunday Leader article on May 21.

Dilhani Ashokamala and Kanchana Mendis, two of the three actresses whose faces appeared beneath the 2006 NLB calendar were aghast whenThe Sunday Leader two weeks ago published a picture of the poster they had posed for, promoting the candidature of Nandana Daluwatte, a PA candidate at the last local government elections.

"We had no idea they would use the calendar for political purposes and would never have allowed it if we knew," both Kanchana and Dilhani said.

The Additional General Manager's letter to the Editor ofThe Sunday Leader however states that the NLB did not print calendars for any candidate. "National Lotteries Board never printed calendars for any political candidate. By using modern technology, anybody can change or distort any document as they want," the letter said.

The question remains, if this was indeed the case and the image had been distorted, why isn't the National Lotteries Board taking any action against Daluwatte, given their logos were on the calendar and it was owned by NLB?

Unreachable

NLB Chairman Priyantha Kariyapperuma, who earlier spoke to the Editor of The Sunday Leader and said he would give his side of the story to the paper, has since been unreachable, despite several attempts made to contact him on his mobile phone last week.

Mendis however toldThe Sunday Leader that Weeraratne, the third model in the calendar and Kariyapperuma's sister-in-law, had denied any knowledge of the calendar being used to promote a political candidate, claiming the images had been graphically modified, with Daluwatte's face inserted on it. "It was on Sangeetha's word and our friendship with her that we agreed to pose for the NLB calendar," Mendis said. She further questioned why, if indeed the candidate had inserted his picture without the knowledge of Lotteries Board officials, he was not being legally taken to task for it.

Be that as it may, the calendar, as revealed two weeks ago in this newspaper, was among the least of the discrepancies that had occurred at the National Lotteries Board during the tenure of its current Chairman Priyantha Kariyapperuma. 

NLB had managed to overspend on its advertising budget for 2006 by over Rs.10 million before even half the year has passed, as revealed in the last article. The advertising budget for 2006 was Rs.31, 487,117 million. By end February NLB had already spent Rs.23, 376,364.91 million, while by March the amount spent on "image building" stood at Rs.41, 693,514.91 million, over Rs.10 million beyond the stipulated advertising budget for the whole year.

Incurred  losses

 Director, and Treasury Representative, National Lotteries Board, K.N.J. Cooray in a letter to the NLB Chairman Priyantha Kariyapperuma, states that the losses incurred by NLB in March this year amounted to Rs.2, 217,000. The National Lotteries Boarddespite its massive 'image building' is Rs.381 million behind the target for the first quarter of the year.

The main reason for this is the enormous expenses incurred by NLB employees, particularly the Chairman. Cooray also stated that a surplus of 18 staff had been hired since Kariyapperuma's appointment, whereas NLB was already overstaffed. Of these, two bodyguards and a driver were hired for Kariyapperuma's personal use. In addition to his stipulated allowance and vehicle, Kariyapperuma had also taken five NLB vehicles for his private use.

In yet another article last monthThe Sunday Leader highlighted some of Kariyapperuma's other misdoings, including not following proper government tender procedure in giving out advertising contracts, selection of advertising agencies without appropriate board approval and based on personal contacts, misuse of NLB resources including vehicles, employment of persons without proper qualifications and without obtaining prior board approval, in addition to a range of other discrepancies.

A letter to Kariyapperuma from the Auditor General's Department dated February 2006 clearly stated these inconsistencies. According to the letter,selection of agencies was carried out by a committee appointed by the Chairman without the assistance of a tender board.

 Guidelines On Government Tender Procedure plainly states that for the value of a tender between Rs.25 million and 100 million or exceeding Rs.100 million, Ministry Tender  Board or Cabinet Appointed Tender Board must take decisions. Further Commitment between the NLB and the advertising agencies was limited only to a letter, although it is important to legally enter into an agreement between two parties in such transactions stating the responsibilities of both parties, expected targets, details of assignments to be carried out, financial commitments and so on.

The letter by the Additional General Manager of NLB however denied these documented allegations by the Auditor General's Department, claiming, "Advertising activities of the Board was selected following a proper procedure."

Meanwhile no response was given regarding revelations in The Sunday Leader made in the last article based on a letter from the advertising agency Advisor In-Out Win to the NLB Chairman stating they (Advisor In Out Win) had legally registered as a company - over a month after they had been selected to market the highest earning NLB products. The agency had not even been registered when the National Lotteries Board (NLB) first recruited it to as one of their main advertising agencies, amongst the eight selected.

Shady deal

Moreover the procedure for handing out the contract to print NLB's 2006 calendar to Advisor was extremely shady. Tenders were called from three different organisations: MDA Graphics who quoted Rs.16.60 per calendar, SRGS Graphics who quoted Rs.16.25 per calendar and Adviser In-Out Win who quoted Rs.15.50 per calendar.

