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26th August 2001
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Security around important government
installations has been stepped up following
the attack at Katunayake. In the picture
police personnel are checking 
passengers of a bus close to the 
Sapugaskanda oil refinery as part of a 
major security alert which has been put 
in place in the area. 
Pic by Gemunu Wellage.

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Article XIX blasts Govt. for corruption and secrecy

By M. Ismeth
The absence of transparency and the prevailing culture of authority and secrecy are major weaknesses in governance in Sri Lanka, an international human rights group has said. 

These weaknesses undermine accountability and prevent people's effective participation in law and policy-making processes, the human rights group Article XIX said. 

It said Sri Lanka faced enormous challenges in conflict resolution and national integration and also a crisis in official credibility. 

Thi group said some of the recent laws and policies were "people unfriendly", in that they were designed to promote executive convenience rather than the rights of ordinary people. Instead of a freedom of information act, there are pieces of legislation that promote secrecy and undermine the free flow on information. 

The right to information is necessary to expose corruption and malpractice, and to promote a culture of accountability, both of which are much needed in the Sri Lankan context, the report said. 

In Sri Lanka, malpractice in the public sector is rampant and expresses itself in the ways of mismanagement at various levels of government, abuse of discretion, specifically for patronage and preferential treatment in the allocation of government resources jobs, documentation, contracts, relief money, etc, the report said. 

Article XIX said among the most noteworthy recent examples was the current impeachment against Chief Justice Sarath Silva, who among other things, is alleged to have interfered in a court case brought against one of his friends and to have transferred judges capriciously. 

Public officials asking for bribes is a common practice. The Police force, in particular, is infamous for demanding and receiving bribes, the report said. 

However, the practice is certainly not limited to the Police and even officials from the Samurdhi Poverty Alleviation Programme, who are supposed to be assisting the poor, are suspected of corruption and of allocating funds depending on the political affiliation of the recipient in question, it said. 

"There is believed to be rampant and large scale corruption at the highest levels of government," the survey said citing allegations that the former Chairman of the BOI is invloved in a corruption scandal of USD 5 Million regarding the granting of a contract to a businessman. Both the CEB and the UDA are currently under investigations for corruption.

The government has been accused of malpractice in the granting of the multi-billion rupee contract for the building of the Katunayake-Colombo expressway. The President has been criticised in the media in relation to the allocation of land around the Parliamentary complex. It had quoted what Justice Minister Batty Weerakoon deplored in Parliament earlier this year, the high level of corruption in the multi-million dollar purchases of arms, alleging that officials from the Ministry of Defence were paying over the market price for arms and equipment in exchange for commissions, the report said. 

The allegations of malpractice,corruption and bribery are simply the tip of the iceberg, even from among those cases which have been reported or otherwise made public, the report said. 

Access to information in Sri Lanka is severely limited by a number of factors. The legislative framework includes secrecy legislation, as well as laws which restrict the right of the media to report in the public interest. Sri Lanka does not have a fredom of information law or even strong provisions in other laws that facilitate information disclosure, the report said.

There is near total absence of independent information about the conflict in Sri Lanka due to censorship, lack of physical access and threats, so that people have to rely on information released by the government, army and the LTTE, much of which is propaganda. The lack of independent information makes it nearly impossible for citizens to assess or monitor the situation, to participate in building peace or to help shape their own future, the report added. Article XIX has called upon the Government to take immediate steps to develop a freedom of information law, based on best international practice. 


Mystery shrouds Wills mission

Which political party asked the United States Ambassador Ashley Wills to deliver a message to another, in a move that made him play the role of an honest broker between the People's Alliance and the main opposition UNP? 

The billion dollar question came to the fore last night after opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe denied he had asked Ambassador Wills to deliver any message to anyone. 

Responding to local media reports, the US Embassy in Colombo on Thursday issued a cryptic statement which said Ambassador Wills "was asked by one political party to deliver a message to another." 

"After reflecting on the request, and on consulting Washington, he agreed to do so" the statement said. 

It added "along with many other friends of Sri Lanka, the United States has been concerned about Sri Lanka's political uncertainty and its possible impact on the prospects for peace and economic growth in the country. That is why the Ambassador agreed to carry the message. It is our hope that stable government can return to Sri Lanka soon." 

