Rampant misuse of state resources
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Rampant misuse of public property has been
reported in the election campaigns of the
governing party in the run up to the North
Western and Central Provincial Council
elections scheduled for February 14.
With a couple of weeks left for D-day,
complaints on the violation of election laws
keep pouring in from many parties, mainly
from those representing the opposition.
Employees attached to a state institution
have even in writing informed the Elections
Commissioner of the misuse of public
property by a government minister for
election work in his brother's campaign in
the Central Province.
The Sunday Leader is in possession of a copy
of the letter sent by several employees
attached to the Milco Company that is under
the purview of the Livestock Development
Ministry which alleges that Minister C.B.
Ratnayake was using the services of Milco
employees including high-ranking officials
for the government's election campaign in
the North Western and Central Provinces.
They have also alleged that orders have been
issued for the company to release several
vehicles that are currently being used for
State vehicles used for campaign work
In the letter to the Elections Commissioner,
the employees have also given a list of
numbers of vehicles that are allegedly being
used for campaign work in the Nuwara Eliya
District. The vehicle number plates listed
in the letter are GU 5003, HW 2445, HT 7516,
HS 9020, HB 1762 and 59-4289.
Milco workers have alleged that Minister
Ratnayake was using the services of company
employees for his brother, S.B. Ratnayake's
campaign for the Central Provincial Council.
According to the workers, some of the Milco
employees have been granted leave from
January 20 till February 12 under the guise
of conducting a survey on a proposed UHT
milk manufacturing factory.
The head of personnel and administration has
approved the letter seeking permission for
several Milco employees to 'conduct a
survey' on the proposed milk factory sent
under the marketing manager's signature.
Milco employees have alleged that Marketing
Manager Sampath Gunaratne also performs as
the officer in charge of Ratnayake's
The Sunday Leader is also in possession of a
copy of the letter sent by Gunaratne on
January 13, seeking permission for 18 Milco
employees to be released from their duties
from January 20 till February 12 to 'conduct
a survey on the proposed UHT milk
Accordingly, permission was sought by
Gunaratne on January 13 to get several
employees from the marketing, purchasing,
storing, engineering, manufacturing and
transport divisions of the company.
Meanwhile, Human Resources Development and
Administration Manager, Priyadarshani
Somathileka has issued an internal memo
addressed to the divisional heads and
factory managers of Milco requesting them to
grant permission for several employees,
whose names have been included in a separate
list attached, to participate in a survey
conducted by the company. "Official leave
has been granted for the employees whose
names have been attached in the list to
participate in the survey mentioned on the
dates mentioned," the memo states.
Also, on January 13, Gunaratne has written
a letter to the Chief Executive Officer of
Milco requesting several employees attached
to the main office to be released to
participate in a survey on a proposed UHT
milk manufacturing factory.
Misuse of public property
Apart from the misuse of public property
involving the Livestock Development
Ministry, there have been several other
similar incidents reported.
Employees attached to the state owned Sri
Lanka Rupavahini Corporation have complained
of institutional facilities being used for
government election campaign work.
The Sunday Leader has received a copy of a
letter issued by the Coordinator, Alliance
Polls Campaigning Centre, Karu Paranavithana
faxed allegedly from a fax machine belonging
to the Rupavahini DS Office.
Meanwhile, UNP Kurunegala District
Parliamentarian Akila Viraj Kariyawasam told
The Sunday Leader that the government was
using the services of principals in the
Kurunegala District for its election
He said that zonal education directors in
the district have been issued directives to
use the services of principals and teachers
in the district for campaign work.
Addressing the media last week, Kariyawasam
said that principals of all schools in the
district were taken in a bus and had been
made to go campaigning from house to house
in the area.
He had alleged the incident had taken place
on January 26 and that orders had been
issued to the zonal director of education to
release them from normal duties.
Kariyawasam said he had spoken to the zonal
director over the issue and he had replied
him that nothing could be done.
"The zonal director told me he was helpless
and he had to do it for his survival," he
Meanwhile, UNP Puttalam District
Parliamentarian Palitha Ranga Bandara has
complained of the use of vehicles without
number plates for election campaign work by
the governing party in the North Western
Provincial Council election.
Ranga Bandara has alleged that vehicles that
belonged to the Fisheries Ministry are being
used for campaign work of several UPFA
candidates in the Puttalam District.
The misuse of public property was also taken
up for discussion during a meeting
representatives of political parties
contesting the forthcoming North Western and
Central Provincial Councils had with the
Elections Commissioner last week.
