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10th January 1999

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No pharmacist no pharmacy

By Faraza Farook

Opening of new pharmacies will not be approved unless a pharmacist is physically present at all times to run the pharmacy, National Drug Quality Assurance Lab Director Ajith Mendis said.

Mr. Mendis said the pharmacists' training programme carried out by the Health Ministry will ensure sufficient qualified pharmacists and would overcome the problem of quacks operating as pharmacists.

"Most pharmacists are unaware of the regulations governing the Cosmetic Devices and Drugs Act and are involved in the illegal sale of unauthorised drugs," he said.

The flying squad in actionA programme to educate pharmacists on these regulations and the gravity of selling such unauthorised drugs is being carried out in every province except the North and the East and in Puttalam district.

"There has been no co-ordination between the Food and Drugs Inspectors and the pharmacists. We failed to understand why some pharmacists were ignorant of the regulations governing pharmacies and thus engaged in the sale of these drugs. Now that we have identified the problem we have made arrangements for monthly meetings between Medical Officer of Health and the pharmacists in the area," Mr. Mendis said.

Mr. Mendis said that regulations would be amended soon to enable the imposition of heavy fines on offenders.

Chief Food and Drug Inspector L. Karunathilake said last year alone more than Rs. 10,000 worth of drugs had been seized by the Food and Drugs Inspectors (FDI) and other authorised officers.

He said there had been 50 prosecutions last year with 35 convictions.

Mr. Karunathilake disclosed that the flying squad carried out 293 raids last year and detected 214 unregistered drugs, 112 smuggled drugs, 1190 outdated drugs, 18 state owned drugs (which are not for sale in the private sector) and nine prohibited drugs.

P. Madarasinghe, an inspector attached to the National Drug Quality Assurance Lab said, "we even seize syringes, condoms, cotton wool and other surgical items which are outdated but are available for sale or are in use in at hospitals".

Helping hands for acid victim

The heart-rending story of Herath Bandage Kusumawathie, 46, who was force-fed acid by her cruel employer in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, has brought an immediate response, not only from the government but also from several concerned people, after it was published in The Sunday Times.

Labour Minister John Seneviratne has directed Foreign Employment Bureau (SLBFE) officials to visit Kusumawathie's humble home in Pahala Kalankuttiya near Kekirawa in the dry zone.

SLBFE Chairman Kapil Abeyratne was so moved that he advised his officials "not to go empty-handed". So, last Wednesday (January 6), when Kusumawathie and her husband, Mudiyanselage Banda, trudged home after a visit to the Tambuttegama Hospital for treatment for her, there was succour in the form of an initial payment of Rs. 10,000 from the SLBFE.

SLBFE Deputy General Manager (Foreign Relations) L.K. Ruhunage and Manager (Welfare) Mallika Liyanarachchi armed with the money and news that they were discussing further compensation, met Kusumawathie around 3 p.m., after a patient wait of two hours.

A shocked Mr. Ruhunage told The Sunday Times that the bureau was discussing with National Insurance Corporation officials how compensation could be worked out for Kusumawathie. "When we decide, we will go to Pahala Kalankuttiya once again as we see that it is difficult for her to move around with her severe injuries and coming to the bureau would be a strain for her," he said.

He also thanked The Sunday Times for highlighting her plight and bringing it to the notice of the bureau.

Minister Seneviratne has also instructed the bureau to inform the Sri Lankan Embassy in Saudi Arabia of this incident, so that officials there could hold further inquiries, Mr. Ruhunage said.

Meanwhile, several concerned people phoned and one even came to The Sunday Times office with offers of help. We requested them to send the monies directly to Kusumawathie in the form of money orders to this address: H.B. Kusumawathie, Pahala Kalankuttiya, Kalankuttiya, Galnewa.

One call from a British television journalist who was on holiday in Bentota was particularly moving. His 11-year-old daughter who read the story had been so upset that she insisted her father visit Pahala Kalankuttiya. She and his wife had wanted him to give Kusumawathie the money he would have spent on their Christmas presents, amounting to US $ 200 (about Rs. 13,000).

So he was on the phone from Bentota to get directions. He was going to Sigiriya and then on to Pahala Kalankuttiya on Friday, before flying back to Hong Kong where he works.

