The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

9th February 1997



Power back to normal

Ceylon Electricity Board Chairman P.A.M. Deraniyagala has assured that there won't be anymore unannounced power cuts as the machines in Samanalawewa and Victoria are in good order by yesterday.

During the past week there were unannounced power cuts as the power production at Samanalawewa and Victoria power stations was not at peak level.

A spokesman for the Samanalawewa power plant said that due to the building of a dam by the farmers of the area, they had to cut the flow of water to a certain limit. However there were some problems that arose with the construction work of the farmers that the work got delayed compelling the Samanalawewa power station authorities to give them more time to complete the work.

"But we could not hold on for a long time especially during the peak hours. Therefore we switched on the machines to normal and power production is back to normal," the spokesman said. Meanwhile, a spokesman of the Victoria power station said the repairs of the machinery of the station had been completed a couple of days ago thus enabling the power station to produce its maximum.

'Vijaya was my father's friend'

Your charges are baseless, Dulanjalee tells President

By Shelani de Silva

The slain president R. Premadasa's daughter Dulanjalee Jayakody has accused President Kumaratunga of acting irresponsibly and said she had sought legal advice on ways to clear her father's name amidst allegations that he was indirectly involved in the Vijaya Kumaratunga killing.

Ms. Jayakody said President Kumaratunga's recent allegations against her father were baseless because Vijaya and her father had such a close relationship that the latter sometimes gave even financial assistance to Mr. Kumaratunga though she did not wish to disclose details.

"We can't sue the President but our lawyers are working on some way to clear my father's name. Whatever it is no one should use my father's name to further their political ambitions. If those who accuse my father of murder feel that by this he will lose the people's respect they are badly mistaken", Ms. Jayakody told The Sunday Times.

She said she was not happy about certain procedures adopted by the Presidential Commission which probed the Vijaya killing. "When I requested permission for my lawyers to cross-examine, the commission did not give permission but wanted me to appear."

While refusing to comment as to whether the report was being spotlighted as local election propaganda Ms. Jayakody said she felt the President had acted in an irresponsible manner and she had no right to make such allegations.

"Why didn't she take action when her husband was killed and wait until she became President to appoint a Commission. Why didn't she take legal action at that time so that my father would have been there to defend himself?," Ms. Jayakody asked.

In contrast, Ms. Jayakody spoke highly of Vijaya Kumaratunga, saying he was an honest and kind man whose main aim in life was to help the people of this country. "This was the link between my father and Vijaya. I remember well Vijaya coming to meet my father on several occasions. He not only got political advice but also financial assistance, but it would not be fair for his sake to elaborate on this. One thing is for sure Vijaya knew he could always count on my father," she said.

President Kumaratunga told a news conference recently the Commission had reported Mr. Premadasa and former Minister Ranjan Wijeratne were indirectly involved in the killing of Vijaya.

But Ms. Jayakody and the UNP insist that President Kumaratunga is interpreting the commission report to further her own ends in the elections.

'We are still being victimized'

By Chamintha Tilakaratna

The Forum of the Representatives of State Corporations and Statutory Bodies has appealed to the President to probe why no action has been taken by the committee appointed to give relief to those victimized during the UNP era.

They alleged that the committee consists of those who were involved in the victimization and that the Education Ministry has not been of much help in the matter.

The forum's request to see the committee reports was denied. They suspect that names of victimized teachers are missing from the list while names of non-vicitimized have been included.

They urge that the reports should be made available to all teachers at the education ministry, provincial educational offices and in all educational offices. They also claim that teachers who should get compensation have been overlooked.

Deputy Minister of Education, W. D. J. Seneviratne said that action is being taken in relation to those who have been political victims. "There is a process to go through before action is taken. At present, their experience, their certificates, their service and how much compensation should be paid are some of the things out of many that have to be looked into."

Promotion schemes to those who have been deprived of their promotions and salary schemes are being considered at present, he added.

On the availability of the report, the education ministry claims it has only one report which cannot be made available to the teachers.

Dr. Vishva Warnapala, Deputy Minister, Higher Education and also Chairman of the Committee was not available for comment.

