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 September 9, 2007  Volume 14, Issue 12


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Noise about ‘no noise’ laws and the President’s response

For the first time in the country’s political history, President Mahinda Rajapakse had the unfortunate privilege of being the first state head and party leader to endure hoots by MPs of his own government.


A.H.M. Fowzie, Rajitha Senaratne and Dilan Perera

The President who was silent when Minister A.H.M. Fowzie was being silenced by UNP defector Rajitha Senaratne over the proposed ‘no noise’ law, decided to speak up for the same cause when he saw that the other MPs were not allowing Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka to defend it.

Never has any party leader in the country endured such an embarrassing moment. The incident undoubtedly highlights the deterioration that has set in in government, apart from being an indication of the present position of the Rajapakse administration, after a mere one year and ten months since assuming office.

It all started with senior SLFP Minister A.H.M. Fowzie facing an unfortunate incident at the government parliamentary group meeting.

Fowzie played a key role in bringing Rajapakse to power. It was Fowzie and his son Nauzer who gave prominence to Rajapakse under Kumaratunga. Their allegiance to Rajapakse at times made them lose out on the political front.

Tables turned

The likes of Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Vijithamuni Soyza, Dulles Alahapperuma, Mervyn Silva and Jagath Pushpakumara who have now pledged loyalty to the Rajapakses were the very people who attacked those who were supportive of him before he assumed office.

However, just six months after assuming office as President, Rajapakse showed his gratitude by attacking Fowzie and his son. The first to be attacked was the son.

The Fowzies however decided to keep quiet and go on with their work.

At the last ministerial meeting, Fowzie said that the new laws on sound pollution proposed by the Environment Ministry were unfair by the religious activities practiced in the country.

He said that as a Muslim member, the law would seriously pose a threat to the religious activities of the Muslims.

According to the proposed legislation making blaring sounds between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. will be prohibited. This encompasses the usage of loudspeakers.

Fowzie pointed out that this timing clashed with the prayer times in mosques. However, he did not speak on behalf of Muslims alone. He said the laws would affect Buddhists as well.

Therefore, Fowzie said that the government had to take a decision on the matter.

Senaratne’s solution

As soon as Fowzie finished speaking, UNP defector and Minister Rajitha Senaratne started to make fun of Fowzie’s comments. He asked if Fowzie had read the proposed laws before speaking. "Yes, Mr. Minister, I did read it and it clearly has laws that would prevent mosques from using loudspeakers during prayer time," Fowzie responded.

"It is not a big issue, the bill also states that you could make noise after receiving a court order," Senaratne said.

"What are you saying? Can a mosque go from court to court requesting for an order to pray?" Fowzie asked.

"This is the Supreme Court determination. It has to be done accordingly or else there is nothing that could be done," Senaratne said.

"That is why I said that we have to make a decision as a government. We can ask the Supreme Court," Fowzie continued, but was interrupted by Senaratne who said, "That cannot be done. I do not know from which planet you have come from."

President Rajapakse kept quiet with a slight smile on his face.

Most SLFPers realised that the President approved of Senaratne for the comments passed at Fowzie and decided to remain silent without siding with Fowzie.

Although everyone remained silent during the meeting, soon after it ended many started to gather around Fowzie to express their support to his statement. "Why Mr. Minister did you keep silent when Rajitha tried to belittle you. You should have given him back," they said.

Fowzie did not respond.

‘Funny situation’

"We are faced with a funny situation. Those who called Mahinda Rajapakse a thief on stage during the presidential election have today become his saviours and those who stood by him in the hour of need like Fowzie have now become traitors," some other ministers said.

Many who surrounded Fowzie said that they cannot allow things to go on like this.

It was in this backdrop that the government parliamentary group was summoned to brief them on the finance bills that were to be presented on Thursday in parliament.

After the briefing the President asked Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle how the opposition was planning to vote on the bills. Fernandopulle said that the UNP, JVP and the TNA have already decided to oppose the bills.

The President then inquired if it would be a close call for the government. However, Fernandopulle said that it would not be a problem as JVP’s Wimal Weerawansa and nine other members along with 10 TNA members were overseas.

