7th January 2001
By Sunil Jayatillake
Many malpractices and corrupt activities taking place in the Co-operative Wholesale Establishment (CWE) and Salusala have been unearthed in recent weeks.
The new Minister of Food and Marketing, Reggie Ranatunga was interviewed by The Sunday Times in this connection.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: When you took over the Ministry of Food and Marketing what was the financial status of the Sathosa and Salusala establishments ?
A: The losses sustained by Sathosa from January to December 2000 were Rs. 975 million. The monthly losses sustained by Salusala were Rs. 30 million.
Q: The former minister said Sathosa had accumulated Rs. 200 million in profits in 1999. However before an year passes you state it is running at a loss. Isn't it the same officials who were working then and now ?
A: I said Sathosa was sustaining losses going on the information given to me by the officials. The officials who were there have been working efficiently since the day I took office.
Q: Describe the malpractices at Sathosa unearthed during the past two months.
A: Ten large scale rackets with regard to the import of dry fish, instances of large stocks of onions and big onions being allowed to rot, detection of huge stocks of rotten dry fish and rice and paddy purchasing rackets are among them. The losses in these cases have been running into between Rs. 30 and 40 million.
Q: What action have you taken against officials involved in these rackets ?
A: These officers have been transferred from their places of work. I am only doing these things gradually and will continue this action in such a way as not to disrupt the work of the establishment.
Q: Sathosa employees claim the establishment is sustaining losses due to poor management. For example rice is brought down to Colombo from the Hingurakgoda paddy mill and then sent to Anuradhapura and Vavuniya. During the harvesting season, big onions, potatoes, chillies, and paddy are imported. Comment ?
A: Although such things took place in the past, from January there is an organised course of action. Already steps have been taken to send rice directly from Hingurakgoda to places like Anuradhapura and Vavuniya. During the harvesting seasons it has been decided to stop imports in order to give local farmers, consumers and the establishment a better deal.
Q: During festival seasons Sathosa did not provide the outstation outlets with sufficient quantities of essential food stuffs. Even the Welisara wholesale stores did not have the necessary quantities. Comment ?
A: Although it was possible to distribute sufficient food items in Colombo and suburbs during the festival season, it is right that there were shortages in the outstations. It is still only two months since I took office. Already I work about 18 hours a day to improve the efficiency of these establishments. I am trying to get the maximum service from the present officials. From January I hope to transfer the officers in charge of the various divisions. When people are in the same place for a long time invariably corruption creeps in. Although I have already effected minor changes, from the beginning of next year work in all divisions will be geared towards providing a good service to the public. Sathosa is an organisation for both the poor and the rich.
Q: In the transport sector it is said that Rs. 6 million was spent in 10 months for maintenance of 50 private vehicles and that much corruption occurs when goods are being sent to the outstations. Comment ?
A: It is said that the transport division of Sathosa is one in which a large amount of corruption has taken place. The transport division presently located at D.R. Wijewardene Mawatha is being shifted to Welisara. As much as possible we are trying to use our vehicles for transport and only use private lorries to fill the gaps. When the heads of divisions and officials are transferred I believe that it will be possible to put a stop to this corruption. Stamping of goods sent in private lorries will make it possible to stop all this corruption. The Sathosa fuel station that is closed at present will be redone and reopened next year so as to help the private sector also.
Q: Sathosa is losing a massive amount of money through employees engaging in overtime work at night. Has a proper strategy been prepared to counteract this ?
A: We will send security officers to investigate all stores where night overtime is being done, and stop any rackets.
Q: Although there is a Sathosa quality control division food items purchased recently went bad in a short period of time. During your own tenure 10,800 kilos of dry fish were spoiled. What action have you taken ?
A: We will stop the practice of purchasing food on the word of the Quality Controller alone. Under the recommendations of the Quality Controller we will appoint a special team to conduct quality surveys.
Q: Do you think it will be possible to catch the crooks at Sathosa without restructuring the security division, which itself has allegedly been involved in a robbery.
A: The security division will also be restructured.
We will transfer officers who are sticking in Colombo to other areas and put skilled officers who are conscientious to suitable places to provide security.
By Rukmal Silva
A leading Catholic Bishop has called for a ceasefire between the government and the LTTE with the mediation of a third party which could work out what could be done during the ceasefire period.
Ratnapura's Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Sri Lanka in an interview said he believes the government could respond positively if the ceasefire was worked out by a third party.
The Bishop reiterated his view that was no solution to the ethnic crisis or any conflict. He said a majority of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim and other people wanted the war to end, but the war was being promoted by a small capitalist class that was making millions from it.
Excerpts from the interview.
Q How do you look at the ongoing war?
