The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

26th January 1997




"He kicked and beat me" says TU leader

A Steel Corporation trade union leader has alleged he was brutally and mercilessly assaulted by a police officer who grabbed him by the collar and hurled him onto the ground and then took him to the jeep during the demonstration at Oruwela.

At the Homagama police station, he was made to lie on the ground and an ASP kicked him, JSS Oruwela Secretary Ananda Sunil Perera said in a fundamental rights petition to the Supreme Court. He was later detained at the Talangama police station where he was constently assaulted, the union leader charged.

The illegal arrest and detention and the vicious assaults on him were a violation of his fundamental rights, the petitioner said. He is claiming compensation and action against the police officer.

Commissioner aiming for a clean election

Commissioner of Elections, Dayananda Dissanayaka is determined to have a clean election in his first assignment. He has written to party secretaries to inform their members to co-operate in conducting a free and fair election. Following are excerpts of the interview:

By Chandimal Mendis

Commissioner of Elections, Dayananda Dissanayaka is determined to have a clean election in his first assignment.

He has written to party secretaries to inform their members to co-operate in conducting a free and fair election.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: There was a proposal to bring in national identity cards to the electoral process. What is the present position on this issue?

A: In 1980 there were two select committees which proposed to bring in provisions to use the national identity card for registration of voters as well as during the election for voting purposes which had been accepted by this government too. There has been a Cabinet decision and now it is at the stage of drafting the bill to present it to the Parliament.

Q: What steps other than the normal, have you taken to prevent rigging and impersonation?

A: In such an incident, we have directed senior presiding officers to be very alert and bring it to our notice and we will take necessary action thereafter.

Q: What arrangements have you made regarding poll observers?

A: The normal procedure is for political parties contesting the elections to make a request to us to appoint poll observers. So far there has been no such request made by any of them. We have to meet the secretaries of the political parties and decide whether we should bring in outside observers or not.

Q: From what countries would you prefer to have the observers?

A: It is very effective if observers of the same region are appointed because they understand our system better than the countries of the other regions.

Q: What guidelines have you given to the contesting political parties?

A: We have already informed the contesting political parties by letter on the procedure for a smooth and fair election.

Q: What measures are you taking to prevent politicians entering polling booths and threatening the staff?

A: We have to take action against anything which is not fair voting procedure. But we cannot handle this situation alone without the cooperation of the contesting political parities. I have requested the secretaries of political parties to inform their party members regarding this matter. Also we have informed the police not to allow any person other than the voters and one candidate at a time of a particular party into the polling station.

Q: How are you going to handle the increased number of voters?

A: In the last Local Government elections there were around 8035 polling stations. This time we will be having about 8250 polling stations.

Q: Any special message to the voters?

A: They must go to the polling stations as early as they can and cast their votes, which will close the doors to impersonation and other malpractices.

Q: We find most of the polling station officers waiting for transport after voting procedures are over. Since there are more polling booths this time how will you solve their transport problems?

A: This is a problem we experienced in the past two or three elections mainly due to the curfew that was imposed after elections. Since we cannot depend on private sector transport we plan on getting the CTB and the railway to come in.

Don't deny students right to choose

By Chamintha Tilakaratna

Education Ministry proposals for major changes in the year six scholarship exam, have run into opposition with outstation principals protesting that poor students will not get a fair deal.

According to these proposals, the exam will be held for year eight students rather than for year six because the ministry feels students at the age of ten are too young to sit a three hour competitive paper. In addition, students who are selected for the scholarship will be given a school within their district selected by the ministry instead of choosing a big city school as done now, Deputy Minister W.D.J. Seneviratne said. However, principals of several schools feel this is not fair by the students. Sunil Warnakulasuriya, Vice Principal of Gamini Madya Maha Vidyalaya in Nuwara Eliya said "many students in our school are from low income families and it is only fair that they will want to get a scholarship to a more popular school."

D. M. Dissanayake, Principal of the Uva MMV said he felt the changes were unfair and students should be given the right to choose.

Another principal in the outstation said, every student has a right to study at the best schools in the country with the best facilities and it is only their poverty that prevents them. The scholarship exam provided this opportunity to the poor but talented students. To deny that opportunity to them is unfair. Teachers and union leaders also protest against the proposed changes.

Premasara Samaratunga of the UNP controlled Jathika Guru Sangamaya said financial aid was given with the scholarships and delaying it upto year eight would affect hundreds of poor students.

Heart to heart

Dr. D.P. Atukorale, the former senior consultant cardiologist of the Cardiology Institute of Colombo, will be the special guest on "Portraits", the chat show, hosted by Sujatha Jayawardena.

This programme will be telecast on Thursday January 30 on Rupavahini at 9.15 p.m.

Mr. Fowzie for all woman show in maternity hospitals

A maternity hospital with a one hundred percent female staff is to be set up in Colombo soon, Health Minister A.H.M. Fowzie said.

Mr. Fowzie told The Sunday Times the staff of this new hospital would be all women, as pregnant mothers sometimes felt uncomfortable with male doctors and other employees, working in a maternity ward.

"Everyone, including gynaecologists, nurses, clerks and attendants will be women," he said.

Mr. Fowzie said that he has been promised the necessary funds for this project from his friends and associates and he was hoping to start work as soon as a proper location was found.