The Sunday Times learns Mr. Wills called on President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga early this week. 

He was learnt to have expressed Washington's concern over the prevailing situation in the country. 

The US Embassy's statement came after this meeting and hence it is suggested that he may have followed-up on his talks with President Kumaratunga by speaking to an unidentified UNPer other than Mr. Wickremesinghe. 

UNP sources say even if such a meeting took place they were unaware since their leader himself was in the dark. 

These sources say the party has explained its position vis-a-vis, the prevailing security situation to several diplomats, including Ambassador Wills. 

The sources said they did not know of any other message of any sort.


CJ proposes settlement in editor's case

By Laila Nasry
The Sunday Times Editor's application for Special Leave to Appeal in the Supreme Court against a conviction for criminal defamation of President Kumaratunga took a new turn with the Chief Justice proposing a compromise settlement. 

Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva presiding with Justices Shirani Bandaranayake and P. Edussuriya on Tuesday, said he was of the view that a settlement was best suited to bring a complete end to the matter. 

The settlement advocated by the Chief Justice was that the editor, tenders a general statement to court and not to any person in particular, taking into consideration that the article was not written by him and that it was factually incorrect, as already admitted. 

If the settlement was agreed upon, he would quash the conviction and the fine imposed on the Editor by the Colombo High Court, the Chief Justice said adding that since the appellant was a professional that is what concerned him most. 

The case which came up for support was to be postponed as Senior Defence Counsel Tilak Marapana was indisposed. The Chief Justice asked Defence Counsel Ronald Perera to get instructions from the editor who was in court whether a settlement was possible. Court was told that a decision would be made in consultation with Senior Defence Counsel. It was re-fixed for September 26, by which date the Editor could inform Court if he was in agreement to a settlement. 

In the event there is no settlement, the Chief Justice said he would decline to hear the case and fix the case before another bench. 

The Editor is seeking special leave to appeal against the December 5, 2000 order of the Court of Appeal which dismissed his appeal and upheld the conviction delivered in the High Court. 

He further prays court to set aside the Court of Appeal order, quash the findings of the High Court which convicted and sentenced him and acquit him of the charges contained in the indictment filed in the High Court.

The Colombo High Court had found the editor guilty on two counts of criminal defamation arising out of a gossip column published in The Sunday Times of February 19, 1995. 

He was given a suspended sentence of one year. Later, the editor appealed to the Court of Appeal, but it upheld the High Court order. 

Mr. Tilak Marapana with Mr. S.L. Gunesekera, Mr. Ronald Perera and Mr. Upul Jayasuriya and Mr. Nalin Laduwahetty instructed by Samararatne Associates appeared for the Editor. Mr. R.I. Obeysekera PC with Mr. Wijaya Wickremaratne PC, Mr. Ashley Herat and Mr. A.W. Yusuf appeared for the virtual complainant Chandrika Kumaratunga. Additional Solicitor General Rienzie Arsecularatne with State Counsel Gihan Kulatunga appeared for the Attorney General. 


German couple brave negative publicity

A German couple Helmut and Mechthild Sandriser's decision to fly to Sri Lanka for a vacation of sun and surf four days after the attack on the Bandaranaike International Airport has been regarded with disbelief back in Germany. 

Unruffled by the strong warnings and "situation reports" provided by their travel agents LTU in Frankfurt, which even agreed to refund the entire cost of the trip, the couple insisted on making their tenth trip to the "paradise isle.'' 

However, their insistence was not agreed to unconditionally. The LTU agreed to the trip on the pre-condition that the couple placed their signatures on a document stating the trip they were making was at their own risk.

"We weren't at all scared to come to Sri Lanka," the Sandrisers said looking relaxed and tanned at a star class hotel down south. Having watched the scenes of destruction on television, the couple had called up one of their friends in Sri Lanka to check on the situation here. "He told us it was safe to come to the country," they said adding that was all they needed to know. 

The biggest problem as they see it was the negative publicity. They agreed that the attack on the airport was grave and they were sorry about it. But they were quick to point out that it was an isolated incident.

"In Germany we only see the bombs and the shooting scenes in Sri Lanka, but not much of its beauty and cultural heritage," they said adding that most people were unaware of the true situation. 

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