27th February 2000
Life behind the barbed wire: A little boy looking on
Deputy minister escapes death; powerful new chief executive to be created
By M. Ismeth and Leon Berenger
The crisis and scandal over national cricket administration took a dangerous turn yesterday when a deputy minister who was on the way for a district cricket association meeting was attacked with grenades and guns.
Shantha Premaratne, Deputy Minister of Plan Implementation and Parliamentary Affairs, escaped death when he was leaving Mahindoda-yarama Temple in Mihintale yesterday morning.
Mr. Premaratne had jumped into a nearby deep ditch when the first grenade was thrown at him, but the attackers had followed him and flung a second one which failed to explode, a spokesperson for his back up security told The Sunday Times. The attackers fled to the nearby jungles when Mr. Premaratne's bodyguards opened fire.
Mr. Premaratne was admitted to the Anuradhapura Hospital but later got himself discharged, apparently for security reasons though reports indicated his hearing was impaired. Mr. Premaratne was on his way to attend a crucial meeting of the local cricket association where he was contesting for the presidency with his rival being Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake.
Reports said that before yesterday's attack Mr. Premaratne had been warned and threatened to stay out of the contest — reminiscent of incidents before last year's annual general meeting of the cricket board in Colombo.
Meanwhile, the latest national cricket crisis involving a heated argument with Sports Minister S. B. Dissanayake and resignation of the Interim Committee, is still having its repercussions though the minister says the matter is settled and the committee is staying on. The latest dispute centres on the board's once powerful chief executive officer, Dhammika Ranatunga, brother of former captain Arjuna.
Latest reports indicate the Interim Committee headed by banker Rienzie Wijetillake is to push for the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer as part of major structural reforms. The Sunday Times learns the committee will be proposing the appointment of new directors in charge of marketing, including media, another for international relations, and for finance. All three will work under the new CEO.
The Cricket Board's annual general meeting was postponed following an audit report, raising serious questions about financial matters. The minister has appointed a committee of Treasury experts and accountants to study the audit report.
A spokesman for the interim committee said the minister would have to decide whether those named in the audit report were suitable to stand for re-election.
Minister warns of bouncer
Minister S. B. Dissanayake has declared that if the Government fails to obtain the required two-thirds majority to implement the constitutional reforms, it will close down Parliament and courts and implement the reforms.
Minister Dissanayake speaking at the 17th sessions of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects in Colombo said the Government hoped to introduce the constitutional reforms by May.
"If we cannot obtain the required two-thirds majority for the constitutional reforms, we will close down Parliament for a short period and convene it as a constituent assembly and if required close down the courts and implement the reforms," he said.
'There could be views against it. If any judges are in disagreement with this they can go home," he said.
The minister also said the LTTE would be invited for talks early next month
"In the same way that we invited the UNP, at the beginning of next month we will invite the LTTE for talks, if not here, then anywhere they wish," Minister Dissanayake said.
He said India was important in resolving the ethnic conflict in the event the LTTE did not agree to resolve the issue peacefully.
He said he hoped by the end of the year the ground situation would be made conducive to resolve the conflict by peaceful means or by military force.
Hundreds of bank slips meant as payments for various purposes at the Department of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles were allegedly doctored through an outside computer and the money diverted to private pockets in a massive 36-million rupee scam at this key department, a Fraud Bureau chief said.
The Fraud Bureau Senior Superintendent, V. Kanthasamy, told The Sunday Times four touts had been arrested and the computer at a nearby communications centre was seized, following investigations after Motor Commissioner D.S. Edirisinghe called in the detectives.
The Fraud Bureau chief said a clerk in the department had stumbled on the scam when he was trying to correct a mistake.
The modus operandi of the alleged crooks was to ensure that the banking slips which indicate the sum deposited with the cashier do not reach the counter. Instead, they were taken to the nearby communications centre and doctored before they were handed over to the RMV clerk for necessary documents to be attached.
For example if a person had to pay Rs. 4,000 to the RMV for some purpose, all he has to do is to give Rs. 1000 to the touts and the matter would be settled — meaning a massive rip off from the department.
Inspector M. Jayaratne who is heading the investigation team said the fraud had been going on for at least four years and although the four arrested were outsiders they were probing possible involvement of RMV staff.
Meanwhile the Commissioner is also tightening internal checks to prevent such rackets but said computers were not streamlining but complicating procedures.
Referring to the police claim that upto 36 million rupees might have been ripped off by the racketeers, the Commissioner said more investigations were needed to arrive at a figure which could be more or less.
Mr. Edirisinghe said he believed that the biggest culprits were the agents of car importers and dealers who had been given easy access to the department to facilitate their work.
By Our Diplomatic Editor
Peace talks between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE taking place in the next couple of months has been completely ruled out, according to very senior government sources.
'The Sunday Times' learns that no direct talks will be held in Oslo, or anywhere else till May. One of the key reasons attributed for this is the fact that the man the LTTE organisation has ear-marked for these negotiations, Anton Balasingham is unwell.
'The Sunday Times' learns that the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has hand-picked Dr. Balasi-ngham to handle negotiations with third party facilitator Norway, and that the organisation has informed Norway that there will be no substitute in his place.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek met Dr. Balasingham after he had talks in Colombo on February 16 with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe and briefed him of the Sri Lanka government's willingness to enter into a dialogue with the LTTE.
Meanwhile both Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and the Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg confirmed last night that no Sri Lankan delegation would be leaving shortly for talks in Oslo, or elsewhere.
Mr. Kadirgamar added that the government had not even thought of picking a delegation for talks 'in the foreseeable future' and said that such a position 'was still someway down the road'.
His Norwegian counterpart had agreed to present the Sri Lankan parliament's proposals for devolution to the LTTE for consideration, but the government and the main opposition parties were still squabbling about dates when to meet.
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