The first organisation was a very small printing press, the owner of the second did not even own a press and got his work done via the press owned by the first, and the third organisation, to which the tender was awarded, had been working for the highest income generating 'Mahajana Sampatha' and 'Supiri Wasana Sampatha'  lotteries of the Board. To top things off, neither the supplier, the agency (Advisor), nor NLB, had paid VAT on the order, as revealed in the Auditor General's letter.

On January 17, 2006, approval had been granted to offer the tender to Advisor, the lowest bidder for the printing of 100 000 wall calendars and 5000 desk calendars. However, according to the Deputy Auditor General H.A.S. Samaraweera, the organisation had been selected for supply before the approval was granted and the firm had completed the first order on January 7, 2006.

Although the tender board had approved the purchase of only 100, 000 wall calendars, 370, 000 wall calendars had been printed and handed over to the board as of March 10 this year (the date of the audit examination) amounting to a total expenditure (including desk calendars) of Rs.7, 075,000. The supply of 270 000 calendars valued at Rs.4, 185,000 had been obtained without requisite approval.

Printed in excess

Audit tests on March 10 further revealed that 180,250 calendars or 48% of the anount printed were in the main stores in Maradana without distribution: a position that had arisen due to the printing of excessive numbers without appropriate approval.

From 2003 to 2005 there was a decline in total revenue of the NLB, with gross profit and net profit both declining, while total cost of employment has risen dramatically. The contribution made to the consolidated fund in 2003 was Rs.1, 237.13 million while in 2005 it had dropped to Rs.957.4 million. NLB had also not paid the special levy imposed by the Treasury for the year 2005 amounting to Rs.200 million.

In reply to a request by Kariyapperuma for approval to increase incentive payment for employees, the Director General of the Department of Public Enterprises, V. Kanagasabapathy, in a letter dated April 6, 2006 pointed out that the financial performance of the NLB had reached an all-time low. The letter states that if the existing incentive had been based on performance this situation could not have arisen.

Also among Kariyapperuma's transgressions is the payment of large amounts via the Lotteries Board to individuals, once again against the rules. Among the statements in its possession,The Sunday Leader holds an invoice for Rs.500 000 written to Ven. Borella Athula Thero for an advertisement at the Dasa Paramitha Maha Perahera.

The Treasury Representative at the NLB, in a letter to Kariyapperuma, has stated the current financial status of the National Lotteries Board is "dangerous," and if not rectified soon would lead to disaster. The Director General of Public Enterprises has echoed his sentiments in several letters.

All these details were revealed in two articles previously published inThe Sunday Leader, with documentary proof. However, to date, nothing has been done, and Kariyapperuma, to the detriment of what was once, for better or worse, the country's most lucrative enterprise, still remains its Chairman.

Favoured treatment

The Sunday Leader is once again forced to question if this has anything to do withKariyapperuma being amongst President Mahinda Rajapakse's personal staff, prior to his taking up office as President. Why would the leader of a country already on the verge of an economic crisis, allow one of its few, state-owned, profitable enterprises to be run to the ground?

The President obviouslyhas no plans to rectify this situation despite the NLB coming directly under his purview as Finance Minister.Instead, Kariyapperuma is expected to be rewarded by shifting him as chairman SLT.

There is however one watchdog in government today in the form of JVP's Anura Kumara Dissanayake who is monitoring corrupt activities in government given the opposition's own lethargy, being too busy fighting among themselves. So over to you Mr. Dissanayake.


Fort suffocated

Heavily guarded Fort

By Ranee Mohamed

A tight security blanket to be drawn over the Fort area in the coming weeks has caused worry and concern among the business community of this commercial hub of Colombo.

At present Chatham Street, Nectar Caf and the President's House areas and the HSBC, Seylan Bank and the areas bordering President's House from this region are all under intense security. 

There are many successful business establishments in Fort. Fort has remained the commercial city of Colombo for decades. The present High Security Zone hit Fort at its ankle and had caused business to limp by. But the intended extension of the High Security Zone, according to views expressed by businessmen, will cripple business-life in Fort. Plans are underway by the defence establishment of the country to make Fort a High Security Zone, but defence officials remain tight-lipped about the fate of Fort.

There are over 200 important business establishments in the Fort area. In the present day High Security Zone is the HSBC at Sir Baron Jayathilleke Mawatha, the BOI, the Rehabilitation Ministry, and an airline office, Cargills Head office and Lloyd's Building which houses about 40 offices. Among the staff in these offices of Fort are senior citizens and pregnant women.

Tightlipped

While defence authorities remain tightlipped about what is being planned in the intensified security blanket; some businessman in Fort were made aware of the plans when highly placed police, army and PSD officials met them on May 4 in a venue situated in the Standard Chartered Bank Building premises in Fort and informed them of the need to intensify security.

When the security personnel asked the group whether they have any information that will help them, one person in the group had asked "When information is asked in front of us all and I give it, then my life will be at risk."

