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3rd October 1999

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Ranil Wickremesinghe hobnobbing with commuters 
on the Ruhuna Kumari. While some were enthusiastic 
to know what the leader of the Opposition had to 
say others saw it as just another political stunt. 
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Treasury queries port tender on sensitive items

By M. Ismeth and Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Highly sensitive equipment differential and global positioning by satellite (DGPS) imported by the Ports Authority at a cost of Rs. 235m for use in light houses in the South and East have allegedly been cleared without proper Defence Ministry approval.

According to military sources, DGPS is also used by naval forces as it has higher capability and can pinpoint positions instantaneously and not by calculations as in other positioning equipment.

The consignment had been lying in the harbour for some time and now the SLPA has reportedly reclassified the equipment as 'other instruments and applications for a radio communication project.'

According to the invoice an MRB 715 Radio Beacon was also imported. Telecom Regulatory Commission Director R. B. Kumara Pathirana in a letter to the Customs Director General, has said there was no objection to the release of the radio equipment, adding that the letter however was issued on condition that there would be no interference caused to the radio communication and navigational equipment of the security forces. 

The SLPA has accordingly paid Rs. 38m alone as Customs duty for the equipment. 

Navy sources said the purchase of such equipment without Defence Ministry approval or by bypassing the required procedures was like possessing 'a double edged sword' which might pose security threats. 

The sources said that the security implications were heavy and the DGPS was so ultra sensitive that unless the motive for purchasing was absolutely clear, it was best to overrule such purchases. 

The GPS and DGPS purchases, according to sources, have also not conformed to tender procedures, a top Treasury official alleged.

J. W. Ratnayake, Deputy Director Fiscal Policy and Economic Affairs of the Treasury, in his observations to chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority's tender evaluation committee, has said this was a project proposal prepared by an interested party without a formal request on the line ministry or the SLPA:

Survey purchase of land or approvals for location of equipment, obtaining radio frequency approvals, buildings where specifically stated, civil works etc which according to Mr. Ratnayake would cost much higher than the proposed amount.

His observations also shows that any capital project which is to be implemented in any financial year should have been necessarily included in the annual estimates and that it should be indicated in the public interest programme.

"To the proposal it seems that the party A. B. Pharos Marine Ltd has negotiated with the foreign financing agency SIDA. Therefore I doubt how has it been allowed to negotiate for funds on behalf of the Sri Lanka government".

Accordingly, under the sub heading "Financing" Mr. Ratnayake has stated that the project report indicated that the foreign agency SIDA was willing to grant the loan for this project only if the government of Sri Lanka was prepared to award "the tender" to Pharos Marine Ltd.

He further observed that this was a predetermined loan condition which obstructed a fair deal. He said he was not in favour of the proposals recommended sans proper evaluation. Among the objections raised by Mr. Ratnayake were:

* The least cost and maximum benefit to the government cannot be determined.

* Adherence to prescribed standards, rules and regulations not followed.

* Optimum economic advantage to the nation cannot be determined. 

* Equal opportunity for interested parties and persons to participate to render tenders, not given.

* There has been no compliance with domestic and international laws.

However, the Cabinet approved the project proposal subject to the conditions that the tender be examined and the approval of the award be considered vide Cabinet Paper 1997/ 4489/19/013/.


Alliance members call for PA exco meeting

PA constituent parties are calling for a meeting of the alliance's main policy making executive committee to discuss vital issues, including presenting of the devolution package.

The last meeting which was held in August centered around the abolition of the executive presidency however no decision was reached. 

Last week leaders of the Communist Party and the SLMC made a request to the PA General Secretary D M Jayaratne to convene the meeting. However Mr. Jayaratne assured them a meeting would be held once the President returned from the United States.

Mr. Jayaratne left the country last week for medical treatment, without making arrangements for a meeting, The Sunday Times learns.

