28th January 2001
By Faraza Farook
Coming out of seclusion after four-months of mourning for her husband, NUA co-leader Ferial Ashraff says she is ready for a tryst with destiny to carry forward the late leader's vision.
In an interview, the widow of SLMC founder M. H. M. Ashraff, said that as a minister her first priority would be to uplift the people of the east. Ms. Ashraff deftly avoided direct answers to questions about reported disputes in the NUA leadership.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: You are going along with the People's Alliance Government but reports said your husband's last decision was to sever ties with the PA.
A:Although he said he was parting ways, what my husband had in mind was not a break-up with the President, but some of the elements in the PA.
Q: Now that your four-month mourning period has ended, how do you feel in coming directly into politics?
A: It's a strong experience, but politics is not new to me. Somewhere in the early eighties when my husband ventured out to fulfill his dream of bringing the people of the east to the centrestage of national politics, I was there with him. It was quite a struggle, we went from village to village. I have shared both his successes and his failures. In the process, his dreams also became mine. So I do not think that his vision or my involvement in his thinking or in his politics is anything new for me. I share the vision and I also care for the people. In politics, I think what matters most is how much you care about what you want to do. I don't think it's going to be very difficult.
Q: As minister in charge of eastern development, what plans do you have?
A: Before taking over my official duties at the ministry and before taking oaths in parliament, I want to go to the east and meet the people who voted for me without even having known me. After that I will work out specific plans, taking into consideration the views and needs of the grassroots.
Q: Wide publicity is being given to a dispute over the co-leadership of the party. What is happening?
A: A charismatic leader like Mr. Ashraff leaving us so suddenly, was bound to cause stability questions. My seclusion for four months also contributed to it. I could not discuss matters with the co-leader or the politburo to reach a settlement. I don't think we should worry too much about it because what matters is the vision. Insha Allah, we will sort it out.
Q: That means you are going to continue as a co-leader?
A: Yes, I guess the co-leadership should continue for some time.
Q: The co-leader Rauf Hakeem had pledged that if the government did not appoint four commissions within hundred days the party would quit. what is your view?
A: That is a question for him.
Q: As for your husband's death, what about the investigations?
A: A case is now before the Mawanella courts and we are awaiting the verdict. The President has promised to appoint an independent commission to probe the tragedy.
By Nilika de Silva
The highly publicised 100 day deadline set by Minister Rauf Hakeem for the PA government, passed by this week. He admitted he had not achieved all he wanted but said he was on the way to reaching his objectives.
In an interview with 'The Sunday Times' Minister Hakeem said 'some procedural delays' were holding up some of the other demands and vowed to maintain his independence within the People's Alliance government.
Q : Why did you back down from your 100- day conditions ?
A : It is common knowledge that no steps have been taken to establish the three commissions. I was unable to speak to the President because she was away from the country. The earliest opportunity I got was perilously close to the deadline.
In this background what is important is to achieve your ultimate goal of the establishment of these commissions. I have indicated my responsibility in keeping this issue alive up to now by getting the government to appoint me as the chairman of the select committee that is being proposed. I will continue in the position where I would be able to reach my objective.
Q : What have you achieved in 100 days ?
A : Those who seek to sacrifice me on the altar of public opinion insisting purely on my quitting the government appear to give priority to my ultimatum and not to the achievement of the goal for which I set the ultimatum.
Q : What about the other promises you made to your party men, such as the establishing of a separate coastal administrative district ?
A : Procedural delays are holding up some of the other promises. As long as I have the leverage with the government and maintain my fierce independence and not be seen as a mere appendage I am confident I can succeed.
Q : Does it not appear that you have already lost the fierce independence you speak of and are a mere appendage ?
A : There are elements both within the government and the opposition and among media barons who as in the past detest the decisive leverage that we have achieved and are out to destroy it. One way in which they seek to achieve this is by pushing me to emotional knee-jerk reactions to provocation by them. But I am mature enough to understand the hidden agenda behind most of these moves. Some opportunists who want to use the leadership tug-of-war are trying to make this demand something personal. They forget the fact that the party is not there to simply achieve solutions for regional community issues. It also has a solemn national duty by civil society in assisting in the process of democratisation.