"We were briefed about the impending danger of LTTE attacks and bomb blasts," said a top businessman present at this closed door meeting at which there were several bankers too. The bankers spoke out about the difficulties they experienced both in reaching their businesses and in conducting their business in the wake of intensified security.

 While the group agreed that they too are concerned about the security of their head of state, they went on to observe with consternation the move to issue one car permit per office, be they an office as large as HSBC and Cargills or as small as a communication agency. The group spoke of issues as parking their cars and walking to their offices and, entry permits among others.

'What will happen to our business,' lamented some of the businessman to The Sunday Leader. "When roads are closed and security is intensified, nobody will think of coming our way. Who will walk a mile to come to our business establishments when it is easier to go somewhere else," they asked anxiously. They expressed concern about the traffic crisis that will arise in the areas bordering Fort if all vehicles have to be parked away from Fort. "Without these restrictions we still have severe traffic problems in the Fort area, what will happen when all cars have to be  parked away from Fort," they asked.

Very strict

These commercial residents of Fort agreed on the fact that the security and police personnel at the checkpoints are very cordial and helpful but always maintained strictness. Only vehicles with permits are allowed into this area, but the heightened security in the coming weeks will see more vehicle passes and more checking.

Some questions were asked by several people driving vehicles in this High Security Zone as to why only their vehicles were checked so thoroughly and why a Volvo with a diplomatic emblem, being driven by a Sri Lankan lady was never checked. "This vehicle may have been bought from the government stores, but we have seen it whiz past the checkpoints without being checked," said a concerned chauffeur.

At present Fort's business and banking community are allowed to take their vehicles in to this high security zone after a formal application which requires the insurance and vehicle registration documents be all handed over to the Fort OIC and thereafter cleared by the President's Security Division (PSD). 'This process takes about two to three weeks and we have to renew it every six months," said a businessman. The extension of the high security blanket will mean that more and more vehicle owners will be required to submit these papers to the Fort OIC to be cleared by the PSD.  It is learnt that the traffic arrangements in this high security area are maintained by the PSD and not by the traffic police.

"Many of the shops now remain closed, what will this do to Fort and to our lives?" queried the concerned business community. "This move will be a commercial disaster," said a entrepreneur who did not wish to be identified.

"It is better that we make the whole of Colombo a high security zone and park at Peliyagoda," said a businessman in disgust.

Security of the country

Meanwhile defence authorities were quick to defend their moves and said that whatever that is being done, is being done in the interest of the security of the country. "There are plans being made for Fort. Infact there are three plans but it is impossible to say which plan will be put into effect," said Military Spokesperson Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe, speaking to The Sunday Leader. There was chaos  near the World Trade Centre, a fortnight ago, with the roads being barred. "We are clearing the area and carrying out intensified checks," said Brigadier Samarasinghe.

He said that he was unable to disclose the new moves regarding intensifying security in Fort as nothing definite has been reached yet. "There are different ideas and proposals, from the army, navy and the MSD," pointed out Brigadier Samarasinghe and went on to say that the security plan for Fort will be finalised at the Security Council Meeting next week at which the country's seniormost defence officials sit in conference.

DIG Colombo Pujitha Jayasundera when contacted by The Sunday Leader said that it is necessary that Fort be secured in the interest of everyone. "Security measures have been taken in Fort with the assistance of the armed forces. The idea is not to harass the people. There may be certain misunderstandings that the minority community is being harassed by intensified security. This is not so. The idea is to protect all the people," pointed out the DIG.

He went on to say that intensified security becomes necessary in the wake of certain reports and intelligence information whereby it becomes necessary to intensify security in a certain place. "this is to protect the lives of all," cautioned DIG Jayasundera.

Finish Pirapaharan

Meanwhile Lalith Ganlath, a senior lawyer in Fort said; "Even if everyone walks to Fort it does not matter as long as the government  has the resolve and the moral courage to go through this and finish Pirapaharan once and for all. Why are only the people in Colombo - those in Colombo 3, 4, 5, and 7 being protected? What about the civilians in Jaffna and Trincomalee? Every civilian in this country must be protected. I see a threat everyday, a threat to every part of this country," said eminent lawyer Ganlath who has been studying the situation in the country since the 1980s.

As the business community, bankers, workers and the pavement hawkers in the Fort area await their fate; the defence establishment of this country  seems to have a closely guarded plan for Fort. 


Constitutional Council: It's now the Speaker's call

 Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara 
and President Mahinda Rajapakse

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Nothing in the recent legislative history inspired so much hope and brought in overwhelming consensus like the 17th Amendment to the Constitution did. Similarly, no piece of legislation recently has been this much vilified and its purpose defeated.

It is this amendment to the constitution that paved the way for the creation of the Constitutional Council (CC).

The holistic intention behind its creation was to depolitcise vital public institutions but today, the very institution is tainted by politics.