It's tickety-boo with P&O - Ashraff

Ports and Shipping Minister M.H.M. Ashraff has assured that though the Colombo Port is over-populated not a single worker will be retrenched after any deal with P&O, but on the contrary more will be recruited.In an interview with The Sunday Times, a confident Mr. Ashraff looking dapper in a black suit and tie on the eve of the Ramazan festival, strongly defended his move to finalise the deal with P&O Company to develop the strategic QEQExcerpts from the interview:

By Roshan Peiris

Q. Why is there such a long queue of ships building up outside Colombo Port, sometimes upto Mt. Lavinia?

A: It shows we are in demand. Like customers crowding round a popular shop, ships are coming to Colombo. Strikes or go-slows have had no effect. On the contrary we have improved efficiency and the turn around time.

Q. You have decided to lease the QEQ to the South Asia Gateway Terminal apparently a new company set up by the P&O with John Keells Holdings as the Sri Lanka agents. Is this the best offer we have had?

A: What is the alternative? I want the critics to tell me that.

Q. One critic has said that Japan had offered a soft loan for thirty years with ten years interest free. Why did you not accept this offer?

A: That was by no means a good alternative to the P&O offer. I'll tell you why . First in any event Japan had not offered to bear the entire cost. The SLPA would have had to finance upto fifteen percent of the project, which it could not afford to do.

According to the projected growth of volume Colombo must have additional facilities for a new port by the year 2005. Therefore we want to build a South Port.

The projected growth in the port until year 2005 has to be handled by the QEQ. The projected growth between year 2000 to 2005 is from 2.1 million TEU (twenty equal units) to 3.5 million TEU.

So if the QEQ was developed according to the Japanese plan the capacity would increase from the present 250,000 TEU to 500,000 TEU which only means the total capacity of the present port will be increased from 1.6 to 2.1 TEU. Therefore we see that unless the capacity of the QEQ is increased significantly the Colombo Port is likely to lose its enviable position as the premier hub port in South Asia: Internationally we are 26th among the container handling ports at present . We want to improve on this record.

According to the P&O proposal they will develop the QEQ from the present 250,000 to 1 million.

Thus there is a big difference between the Japanese plan and the P&O plan. In short according to the Japanese plan the QEQ capacity will increase from 250,000 to 500,000.

With Japanese funds (it is by no means a gift) we are also subject to the condition that 15 percent of the total cost must be borne by the SLPA: On the other hand P&O will develop the present two hundred and fifty thousand TEU upto one million TEU (twenty equal units) at a cost of about two hundred million US dollars of which Sri Lanka does not put in even a cent.

Finally just look at the profit. If the QEQ were to be developed according to the Japanese plan the SLPA would get an annual profit of twenty million US dollars over a period of 30 years. But according to the P&O plan the SLPA will get an annual profit of 30 million US dollars over a period of 30 years. So it is clear as daylight as to why we have opted for P&O.

Q. The QEQ is the largest and most important one in the port. It handles large ships bringing in food, medicine and even weapons. Upto now handling of this cargo has been done free of charge, it is said. According to the new agreement with P&O they can charge a tariff. Won't this increase the price of essential consumer itmes?

A: That won't happen. Be assured that we will not hand over the QEQ to P&Q until an alternate berth is commissioned to handle the general cargo such as food and medicine. The SLPA is getting ready to start the north pier on an accelerated basis.

Q. The QEQ currently employs 1,500 workers. Union leader Mahilal Silva claims P&O will keep only 500. What then will happen to the other 1000 workers?

A: Mahilal Silva leads a UNP union. So much for that. We have assured that not a single worker will be retrenched.

It is true P&O will not absorb the entire workforce at the QEQ because we have an inflated workforce. This is so not only at the QEQ but also in the entire port. I have always maintained that the SLPA does not require the present 16,000 workforce, I mean in the entire port, to run it. We can manage with one third of the workforce if we streamline the services Yet we will keep all the employees and hopefully take in more because we know the country has a serious unemployment problem. The port can afford to have this over population because it is making good profit.

Q. According to the agreement with P&O (SAGT) any new company is prevented from developing and handling container facilities. Are we allowing a monopoly?

A: So far we have not signed any agreement. I also must mention that the present income from the QEQ is 10 million annually and we are hoping to get 30 million from P&O.

Bar President: the importance of being independent

Coming in the wake of turbulent controversies stirring Hulftsdorp during the past so many months, the forthcoming Bar Association elections scheduled for the 19th of this month, promise to be a keenly contested fight. Former Solicitor General during the coalition Government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and senior lawyer E. D. Wikramanayake shares with 'The Sunday Times' some of his observations on the challengesconfronting the Bar today.

