6th May 2001
Health Minister, official plead ignorance
The SPC has allegedly imported inferior quality gloves which the Health Ministry could not distribute to hospitals as it had received complaints of their poor quality. Hospitals are presently purchasing gloves from the local market at a much higher price.
The importation has been made despite a policy decision taken by the Medical Supplies Division six months ago to import disposable gloves.
Authoritative sources said that a tender for US$1.3 million (approx. Rs. 111 million) has been placed for this year while last year' s consignment cost Rs. 23 million. Both consignments are reportedly of poor quality. Sources said that there was pressure to give the tender to an Indian company based in Bangalore while questions are being raised about the award of the tender to a particular company.
However, SPC Managing Director Jayantha Liyanage pleaded ignorance of
any importation of inferior quality gloves. Health Minister John Seneviratne
too was not aware of the matter.
By Ruwan WeerakoonThe Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka had ignored warnings by the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs in going ahead to lease out land for the Rangiri Dambulla Cricket Stadium with the transaction being found to be legally questionable.
Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs, D.P. Heenatimulla told The Sunday Times he has sought the Attorney General's advice on the action to be taken as the Cricket Board as well as the temple authorities concerned had violated the sanghika panatha..
He said the temple authorities should have obtained the permission of the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs and the trustees before they went ahead with the transaction.
Under the agreement the area of the grounds has been leased for a period of 29 years.
Mr. Heenatimulla said two warning letters had been sent to the BCCSL before the transaction took place and finally his Department had written to the Attorney General seeking legal advice.
He said no response has been received from the Attorney General so far.
The issue about the legal status of the land in which the stadium is situated re-surfaced last week when a team of officials from the Interim Cricket Board visited the Dambulla grounds.
They had found that the Board does not have a direct hold over the grounds, although money has been paid by the Board and over Rs. 300 million spent to develop the grounds and build the stadium.
The agreement has been entered into between the temple authorities and between a trustee of the grounds, Anura Ranaweera Bandara Dissanayake and the secretary of the grounds Sujeewa Godaliyadda.
One of the witnesses to the agreement had been the former Chief Minister of the Central Province Nandimithra Ekanayake.
Meanwhile, according to the agreement the premises leased out cannot be used for any activities which violates Buddhist principles.
However to celebrate the successful signing of the agreement a cocktail party was held at the Dambulla stadium for which over Rs. 800,000 was spent (See montage above).
According to the agreement the Board would not be entitled to any compensation
in the event of cancellation of the agreement.
By Laila NasryThe administration of the Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital want the practice of hosting an annual musical show in the hospital grounds discontinued, for though the grounds do not belong to the hospital authority its close proximity to the patients' wards does matter when such shows are held. The patients were put through much agony and distress last Monday as a result of the blaring music coming from the playground in the vicinity when the controversial musical show got underway amid legal objections.
The staff on night duty which was limited to three per ward were unduly burdened as a result and had a hard time calming the 1500 patients.
The noise was such that sedatives were considered to be ineffective and sedating the patients fruitless. The musical show which went on till the wee hours of the morning, only breaking up at around 4 a.m. saw the mental patients of the hospital denied a restful night. The organisers went ahead with the show having avoided being served with notice. The District Court issued an interim injunction on April 27 until May 11 restraining the respondents, MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra and the President and Secretary of the Mulleriyawa Eksath Kreeda Sama- jaya from going ahead with the show.
Though the copy of the notice was presented to the Mulleriyawa Police by Dr. G.W.W. Pathirana, the Director of the Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital, it had not been served by a fiscal and therefore failed to be recognised. Both entry points to the ground which included the one directly leading towards the hospital were used that evening despite them being closed.
The hospital gate had been forced open and artistes, guests and the crowd milled through it. Twenty vehicles too had been parked in the premises.
However, according to hospital sources the administration hopes to pursue
the matter and is awaiting clearance from the Health Ministry to proceed
with legal action.
In an ambush by the LTTE in the Ampara district early yesterday morning, five STF personnel including an officer were killed while two others sustained injuries.
In the melee, one civilian who was working in a paddy field too was killed when STF personnel exchanged fire with LTTE cadres.