During this meeting representatives of the
UNP and the JVP had expressed concern over
the poor media coverage provided by the
state media institutions to the election
campaigns of opposition political parties.
Parties nominate their chief ministerial
While both the United National Party (UNP)
and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
have nominated chief ministerial
candidates for the North Western and
Central Provincial Council elections,
the ruling UPFA has appointed district
leaders to the five districts.
According to UPFA General Secretary,
Minister Susil Premajayanth, unlike
previous provincial council (PC)
elections they have decided to appoint
five district leaders to the five
districts and said that he is confident
that the five district leaders could get
the most number of preferential votes in
the five districts.
"We have appointed Sarath Ekanayake to
lead the Kandy District while Radha
Krishnan and Bandula Yalegama are the
leaders in Nuwara Eliya and Matale
Districts. Athula Wijesinghe and Asoka
Wadigamangawa will lead the Kurunegala
and Puttalam Districts in the
North Western Province.
All the five candidates are capable of
winning the election for us,"
The UNP will field former minister S.B.
Dissanayake and former provincial
counsellor Shamal Senerath as their
chief ministerial candidates for the
Central and the North Western Provinces
and is hopeful of winning both councils.
JVP Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath told
The Sunday Leader that Samansiri
Fernando and Nimal Herath have been
appointed as the JVP top candidates to
the Central and North Western PCs
respectively, and said the JVP too was
confident of winning both the provinces.
Rise in number of voters in North Western
and Central Provinces
By Nirmala Kannangara
Palitha Ranga Bandara
and C.B. Ratnayake
The number of voters in the five districts
coming within the North Western and Central
Provinces have increased in comparison to
the 2005 presidential election voter
registry, according to the office of the
Deputy Commissioner of Elections.
More polling booths are to be introduced
compared to 2005.
Deputy Commissioner of Elections, Nuwara
Eliya District, Samansiri Ratnayake told The
Sunday Leader that 12 recognised political
parties and 10 independent groups would be
contesting the February 14 polls in the
Nuwara Eliya District and that those who do
not have a valid identification document
which is compulsory to cast their votes,
could obtain temporary IDs from their
respective grama niladaris on or before
"There would be 393 polling booths in the
Nuwara Eliya District and each political
party that contests the PC election could
assign two members to each polling booth.
A valid National Identity Card (NIC),
passport, driving licence, postal identity
card, pension identity card issued by the
Pensions Department, Bhikku ID, elders ID
issued by the Divisional Secretary and the
Social Service Department or the Ceylon
Government Railway (CGR) folder would be
considered identification documents to cast
one's vote," Ratnayake said.
According to Ratnayake, there are 452,395
registered voters while 245,529 are from the
Nuwara Eliya polling division while the rest
are from the Kotmale, Walapane and
Hanguranketha polling divisions.
"It has been highlighted that more than
70,000 estate workers in the Nuwara Eliya
District do not have NICs and have to be
issued with some form of identification
before the election. This is incorrect. We
could say that the number of people that do
not have their NICs are much less than
highlighted. When voters failed to give
their ID numbers in the electoral list they
too are considered as those who do not
possess IDs. Since most of the people in the
district are living elsewhere the person who
fills their electoral list fails to give the
ID numbers," Ratnayake said.
Increase in registered voters
Meanwhile, sources from the Deputy
Commissioner of Elections Kandy told The
Sunday Leader that 10 registered political
parties and eight independent groups are to
contest the upcoming PC election and added
that there are 955,108 registered voters in
the district which is higher than the
previous presidential election in 2005.
"There would be 680 polling booths in the
district and each contesting political party
could deploy two polling agents to each
polling booth. Those who do not have a valid
identification document could obtain a
temporary ID from the respective grama
niladari before February 4," sources told
The Sunday Leader.
Sources from the Deputy Commissioner of
Elections Matale, meanwhile told The Sunday
Leader that there are 338,946 registered
voters in the district, which is around
10,000 more than the previous election.
"Twelve registered political parties and
eight independent groups are to contest the
forthcoming election and there would be 296
polling booths in the district," sources
told The Sunday Leader.
In the Puttalam District in the North
Western Province, 489,852 registered voters
would vote in 387 polling centres according
to Assistant Commissioner of Elections -
Puttalam, A.O.M. Nafeel.
