Odds and Ends

Up in the air

We are still waiting for the latest news on the proposed new international airport at Weerawila. Following an environmental impact assessment, Central Environmental Authority (CEA) boss and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) livewire Udaya Gamanpila was to tell us last month whether or not the greenlight would be given for work on the airport. The deadline has passed, but still no word from the CEA or its boss. We are eagerly sniffing the air for a hint of what’s happening.

Bogged down with lame excuses

Some time back, Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation chairman Karunasena Hettiarachchi promised prompt legal action against a powerful minister and his wife who are linked to an illegal land grab running to several acres. An order had gone out that an area of marshland that was being filled for development be restored to its original state. Weeks have gone by, but still there’s been no action. Only excuses. We hope this is not a case of old friendships getting in the way of decisive, crucial action.

Wrongly accused

The beleaguered Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe complained bitterly in parliament that his motorcade was obstructed by an unruly demonstration near the House last week.

Among those accused by Mr. Wickremesinghe of blocking his way were Western Provincial Council Minister Hector Bethmage and renegade WP Councillor Duminda de Silva. But both men were nowhere near the place. Mr de Silva is away on an overseas trip, and Mr. Bethmage is busy elsewhere, fighting for his political life.

Conspicuous by his absence at ceremony

Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara was conspicuously absent last Saturday at the ceremonial opening on Parliament grounds of a war memorial for servicemen who have sacrificed their lives to keep this country in one piece. The question being asked is whether the Speaker’s absence was a sign of souring relations with the Government. Since President Rajapaksa came to power, the Speaker’s excellent relationship with the Chief has been frowned upon by his own party men. When we contacted Mr. Lokubandara’s office in regard to his absence from the ceremony, we were told that he was due to leave for Russia that same evening with a Parliamentary delegation. Some are asking why he did not take a later flight.

Slim, trim entourage

President Rajapaksa’s recent visits to Rome and London – to attend a conference on the world food crisis and a meeting of Commonwealth heads of state respectively – were noteworthy for the relatively small entourage accompanying him. We are so used to seeing our political leaders taking along with them huge teams of hangers-on, all there for the ride.

Boomerang effect?

Sri Lankan expat groups in the United States and Canada have launched a virulent campaign against Dr. Navenetham Pillay of South Africa, one of the front-runner candidates for the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is also one of the 18 judges in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Sri Lankan expat groups are lobbying at the UN headquarters in New York with petitions charging that Dr Pillay, being a “Tamil”, would work against the Government of Sri Lanka, and that she should not get the post.

This campaign may end up having a boomerang effect; in fact, it appears to have strengthened the resolve of UN high-ups to proceed with considering her candidature for the appointment. The UN says her integrity is unquestionable and her record unblemished.

There is speculation that the campaign against Dr. Pillay is motivated by a Sri Lanka mission in Europe that has been playing ball with Sinhala expatriate chauvinist groups based in the US and Canada.

When crackers aren’t fun

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera shared the stage on Thursday at the annual delegates’ conference of the SLFP (M) held in Colombo. As each VIP appeared on stage, there was a loud burst of firecrackers.
The Opposition leader joked that in our current climate of bombs going off across the country sounds of celebration sound like sounds of destruction.

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