Q : What have you achieved in your capacity as a minister ?
A : I am making a few structural changes to promote exports and take responsibility for the obligations we have for a variety of international agreements and covenants.. In the field of shipping too I have begun to address the grievances of the shippers' agents and ship owners in a very pragmatic manner.
Q : Have you met Minister Ferial Ashraff ?
A : Not yet, but I expect to meet her later this evening.
Q : Are you attending the dinner hosted by Ms. Ashr- aff ?
A : Yes.
Q : The SLMC politburo meeting on Tuesday had ended in chaos. What have you to say ?
A : The media has reported only about some arguments that took place after the conclusion of the meeting. There had been some mischievous elements brought in to disrupt the meeting. None of them had any right to participate in it. They had come in using forged invitation letters. We will carry out an investigation regarding their presence..
Q : Were they Ms. Ashraff's supporters ?
A : I would not like to say that, but one cannot rule out the fact that some who spoke in support of Ms. Ashraff were up to no good.
Q : Henceforth what is your programme with the PA ?
A : We will call for public representation and discuss with political parties about the composition of the select committee and take all steps necessary to conclude the deliberations of the select committee within a very reasonable time frame.
Q : Do you have a deadline ?
A : I can only say I will not permit dilatory tactics by anybody, as it is of paramount importance that we have good governance and democracy assured through the establishment of these commissions.
By Tania Fernando
The Human Rights Commission (HRC) is probing the arrest and detention of a Jaffna based Tamil journalist by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID).
The journalist S. Thiruchelvam, working for the government newspaper, Thinakaran was based in Point Pedro.
He was arrested on January 2 in Colombo where he had come to attend a family function. Prior to his departure from Jaffna, he had obtained Defence Ministry clearance, which is necessary for all persons travelling from Jaffna to Colombo.
The Sunday Times learns that persons dressed in civvies had arrested him on January 2 around 9 p.m..
It is alleged during his detention his family has been permitted to visit him only once, while they are still unaware as to why he has been arrested and detained. It is claimed that he was assaulted by TID officers during interrogation.
TID Director H. G. Wickremasinghe told The Sunday Times said the HRC had been informed about the arrest and they would respond only to its queries.
He declined to elaborate on the matter saying the case was under investigation.
The HRC's secretary Vaas Gunawardena said they were investigating the matter.
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Though parliament unanimously agreed to increase the number of sittings from eight to ten days a month, legislators from both sides have already started grumbling after just one week of the new schedule.
The main opposition UNP had proposed the extra days saying it would make Parliament a more vibrant and pro-active institution. This was approved by all party leaders and the Speaker. But already there are hiccups with legislators complaining that it is a hassle to come to Colombo to attend sessions on Monday thereby reducing the time they spend in their electorates.
A young deputy minister from the central province said he needed to spend much more time in his underdeveloped electorate.
"I am candid about this — the legislature is largely a talk shop which is not contributing much to the county's development process. It has been reduced to a mere formality," he said.
At the Government Group meeting on Monday presided over by Prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, PA members reportedly made similar protests, with Bandula Gunawardene proposing that Parliament should revert to the four-day week.
Meanwhile, UNP legislators are also voicing their protest claiming that not having the political power the way government legislators do, they needed to nurture their electorates and remain in their villages. Adding to the complex situation, Speaker Anura Bandaranaike commented recently that ministers should be present in parliament to answer oral questions instead of doing it by proxy.
A seven-year-old girl has complained to the Bingiriya Police that she was allegedly raped by a coir mill worker, police said.
The girl who was admitted to the Bingiriya Hospital has now been transferred to the Kuliyapitiya Hospital.
The victim told police that her parents and the alleged rapist worked at the same coir mill and he even had his meals in their home. On the day of the incident, she was at the well around 6.30 p.m., when he allegedly persuaded her to come with him to an abandoned building and raped her. She was too scared to tell her parents, but got high fever two days later.
