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18th June 2000

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Political 'Match-fixing' allegations hit MPs

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

With speculation rife about the Patriotic Parliamentarians' Platform (PPP) being made use of by Minister Sarath Amunugama to muster the necessary 2/3 support in the House to extend the life of Parliament, the pro-military parliamentary group is being dubbed as 'match fixers' by a group of UNP parliamentarians.

With the PPP's soft launch a fortnight ago in the aftermath of Industrial Development Minister C.V. Gooneratne's assassination, the group fashioning itself as 'patriotic' has caused ripples among UNP members who claim, at least for some members, the formation of the group was a passport to gaining Cabinet membership.

A highly critical senior UNPer said that there was no need to form alliances with anybody just to prove that they were patriotic and willing to support the military drive.

'Does that mean, others are not or are portrayed as being pro-LTTE?' he queried.

Several other UNP members who have so far not joined the PPP claimed that if there were problems regarding the party's various stances and problems related to individual members, all such matters should be thrashed out at the group meeting and not elsewhere.

'There is no point in arming the government against the UNP and exposing individuals and leadership. These problems should be ironed out at 'party level' they claimed

Meanwhile, a leading PPP member who is a senior UNP organizer said that even if they are denied nominations at the next polls, they would continue to canvass support for the defence establishment. 'Our motto is country before party. Certain UNPers have brought disrepute to the UNP with their alleged LTTE links and NGO connections. Besides this handful, we have no problems with the rest of the team' he said.

However, he said the UNP leader was receiving advice only from certain quarters and according to them, 'all dogs needed to be chased out of the UNP'. The parliamentarian also alleged that unless the UNP adapted a pro-military stance and some members stopped giving interviews condemning the PPP, the group would be compelled to expose these individuals in public.

In this backdrop, the UNP leader is also expected to announce his stance on the volatile PPP at the UNP group meeting tomorrow.


Death of worker exposes dangers at building site

By Tania Fernando

A worker at a multi-storey housing apartment construction site in Wellawatte was electrocuted on Thursday night due to a short circuit.

The 35-year-old worker from Matugama is a father of four and has been working at this site as a tiler. On Thursday, around 8.00 pm, he had tried to move a bulb to get more light, when he was electrocuted.

It is alleged that the electricity being used at this construction site was tapped and no proper meters fixed. However, on the death of the worker, arrangements had been made to get a meter fixed.

The apartment complex which will consist of 36 units on seven floors, is being built on 35 perches and construction began in February last year. About 50% of the work has been completed so far.

For the past few months, residents have complained that safety standards do not appear to be properly observed and that they had been exposed to many dangers, such as falling material.

They alleged that many of the workers were unskilled labourers and paid a meagre Rs. 175 per day.

The residents said the construction site had no safety harness outside the scaffolding, which are basic necessities for a building of this nature.

It is also understood that an electrician who worked on the construction site was almost electrocuted and burned three of his fingers. He escaped with this minor injury because a worker had managed to disconnect the supply on time.


Estate crisis reaching impasse

The ongoing prayer campaign launched by tens of thousands of plantation workers in support of higher wages has provoked charges and counter charges with employers interpreting the action as a strike.

The Employers' Federation of Ceylon (EFC) maintains the prayer campaign will result in a withdrawal of labour in support of the demand for a wage increase.

EFC Deputy Director General G.R.B. Dassanayaka contends that it will amount to industrial action and that such industrial action will be in violation of the Collective Agreement which binds the trade unions the Ceylon Workers' Congress, Lanka Jathika Estate Workers' Union and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre (JPTUC) which comprises 12 trade unions.

JPTUC President Jayaratne Malliyagoda countered that this contention did not hold water and said they were rejecting the argument that the Collective Agreement had been violated.

He said three trade unions which were negotiating on behalf of the entire plantation workers were very flexible and acted reasonably during talks they had with EFC and company directors.

He maintained that there was no violation on the part of the trade unions.

An EFC official insisted that a failure to attend work or withdrawal from work at the present juncture would also be inconsistent with the emergency regulations now in force.

He warned that absence from work without due authority from the employer would necessarily result in a loss of pay.

He said the ongoing prayer campaign was illegal and the management reserved the right to act accordingly.

Mr. Malliyagoda said there was no industrial action by the trade unions but the workers were praying, according to their belief, for the restoration of peace, law and order as well as for a wage increase because the employers did not accommodate the workers' demand.

"If the employers feel that the trade unions have violated the essential service order declared under emergency regulations, they can complain to the authority concerned," he said.

However, the trade unions are of the opinion that the wage increase should be settled peacefully and reasonably and it is up to the employers to change their attitude on the issue, Mr. Malliyagoda added.

EFC official said they had made generous proposals for a settlement despite trying conditions.

In the circumstances, any trade union action to compel the plantation management to further enhance their offers by disruption of work in the plantations was unjustified and unreasonable, he added.

The estate workers have embarked on a passive protest in the form of a prayer campaign since last Monday.