CP Leader Raja Collure told The Sunday Times they expected a meeeting in September but it was not to be. At the last meeting we discussed about the workers' charter, July strikers issues and amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act. But we did not come to a conclusion," he said.

Mr. Collure said the party had made a request to the government to present the devolution proposals to parliament and it was not done. 

The SLMC too made a request for the meeting to discuss the decentralised budget..

Meanwhile LSSP Leader and Minister Batty Weerakoon told The Sunday Times that his party too was concerned about the delay in holding the PA exco meeting.

ULF Leader Srimani Athulathmudali said the party had not made a request to the Government to hold the executive meeting but they were keen that the meeting was conducted.


Police promotions held up

By Leon Berenger

Promotions of more than 50 senior police officers above the rank of ASP are long overdue, and most of them are complaining that the delay is owing to alleged political victimisation and bureaucratic bungling at the very top.

The officers include ASPs, SPs, SSPs and even DIGs many of whom have even completed stints in difficult areas such as the north and east.

Some of these officers told The Sunday Times that their promotions had been deliberately put on hold despite several representations made to the relevant authorities over a period of time.

In some cases junior officers have been promoted over them causing much heartburn, that could eventually affect their performance, the officers further alleged.

Apart from the senior officers a large number of IPs and CIs are also waiting for their respective promotions that are long overdue, they said.

A spokesman for Police Personnel Department however said that these officers have nothing to cry about since most of them, if not all had received promotions long before they were due, under special schemes that come up from time to time.

However he did not rule out that in some cases political victimisation may be the reason for some of them having their promotions delayed.

In a recent ruling the Supreme Court upheld the fundamental rights applications filed by 22 Police Inspectors who cited discrimination as the main reason for the delay in their due promotions.


Monk behind damage to house, alleges ex DPM

A monk in a temple at Maradana has allegedly damaged the house of a retired deputy post master over a land dispute.

The occupants of the house claim that they lost their electrical goods and jewellery during the incident.

Waduge Somasiri in a complaint to the Maradana Police says the monk together with a gang of about 20 had entered the house through the back entrance breaking down the wall.

"The gang stole my wife's gold chain and attacked her. Chairs and tables were turned upside down, a table fan and a gas cylinder were also taken away. There was only my wife, daughter and a domestic at the time of the incident. The telephone wires had also been disconnected," Mr. Somasiri said in his complaint which he said was his third. 

He claims no action has been taken on his earlier complaints. However the police said they were awaiting a court order. The complainant also says that although he had requested for police protection it had not been given.


Chemmani suspects to answer on graves 

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

The next phase of the investigations into the Chemmani graves will begin tomorrow with investigators recording the statements of those persons implicated by the accused as being responsible for the alleged mass graves.

State Counsel Yasantha Kodagoda who is representing the Attorney General's Department at the investigations said beginning next Monday they would start locating the 20 service personnel implicated by the four prisoners and record their statements. 

Mr. Kodagoda however said while the suspects were implicated in relation to the alleged existence of certain graves, some of these graves did not in fact exist.

Meanwhile the post-exhumation analysis of human skeletal remains is scheduled to begin on October 10 in the presence of two expert foreign observers 


'Free to fly' cases may swamp SC

The Supreme Court is likely to be flooded with FR applications from civilians required to produce Defence Ministry clearance and refused permission to fly to the Northern province, following a FR application submitting that no such clearance is required. 

The Fundamental Rights application was filed by Kumar Ponnambalam on the grounds that he was refused Ministry of Defence clearance and permission to fly to the North to represent the parents and relatives of missing persons at the Chemmani exhumations.

The petitioner said when he went to the Helitours office to obtain a ticket to fly to Jaffna he had been refused a ticket until he produced the MOD clearance certificate. When he had said MOD clearance was not necessary for this purpose he had been refused a ticket. 

