The Political Column

8th April 2000

Crucial week ahead for all

By our Political Correspondent
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With reference to last week's political column, former Cricket Board Treasurer Nuski Mohamed has sent the following clarification:

The Sunday Times political column on Page 8 of 1st April 2001 under the caption 'Cricket Board Bowled Again' refers to a letter dated 28th March purported to have been written by the then Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka Mr Mohan de Silva, citing several AGMs that were held without the Annual Accounts being circularized to the membership and not being taken up at the AGM. The report further states that the Audited Accounts were subsequently adopted at EGMs and refers particularly to the post 1997 period.

As a past Treasurer of the Board during a part of this period I wish to categorically state that this position is factually incorrect and misleading for the following reasons:

Year 1996/ 1997

The Audited Accounts for the year ended 31st December 1996 were circularised and adopted at the AGM held on 2nd March 1997.

Year 1997/ 1998

The Audited Accounts for the year ended 31st December 1997 were circularised and discussed at the AGM held on 29th March 1998. Due to absence of the Treasurer Mr Kumar Weerasuriya at the AGM, as he was on an overseas job assignment, it was decided to defer the adoption of the Accounts to an EGM since the Asst. Treasurer was unable to answer the queries raised by Members at the AGM.

Year 1998/ 1999

the Audited Statement of Accounts for the year 31st December 1998 were circularised in accordance with the provisions of the Board's Constitution and duly adopted at the AGM held on 28th March 1999. This was during my tenure as Hony. Treasurer of the Board.

Year 1999/ 2000

During this period the Interim Committee appointed by the then Minister of Sports Hon. S.B. Dissanayake took over the administration of the BCCSL. The AGM that followed was conducted in the year 2000 under the auspices of the Ministry of Sports. The only item in the agenda at this AGM was the election of office bearers and election of members to the Sub-Committees. This automatically resulted in an EGM being held in September 2000 for the purpose of adoption of the Annual Report and audited Accounts covering the year to 31st December 1999.

It is therefore of concern to note Mr. Mohan de Silva's concluding remarks in relation to the adoption of Annual Accounts which reads: "You would note from the foregoing, that as aforesaid the Annual Accounts had not even been circulated before the BCCSL, AGM and had been adopted subsequently at an EGM. I have had no time to examine the years previous to 1997."

I regret to inform you of the lapse on the part of Mr de Silva to distort facts in this manner which could cause embarrassment to past officials of the Board who have performed their duties to the satisfaction of the membership. It will simultaneously create a wrong impression in your mind as well as that of the cricketing public, if it is not rectified.

For the first time in two years, positive signs are emerging that the government is moving slowly but steadily towards a negotiated settlement with the LTTE..

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar revealed in parliament on Tuesday that an agreement probably a memorandum of understanding with the LTTE was possible within a month. 

Towards this end, the government is likely to declare a two-day ceasefire encompassing Good Friday and the Sinhala-Tamil New Year. It is learnt that the government had given careful thought to the declaration of ceasefire and taken precautions in order not to give the LTTE any military advantage. It is also learnt that the defence establishment was not too happy over the ceasefire move. But President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the commander in chief, was keen to end the war which she believes was the major impediment for an early economic recovery. 

Her recent visit to Europe helped Sri Lanka improve its international image and apply pressure on the LTTE to enter into a deal with the government. 

But what put the LTTE in a fix was its inclusion on a list of terrorist organisations banned in Britain under a new anti-terrorism law.

LTTE's London spokesman Rudra Karunakaran publicly admitted that the British ban was affecting the LTTE more adversely than the US ban. He made this remark while delivering a talk on "How effective is the LTTE ban in the US and Britain?"

An analysis of the current situation would show that the progress so far was possible largely due to the efforts of two ministers Lakshman Kadirgamar and G.L. Peiris. 

While Minister Kadirgamar did a splendid job internationally in bringing upon pressure on the LTTE, Minister Peiris was responsible for producing a draft constitution with provision for greater devolution. Even the UNP welcomed several provisions in the draft constitution though it withdrew its support just before the document was presented in parliament as a bill. 

Minister G. L. Peiris also headed the Select Committee process and a PA-UNP bipartisan initiative sponsored by business leaders. 

Along with Prof. Peiris, the UNP's A. C. S. Hameed too played a vital role in the peace process. But unfortunately Mr. Hameed, whose birth anniversary falls on Tuesday, is not among us to see the fruition of his efforts.