A: Looking at it from a religious perspective, I see that war is not the solution to the ethnic conflict. Merciful love is the foundation of the gospel and the way of life shown to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and as a follower I firmly believe in that way and truth. The Lord Jesus has said if we are slapped on one cheek, we must turn the other and love our enemy or opponent. We must live this teaching. We must live that teaching and I will be a witness to that teaching of love. Whatever others might say or whatever their opinion of me, I will say clearly and with conviction that war is not a solution to our ethnic conflict or any other crisis.
As a result of the war, our country has run into a disaster in terms of material and human resources. Thousands have died and millions are suffering. Burden upon burden is being heaped upon the people. Emergency regulations are being used and misused to curb our freedom. A culture of violence and vengeance is taking root in our country. Society has opted to live by the gun and human life is losing its value.These and other factors show us how unwise it is to continue the war. It has been going on for twenty years and various governments have given various deadlines, but more people are dying and no end is in sight. Things have not got better, but worse. What is the solution you see? The only human way is dialogue or negotiation. I have visited the north numerous times, and my assessment is that the LTTE cannot be defeated militarily.
Q: In your view what are the root causes of the conflict?
A: It is true that during the British colonial era, privileges were given to the ethnic and religious minorities, causing concern among the Sinhala Buddhists. But from 1956, we saw a reaction that I believe was based more on feelings than on wisdom and objectivity. We had the Sinhala only move, the Sri crisis and other problems. Then in 1972, the minority protection clause provided in the Soulbury commission was removed. This and other factors like the district quota system in University admissions, made the minorities feel they were losing their rights and identity.
Q: Some observers say the Catholic church is maintaining a convenient silence on vital issues relating to the ethnic conflict. What is your view?
A: I don't agree. From 1984, the Catholic Bishops conference of Sri Lanka regularly issued documents outlining the stand of the Church on the political, economic and social aspects of the ethnic conflict. We have made it clear that any solution must be within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, and there can be no division of the country.
We have called for an extensive devolution of power to the minorities, with a recognition of the rights and aspirations of all people. We have also taken a stand against war, terrorism and any form of violence.
The church has called for confidence building measures between the warring parties. As there has been a breakdown of trust we see the need for a third party facilitator to bring all to the negotiating table.
Q: How do you view the latest unilateral ceas-fire announced by the LTTE?
A: On the one hand it is said the LTTE broke and misused the earlier ceasefire. On the other hand the LTTE says the government was not sincere in the talks during the ceasefire periods. I believe we need to enter into a ceasefire through a third party facilitator. The facilitator should work out what should be done or not done during the cease-fire period.
The government has probably not accepted the LTTE's unilateral ceasefire, because it did not come through the accepted third party. A cease-fire will help to de-escalate not only the war but even the hatred and tension. Furthermore I believe that to continue the war while having talks, is not a prudent move. I believe the government needs to give a more positive response to the LTTE 's move.
Q: You have regularly visited the displaced people in some of the war-torn or even the uncleared areas of the north. How desperate is their plight?
A: The people of the Wanni and Jaffna had contributed immensely to the economic development of this country. Now they are marginalised like beggars. They are desperately short of food and medicine with even an ordinary aspirin costing as much as Rs. 10. To keep them in that plight is to push them more into the clutches of the LTTE. They are innocent people not responsible for the conflict or the war.
This war is not a peoples war. It is being perpetuated mainly by a small capitalist class who are making millions on the war. I believe a majority of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people, want this war to end soon. It is not the children of the rich and ruling class who die in the war. It is the poor children who are being slaughtered.
We have taken hundreds of Sinhala people on pilgrimage to Madhu and the surrounding areas. They came into a close relationship with the Tamils of the area and found that all desired the common goal of peace and harmony. So what is happening is that peace of the majority has been hijacked by a few.
We are clinging on to myths about our ancestry and where we came from. Some talk about a Tamil homeland and others about a Sinhala nation. But where is it written? Do we have any deed to show this land belongs to the Sinhala or Tamil people? For thousands of years our ancestors have lived together, lived together and we have seen a lot of intermarriages. We need to restore that era when we respect the identity and aspirations of different people.
Q: Some observers say you could come forward in giving leadership in the efforts to settle this conflict. Are you ready?
A: As spiritual leaders we cannot get directly involved in politics. But we can give a spiritual direction and perspectives for the people to see the issues in the light of spiritual teachings.
A solution needs to be based on spiritual values. No lasting solution could be implemented outside the enlightened values of spirituality. I believe the Buddhist prelates could come forward and take leadership. We are ready to assist them.
A group of academics, professionals and social activists identifying themselves as the "Peace Support Group" (PSG) has urged both the Government and the LTTE to engage in a serious and sincere dialogue to reach a political solution on the prolonged conflict.
