The Sirisena Cooray controversy took a dramatic turn when the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe cracked the whip on dissidents and announced that the party could not attend the Premadasa commemoration ceremony organised by the Premadasa Centre.
Mr. Wickremesinghe announced this decision to get tough at a special UNP Parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday.
The UNP had earlier decided to attend today's ceremony but the turn- around came on the basis that the party had been sidelined in the organising of the event and also possibly in the belief that the charges levelled against Mr. Cooray are of a grave nature and the UNP apparently wants to steer clear of the controversy.
However the Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera who had tried to mediate in the dispute between the Premadasa Centre and the UNP, is disappointed over the latest turn of events.
He feels the UNP has let him down after persuading him to meet and coax Mr. Cooray.
The monk, apparently shaken by the decision told this column he would be compelled to come out strongly against the UNP leadership.
"They played me out", he charged.
"I told this to Karu Jayasuriya (UNP Chairman) when he telephoned me. I said the same thing to Milinda Moragoda and Bodhie Ranasinghe.
The Ven. Gunawansa Thera who had also been in the thick of things when a breakaway UNP group headed by Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake tried to impeach President Premadasa in 1992, had told Mr. Wickremesinghe that he should win the hearts of his party membership rather than trying to control them otherwise.
He told this column that he had alerted Mr. Wickremesinghe to the perks in the political sphere since many UNP members, according to the Rev. Gunawansa, are unhappy over the 'headmaster" attitude adopted by the leader.
When an apologetic Mr. Jayasuriya telephoned on Wednesday night, the monk said saying sorry would not repair the damage caused to his dignity.
In last Tuesday's clampdown ceremony Mr. Wickremesinghe also warned he would get tough with any party member who refused to toe the party line.
"I will be tough and get tougher in the future as well", he told MPs, explaining why he had removed Sarath Kongahage from all the posts he held in the UNP.
Now Mr. Kongahage is facing the danger of being removed from Parliament too because of his alleged misconduct.
Mr. Wickremesinghe has accused Mr. Kongahage of concocting an impeachment story involving the UNP and conniving with newspaper columnists to publish some sensitive information which might damage the party.
But Mr. Kongahage who entered Parliament through the SLMP after the death of Ossie Abeygoonasekera denies any knowledge of an impeachment move against President Kumaratunga and says he was not in touch with newspaper columnists to discredit or embarrass the UNP.
He told this column he was not involved in any activity against the party.
Mr. Kongahage, did not attend Tuesday's special Parliamentary group meeting though it was he who had asked for such a session to fully discuss the current position or popularity of the party.
The young MP obviously had to choose between the group meeting and the fundamental rights case filed on behalf of former UNP General Secretary Sirisena Cooray. Being a Cooray loyalist, he finally decided to go for the case, though he said he went in his capacity as a lawyer and junior to K.N. Choksy, who was appearing for Mr. Cooray.
Mr. Wickremesinghe's decision to remove Mr. Kongahage and also his wife, Shanthini, from a post in a UNP women's group was welcomed by many party members as a move to restore discipline but others expressed doubts about the timing.
"His aim is to put the party on the correct path and he is doing it with authority", one member said. He said not a single MP at Tuesday's meeting had objected to the action taken against Mr. Kongahage.
According to some members, Mr. Wickremesinghe told MPs they must be more cautious in speaking to the media.
If he found that sensitive information regarding the UNP had been leaked to the media, he would not hesitate to name the suspect who had acted against party's interests, he warned. He would also compel them to deny such stories published in the media. Mr. Wickremesinghe is seeking the approval of the working committee for this move but some members feel that the muzzling of UNPers runs, contrary to the party's pledges on media freedom.
Wickremesinghe loyalists say he is only trying to discipline the members, but others say it could amount to an interference with the freedom of information and expression.
Thus it is feared that the media policy of a UNP administration may not be much better than Jayewardene or Premadasa policy where out- wardly media freedom was proclaimed but inwardly there was suppression and at times even a throttling of the media.
Strangely, many UNPers point out that the largest degree of media freedom was given by D. B. Wijetunga who spoke little about such precepts but gave a lot.
At one group meeting when members complained about newspapers, President Wijetunga told them newspapers were there to be read and discarded the next day. He urged them to be patient in the face of newspaper criticism.
At last Tuesday's meeting, Mr. Wickremesinghe also announced disciplinary action against four others - one time Deputy Minister H.R. Piyasiri former MP Madurapala Ediriweera, Asoka Danawansa de Silva and Azad Sally.
These UNPers had allegedly participated in discussions with Mr. Cooray on the Premadasa commemoration ceremony.
