23rd January 2000

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Blood feud goes to PSC

The feud between the blood bank chief and a doctor with the GMOA firing from another side is continuing while the whole matter has been referred to the highest disciplinary body — the Public Service Commission — for a full inquiry and action, an official said.

The controversy surrounding the Central Blood Bank (CBB) Director Dr. Ranjini Bindusara and Dr. Athula Wijesundara will be carefully studied by the PSC Disciplinary Board and then put to the Commission to decide on the course of action.

The alleged explanation called for by the CBB Director from Dr. Wijesundara to regularise the procedures in the release of 10 pints of blood for President Kumaratunga after the bomb attack on her last month led to the controversy.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday said the report of the inquiry held by Additional Deputy Director General Dr. H.S.P. Tennakoon was submitted to the PSC.

A PSC official said the inquiry could be completed within a week if all the necessary evidence and documents were provided.

Dr. Bindusara told The Sunday Times she was confident of winning the battle as she only tried to adhere to regulations.

"They don't have anything to hold against me, because I was only following administrative procedures," she said.

Meanwhile Dr. Wijesu–ndara justified his arguments in taking the blood at a time of emergency.

With a former Health Director Dr. Kingsley Heendeniya and Dr. Bindusara pointing out the danger in not cross matching the recipient's blood with the donor blood, Dr. Wijesundara said, "since Nawaloka has all the facilities to cross match, I didn't want to waste time doing it at the blood bank."

"They should also understand that there was a security threat and there could have been a possible attack on the CBB if the terrorists knew that the President was in need of blood", he said.

Dr. Wijesundara said he saw no reason why he should take O positive blood despite the President's blood group being available.

He also denied that Dr. Bindusara had called him at the Nawaloka hospital on December 18.

In response to Dr. Heendeniya's argument that 10 pints of blood were an unusually large quantity, he said he took a large quantity to keep it as a reserve.

Meanwhile pro-government trade unions protested last week calling for the removal of Dr. Bindusara from her post as Director of the CBB.

Alleged child sex in shrine

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

A case where a monk is alleged to have sexually abused a young girl for four years and then tried to buy their silence will be coming up for hearing on January 28 at the Pugoda Magistrate's Court.

The monk from Wanoluwe in the Dompe area had allegedly started sexually abusing the girl when she was six years old and had continued doing so for four years.

The monk who is related to the child's family had allegedly begun abusing the child when she together with her younger brother used to visit the shrine near their home, said a spokesperson for the child rights group PEACE which is watching the interests of the child and her family. The spokesperson said the girl had not mentioned the incidents to anyone as she had not understood what was happening.

Six months ago however the parents had suspected that something was wrong from things the girl said and on probing further had discovered what had been happening, and lodged a complaint at the Dompe police.

Dompe Police Inspector D.D. Wickramasinghe who is leading investigations said they were probing whether the girl's younger brother had also been molested by the monk. The monk who was arrested in October last year and remanded for four weeks was released on Rs. 10,000 bail.

Some other monks had allegedly approached the girl's family with an offer of Rs. 200,000 cash and some land to settle the matter out of court, the Inspector said.The girl's family had however refused the offer and complained to the police whereupon the monk was rearrested a week ago.

Veteran Tudawe passes away

Communist Party veteran B.Y. Tudawe — who pioneered the socialist movement from Matara along with revered leaders such as S. A. Wickremasinghe — died yesterday at the age of 84.B.Y. Tudawe

Starting his career as teacher, Mr. Tudawe entered politics about seven decades ago as a trade union leader.

After serving some 30 years as a teacher and principal, Mr. Tudawe was elected to the Matara seat in 1965 and became a deputy minister of education in the 1970 United Front government.

After retiring from mainstream politics, he served in the southern province as opposition leader and later as minister of education.

In the 1999 provincial council elections he contested for the Matara district but was unsuccessful.