"The hospital will have one hundred beds and modern facilities. We hope to bring in many female doctors into this. There are some experienced Sri Lankan doctors who are willing to work here, but are unable to do so due to various obstacles like sitting for a local special examination. They will be exempted from such procedures", Fowzie said.

PERC in the cockpit

By Roshan Peiris

AirLanka is working out plans for the Public Enterprises Reform Commission to take over management control of the national carrier but there will be no retrenchment or downgrading of AirLanka staff, an official said.

PERC Director General Ananda Weerasinghe said fears of retrenchment were unfounded, but AirLanka employees who voluntarily offered to quit would be given special compensation.

Mr. Weerasinghe said so called "strategic" investors from Malaysia, Thailand, West Asia and the United States had expressed interest in AirLanka but nothing had been decided still.

Poster campaign against lawyer

Attorney Upul Jayasuriya appearing in the case of the alleged murder of a remand prisoner has lodged a complaint with the Dehiwala police that posters have sprung up against him in the area for his role in the case.

Mr. Jayasuriya has been watching the interest of the family of A.A.D. Rohitha who died after being allegedly assaulted by prison guards at the Kalutara remand prison. Rohitha was being held on a murder charge.

Mr. Jayasuriya in his complaint said the posters which had come up on Friday amounted to contempt of court.

He claimed that the posters were put up by the same persons who were pasting posters about the 45th SLFP convention.

Priests rally round Fr. Bala

The OMI Community comprising around 200 priests has come out strongly in defence of Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, insisting that his excommunication by Rome was too harsh and not in keeping with Gospel values and demanding that the order be repealed.

In a hard-hitting statement issued after a special meeting of the OMI community in Sri Lanka the Oblates said the excommunication inflicted on a veteran and a distinguished brother-priest who had done so much for the church and society, was sad and unfortunate.

Fr. John Camillus Fer-nando, Provincial Superior of the Oblate community and Fr. Anselm Silva who heads the Oblates Theology circle, in a statement on behalf of all OMI priests said that despite the excommunication order Fr. Balasuriya was not defrocked or derobed, but remained an Oblate, a priest, and a Catholic Christian.

Fr. Balasuriya had for five decades done great service in the field of national development, inter-religious dialogue ecumenism and justice and peace in our country. His mission was very much in line with the vision of Vatican II and had the full backing of the Oblate community here.

The initial cause of his condemnation was the so-called theological errors in his book "Mary and Human Liberation". It is important to note that Fr. Balasuriya's intention in writing his book was not to dilute Marian devotion but to make it more meaningful and truly fulfilling for all, the Oblates said.

"Fr. Balasuriya cannot be accused of having posited some action which calls for the sanction of excommunication. We therefore entertain serious doubts about his incurring the penalty of automatic excommunication. In any case the excommunication seems to us a penalty out of tune with the spirit of the Gospel which should animate us in this day and age after Vatican II.

"We therefore insistently urge that the CDF should repeal the penalty of excommunication. Other means should be devised to deal with these alleged theological errors of this book and to place them before the International Theological Community and the Church."

The Oblates said they saw the whole process by which Fr. Balasuriya was convicted as being flawed. He was not given a verbal hearing or an opportunity to dialogue the issues with the local Bishops or the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in Rome. Everything was done through correspondence with Fr. Balasuriya's lengthy explanation, getting only a curt reply from the CDF, which said it was 'Unsatisfactory'.

Promises he kept and miles he went before he slept

A long march in the glorious traditions of Lenin and Mao will end tomorrow for Sri Lanka's Communist Party stalwart Pieter Keuneman when the red banner will be dipped over him for the last time in Kanatte.

Today the body of Pieter Gerald Bartholomeusz Keuneman, who passed away on Thursday after serving the people for more than 50 years, will be taken to CP headquarters in Borella to lie in state.

Widely respected by both allies and opponents for his honesty and commitment to the building of a just social order, Pieter Keuneman was one of the few political figures who gave everything he had for the country without taking anything in return.

As the radical son of an orthodox Supreme Court judge, the young Pieter shocked his father by inviting the house servants and drivers to sit at the dining table. Like most politicians he did not merely preach about justice for the poor, but practised it by identifying with the oppressed and the marginalised.

After being elected to the Colombo Municipal Council and then to Parliament from his Colombo Central seat, Pieter Keuneman was a driving force and powerful figure in national politics.

In 1970 he became Minister of Housing and saw the opportunity to tackle one of the main structural injustices in society. He pushed through laws for a ceiling on housing, whereby the rich who had excess houses were compelled to give their extra ones to the have nots.

But the forces opposed to such social change both outside and within the government, conspired to buckle Pieter Keuneman's social revolution.

In 1976 Pieter Keuneman quit the government a sad man his mission thwarted by those he thought were his friends.

Pieter Keuneman and S. A. Wickramasinghe whose association began in Cambridge when the latter came there to address the students, were among the master builders of the left movement in Sri Lanka along with towering figures like Philip Gunewardena, N. M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva and Bernard Soysa.

Only the last named is still alive and on Friday Bernard Soysa told The Sunday Times he was too shaken by Pieter's death to say anything at the moment.

Unlike those who confront or intimidate the media, Pieter Keuneman saw the role that the press could play in bringing about proper awareness and building a better society. He had a stint in professional journalism before entering full time politics and after that was the editor of the Communist Party organ "Forward".

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