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23rd July, 2006  Volume 13, Issue  2

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

'My poor son was not on the LTTE hit list'

By Ranee Mohamed

"My young son was not on the hit list of the LTTE in fact, my son who was a defence writer knew who was on the hit list of the LTTE. When Major General Parami Kulatunga was killed, my....

More...


 Top Issues Stories

  

  > Putting Weerawansa to shame ( ....Pot Shots)

  > Coastal schools hit by tsunami of indifference

  > Fear reigns in Kebithigollewa

  > Mangala gets Port moving again

  > Salley on 'double standards'


 Daya Master's vehicle and the ministerial connection

 By Dilrukshi Handunnetti and Jamila Najmuddin

While it was great fodder for a section of the community that desired the arrest of LTTE Spokesman, Daya Master who was brought to Colombo's Apollo Hospital recently for treatment, what has now triggered off a fresh controversy is the vehicle in which he travelled to Colombo.

The truth is finally out that despite the lofty nationalistic claims made by some, it is an UPFA provincial minister who is the legal owner of the Mitsubishi Montero in which the LTTE Spokesman arrived in Colombo.

It is registered under the name of Ratnayake Mudiyanselage Ananda Sarath Kumara Ratnayake of No 154, Hewagama, Palugaswewa, Polonnaruwa. The vehicle has been registered on September 18, 2003. Ratnayake interestingly enough is the Minister of Agriculture, Agro Marketing Affairs, Irrigation and Animal Production for the North Central Province (NCP).

The Minister when contacted by The Sunday Leader could only protest that there was a massive campaign against him and many falsehoods are being uttered about him, connecting a transfer of vehicle ownership to the LTTE by him. " I am a pauper, I have no vehicle to sell," he said.

Daya Master (in wheel chair) arriving in Vehicle No. HK 6922 registered under the name of UPFA North Central Provincial Minister Ratnayake but in the possession of the LTTE

CMT certain

But the Commissioner of Motor Traffic is certain that the Mitsubishi Montero bearing registration number NC HK6922 and chassis number JMYLMV76W2J000337 was registered duly on September 21, 2003  under Ratnayake's name. Whether a transfer of ownership has happened or not, a position contradicted by the Minister, the vehicle in which Daya Master travelled to Apollo Hospital remains for registration purposes at least, the property of Ratnayake.

What is more interesting is that the vocal protestors who called for the immediate arrest of Daya Master under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) have nevertheless failed to raise this issue about a vehicle still registered under the name of a provincial minister  being used by Daya Master.

The fact is that the Provincial Minister has sold his vehicle  to the LTTE and Daya Master is now the proud owner of it, and was driven to Colombo in it. The vehicle it is believed was one that was purchased duty free  by Ratnayake by virtue of his position in the North Central Provincial Council.

Humanitarian assistance

This does not mean that humanitarian assistance should have been denied to Daya Master or anyone else. It is something that has happened on previous occasions as well - when Head, LTTE Peace Secretariat, S. Puleethevan and his wife arrived in Colombo for medical assistance. Yet, the state has confined itself to certain rules when assisting them, according to officials associated with the facilitation of such visits.

Former Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Austin Fernando told The Sunday Leader that Head, LTTE Peace Secretariat, S. Puleethevan made a visit to Colombo during the latter part of 2002.  No security was offered by the then UNP government due to the smooth flow in the peace process.

"Retired Wing Commander Raja Wickremasinghe and an SLMM official approached me during the latter part of 2002 requesting that Puleethevan be brought to Colombo as he was seriously ill. Wing Commander Wickremasinghe was in the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) at the time and told me that the LTTE had approached them to seek permission to bring Puleethevan to Colombo immediately," Fernando said.

The SLMM then held discussions with the UNP government and questions such as how he would be brought to Colombo, who would treat him and which hospital he would be admitted to were all put forward. Questions were also raised about the duration of his stay in Colombo.

Admitted to hospital

Fernando said that the name of a Sinhalese doctor was mentioned by the SLMM and arrangements were made to admit him to Nawaloka Hospital.

"The SLMM and SCOPP were both highlighting the humanitarian aspect of bringing Puleethevan to Colombo. They also said that his family members had not made a request but instead it was the LTTE that had approached SCOPP. No additional security was asked for because of the ongoing peace process making the situation conducive for them to travel," Fernando said.

He added that no permission was sought from the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe or former President Chandrika Kumaratunga because there was a possibility of Kumaratunga declining the request. "I approved as Secretary, Defence and did not approach anyone else because the LTTE had approached us on humanitarian grounds. I also informed the SLMM to give me prior notice so that all arrangements could be made," he said.

Additional security

He added that discussions were also held with Wing Commander Wickremasinghe, where he requested for additional security from the government once Puleethevan was brought to Colombo. "News would spread fast about Pulithevan's visit to Colombo. Therefore Wickremesinghe requested for additional security inside the hospital," he said.

Discussions were also held with former Army Commander Lionel Balagalle and permission was received to provide additional security to Puleethevan at the hospital.

According to Balagalle, Puleethevan was brought to Colombo in an SLMM vehicle, driven by an SLMM official and was admitted to the third floor of Nawaloka Hospital. The UNP government provided no additional security for him from Omanthai to Colombo.

"The third floor of the Nawaloka Hospital was not vacated just because Puleethevan was admitted. However a room opposite Puleethevan's room was taken for the soldiers who were on duty," he said.

According to Austin Fernando, a few days later Puleethevan's wife was also brought to Colombo by the SLMM to conduct tests to see if she had also contracted the same disease from which Puleethevan suffered. "She was given a room on the same floor as her husband at the Nawaloka Hospital. After completing their treatment both were taken back to Kilinochchi by the SLMM in an SLMM vehicle. Their treatment in Colombo lasted a week," he said.

Criticism by extremists

According to Fernando, although many parties such as the JVP and JHU criticised the UNP government for bringing Puleethevan to Colombo, the relationship between the LTTE and the UNP only strengthened due to factors of this nature where humanitarian concerns were heeded. "There is no point criticising something which will bring peace to the country. We granted permission purely on humanitarian grounds. When Puleethevan was brought to Colombo no one objected. However it is a pity that when Daya Master was brought to Colombo President Mahinda Rajapakse's own alliance parties objected in a manner unbecoming of them," Fernando said.

Fernando however denied the claims that other LTTE members, Soosai and Balraj also visited Colombo for similar reasons during the UNP regime.

UPFA facilitated Soosai's  and Balraj's visits

According to officials from the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), Sea Tigers Special Commander Colonel Soosai travelled abroad for emergency medical treatment on Tuesday, October 19, 2004.

Assistance of the UPFA government was sought by the Norwegian Embassy to facilitate his departure from Sri Lanka.

SCOPP was informed by the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo that a senior commander of the LTTE - Thillayampalan Sivanesan alias Soosai - was in need of emergency medical treatment abroad because of his rapidly deteriorating condition caused by an old injury sustained in conflict.

The assistance of the government was sought to facilitate his departure from Sri Lanka and his medical team accompanied him.

On humanitarian grounds, the LTTE group was transported by the government from Kilinochchi to Colombo.

Thereafter, the group travelled abroad on Sri Lankan passports at their own expense. 

Meanwhile, SCOPP said that the UNP government also facilitated the journey of a top military wing leader of the LTTE to Singapore to receive urgent medical treatment in the early weeks of May 2003.

The LTTE military wing leader, Colonel Balraj, was flown in a government military helicopter from the rebel-held north to the island's only international airport  to board a flight to Singapore in the company of two members of the  outfit.

The Tiger leader had suffered a heart attack and was in need of urgent treatment. 

Balraj had also been refused a visa to visit Malaysia during that same visit, according to the Peace Secretariat website. 


CID says no investigation  into  vehicle matter

Officials from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) told The Sunday Leader that no investigations were being conducted into the vehicle used by Daya Master during his recent visit to Colombo to seek medical treatment.


It is Ratnayake's vehicle - CMT

When The Sunday Leader contacted Commissioner of Motor Traffic, B. Wijeratna, he confirmed that the vehicle bearing the registration number NC HK-6922, was registered under the name of Ananda Sarath Kumara Ratnayaka on September 18, 2003.


Ratnayake denies it is his vehicle

When The Sunday Leader contacted North Central Province Minister, R.M. Ratnayake he first said that his vehicle was sold to a close friend in 2001. However, he does not own any private vehicles at present, he claimed, this despite his status as a provincial minister.

