11th March 2001

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President's complex to cost Rs. 1.7 billion

By Nilika de Silva

The Presidential complex including the secretariat is estimated to cost Rs. 1.7 billion.

According to architects the estimated cost to be incurred for the Presidential Complex at Madiwela is very high.

The official residence covering 12,879 square feet will contain five rooms and two living rooms is estimated to cost Rs. 600 million. This will be Rs. 46,587 per square foot.

The Presidential Secretariat presently located at Galle Face along with its 300 strong labour force is to be transferred to the Presidential Complex at Madiwela. The 1,70,000 square foot building to be constructed is estimated to cost Rs. 800 million. This is Rs. 4,705 per square foot.

The cost of building for a middle class set up is Rs. 1,000 per square foot, and anything more than Rs. 2,500 would be seen as non viable purely on a commercial basis, one architect said. "However, people spend on prestige," he added.

An estimate of the costs to be incurred in building the 75,000 square foot security office at Madiwela is in the vicinity of Rs. 325 million which works out at Rs. 4,333 per square foot.

However, architects said this was in fact on the high side.

Arjuna, Prasanna face identification parade

Former Sri Lanka cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga, his brother Prasanna, and four others will face an identification parade on Wednesday in the latest phase of the crisis over the alleged attack on students of Asoka Vidyalaya.

Arjuna Ranatunga was produced before a magistrate soon after he returned from Kenya and was allowed bail while his brother Prasanna, a provincial councillor, was remanded but he was allowed to remain in the National Hospital.

Meanwhile Asoka Vidyalaya which has been closed for a week following students protest is expected to be reopened tomorrow under police protection.

Students and the Principal of the school have accused Ranatunga family members and their staff of brutally assaulting some students after a row over a cricket ball.

Asoka Vidyalaya students held a massive five-hour procession and demonstration in Colombo on Monday, demanding the arrest of Ranatunga family members. But the Ranatunga brothers, Arjuna and Prasanna, have accused interested parties of blowing up a small incident to throw mud at the family while their mother Nandani Ranatunga also issued a tough statement defending the family.

She claimed that false propaganda and mud slinging campaigns had been activated over the incident.

"It is clear that various forces are behind it. Some media organisations publish only a one-sided story. Therefore I consider it is necessary that I should clarify matters.

"As I do not live in this house the cooking and household work are being done by a 70-year-old dumb and deaf man who has been with us for 30 years. We were occupying this house for about 20 years without any problem. But of late children who play in a vacant land behind our house enter our garden over the wall to pick cricket balls hit by them and tease our servant while retrieving them.

"They throw stones at him through the gaps in the wall and annoy him. My efforts to contact the principal of the school over the telephone were unsuccessful. But I once contacted a person who introduced himself as the vice principal and a teacher on another occasion. "On Friday, March 2, I had employed a man to repair the wall. Meanwhile, a ball belonging to the students of Asoka Vidyalaya had been hit into our garden. A squabble between the students and my servant had ensued and I came out after hearing the cries of my servant. Then two students who were on our roof and on the wall scolded me in filthy language. The words uttered were so obscene that I could not bear it although I have been a teacher for many years.

"The children who were inside the house also came out and thinking a fight will begin between them I wanted to telephone the police or an authority of the school. At that time the students continued to throw stones and shout abusive words. The children who were in our house told me the students have entered our garden and are threatening them. I instructed them not to be hasty and went to the police station to lodge a complaint as I felt this kind of thing will not stop.

"I came to know later that those who were in our house had caught the students who entered the garden. A quarrel had ensued between them. They had tried to contact me for instructions as to what to do with the students. Failing to contact me they had telephoned my children. Prasanna and Arjuna had come there only after receiving the messages.

"They had gone to the school in search of the principal or any one responsible. As there was nobody in the school they had come back and as the police had arrived at that time they had handed over the students to the police.

"In the evening we came to know that a lady teacher of the school had organised students and parents to hold protest campaigns against us. The inter-house sports meet was scheduled to be held on the following day. On that day a crowd came and stood in front of our house and threatened us using obscene language.

"In the afternoon some people agitated and threw stones at our house. In the evening of the following day a crowd of about 12 had come to the front of our house and threatened the inmates with death, shouting in filthy language.

The inmates complained to the police and some in the crowd were taken into custody. We request that a proper and impartial investigation be held over the entire incident."


Music in Parliament

For the first time in the Parliamentary history music was heard in the well of the House before the presentation of the Budget. Two interludes of Sinhala songs were played on Thursday around 2.15 p.m. to the surprise of all those present. One wag asked was it a political meeting. However, someone stopped the music. Who made the blunder?

PM gets classmate as adviser

It is no suprise that ministers get their kith and kin to fill secretarial posts in their ministries, but now it has gone a step further.

