Political Column  

Norway has its way? The latest in the sweepstakes
By Our Political Editor
Is peace a lottery? Well, we certainly hope not, but from the looks of what is being pushed for the National Lotteries Board, it appears that certainly if not peace, at least peace-makers are in the lottery.

This is how it happened. Minister Milinda Moragoda, has been pushing very hard in Cabinet for the management of the National Lotteries Board to be turned over to a Norwegian Company for five years -- with this Norwegian Company being paid by way of investment for the transaction while sharing a percentage of the profits at that.

Why is the Norwegian government pushing for a lottery, and where is the credibility of the Norwegian government if it is pushing for business with the Sri Lankan government while ostensibly being a detached peacemaker and head of the Ceasefire Monitoring committee? Now, somebody might turn around and say that a Norwegian company's bidding for a lottery is not exactly out of turn -- but then if Norwegian officials as high as those at Ambassadorial level have been involved in pushing the bid, what would you say then?

The bid, pushed in Cabinet on behalf of the Norwegians by Milinda Moragoda, is for a Norwegian Company Norsk Tipping to operate and manage the National Lotteries Board, while the NLB holds total equity. The NLB will be required to invest a maximum of 5 million USD in the project. What's more, it will be a Swedish company that will be providing the software and hardware for what will be an on-line lottery.

The Norwegian company will be required to pay an on line licence fee of 3 million USD, which is minimal considering for instance that an off line licence fee is ten times that much. But apart from the guaranteed management fee of 6.5 of turnover plus ten per cent of the profits will be paid to the Norwegian operator! This offer has been made exclusively to the Norwegians who have made their bid through the Minister -- and there has been no tender process.

The government could stand to lose millions upon millions as a result of the loss that is bound to accrue to offline operators of lotteries. In other words all established and legally required tender procedures are being by-passed to give an online lottery operation to the Norwegian company, the NLB is putting money into it - and is being given a share of the turnover as well as the profits. This as opposed to a a straightforward privatisation in which the government will be paid.

This is also in contrast to the million or so that can be brought in if there is open bidding for management for offline operations - - for which offers have already been made.

The million dollar question then is - - why are the Norwegians bidding for a Norwegian company to be given the running of a lottery operation, contrary to all established tender procedures, and which will in the long run cause millions of dollars (or billions of rupees) loss of Revenue to the government? Moneymaking - umph, peacemaking, or what?

Anyway, the decision, each time it is deferred comes up in Cabinet and at the moment it is said that the Prime Minister may even sail with the idea. Peace is not a lottery but there are a lot of peacemakers to please, eh what?

May Day blues
The UNP had a May Day tamasha and gave up the rally and all that - - but not so the SLFP. There was a massive rally that began in Kotte and ended in Campbell Park. What's significant was that there was a tacit agreement that there wouldn't be any red on show at this May Day. Now, a May Day rally of any sort without the colour red would be like rice and curry without parripu and pol sambol - - but that was what it was , a May Day rally at which blue was the colour agreed and on display.

Apparently, this was at the bidding of those who thought the JVP and the extreme left was getting too much of an upper hand in the affairs of the People's Alliance. So, they thought 'send them a message.' No red at this party -- just blue. A statement if ever there was one.

In the background of all this Thilina Bandara Tennakoon threw another tamasha for the party leadership, and Anura Bandaranaike was there in all his regalia. But soon, he was to imbibe what was certainly not plain tea. And in that state, he tried to have his dinner, and when he couldn't push his food beyond his face, other MPs had to come and clean up for him. Some female MPs wives we have to say were heard to say something about being the joker in a pack of cards-- but surely the quip could not have been about Anura Bandaranaike?

Tail-piece: Minister Choksy made a statement that not one cent will be coming into government coffers on account of the forthcoming aid meeting in Washington.
What? Is Choksy a Tiger? Mercy, no. Apparently it is just that Choksy has been miffed blue and black because others were going to the Washington aid meeting, and not him.

He saw this as an affront, and he has told people so - particularly because this is the first time a Finance Minister was left out of an aid meeting.
Finally things were explained to him that this was only a preliminary meeting, the real donor conference was in Japan. Besides, they might have added, wasn't it Minister Choksy who said he doesn't like foreign trips?

Tall stories and the occult
After the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission ended up with a good deal of egg in its face claming that a 'third party' may have been responsible for opening fire on a Chinese boat, a new theory being floated (no pun intended) that the boat may have been hit by pirates.

The story is strictly coming down the grapevine, but we offer no prizes for guessing who put it there. Recently a team of parties boarded the Leviathan of the Galesa Straits in Malaysia, and beat up the crew and looted the ship. There was another incident of an oil tanker being chased off the coast of Sumatra.

This as a case of the pirates taking the Captain of the ship hostage, with machine guns etc, Now, the experts say that since merchant vessels cannot carry weapons, there should be an alternative, which is the erection of electric 'sea fences.' The case of the Chinese vessel off our coasts took place after a Ukrainian ship was hit of the coast of Brazil , but the difference here is that rocket propelled grenades were used on the attack on the Chinese ship - - and which pirate has been known to use rocket propelled grenades?

The issue of the sea has become one of major import in which the Norwegian monitors have got inextricably involved, as our Defense Correspondent has pointed out in his recent columns including today's. It is the political fallout that the Norwegians are finding difficult to tackle - - hence the story of pirates attacking the ship etc.,

Though it is of a tall order the story remains on the grapevine, and small wonder the Defense Minister Thilak Marapana is seeking the occult for blessing in this atmosphere of angst in the department of Defense.


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