Columns - Talk at the Cafe Spectator

Exhibition of lawlessness outside Parliament

The divide between the law makers in Parliament and the law breakers outside is only the small stretch of water at Diyawanna Oya. An old, winding road cuts through the banks past a man-made mound to link the Pelawatte Road (near Parliament roundabout) to Pitakotte-Talawatugoda Road in the direction of the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital.

A new wider road, some two kilometres in extent, to replace this is almost complete but the Maga Neguma (Road Awakening) authorities are yet to put the final touches. That includes asphalting the road and sizing up the pavements. It runs through patches of swamp forest on one side and the lake on the other.

The evenings, particularly Sundays, should come as an eye opener to the police or even their commando equivalent, the Special Task Force (STF) who are now engaged in crime busting. If laws are made in Parliament, they are broken just a few hundred yards away. A walk past the near two kilometre stretch tells the story.

At the Parliament end, groups in trailer motor bikes practise how to ride only on one wheel. The engines roar as they whiz past those who do their evening walks, some with young children, to apply brakes. It brings the bikes to a screeching halt with the rear wheels in the air. Then they take off again, this time with the rear wheels on the ground and the front wheels in the air. Others on trailer bikes use it as a racing track stirring clouds of dust as they speed past one another. Some learn with "L" boards and others without it.

Further downwards, on the side of the swamp are three-wheeler scooters parked. Their canvas covers used during rains obscure the two entrances. If one is not sure what is going on inside, an indication comes from the way they sway sideways. Oblivious to this, groups of young children fly kites, sometimes entangling the thread they use on three-wheeler roof tops.

Children also play cricket in a few stretches. On the opposite side, overlooking the lake, boots of vehicles are open. Bottles of arrack, soda and other chasers lay inside. Groups smoke and drink as they chat. Who said smoking and drinking is banned in public places? Some even use a hook and line to fish in the spot where it is banned.

Every now and then, cars race each other stirring up clouds of dust posing the biggest danger to pedestrians who walk. A man who has brought a cow and a calf to the grass patch to gaze alongside the road has his own story. He points to a tall, slim youth sitting on a parked motorcycle.

"If you want to buy ganja (cannabis), go to him," he says. At the Pelawatte Road end, last Sunday, a mother of three who was selling saruwath (coloured soft drinks) was run over and her counter with bottles smashed to smithereens by a driver without a licence. He tried to substitute another with a licence, but both are in custody, as a story in this newspaper reveals. The woman, aged only 26, died on the spot. Even before the new road is inaugurated, accidents are waiting to happen. There is a public exhibition of lawlessness in the new race track with vices galore.

The area comes under two different police stations. The stretch near Parliament is under the Welikade Police. The opposite end comes under the Talangama Police.

No doubt, it is a challenge for Police Chief N.K. Illangakoon. He has a job for his plainclothesmen. They must act fast if the surroundings of Parliament are to be kept clean of illegal activity.

Bigger battle than the 30-year war

External Affairs Ministry Secretary Karunatileka Amunugama was reported as saying at a book launch on Friday that Sri Lanka's fight with the international community is a bigger challenge than winning the 30-year war as the government had to deal with millions of people, billions of resources, big governments and large international media organisations, which was a difficult task.

A ministry wag said that one must ask then whether the 20+ political appointees -- some young (kith and kin of VIPs) -- and some old (in retirement age etc) -- sent just recently (after the new Foreign Secretary took over but due to no fault of his, really) to our overseas missions, are conducting "Sri Lanka's fight with the international community"! Then the parliamentary revelation about Rs. 8 million spent by the External Affairs Ministry for its participation in the Deyata Kirula exhibition in Buttala!

Then of course one must not also forget the colossal amounts spent in Washington, London and other capitals on PR firms to carry on "Sri Lanka's fight with the international community"!

So factoring the above, the wag added that what the Secretary ought to have said, but couldn't say was:
"Sri Lanka's fight with the international community is a bigger challenge than winning the 30-year war as the government has to spend millions of rupees and make hundreds of political appointments. This was a difficult task."

Is it his birthday wish?

United National Party's media spokesperson Gayantha Karunatilleke celebrated his birthday last Sunday.
One of those who made a telephone call to wish him was President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He later chatted with him about the internal tussles in the UNP.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe called Mr. Karunatilleke and asked him "how old are you now?" Replied Karunatilleke "old enough to be a Cabinet Minister if I am in a government."

UNP saw hot battle for Colombo mayoral candidate

The United National Party (UNP) Nomination Board sat to pick candidates for the Colombo Municipal Council elections amidst pressure from various quarters including wealthy businessmen. The prospective mayoral candidates were asked to make individual presentations of their capabilities. A.J.M. Muzzamil, Karunasena Kodituwakku, Mohamed Maharoof, Shahul Hameed Mohamed and Ajith Pathirana were among those who spoke of their capabilities.

Though the Board was happy with Muzzamil's presentation, it encountered a problem in selecting a prospective mayor. A formula was then decided upon. Members of the Nomination Board would each meet their leader Ranil Wickremesinghe individually and let him know their choice. Thereafter, he would announce the most favoured candidate.

That was how Mr. Muzzamil was picked. He was preferred by the majority of the Board. Besides Mr. Wickremesinghe, the Board comprised Karu Jayasuriya, Sajith Premadasa, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Tissa Attanayake, Joseph Michael Perera, John Amaratunga, D.M. Swaminathan, Kabeer Hashim, Lakshman Kiriella and Amara Piyaseeli Ratnayake.

There was many a heated moment. Mr. Premadasa wanted Vijitha Kadiragone, Secretary of the Sucharitha Movement, as a candidate for the CMC polls. However, it was turned down by Mr. Wickremesinghe.

Mayantha Dissanayake, son of late Minister Gamini Dissanayake, declined to contest the Kandy mayoralty at the last moment over the candidacy of a relative. Former Mayor Harendra Dunuwila declined an invitation by the party High Command to come forward. Former Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa was a last minute entrant. The Kandy UNP Councillors had said that they would back him.

UNP Kotte organiser Shiral Laktilleke complained that his nominees have all been rejected. That's probably the price you pay when you rub the leadership the wrong way.

Officer penalised for cousin's crime

Ekek pissu vedak keroth, anith ekatath kelawenawah (If one does a mad thing, another also gets affected). Those words were uttered by President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he attended a recent meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on the Ministry of Defence.

It was a lady parliamentarian from the Ampara district who had given notice of a question. She had said that a police officer who had served the department continuously for three years had been sacked.
Police Chief N.K. Illangakoon responded to her complaint. Since recruitment, he said, Police had been checking on the officer's credentials. In his application form he had said that no members of his immediate family had committed any criminal offences. Upon inquiry it has been found that he had made a wrong declaration in his application form.

A member of his family had in fact committed an offence. Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, asked the Police Chief who this relative was. He replied "Baappage putha" (father's brother's son). That drew the President's comments.

Senior advisors for those doing little or nothing

The Cabinet last Wednesday appointed ten Senior Advisors, one each for the country's ten "Senior Ministers". These ten ministers, to whom no specific functions in the form of departments and corporations have been assigned, work in one office and will now have Senior Advisors to guide them on how to do nothing.

Government officials say they would now have to find offices for these ten Senior Advisors besides providing them with official vehicles and other perks. Was it Shakespeare who said, "it is better to do nothing, than be busy doing nothing".

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