29th November 1998
A little bit of this and that, of what they said
This column which we intend to run regularly will give verbatim snatches of dialogue between the media and ministers and militarymen at the weekly Cabinet briefing. Hope you enjoy it.
On the budget: It was reported in the papers that the President said she designed it, and the Minister took over only from there. There were also newspaper reports about why some proposals were retracted.
Question: Some newspapers reported that the budget was prepared in an ad hoc manner and that it was the President who prepared it while you (Minister G L Peiris) did only the reading of it. It was reported that many of the budget proposals were retracted before they became a fait accompli. What are the ramifications of this situation?
A newspaper also reported that the proposal to scrap the duty-free allowance which was stillborn, was mooted originally by you, because the proposal would further the interests of certain companies which have close connections with you. Can you clarify these matters?
Minister Peiris: I think not all of you, but two or three make use of this Cabinet press briefing to ask these questions. But I will not comment on them. I leave it to the press to judge who these persons are. As far as the other matters are concerned, anyone can change the proposals, and out of the proposals changed only one had any revenue implications. I shall explain this soon, may be before the third reading.
Media: Why does every successive budget entail an increase in the price of liquor, and hence by default a marginalisation of the concept of a wholesome drink? By doing this the government will risk sending the trade underground, which will not only deprive the people of a wholesome drink but will lose revenue for the government as the sale of kasippu is bound to increase.
Media: Further on your liquor policy, you reduced the tax on beer and argued that more people will drink beer. Why not the same argument for arrack. Why don't you apply that to
arrack as well?
Dr. Pieris: What is an excessive increase? I think these are very subjective judgements. About the kasippu issue that is a very controversial question, and when the government prepares the budget the government will have to impose the burdens on someone.
A newspaper reported that the AG had blamed the Justice Minister over the Minister's decision to have the AG face the press on matters relating to a divorce case.
Media: A Sunday paper had published a conversation that took place over the phone between you and the Attorney General, verbatim where the Attorney General is quoted as saying he is sick of the way you are doing things. Will you file a case of defamation against the AG?
Dr. Pieris: No. I don't want to comment on that. I do not want to comment on the AG's issue at all.
Media: When an International Buddhist Conference was held in Colombo, the sale of liquor and meat was banned for three days. For a government which projects itself as multi-ethnic and multi-religious, is it not a transgression on the rights of the minorities?
Minister Mangala Samaraweera: For two days the sale of liquor and meat was banned . The Ministry requested this. And we shall do the same if during any other religious festival or occasion if asked to do so by these communities.
The Brigadier was asked if the security situation was conducive to holding PC elections.
Brigadier Tennekoon said that the security situation has changed and the elections can be held.
By M. Ismeth
Construction contractors have urged the government to withdraw a circular which they say would put more than 1,500 contractors out of job.
W. M. S. L. B. Ratnayake, Chairman of the National Construction Contractors' Association of Sri Lanka, told journalists that they had written to the President and relevant ministers, pointing out the serious consequences if the Public Finance Circular FIN 352(1) of 23 February 98 is implemented.
He said if the circular is implemented it would result in the displacement of over 1500 nationally graded contractors who had not registered with the Institute for Construction Training and Development (ICTAD).
The association has appealed to the President to withdraw the circular and appoint a committee of experts to recommend remedial action.
By Kumaradasa Wagista
The Colombo Municipal Council will operate a blood bank as a joint venture with the Medical Services Trust of the Colombo Fort Rotary Club.
The blood bank will function on a non-profit making basis and necessary equipment, furniture and fittings will be purchased and installed by the Trust.
One of the conditions laid down by CMC is that blood can be sold only to the public at a price that does not exceed the rates of the National Blood Bank (NBB) of the Ministry of Health. The new blood bank will be accomodated in a CMC building at Arnold Ratnayake Mawatha, Colombo 10.
Mayor Karu Jayasuriya submitted the joint venture proposal to the Council on Friday.
By Shelani de Silva
Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara has launched a one-man crusade against a proposed salary hike to MPs.
Dubbed anti-salary increase campaign, he launched his protest last week in the wake of reports that Parliamentary Affairs Minister was to move a resolution in parliament, seeking enhanced salaries for the MPs and ministers.
In letters sent to ministers and MPs, the LSSP parliamentarian from the Ratnapura District, said this was not the time to request higher salaries.
He told The Sunday Times many MPs and ministers had agreed with him but there were a few who felt that a salary increase was needed.
"I told Mr. Fernandopulle that it would be difficult for me to stay with the government when such issues are given priority," he said.
Mr. Nanayakkara also accused the UNP of taking an about turn in the salary issue. "At the initial stages, the UNP opposed it but now it is backing the move," he said.