IPI concerned over attack on media

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors and media executives, has expressed concern at what it called 'the increasingly hostile climate for independent journalists working in Sri Lanka.'

In a letter to President Kumaratunga the IPI condemned the unprecedented attack on the media during a three-hour interview on state television and radio on January 3, when she accused the entire independent media of 'ganging up' on her.

The statement referred to how she would no longer tolerate such criticism and her threat to take every action possible against independent media owners and editors short of killing them.

These remarks were preceded by a concerted hate campaign against the independent media by senior ministers and other public officials, and have subsequently triggered allegations in the state owned media that two senior editors of independent newspapers – Lasantha Wickramatunga of the Sunday Leader and Victor Ivan of Ravaya – were involved in a conspiracy engineered by the opposition United National Party (UNP), the LTTE and the independent media to overthrow the President and the government, the statement said.

"We fear that your remarks and the published accusations against the two newspaper editors, which remain unsubstantiated, are an indication that your government is using the December 18, 1999, assassination attempt on your life as a pretext for cracking down on critical media and for possibly introducing new laws further restricting freedom of expression in Sri Lanka" the statement said.

IPI condemned the recent attacks on the media and urged the President to do everything in her power to ensure that independent journalists are allowed to exercise their profession without fear of harassment or attack. Further the statement urged that the President initiate the legal reforms necessary for ensuring the right to free expression and access to information, which are fundamental to a democratic society.

Seoul worried over attack, harassments at Suriyaweva

By Shelani de Silva

The Korean Embassy in Colombo has expressed concern over the attack on Korean officials by thugs at a Suriyaweva irrigation project and calls for full police protection.

This came after a Korean executive on the project near the Walave river was attacked by the thugs who also damaged computers and furniture at the office

Korean Embassy Second Secretary H Lee told The Sunday Times they were concerned about such attacks and other acts of harassment to investors, while Seoul was being kept informed of developments here.

Following last week's attack on the project officers, there were reports that the Korean Company Hanjun was threatening to pull out of Sri Lanka.

The company which has nearly 400 workers on the site employees another 1900 as casual labourers for the project.

However, with the police providing security the company has decided to go ahead with the project.

The project which costs 15 million US dollars is scheduled to be completed at the end of this year.

Sri Lanka welcomes Canadian court ruling

The ruling by the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal on Wednesday to deport LTTE activist Suresh Manickawasagam to Sri Lanka could have an impact on other countries where terrorist operate offshore, government sources said.

Mr. Manickawasagam, co-ordinator of the World Tamil Movement (WTM) in Canada, was arrested in 1995 for allegedly being a member of the LTTE and posing a threat to Canada's security.

The WTM was identified as one of the front organisations of the LTTE, along with the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT) and the Tamil Ealam Society in Canada.

The ruling, which has been defined as groundbreaking in many aspects by the Canadian media, defined that the LTTE was indeed a terrorist organisation.

Mr. Manickawasagam's deportation was ordered after he was declared as a person inadmissible to Canada. He had argued against his deportation claiming that his removal to Sri Lanka would expose him to the risk of torture or even execution. Last year Sri Lankan officials assured Canadian authorities that Mr. Manickawasagam would not face either threat if he was sent to Sri Lanka.

Mr. Manickawasagam's lawyers have said they will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court and will argue for a temporary stay of deportation.

But last week's ruling paved the way for Ottawa to deport suspected terrorists even if they faced the risk of torture in their homeland.

The Federal Court Justice Joseph Robertson said, "The legislation promotes the security of Canadians while undermining the ability of terrorists to operate offshore".

The decision comes at a time when Ottawa is keen to introduce legislation to crack down on terrorist fund-raisers. Canada is expected to soon become a signatory to the U.S. sponsored International Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, which has already been signed by Sri Lanka.

The WTM, FACT and other front organisations of the LTTE raise money in Canada for the LTTE and its brutal campaign in Sri Lanka through various methods, including fraud and extortion. At one stage an estimated $8.4 million a year had been flowing from Canada to fund the LTTE's war chest.