Since its appointment, the CC as well as the independent commissions have been experiencing crisis after crisis. It is history that President Chandrika Kumaratunga chose to play pandu with the CC by delaying its reconstitution which debilitated the independent commissions to which the members had to be appointed by the CC.

It is the same with President Mahinda Rajapakse who recently appointed members to the independent commissions, arrogantly bypassing the CC, the very body created for the purpose of appointing members to the commissions.

While there is no questioning the powers that an executive president could arrogate to himself, why the first citizen himself would want to breach the constitution which provides for the appointment of members to these commissions through the CC is a question that begs an answer.

With the CC being the contentious issue, with its defunct state rendering other independent commissions also redundant, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) began making claims about its right to nominate a member to the CC.

This claim, raised several months ago gathered much momentum as the JVP disagreed with other nominees and critiqued the lack of space provided to them.

Claim shot down

However, this claim was shot down by Attorney General, K. C. Kamalasabayson who recently submitted his legal opinion to parliament on the same. He submitted that there was no provision to allow the JVP to nominate a member to the CC.

The AG informed Acting Secretary General, Dhammika Dassanayake on May 24 that the JVP clearly had no right to stake a claim to nominate a member to the CC under Article 41A(1) of the Constitution as provided by the 17th Amendment.

The AG submitted that the JVP should be viewed as a political party to which the prime minister belonged to on the basis of the nomination list on which the JVP members were also elected to parliament.

The PA and the JVP contested the parliamentary election in 2004 as the UPFA under the betel leaf, their common symbol.

The pertinent issue, according to legal experts is that if the AG's advice is to be followed, practically only the TNA and the JHU could nominate the remaining member to the CC.

The letter further said, Article 41A(1) provides inter alia, that the CC shall consist of - " one (1) person nominated upon an agreement by the majority of the members of parliament belonging to political leaders or independent groups other than the respective political parties or independent groups to which the prime minister and the leader of the opposition belong and appointed by the president."

On this basis, it is construed that in order to give effect to this provision, the members of the two political parties would have to be excluded on the following basis.  Firstly, the members of parliament belonging to the political party or independent group to which the prime minister belongs and, secondly, the members of parliament belonging to the party or independent group to which the leader of the opposition belongs.

The determination of the members for the purpose of the above two is expected to be on the basis of the nomination papers upon which the said members were elected to parliament and as published in the gazette by the Commissioner of Elections in terms of the Parliamentary Elections Act No. 1 of 1981, as amended.

Thus the nominations to the CC under the said Article have to be made upon an agreement by the majority of the remaining members of parliament.

Despite the AG's advice, which is clear and strong enough, almost 10 days later there is not a hum about resolving the dispute by seeking to appoint the Constitutional Council without breaching the country's supreme legislation, the constitution.

Herein lies the duty of the Speaker who is the appointing authority. It is a duty that the country would like the Speaker W. J. M.Lokubandara to fulfill, putting an end to the pussyfooting that continues.

Fruits of his labour

While the AG was busy drafting his letter, President Rajapakse was enjoying the fruits of his labour. Having appointed Neville Piyadigama as chairman, National Police Commission (NPC) with a single pen stroke, the President has now retired to a backseat to watch the unfolding drama.

Piyadigama just last week was busy  finalising promotions of high-ranking police officers. Some 11 SSPs are to be elevated to the rank of DIGs which is among his first tasks.

While timely promotions are most welcome and would boost the morale of the police force, legal experts condemn the move as one that directly stems from an unconstitutional act by the President which has politicised the police yet again. 

Just last week, the President appointed two High Court judges to the Court of Appeal and an appeal Court judge to the Supreme Court. While the credentials of the three are unquestionable, the procedure of appointing them, once again bypassing the CC is highly questionable.

The concerns over the CC were raised when the media heads had their regular meeting with President Rajapakse Thursday morning (1).

The President on his own explained the predicament befallen the CC and the independent commissions.

Ravaya Editor, Victor Ivan has reportedly objected and stated that though the presidential powers could effectively override the 17th Amendment, that was not how the civilised world worked. President Rajapakse at this point had claimed what President Kumaratunga did to scuttle the CC from being reappointed and to reactivate the independent commissions.

 A workable solution

Ivan had claimed that when persons are nominated to the US Senate, even when there was no presidential approval for the nominees, there are still laws for a workable solution. Rajapakse had responded by saying that such things may take a long while to evolve in Sri Lanka, as there were no provisions to support such.

Unfortunately, Ivan did not have much support from his colleagues to push the case with the President.

In the meantime, the TNA which has submitted its nomination way back in May 2005 has reacted to the recent development.

TNA Member, Suresh Premanchandran urging the Speaker to take the correct decision by which politicisation of the public sector could be curtailed, said that the fight over nominees has rendered the CC dysfunctional.

" Though he has executive powers, President Rajapakse lacks the moral authority to arbitrarily appoint members to the CC. He has defeated the entire purpose behind the 17th Amendment," he criticised.