"That’s OK, but we have to be ready on Thursday. There is no need for unwanted problems. I have said on several occasions that all government MPs should attend parliament on the days we are sitting. I see that there has been no change in it as several MPs are still absent during voting time. This would continue if I do not take action against two or three people," Rajapakse told Fernandopulle.

"That is true Mr. President, some action has to be taken," Fernandopulle said.

The President then looked at the group and said, "I am making parliament compulsory for all of you. I will take stern action against those who do not attend parliament."

The President then inquired from Fernandopulle the number of government members who were overseas at the time. Fernandopulle said that five or six members were out of the island.

Action against absentees

"Ask them to return to the island. If they do not get back, I will tell later the action I would take against them," the President said.

Then the parliament agenda was taken up for discussion.

Senaratne stood once again to take a swipe at some other senior SLFP members.

"Mr. President, I have great doubts about the functions of COPE in parliament. I think that some in the committee are trying to put some of us who have supported you in difficulty. Now the Chairman of COPE has last week given an interview to an English weekend newspaper. He has clearly brought out this issue during the discussion. He has said that when COPE started to investigate into corruption that has taken place in the past, some have joined the government and accepted portfolios. Is he not openly attacking our ministers who have supported you? Besides, how can the COPE chairman give such newspaper interviews? What authority does he have? Does the government allow him to do as he pleases? If he continues like this, Wijedasa Rajapaksa too would have to be investigated," Senaratne said.

While Senaratne unleashed a verbal attack against Wijedasa Rajapaksa, it was Minister Dilan Perera who rose to his defence.

"What are you saying? Why are you behaving like this? COPE did not hold investigations to suit anyone’s agenda. And it will not be so. Besides, none of the decisions were taken by Wijedasa alone. It was the unanimous decision of the committee represented by all political parties in parliament. Why have you been disturbed by it? We cannot do anything just because some from your group have been entangled in it. We called witnesses. We arrived at the decision after all that. We cannot stop the investigations just because some of you joined the government. If that happens, it will be a shame for the government.

Ugly scenario

"No one has so far been punished legally. According to our revelations, the Bribery Commission and the Attorney General’s Department will do what is necessary. Why have you got so excited before anything? It is also ugly to scold Wijedasa Rajapaksa when he is not here. If these allegations were leveled at a time he was here, he would have responded to them. It is not good to keep silent when he is present and to shout in his absence," observed Perera.

Perera was well supported by his colleagues.

It was another UNP defector, Mano Wijeratne who responded to Perera on the allegations leveled against Rajapaksa.

"What Minister Rajitha said was true. COPE has carried this further than necessary. It is believed that COPE carries out its work according to the UNP’s wishes. It is clear because those in COPE don’t just wait after investigating. The chairman and members come out and accuse people of being rogues. To my knowledge parliamentary committee chairmen do not behave like this," he said.

Amidst Wijeratne’s words, some began to question, "If you have not stolen then why are you scared?"

Perera once again stood to respond to Wijeratne, but the President interrupted him.

"Dilan, we are not ready to accept everything that you say. There is something that I too accept. That is the fact that COPE is going overboard. Also, I have a doubt if there is some political agenda behind it. You can’t play games with me," Rajapakse said.

Perera responded angrily but the President retorted, "Dilan sit down. This government functions according to what I say. Those who do not want to abide by it can leave."

Brought down to earth

Perera sat and the UNP defectors looked at the SLFP members with a smile on their faces. Perera kept quiet and the other members too remained silent.

Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa then once again raised the issue previously raised by Fowzie.

He said that apart from the Muslim mosques, the laws would also pose a problem to temples during the chanting of Pirith, especially during times of the perahera. Yapa added that the thoughtless laws proposed by the Environment Ministry would stifle religious activities.

Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka then responded to Yapa’s and Fowzie’s allegations.

Amidst interruptions by Yapa, Ranawaka started to raise his voice and the silent SLFP members began to shout: "What you say does not happen in Sri Lanka. First get your feet on the ground. Go to the villages and see. Ringing bells in temples alone would not help."