Judge Robertson said those who chose to raise funds to sustain terrorist organisations bore the same guilt and responsibility as those who actually carried out the terrorist acts.

The judge noted that while it was not illegal for Canadian citizens to engage in fund-raising to support political causes, it might one day be, he said.

School vans: bumpy ride but with blessings

By Faraza Farook and Tania Fernando

After parents scramble to get their children into schools in Colombo, the next hurdle they face seems to be transportation.

Has the demand for school transport resulted in an increase of vehicles adding to congestion on today's roads and decreased the responsibility of parents?

Despite a rule in most schools that students should live within a two mile radius from the school, parents out of this radius find loopholes to admit their children to the school that they choose as the best. Later they complain that the child is tired after travelling long distances.

Many parents opt for a school van service for convenience and security. But the question is how safe is it? Parents with more than two children have to spend, in some cases, more than Rs. 3000 a month. While some parents think that the cost is too much, the drivers claim that it is insufficient. In some instances parents with small children accompany them and thus have to pay extra to ensure the safety of the child.

"Maintenance of a vehicle is high and the driver of the vehicle has to be paid a monthly salary, which leaves us with only about Rs. 5000," one vehicle owner said. In some instances, when vehicles have been leased, they said, there is an added cost.

With the increase in cost of living, charges for vans vary from Rs. 650 to Rs. 1000 depending on the distance. While some vans charge a flat rate, most seem to take into account having to go into by lanes to pick up and drop children.

Though the owners of some vans complain that it is not a profitable venture, there seems to be more people wanting to join the band wagon. The Sunday Times visiting schools in Colombo met so many who had just commenced this business.

By the looks of it, it seems they have started it because their children were attending schools in Colombo. This was good enough a reason for them to charter other children too.

Karenza Palihawadana, a parent from Moratuwa takes children to Methodist College, which her daughter also attends. She began her business this year and charges Rs. 850 from a child and has 13 children travelling in her van.

"Parents always ask if anybody, other than the driver is accompanying the children. As a parent I myself fear to send my daughter", Karenza says, and has a notice on her van stating that a parent accompanies the children. Most vans that transport only boys had few parents accompanying them, since they felt that their children were safe.

Many incidents have been reported where school children have been molested while returning home, which seems to be reason for most drivers/owners we spoke to, having, in addition to the driver, an adult accompanying, often a female.

Even with an adult accompanying children to and from school, the chances of a child being abused is still prevalent. Some children have to wait in schools for more than one hour for their vans, and there are possibilities of the child being abused during this time.

A premier child oriented organisation said that most often the child dropped last is most prone to abuse. The other possibility lies when the child is in the van waiting with the driver for senior students.

The spare time in between the drop and the pick up of children, is when the adults are often reported to misbehave, a top police official said. Gambling and drinking are no exceptions, when the drivers gang up during this time.

The rat race in today's society is not only causing competition among the top rank, but even among school van drivers who are trying to meet deadlines of getting the child to school on time and back home in time for private tuition classes. This results in reckless driving.

The shooting at a school van in Katubedda early last year by the Army for having refused to stop, is still etched in the minds of people. Yet with the inefficient public transport system, the choice seems to be limited, for school children.

More than 3000 school vans operate in Colombo alone, says SSP Alfred Wijewardene. "In their rush to transport office staff soon after the school service, the drivers break all road rules creating a security risk," he said.

The worst congestion is in the Cinnamon Garden Police area because all leading schools are in a cluster. Despite finding parking space for over 1000 vehicles at Norris Canal Road, Maitland Place, Sarana Mawatha and Park Lane, there still is a shortfall.

SSP Wijewardene said that residents on some of the roads where the vehicles are parked are up in arms in protest. "Last Friday, residents at Rosmead Place wanted to block the road," he said.

