The Political Column

26th May 1996

Are state affairs in a soup?

By Our Political Correspondent

The country has plunged into one of the worst crises in many years, with continued power cuts affecting productivity, bringing the economy down to the lower depths.

Some people recall that the country experienced powercuts in the late seventies and the early eighties too with changing weather patterns causing delays in inter-monsoons rains.

But the successive governments that ruled the country since then have failed to tackle this issue. Now after fifteen years the country faces the danger of a total blackout.

The crisis is mainly due to bad governmental planning and its inability to identify the country's growth and ecological imbalances. Instead of a set of professionals who could study these problems, we have had, from time to time, many politically-oriented stooges in important positions in these important institutions who are keener on doing private business.

Even at this late stage, at least, the government should take appropriate action to avert such problems, which would compel investors to go for better prospects elsewhere.

The power crisis has deepened this month when the CEB removed restrictions over the Vesak holidays in the expectation of the onset of the monsoon which did not happen. Ultimately the brunt of the problem has now to be taken by the consumer.

It has even forced the government to take a decision as to whether they should close transmission of Television and Radio stations as early as 9.30 p.m.

The only hope at present is the predictions made by the Meteorological Department that the typhoon which had been the main cause for the delay of the south west monsoon has now dissipated.

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who tackled the recent doctors' strike successfully referring the matter to a compulsory Arbitrator, has intervened again to take emergency measures on the power crisis. In addition, she is also handling the problem involving Media Ministry Secretary Edmond Jayasinghe.

Mr. Jayasinghe, a well-known officer in the Sri Lanka Foreign Service, who served as Ambassador in several countries, has been taken to task by newspapers for allegedly giving different years of birth.

The controller of Emigration and Immigration called for the relevant papers in his office connected with Mr. Jayasinghe's passport and kept them under his custody until Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva called for the papers for his perusal.

After a close examination of relevant facts, the Defence Secretary submitted a report to the government. Copies were sent to Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and Media Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake.

The report was submitted after the ministers decided that an inquiry be held on the matter.

According to Mr. De Silva's report, Mr. Jayasinghe had allegedly erred in making his declaration in respect of his date of birth.

The previous week, Mr. Jayasinghe who was actually born in 1940, found that he has not applied for an extension though it was well passed the due date, April 19.

Resignation letter

Mr. Jayasinghe who drafted his letter of extension in Sinhala was ready to send it to the Public Service Commission until it was pointed out by additional Secretary Y. R. de Silva that he should seek the approval of President Kumaratunga for such matters.

To fulfill this requirement, Mr. Y. R. de Silva signed a letter seeking an extension.

After signing the letter dated 19.4.96, Y. R. de Silva told Mr. Jayasinghe it has to be delivered under the normal procedure and it will reach the Presidential Secretariat in the delivery register for May.

Mr. Jayasinghe had then hoped to deliver this letter through Presidential media consultant Sanath Gunatilleke who will hand it over to an additional Secretary at the Presidential Secretariat, Sarath Gonagala.

On the same day, Mr. Jayasinghe tried to get through to President Kumaratunga in Japan but failed. Instead he spoke to one of the President's Senior Security Officers, one Karunaratne. He also tried to get through to Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake who was in Turkey, but couldn't get a contact number.

As these developments were taking place in the Media Ministry, Minister Senanayake telephoned his additional secretary Y. R. de Silva to find out what was going on.

When Mr. de Silva had briefed him on the matter, the Minister told his Additional Secretary to ensure that Mr. Jayasinghe's problems should not affect the smooth running of the Ministry and that he would look into the matter once he returned.

Mr. Jayasinghe subsequently met President Kumaratunga at the airport on her arrival from Japan and had a brief discussion. The President had required him to see her at Temple Trees.

When Minister Senanayake arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport from Turkey once again Mr. Jayasinghe was there to receive him.

On seeing his secretary, Minister Senanayake asked him, "Edmond why are you here today"?

Mr. Jayasinghe told the Minister that he had a matter to discuss with him. When the Minister was about to drive home from the Airport, Secretary Jayasinghe also joined the Minister and sat beside him.

Having listened to Mr. Jayasinghe, the Minister told him to be in the ministry until he took a decision on the matter.

After sometime, Mr. Jayasinghe received a call from Minister Senanayake.

Minister Senanayake informed him that the Media Ministry, Lake House and Air Lanka where Mr. Jayasinghe served as acting chairman would no longer be under his purview.

The Minister subsequently called additional secretary Y. R. de Silva and directed him to inform the Lake House (Associated Newspapers Ceylon Ltd.) and Air Lanka accordingly.

Immediately Mr. Jayasinghe was informed of this latest development, he vacated his office.

However, Mr. Jayasinghe was later asked to report back to the Foreign Ministry and take over duties in his substantive position as the Director General Economic Affairs.

In the meantime, Minister Senanayake told Information Director Ariya Rubesinghe to issue a news release on Mr. Jayasinghe's removal.

All Television stations carried the story, except for the National TV, Rupavahini.

The Minister was reportedly angry. He summoned Information Chief Rubesinghe and asked whether he released the story to Rupavahini.

The reply was in the affirmative and the Minister asked Mr. Rubesinghe as to why the National TV did not carry the story.

The Minister then asked Mr. Rubesinghe to immediately telephone the Director General of the Rupavahini, W. D. Jayasinghe, and ask him why the Rupavahini did not carry the story.

Minister Senanayake told Mr. Rubesinghe not to tell the Director General of the Rupavahini that he was calling him from the Minister's office.

Mr. Rubesinghe who followed Minister's instructions asked Mr. Jayasinghe reasons for not carrying Edmond Jayasinghe's story. The reply from the other end was that President Kumaratunga wanted the story stopped.