Premachandran said that the Amendment was very clear and the President should be the last person to be violating constitutional provisions.

"Sad that what we all sought to prevent, the President has allowed," he noted.

Submitted names

In May 2005 TNA submitted the names of Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda and Dr. Rohan Edirisinha as their nominees to the CC. But the JVP stated it had a right to nominate a member soon afterwards. The JHU opposed both names.

Whatever the detractors may say, it is established fact that the independent commissions have contributed significantly to the restoration of public faith in vital public institutions following the introduction of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

While the commissions stand dissolved, and political leaders are simply dragging their feet and blaming each other for their collective failure to activate the system by reappointing the Constitution Council (CC) - the President has found a way out. Resorting to his executive right to make appointments by bypassing the CC altogether.

On September 25, 2002, when parliament adopted the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, it was seen as a reflection of the collective political will to ensure good and transparent governance.

Mooted by the then opposition, the bill received overwhelming support which transcended the required two third majority which was seen as a vital step in the right direction in de-politicising vital public institutions as well as constitutional appointments.

Presidential fiat  

Today, the NPC has been reactivated by a presidential fiat which has triggered off a fresh debate on the constitutionality of the very act. The Bribery Commission was activated some months ago after many months of agitation.

In the meantime, the President has appointed judges to the Court of Appeal, resorting to his executive powers no doubt, but once again in violation of the constitutional provisions that requires the CC to be the appointing authority.

It leads to one question alone - if an individual is fit enough, though clothed in absolute power to make all appointments, grant promotions and effect transfers, then there need not be all these structures that have been carefully designed by the legislature.

The 17th Amendment has conferred supreme power on the legislature itself as appointing authority. It is the Speaker who should give expression to this. It is very much hoped that he would realise the need to prevent further politicisation of public institutions and do his duty- and do it soon.


Temple Trees drama live at BMICH

The impact of the deteriorating security situation in the north east reached a climax with the suicide attack on the Army Commander in Colombo. It was a cruel reminder to the people in Colombo of the horrors of war.

However, the seriousness of the present situation is felt most by the government and the Head of State.

President Mahinda Rajapakse who until then had no care in the world about the security situation felt the impact of the message sent out by Tiger Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan from his abode in the Mullaitivu jungle, which resulted in him virtually becoming a prisoner.

Rajapakse built the image of a head of state mostly by portraying himself as a common man who moved with people from all walks of life and that of a religious man. This was Rajapakse's magic to ascend to the hot seat. Inspired by this magic, Rajapakse's advisors, especially Dulles Alahapperuma, continued to push him to continue with his magic formula.

Trapped at Temple Trees

Now that magic has ended and six months after assuming office, Rajapakse has become yet another head of state who is trapped within the four walls of Temple Trees. The President has to now rely on satellite television to reach out to the people and all went well until May 28 when the Amarapura Nikaya held a ceremony at the BMICH to celebrate its 200th anniversary.

Rajapakse, a few days prior to the event, had confirmed his participation at the function. Hence, the Presidential Security Division (PSD) took charge of the BMICH the day before, May 27, and secured the venue for the President's arrival.

The event was a special one for the media as it was after a long time that President Mahinda Rajapakse, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and members from the opposition and the government were going to be present at one venue.

However, hours before the event, the PSD began to install equipment for satellite communication. It was then that the organisers realised that the President would not be attending the event and that the Prime Minister would attend in his place instead.

As soon as the compere announced that the President would address the gathering via satellite, the lights at the BMICH went off. A few minutes later, the President began his speech, but his face appeared in six parts on the screen.

Although this changed in about three minutes and the speech continued, a few minutes later the President's picture became still while the speech continued. The image of the President stuck on the screen however depicted an angry Rajapakse glaring at the crowd.

The crowd, which grew quite uneasy, began to whisper placing Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake in an awkward position as well.

The Opposition Leader who was sitting next to Wickremanayake said that he should inform Temple Trees of the problem. The screen came back to normal at that point and the Premier decided to remain silent.

The President's speech itself continued without any further mishaps until the end. However, what happened next made everyone in the crowd laugh out loud.

Although the live transmission was to end with the President's speech, it did not happen as expected and as a result, the gathering at BMICH had a live telecast of what happened at Temple Trees at the end of the speech.

The President, turning to one of his aides had asked, "What do I have next?"

The live telecast

At the response received by one of the officials present, the President said, "Wait a minute, give me a minute," and walked out of the room.

Everyone gathered began to laugh at what they were seeing.

The live telecast did not end there; the crowd was also able to see the President return to the room after his 'minute.' He was then gifted with something by an invitee who had come to meet him. The President then posed for photographs with the invitee at his office in Temple Trees.

With the crowds laughing out loud, the mahanayakes and the Premier were left helpless. However, the live telecast ended only after Temple Trees was informed of the drama shown atthe BMICH.