Discussions are underway to overcome the problem by arranging for a big parking area. Special stickers on the van, having the vans painted in a particular colour for easy identification at a distance, ensuring that the driver is in good health, and that an aide always accompanies the children are some of the measures that are to be implemented soon.

Looking at some vans it is obvious that some are not road worthy. An incident was reported in The Sunday Times two years ago where a child fell through the floorboard.

That van did not have a floor and the owners had used a wooden plank as a floor, through which a nine year old child fell and was dragged along the road.

While there is competition among school drivers, it seems like even school teachers want to get a piece of this lucrative business. Parents who are convinced that the children are safer with them, opt for the teachers' transport service.

"The students have little choice when teachers ask them to travel in their vans" says Anura Jayantha, a driver from Maharagama. "Moreover, the teachers have the privilege of parking their vans in the school premises, while we have to spend time looking for parking space", he said.

The biggest grievance of the van drivers was that there was no parking space. At Norris Canal Road near Carey College one could see more than 50 vans parked. The scene is no different near Mahanama College, Musaeus, St. Joseph's, Royal, or Thurstan. Owing to inadequate parking space, there are instances where the vans that take children to Methodist College have to be parked near Mahanama College. While appreciating the usefulness of the school van service some children are hassled because different grades finish classes at different times, which means the child whose classes were over at 11.30 am has to hang around in the van being driven around to pick up the other children.

A van from Polgasowita transporting children to schools in Colombo picks up the first child at 5.30 am, while school opens at 8.00 am. The last child is dropped off at approximately 4 pm, even though schools close at 2 pm.

P Abeysinghe, a driver from Kahathuduwa leaves home at 4.30 am and has a 20 minutes walk to get to the owner's house where the van is parked. He claims that the main problem is parking and having to pick up children from various schools.

When the children are not at the point of pick-up, the drivers have to find a parking space and go look for them. When they park to do so, the police chase them away.

"Sometimes we park the vehicle about 2 kilometres away from the school, then walk to the school and collect the children and ask them to stand near the gate and go back for the vehicle", said Thilak Jayawardena, a driver who takes children to Royal, Mahanama and Thurstan from Panadura.

Though it is clear that vans are sometimes overcrowded, public transport being what it is, parents say that they have no option but to make use of this service. In some cases where both parents are working they rely on the vans to drop their children safely in schools and after that at day care centres or where ever they are taken care of.

Even with the many negative aspects, parents still opt for this mode of transport, for the sake of convenience.

However even though many a question arises in the minds of parents about the safety of their child, some children seem to enjoy the ride and being able to spend more time with friends. As seven year old Udena said he loved sitting at the back since it was there that it was more bumpy.

Help for millennium triplets pouring in

The three baby girls born within an hour after the dawn of the new year and made history as the first triplets for the millenium are receiving lots of assistance, both financially and otherwise.

People from all over the country are still wanting to make donations or assist the family in some way.

Taking the lead, the Bank of Ceylon has made arrangements to provide the parents with a monthly income of Rs. 2000 and also opened an account for each baby.

Businessmen and many others in the Kalutara district where the family lives have come forward to help.

Those who wish to meet the parents or make contributions to the triplets can do so at the following address : Iresha Dilrukshi / Mahindra Manupri Alwis, Dediyora, Waskaduwa 222, Kalutara North.

Complaints of raw deal in state jobs

By S.S.Selvanayagam

A TULF MP has accused the government of discriminating against Tamils who sat competitive examinations, for selection to the Sri Lanka Administrative and Accountancy Services.

Parliamentary Group leader in a letter to President Kumaratunga said only a few Tamils were selected to the Sri Lanka Accountants Service on the results of the competitive examinations held from 1993 to 1998.

This ran contrary to the ethnic quota system and the principle of equal opportunity.

In the competitive examination for the Sri Lanka Accountants Service held in 1999, 38 Sinhalese and 2 Tamils were selected while in 1998, it was 14 Sinhalese and only one Tamil, he said.

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