Elaborating on the issue of the wage increase, Mr. Malliyagoda said originally the estate trade unions were demanding a wage increase of Rs 131 per day for tea workers and Rs 120 for rubber workers.

The reaction of the EFC to this demand was that the basic wage for tea workers per day would be Rs 100 along with a Rs. 6 for price share supplement which is now being paid, he said.

The employers are also prepared to pay an additional Rs. 9 to the workers if their work output is not less than 90% of the target, he said.

However, the estate trade unions are not satisfied with the offer extended by the employers and the trade unions' original demand has been amended as follows: Basic wage Rs 105 per day; Price share supplement Rs. 8 and work force turn-out Rs. 10.

At the last round of talks between the trade unions and the employers on June 6, the employers demanded that before discussing the rate of payment, the trade unions must agree to extend the coverage of the last Collective Agreement which lapsed on December 31 for three years.

Mr. Malliyagoda said the trade unions had rejected the demand and embarked on the prayer campaign instead.


Tamasha probe hits NFC: auditors suspended

By Faraza Farook

Internal auditors of the National Film Corporation have been sent on indefinite leave amidst allegations that the move is linked to a cover up of corruption, waste and extravagance.

NFC insiders told The Sunday Times the internal audit branch had sought clarification regarding what the saw as extravagant expenditure.

Among the questionable deals was the use of about Rs. 1.4 million from the NFC's trust fund to purchase liqour for tamashas early this month. The purchase from a leading company had been referred to as 'beverages'.

In another case of what auditors saw as unnecessary expenditure, it is alleged that Rs. 3.5 million had been spent on the import of spare parts from India for the studio. An audit official said the damage equipment could have been repaired for a fraction of that NFC Chairman Tissa Abeysekera told The Sunday Times last night he did not wish to comment as an inquiry was in progress.


Country's largest jak plantation under threat

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Villagers of Malai in the Matale district are up in arms against moves to hand over an invaluable jak plantation believed to be the country's largest for immediate clearing for the launch of a medicinal plant (Osu Uyana ) project by a private company, thereby opening the floodgates for the plunder of natural assets.

A spokesman from "Dumbara Surakinno", an NGO concerned with the protection of the Knuckles Range told The Sunday Times that the jak plantation which has been recognized as the country's largest covering over 27 acres, needed more protection from law enforcement agencies.

The jak plantation situated at Malai in the Rattota electorate within the Amban Ganga Divisional Secretariat boundaries, is recognized as an integral part of the unique biodiversity system of the Matale district.

Central Provincial Council member Sanjeewa Kaviratne told The Sunday Times that already ten acres of this invaluable cultivated land has been leased to a businessman. Over 625 jak trees are believed to be found within that area alone he said, warning that this move would create a precedent for those who wish to plunder the country's resources to make a fast buck.

In a letter to Forestry and Environment Minister, Mahinda Wijesekera, Mr. Kaviratne has alleged that the jak planting program which commenced way back in 1946 under the British has so far not been threatened by human plundering of this nature.

He said there are over 3,000 jak trees in the 27-acre plot and there were other moves to distribute land from the same area.

He said the clearing of the jak plantation would cause environmental damage to the Para Ganga Ulpatha and Magul Ganga Ulpatha which are natural waterways feeding the Amban Ganga, a tributary of the Mahaweli Ganga.

He has appealed to the minister to personally intervene to prevent the plunder of the country's natural wealth in such a brutal manner.


Return to spiritual values for peace

Religious leaders have called for a return to the core values of spirituality to rebuild our shattered country and restore peace and harmony with justice.

They made the call when the National Movement for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation held a panel discussion in Colombo on rebuilding the fragmented nation through religious values.

The meeting was chaired by Bishop Oswald Gomis, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka. The panel speakers were Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratane Thero, Rev. Sydney Knight, Moulavi M. J. M. Riyal and Sivanandani Duraswamy.

Ven. Wimalaratane Thera said the division of the country would be a grave mistake and people must learn to live together through a spirit of unity in diversity where we accept and respect each other's beliefs, language and culture.

"We must restore a system where all people have equal rights and power is obtained and distributed justly," he said.

Rev. Knight, pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, said Jesus Christ had identified the root cause of division among people. He said that because man had separated himself from God, man was separated from man and the solution lay in restoring a right relationship with God.

Moulavi Riyal said: "if we can obtain freedom from colonial powers, if we can have representatives elected to the parliament why can't we bring about peace?" The time prophet Mohammed was born in Mecca was a decadent period. But the prophet turned it into a world full of peace. Our country is full of people who believe in religions. In the name of Islam I say let us educate the people and strengthen peace among them.

Ms. Duraisamy said that "we must organise joint prayer meetings for praying for peace." Quoting Swamy Vivekananda she said wisdom and philosophy could thrive only on the wings of love and peace and not on war.

"Culture could survive only if there are moral values in a society. Regular chanting of mantras radiate peace. Just as it has been correctly said that war starts in the mind even so, thoughts of peace could start in the mind," she said.

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