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has appointed a close buddy (school chum ) as his adviser. The appointment was made last month. The newly appointed adviser who has been a close pal of the PM was richly rewarded. As the adviser he is entitled to all the perks, not forgetting a car, a driver and an office at Temple Trees.

Although he was officially given the appointment as adviser, the PM's staff is wondering what he is going to advise on.

Those flying lunch packets

Last week's People's Alliance convention drew nearly 100,000 people to the race course grounds.

The organisers had promised to give a lunch packet to each participant.

However, when the lunch time came the organisers thought it fit to throw the lunch packets into the air for anyone to grab them.

With lunch packets flying in the air, the hungry crowds just looked on because they preferred to stay hungry rather than break their necks for a packet of lunch.

Mervyn the back-up musician

Mervyn Silva who gets all activated the moment President Chandrika Kumaratunga's name is mentioned in Parliament was rightly given a name by Speaker Anura Bandaranaike prior to the commencement of the Budget speech.

While an Opposition MP was on his feet, Mervyn Silva was straining his vocal cords defending President Kumaratunga.

Pat came the Speaker's order to the Deputy Minister: "We don't need back up music."

That silenced the back-up musician!

Vengaboys show their vanity

So the much-awaited pop band Vengaboys arrived in Sri Lanka on Thursday, but the organisers were in for a rude suprise! Vengaboys who were to be put up at the Taj Samudra, the official hotel which offered the entire entourage free accommodation, refused the offer. Instead they demanded that they be accommodated at the Colombo Hilton. That too not in one of the hotel's deluxe rooms, but in the "Executive Suite".

So the organisers were placed in a tight spot having to pay a sum of US$ 630 (close to Rs. 53, 000) per room for a day. More demands were made by the four member band by wanting their entire entourage to be given executive suite and non-sharing.

With the sudden change in plans , the Vengaboys definitely showed their true colours to the Sri Lankan audience .On the first day they showed their airy and pompous way not only by their demands but also by their attitude towards the media. They refused to give any interview to the media.

This should be food for thought for all those who are involved in the showbiz scene.

Whimper on Afghan atrocities

The lacklustre attitude shown by Buddhist monks over the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan cast serious doubts as to whether Sri Lanka is "truly" a Buddhist country.

Monks in other Buddhist countries were quick to air their protests on the streets or even to make a formal request to buy the artefacts. However, many local Buddhist monks maintained a deafening silence.

It took five days for them to protest against the destruction of Buddha statues. The protest took place in Colombo on Monday.

Last Thursday the monks held a media briefing and decided to hold a peace walk and a satyagraha at the Viharamahadevi park.

They will also hold an "Adistana Pooja" where the people would participate.

Bombshell for seventy cadets

By Laila Nasry

Nearly 70 personnel of the National Cadet Corps were left high and dry when their 16-year-service was terminated with effect from February 28 without a valid reason.

This came as a shock when a letter from the Defence Ministry's Additional Secretary put an end to their services whilst offering them compensation of Rs. 125, 000 on sympathetic grounds, an ex-cadet said.

The service personnel who have been discharged are unable to join any other force as they are overage.

Although it was contrary to the government's current recruitment drive within the armed forces, the move was seen as politically motivated, sources said.

The National Cadet Corps is part of the National Armed Reserve, consisting of 700 personnel which was initially set up by the previous government in 1985.

Deployed in eight camps and some in operational areas they were known as the Platoon Police.

They also provided Security to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), Janatha Estate Development Board (JEDB) and the Colombo Harbour.

In 1991 a number of them joined the regular force. The remainder continued as before, later to be deployed for general duties in the National Cadet Training Centre.

GMOA threatens union action on host of issues

By Faraza Farook

The Government Medical Officers' Association has threatened to take trade union action if their long-standing demands are not met before the deadline set by it.

Following an emergency meeting of its Executive Committee last Wednesday, the GMOA has made a list of demands that have been left unresolved by the Health Ministry over a period of time.

The Association's Secretary Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya said they were to decide on launching trade union action soon after an emergency meeting of the Central Committee scheduled for yesterday afternoon.

He said that numerous requests for an appointment with Health Minister John Seneviratne had gone unheeded. The GMOA has set March 31 as an ultimatum for the Health Ministry to resolve its issues.

"The ministry is dragging its feet on the issues which are affecting the health system of the country. We have to launch trade union action if we are to achieve our demands and overcome the handicaps faced by medical officers today," Dr. Padeniya said.

The ad hoc means adopted in making consultant transfers has come in for criticism.

The GMOA wants the Ministry to consult the Attorney General and implement a proper scheme. Dr. Padeniya said the present practice has resulted in some hospitals not having a single consultant.