But amidst such euphoria, a question as to concessions the government is ready to make to the LTTE, arises. Is the LTTE ready to come down from its separate state demand and settle for less? The government should address the first question carefully since the LTTE had rejected the draft constitution which the government is putting forward as a basis for talks. Besides opposition from the LTTE, the document did not even see the passage in parliament when it was tabled just before last year's general elections.

The Buddhist clergy was in the forefront of protests against the proposed constitution. In the face of mounting opposition from Sinhala-Buddhist quarters, the UNP also withdrew its support. 

This time, too, much depends on the UNP's support. Many analysts feel that it is sensible to rope the UNP into the discussions with the LTTE at least when the talks reach the second round.

The first stage of the talks would be of vital importance since it is here that many thorny issues have to be thrashed out. Will the LTTE be generous enough to come to a compromise on the homeland theory a concept espoused in the Thimpu talks by the Tamil leadership but rejected by the Sinhalese.

If the LTTE sticks to its homeland concept, then the talks would lead to a stalemate situation. If the LTTE is genuine in striking a peace deal, then it must be prepared to change its mindset on the homeland concept. Flexibility should also be evident on the government side as well.

With the concurrence of the UNP the government would be able to devise a more acceptable solution to the country, especially the majority Sinhalese.

In the past, too, there has been occasions where governments have obtained the opposition's support. Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike sought the help of opposition leader Dudley Senanayake to resolve the Kachchativu issue through a treaty with India. 

For a moment we should recall the business leaders initiative aimed at achieving PA-UNP bipartisanship. The talks progressed well up to the last moment but problems cropped up when the government decided to present the Constitution Bill in a hurry. The UNP did not agree with certain transitional provisions by which the life of the executive presidency was to be extended by another six years from 1999. The government side justified it on the basis of the mandate it received at the 1999 presidential elections.

Let bygones be bygones. The government can certainly start afresh with the UNP if there are any controversial matters which could be discussed at a later stage.

The present atmosphere is the most conducive one for peace since the Indian Government, too, backs the Norwegian initiative.

This was evident when Indian High Commissioner Gopal Krishna Gandhi said on Wednesday that the Norwegian initiative would be fully backed by India. He was talking at a lecture for UNP MPs at Hotel Taj Samudra. 

The Indians are looking at developments here in a positive manner, hoping that there would be a fair solution, Mr. Gandhi said.

Tracing back India's involvement in Sri Lanka, Mr. Gandhi said: "Diplomatic efforts by Indians at times amounted to arm-twisting and on other occasions exceeded the norms of diplomatic limitations.

"They are mere circumstantial issues and matters of the past. It is the future that must be looked at and no further time must be lost in doing the right thing at the right time."

Mr. Gandhi said that good opportunities were lost in the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact and the Dudley-Chelvanayakam pact.

He said that on both these occasions, the opposition was holding on to their standpoint thus opposing the government move.

Mr. Gandhi said that any resolution for the ethnic crisis should fall within the parameters of a satisfactory solution for the crisis that plagued the country. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe presided over the session while UNP's Kurunegala District Parliamentarian Rohitha Bogollagama was responsible for organising the lecture.

This was the second in a series of lectures organised by Mr. Bogollagama, the address by US Ambassador Ashley Wills being the first.

Mr. Bogollagama also played a significant role in Parliament when he was hand-picked by the party leader to wind up the debate on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a significant achievement for a newcomer to Parliament.

After Mr. Gandhi's eloquent speech, it was UNP's Tyronne Fernando who proposed the Vote of Thanks. Mr. Fernando quoting Mr. Gandhi's grandfather Mahatma said: "That if you are doing something, you must do it well or not do it at all." 

"The grandson did it well," he said appreciating the speech.

The UNP in the face of severe media onslaughts by the government is making an effort to strengthen itself by educating its young MPs on matters important to them.

It appears that the aim is to produce a good squad of Parliamentarians and erudite speakers who would stand up to any situation.

The UNP also had a meeting recently with the other opposition parties on how to present the proposed 17th Amendment in a bid to introduce independent commissions for elections, Police, public service and the judiciary. 

A UNP team was led by Mr. Wickremesinghe and comprised Karu Jayasuriya, W. J. M. Lokubandara, K. N. Choksy and Tyronne Fernando while the TULF was represented by V. Anandasangari and the JVP by Nandana Gunatilleke.

As Mr. Gunatilleke entered the room, Mr. Wickremesinghe wanted to know what the JVP's stand was on the constitutional amendment.

Mr. Gunatilleke at once said that it would support if its proposals were also accommodated in the amendment bill.