Reports said that personnel from Kanchirankudah STF camp were ambushed
by the LTTE at Thamaraikulam, a virtual jungle area, three kilometres from
the STF camp.
UNP MP Dr. Karunasena Kodithu-wakku in a statement said the UNP on its part assures that it shall prevail on the government to provide security to all sections of the people, and arrange payment of compensation with immediate effect to all those who had been affected.
A group of UNP MPs yesterday visited the affected areas on the instructions
of party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. 'What was unequivocally expressed
with disbelief and horror by all whom they met, was that this tragic incident
was sparked off as a result of resistance by businessmen in the area to
pay kappam to political hoodlums who had the naked support of a Cabinet
minister from the district, who had seen to it that the Police were rendered
ineffective in matters of law enforcement by his constant interference,
intimidation and threats", the statement said.
By Chris KamalendranMore than 130 railway employees who were released on bail after being arrested for committing alleged acts of sabotage including the damage of railway wagons and carriages were yesterday prevented by railway authorities from returning to work.
Transport Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told The Sunday Times he had requested Railway General Manager, W.K.B. Weragama to carry out an inquiry into the acts of sabotage and take necessary action.
He said that until the inquiries are over the workers who were allegedly involved in the incidents are likely to be kept out.
A section of railway employees allegedly damaged engines, removed rail tracks, broke chairs and other items belonging to stations in the Maradana and Dematagoda areas disrupting railway services on Thursday.
Their action caused severe inconvenience to train travellers.
These employees were demanding that their salaries be paid before the Vesak holiday as their last payment had been made on March 28, before the Sinhala-Hindu New Year.
Minister Gunawardena said that since the railway is a large institution employees are paid according to a pre-planned schedule and adjustments cannot be made according to employees' demands.
He said they will paid on May 16.
Meanwhile train services were yet to return to normal. According to
the Minister around 60 per cent (about 175 trains) operated yesterday.
By Rukmal SilvaThe Mahanayake Thera of the Amarapura Nikaya and other prelates are ready to join Catholic Bishops in another mission to the Wanni, for discussion aimed at finding a solution to the ethnic conflict, a Catholic Bishop said.
Ratnapura's bishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, said nine Catholic bishops had met the Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera and other prelates and got their blessings, before visiting the Wanni last week.
In an interview Bishop Malcolm said LTTE political wing leader Thamil Chelvam had also expressed readyness to meet the Mahanayakes.
Bishop Malcolm who visited the Wanni again on Wednesday with about 1000 people on a peace crusade said that if political leaders were unable or unwilling to find a just solution then spiritual leaders needed to step in.
Excerpts from the interview.
Q:For the first time, a delegation of 10 Catholic Bishops visited LTTE controlled areas in the Wanni. What was your aim ?
A. The peace process has run into major obstacles and we believe there was a need for an urgent breakthrough. We went with peace and goodwill to show our love and concern for the Tamil people. We believed the Church has to take a strong stand and play a prophetic role for peace. When we met LTTE leaders, we took the opportunity to make them more aware of the concerns and fears of the Sinhala people.
Q. Talks between the LTTE and the govt. are likely to start soon. What is the position of the church?
A. Since the horrible riots of 1983, the church has made its stand quite clear year after year, We have emphasised that war and violence cannot be the solution to this ethnic conflict or to any other human conflict. Even in a worldly perspective it is clear that war and violence do not solve problems. More so in a spiritual perspective. Liberative spirituality has absolutly no place for violence or war.
Q. Are the Catholic Bishops ready to play the role of facillitators in finding a just and peaceful solution?
A: Before we went on our mission to the Wanni and Madhu, nine bishops had a full and friendly dialogue over a meal with the Ven. Madhihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake Thera and other prelates . We discussed the need for spiritual leaders to come forward in finding a solution because most political leaders still appear to be more interested in promoting personal or party interests. Some of them are even making big profits out of the war. If the national interest had been put before personal or political gains, and if the main parties had come together for the common good, this conflict could have been settled. But most politicians seem to be still playing party politics and we believe that the time has come for spiritual leaders to step in. The Ven. Mahanayakae Thera of the Amarapura Nikaya and other prelates gave their blessings for our mission to the Wanni. We expressed the hope that the prelates would join us on our next mission and they agreed.