"According to statistics received there are
78,000 people who do not possess valid IDs
in the district and we request them to
obtain their temporary IDs. In Puttalam
District there are 12 registered political
parties and 12 independent groups contesting
the PC election," Nafeel told The Sunday
Public funds and state property abused
President using public money for
campaign - UNP General Secretary
UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake
told The Sunday Leader that the UNP
election campaign is successful and
added that UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe would kick off his
campaign from Wennappuwa tomorrow (2).
"In the three districts in the Central
Province we have had 17 main election
meetings and another 1000 pocket
meetings too are to be held in support
of the candidates. So far the police
have been very helpful but we cannot say
as to how things would change in the
coming days," Attanayake said.
Attanayake further alleged that
President Mahinda Rajapakse is misusing
public property for the election
campaign including his official
residence. He has been using public
money to distribute food parcels among
public officers to get their support.
"In Kandy alone the President has given
food to over 6,000 people at the
Presidential abode in Kandy. Although it
was claimed that it was a discussion on
the development plan, it was actually
held to urge the public officers to
vote for the government," Attanayake
Misuse of public property at its helm -
JVP Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath told
The Sunday Leader that they have
requested the voters to give them a
chance to show the two main parties how
to run a government and provincial
councils free of bribery and corruption.
"Our members and their property is under
constant attack and up to now the police
have played an unbiased role. We do not
know how long this would continue. We
are waiting hopefully to see the Police
Department playing a major role to
combat violence and assist to safeguard
the lives and property of the
candidates," Herath said.
A peaceful election campaign - Minister
UPFA General Secretary and Minister
Susil Premajayanth is confident of
winning both the provinces with a huge
majority and told The Sunday Leader that
the people have kept faith in President
Mahinda Rajapakse for saving the country
from the terrorists.
"It was the Mahinda Rajapakse government
that ushered peace to the country and
was behind the vast development projects
that are taking place now. While waging
a war spending millions of rupees still
our government did not fail to give
relief to the people. That's why the
people are rallying around the President
to strengthen his hand," Premajayanth
Pre-election violence on the increase
By B.M. Murshideen
The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections
(CaFFE) Media Spokesperson Keerthi
Tennakoon told The Sunday Leader that
election violence in all districts of
the North Western and the
has seen an increase.
He pointed out that the Puttalam
District has topped the list in election
violence due to the tension between the
Muslim politicians from the government
and the opposition parties. The Sri
Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) faces
problems from the ruling party Muslim
ministers. According to the CaFFE
report, the SLMC supporters have also
reacted violently to their opponents.
Anamaduwa and Arachchikattuwa areas are
well known for election violence and
according to Keerthi Tennakoon, the same
trend persists in those areas even
today. He said that Puttalam was the
worst with regard to election related
violence and has seen a steady increase
in pre-election violence.
Tennakoon also said that the Nuwara
Eliya District has recorded an increase
in election violence closely followed by
Puttalam District. The campaign of one
of the minority parties representing the
government engaged in violence against
another minority party also contesting
under the UPFA banner was also recorded
According to CaFFE Spokesperson
Tennakoon the situation in the Kandy
District has changed within the last six
days. A large number of outsiders are
allegedly loitering and creating
problems in the Kandy District.
The overall view given by Tennakoon is
that both the government and the
opposition groups are resorting to
violence during their election
He expressed his disappointment at the
conduct of the main political parties -
for not safeguarding the democratic
values of the people and creating
awareness on election violence.
Media mayhem and half
Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge
breathing his last
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The dawn of 2009 has dealt a severe blow to
media freedom in Sri Lanka. It has been a
nightmare January for the media in this
The first three weeks of January saw three
incidents shake the fourth estate to the
bone leading to over a dozen senior
journalists fleeing the country fearing for
their lives. The arson attack on the MTV/MBC
network in Pannipitiya, the assassination of
The Sunday Leader Editor in Chief Lasantha
Wickrematunge and the attack on Rivira
Editor Upali Tennekoon have left the media
in a state of shock and it is yet struggling
to regain its composure following the well
coordinated attacks. These attacks have
raised concern globally, focusing the
world's spotlight on the media here.
Investigations into these attacks are moving
at snail's pace with little progress made.
However on Friday evening police reported
arresting a 23 year old three wheel taxi
driver from Attidiya over the killing of The
Sunday Leader Editor in Chief Lasantha
Wickrematunge. Details were unavailable at
the time this edition went to press. Earlier
a black Bajaj Pulsar bike that was said to
have been used in the assassination was
recovered from a nearby canal in Attidiya.