At the end of the event, the topic of discussion was the lack of coordination at Temple Trees. It was at this point that a leading politician whispered in the ear of an opposition politician that in a cruel twist of fate, those who laughed at former President Chandrika Kumaratunga were now being laughed at.

SLFP'scentral committee meeting and Dilan's salvo

The cabinet meeting took place as usual last Wednesday, but what was special that day was the emergency SLFP central committee meeting called by President Mahinda Rajapakse after the cabinet meeting.

Rajapakse conveyed his decision to convene the meeting to Party Secretary Maithripala Sirisena and accordingly, a meeting was summoned for 7:30 p.m. at Temple Trees. The main topic of discussion at the central committee meeting was the letter sent by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to Sirisena.

Kumaratunga's brother, Anura Bandaranaike did not attend the meeting saying he was not feeling well. Another notable absentee was Mangala Samaraweera.

Amending the party constitution

First on the agenda was the amendment to the party's constitution and the appointment of Rajapakse as the party leader. The problem however was the absence of Nimal Siripala de Silva, who is also the head of the committee appointed to look into the amendments to the constitution.

It was then decided to discuss the contents of Kumaratunga's letter. Sirisena asked at this point on the course of action to be adopted in response to the letter.

Kumaratunga had by then made sureall members of the central committee had received a copy of the letter and Rajapakse believed it to be futile to discuss its contents since every member present had received a copy of it.

"There is no point talking about it. We should talk about the amendments to the party's constitution. We do not need to waste time discussing Chandrika's letter. We will discuss it once Nimal returns to the island and make a decision at the next central committee meeting," Rajapakse said.

The gathering then concentrated on the reorganisation of the party. It was then that the President found out the central committee was yet to receive the report from the committee on party reorganisation. After requesting that the report be presented at the next central committee meeting, Rajapakse broached another important topic.

"We have another big problem. Hakeem, Thondaman and a group from the UNP are holding discussions with us on joining the government. The JVP is also discussing it. We have to offer ministerial portfolios to all of them, so some of us will have to sacrifice our ministerial portfolios. It would be better if it is done willingly. What is your opinion on it?" The President questioned.

Sacrificing portfolios

Everyone was of the opinion that they had to strengthen the government in parliament even by sacrificing ministerial portfolios.

At this point Minister A. H. M. Fowzie left the meeting saying he had another appointment to keep. After he left, one member raised a question. "Fowzie left. Maybe he has a problem with Hakeem joining the government," the member said.

The President responded by saying that he did not wish to discuss Fowzie and his actions when he was not present in the room. "Fowzie is not here, but he has not told me that he does not approve of Hakeem joining the government. I will discuss it with Hakeem later," Rajapakse said.

Alavi Mowlana was next to speak. "I'm also a Muslim. I have no objection if Hakeem is joining the government as long as he accepts our policies and would strengthen the government," he said.

The President then requested for a decision from the committee and it was unanimously decided that anybody could join the government.

Rajapakse posed a question to the gathering at this point. "I have a problem. Wimal made a complaint several days ago. He said that Dilan had attacked Wimal in an interview with Lankadeepa. Is this true Dilan?" he questioned.

Dilan's attack on Wimal

"Mr. President, I am grateful that you brought this issue to the central committee meeting. I'm also proud that Wimal was affected by what I said. Mr. President, if someone keeps slapping you, you too would retaliate at some point. That is how you have built yourself to this position. We too take you as an example. Wimal attacks me and my family life in his Lanka paper. I do not have a newspaper of my own to respond. I get a chance to do so very rarely and I took the chance when I got it. I attacked Wimal because he attacked me. I do not bend my head to anyone, so please ask him to stop attacking me first," Dilan said.

The President accepted Dilan's reply.

At the end, Rajapakse posed another question. That was on the All Party Conference (APC) scheduled for Friday and also discussed the Co-Chairs meeting in Tokyo.

"There is a problem we cannot ignore. That is the need for a political settlement to the ethnic conflict. I'm going to lay the foundation for that on Friday. The JVP agrees with the devolution of power, but they say we have to use a different word and not federal. I think we should call it the Lankan model, but it would have the features of a federal structure. Let's change the words and present it on Friday," he said.

After the meeting, the President took Dilan Perera to a side and requested him to go slow on Weerawansa.

"He was practically crying. I have never seen him like that. He said he even campaigned for only you, Mangala and Pavithra. He can't take the criticism and we need him to subdue the JVP," the President said.

Perera agreed to oblige.

 

JVP's bowls a doosra to MR on cabinet offer

Controversy is brewing within the ranks of the JVP over the impending cabinet reshuffle. This is because two weeks ago, President Mahinda Rajapakse had informed JVP Secretary Tilvin Silva of his decision to reshuffle cabinet and requested a list of names of JVP parliamentarians who would accept cabinet portfolios.

The controversy came to an end with the two factions within the party reaching consensus on the issue.