Mr. Ponnambalam charged that there was no regulation or order requiring civilians flying to the North to obtain MOD clearance. Legal sources confirmed that there was no regulation requiring this but that MOD screening was done on an understanding with the Air Force on whose planes civilians are transported, to ascertain whether the passengers had any links with terrorist organisations. The case will come up again on February 15.


IGP promises inquiry

IGP Lucky Kodituwakku has promised Speaker K.B. Ratnayake that an impartial inquiry will be held into the alleged death threat to UNP Kalutara district MP Sarath Ranawaka from a senior SLPA official.


In brief

Denying, but...

The new Environment Minister has a lot on his hands.

While refuting news reports about him being angry over incumbent Chief Minister of the Central Province participating at an international conference on environment sources close to the minister said he has called for reports on Matale constituents flooding the Timber Corporation and on former Minister Ekanayake's participation at the said conference.

The minister who wanted to send one of his senior secretaries for the overseas conference was reportedly furious to learn that the former minister has managed to attend it. So, while hotly denying media reports, the minister according to very reliable sources is busy calling for confidential reports on the same!

In hot seat

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kiriella was in for a battering at a recent television panel discussion when he tried to defend the prosecution of the war. So the angry minister when asked repeatedly about the effectiveness of the current war effort angrily invited UNP's Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku and Harischandra Wijetunge of the Sinhale Mahasammatha Bhoomiputra Party (SMBP) to visit the liberated areas and see for themselves.

Pat came the reply from Dr. Kodituwakku. "We can do without Nimal Siripala de Silva type stunts in the North but first persuade your Cabinet members to visit the North with Minister Ratwatte who has specialized in courting disasters"

Hot heads cool down

When the UNP leader boarded the Fort bound congested Ruhunu Kumari at the Galle railway station on Wednesday morning, there were youths claiming to be from the X Group making a racket inside the train. And they had a field day questioning the UNP leader on issues ranging from Batalanda, the harrowing 89-90 period, the UNP's gun culture and its corruption record.

Some even dared to threaten to take the life blood out of controversial UNPer Dr. Rajitha Senaratne's body for being over critical of the PA. Insulting tunes were sung much to the embarrassment of the commuters and copies of a libellous publication were also freely distributed.

As the youngsters enthusiastically argued with the UNP leader about many issues, Wickremesinghe also made a call to Dr. Senaratne asking him to board the same train from Kalutara, his constituency whereupon the youths were invited to deal with him directly. And all the slogan shouting gradually ceased with most of them managing pleasant conversations despite earlier threats!

Young blood

With the main opposition UNP clearing the party folds of many tainted but senior personalities, senior politicians are reportedly upset about the treatment meted out to them. With the UNP intent on fielding new candidates at the forthcoming general elections, seniors are angry that after years of gruelling times, they are being rejected to be replaced with those with Clintonesque images!

Stranger in the house

And the UNP's troubles are far from over with the alleged entry into the party folds of maverick parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake triggering off a wave of protests. With trouble brewing thick with national list MP Dinesh Dodangoda getting involved in a cement controversy, angry Mt. Lavinia and Ratmalana organizers are ready to declare war on Karunanayake who has reportedly held some unauthorized meetings on behalf of the UNP in strongholds of late Lalith Athulathmudali.


Bonanza for all journalists

A thousand rupee pay increase for all journalists and a package of other relief measures, incentives and extra facilities were announced yesterday by Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera though the government is dodging or delaying a parliamentary debate on media law reforms.

imageAddressing a meeting to mark the official opening of the first ever housing scheme for journalists, Mr. Samaraweera said the pay hike would be made possible through the wages board while a cabinet paper had already been submitted for all journalists to be able to buy cameras, cassette recorders and other equipment at duty-free prices. 

Mr. Samaraweera, flanked by four other ministers and VIPs at the opening of the Richard de Zoysa Memorial Housing Scheme at Battaramulla, said a fully-fledged pension scheme for journalists was being finalized and would be implemented in January. He also pledged that at least three other housing schemes would be started in Colombo for journalists while several others would also be launched in the provinces.