He told The Sunday Leader that he had with him only two vehicles provided to him by the Ministry. "I am a poor man and I own no private vehicle. The only vehicle I had was sold in 2001. All these allegations stating that I sold a vehicle recently is false," the Minister said.

He further charged that he did not have money to buy brand new vehicles and neither did he own any vehicles he could sell. "However if you have a vehicle which you could donate to me, you can let me know," he said thereby cutting the telephone line.

When The Sunday Leader contacted Minister Ratnayake a second time, he contradicted his original claims and refuted the fact that he sold any vehicle in 2001. The purported reason being that at that time Ratnayake did not own any private vehicles. "Why don't you report what you want to report and just leave me alone," he said, hanging up the phone.


Coastal schools hit by tsunami of indifference

Researched and written by Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, Kumutu Amarasingham, Jamila Najmuddin, Arthur Wamanan,  and Sunalie Ratnayake

Article 28 of the Children's Charter recognises a child's right to education with a view to completely eradicating illiteracy. It upholds universal and equal access to education and that children from ages six to 16 should be provided with compulsory education.

The charter further states that the state should provide free primary education and every child should have access to this benefit.

It is said that education is key to the development of any nation.

Sri Lanka, despite the attractive social indicators including those relating to primary education, health care and sanitation, is still bogged down by the many problems that affect the country's field of education that prevents the nation from achieving its true potential.

Given the fact that Sri Lanka is said to be having one of the finest primary education systems in South East Asia, at least one that has yielded results in terms of much higher levels of literacy, The Sunday Leader continues with the series of articles which would reflect upon the status of education in the island.

And the findings show that the island has managed despite a protracted war, economic slide and other concerns to ensure the highest level of literacy in the country.

On the downside, there are children who are not reflected in the country's statistics on state provided education like dropouts and child labourers -though significantly controlled, the state still has not managed to completely control.

There are some 9,765 schools in the island with a student population of 3,870,634. The island has a teacher population of 187,338 with a teacher-student population ratio being 1-21.

The state had spent a total of Rs. 26,040,679 in the year 2005 with a projected allocation of Rs. 35,209,100 this year for education.

Our investigations have revealed that nearly 6% of the student population in the country do no have access to education in a real sense, and there is a sizeable population of school drop outs in the Central, Uva and North Central Provinces due to varying reasons.

Likewise, we discovered that there are huge disparities in resource distribution with some of the schools in the said provinces not having the basic desks and chairs for students whereas some schools in towns in,  the same areas having extras.

As such, it is not really a clichd statement when people say Kolambata Kiri-Gamata Kekiri.

Eighteen months after the tsunami ripped the eastern and southern coastal belts of the island, the education sector, which was one of the worst affected, continues to suffer with over 25 schools in urgent need of major repairs and reconstruction.

Children in these schools still continue to study in a dangerous environment without basic facilities such as desks,  chairs and a decent roof above their heads.  Natural justice demands that these children should urgently be provided with a more conducive school environment with special emphasis on critical needs such as water,  toilet facilities and temporary study rooms with electricity.

Furniture and other school equipment should be also made at camp sites until damaged schools and houses are completely reconstructed and rehabilitated. According to Save the Children, schools should develop an accountability mechanism and a mechanism to promote the participation of parents and children in the rebuilding and rehabilitation process of damaged schools.

Research by NGOs

Research by Save the Children in Sri Lanka,  on children in the south, east and north of the country reveal that over 70% of school children in tsunami-affected areas continue to study under extremely difficult conditions. However, government statistics reveal a different picture.

Difficulties for many children include shortage of chairs, desks and books; serious gaps in basic resources such as water and functioning toilets; shortage of teachers; and in many cases children are forced to study in a noisy environment often under hot  zinc-sheet roofs.

While the damage caused to the education sector was enormous, over a million children continue to suffer without proper educational facilities.

According to the Education Ministry, the tsunami snatched the lives of 3,372 students while 6,610 disabled students also lost their lives.   Around 49,230 students were displaced while 126 teachers died due to the devastation. A total of 331 teachers were disabled and 1689 teachers were displaced. According to June 2005 statistics, 74 schools remain fully damaged, 108  partially damaged and 446 are functioning as camps for the internally displaced.

Statistics available at the Social Services Department reveal that a total of 3547 schools were affected by the tsunami devastation. The number of students affected was 76,907 while the number of teachers affected stood at 3172. The tsunami affected 1.5 million children - both schooling and non-schooling.

 Institutions involved

According to Director, National Disaster Management Center, Social Services Department, Nimal Hettiarachchi, the only institutions now involved in reviving the education sector were the Education Department and the Education Ministry.

Hettiarachchi said that RADA was also conducting its own programmes in strengthening the education sector.

"The Social Services Department and the Social Services Ministry is not handling anything pertaining to schools. It is the responsibility of the Education Ministry and RADA," Hettiarachchi said.

Meanwhile, according to  Save the Children, 43% of the school children in the south and 49% of children in the north claim that they still do not have sufficient space to study. 54% of the children said that they failed to improve on their performance after the tsunami and among them 24% claimed that it was due to insufficient space in the classroom.

Twenty six percent of the children reported that they were still studying in schools that were temporarily or permanently relocated. Another 44% of children were studying in schools that were repaired or were still under repair.

In total, over 70% of the children in the sample had to continue their studies in different school settings and difficult environments for the past 18 months and children expressed anger for having to study in such a manner.

Below average

Even before the tsunami devastation, the education sector was rated 'below average' by students and parents. They point out that schools lacked basic resources for education even before the tsunami.

Ten percent of the children in the south and the east did not have sufficient chairs prior to the tsunami while the ratio in the north was worse with  40% with- out chairs. After the tsunami, the situation has worsened in all three provinces.

In the Northern Province 60% of the children continue to lack sufficient chairs at school, whereas in the Southern and Eastern Provinces the ratios were 17% and 27% respectively.

The unavailability of desks after 18 months of the destruction continues to remain high and in all three provinces - Southern, Northern and Eastern - children stress that they do not have access to black boards at all and 20% of the children in the south and 42% in the north said that the black boards made available by the donors and government were inappropriate or of poor quality.

Schools in all three provinces continue to have water and sanitation problems and an estimated 45% of the children did not have access to sufficient water both in the Southern and Northern Provinces even before the tsunami.

Worse situation

The existing situation is worse, as over 60% of children in these  provinces do not have access to sufficient water or were without any water at all. The situation in the Eastern Province was somewhat better than the other two provinces with 38% of children complaining of insufficiency or unavailability of water.

Another issue connected with the supply of water is the unavailability of water for toilets in schools.

Surveys conducted by child rights organisations showed that the stock tanks were generally placed closer to the gate of the school or at a place convenient for the bowser to unload the water. There was no supply of water to toilets which were generally located in a corner of a school. Children often complained that they couldn't use toilets because they were ashamed to carry buckets of water across the schoolyards.

Statistics by local NGOs also showed that despite the aid efforts there was still  a 27% shortage of textbooks in the Northern, Eastern and Southern Provinces.

Teacher shortage

According to the Education Ministry, there was a shortage of teachers in all three provinces even  before the tsunami and that the teacher shortage had been aggravated in all three provinces after the tsunami - the shortage being severe in the Northern Province. The ratios of teacher unavailability are 18% in south, 25% in east and 49% in the north.

The Ministry also revealed that despite the prohibition of corporal punishment on children, 19% of teachers in the south, 39% of teachers in the east and 55% of teachers in the north still use corporal punishment. Children say that the tsunami has not made an impact on the level of corporal punishment as it remained high even before the tsunami in all area surveys.

UNDP report on post tsunami recovery and reconstruction

According to the post tsunami recovery and reconstruction report released by the United Nations to mark one year of the tsunami, 182 schools were completely destroyed and nearly 100,000 children were affected.

A total of 446 schools were used as camps for the tsunami-displaced. The report said that these schools also required either upgrading or rehabilitation.

The report also said that around 30 donors were involved in rebuilding and reconstruction and that MoUs were signed for all but two of the 182 partially and fully damaged schools.

The report added that by the end of 2005, construction of 18 schools had already started.

The academic activities were not only affected by the destruction to the schools. The heavy loss of lives and buildings psychologically affected the students as well as the teachers.