Athas case in High Court

By Chaminda Gunasekara

The Attorney General has filed indictment against two Air Force officers for committing criminal trespass, intimidation and unlawfully entering the residence of The Sunday Times Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent Iqbal Athas with weapons early last year.

Squadron Leaders Rukman Herath and Sujeewa Kannangara were the two accused indicted before the Colombo High Court. Sqr Ldr. Herath was a bodyguard of the former Air Force Commander whilst Sqr . Ldr. Kanangara was a former head of the Special Airborne Force (SABN).

The two officers were charged with unlawfully entering the residence of Mr. Athas at Nugegoda with another group during the night of February 12, last year and also threatening Mr. Athas at gunpoint to cause fatal injuries.

Twelve witnesses including a prison guard and two CID officers have been listed as witnesses in the case.

The two Air Force officers were taken into custody by CID on a complaint made by Mr. Athas and produced before the Gangodawila Magistrate for identification parade. They were remanded after Mr. Athas and his wife Anoma, identified them but were later released on bail. When the case was before the Gangodawila Magistrate, a further 26 airmen of the Special Airborne Force (SABF) were produced four months later (with 200 others) at an identification parade but none of them were identified by the three prosecution witnesses Mr. Athas, his wife Anoma Prasani and Marimuttu Subramaniam, an aide.

EPF men plan more raids

By Nilika de Silva

With 10,000 complaints of non-payment of EPF being reported last year, the Labour Ministry has recruited 200 officers to carry out raids on companies.

Labour Minister John Seneviratne told The Sunday Times these recruits had been given specialised training and taught the legal procedure to handle matters.

Claiming that 40 percent of the Sri Lankan work force were not benefited by the Employees Provident Fund, the minister said the purpose of the intensified raids was to ensure that all employers comply with EPF regulations.

The EPF data of the Central Bank show a doubling of the number of employees registered with the fund from 1982 to 1997, while the number of employers who have contributed has also increased dramatically.

Assistant Labour Commissioner R. M. R. Ratnayake, describing the functions of the Department of Labour said, "This is not an administrative department. This is a technical department for the workers."

He said about 50 percent of workers were not being properly treated and it was the department's duty to see that they were treated well by employers.

Mr. Ratnayake said a form has been introduced to facilitate the work and speedy action when complaints regarding non-payment of the EPF were made.

Tourist inn 'The Villa'manager tied up and brutally shot down

His New Year dawned with deadly bang

By Chris Kamalendran

The popular tourist resort area of Bentota in the southern coast was making preparations to mark the dawn of the new year with many hotels packed to capacity.

The Villa, a walauwa turned tourist inn, situated less than one kilometre off the Bentota town was also fully occupied with almost 90 per cent of the guests being British tourists on that fateful new year's eve.

The staff was kept occupied throughout the day and was relaxing shortly after midnight on December 30. Many of the guests were also fast asleep, unaware of the drama unfolding outside The Villa beside the beach.

This is where the tragedy occuredA gang of eight hooded men clad in trousers had entered the hotel premises by scaling a side wall. They had parked their getaway vehicle on the Galle Road and walked nearly 200 metres to reach the Villa.

Once they reached the hotel they first over-powered two security guards Chrishantha Jayasinghe and Piyasiri Nakandala who were on duty at the backyard of the hotel.

Mr. Jayasinghe, a former Reserve Police constable recounting the events of that terror-filled night told The Sunday Times that the gang threatened them at gun point and warned them not to make any noise.

"We were taken to different locations. I was taken to the front of the hotel. They wanted to tie me to a tree in front of the hotel.

One of the gang members said that I could be seen if I was tied there. So they took me to a corner, gagged me and tied me to a tree', Mr. Jayasinghe said.Chrishantha Jayasinghe

The gang took the other security guard along with them and asked him to call for the Manager, Ernest Wedanda. The 52-year-old manager had been serving in the same capacity for the past 10 years.

Responding to guard Piyasiri, Mr. Wedanda came out. No sooner he came out than he was overpowered and asked to hand over the keys to the office and safe.

Mr. Wedanda, a father of two children was then tied to a wooden post while the security guard was taken to the office and the safe was opened up.