JVP Parliamentarian and politburo member Nandana Gunatilleka informed Party Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe and Silva that a favourable response should be sent to the President's letter. He noted that at a timethe President was about to wage war against the LTTE following the JVP's bidding, it was up to the party to accept cabinet portfolios andstrengthen him, move away from its hard-line stance and accept a solution based on a federal structure.

Silva, who did not subscribe to this idea, said that a final decision should be arrived at after discussing the matter with the other party seniors.

The JVP, which met several times last week discussed this issue at length. Party members like Silva, Anura Dissanayake and Vijitha Herath, who strongly stand by party policies, observed that looking at the government's performance so far, they could not consider joining the government.

Dissanayake's stance

Dissanayake, who has launched a campaign against the corrupt elements within cabinet, noted that Rajapakse's government is now rife with thieves. He further observed that if the ministers were engaged in corrupt activities six months into assuming office, it would be unimaginable to think of its plight in two years.

Dissanayake's next target was the ethnic conflict. He said the JVP should only support the government without a change in its stance on the ethnic conflict and the devolution of power.

Gunatilleka on the other hand continued to insist the party should join the government.

As the argument progressed, Silva received a rather shocking message. He was told if the partydid not accept cabinet portfolios in the Rajapakse government, it would result in the crossover of Gunatilleka and Wimal Weerawansa along with five to six other parliamentarians.

This was definitely good news for Rajapakse. A secretary in the government informed Rajapakse that Gunatilleka had a two-hour long telephone conversation with him the previous night and that he was informed by the latter of the decision arrived at by some JVPers to breakaway from the party and join the President if the JVP did not accept cabinet portfolios.

However, the secretary also observed that Gunatilleka had made a similar promise soon after the local government elections, which did not materialise.

Hearing this news, Silva was disturbed since it was his duty to keep the party from breaking up. Silva therefore discussed the matter with party hard-liners like Dissanayake and pointed out that if the party was to be saved from a split, all factions should arrive at a consensus.

After several rounds of discussions, the party arrived at a decision. The decision was to inform the President that if the party was to join the government, Rajapakse should enter into a new MoU with the JVP. The conditions to be included in the MoU were also decided at the meeting.

Conditions

According to the conditions, the JVP along with its 38 members in parliament has to be accepted as a separate party; peace talks with the LTTE should be based on finding a solution where power will be devolved within a unitary constitution; get rid of corrupt cabinet ministers after holding independent inquiries; highlight clearly to peace facilitators Norway their role in the process; and deployment of a UN peace keeping force should not be discussed, etc.

This week Silva is expected to forward the MoU as a response to Rajapakse's letter and it is the decision of the party to accept ministerial portfoliosonly if the President agrees to the conditions in the agreement.

In cricket lingo, the JVP has bowled a perfect doosra to Rajapakse.

 

Mahinda's meeting with Rauf that leaked

President Mahinda Rajapakse has been holding several rounds of discussions with various political parties and parliamentarians at Temple Trees in a bid to strengthen his government.

Secret discussions

Rajapakse who went on stage saying that he did not need the support of Rauf Hakeem and Armugam Thondaman to win an election in the run up to last year's presidential election, six months after assuming office is now holding secret discussions with these party leaders.

Rajapakse however has a weakness - he is unable to keep a secret for long, a quality much desired in a successful politician. According to those who know him well, it is Rajapakse who usually lets the cat out of the bag or it is theadvisors who surround him.

One such secret came out last week, but it is yet to be seen if it was let out by Rajapakse or his advisors.

Rajapakse's brother Basil Rajapakse who is in the US on vacation had phoned SLMC Leader Hakeem and given him a message - that Hakeem would get a call from the President's office to visit Temple Trees at a certain time on a particular date to meet the President. Basil had informed Hakeem the secret discussion was to be on accepting cabinet portfolios and joining the government.

The following day, Hakeem received a call from Temple Trees and the caller informed Hakeem to be present at Temple Trees for a discussion. Hakeem had then told the secretary who called that Basil had requested the meeting to be held in secret and the secretary assured that it would be so.

Hakeem made his way to Temple Trees half an hour before the scheduled time for the discussion and sat in the lobby waiting for the President to call him in. However, a few minutes later, much to the surprise of everyone, the four dissident members of the SLMC made their way to Temple Trees and sat next to Hakeem, who was astonished to see that news of the 'secret' meeting had leaked out.

One dissident member said, "When we heard that you had come to meet the President, we too thought of meeting him."

No-so-secret discussion

"Very good, very good," replied Hakeem.

Hakeem who then made his way to meet the Presidentinformed him that the so called secret discussion was known by the dissident members of the SLMC, who were now ministers of the government, and that they too had made their way to Temple Trees and were waiting in the lobby.

Angered at the news, the President reiterated that he had not let word of the discussion out. He also told Hakeem that the ministers who had arrived without making a prior appointment would have to wait until Rajapakse had ended all his appointments.