The  Education Ministry had plans of building child friendly schools in order to provide psychological comfort and safety to students, parents, and teachers. This was to make sure that the children come back to the learning environment.

According to the report, about 200,000 students were to benefit by this move by the Ministry.

The Ministry initiated the move and formed a Technical Sub Committee of the National Monitoring Unit (NMU) on School Reconstruction and Relief.

Working committees were planned for each affected zones.

The committees were to be headed by the Zonal Directors of Education (ZDE) and represented by the district secretary's office, district coordinators office, divisional secretaries and two nominated community representatives.

However the report stated that most of the committees could not be formed, as there was a lack of interest that caused  delays in the assessment of  planned needs.

The accuracy of information provided was also doubtful as the data had been collected randomly.

"The eventual assessment was provided to donors two months after the scheduled date, and even the accuracy of the information was questionable due to the random data collection methods used," the report said.

The Tsunami Education Rehabilitation Monitoring (TERM) Trust, a local NGO was formed to handle these problems and a MoU was signed between TERM and the Ministry for a period of two years.

A plan was developed to include psychological care into the education system. The students and teachers were provided with recreation kits and tools to overcome their psychological problems.

Assessments were also conducted to identify the number of psychologically affected students in schools.

As a result the report stated, most number of students in the tsunami-affected areas had started to go to school.

"Over 95% of school going children in tsunami-affected areas have now returned to schools," the report added.

Plans were also made to provide computers and for the improvement of IT skills and teacher training programmes in the coming years.

The report stated that the attendance at tsunami-affected schools stood at 95%.     

However, according to the report, many students dropped out of schools during the day in order to work.

Many families were reluctant to send their children to damaged or temporary school environments and to schools not receiving any supplies.

In contrast, the attendance of the teachers stood at 75% which was rather low.

The report stated that the commitment of the donors had created an opportunity to utilise available resources to improve the school system through the introduction of the child-friendly school criteria, to increase the capacity of human resources engaged in the  education sector and to improve the quality of the education system.


A school twice victimised

Two thousand five hundred children in grave danger, their lives being threatened day after day, would normally have had every human rights organisation and NGO screaming on the young ones' behalf. At least, ideally, they should.

For the kids at the Devapathiraja Vidyalaya in Rathgama however, daily danger is the norm  since the tsunami wrecked their school building in 2004.

That the walls might crumble over them as they do their sums, hoping for a brighter tomorrow, or the roof could topple over their young and fragile heads while they study about the ancient kings who did so much for their ancestors, is apparently lost on the authorities, who wrangle over which plots of land to use and who has the last petty word at the cost of the children's lives.

This wrangling cost the school a sum of over Rs.5 million that was to be given as aid by JICA for the reconstruction of a school complex to international standards, with a swimming pool and all other facilities, once a suitable plot of land had been decided on.

"JICA was prepared to give us the money but did not want to build on the present school premises, which is just 50 meters from the sea at its furthest point. However a local politician was against moving the school, and this lost us a brand new school building with the best facilities for these children, all of who are from poor families in the area," said S. Rajakaruna, an old boy of the school who has been campaigning to get the new building.

Sir Ernest de Silva donated the present school, which began in 1920. The present building is over half a century old, and was crumbling before the tsunami. Now, most of the buildings are totally  wrecked.   As a result, some classrooms are held in temporary sheds where the heat, as we walked in briefly for inspection, was appalling even for five minutes. How the students bear it the whole day is beyond anybody's guess.

Yet, to move up in life, make the most of their inner talents, and live their all too brief childhood to the most, they would gladly stomach not just the heat, but even the constant death threat.

"The library and labs are totally out of use, putting the A' Level science students in great difficulty," one teacher told us. 

According to Principal, Devapathiraja College, Bandula Jayasinghe, all the school buildings are damaged and condemned. "The school building will be completely destroyed in five years due to sea erosion," he said.

Jayasinghe said the school had already acquired 4.253 hectares in an interior location that was quiet and very suitable for a school environment. "We are ready and willing to relocate. Now all that is required is the approval of the authorities and the funds to build a new school complex at the chosen spot," he said.

Besides the principal, staff, students and parents are also very keen on relocating, for obvious reasons. "Imagine the plight of parents who are forced to send their kids into this building daily, for lack of options, knowing how dangerous it is?" one teacher queried.

Indeed, it was with some reluctance that we stepped into some of the classrooms and other areas of the building even for that momentary glance around. To see four to 10 year olds stand up cheerfully and curiously to greet the outsiders, completely oblivious to the danger around them, was heart-rending.

The irony, according to Rajakaruna, is that the children of the man who refused to allow the relocation of the school on the grounds that it would damage the school's image, study at one of the best  institutions in Colombo.

It is not long ago that every parent, rich and poor, felt the stab of threat as bomb scares raged all over. Perhaps that, if nothing else, can soften those who were base enough to deprive these children of better facilities, and secure their lives.


Overview of schools in tsunami affected areas

Following the biggest natural disaster that struck Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004, some 13 districts were devastated by the waves.

While there were gigantic efforts by the state, private sector, local and international NGOs to reconstruct the devastated buildings, there were other programmes to facilitate students through 'back to school' projects that provided learning material.

The tsunami also had a devastating effect on the sphere of education with a large number of schools being completely or partially destroyed with almost all coastal schools suffering some kind of damage to property or leaning material.

According to government statistics, some 182 schools were either completely or partially damaged by the waves  out of which 180 have now been reconstructed. Some 442 schools were converted into camps for the temporarily displaced.

Another 94 schools regarded as 'schools within the buffer zone' were largely relocated.


Fear reigns in Kebithigollewa

New abodes - Some of the temporary shelters in the Yakawewa camp

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema in Kebithigollewa

"Ok that's a six," shouted a young boy to his mates while playing cricket and another tried to run after the ball only to be stopped short in his tracks by an elder who shouted, "don't go far, let the ball go, make sure you stay in this area and not go out."

The boy looked upset that they had to stop their game short because one of them hit a six, but the children did not say a word. Instead they stopped their game and started a new game - the game they called war.

Running around with toy guns and sticks they play an imaginary war by hiding and attacking the 'enemy.'

Huge impact

These are the children of the Dutuwewa camp on the Vavuniya-Kebithigollewa Road.

The current security situation has had a huge impact on the children and while playing the game, little do they comprehend the gravity of the situation - the uncertainty written all over them.

Infact, this is the plight of all the children in temporary shelters that house villagers from the threatened villages in Kebithigollewa.

There are five such camps housing over 500 families - the Dutuwewa camp, Halmillavetiya camp, Viharahalmillewa camp, Kanugahawewa camp and the Yakawewa camp.

Living inside tents or temporary shelters made out of asbestos, the children feel uneasy to stay inside due to the unbearable heat. Outside their new 'houses' they feel even more restricted as parents do not permit them to wander around due to the prevailing security situation.

Fear factor

Sunil and Kumarasekera from the Dutuwewa camp, where over 80 families currently reside, aired the sentiments of every parent in the area.

"We want to let our children be free, but we can't do that due to the present situation. We are even scared to send them to school after the attack on the bus last month," they said.

According to Kumarasekera, the children don't have a proper place to study and the noise and the environment are a great barrier to their education. (See boxes)

A few metres away is the Viharahalmillewa camp where over 60 families are in the process of completing their temporary shelters.

Chithra, a mother of three, was busy making her temporary shelter.

"We never thought this would happen to us again. In 1994 we were in camps and we returned home only in 1998. Now once again we are in shelters," she said.

Temporary shelters

Most of the families in the camp were housed at the Sulugal Dambulu Viharaya in Viharahalmillewa till their temporary shelters were completed.

While making an effort to live life as usual, fear is written all over their faces. Fear for the future of their children, fear of not knowing what tomorrow might bring and fear that today might be the last time the family would sit together.

All the camps in the area lack basic sanitary facilities and water too is scarce. Toilets are still being built and the people are left to use the toilets in the nearby temples and in the worst case, the jungle.

Be that as it may, all what the villagers in every camp asks for is not food, drink or clothes, but security.

"We need security. That's all we ask for. We want the government to build as soon as possible the bunker line that they have promised to put up from Vavuniya to Padaviya," Chithra said.

"We have been in temporary shelters for two and a half months now," said Jayawardena.

According to him, they were not going to be foolish like earlier and return to their homes when the government asks them to unless the proposed bunker line was put in place.