When Mr. Rubesinghe repeated the question asked whether it was stopped on a Presidential directive he said that they received a call from the Presidential Secretariat to that effect.

The Minister who was satisfied with the role played by Ariya Rubesinghe told him that he would take appropriate action.

The following morning, the Minister summoned the Director General of the Rupavahini to ask him about Edmond Jayasinghe's story.

When the Director General said he acted on a directive by the Presidential Secretariat, the Minister asked him as to whether the President directed him to stop the story. His answer was that Devapriya Abeysinghe, who is a Deputy Director General of the Rupavahini informed him of this directive.

The usually sober Minister who lost his temper for a moment asked Mr. Jayasinghe as to why he told Mr. Rubesinghe that it was done on a Presidential directive.

The next moment the Minister told him firmly that he was the Minister incharge of the subject and they should not work according to the whims and fancies of some officials in the Presidential Secretariat.

Minister Senanayake then asked the Director General to give him an explanation along with Devapriya Abeysinghe for working contrary to directives from him.

UNP target

Meanwhile, Edmond Jayasinghe has reportedly met several Ministers whom he think could present his case to President Kumaratunga.

Mr. Jayasinghe met Minister S. B. Disanayake in this regard.

With the UNP gunning for him, for allegedly giving wrong information to Parliament, and the newspapers reporting on the latest developments with the PA cabinet keen on having a full scale inquiry on the matter, Mr. Jayasinghe is in an unenviable position.

However, even if Minister Senanayake doesn't want him back in his Ministry, Mr. Jayasinghe with his diplomatic skills is quite capable of turning these recent events in his favour.

Political observers say that they will not be surprised if Mr. Edmond Jayasinghe is offered a better post though possibly amidst protests from various quarters, which may include Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike.

Though the current topics which have received preference are the power crisis and the Edmond Jayasinghe saga, the devolution package of the government is also a matter of concern for people at various levels.

On Wednesday, at a discussion held at the Ramakrishna Mission Hall on this subject, there were prominent speakers such a Rohan Edirisinghe, Pakyasothi Saravanamuttu and Suresh Premachandran who criticised the government's proposed devolution package.

Constitutional expert Rohan Edirisinghe said the legal draft of the package to solve the current ethnic crisis was too little and too late. He said it promoted majoratarianism and that the regions were not represented at the centre.

He also pointed out there was no provision for judicial review of legislation which he noted was a short coming in the 13th amendment to the present constitution too.

Former EPRLF MP Suresh Premachandran came out with a scathing attack on the government.

He said he couldn't consider President Chandrika Kumaratunga as a states woman anylonger.

Mr. Premachandran who predicted that the proposed package wouldn't work as expected said only foreign mediation could help settle the conflict.

Meanwhile, Tamil Groups including the EPDP, met army top brass last week to explore possibilities of their visiting the liberated Jaffna Peninsula.

But it appears that most of the Tamil groups are not happy with the hardline policy of the government of not allowing them to get involved in relief work there.

However, PLOTE members have not taken this matter up as an issue since their stronghold is in the Vavuniya District more than in Jaffna.

The decision by the five party Tamil alliance to meet the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, has so far not materialised but CWC leader S. Thondaman and his grandson Arumugam Thondaman met Mr. Karunanidhi for talks.

But when some Tamil party members called Mr. Thondaman to find out as to what was happening and the DMK's attitude towards Sri Lanka and the Tamil problem they were told by Mr. Thondaman that Mr. Karunanidhi was looking forward to meeting them. Tamil parties however have taken Mr. Thondaman's remarks as sarcastic.

Meanwhile the problems between the Ceylon Workers Congress and the government seemed to be growing day by day. Though the President has agreed to solve the problems concerning plantation workers it appears that Mr. Thondaman is not satisfied with the steps taken so far.

President Kumaratunga left the country for an official visit to Japan when the CWC demands were smouldering. Soon after President Kumaratunga's departure to Japan a week ago, several acting Ministers had to be appointed to take up her duties.

Among the Ministers appointed to take up her duties were General Anuruddha Ratwatte as acting Defence Minister, Kingsley Wickremaratne as Acting Finance Minister and Sumedha Jayasena as acting Minister of Buddhasasana.

The oath taking ceremony was scheduled for 4.15 p.m. at Rosmead Place. But when Presidential Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi arrived at the Prime Minister's residence it was 4.45 p.m.

But Mr. Balapatabendi found that he has not brought the relevant papers for the occasion. Hence he had to get through to his office once again to tell someone there to send the connected papers.

By this time Minister Kingsley Wickramaratne had arrived at the Prime Minister's Office at Flower Road thinking that the ceremony would take place there.

When he found that he had arrived at the wrong place, he immediately rushed to the Prime Ministers private residence to take his oath as the Acting Finance Minister.

When all three Ministers were present they were asked to sign relevant papers. In the excitement it was found that Mrs. Sumedha Jayasena had taken Minister Wickramaratne's papers and placed her signature on them.

The error was detected by the Prime Minister Bandaranaike when Mrs. Sumedha Jayasena presented her papers.

She was not too happy over the manner in which one of the ministers handed over the papers to her.

The angry Prime Minister after the oath taking ceremony warned the Ministers and bureaucrats who were present there to carryout State activity with honour and respect to their positions.

She asked Presidential Secretary Balapatabendi as to whether this was the system adopted by them in governmental activity.

As far as the UNP is concerned the party is getting prepared for an island wide campaign against the skyrocketing milkfood prices.

Milkfood campaign

The campaign will be launched from Kaduwela, the stronghold of Trade Minis