However Nandimithra Soysa who also attended one of the meetings with Mr. Cooray has not been taken to task and party members are wondering why.
At this meeting intended for stock-taking and bridging the gap between the UNP hierarchy and rank and file, Sarath Amunugama observed that the youth who were disappointed with the PA government were turning to the JVP. If the UNP wanted to woo them, it should become revolutionary in its image, he said.
Former Minister D.J.M. Lokubandara said the Wijetunga policies had paid dividends and that the UNP had lost by only one seat. Therefore there was no reason to deviate from the Sinhala Buddhist policies of the party.
Ananda Kularatne, the driving force behind the Yovun Peramuna said whatever shortcomings this organisation might have, it would grow up to be a powerful force in the future. Party General Secretary Gamini Atukorale defended the role of Sri Kotha and replied some of the criticisms made against the party.
Mr. Wickremesinghe, said a review of the party's position, policies and rating would be carried out every three months. He emphasized this sort of stock-taking was essential for a major political party if it wanted to win the next elections.
Meanwhile, speculation over the reasons for the detention of former UNP strongman Sirisena Cooray is still rampant. The latest theory involves two dissident EPDP MPs.
These two, R. Rameswaram and his brother R. Ramalingam, had met President Kumaratunga after they spoke to Mr. Cooray who reportedly advised them to stick with the EPDP leadership.
According to insiders, something that transpired at the meeting between the President and the two rebel MPs contributed to the arrest of Mr. Cooray.
A Senior Cabinet Minister said if Mr. Cooray had not held talks with the EPDP rebels, nothing would have happened to him.
The story doing the rounds is that the two EPDP rebels had told President Kumaratunga something Mr. Cooray had told them and this led to the sensational detention.
But the case against Mr. Cooray is widely believed to be weak. This was somewhat evident when the Attorney General sought five weeks time to file objections in the fundamental rights case.
If there was a strong case, the AG would not have asked for so much time.
Some analysts feel the CID has unearthed little or nothing. It is an empty case and finally Mr. Cooray would walkout on a stronger footing.
While the Cooray controversy continued, there were moves to resolve the Kongahage affair.
Shanthini Kongahage got an appointment to meet Mr. Wickremesinghe on Thursday morning at his chamber but when she walked in he asked why Sarath did not come.
So she went back and returned with him. Mr. Wickremesinghe then outlined the charges against Mr. Kongahage, including the alleged impeachment move.
Mr. Kongahage reportedly listened carefully and presented his defence. Insiders say the dispute is now virtually settled, but Mr. Kongahage has been banned from attending today's Premadasa Commemoration ceremony. It is believed that Mr. Kongahage will not attend today's meeting, though he obviously would have liked to do so.
Not only Mr. Kongahage, the Premadasa family also will not attend today's ceremony.
Mr. Wickremesinghe himself will be in Kandy to see former President D.B. Wijetunga who is not well. Thereafter, he will fly to Hong Kong for the historic transition of Asia's little economic powerhouse from British to Chinese sovereignty.
So it seems that Mr. Wickremesinghe has had his say and had his way.
He had effectively used the Kongahage case to tell the membership that they must follow party guidelines or go.
It appears that Mr. Kongahage had to bite the dust and Mr. Wickremesinghe has won the battle. But pitfalls still lie ahead and what would happen is uncertain.
After settling the Kongahage issue Mr. Wickremesinghe had another significant appointment - a farewell lunch for US Ambassador Peter Burleigh at Anura Bandaranaike's 65 A, Rosmead Place residence with luncheon guests including Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and two other political widows - Srimani Athulathmudali and Srima Dissanayake.
They had baked crab, seer and assorted salads while talking of cabbages and kings.
Political circles believe that Mr. Burleigh had apparently submitted a report to Washington, which is not favourable to the Kumaratunga government. But not much was said about that.
Apart from the lunch at Rosmead Place, former Minister Srimani Athulathmudali had a one-to-one chat with Ms. Bandaranaike at her Rosmead Place residence. Ms. Athulathmudali said her removal from the Cabinet was a breach of the Agreement reached by them before the General Election in 1994
The Prime Minister promised she would look into the matter. But there is speculation that the SLFP will soon go through a complete overhaul where President Kumaratunga will take over the party leadership from the ailing Sirima.
In the process, it is also likely that the present General Secretary Dharmasiri Senanayake might be replaced either by. S.B. Dissanayake or Mangala Samaraweera.
Mr. Samaraweera seems to have begun his stint as Media Minister with the state media focusing more attention on the UNP. During the past few days, the state media has been concentrating attention on the UNP, and most of it to project a party in crisis.