The bike had a Jaffna registration address
according to reports.
Meanwhile police last week reported that
there was a breakthrough in the
investigations into the assault on Tennekoon.
President Mahinda Rajapakse last week during
a meeting with editors and heads of media
institutions was to also refer to
The President had told the editors and heads
of public and private media institutions
that the government had not given up
investigations into the attack on Tennakoon.
Rajapakse had gone on to say that the
institution that published the Rivira
newspaper was owned by one of his relatives
and the paper had never published anything
that could be considered detrimental to
national security or the security forces.
"Upali Tennakoon is a good friend of mine,
and police have entrusted the investigations
into his attack to the Head of the Colombo
Crimes Division, SSP Anura Senanayake," the
President had reportedly said.
Rajapakse had assured the editors and the
heads of media institutions that he would
not allow the law of the jungle to prevail
in the country. The President had also made
a statement during the meeting that all the
information on the incident would be
While a breakthrough seems to have been
made in Tennekoon's case as stated by the
police as well as the President, the
investigations into other journalists
assassinated in the past couple of years
remain at a dead end.
Civil society and media organisations along
with opposition political parties and trade
unions meanwhile continue to agitate against
media suppression and the threat to
democracy in the country.
The steering committee of Platform for
Freedom - a committee formed by several
members of civil society - met last week and
decided on several issues.
Platform for Freedom is to campaign across
Sri Lanka in support of the right to life
and freedom of expression that all citizens
should enjoy. The committee that met
yesterday decided to broad base the movement
by including a wider spectrum of people to
participate in the movement.
Platform for Freedom is to campaign for the
right to life and freedom of expression with
the participation of members of opposition
political parties as well.
The Campaign Against Media Suppression
steered by the JVP is to also take the fight
to the districts in order to muster the
support of the masses to safeguard media
freedom and democracy.
The killing of journalists has been referred
to as the death of democracy - assassination
of journalists armed only with pen and
A courageous journalist
Referring to Wickrematunge's assassination
and media suppression in the country, JVP
Parliamentarian K.D. Lalkantha told a public
rally in Kurunegala last week, "Wickrematunge
was a courageous journalist who was killed
for only arming himself with a pen. When he
was killed, it was not blood that was spilt,
but the ink of a pen that was silenced."
He had also said that assassinating a
journalist would not silence dissent, as the
inspiration created by such a journalist
would give strength to the media to move
forward amidst obstacles.
Amidst the lobbying by various groups in the
country against media suppression, the
international community continues to express
concern and impress upon the government to
take action against the 'disturbing
indicators of the deteriorating atmosphere
for media independence in Sri Lanka.'
The United States State Department last week
said it was appalled by the continuous
physical attacks and threats against media
personnel in Sri Lanka.
Acting spokesman Robert Wood in a media note
has said, "The serious reports of media
are disturbing indicators of the
deteriorating atmosphere for media
independence in Sri Lanka."
A free and independent media is vital to
ensuring the health and continuation of any
democracy, he has stressed.
"We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to
protect all of its citizens by enforcing law
and order, preventing intimidation of the
media, and by conducting swift, full, and
credible investigations into attacks on
journalists, and other civilians," he has
Rule of law undermined
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights Navi Pillay said the conflict had
reached a critical stage. "While the
government has made military gains on one
hand, the rule of law has been undermined on
the other. The killing of prominent
newspaper Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge
earlier this month was the latest blow to
the free expression of dissent in Sri Lanka.
The searing article he wrote prophesying his
own murder is an extraordinary indictment of
a system corrupted by more than two decades
of bloody internal conflict."
The UN High Commissioner had also observed
there had not been any successful
investigations or prosecutions into
political killings, disappearances and other
violations committed in recent years.
"It is the government's duty to provide
safety to all Sri Lankan citizens, whatever
their ethnic origin or political views,"
Pillay has said. "That means not only
protecting civilians during military
operations in the north, but also ensuring
space for journalists and human rights
defenders to seek out the truth and expose
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
in its Impunity Index has identified the
countries with the worst records for
impunity. CPJ's 2008 report ranks Sri Lanka
in fifth position.
Referring to Sri Lanka CPJ has said,
"Fighting between government and separatist
forces has long bled the nation. But
journalists are more likely to be
assassinated than to die in crossfire, with
many of the victims being Tamils."
Sierra Leone, Somalia and Colombia are the
countries ranked ahead of Sri Lanka. While
Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia have been
mired in conflict, majority of the 13
countries on CPJ's Impunity Index are
established peacetime democracies, pointing
to alarming failures by those elected
governments to protect journalists.