He said these and other relief measures were intended to raise the living standards of journalists and give them more dignity and freedom. It was with this vision and goal that the government would introduce media law reforms and an amended broadcasting authority bill by January next year.

The media minister said journalists had been given houses by other regimes but most of them were given on the basis of party affiliation or personal friendship. However, the 44 houses in the Richard de Zoysa Memorial Scheme were given strictly on merit and no party loyalty was taken into consideration. This was what made it a landmark scheme and a historic one in the campaign of journalists for dignity and freedom.

A special bus service was launched from the journalists housing scheme yesterday, with Transport Minister A. H. M. Fowzie joining other ministers on the first trip from Battaramulla to Borella.

Mr. Samaraweera said a fully equipped community and communication centre with fax and e-mail and other facilities would be set up the scheme within weeks to enable the journalists there to carry out their work more efficiently. A playground for children is also to be set up.

Housing Minister Indika Gunewardena said the 44 houses were given to the journalists at virtually half the existing value while Trade Minister Kingsley Wickremeratne who represents the electorate said Kaduwela was being developed so fast that he expected land values to double within two years and thus the value of the journalists' houses would also double.

Rev. Father Anslem Silva who heads an inter-religious social justice movement, said a notable feature at the housing scheme was the high-tension wire at the entrance to the scheme. Capturing this imagery, he said he hoped the journalists living at the scheme and others would work in a way that helps to reduce the high ethnic tension in the country.

Minister Alavi Moulana who was also present quipped that he hoped the high-tension wires would not lead to hyper tension. 

Information Chief Ariya Rubesinghe, Rupavahini director Dew Gunesekera, SLBC Director General Eric Fernando and the Working Journalists Association President Daya Perera were among others present at the opening ceremony which was followed by a cultural pageant and musical show.

Veteran journalist Lucien Rajakarunanayake who had worked closely with Richard de Zoysa said a judicial inquiry was now being held and called on all those who had information relating to the abduction or killing of the journalist to come forward and give evidence. 

Mr. Samaraweera pledged that the Kumaratunga government would never descend to the level of killing journalists and would not protect or tolerate anyone who did so. While the government was open to constructive criticism, he called on journalists also to be responsible and balanced in their reporting and also to be open to criticism themselves without adopting a self righteous attitude.


Vauxhall St. opens again 

Vauxhall street will be reopened in a one-way direction from Hyde Park towards Slave Island Junction from 7 am to 7pm from tomorrow.

Vehicles going to Slave Island Junction along Vauxhall street should turn left into Union Place or proceed along Kew Road to Kumaran Ratnam Road, Police said.


FMM plans islandwide demo

The Free Media Movement is organising islandwide demonstrations, calling on the government to bring to book those involved in the killing of Satana Editor Rohana Kumara.

The first such demonstration will be held on Thursday in Borella.

FMMs Convenor,Varuna Karunatilleke said they would hold islandwide picketing campaigns in all principal towns condemning the kiling of Rohana Kumara and questioning the delay in arresting those who were responsible for the killing.

Mr. Kumara was killed by unknown persons on September 7 while he was on his way home in a three wheeler.

It is learnt that some persons who had been in a metal coloured car had shot at Rohana Kumara. Though the Police say that they investigating into the murder of the Satana editor, they have yet not made a major breakthrough.


Nanuoya track blasted

The rail track close to the Nanuoya railway station was blasted in an explosion last evening, disrupting upcountry train services, Railway sources said. 

They said the blast took place 20 minutes before a train passed the place and railway workers had been sent to the area to carry out repairs.


Batty seeks time for debate

Minister and LSSP leader Batty Weerakoon has written to the Leader of the House, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, requesting two of his motions pending before parliament be taken up for debate on Friday the day the Media Reforms motion is scheduled to be debated.