The most important issue that the Sri Lankan Bar faces right now is how to be independent in the context of a society that has become politicized in almost all its aspects. I would think that there is a general sense of deterioration in our society in general, and this also pervades our legal system.

It is the duty of the Bar to attempt to address this problem. This is very important because judges can only work on the basis of material placed before them, and if this does not happen, the end result is warped, and true justice is not realized.

The biggest need now, therefore, is a strong and independent President of the Bar Association. Not only must he represent the Bar, but also he ought to be able to stand up to the Bench and the politicians. Moreover, one of his priorities should be to ensure that junior practitioners are given a sense of security; they should be given a good training and allowed to develop.

The legal profession is at the moment swamped by large numbers of young lawyers jostling to earn themselves a name in practice. A number of them have shown tremendous promise, and at all times, should be supported and encouraged.

I have observed that many of them face language difficulties in practising in the superior courts where the proceedings are conducted mainly in English. Some of them do present their arguments in Sinhala, and they do well.

However, these are problems that the Bar Association should address more effectively. When one looks at the legal system today in comparison with what it was ten or twenty years back, the changes are enormous. Law has become infinitely more materialistic.

When I was working as a junior in the Attorney General's Department, seniors like Mr. Pullenayagam used to get us to read all the law journals and it was mandatory that we should be conversant with the latest judgements, local as well as international.

Now, it is of course different. I have observed a tendency on the part of lawyers not to read. In those days, people were more relaxed, they did not have to fight so hard, or jostle so hard as some of these people now. We are in an age where anything goes, and anything goes is just not good enough.

From about 1977 or so, there has been a governmental predilection to appoint its supporters to places traditionally looked upon as independent offices. Thus, with every change of government, these people also change. The law has been no exception to this perversion of power.

It is often said that one of the most obvious instances of executive interference of the Bar took place under Felix Dias Bandaranaike. This is a very unfair and quite untrue observation. I worked with the Justice Minister as Additional Solicitor General in charge of the Corporations Branch in the Attorney General's Department. If FDB wished, he could have interfered with my powers, but I can say quite honestly that not once did he ever make any effort to subvert my authority.

In fact, I remember on one occasion, wishing to send Corporation work to an attorney-at-law in the provinces who happened to have the reputation of an outspoken opposition lawyer.

I told him about this casually, and he at once replied, "Do not bother me with these things. Use your discretion, but just remember, if something goes wrong and consequences flow from it. I will have to answer in Parliament."

Some of the senior lawyers who worked with me in the Corporation Branch and who are now judges will agree on this fact, that FDB never interfered with the course of work in the Department. I cannot, of course, speak for what happened elsewhere.

His name was spoilt to some extent by public officials working under him who warped his outlook and image. But he was one man who tried to improve the Bar to the benefit of the common man. His concept of barefoot lawyers was opposed fiercely by certain members of the Bar, but it was a revolutionary concept.

He thought of barefoot lawyers working not of course in the superior courts but in tribunals like the Mediation Boards and at the Magistrates Court.

FDB wished to have a good relationship with the lawyers. He did not want the law to be static. He wanted movement, and at conferences, he used to toss out ideas, and see how the response was.

He was able to pick up an idea, dissect it, analyse it, and if he thought that there was some value in it, he would adopt it or he would throw it out.

His dynamism compelled drastic changes to the law that has stood up to the test of time. Above all, he wished to make the law accessible to the ordinary people whom after all, the law is meant to serve.

Perhaps, this is after all, the greatest unfulfilled responsibility before the Sri Lankan Bar today.

Mediation Board issue at Bar elections?

By Mudliyar

Law graduates are on strike or what they call a continuous 'upawasaya' . Their demand is to permit them to enter the profession without having to sit for the professional examination at Law College.

Law graduates claim that they are able to pass the Law College final exams without following lectures and there is no big deal in passing the exam, but it is a waste of time sitting for such a silly exam, which can be profitably spent in doing other important things like pasting posters and agitating for students' demands. Some law students say that a large number of graduates fail Law College exams.

The tussle between the law students and the graduates has been going on for many years. The Bar Council without a division has agreed not to permit law graduates to enter the profession without passing the Law College exams. The council was so vociferous on this matter that on one occasion when they felt that it's representatives to the Council of Legal Education had not voiced their protest at a meeting of the Council, the Bar without considering who the persons involved were removed them from the Council of Legal Education and appointed two other members. One member so removed was the President of the Bar Association at that time.