The SLFPers did not allow Ranawaka to speak and when he tried to continue, some of the SLFPers seated at the back started to hoot at him. Ranawaka was immediately silenced and the President who realised that the SLFP members were none too pleased with the situation said, "It’s Ok, I too am against the bill. Champika first told me that it was good, but now I understand that it is not practical. I have asked the secretary of the Buddha Sasana Ministry to meet me. I want to tell him to inform the Supreme Court through the Attorney General that the government finds it difficult to enact the bill. We might then be able to amend the bill and present it without any problems."

The President who kept quiet at the cabinet meeting when Senaratne tried to ridicule Fowzie had to intervene this time and oppose the bill as the SLFPers ganged up against the leadership.

Wide support

At the end of the meeting, many surrounded Perera and congratulated him for standing up to the leadership. "Great, you were the only with a backbone to stand in front of the leader," they said. Even Mahindananda Aluthgamage who approached Perera secretively shook hands with him and said it was "great."

The President too later heard of the support received by Perera at the end of the parliamentary group meeting and the fact that he is perceived by SLFP MPs as supporting the UNP defectors and other alliance partners at the expense of the SLFPers.

 

India’s firm ‘no’ to military solution

It is evident that President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government have adopted an arrogant attitude towards the international community.

Rajapakse has shown his arrogance to many countries and even to the UN. However, neighbouring India was at the receiving end of Rajapakse’s arrogance recently.

Sri Lanka to an extent lost the relationship it had built with India over the years due to the attitude of the Rajapakses in dealing with the giant neighbour. Finally realising that losing India’s friendship was a great loss to the country, the President decided to send two of his brothers – Basil and Gotabaya, and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga to India to engage in some damage control work.

The first Indian leader they met was National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan last Sunday. He was the highest ranking official the Presidential delegation was able to meet during their tour to India and the Sri Lankans received a strong message from India.

First, Basil and Gotabaya briefed Narayanan on the situation in the north and east of the country and the general security situation.

They also spoke of resettling the displaced Tamils and spoke of the measures to be taken in the future in this regard.

Offensive in the north

Meanwhile, they also told Narayanan that the government forces have captured Silavathurai and that since the LTTE did not seem keen to resume the peace process, the government was planning on using its full force to launch an offensive in the north.

After listening to what Basil and Gotabaya had to say, Narayanan explained India’s stance on Sri Lanka’s north east question.

He gave a clear response. He said that India did not wish to support Sri Lanka’s decision to solve the problem through military means.

Narayanan asked Basil and Gotabaya not to opt for a military solution, as it would have an impact on India’s central government. He said that when the government launches an offensive in the north, the Tamils in the area would flee to South India and the southern government would then exert pressure on the central government on the matter.

He also said that the reason for the north-east problem to have gone so far was the government’s inability to present the Tamil people with an acceptable political settlement. Narayanan added that although Rajapakse had on several occasions promised the Indian Premier to find a political solution to the problem, no such proposals have so far been made.

"The President said that the north and the east would be merged according to the Indo-Lanka Agreement and that a solution acceptable to the Tamil people would be presented. But, when you look at it, your government has broken its promise. Therefore, this cannot go on like this. A political settlement has to be put forward and then return to the negotiating table," Narayanan said.

Military equipment

For the past several years, India has provided Sri Lanka with military training and facilities. However, the cold war started by Rajapakse has resulted in India deciding not to provide any military equipment to the country gratis.

There was another reason for India to arrive at this decision. That was the fact that Sri Lanka while accepting non offensive material free from India, paid large sums of money to Pakistan, China and Ukraine for military procurements.

In this backdrop, Basil and Gotabaya decided to do some explaining to Narayanan. They said that Sri Lanka was facing an economic crisis and that it was difficult for the country to pay for military procurements.

Narayanan responded that India could not change its policies, but said they could consider granting a special concession to Sri Lanka. He said that payments could be made in installments subject to a low interest rate.

The Sri Lankan delegation then spoke of South Indian politician Nedumaran’s decision to forcefully enter Jaffna.

Gotabaya said that if Nedumaran entered Jaffna with relief supplies for the people in the north, it would lead to a diplomatic clash and that it would be a problem for the Sri Lanka Navy. They asked Narayanan to stop the visit.

"According to Indian law, anyone taking things out of the country has to pay taxes. If Nedumaran tries to leave the country with any commodities, the Indian Customs would tax him. If anyone tries to take things illegally, they will be arrested. That is the law. However, since the Sri Lankan government is worried about him, I will go to South India and speak about this issue. I will also meet Karunanidhi. Let’s try to solve it without letting it get out of hand," Narayanan said.