Bunker line

"We don't need any aid, we will survive somehow. The government can use that money and complete the bunker line fast," Chithra said.

However, the villagers had doubts as to when the proposed bunker line would actually be put in place.

"Everybody comes and looks at us and says that they will give us everything and leave that. We keep telling them to build the security fence and provide us with the necessary security to go back home," Jayawardena said.

The villagers also pointed out that the government was dragging its feet in clearing the area.

"Look, they are taking so long to clear the area for us to build the temporary shelters. They brought down 20 bulldozers, but only two work. How can two bulldozers clear this whole area," they asked.

However, it is those housed in the Yakawewa camp who are faced with the most trying conditions.

The Kebithigollewa claymore explosion took the lives of over 50 persons from the Yakawewa village.

Infact, there are currently eight families in the camp with no female members as they were all killed in the explosion.

Most are still recuperating from the injuries they received in the explosion and the plight of the camp has posed a barrier to the healing process.

Nowhere to stay

"I'm still suffering from a broken leg and I got back from hospital only last week. When I came back I found out that a shelter was not allocated to me as I was not there. Now I have to live with my family in my sister's shelter," Chaminda Kumara said.

The occupants also pointed out that since most in the camp were still recovering from their injuries, they found it difficult go on without proper toilet facilities and a decent water supply.

The stories of woe are endless in these camps, but amidst all that hope springs eternal and their only request is for the government to provide them with adequate security.

Since our last visit one month ago, the Kebithigollewa area looks quite different.

The shrubs by the side of the road have been burnt or cleared and new bunkers have been set up while the old ones have been repaired.

Home guards stand by the side of the road in every other corner supported by military personnel.

Fear and uncertainty rule in the area where a no war, no peace situation prevails.

Security fence will ease tense situation

Ven. Dhammarakkitha Thero from the Sulugal Dambulu Viharaya in Viharahalmillewa says the establishment of the proposed security fence from Vavuniya to Padaviya would help ease the current tense situation in the threatened villages to an extent.

Currently over 36 families from the neighbouring villages have sought refuge at the temple while temporary shelters are being erected for them to move into.

"The people ask for security and it is not an easy issue to solve," he said. The Thero explained that a similar security fence was earlier built in 1997, but was abandoned half way for no apparent reason.

According to Ven. Dhammarakkitha Thero, although the threatened villages faced the worst terrorist attacks between 1995 and 1999, the situation was now worse.

"After signing the ceasefire agreement (CFA) the bunkers were abandoned and camps were withdrawn giving the LTTE the freedom to move about. It was a no war, no peace situation," he said.

The Thero claimed that the security the villages had earlier was no longer there after the CFA. He also pointed out that an army post was earlier located at the spot where the claymore exploded in Kebithigollewa on June 15.

"Everybody has tried to solve the ethnic conflict, it is not an easy task. At least the security fence would provide some temporary relief till a permanent solution is arrived at," Ven. Dhammarakkitha Thero said.


A father's grief for his loved ones

Priyantha became a well-known face overnight due to the moving photograph of him clinging on to his dead son that appeared in every newspaper following the June 15 Kebithigollewa tragedy.

Today he lives in a temporary shelter in the Yakawewa camp on the Medawachchiya-Kebithi-gollewa Road.

A lone man, Priyantha is still trying to pick up the pieces and move on after he lost 23 family members in the disaster, including his wife and only son who was two years old at the time.

This father's grief is still written all over his face. He brings to us photographs of his dead son and those taken at the Kebithigollewa morgue.

Showing the photographs of his son he says in a faltering voice, "he was just two years old."

"I'm a home guard and I am continuing with my job. What else can I do?" he cries.

Priyantha still trying to come to terms with the loss of his dear ones does not know what to say.

"Looking around, nothing much seems to be happening, but I guess nothing else could be done either," he says.

Recalling that fateful day, Priyantha feels that he too would have perished along with his family members if he had not decided to travel on his bicycle to Kebithigollewa.

"I don't know what to say, many say that the tragedy could have been avoided. Whatever anybody says, people like us have lost everything," he said.

According to Priyantha, people at Yakawewa were always affected by the ethnic conflict.

"The village was attacked in the '90s and 20  villagers went missing. Now 50  have been killed in one village," he said.

When asked what he hoped for, Priyantha's response was peace was the best thing that anyone could hope for.

"This has gone on for so long. There has to be an end to it somehow and peace must dawn," he said with much hope.


Was travelling in illfated bus

Amidst all the sad stories was the one of 11 year old Anura Prabath.

He was in the bus that exploded on June 15. He lost his mother, sister and brother that day.

Prabath saw them being killed.

"I was in the back of the bus and as soon as the bus toppled, I somehow jumped out of a window and ran down the road crying," he recalled the events that took place that day.

"I now live with my father who is a home guard and when he is out at work, I spend time with relatives and friends. I miss my mother and siblings," Prabath said.

A student of Kebithigollewa Madya Maha Vidyalaya, Prabath says that he loves to go to school as that is the only place he has left.

"But the teachers are scared to come to school and so are the students, but that is the only place I think I will be safe," he says.


Plight of villagers who stayed back

While most have opted to flee the threatened villages, some have opted to stay back as long as they could take it.

Meda Wewa and Guru Halmillewa are two such villages in Kebithigollewa.

Situated in the remote part of Kebithigollewa, Meda Wewa and Guru Halmillewa the villagers are determined to hold on to the last posts in Kebithigollewa.

Over 180 families live in Meda Wewa while 21 families live in Guru Halmillewa.

Guru Halmillewa is the last village in the North Central Province bordering Vavuniya. The Guru Halmillewa tank in the village is on the Vavuniya border.

According to the villagers, LTTE cadres are constantly moving in the jungles adjoining the tank.

Sixty-one people live in Guru Halmillewa, which is guarded by 14 home guards. The current security situation has affected the lives of these villagers to such an extent that they are allocated a time to go to the tank.

According to villagers, they have access to the tank from 4 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. That is when the home guards and several security forces personnel provide them with the necessary security till they finish bathing and washing their clothes.

According to K. Dharmadasa, the villagers are adamant to stay in the village for as long as possible.

"We don't have enough security in the village. Most of the people in the border villages have fled, but we won't. If we also leave, there won't be any defence and the LTTE can move about in the area freely," he said.

Dharmadasa goes back in time and speaks of two villagers who were killed by the LTTE in 1995.

"The government has looked into our plight, but the security they have provided is not sufficient," he says.

However, Dharmadasa observes that if the situation turns for the worse and their lives further threatened then they would be compelled to leave the village.

The village has no electricity and utilises well water. The transport system in the village is of poor standards as hardly any busses travel on the roads, especially after the Kebithigollewa claymore explosion last month.

"The children find it difficult to travel to school. Our children go to the school in the next village, the Meda Wewa School which is two and a half kilometres from Guru Halmillewa," Sophie Nona said.

Guru Halmillewa, which comes under the Kebithigollewa Pradeshiya Sabha had one representative in the local body from the village. Unfortunately, an elephant killed him two years ago. Hence development of the village has not received much attention.


Villagers become home guards

Most of the villagers in threatened villages have taken up duties as home guards.

It has also become a solution to the unemployment problem in the area.

A home guard is paid a monthly salary of Rs. 12,000 and is given a 14-day training in handling weapons and main combat methods.

The prevailing security situation in the area has prevented most of the villages from continuing with their traditional livelihood method - paddy farming. Hence, becoming a home guard has become the main income generator for many families.

"Most of the men in the threatened villages are home guards. They cannot continue to cultivate paddy due to the security threat, so this way they are sure of earning an income. Otherwise, they take loans to do farming and if the LTTE attacks, they face a loss," said a home guard in the Viharahalmillewa camp, who was also shot during the height of violence in 1995.


Children at receiving end

The uncertainty that prevails in the area has also had an impact on children.

Children in the camps are at the receiving end, as parents tend to use them to vent their anger.

The children find it difficult to live in tents and the closure of schools too has had an impact on them.

W. Wimalawathi, a pre-school teacher from Kele Puliyankulama who is currently at the Dutuwewa camp, says that children in the camps were sometimes depressed as they were at the receiving end where the parents were concerned and due to the sudden change in their normal living environment.