Suspecting that there was a problem, the parents had coaxed the story out of her.
By R. S. Keeriyawatta
The scanning machine in the medical faculty of the Peradeniya campus is out of commission for the past six months resulting in much hardship to patients who are being sent there from various hospitals.
The machine had been in service for the past 20 years, according to medical faculty sources.
It is also reported only two such scanning machines are found in the country, the other being in the Colombo National Hospital.
While the machine in Colombo is of immense help to patients in and around the city, the one at the Peradeniya medical faculty has to cater to the needs of patients from the Central, Uva, North-Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces.
The break-down of the equipment at the medical faculty, therefore, has become a problem for patients coming from these provinces.
When contacted by the Sunday Times, a spokesman at the medical unit of the Peradeniya campus admitted the scanning machine had been out of service and said a request for its repair had been made to the relevant authorities while the delay in attending to it was due to the non availability of the required spare parts.
The agency handling the repairs has done its utmost to expedite the obtaining of the relevant spare part.
It was this agency that provided the scanner way back in 1984 and when the medical unit of the campus made representations to it that the machine was getting old, it had provided a reconditioned scanner in 1991.
But now that it has been used for the past 10 years it has become necessary to replace worn out parts.
The spokesman said a machine of this type which presently costs as much as 10 million rupees is now available at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Colombo but is lying idle there as the hospital lacks building and other facilities to commission it.
He said the medical unit had made a request to the Vice Chancellor for the purchase of such a scanner.
To coincide with the Independence Day, the UNP is planning a massive protest in Kandy and a 30-member parliamentary group has gone to the Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces to prepare the ground, party sources said.
Assistant Leader Gamini Atukorale told The Sunday Times the UNP team consisting of young legislators was meeting party organsiers in the provinces and briefing them on how to participate in the big event.
Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, a member of the special committee appointed to arrange the protest "Janabala Meheyuma" said the protest was a simple way to give expression to the public hatred towards the PA which had no legitimate right to govern.
Angry commuters attacked the Teldeniya bus depot after they were forced to wait for about six hours for a bus to Galabodawatte.
The commuters including some schoolchildren had come to the stand near the depot for the 2.20 pm bus to Galabodawatte – a journey of some 20 kilometres. They waited and waited but the bus never came and depot officials also appeared to be unconcerned.
There patience exhausted, the commuters attacked the depot causing heavy damage.
Teldeniya police then intervened and arranged a private bus for them, but one person was taken into custody.
A raid conducted by the Public Health Department of the Colombo Municipal Council on five-star hotels has revealed that most of them did not conform to the required standards.
Until this year, five-star hotels were excluded from raids conducted by the department, with only wayside boutiques and eating houses being checked and prosecuted, municipality sorces said. The department decided to launch raids following complaints of food poisoning and diarrhoea.
"Some hotels had showed up poorly, having stocks of food items in the refrigerator, on which the expiry dates had elapsed. Swimming pools were also checked as we received complaints that water quality in many clubs and hotels was not upto the standards," one official said.
The launching of raids has, however, drawn criticism from the Tourist Board which has requested the department to refrain from raiding hotels. Though the Tourist Board has a Hotels Unit that is reponsible for looking into the maintenance of standards, municipal sources said it was surprising to find the so -called five star hotels having poor standards.
The UNP yesterday appeared to be divided about presenting a motion in Parliament calling for the impeachment of Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva on five charges.
UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe told The Sunday Times they were keen on the independent commissions of Police, public Service, Judiciary and elections and not about the impeachment motion.
However Deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya said the draft motion was handed over to a five-member party committee headed by him on Thursday and notice of motion might be given at the next meeting of parliament.
The five charges levelled against the Chief Justice include his conduct before being appointed to the high office, interference with the judiciary, tampering with the course of justice.
UNP sources said they had affidavits to support the motion and were confident of getting the support of other opposition parties. But political observers pointed out that such a motion required a two-thirds majority which was impossible without substantial support from government MPs.