During our discussions with the LTTE's political wing leader Mr. Thamil Chelvam, we mentioned this to him. He too was keen on the Mahanayakes stepping in to play a bigger role in finding a solution. We believe the Ven. Mahanayake theras, now need to take the leadership in finding a just and fair solution.
We will support them fully. Our country needs to be rebuilt on hallowed spiritual values and principles. If political leaders cannot or will not do this, then spiritual leaders need to come forward. The values of love, forgiveness, sharing and caring need to be brought to the fore, as proclaimed in all our religions.
Peace is a cardinal principal in all religions. Racist extremists on either sides should not be allowed to distort or damage spirituality. If some prelates have some fears or reservations, we need to lovingly and freely have a dialogue on them.
Q. What is the plight of the displaced people in the Wanni?
A. During our visit, we saw the horrible situation they are facing. It was raining heavily and most people were exposed to it because their huts or shacks offered little protection. The condition of the children specially was heartbreaking. They have little food and less by way of education. A family of five gets a meagre dole of Rs. 1250/- a month. A litre of kerosene is Rs. 200 and a panadol tablet Rs. 10.00. In such situations, they cannot do a job or any cultivation. Some who did top jobs are beggars today. So it is not surprising if the youth and even children are drawn towards extremes. We have driven those youth and children into desperation. They feel the Sinhala regime is ill treating and oppressing them. So they feel retaliation is justifiable.
Q. What was the basic message from the LTTE?
A. We believe they are ready to give up the demand for a separate state. They are ready to live within a united Sri Lanka in areas where they have been.
They want devolution of power to run their own affairs, to protect their identity and culture. They still remember how since 1958, during various riots, they were attacked, killed and their property looted in the south.
They say that is why they were forced to seek their own homeland. The Sinhala people, must think deeply about this and look at the long-term perspective.Some say that the war is intended to prevent the division of the country.
But I believe that if we go on like this the war itself will divide
and thus destroy the country.
By Nilika de SilvaResidents of Akmeemana through which 7 1/2 km of the 128 km Southern Expressway will run are also alleging intrigue, corruption and political favouritism in the drawing up of the plan.
While the original foundation stone laid by Highways Minister A.H.M. Fowzie on April 21,1996 lies forgotten, the Southern expressway has taken another jump away from its original route- and residents of Akmeemana are furious over what they see as injustices heading their way.
When we visited Akmeemana, and spoke to a cross section of residents they complained of how plans were changed once, twice and now thrice following what they saw as "orchestrated protests" by interested or vested interests. They allege that political favourites and other powerful elements were trying to get more mileage for themselves at the expense of poor or voiceless people.
Injustices are also alleged in the payment of compensation, when the first plan, the second or the third were being implemented.
A resident P.M. Dharmaratne said his land had been taken over and he was paid compensation at the rate of Rs. 25 for a tea bush. " This is absurd. It is an insult I could have earned hundred times as much from that tea bush for another 25 years," he complained.
Residents allege after compensation was paid to those affected by the first plan and the second plan, now both plans have been changed.
In January 1997, quit notices were served in terms of one plan. However in January this year, further quit notices were served in terms of another plan and the whole process appeared to be loaded with corruption.
Villagers are denouncing the sneaky way the authorities seem to be going about the business. One resident told us how a Grama Sevaka had come there and pasted a quit notice on a guava tree.
At the latest meeting held on Monday, with Road Development officials residents said they were told lots of new stories including one that compensation would come in cash instead of alternative land. One resident charge that the third plan was designed to bypass a huge Citrus estate owned by a powerful company.
The authorities claimed this estate was being by passed to save 1500 jobs. But when we visited the estate we found that it was virtually closed down and an officer confirmed no work was being done there.
Residents allege the new plan would mean the destruction of the Poddala Akmeemana main bus route and at least 75 houses in the Narawala area.