"Even the heat in the tents are unbearable for the children. Some children just remove their clothes saying they cannot wear them in the heat. Some children say they cannot study because a large number of people are confined to a small space," she said.

Currently, 78 children (below the age of 18), including 23 pre-school kids, reside at the Dutuwewa camp.

"The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) and the child probation office officials visited the camps and are currently in the process of building a temporary library and play room for the children," Wimalawathi said.

The prevailing security situation in the country has compelled the closure of eight schools out of the 126 schools in the Kebithigollewa education zone in the North Central Province.

According to statistics at the provincial education office of the North Central Province, over 2,129 students have been affected by the closure of schools in the zone.

Along with the students of Kebithigollewa Madhya Maha Vidyalaya, students of Halmillavatiya Vidyalaya, Herath Halmillewa Vidyalaya, Vihara Millewa Vidyalaya, Knugahawewa Vidyalaya and Yakawewa Vidyalaya have been left in the lurch due to the sudden closure of schools.

Classes for students of grades 5, 11 and 13 who are sitting for the scholarship, O/Levels and A/Levels respectively are being carried out in the main hall and another building of the Kebithigollewa Madhya Maha Vidyalaya.


Mangala gets Port moving again

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Timely intervention by Ports and Aviation Minister Mangala Samaraweera helped call off the trade union action that crippled the Colombo Port for over a week on Friday.

The work to rule campaign launched by the joint trade unions of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was resolved by Samaraweera after a late night discussion with union leaders last Thursday.

As a result of the meeting, Samaraweera presented the trade unions with six proposals that would help resolve the union action. (See box)

Apart from the trade unionists, Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva and JVP Parliamentarian K. D. Lalkantha represented the trade unions at the discussion.

Sri Lanka's reputation and credibility as a hub port has received a severe beating due to the work to rule campaign launched by the Ports Joint Trade Union Federation.

The country's export sector was in dire straits with exporters finding it difficult to face cash flow problems and cancellations of orders.

According to the Shippers' Council, the garment sector was badly affected, as most of the export orders could not be delayed as they had to reach the overseas market on a set date.

Hence, exporters were reluctantly compelled to resort to airfreight, which added a huge amount to the export cost.

Additional costs

"The additional costs that ship owners will have to bear, estimated at US$ 30,000-50,000 per ship on a daily basis, will be translated into congestion surcharge and passed on to customers, both importers and exporters. This, coupled with further expenses incurred through the displacement of cargo, will be a burden that could cripple a number of business organisations," the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said last week when the trade union action was at its peak.

However, the impact on the economy was far too great as the delay in the port had a severe chain reaction on the export and import sectors and a further continuation of the trade union action would have completely derailed these vital sectors.

Exports have contributed immensely to the growth of the economy and the inaction at the Colombo Port ran the risk of causing a severe economic slow down.

The first quarter GDP report released by the Central Bank stated the country's economy expanded by an impressive 8.1 per cent in real terms in the first quarter of 2006 over the relatively low growth of 4.4 per cent in the corresponding quarter of 2005.

In nominal terms this was equivalent to a 15.1 per cent growth against the first quarter of 2005.  

According to the Central Bank's first quarter GDP growth, cargo handling and storage and warehousing expanded by 13.2 per cent in comparison to 11.1 per cent growth in the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

Record volume

Colombo Port, including South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT), handled a record volume of 647,977 TEUs during the reference period. Trans-shipment volumes, which account for over two thirds of the total throughput handled, expanded by 20 per cent, while domestic throughput volume grew moderately by 4 per cent, in the wake of low exports. Further, air cargo volumes expanded marginally during the quarter.

Given the contribution of the import and export sectors to the country's economic growth, the work to rule campaign adversely impacted these sectors and a few more days of such action would have brought about a complete downfall of the economy.

It is learnt that many vessels had left the Colombo Port without unloading their complete import cargo while leaving behind most of the export cargo as well during the go-slow.

With most mother vessels opting to call at other Asian ports due to the go slow in Colombo, feeder vessels too were being redirected to the ports in Dubai and Singapore.

"Productivity per gantry crane came down to just three to five containers per hour against the normal output of 18 and 20. Movement from the port to the South Asia Gateway Terminal was a mere one or two boxes per hour, as against the usual turnover of 10-15," the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said last week.

According to the Sri Lanka Association of Vessel Operators, key international shipping lines have threatened to stop calling at the Colombo Port, as the delays cost them between US$ 60,000-70,000 each day per ship. Port delays are also not covered by insurance policies, the vessel operators' lamented.

Huge loss

According to the SLPA, the trade union action cost the authority Rs. 35 million per day, in losses.

The main demand of the trade unionists was a Rs. 3,000 increase in their basic salary.

The SLPA and Samaraweera however, opposed the move as 40% of the SLPA's revenue was already spent on staff salaries and the requested salary increase would have cost the SLPA an additional Rs. 1,200 million.

Had the trade union action continued to hamper the Colombo Port's operations, the gateway to the future growth center of South Asia, as the SLPA refers to the Colombo Port, would have closed down for good.

Trade union action like the go-slow in the Colombo Port that went on for over a week would only further reduce the country's economic growth while also causing immense damage to its reputation as a hub port.

Minister's proposals to unions

Ports and Aviation Minister Mangala Samarweera, in a bid to resolve the crisis at the Colombo Port met with the union leaders on Thursday evening.

The meeting, which went on for over six hours resulted in Samaraweera presenting the union leaders with six proposals, which he said would be implemented once the unions agree in writing that they would immediately halt their  trade union action.

Following are the proposals:

1)         After giving due consideration to the request made by the SLPA workers demanding for a salary increment, the matter will be forwarded to the national committee on administration to study and present  proposals to be implemented within three months.

2)         Till such proposals are received, a monthly allowance of Rs. 1,500 will be given to those between seven and 23 in the salary structure while a sum of Rs. 750 will be given to those between one and six in the salary scale effective from June 2006.

3)            According to the new salary structure of the SLPA, the minimum increment for a worker would be Rs. 3,250 while the highest increment would be Rs. 9,000.

4)         The three member committee appointed by the President, which includes the Ports and Aviation Ministry Secretary, Labour and Labour Relations Ministry Secretary and Chairman, SLPA would continue to look into the complaints made by the workers of corruption and mismanagement of the SLPA and provide necessary instruction on how to deal with them.

5)         When filling vacancies in the port, 10% would be allocated for the children of present port workers.

6)         The committee to monitor the progress including Ministry officials, SLPA officials and trade unionists would meet once in two months under Ports and Aviation Minister Mangala Samaraweera.


Comparison of wages

The minimum salary of a port worker in November 2004 is as follows:

Basic salary            Rs.             5,250

20% allowance            Rs.             1,050

Special allowance            Rs.             3,060

CoL allowance            Rs.             6,500

Total (without O/T)      Rs.             15,860

The minimum salary of a port worker after the two increments is as follows:

Basic salary            Rs.             8,500

20% allowance            Rs.             1,700

Special allowance            Rs.             3,060

CoL allowance            Rs.             9,947

Total (without O/T)      Rs.             23, 207

The SLPA also provides workers with two main meals, breakfast and tea thrice a day at a cost of Rs. 285 per worker.

The total number of workers at the SLPA stands at 14,800.


Trade union demands

The Joint Trade Union Federation launched the work to rule campaign calling for four demands.

The trade unions demanded a basic salary increment of Rs. 3,000; the present allowance of Rs. 70 paid for good work habits be increased to Rs. 200; appointment of a committee to look into salary anomalies and the bonus to be increased from Rs. 15,000 to Rs, 30,000.

The main trade unions of the federation, which launched the action, included the Pragathisheeli Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya, Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya and the JVP affiliated Samastha Lanka Varaya Sevaka Sangamaya.

The trade unions on Friday accepted the proposals forwarded by Ports Minister Mangala Samaraweera and called off the trade union action.

"Since the matter has been referred to a committee to forward proposals within a period of three months and since the government has agreed to grant at least a part increase of the salaries, we have decided to call off the strike taking into consideration the country's future as well," Co-Convener, SLPA Joint Trade Union Federation, Udeni Kaluthanthri said.


Salley on 'double standards'

Right of reply

In response to The Sunday Leader story titled " Salley's double standards" published on June 25, 2006, former Deputy Mayor of Colombo, Azath Salley has sent the following reply.