Despite the harassment journalists faced at the UNP bash on Friday, UNP MP and bash chief organiser Ravi Karunanayake has tabled a private member's motion in parliament calling for the setting up of a Media Commission devoid of political or bureaucratic patronage.
The motion to be taken up on February 9 calls for laws to ensure media freedom and protection of journalists from arbitrary arrests , intimidation and unequal treatment.
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The controversial UNP bash on Friday night may have been fun and frolic for the legislators and professionals who were attempting to attract Colombo's upmarket youth to the party folds — but it certainly turned sour for journalists.
At the entrance guarded by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's security men was the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia municipal member who was unable to decide whether photographers should be allowed into the CR&FC club house.
While other guests were bodychecked and allowed entry, the journalists were made to wait. The faxed invitations also did not mention whether there was a prohibition on photographing the event.
Later, journalists were allowed to go in, but the photographers were shut out. All the journalists then went away in protest. But the MC member later telephoned and invited all to come back.
The uncertainty over allowing media coverage was the last twist in an event that has sparked a dispute with some sections accusing the party of indulging in playboy extravagance while millions are suffering without basic needs.
When the journalists including the photojournlaists were finally allowed in, there were more restrictions. The photographers were told they could take pictures of only the party leader.
One crony went as far as to spy on the photographers to ensure that they followed the guidelines.
With Saman and the Clan in attendance to provide the music, the big attraction was a cabaret.
One of the purposes of the bash was to form a hi-tech grouping known as UnitedNet. The first membership card was issued to the party leader by parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake.
By Tania Fernando
Aviation authorities conducting a probe on an air crash in Kadirana last year have claimed that forged documents had been used to obtain permission to operate the aircraft.
The Russian owner of the ill-fated Antonov aircraft had leased the aircraft to the local company by allegedly producing bogus certificates including insurance certificates to the Civil Aviation Department, the investigators told The Sunday Times.
They also claimed normal procedures had not been followed in granting permission to operate the aircraft.
A 39-year old mother of two children, suffering from breast cancer, is urgently in need of a drug but her family cannot afford its price - Rs. 350,000.
Doctors at the Maharagama Cancer Institute say the drug, (Paclifaxel) is not available with them. Since the patient or her family cannot afford the amount, with the Institute's recommendation, they have appealed to President Kumaratunga, for assistance from the President's Fund.
Whilst processing of their application is being awaited, doctors said last week that the drug should be made available before February 21. A delay, they warn would endanger her life.
The husband of the patient, a young executive, says that with the help of his management and well wishers, he is able to at least raise half the cost of the drug - i.e. Rs. 175,000. He still needs the balance money.
He is appealing to organisations and well wishers for any assistance that will save his wife and the mother of the two children, a girl and a boy, both students aged 18 and 9 years.
Those wishing to help are required to contact D. Perera, 138/35 Swarnanda Housing Scheme, Talahena, Malabe. Telephone 887314.
Despite a ban on hiring the BMICH for civil weddings, a gala wedding took place there last Thursday of a provincial council minister when he wed an officer attached to the Presidential Secretariat.
The wedding was that of PC Minister Lasantha Alagiya-wanna and Ama Jayasinghe attached to the Presidential Secretariat where President Chandrika Kumara-tunga was the attesting witness.
The ban which was imposed by the Government following the security threat a few months back was strictly adhered to.
However weddings of persons attached to the three armed services and the police are permitted.
Thursday's wedding also saw two horses of the Mounted Police division being used to rag the newly weds.
Director of the BMICH Bandula Ekanayake told The Sunday Times that the ban did exist for civilians. However a request can be made to the Presidential Secretariat if there is a need to have a wedding there.
'The President was an attesting witness for this particular wedding. As she is the Chairperson of the BMICH permission may have been granted' he said.
Meanwhile SSP Harold Anthony, head of the Mounted Police Division told The Sunday Times that under no circumstances are their horses permitted to be used for private functions.
'On this particular day, about ten horses were taken for a practice.
Two horses were there, and there were several senior officers too, so they would have used the horses at the wedding' he said.
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