Defending the proposal, Minister Fernandopulle said the increment was long due because it was proposed in 1996 by the B C Perera Commission Report.
"The increase comes in keeping with par of salary increases of High Court Judges and other Government Servants."
Responding to opposition from some MPs to the move, Mr. Fernandopulle said while some members felt the time was not right to increase the salaries, others welcomed it.
"We are going ahead with it. But we will discuss the matter with all members before implementing it," he said.
UNP General Secretary however reiterated the party stand on the increase stating that they were against any salary increase.
"We have not changed our view but we want the government to give the opposition MPs the same perks enjoyed by the Government MPs," he said.
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse said the timing might not be conducive for a salary hike because the announcement came soon after the budget. "Naturally, people will be angry, when MPs get salary increases and they don't," he said.
MP Reginald Cooray hailed the increase, saying it would benefit the "poor MPs''."I know of some MPs who get about Rs. 4,500 after the deductions are made in their salaries. I am not talking about the politicians who have business and other avenues of income," he said.
Former Finance Minister Ronnie De Mel was philosophical. He said when a person enters politics he does it to serve the people not to ask for higher salaries and higher perks.
"When we went to Parliament we knew we had to sacrifice a lot but I do not know what the MP of today wants," he said.
A group fighting for good governance has said MPs are not entitled to a remuneration hike at a time when all other public servants are hit by the high cost of living.
"If government finances do not permit increases in remuneration to public servants, how can politicians justify increasing their own remuneration," Avadhi Lanka said in a statement.
Highlighting the hardships faced by the common man, the statement said, that ministers would get an increase of as much as 70 percent, in addition to the entertainment allowance, fuel allowance and driver's allowance. They also enjoy other perks such as duty free import of vehicles, telephone and postal facilities and subsidised meals in the Parliamentary canteen, it said.
The organisation stressed that an increase in the allowance for a politician or any other employee can be justified on the basis that there is an increase in productivity. "How productive has the work of politicians been?" it asked.
Justice Minister G.L. Peiris on Friday failed to defend Attorney General Sarath Silva on allegations of abuse of power, committing adultery and misleading the nation with comments made to the national media.
The allegations were made by UNP National List MP Sarath Kongahage winding up his speech on the votes of the Ministry of Justice. He said even members of the Government had their reservations on the Attorney General's conduct.
Mr. Kongahage claimed that even the President was reported to have said she believed the CID chief over the AG when a dispute arose between them.
The AG had been reported to have also said that he was 'sick' of the Justice Minister and the way he was running the Ministry.
Mr.Kongahage referred to a personal case of the AG and produced some documents to indicate that the AG had violated the establishment Code relating to high standards that must be maintained by senior public servants.
Dr. Peiris neither interrupted the UNP MP nor replied to allegations made by Mr. Kongahage on the AG.
With reference to a last week news item headlined "Did Minister get the gangster out?" in The Sunday Times, which stated that Minister A.H.M. Fowzie is alleged to have sought Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku's intervention to get a most wanted gang lord who was involved in a series of murders and arms supplies to the underworld released from custody.
Mr. Kodituwakku acknowledges the fact that Mr. Fowzie contacted him in this connection and requested him only to carry out a full and impartial inquiry as the suspect has made some allegations and not requested to release the suspect.
Note: Our reporter stands by his story.
Ten sailors were suspended from service yesterday for their alleged involvement in a rampage on Thursday in Pitiwella, Galle where more than 80 houses were damaged.
The Southern Navy Commander, Sarath Weerasekera told The Sunday Times an inquiry would be held and action would be taken against those found guilty.
Commander Weerasekara said he would request Navy Chief Cecil Tissera to transfer him to another camp, because such an incident had taken place when he was in charge of the base.
Commander Weerasekara yesterday addressed a meeting in Galle, discussing the plight of those whose houses and other possessions had been destroyed. More than than 500 persons attended this meeting at Medankara Maha Vidyalaya.
"This is the most unfortunate day of my career in the Navy. Even though I have served in the North and East, I have never faced such a tragic situation. On this occasion the sailors have acted in an indisciplined and unpleasant manner. Strict action would be taken against them," he said.
Those resonsible should be forced to pay compensation for the damage inflicted on the properties of the people of the area, he said
Southern Province Governor Neville Kanakaratne, and Minister Amarasiri Dodangoda were also present at this meeting.
The incident had taken place following a dispute between a few village youth returning after a sports event and some sailors out for a stroll from the Boossa camp.
Police and Navy sent reinforcements to the area to bring the situation under control.
More News/Comments * Pay more for post soon * Foul play in sports club: excise men blow whistle * CP sets out policy for provincial polls * Kenneth: A man who lived well and died well * Resistance to Lumbini ranveta ends * Bloody error, patient dies * Charity bazaar promotes family values
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