Non-payment

The fact that my wife Fathima Reinoza Mohideen floated a company in the year 2001, registered as Apple Group 4, cannot be denied.

The business named Apple Group 4 was registered in the year 2001. But the company was closed down in 2002, as I did not want anybody to point fingers at me, at a time when I was serving the council in my capacity as the deputy mayor.

I as a banker, after nine years of banking service started my own business only to get into politics. I had to resign from the bank to do politics.

Though I continued in the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), my wife continued with this business. The Apple Group 4, like any other private company sought CMC approval to erect hoardings. Now the company did not go out of the way to obtain permits but did seek permission according to the rules and regulations of the council.

The company obtained permission for five hoarding sites and payments for all five hoardings were also paid in keeping with the CMC regulations. Although the payments for all five were made to the CMC, only three hoardings were displayed.

Now the allegation levelled against me is that I violated the council regulations by defaulting payment.

I wish to bring to your notice that the payment for hoardings is made on an annual basis. And my wife's company was closed down in 2002. I wonder why the Municipal Commissioner could not demand for the money from the company, if the company had not made the payment, the following year and also wonder why he has raised this issue in the year 2006.

If the CMC has not obtained the annual rent from the time the council approval for the hoarding sites were granted, till 2004, as mentioned in the newspaper article, then the CMC Commissioner must be queried immediately.

After all, it is his duty to ensure the particular rent is recovered from a company defaulting due payments. According to the council regulations, it is the Municipal Commissioner who is fully responsible for the recovery of dues.

Invoices for the payments made from February to June, are in the possession of my wife to prove that due payments have been made for all five hoardings.

This is to inform you that the company made the payment on November 27, 2002. The same year the company was also closed down.

Complaint of misconduct

Responding to another allegation against me in your newspaper I would like not mentioning that although 29 Municipal Council members complained in writing to UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe alleging misconduct, there was no action taken against me by the UNP Leader.

If the leader has found some element of truth in the allegations levelled against me by all 29 members, he would have taken prompt action against me. The fact that he decided not to institute action against me is a very clear indication that these allegations are baseless.

Use of unregistered vehicle

With regard to the other allegation that I used an unregistered vehicle belonging to Wills Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, despite the fact that the use not being authorised by the CMC, I would like to mention that this was done in consultation and the approval of Colombo Mayor, Prasanna Gunewardena.

It was the Mayor who authorised the use of this vehicle at a time when I did not have an official vehicle. I have been using my personal vehicle and petrol for official purposes and the decision to hire the vehicle was taken after it was decided to call for tender.

In my view, the author has failed to check the actual information to balance the story. This reflects on the poor quality of journalism on the part of the author. More clarification regarding this matter can be obtained from the Mayor himself.

Salley uncontactable

I also totally deny that I was uncontactable. Only after this story appeared in your newspaper, I telephoned the author Dilrukshi Handunnetti and inquired from her why she wrote this story without cross checking with me. When inquired from her why she published the story without getting my views, she told me she instructed a junior to call me.

I am shocked that Dilrukshi Handunnetti who claims to be a senior journalist has lied to the nation by saying she tried to contact me when actually she did not. She in fact confessed to me she did not call me but instead delegated a junior to telephone me for my views.

I think this is a violation of the code of journalistic ethics for one person to ask questions and the other to write. This type of journalism to my understanding is not practiced anywhere in the world.

 Salley's security

The article refers to three private security men being removed by CMC Commissioner Dr. Jayantha Liyanage. This is absolutely false. The Commissioner did not remove my private security but instead removed the CMC security personnel.

The security men were securing my office at No 34, St. Sebastian Hill, which is known as the Premadasa Centre.

I must mention that the security personnel were not securing my gas outlet, but securing my office which was occupied by me at that time.

The newspaper article therefore is misleading and attempts only to sling mud at me.

It should also be noted that after the Commissioner ordered the withdrawal of the security personnel, I never made any protest, nor requested for more security.

I was entitled to three security men to secure my house. But one of the reasons I opted to instruct these men to guard this particular office was because this office came under attack in 2002, which your newspaper gave wide publicity.

My gas outlet at St. Sebastian Hill continues to function without any security.

Reporter's Note:

Mr. Salley seems to contradict himself in his response where he states that the company was closed down in 2002 simply because he did not wish to have anyone casting aspersions at him. He defeats this lofty claim by stating that while he continued in the CMC as deputy mayor his wife continued with the business.

The CMC vouches for the fact that the company certainly was in arrears until 2004, a battle the two parties must resolve between themselves. 

Contrary to his claim that the UNP leadership took no action against him, and that alone demonstrates his innocence is a poor one, given the fact that there are UNPers who have crossed over and accepted government portfolios, still with no disciplinary action taken against them.

Innocence could have been established only after an inquiry that establishes the same, and not otherwise -  a course of action the UNP did not take with regard to Mr. Salley. Surely, non-action by the leadership is not good enough to establish innocence!

As for cross checking with the former deputy mayor about using an unregistered vehicle, the article was more about the fuel not being authorised by the Municipal Commissioner due to the vehicle being an unregistered one. We did not dredge ownership issues.

Surely, the Commissioner, who in Mr. Salley's opinion is authorised to recover dues etc. would have acted outside the ambit of his authority if he stopped the issuing of fuel to the deputy mayor for a vehicle the use of which was authorised by the mayor himself?

As for checking the same with the former mayor, all we can say is we did try. But it was a futile exercise as the former official when contacted refused to state anything adding that he was no longer in public office - this despite the incidents referred to having taken place during his tenure. His exact words were: "I am not a public person and therefore do not invade my privacy."

It is interesting that Mr. Salley has conveniently forgotten to respond to the allegation of obtaining fuel for the same vehicle which the Municipal Commissioner later refused to authorise due to it being unregistered.

As for the removal of his three security personnel, there is little doubt that Mr. Salley who is an extremely vociferous member who has publicly insulted some CMC officers would not have tolerated it sans a legitimate fight. Especially so, if they were securing his office, as claimed by him.

What is more, if the Commissioner withdrew security personnel without sufficient cause, that would have been a violation of procedure and the deputy mayor's right. It is not possible for the Commissioner to take arbitrary decisions and not be made answerable. 

Also, the reference in the article too was to the security personnel who were paid by the CMC and not others.

As for the allegation that The Sunday Leader did not attempt to verify facts with him, we can only say that Mr. Salley on two occasions told the desk reporter that he was at a meeting and to call later. She telephoned him in the author's presence after which point, his mobile telephone was switched off.

This alone proves that the newspaper had tried to seek his views, and the mechanism through which it is done, whether though a junior reporter or otherwise is for the newspaper to decide and not for Mr. Salley who appears to believe that he is able to give free opinion on how specific desks should be run. We would have been wrong only if we prevented him from expressing his views, and in this instance, it is an opportunity he did not take.

It is also necessary to mention that he thought it fit to demand the writer to visit him and take down his views, something the former mayor had no right to do, especially having failed to give his views when requested for  same.

As for his suggestions about lessons in journalism, we leave it to him to take high moral ground having not replied the queries when presented with the occasion. The newspaper certainly gave him the opportunity to respond which he did not seize.

The better course of action would have been not to leave any room for criticism, instead of having to condemn journalistic standards of individual writers, when exposed.


Putting Weerawansa to shame

The JVP, which was known to be a party that stood by its policies is now fast gaining a reputation as one that changes its stance from day to day mainly due to the actions of one member of the party hierarchy - the Party's Propaganda Secretary, Wimal Weerawansa.

Weerawansa's lifestyle, which has been the subject of much criticism in recent times has also affected the party as well. However, Weerawansa has been oblivious to the criticism and has continued his normal routine.

Since last week Weerawansa's lifestyle has acuired a dimension. That is his preference to use air transport  when travelling out of Colombo.

President's brother

President Mahinda Rajapakse's brother, Basil Rajapakse who has closely observed Weerawansa's expensive tastes has offered him with what he so dearly yearns.

It is also important to note that Weerawansa opted to travel by air to the threatened villages of Kebithigollewa, Mannar and Moneragala recently.

Basil was tasked with looking into the needs of villagers in the border areas and the President also requested the inclusion of Weerawansa and representatives of the JHU in the team.

A man with a practical sense, the President told Basil how he could obtain the support of  Weerawansa to their cause.