Mr. Weerakoon said there might be a delay in time allocation to debate the two motions one seeking recognition of Trade Unions and the other compensation for July 1980 strikers because time had already been allocated for a debate on the motion on media law reforms. 

"I have written to the Leader of the House that I be given time. I feel that these two motions are important and should be debated. However with Opposition Leader too requesting for a debate there might be a delay," he said. Mr. Weerakoon last week gave notice to Parliament to take up for debate a series of constitutional amendments first presented in 1994. He is yet to get a date for that debate too.


PA backbenchers meeting CBK at last

By Shelani de Silva

PA backbenchers have finally got a new appointment to meet President Chandrika Kumaratunga to discuss election related matters, including new development projects in electorates.

Fifteen backbenchers will attend the meeting on Thursday. Last month President Kumaratunga granted an appointment but cancelled the meeting.

Parliamentarian Nandasena Herath told The Sunday Times that the backbenchers were would meet on Wednesday to discuss issues to be taken up at the President's meeting.

"We will deal with three main issues. First, we would ask that money allocated for projects in electorates be increased. We are still getting 25 lakhs, a sum that was recommended ten years ago. It is important that it is done because with elections around the corner, we have to start development work. We will also demand at least 100 job opportunities for people in each electorate. We also wanted to know the party's stand on elections," he said.


Child abuse case on Oct. 11

The case against a 75-year-old alleged Australian paedophile who was arrested in Tiranagama last month was called before the Galle Chief Magistrate on Friday. 

The suspect was granted bail on September 20 and the case is to come up again on October 11.


'Preferential voting system must go'

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The main opposition UNP, the architects of the preferential voting system is now seeking modifications to it.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times the preferential system had only mustered inter-party rivalries and sowed dissension among the membership, instead of achieving what the architects of the constitution had hoped for.

"It had proved fatal and damaging things should be removed from the political fabric of this country. It has created unnecessary tension among pary memebrs with each trying to outdo the other," he said.

However, he said the scrapping of the preferential system would be incorporated into the party's policy statement which is to be released in a couple of months time, and that it would espouse something close to the German model a revised electoral system combining the first past the post system and proportional representation.


First steps towards SAARC economic union

SAARC Foreign Ministers have expressed a desire to establish a South Asian Economic Union, at an informal session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week. 

Foreign Minister Kadirgamar briefing journalists on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, said the desirability of forming a South Asian Economic Union had been reached during an informal session of SAARC foreign ministers.

Minister Kadirgamar, who is Chairman of the SAARC Council of Ministers, has stated that the foreign ministers had agreed that discussions would be needed to achieve this goal. 

The informal Council Session of the Council of Ministers was preceded by two rounds of consultations held between the SAARC member countries, the European Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations .

Minister Kadirgamar commenting on the meeting said that if there was a clear move to establish a South Asian Economic Union, which includes all seven countries, though India and Pakistan have serious political problems between them, it's a situation which gives considerable hope for the future.

'Having gone round the table we discovered that there was indeed a very large degree of consensus on the acceptability of many of the recommendations' , he said.

Since the session was informal in nature the conclusion reached were ad referendum and the formal document with recommendations to the Heads of Governments of SAARC will be finalised during the forthcoming SAARC Summit to be held in November in Nepal.


A gift is okay but car?

Some parents are oppsoing an alleged move to present a car to a prominent Colombo girls' school principal who has been transferred to another school.

They said students were expected to contribute Rs.150 or Rs. 200 for the principal's farewell gift.

Deputy Education director H M. Sirisena told The Sunday Times there was no rule pertaining to farewell gifts to a school head but a gift such as a car was not acceptable.

Two trade unions, the Sri Lanka Nidhas Guru Sangamaya and the Jathika Adyapana Sevaka Sangamaya, have condemned the move saying this would lead to other schools giving more expensive gifts thus creating a competition between schools.

'Specially a car is unacceptable. We condemn this act.' he said.


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