The discussion between Rajapakse and Hakeem went on for one and a half hours. At the end of the discussion, Hakeem made his way to the room where the dissident ministers were seated and left saying goodbye to them.

Warning signal

As soon as Hakeem left Temple Trees, the President called in the four ministersand inquired as to why they had come to meet him. They informed the President that they thought it fit to express their opinion on issues upon hearing about Hakeem's discussion with Rajapakse on joining the government.

Their first request was not to give Hakeem a powerful ministry like the Ports Ministry. The ministers then sent a warning signal to the President. They said that although Hakeem would join the government, it would be temporary as he would move back and support the UNP at the right time. The ministers further observed that if that were to happen, they could no longer sit in the government.

"Do not worry. I will not give everything he is asking for. I will not let you people have any problems. Just look at what I'm going to do. Meet me after everything is done," Rajapakse said with a smile.

True to form, Rajapakse was all things to all men.

Bad omens that delayed the reshuffle

President Mahinda Rajapakse's recent affiliation with astrologers was confirmed once again given his decision to delay the cabinet reshuffle.

Most astrologers have predicted a bad period for the country come June 15, that its people would undergo a very bad period and several assassinations too would take place. The period following June 15 has been predicted by astrologers to be a particularly bad period for the President and they have advised him on how to carry out his work during this period.

Cabinet reshuffle

Two weeks ago it was decided to hold the Rajapakse government's first cabinet reshuffle at 3:30 p.m. on May 27. The date and time were decided by astrologers. All arrangements were made secretively as the reshuffle had to be done within a short period of time.

The President's brothers, Basil and Gotabaya Rajapakse and Presidential Advisor Dulles Alahapperuma formed the advisory council on the cabinet reshuffle. The task of negotiating with UNP parliamentarians was left to Basil and Alahapperuma. After holding discussions with four UNPers, they set the ball rolling for the reshuffle before leaving for the US.

Before long, news of this impending cabinet reshuffle reached the media and government ministers. Disturbed at the news going public, Rajapakse began to find fault with several officials, but he was mostly disturbed that the time and date of the reshuffle had also come out since the time and date were determined according to his horoscope.

The trouble started when a cabinet minister had inquired from the Presidential Secretariat about the time of the reshuffle. Rajapakse quickly summoned the astrologer and told him the latest situation.

The astrologer informed the President that if the time was known by opposing parties, they could do something to counter the good effects of the moment. Hence the alternative was to postpone the reshuffle.

Alternate date and time

The President had asked the astrologer to immediately come up with an alternate date and time for the reshuffle before June 15.

Interestingly, the President was to candidly inform SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem of his predicament when they met last weekend to discuss the possibility of a working arrangement between them. The President told Hakeem he could not make a move immediately because he was going through a bad period astrologically and would have to wait for it to pass.

Power of soothsayersandthe presidency

It has been an accepted norm to consult astrologers before a head of state engages in any important task. However, President Mahinda Rajapakse, before assuming office as the head of state, did not pay much attention to what astrologers had to say.

As Premier whenever astrologers tried to warn him of an impending bad period, all he would say was, "Okay, if it is a bad period for me and you people want to help me, go and do bodhi poojas and pray for me. I do not have to do all these poojas you people are asking me to do."

Even after assuming office, he did not pay much attention to astrologers. "If I had listened to what astrologers had said, I would have lost the presidential election," he said.

Surrounded by astrologers

However, Temple Trees is now crowded with astrologers who are consulted by Rajapakse before he makes any important decision.

Two weeks ago, on the instructions of the President, an astrologer was involved in removing all lifeless objects from the President's House in Fort. After walking around President's House, the astrologer had walked up to a statue and said that it had to be removed from the spot. It was a statue of historical value, that of Queen Victoria.

The astrologer advised that a bo sapling be planted in place of the statue once it was removed. Workers at the President's House who had been there for years had refused to follow the astrologer's advice. They said that no head of state had tried to remove or destroy any of the artifacts at President's House as they were of historical value.

The astrologer challenging the workers had said he was sent there by the President and that if Rajapakse were to move to the premises, all unsuitable objects in the premises should be removed beforehand. Therefore, the astrologer said that if the President was to move into the President's House, the statue of Queen Victoria should be replaced with a bo sapling.

The conflict between the workers and the astrologer went on for a while as the workers refused to follow the astrologer's orders.

However, the President's stance shocked everyone. "I do not care whose it is, if the astrologer says it should be removed, remove it," Rajapakse said.

Getting rid of more historical artifacts

Following the President's directive the task of removing Queen Victoria's statue and an engraved boulder nearby was assigned to the Ports Authority. A few hours later, vehicles from the Ports Authority entered the premises and removed the two objects. Queen Victoria's statue was discarded at the Viharamahadevi Park and the engraved boulder was thrown by the sea.

It is now learnt that the astrologer isin the process of getting rid of more historical artifacts from President's House. 


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