The JVP's proposals are a) a permanent and an independent media commission should be appointed, b) all main elections, viz, the Presidential and the Parliamentary General elections should be held under a caretaker government where the President or any other influential person would be barred from interfering with such elections. It also proposes that both the Presidential and the General Elections should be held on the same day.

The caretaker government, according to the JVP proposal, should include the Speaker, the Chief Justice and representatives from the four commissions proposed by the UNP.

Mr. Gunatilleke explaining the JVP's position further, said even under the Independent Election Commission proposed by the UNP a free and a fair election could not be held if an executive president was in office.

"Therefore, it is imperative that there should be a caretaker government during the times of an election," he said.

Mr. Wickremesinghe expressing his anxiety to present the 17th Amendment to the Constitution as soon as possible, said it would be rather difficult to put all these things together. But he invited the JVP to support the UNP's initiative with a pledge that the UNP would back its proposals at a later stage.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the JVP's proposal had its own merits and welcomed the idea to have a caretaker government pointing out that a similar system was in operation in Bangladesh.

Mr. Gunatilleke said that it was the only way out of the present quagmire and insisted that their proposal too be included in the amendment.

Mr. Wickremesinghe who is equally keen as Mr. Gunatilleke to push his proposal through Parliament once again requested the JVP to extend its cooperation to make his endeavour a success.

Subsequently, the joint opposition put off further discussions for April 11.

April 11 is, by any standard, important both to the government and the opposition as well. It is on that day that the final vote on the Budget will be taken and there is already confusion in the government ranks over the matter.

Some senior ministers have alerted the President of a UNP move to buy over government Parliamentarians to vote against the final voting on the Budget.

The President immediately moved to address some of the Parliamentarians on the issues involved, especially the twenty-odd Parliamentarians who have not been assigned with any ministerial portfolios or a deputy ministerships.

President Kumaratunga cancelled the Central Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday last week to meet the backbenchers.

Thereafter she held a parliamentary group meeting which is long overdue on Wednesday at the Presidential Secretariat.

Minutes before the arrival of President Kumaratunga, Minister Reggie Ranatunge alerted the MPs of the alleged UNP move.

He claimed that the UNP was trying to buy over some PA Parliamentarians to defeat the government and warned them to be careful of such elements who were trying to bring down the government.

President Kumaratunga who arrived later also spoke about the UNP's campaign against the government.

The President defended all the tenders awarded by the government including the Colombo-Katunayake highway project.

Recently the UNP pointed an accusing finger at the government over the manner in which some of the international tenders were handled.

The President told the Parliamentary group that everything had been finalised according to prescribed tender procedures and there had been no malpractices as alleged by the UNP.

She asked the MPs not to fall a prey to the UNP's false propaganda.

Referring to the Colombo-Katunayake expressway project, she said that tenders had to be called for the second time since the person who won the tender at the first instance did not honour the agreement.

She also referred to an alleged conspiracy by the UNP to "lift" some of the PA members. "Their main plan is to arrest some of the MPs" she told the group referring to the Budget voting. 

"Try to be in Colombo or the suburbs, don't travel in the night. If you want to go to your electorate, do it in the day time and return to Colombo during the day time." In short she asked MPs to curtail their travel because the UNP was trying to buy them over or arrest them.

The President told the MPs that the present budget was imperative for the forward march of the government and advised the members to attend Parliament everyday. Mahindananda Aluthgamage, a vociferous PA Parliamentarian, queried at this stage as to how they should counter the UNP attack in Parliament.

"Don't take the UNP seriously in these matters. Reply and defend the government," was the President's advice to the Parliamentarians.

Besides, the government is in for a fresh problem over the demolition of a part of the shrine room at the Punchi Borella junction.

Municipal authorities claimed that the UDA had even demolished parts of the authorised area, thus inviting people's anger at the government.

Thousands of people protested and even manhandled ministers who arrived at the scene to pacify the general public. 

Be that as it may, the UNP's alternative group which has gained recognition from the People's Alliance as a constituent party is now moving to register itself as a separate political entity. Its proclaimed leader Wijeyapala Mendis is moving in that direction while some others have written to the Commissioner raising objections.

It now appears that the alternative group is left with a few people such as Mr. Mendis and Asoka Somaratne while the others have faded into political oblivion. Minister Sarath Amunugama who played a leading role at the commencement had now joined the SLFP ranks and is making headway in the Kandy district.

Talking about the present political scenario, the week beginning April 9 is going to be crucial for Sri Lanka since there could be major developments just before the Good Friday and Sinhala New Year.

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