"Basil, people like Wimal want to appear as government ministers in front of the people. Can't you see it from the way he dresses? He might want to go in a helicopter like the President, Prime Minister and Ministers. Since he is good at speaking to the people, just take him on a helicopter ride once or twice a week. He might not leave us then," Rajapakse said.

Basil who agreed with the President has now organised a helicopter trip to the threatened villages every week.

Role of minister

Hence Weerawansa has now adopted the role of a government minister. However, all this was challenged at an incident last week in Vavuniya.

Basil, Weerawansa and co. were on a tour of the border villages in Vavuniya and Mannar when they heard of a district committee meeting that was scheduled to be held at the Vavuniya municipal hall.

Basil decided to attend the meeting with his tour group.

The crowd made their way to the venue while the meeting was in progress. Since there was no cabinet minister representing the Wanni District, the meeting was chaired by Non Cabinet Minister Rishard Baduideen.

Basil who approached Baduideen told him that the President had informed them to attend the meeting and that he was asked to chair the meeting.

Baduideen moved aside and gave the chair to Basil. Wimal sat right behind Basil. The meeting then proceeded with Basil starting to speak of the plight of the people in the threatened villages.

Basil could not continue for long as the other MPs representing the Wanni District at the hall started to take objection to Basil's interference and asked him to move out of the place.

Baduideen tried in vain to calm the members.

"No, this gentleman is a presidential advisor. They informed me earlier of their participation at the meeting. He is also the President's brother," Baduideen said.

TNA threatens

A TNA MP said, "We know that the country is being ruled by brothers, uncles, wives and sons. We don't care about that. Please ask him to leave.  Or else we will boycott this meeting."

Baduideen continued to say that apart from the fact that he was the President's brother, he was also a presidential advisor and hence he was in a position to chair the meeting.

The other MPs strongly opposed it and Baduideen who finally managed to calm the members requested them to permit Basil to speak only of the plight of the people in the threatened villages.

Although the MPs agreed to it, they voiced their objection to another factor - Weerawansa's presence at the meeting.

They questioned as to what right Weerawansa had to participate at the Wanni District Committee meeting.

Baduideen helpless at that point said, "No he was accompanying Basil and that is why he is here. If you want we can ask him to leave."

Weerawansa then quietly made his way to a seat in the corner of the hall.

How Thondaman extracted political mileage over a tooth

Political controversies have been caused by many issues, but never has it been due to the extraction of a tooth.

However, this was exactly what happened when a well known person decided to remove a tooth.

Wooing Hakeem, Thonda

For the last few weeks, President Mahinda Rajapakse has been heavily involved in trying to woo the likes of Rauf Hakeem of the SLMC and Arumugam Thondaman from the CWC to government ranks.

Following these attempts, various headlines of crossovers and impending crossovers made it to the front pages of newspapers.

While some of these headlines were not true, the closest to the truth was the headline that said that Thondaman had decided to join the government.

Thondaman indeed decided on joining the government and his decision was mainly based on the assumption that Hakeem and several UNP MPs were also joining the government.

The requests made by Thondaman in order to join the government were considered reasonable - one cabinet portfolio and a deputy ministerial portfolio. Thondaman made this request even before discussing it with the party.

As soon as the CWC decided to join the government, the news was communicated to the President and he in turn informed Thondaman that the cabinet portfolio would be offered to his party at the cabinet reshuffle and that the deputy ministerial portfolio could be offered immediately.

Thondaman agreed to it.

Since Thondaman paid great importance to auspicious times, it was decided to swear in the CWC member to the deputy ministerial portfolio on Tuesday, July 11. Thondaman informed his decision to the President and his Secretary Lalith Weeratunga.

Sivalingam waiting

CWC MP Muttu Sivalingam who was to be sworn in as the deputy minister prepared himself for the event from Tuesday morning. He was waiting for a call from Temple Trees to make his way there to be sworn in, but the call never came.

Muttu Sivalingam then called Thondaman and informed him of the situation.

Angered by the news, Thondaman informed several government ministers that he would not join the government. As a result, Thondaman was invited to Temple Trees for a discussion on Wednesday (12).

Thondaman made his way to Temple Trees to inform the President that he would not be joining the government.

The President was shocked to hear what Thondaman had to say.

"This cannot be Thonda, I can't believe it. I had enough of time to swear in Muttu Sivalingam on Tuesday. I feel this was purposely done to sabotage everything, or else there is something wrong somewhere," Rajapakse said.

Thondaman said that he was facing much difficulty within the party due to this incident.

Angered by hearing what has happened, Rajapakse immediately began to look into the matter to determine what had gone wrong.

Acting irresponsibly

The President immediately called Weeratunga. "Lalith why do you act in such an irresponsible manner? Why didn't you make time to swear in Muttu Sivalingam on Tuesday? I had enough of time on Tuesday. Thondaman is now with me. He can't face his party members because of this incident. How can we maintain a government when these kinds of incidents take place," the President shouted.

After listening to what the President had to say, Weeratunga said, "Sir, I made all arrangements to swear in Muttu Sivalingam on that day, but I suddenly developed an unbearable toothache. The doctor said it was serious and said that I had to remove the tooth. So I removed the tooth. Due to my age, it was really difficult to deal with it later on. That is why this event was missed."

"Ok, but you should have informed me of it Lalith. I will settle this with Thondaman," Rajapakse said.

The President explained Weeratunga's dental problem and Thondaman who understood the situation left Temple Trees.

Delaying tactics

However, the issue is that since the cancellation of the event, Thondaman and the CWC has been finding excuses to delay joining the government. Thondaman is also thinking twice of joining the government as Hakeem and the UNP MPs were now not as enthusiastic in making the jump.

The CWC has now presented the government with new conditions - two cabinet portfolios, two deputy ministerial portfolios, cancel the ministry given to CWC dissident MP Vadivel Suresh or bring it under a ministry that would fall under the CWC and that the CWC would join the government once the UNP heavyweights are sworn in as ministers.

What is of interest is that it was Weeratunga's tooth that seems to have increased Thondaman's bargaining power.

How Basil's double game backfired
on passing the Finance Bills

President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government have had to face many controversies since assuming office. However, the government was faced with the worst controversy yet last Tuesday (18) in parliament with regard to the passage of six finance bills.

Unlike other bills, finance bills have special significance. That is because parliament would have to be dissolved if the government fails to pass a financial bill in parliament.

The bills were presented to parliament by the Prime Minister last Tuesday.

Parliament sessions commenced as usual, but outside the chamber, it was war that brewed within the rooms of the party leaders.

Decided to vote against

The UNP and the JVP decided to vote against four of the six financial bills.

As soon as the JVP informed the government of its decision to vote against the bills, a powerful government minister called Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The Minister conveyed a message from the President.

"The President says that this is a good chance for the UNP and the government to get together and corner the JVP. If the UNP votes with the government that could be done," the minister told Wickremesinghe. SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem communicated the same message.

Wickremesinghe informed the Minister that he would make the decision after consulting Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera and other MPs.

Accordingly, Wickremesinghe discussed the issue with Perera, Ravi Karunanayake, Bandula Gunawardena, Mano Wijeratne and Karu Jayasuriya.

They all said that it would be disastrous to try to corner the JVP by voting with the government.

They further explained that the bills contained several detrimental clauses to the country and said that it was time to cast aside political differences and vote against the bills with the JVP. They also said it is now evident the President is unreliable and having used the UNP to pass the bills, he would once again use it as a weapon with the JVP to bring them back to his fold.

Wickremesinghe then called the government minister and informed him that it was not the time to gain political mileage and proposed the calling of a party leaders' meeting.

A party leaders' meeting was called and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake tried his best to convince the party leaders.

However, things took a different turn with the entrance of a special visitor to parliament.

Basil Rajapakse had arrived in parliament and Wickremanayake and Leader of the House, Nimal Siripala de Silva were asked to move out and leave the negotiating to him.

Wimal Weerawansa was out of parliament at the time and upon hearing of Basil's arrival in parliament, he too made his way there.

Weerawansa and Basil were engaged in a two-and-a-half-hour discussion, mainly based on cornering the UNP by the JVP voting together with the SLFP.

JVP decided to oppose

While Weerawansa was engaged in the closed-door meeting, JVP MPs like Anura Kumara Dissanayake and K. D. Lalkantha were angered by this and decided to oppose the bills no matter what agreement Weerawansa arrived at with Basil.