As a blue-blooded Kumaratunga loyalist he is faithfully performing the task of undermining the Opposition through the media.
Mr. Samaraweera was off to a rather controversial start when he presided over the first news briefing on Wednesday. In answer to a question he maintained his earlier remarks that he felt some journalists could be bought for a bottle of arrack though this time he took another mischievous shot, saying he would change that for a shirt! (but, we hope, not for a telephone!)
However he levelled the playing field when asked whether it was the same with politicians, he replied that it could be so. One angry journalist proposed a walk-out in protest against Mr. Samaraweera's remark but others preferred to wait and see. In any event the course of goodwill and accommodation rather than confrontation may bring more fruitful results.
In another development, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe met Minister G.L. Peiris for dinner at Visumpaya, along with several associates. They spoke mainly about the political package.
Dr. Peiris described how the PA allowed the UNP to contribute towards the search for a just and peaceful solution to the ethnic crisis. He said the government did not intend to take the sole credit for any kind of solution but was ready to accommodate the UNP in the process.
But Mr. Wickremesinghe suggested the LTTE too should be a party to the negotiations and said this was discussed during his recent visit to Britain.
Dr. Peiris said he too had discussed this problem in Britain but told them that getting the LTTE involved in the process at this stage was of little use as the government and the Opposition reached an understanding on how to solve the crisis.
Apart from this the Select Committee on Constitutional Reforms also met to consider various problems faced by the minorities.
When others talked of quotas in fields such as education and employment on the basis of ethnic proportion, the NDUN(L)F's Ravi Karunanayake said the ethnic proportion should be applied to land as well. In that event the North-East province would cover 12% of the total land extent not the 28% as claimed by some Tamil parties. But his proposal ran into plenty of opposition.
Dr. Peiris said the PSC would not be sitting again for some time. It was not being wound up but would be reactivated if and when necessary. A report on the PSC discussion would be given to the media soon as proposals of the government. UNP's A.C.S. Hameed wanted to know whether the proposals would have the endorsement of all of the constituent parties of the PA. Minister Peiris replied that the endorsement would come from the Cabinet. Mr. Hameed then said that if the remaining areas also could be discussed and released, then the Opposition would have before it the comprehensive picture and would be able to take a stand.
There was a difference of view between Minister Peiris and Mr. Hameed on the basic approach to future elections. Dr. Peiris maintained that the government's view is that there should be two systems of elections. The number of seats in Parliament should be 198 and that 50% of them should be elected through direct elections bringing back the former constituency system, while the balance 99 would be elected on the regional PR.
Mr. Hameed while welcoming the introduction of the constituency system and the regional PR said that the whole basis should be PR. In other words he was suggesting the German model where after the votes of a particular area are counted, first the number of seats are determined for each party and then those who won through a direct constituency contest would be first given their seats and the balance would be distributed among those on the list. Minister Peiris, however, said the Manifesto of the PA stood for two systems of elections.
Rauf Hakeem of the SLMC believed the PA's position was that it was based on the German system. Dr. Peiris stressed that the government's position is for the constituency system to ensure that the people had an MP to go to and also that there could be by-elections. He pointed out that by-elections were not possible under the present system. However, Mr. Hameed argued that both the constituency system and by-elections were possible within the German system. No agreement was reached.
In another move the Cabinet has decided to grant relief to a local company which lost millions over a fertilizer deal. The relief was proposed by Minister D. M. Jayaratne. He outlined the case in a Cabinet paper which states:
" M/s Claude Camredon of Switzerland who responded to a tender announced by the Ceylon Fertilizer Co. Ltd. (CFC) on 18.01.1995, was awarded a tender for the supply of 12,500 MT of Urea at US$ 197 per MT C &FFO, as their tender was responsive in all aspects.
2. Their local Agents M/s D. Samson & Sons Ltd, (DSS) of 110, Kumaran Ratnam Road, Colombo 02, provided a Performance Bond in a sum of Rs. 12,312,500 from the Hatton National Bank for the due performance of the contract entered into between Ceylon Fertilizer Ltd, and M/s Claude Camredon of Switzerland. The Letter of Credit for the tender was established on 08.03.1995. However, the tenderer was unable to supply the fertilizer during the stipulated period after several extensions were granted by CFC.
3. Since the validity of the Letter of Credit established for the supply of 12,500 MT of Urea, as per tender referred to above, expired on 17.11.1995 the CFC-lodged a claim with the Hatton National Bank and recovered a sum of Rs. 12,312,500 as value of the Performance Bond furnished by DSS.