* The Attorney- General must be further complimented for having discharged some persons who had been accused of having committed murder during the era of terror. It must be said that it was a sad spectacle to see judges near graves and appealing over television requesting people to come and give evidence or to identify those who have been buried in those mass graves. In a number of cases inadmissible and belated evidence was led and police officers and politicians were arrested and remanded. Recently the Attorney- General instructed the police to discharge some suspects as there was no evidence to connect them with any offence or the evidence was so weak and untenable it would be an exercise in futility. Then came the NGOs , the social workers and other organizations and placard carriers paid by these organizations. They paraded in front of the courthouse to achieve their own political agenda. A tabloid carried special articles against the discharge. The magistrate as we note from press reports had ignored the direction of the Attorney General and issued process on the accused. The magistrate may have had good reasons to do so. But we congratulate the Attorney- General for having decided on facts and not on other extraneous material. All right- thinking persons must detest instances of charging anyone for political reasons and not founded upon credible evidence. All law officers whether they are judges or members of the Attorney- Generals Department should not forget what Lord Mansfield C. J said", I will not do that which my conscience tells me is wrong, upon this occasion; to gain hurrahs of thousands, or the daily praise of all the papers which come from the press; I will not avoid doing what I think is right ; though it should draw on me the whole artillery of libels; all that falsehood and malice can invent, or the credulity of a deluded populace can swallow... Once for all, let it be understood that no endeavours of this kind will influence any man who at present sits here".

* Meanwhile the Bar elections are scheduled to be held on February 19. Most members specially the junior Bar, feel that they have been neglected by the hierarchy of the BASL. The elections come; promises are made , but the important question is what have the past office bearers done to the majority of the members, who belong to a different class of lawyers; the proletariat of the Bar?' They are in the majority. It is time the association did something innovative to improve the position. Otherwise a rebellion will ensue. The standards will erode and ethics will remain only in the statute book.

Gamini Prematilleke, Deputy President of the Bar Association, has pledged, if he is elected , to strive to repeal the Mediation Boards Act. No other Presidential candidate has offered to do the same.

The Mediation Boards Act is a piece of legislation that came into operation as a substitute for the Conciliation Boards Act which had been repealed . The Conciliation Boards Act and the Administration of Justice Law had its undesirable effect on the administration of justice. The UNP pledged to repeal both acts and did repeal them when it came to office.

A few years later when there was no answer to the laws delays and backlog of cases that clog the magistrates and primary courts, many seminars and dialogues with various groups were held on how to overcome these problems which affect the profession. The Premadasa government introduced the Mediation Boards Act, as an alternative method of dispute resolution.

We find at the Mediation Boards, settlements are forced on parties. One method adopted by some members and the chairman are to castigate the legal profession discuss the evil that will fall on them if the matter is referred to Courts and force a settlement. The clients when they are not happy often complain to lawyers that the settlement has been forced on them by the board refusing to issue a letter of non-settlement. The entire system of administration of justice is denigrated by the new found saviours of the poor.

In criminal matters interesting situations have developed. Whenever a person with political or monetary clout commits an offence and the complainant happens to be a person of insignificance, the complaint if it comes within the schedule of the Mediations Boards Act is referred to the Board for settlement. But if the roles are reversed the police refers the matter to courts and often obtains a remand order, and at the end bail is ordered and then the matter is referred to the Mediation Board.

The police has the final say whether to refer a matter to court or to the Mediation Board. This is an unsatisfactory method and tends to lead to a lot of corruption. If in criminal matters wherein the offence disclosed in the complaint is one which comes within the ambit of the schedule of the Mediation Boards Act, then it must be referred to court and the police should be requested to produce both the complainant and the accused to effect an immediate settlement in court. If there is no settlement in court on the first day, then the matter should be referred to the Board for a settlement.

Gamini Prematilleke is the only presidential candidate who has said that he will agitate to repeal or suitably amend the Mediation Boards Act Some years back as soon as this legislation was being discussed, I remember some members saying that they would only vote for the person who pledges to repeal this legislation . Whoever wins the election, he will have to seriously consider and discuss with the Minister of Justice some provisions which are not in the best interest of society.

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