At 4 p.m. Weerawansa made his way to the JVP MPs with Basil's message.

He said that since the government was facing a crisis and since the UNP had to be defeated, the party had to come to an agreement on the bills. He also proposed an alternative strategy to the MPs.

"Let's say that there is a party meeting and all our MPs can leave the complex by 4.30 p.m., then the sessions will be extended till 5.30 p.m. and the government will go for a vote and pass the six bills," Weerawansa said.

However, Dissanayake and Lalkantha opposed this move and said that the JVP should not compromise its policies.

"Comrade Wimal can leave at 4.30, we will stay back and vote against it at 5.30," they said.

As soon as Basil heard that Weerawansa had failed in getting his MPs to agree to the plan, he called Rauf Hakeem to his room.

"This JVP is a problem to everyone. We cannot carry on a government as long as they are in parliament. So get Ranil's approval to teach the JVP a lesson," Basil said.

Hakeem met with Wickremesinghe and informed him of Basil's request. The Opposition Leader who listened to everything what Hakeem had to say finally gave him a political lecture.

Ranil advises Hakeem

"Hakeem, I'm not ready to do any political transactions with a man like Basil. I will have dealings with the President, Prime Minister or a senior minister. We together with the Prime Minister and the JVP were arriving at a compromise when Basil jumped into the middle and ruined everything. Now I cannot do anything. My advice to you is not to fall to Basil's level. You are a party leader so solve your matters keeping in mind your standards and don't forget the reputation Basil has earned for himself in business circles," Wickremesinghe told Hakeem. Wickremesinghe also sent a message to Basil through Hakeem:  "We will attack the JVP when necessary."

Basil then informed the JVP that he had received a message from the UNP and that they would vote with the government.

The JVP MPs then inquired  from Wickremesinghe whether there was any truth to it and on being told the reality , they realised Basil's game plan.

Hence, Basil had no option but to pack up and leave with the mission unaccomplished.

UNP sets in motion party reforms as seniors lay down the law

All eyes were on the UNP's Political Affairs Committee meeting held last week.

The meeting was given special attention as it was the day when the much talked about party reforms were to make their first appearance.

The committee that met last Tuesday night was handed over a six-page report containing the party's reforms.

Although the committee consists of 21 members, only 17 members were present on that day. However, controversy erupted even before the party reforms were taken up for discussion.

The first to speak was firebrand MP, Lakshman Seneviratne.

Party Leader is Ranil

"No matter who agrees or disagrees, the party leader is Ranil Wickremesinghe. So nobody can criticise him in other places. It is a tradition of the UNP, but it has not been paid much attention to by some. One day, a party member had linked Ranil Wickremesinghe to the President and said that he was ruining the party. That should not happen," Seneviratne said.

Vajira Abeywardene agreed with Seneviratne's statement.

"Lakshman Seneviratne will not tell the gathering the name of the person who has been critical of the party leader. That is because of his dignity, but there is something wrong that has to be brought to light. I say that the statement was made by Rajitha Senaratne. Senaratne has spoken to Silumina and given his opinion, but he has no idea of the party's history," he charged.

Senaratne denies

Senaratne quickly denied the statements made in reference to him and said he made no such statement to Silumina.

"That is very good. Now you say that. I have known this gentleman for some time. He denies today what he has said yesterday. I too knew it and came prepared, here is the copy of the interview you gave to Silumina. Now you can read it," Abeywardene went on.

Several parts of the interview were highlighted. The article was shown to Senaratne and said that such incidents should not happen in the future.

Some at the meeting started to read the interview. UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake who usually agrees on matters with Senaratne also said that he could not approve of the contents in the interview.

A helpless Senaratne offered, "Silumina is a government newspaper and what has been printed is not what I said."

Senaratne was then told to put the record straight and request a correction from the newspaper if what was printed were not uttered by him.

Do not criticise

"I say this once again; do not criticise the party leader in the future. If someone breaks this tradition and criticises the party leader, then we too would start to criticise what the critic says. We will also reveal things about these people. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Karu Jayasuriya are not gods and they too make mistakes. Let's criticise those mistakes within the party, but don't take them to the public and make a huge song and dance about it," Seneviratne added.

Wickremesinghe who decided the issue should not be dragged any further said, "Now let's stop this talk and discuss the more important issues."

With that a clear message went out to all those new entrants to the party that the longstanding members will no longer watch in silence attempts to hijack the party by a few newcomers by carrying out a behind-the- scenes campaign against Wickremesinghe.

SB's unstinted support

In fact, being the political animal he is, S.B. Dissanayake who was sensitive to this developing trend was to meet with Wickremesinghe a day before the meeting and assured his unstinted support to the party leader but qualified it by saying  the day Wickremesinghe relinquishes his office, there should be no automatic successor.

"Anyone who wants to aspire for the leadership must have a chance at that time," Dissanayake said .

  Be that as it may, the reforms were taken up after the comments made by Seneviratne and it was agreed to make the Yovun Peramuna an islandwide campaign, appoint organisers and strengthen the legal arm of the party within a period of three months.

It was also decided to amend the party's constitution if necessary at a party convention and to make changes in posts within the party.

Wickremesinghe also agreed to make the necessary  changes within the party and go for a party convention. Wickremesinghe appointed a committee headed by Jayasuriya, which includes S. B. Dissanayake, Malik Samarawickrama, N. K. Weragoda and Tissa Attanayake to ensure the smooth implementation of the new reforms.

Wimal flexes his muscles

The changing face of JVP's Wimal Weerawansa once again came to light last Friday (14).

That was when the JVP decided to file a case in the Supreme Court calling for the de-merger of the north and east provinces.

Wimal's arrival

Before filing the case in court, Weerawansa took it upon himself to call every media institution and inform them of the party's move and did not forget to mention that he too would be arriving at the court complex to hand over the petition. He even went to the extent of informing the media of the time he would be arriving at the courts complex as well.

Representatives of all print and electronic media were present at the court and at 3.20 p.m. a contingent of vehicles entered the courts complex. While MPs like Vijitha Herath descended from their vehicles, Weerawansa was nowhere to be seen.

The security personnel gave the impression to the photographers that some important person was going to make his way to the complex from the rear entrance.

However, at 3.33 p.m. Weerawansa got down from a vehicle with tinted glasses, which was parked within the complex.

With a smile on his face Wimal questioned the photographers, "you all were fooled into thinking that I would enter from the other side no?"

One photographer questioned, "Why did you stay in the vehicle for so long?"

I am under threat

"No, I'm under threat these days so I have asked them to provide me with special security systems," Weerawansa said.

The photographers were then keen to know what tactics Weerawansa would use on his way out of the complex.

Weerawansa who came out of the complex got into a double cab and asked the security personnel to take him out through the entrance gate and not the exit gate.

The Supreme Court, considered the highest bastion of justice, ensures that citizens abide by the rules. Hence Weerawansa's security personnel were informed by the Supreme Court security personnel that no one was permitted to use the entrance gate as an exit point.

Exit through entrance

Weerawansa then called his security personnel and instructed them to forcefully move aside the barriers at the entrance gate.

The security personnel then allowed the vehicle to move out.

The hapless security personnel at the Supreme Court were left helpless in the face of the strong arm tactics of Weerawansa's goons at the very seat of the justice in the country.

It is learnt that the incident has been recorded in the Supreme Court security officer's log book.  

SB's chat with Dulles

Controversy surrounds Sri Lanka Cricket's decision to pay Rs. 25 lakhs to Bandula Waturegama who went to cover Sri Lanka's tour to England from the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).

Suspended

Waturegama has now been suspended from the SLBC  due to this reason. Waturegama is a close associate of UNP strongman S.B. Dissanayake and knowing Dissanayake's close relationship with UPFA MP and presidential advisor Dulles Alahapperuma decided to request Dissanayake to help him out on the issue.

Dissanayake called Alahapperuma and told him of Waturegama's predicament. After  discussing the issue, the duo started to discuss the country's political scenario and spoke of the bad decisions made by the President. Dissanayake explained to Alahapperuma  the many 'wrong decisions' made by the President.

Dulles helpless

"What to do. I'm also with the President. What can I do?  I also tell him, but he does not listen," Alahapperuma lamented. Not stopping at that, he had then gone on to give several examples where the President had erred. The telephone conversation ended there and it is now learnt that Alahapperuma is planning to leave the country for a few weeks. 


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