The Sri Lankan delegation also held discussions with the Indian Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary and heads of intelligence units.

There was also a decision that the meetings will be kept confidential but no sooner the official visit ended the government put out an ‘official communiqué’ on the ‘decisions’ reached including one to appoint a joint defence committee much to India’s embarrassment.

 

Re-writing history the Rajapakse way

President Mahinda Rajapakse is determined to re-write the history of the SLFP.

Having taken over the party leadership during former leader Chandrika Kumaratunga’s absence from the country, Rajapakse has systematically sidelined those who supported the earlier dispensation and brought in those loyal to him to manage party affairs.

But what has irked senior SLFP members is the humiliation the old guard is subjected to by Rajapakse completely oblivious to the past actions of the newcomers and defectors.

The strategy of Rajapakse is to break with the past completely and present the SLFP as a party following the Rajapakse Chinthanaya as opposed to that of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and it is to further that objective he invited former SLFP General Secretary J.R.P. Suriyapperuma to be the guest speaker at last week’s SLFP convention.

Decision to boycott

This move the President believed would humiliate Kumaratunga to whom the President directed an invitation be sent as the party’s patron. The idea was to have Kumaratunga in the audience and get Suriyapperuma to praise the virtues of Rajapakse and attack the Bandaranaike legacy.

Having got wind of this move Kumaratunga decided to boycott the ceremony and launch a scathing attack on the direction of the SLFP under Rajapakse’s leadership.

And as anticipated, Suriyapperuma in his speech praised the father of the nation, D.S. Senanayake and projected Rajapakse as the next great leader Sri Lanka has produced. The message was that S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Chandrika Kumaratunga not to mention, Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotelawala, W. Dahanayake, J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa and D.B. Wijetunge did not qualify to even stand alongside Rajapakse.

Thus on hearing the strategy afoot, Kumaratunga came out all guns blazing, passing her own indictment on Rajapakse’s SLFP.

Kumaratunga’s letter

Asked for a response as to why she did not attend the convention, this is what Kumaratunga had to say:

"For the first time since I left the presidency of the country, I have been sent an invitation by the SLFP in due time. Before this, either I was not invited at all for important party meetings or the invitation was sent only a day or two earlier giving me no time to prepare my schedule to attend the event.

"This event of the 56th anniversary of the party, I would have been happy to attend to pay my dedicated respects to the party, even though the present government led by the SLFP President has radically changed the party’s fundamental policies and principles in a manner seriously detrimental to the party’s interest. For instance, the SLFP was the premier people’s party, which brought in the peoples era in 1956 under the leadership of the party’s Founder Leader, Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. All governments of our party continued these people’s policies in economic, social and cultural spheres, until November 2005.

"Today it is sad to note, that the policies of the Bandaranaikes on which the party was founded and carried forward with the full approval of the people have been thrown overboard, without presenting a viable alternative.

"Similarly, it is so with the SLFP policies on the ethnic question. In 1958 the BC Pact, and from 1994-2005 my government’s proposals embodied the concept of power sharing through extensive devolution of political power. This has been changed radically by the present regime.

"What is even more serious is that the changes of policy have been done without consultation with the relevant bodies of the party. Until November 2005, especially during the period of my government, extensive discussions at various levels were held with members of the party and leaders on the proposals for devolution of power. These policies were adopted only after the party’s relevant bodies gave their full and free consent, after lengthy discussions regarding the proposals.

"None of this has happened today. A couple of people, supposedly with the participation of extremists from other groups have drawn up a confused so-called policy statement. Varying statements are being made by different leaders of the SLFP regarding the so called new policy.

"Finally the party’s present President has obtained approval from the party’s central committee and ex-co, without allowing any discussion, even shouting down very senior members of the party.

"Even in this backdrop, I wished to attend the party’s anniversary commemoration as a loyal and dedicated party member, if only to pay my deep respect to the great party.