"Every time a journalist is murdered and the
killer is allowed to walk free it sends a
terrible signal to the press and to others
who would harm journalists," CPJ Executive
Director Joel Simon had said when releasing
"The governments on this list simply must do
more to demonstrate a real commitment to a
free press. Lip service won't help save
journalists' lives. We are calling for
action: thorough investigations and vigorous
prosecutions in all journalist homicides."
In releasing the Impunity Index CPJ has said
that journalists in South Asia were
particularly vulnerable. "Countries from
that region make up almost half of the
index. They include
Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan,
Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to US
President Barrack Obama on January 12, 2009,
CPJ Chairman, Paul E. Steiger has emphasised
the need for the US to defend media freedom
in the backdrop of growing repression,
censorship, and attacks on journalists
around the world and said, "I cannot
emphasise enough the importance of
Washington's resolute defense of media
freedom at this time of growing repression,
censorship, and attacks on journalists
around the world.
"I encourage you to make press freedom
integral to both your domestic and foreign
policy. As Thomas Jefferson noted, Our
liberty depends on freedom of the press, and
that cannot be limited without being lost."
However, a government member made a shocking
statement last week by issuing a date when
the government is to make an official
statement related to the MTV arson attack
and Wickrematunge's assassination.
A senior government minister was last week
reported as saying that important
information regarding the arson attack on
MTV/MBC network as well as Wickrematunge's
assassination would be revealed on February
Minister and Defence Spokesperson Keheliya
Rambukwella addressing the media last week
had said that the government was aware of
those behind the attacks but would not
divulge any details till the said date as
investigations by the special police teams
were still in progress.
Rambukwella had reportedly said President
Mahinda Rajapakse had decided on the date on
which an official government announcement
would be made divulging the culprits and the
"Currently all we can say is that
investigations are still ongoing. There is
no update and we will not divulge anything
now as this could hamper the inquiries. The
President has made his decision to reveal to
the media on February 15 some very important
details behind both the attacks so we will
have to wait till then," Rambukwella had
It is now February and going by the
statement made by the Minister, in little
over two weeks time the people will be able
to find out those behind the heinous crimes
that were committed with the dawn of the New
The government is taking every possible
step to ensure that law and order
prevails in the country along with media
freedom, Media Minister Anura
Priyadarshana Yapa said in a brief
telephone interview with The Sunday
Q: What action has the government taken
so far to prevent attacks against the
media and what progress has been made on
the investigations into attacks against
A: The government has to get help
from the police for this and has already
informed the police to carry out
investigations into the incidents that
have taken place. Special investigating
teams have already been dispatched. We
are expecting the police to make a
breakthrough in the investigations soon.
Q: There have been calls for probes at
an international level into some of the
attacks on the media. What is the
government's position with regard to
A: It is a decision that the
government needs to make. However, we
feel that the police investigations are
adequate. The police has been able to
conduct investigations into many
incidents that have taken place in the
country. Therefore, we feel that the
police teams and the CID could carry out
Q: Does the government have any
intention of handing over the
investigation into the assassination of
The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief
Lasantha Wickrematunge to the CID?
A: It is a decision the police
has to make. Generally when an incident
takes place it is the DIG of the area
who takes over the investigation. The
decision to hand over the investigation
to the CID would be taken by the police
depending on the information police
teams investigating into the incident
Q: The government has alleged the
involvement of a certain group that is
trying to bring disrepute to the
government to be behind the recent
attacks against the media. Has this
group been identified?
A: We feel that there is a group
operating to bring disrepute to the
government and are mindful of it. We are
looking into it and the investigations
into the incidents are also in progress.
Q: Irrespective of who carries out the
attacks, is it not the responsibility of
the government to ensure that law and
order prevails in the country?
A: Yes, it is our main concern.
We are doing our best under the present
circumstances. It is not only our
responsibility, everyone has to consider
it his or her duty to ensure that law
and order prevails in the country. The
armed forces along with the police are
engaged in maintaining law and order in
Q: There have been questions raised
about the movement of persons carrying
weapons travelling in vehicles without
number plates when carrying out attacks
against the media in close proximity to
high security zones (HSZs). How does the
A: In the recent past we have
seen several instances where attacks
have taken place close to HSZs. We are
concerned about it and are doing our
best. Even the security forces are doing
their best to ensure high levels of