4. DSS has appealed to me for relief, as they have lost a sum of Rs. 12,312, 500 which was paid by them as the Performance Bond on behalf of the supplier of the above contract, M/s Claude Camredon of Switzerland. Under normal circumstances the Performance Bond is provided by the foreign supplier. But, in this instance, DSS, who had no previous experience in fertilizer business and having entered into fertilizer trade for the first time in their business life, provided a sum of Rs.12,312,500 as Performance Bond, at their expense for the above contract in the belief that fertilizer could be supplied at the agreed price. Consequently DSS had incurred a loss of Rs. 12,312,500 by forfeiting Performance Bond on account of a default on the part of their foreign supplier. They have appealed to me to take into consideration the following facts and provide relief to them either by refunding the value of the forfeited Performance Bond of Rs. 12,312,500 and for the CFC to recover only the cost of the Letter of Credit which works out to Rs. 3,073,909 or by allowing them to perform the contract by validating the Letter of Credit.
5. I have verified the facts stated by DSS in their appeal, as well as their bona-fides as businessmen. The DSS Group is a Sri Lankan company owned by Sinhalese Buddhist shareholders. The group consist of companies shown in the table have given direct employment for more than 250,000 people by way of sub-contracts etc. and also earning a considerable amount of foreign exchange to the country.
This company has ventured into fertilizer business for the first time. As newcomers, they have had no experience in this type of business. Although, they have quoted a price as low as US$ 197 per MT of Urea in the genuine belief that they would be able to supply the fertilizer, the actual price of Urea in the International Market, as evident from subsequent purchases made by the CFC ranged between US$ 221 to 270 per MT.
6. I referred their appeal to the Penalty & Claims Committee of the CFC. The Committee has examined their appeal and has conveyed to me their view, that if any relief is to be granted to DSS by way of refund of the value of the Performance Bond already forfeited, the CFC would be legally or morally obliged to grant similar concessions to 4 other companies, who had also defaulted in the supply of Urea fertilizer, and therefore, have forfeited their Performance Bonds. The total value of the Performance Bonds of the 4 companies which the CFC has recovered amounts to Rs. 45,961,516. Therefore, granting such relief by refund of the Performance Bond would create and unhealthy precedent and would jeopardize the business conduct of the CFC as a state owned company dealing with fertilizer business.
7. However having taken into consideration the appeal made by DSS Ltd, and having also acknowledged the fact that the full value of the Performance Bond has been furnished by the local agent for the supply of fertilizer in the above case, whereas the Performance Bond is normally furnished by the foreign principals as a special measure of relief to them, the Penalty & Claims Committee has recommended that the request of DSI Ltd. to allow them to perform the contract be granted to their by submitting a fresh Letter of Credit on the same terms and conditions. It also recommended that the time period to be allowed for them to perform on a new Letter of Credit should not be extended beyond 31 March, 1997.
8. I agree with the above recommendation of the Penalty & Claims Committee. I therefore recommend that Cabinet approval be granted for the CFC to allow D. Samson & Sons Ltd, to perform their contract entered into with the CFC for the supply of 12,500 MT of Urea at US$ 197 per Mt. C & FFO, before 31 March 1997 as a special case.
9. Copies of this Memorandum have been sent to the Ministry of Finance, Planning, Ethnic Affairs and National Integration, for their observations.
Minister of Agriculture, Lands & Forestry".
19. 2. 997.
The Cabinet also decided that if appeals are received in respect of similar cases mentioned in the memorandum they should be considered under the same terms and conditions.
On the ethnic front, ACTC leader Kumar Ponnambalam is raising serious objections to recent utterances made by PA politicians that there was no Tamil question but only a terrorist problem, states that the question of identity is essential in solving the problem.
Mr. Ponnambalam says "so-called Sinhala intellectuals and hardliners are taking up the position that the Tamils are only a minority and that they are not a nation and they don't have the right to self determination. We do not knew the thinking of the Sinhala masses, the Sinhala Commission is sitting in every nook and corner churning out all sorts of orders geared to the questioning of the identity of Tamils in the country".
Mr. Ponnambalam states that only Thimpu principles could help to establish the Tamil identity.
A statement made by the PLOTE, EPRLF, EROS, LTTE, TELO and TULF at the Thimpu talks in 1985 sets out these principles. They are:
(1) Recognition of the Tamils of Sri Lanka as a distinct nationality;
(2) Recognition of an identified Tamil homeland and the guarantee of its territorial integrity;
(3) Based on the above recognition of the inalienable right of self-determination of the Tamil Nation;
(4) Recognition of the right to full citizenship and other fundamental democratic rights of all Tamils, who look upon the island as their country.
However most of the Tamil parties have not shown much interest regarding the matter, and whether this would gather momentum in the Tamil circles is yet to be seen.
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