"But when I learnt that the only key note speaker was to be Mr. J. R. P. Suriyapperuma, I could not agree to stoop as low to participate in an event where Mr. Suriyapperuma talked to SLFPers on the SLFP. This was for the following reasons;

i. Mr. Suriyapperuma shouted on platforms all over the country that he would remove and throw away every single stone in the Bandaranaike Samadhi and grow manioc on the Samadhi.

ii. After sometime he was forgiven and taken back into the party and then he joined with Mr. Dulles Alahapperuma, Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapakse and a few others to tour the entire country addressing SLFPers requesting them to join in ousting Sirimavo Bandaranaike from the party leadership. This was in 1980 when Mrs. Bandaranaike’s civic rights were unjustly removed by the J.R. Jayewardene government. J. R. P. Suriyapperuma was the leading speaker who went about abusing Mrs. Bandaranaike in the lowest terms.

iii. It was Vijaya and I together with Hon. T. B. Illangaratne, Hon. Hector Kobbekaduwa, Hon. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and other seniors of the party who fought this treacherous lot and protected Mrs. Bandaranaike’s leadership and prevented the party from breaking up.

iv. The anti-Mrs. Bandaranaike group did not forgive Vijaya and me for this and succeeded after sometime in getting Vijaya suspended from the party. Maithripala Sirisena, Mahinda Rajapakse and Stanley Tillekeratne were the main leaders of the group. It is the sacking of Vijaya that caused, T. B. Illangaratne, Kobbekaduwa, B. W. Kularatne, myself and a large number of SLFP leaders and organisers to leave the party. They did not go off on their own free will. It was the Mahinda and Maithri group that was responsible for chasing them out.

v. This same, J. R. P. Suriyapperuma went around attacking me when I first contested as chief minister and then as premiership candidate.

v . This is the period during which Mahinda organised a four-page rag sheet exclusively for the purpose of attacking me in filth. The editor of this was Dulles. They even went as far as publishing that Vimukthi was not Vijaya’s son.

vii. Therefore even though other SLFPers through greed for power may be willing to sacrifice principles, I could not listen to Mr. J. R. P. Suriyapperuma about the SLFP."

 

UNP decides to take Karu to task

The UNP parliamentary group met last Monday.

The meeting commenced with Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe briefing the group on the five financial bills the government was planning to present to parliament.

He said that the government was planning on imposing several new taxes that would further burden the people.

"It is through the budget that taxes are usually proposed. This is to hoodwink the people. When they impose the taxes now, they have nothing to include in the budget. The people would then see it as a rosy budget. The proposed tax on mobile phones is unacceptable. We have to oppose all these bills," he said.

The group agreed with Wickremesinghe and decided to vote against the bills in parliament.

Ravi Karunanayake spoke next. He explained the problems faced by the people due to the depreciation of the rupee against the dollar. The parliamentary group agreed to act on it as well.

Letter to Karu

Wickremesinghe spoke again and brought to the notice of the group, a statement made by Karu Jayasuriya. "He has said that we were trying to buy back some of the UNP members who went with them through a person called Gnanakoon. It is an irresponsible statement. If it is true, then Karu Jayasuriya should go to the Bribery Commission and make a statement, but he has not done so," Wickremesinghe said.

He then asked Joseph Michael Perera to send Jayasuriya a letter on the matter.

Meanwhile , the UNP political affairs committee arrived at an important decision at its last meeting chaired by Wickremesinghe.

That was to withdraw from the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC).

Everyone agreed that it was pointless to be part of the APRC as the government was not planning to bring a solution to the problem in the north and east.

A committee was also appointed to look into the report submitted by the select committee published under the 17th Amendment.

Wickremesinghe then briefed the members on the party’s future action plan.

Election call

A proposal to call for an election was included in the list of proposals to be presented at the party’s convention in Kandy.

Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake spoke next.

"We are holding anti government rallies and protests in the main towns. We need to take them to the villages as well. The best place for that is the weekly fair (pola). There are 377 weekend fairs in the country. We need to cover these 377 weekend fairs. We will go there and distribute leaflets and educate the villagers of the corruption in the government and the rising cost of living," Attanayake said.

The political affairs committee agreed to it and from September 16 till October 16, the party is to hold protests outside 377 weekend fairs.

The committee after discussing the role played by the state owned print and electronic media decided to take stern action against them in the coming months.

 

 


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