They wrapped the loot cash and other valuables with a sarong they had picked up from there. The gang got away with Rs. 300,000 cash and seven British passports which had been kept for safe keeping.

Meanwhile Mr. Jayasinghe who managed to untie himself, ran to the next hotel and alerted the security guard there. But the lone guard was only able to allow Mr. Jayasinghe to proceed towards staff quarters of the hotel and alert the employees resting there.

One of the employees of the adjoining hotel immediately rushed to the gate of 'Villa' and banged on the gate shouting that police had come.

Soon after a gunshot was heard from inside the hotel and the gang members escaped.

The worst had happened, Mr. Wedanda had been shot at by the gang members.

One of the first to raise cries was Jenny Botsford, a British national holidaying in Sri Lanka.

Ms. Botsford heard a man crying in pain calling her. Her room was close to where Mr. Wedanda was shot. He had fallen beside the small swimming pool, just adjoining the wooden post he had been tied few minutes earlier.

Ms. Botsford came to his help. The manager gave her the number to call the Bentota police. But they found the gang had cut off the telephone wires.

But within a few minutes, they were able to locate a mobile phone and alert the police. The police came, nearly an hour after the incident had occurred and took him to hospital. On the way Mr. Wedanda had inquired 'Mama Meraida' (will I die?) and wanted him to be taken to Nawaloka hospital.

But on admission to the Bentota Hospital he was pronounced dead.

Mr. Wedanda, a few hours before his death was seen entertaining some of the children with some of his legendary magic card tricks. Ironically, one of the games he played was about four kings who try to rob a palace.

Mr. Wedanda while entertaining the children was overheard by the guest saying "children are like flowers. If you don't like children, you don't like humanity."

IP Kapila Premadasa OIC Bentota, said he strongly suspected that the gangsters had killed the Manager knowing that he had identified one of them.

According to preliminary investigations the shot was fired from a Galkatas.

The van used by the gang had been found abandoned at Elpitiya.

This van too had been robbed two days earlier. The gang had first hired the van from Nugegoda but later they beat the driver and took the van away.

Police have questioned more than 50 persons and four special teams including a CID team have been assigned for investigations.

Police are also keeping a track about the seven British passports which had been removed from the safe.

'Yoga Mohandas, Deputy Manager of the Villa, described his manager as a 'very nice gentleman' and said some of the eyewitnesses to the incident were scared to talk about the matter thinking that their lives life would be in danger."

D.M. Jayananda , a steward said he woke up immediately after the sound of gunfire. "I rushed out of the room, only to find my manager in a pool of blood."

Mr. Wedanda leaves behind his wife Shenaz, a Maldivian National and two children.

Soon after the incident some of the guests were seen hastily checking out but they did not fail to write tributes to Mr Wedanda in the condolence book.

"Amid the noise and the haste remember what peace there may be in silence.....," one guest wrote.

Another wrote: 'Dear Ernest. I just wanted to thank you very much for all you did to make our stay at the Villa so special... you were there making sure everything went like clockwork'.

"Ernest and his staff deserve the Nobel Prize for creating such a wonderful atmosphere," another remarked.

"Died and gone to heaven," was another simple but powerful note written on the condolence book.

Right of reply

Kumar flies away, giving slip to CID-

I refer to the Page One story under the above caption in 'The Sunday Times' of 22nd November 1998.

I saw this story on my return to the island on 25th December 1998.

My trip overseas was fixed months before the 19th November 1998, which was the date on which I left. My bookings of air tickets, my application for visas to Thailand and Malaysia, my intimation to the various High Court Judges and Magistrates, will all show that my travel arrangements had been finalised weeks before the 17th November 1998 when my interview on Swarnavahini took place and which was the cause of your story.

Besides this, the trip I undertook was one of two or three such trips I undertake annually to Malaysia and Singapore and one of which is during this time of the year and which I have been doing for the past many years.

I am not a coward to run away from any situation. This apart, if I was a coward I would not be saying the things I have been saying for some time now. And, may I add in passing , that I stand by every word of what I have said in that interview on Swarnavahini.

This being the case, I request you to graciously tender an unqualified apology to me to have painted a "slippery" picture of me which has hurt me and my reputation and is highly defamatory of me considering my station in society.