They said that from Kekirihena to Ambagahawila, the third plan would destroy five times as many houses as the second plan.
One villager said the officials appeared to be coming in with coverup stories and sweet talk. "At this point they are just trying to put in their heads, after that they will get in their shoulders and then their whole bodies.When they start taking over all our properties we will be put out on to the streets with nowhere to go," he said.
While the earlier plan of the Expressway, required a single overhead bridge within Akmeemana, the new plan includes three such bridges instead of one.
Some 2800 people in the area have sent a petition to the President protesting against the change of course.
"The people of Akmeemana are not opposed to the Expressway. We thought
it would be a blessing but now with all this corruption and crooked changes
of course, it appears to be turning into a curse,village society president
Sarath Athukorale said, summing up the feelings of most people in the area.
In an interview they also assured that justice would be done to anyone displaced by the new road.
Q : Why are repeated changes being made to the Colombo-Matara Expressway?
A: We are thinking of putting a Highway in places where there isn't even a foot path. It is not a mere widening of a road . To find the best possible route we need to study various options and that is what is being done.
Q : In 1999, a Central Bank report said feasibility studies had been completed. Why are you again changing plans now?
Mr.Seneviratne - I don't know what the Central Bank says. I am talking for the Highways Department. We looked at various plans to find the best route. We studied aerial photographs, and ground photographs. We also got consultant services and we have now worked out a final plan.
Q : The project was scheduled to be completed by 2005. We are already in 2001, and you are still at the studying stage.
Mr. Seneviratne - The Asian Development Bank and the Japanese Bank for International Co-operation are funding this project. The agreement with the JBIC was signed only last month.
Q :Can you complete the project in time. It seems you have still not finalised even the route?
Mr. Seneviratne - We have identified the route. Only the newspapers are making a fuss.
Q - But the people are worried.
Mr. Seneviratne - The people are misguided by interested parties. We have explained the final route fully and I believe most people are convinced it is the best possible course.
Q : Was a feasibility study conducted in finalising the route?
Mr. Zarook - The feasibility study identified a 3km wide band from Colombo to Matara. What the feasibility report states is that the ultimate road should come within this 3km band. So there after only the details were studied. The topographical and geotechnical investigations were done after the feasibility study. And within that 3km band we have now finalised the 60 - 80 metre Highway. In some places it could be even 100 to 120 depending on the geographical situation.
Q : People in Akmeemana are saying the original plan had only one overhead bridge there, but now there are three. Won't this cost more?
Mr. Zarook - We have only one interchange at Akmeemana, at Pinnaduwa. A feasibility study indicated the new plan was the best option even in terms of cost.
Q : There are lots of complaints regarding compensation ?
Mr. Seneviratne - The compensation is calculated on the income earned by the plot during the past three years. We pay separately for standing trees.
Q - Is Rs. 2,500 sufficient for a fully grown jak tree ?
Mr. Seneviratne - This is in addition to the normal compensation. This a Highway. This is not a gamsabha road. We just can't avoid this bo tree that temple this mosque, and that church .
Q -But residents are complaining that plans were changed to spare the property of some powerful persons or companies?
Mr. Seneviratne - The RDA had an original plan. Experts later changed it . We are trying to work this out with minimum inconvenience but it is inevitable that some people will be unhappy. This is a highway for the common good and national development. We need to go ahead. We are not trying to build the highway through a dictatorship. As far as possible we are having consultations with the people and trying to find a compromise on compensation and alternative lands.
Q - The Present Galle Road is about 40 feet wide. When comparing the human cost involved, does Sri Lanka require an 80 metre wide Expressway?
Mr. Seneviratne - On the 128 km of the new Expressway only 800 - 1000 houses will be affected. But we are building up the road for the next thousand years.
The Southern Province will be developed, investors will come .Tourism will improve and land values will soar. Then we won't hear so many complaints.
A few thousand people may have some problems now, but millions will benefit later.
In our resettlement package we give the option to the people who are affected to select the place where they want to build. We are not forcing them to go to a resettlement site selected by us. We will purchase the land, a buildable block of 20 perches, give it to them, and we will give them money to build.
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