The failure to fill administrative posts in the Health Department and in hospitals in many provinces has resulted in the poor functioning of the institutions and in failing to prevent the outbreak of endemic diseases.

Four Provincial Director posts have fallen vacant while 16 of the 24 Deputy Director posts remain unfilled for over two years.

"There is a high possibility of epidemics breaking out while hospital administration is functioning badly with no head for some institutions and officials being appointed on an acting basis," Dr. Padeniya said.

Questions are also being raised about a recent circular from the Health Ministry cancelling overseas leave of consultant anaesthetists.

It is learnt the lack of consultant anaesthetists has prompted the Government to take such a step.

Post intern appointments have been delayed by nine months for the first time. "They are idling in the intern stations while peripheral hospitals are short staffed," Dr. Padeniya said. The non availability of quarters and 'on call' rooms for medical officers, the delay in payment of living allowance to those on post graduate training overseas and irregular appointments are some of the other issues that the GMOA wants resolved without delay.

Making it easy for war-disabled soldiers

A group of 15 professionals and businessmen have come together to build toilets for disabled soldiers who have been injured while fighting to safeguard the country.

These disabled soldiers, whose legs have been blown off by landmines find it very difficult to use a squatting pan and have to depend always on their families for help.

This group has built 11 of these special toilets for poor disabled soldiers in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Puttalam areas. These toilets are made of brick and mortar and have a commode into which water flows from a cistern. The tank above the cistern is filled manually every few days. The cost of such a toilet is under Rs. 22,000.

The group calls on others interested in helping these poor soldiers who face daily hardships, to visit an Army camp out of Colombo and speak to its commander about selecting a poor disabled soldier and give whatever assistance they can.

Budget battle over TV

By Shelani de Silva

The main opposition parties the UNP and the JVP are accusing the government of being afraid to go ahead with live TV coverage of the entire budget debate.

Party leaders in Parliament had earlier agreed on live coverage through state TV Rupavahini, but on budget day, the Speaker announced that the decision was being reversed because the government felt the cost was prohibitive.

According to estimates the second reading debate alone would have cost about Rs. 1.5 million.

But JVP spokesman Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times they believed the government was only giving excuses because it was afraid of what opposition MPs might disclose straight to the people during the budget debate.

He said the JVP was prepared to take an initiative in getting a private TV station to show the budget debate live and this would be proposed at the party leaders' meeting tomorrow.

Photojournalist's rights case fixed for hearing

The Fundamental Rights case filed by The Sunday Times Photojournalist M.A. Pushpakumara has been fixed for June 13, 2001, for argument by a Supreme Court bench presided over by Chief Justice Sarath N Silva.

The application was filed by the photojournalsit after he was injured while covering a UNP demonstration on July 15, 1999.

His application, citing the Police Chief among others as respondents alleged that the Police had thrown tear gas canisters towards him, causing physical injuries.

Thirty-five institutions face axe

By M. Ismeth

Nearly 35 public institutions which are running at a loss have been identified and are being liquidated, Minister G. L. Peiris said in the Budget speech.

The Sunday Times learns that the 35 institutions facing the axe include:

Weaving Supplies Corporation
Colombo Commercial (Teas) Ltd.
National Development Trust Fund
State Fertilizer Manufacturing Corporation
River Valley's Development Board
Building Materials Manufacturing Corporation
National Milk Board
National Packaging Materials Corporation
Sri Lanka State Trading Corporation
Tobacco Industries Ltd.
Consolidated Export and Trading
Ceylon Manufacturing Merchants Ltd.
Sathosa Printers Ltd.
G.O.B.U Formerly National Textile Corporation
G.O.B.U. Formerly Ceylon Silks
G.O.B.U. formerly Wellawatte Spinning and Weaving Mills
Lanka Plywood Products Ltd.
Borwood Ltd.
Lanka Machine Leases Ltd.
Noorani Tile Works Board
Paddy Marketing Boar
State Flour Milling Corporation
Consolidated Commercial Agencies
Sea Line Express Ltd.
Investment Monitoring Board
Self Employment Project
Shaw Industries Ltd.
Wijeya Tiles Ltd.,
Noorani Tiles Ltd.
Silk and Allied Products Development Authority
Department of Telecommunications
Department of Janasaviya Commissioner
Department of the Commissioner

- General of Rehabilitation.

Dash to beat duty-free ban

Hours before the budget was presented, some politicians are reported to have rushed to get letters of credit to import duty free vehicles.

It was announced in the budget that the government was suspending the duty-free facility given to Ministers, MPs, provincial councillors and government servants to import vehicles.

Deputy Minister Piyasena Gamage who was one of the last minute applicants told The Sunday Times he was unable to get the LC because he did not have the required 50 percent down payment.

The Sunday Times learns that at least one minister had approached a state bank to get the LC prior to the budget.


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