May I also request you, very, very kindly, to give the same prominence to your apology as you have given to the story under consideration.

Kumar Ponnambalam

SLMC rebel blasts Ashraff policies

By Roshan Peiris

A rebel SLMC politician has accused the party leader and Minister M. H. M. Ashraff of nepotism and creating wrong impressions about Muslims among other communities.

"The dictatorship of Mr Ashraff cannot be tolerated by any right thinking person," M. M. Mustapha, the former national organiser of the SLMC told The Sunday Times.

Mr. Mustapha who is leading a breakaway group said family members were given priority over party stalwarts who helped to form and build up the party.

He said he decided to resign from the party because some of Mr. Ashraff's activities had created wrong impressions about Muslims among other communities.

Providing employment only to Muslim youth has created a misunderstanding among the other communities. Cabinet Ministers and even the President has pointed out the need for rapport with all communities," he said.

Mr. Mustapha charged that the SLMC leader was suffering from "a fear psychosis" and thus he did not wish others becoming more popular than him.

Mr. Mustapha said the rights enjoyed by Muslims under the UNP government had been denied under this government and Mr Ashraff being a minister had done little to win back these rights.

"We had a Muslim Cultural Ministry then. Also the Haj festival was declared a holiday and above all a Muslim governor was appointed under the UNP," he said.

No purposeful effort to fight LTTE- ex intelligence chief

Successive Sri Lankan governments have failed to fight the LTTE purposefully and so far no leader has been able to place the country on a war footing and make the war one of national concern., according to Edward Gunawardena, a former intelligence chief.

Edward GunawardenaMr. Gunawardena presenting a paper recently at a conference organised by the International Institute of Non-aligned Studies in New Delhi said there were also others who believed that the war was destined to drag on because it is tainted with corruption.

Mr. Gunewardena's paper was titled 'Terrorism; Threat to the 21st Century-Forseeable trends in Sri Lanka'.

"They, inter alia express concern about the emergence of a new breed of rich people with political clout who benefit immensely from the war economy; the blatant lack of accountability; military debacles and major disasters superficially investigated; massive scandals in the procurement of military hardware and the ostentatious living of politicians while thousands are suffering in the battlefields, border villages and refugee camps.

'The marked erosion of the credibility of those at the helm of affairs for nearly two decades, has not only affected the morale of the fighting forces leading to large scale desertions but also citizens in general who often wonder whether the funds voted by Parliament to fight the terrorists are well spent.,'he said.

Mr. Gunawardena was a Fulbright Scholar in Criminal Justice in the sixties and was Director of Intelligence in the 70s retired from the police force as a DIG.

He said that in Colombo as well as in other major cities the fear of terrorist attacks was ever present. "The abundance of armed military and Police at checkpoints the barricading of highways in proximity to vital installations and the sporadic closure of roads for the security of VIP movements are constraints that the populace is learning to live with.

"The ever increasing cost of this war and the mounting expenditure on strengthening the defences against terrorist attacks have had a crippling impact on the economy. Coupled with the prevailing recession, hopes of a good life at the beginning of the next millennium are indeed dismal," Mr Gunawardena added.

He said it was perhaps out of a genuine concern that a major slide in the economy would inevitably lead to social unrest and rebellion like in 1971 or in the late 80s, that the business community led by Lalith Kotelawela had embarked on an initiative to bring about consensus among the major political parties in the search for a peaceful solution. "However, with party politics in the country being highly confrontational, consensus on this crucial national issue will remain a distant prospect," he said.

"The ongoing conflict is so entwined with national politics that a military victory, although it will not guarantee a lasting peace will undoubtedly give the ruling party a political boost that will ensure electoral success. Hence it is reasonable to presume that the government will strive for victory over the LTTE by its own efforts and strategies with the hope of enjoying the fruits of victory alone," he said.

He added that the government had on numerous occasions set deadlines for victory more often than not to coincide with political events such as local elections or Independence celebrations.

"This shortsighted policy has already resulted in disastrous consequences.With the selfish desire on the part of the ruling party to obtain maximum mileage from the popularity that is bound to follow a military defeat of the LTTE,the likelihood of arriving at a national consensus becomes further remote," he said.

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