The PSG called upon both parties to begin talks with international facilitation and to create a climate for a negotiated and peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict.
A careful study of the stated negotiating positions of both parties shows a higher degree of congruence than divergence despite the rhetorical statements from both sides, the group said.
The PSG called on the Government to reciprocate the ceasefire declared by the LTTE and to lift all restrictions on the supply of food, medicine and other essentials, as well as on economic activities in the North and East.
Referring to the Mirusivil killings, the group called on the Government to take immediate steps to stop the extra-judicial killings by security forces and win the confidence of the Tamil people.
Similarly, the group wanted the LTTE to extend its ceasefire to include all acts of hostilities against civilians and non-military targets. The group also calls on the LTTE to come up with proposals for constitutional and political reforms that would meet Tamil aspirations.
Members of the PSG include Sunila Abeysekera, Sunil Bastian, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Sunanda Deshapriya, Rohan Edrisinha, Kethesh Logana-than, Jehan Perera, Paikias-othy Saravanamuttu, Jeevan Thiagarajah, Javid Yusuf and Joe William.
By Nilika de Silva
Colour lights at several junctions in the city are not functioning properly and causing several accidents but various institutions are blaming each other amidst allegations over tender deals.
The main Maradana traffic lights have durign the past few days been indicating confusing signals with the red light and the green arrow lighting up at the same time on one post while in another post in the same area it showed the red light and the amber light flashing at the same time.
The agents for Uniroads Traffic Light Signals, the system used in many parts of Colombo, claimed The Colombo Municipal Council is responsible as it is not providing power supplies properly.
Dr. Amal Kumarage of the Transportation Engineering Division, University of Katubedde, said he believed the malfunctioning of colour lights at some junctions was largely due to the low voltage.
However, CMC engineer Jayantha Guruge shrugged off the charge saying excuses were being made to cover up shortcomings in the product. He also said that any low voltage was not the fault of the CMC but the Ceylon Electricity Board was responsible.
Highways Minister A.H.M. Fowzie saw it in another way. He claimed the CMC had not paid the electricity bills and that was the main cause of the problem.
Meanwhile, it is also alleged that the colour lights dispute might be linked to a tussle over tenders for the supply of traffic lights.
A local company has been providing the lights upto now and its officials claimed vested interest are trying to promote a foreign make.
Of the 24 journalists killed for their work in 2000, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 16 were murdered, most of those in countries where assassins have learned they can kill journalists with impunity.
This figure is down from 1999, when CPJ found that 34 journalists were killed for their work, 10 of them in war-torn Sierra Leone.
In announcing the organization's annual accounting of journalists who lost their lives because of their work, CPJ executive director Ann Cooper noted that while most of the deaths occurred in countries experiencing war or civil strife, "The majority did not die in crossfire. They were very deliberately targeted for elimination because of their reporting.
Among the 24 journalists killed is the case of Mylvaganam Nimalarajan who contributed to the BBC, Virakesari and Ravaya and killed on October 19 in Jaffna.
The report said: 'Nimalara-jan reported from the besieged city of Jaffna for the BBC's Tamil and Sinhala-language services, the Tamil-language daily Virakesari, and the Sinhala-language weekly Ravaya. He was shot late at night through the window of his study, where he was working on an article.
The murder was apparently prompted by Nimalarajan's reports on vote-rigging and intimidation during recent parliamentary elections.
Two alleged gangsters and a constable of the Beliatta police station were killed in a shoot out while a police team was on a hunt for the gang leader and other members at Kaluwar-gasyaya in Weeraketiya, police said.
Two gangsters wanted in connection with a series of crime including extortion's, bank robberies and contract killings in the area had been nabbed by the Beliatta police on Wednesday were being taken to identify the gang leader and others when they were attacked.
While a police constable and one gangster died on the spot, the other with serious gun shot injuries was being rushed to Matara hospital when gang members stopped the ambulance, dragged the man out and shot him till he died. Reports said the gang had felled trees to block the road and also warned Matara hospital staff not to treat the injured suspect.
In the aftermath of the killing of a mahout by an elephant at the Pinnawela elephant orphanage, zoo officials have called for a probe on the incident.
Pinnawela Orphanage and Dehiwela Zoo director Senarath Gunasena said the inquiry board of the zoo was conducting investigations into the incident where a 38year-old mahout was killed amidst a large tourist gathering.
According to Mr. Gunasena, the elephant that gave birth to a cub a few months back, was generally a calm animal not known for violent behaviour.
The unprecedented attack on the mahout has aroused fear among many. However, Mr. Gunasena said there was no drop in the tourist visits to the Orphanage.
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