19th March 2000

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Lankan seamen tied to land

By M. Ismeth

Trained seamen are complaining that though the number of job opportunities in the world has doubled, they are tied down here by red tape and indifference.

One of these seamen, P.D. Rajapakse, told The Sunday Times that while numerous opportunities for jobs existed outside Sri Lanka for sailors and technicians on foreign vessels, some government officials were shutting the door on them.

Mr. Rajapakse, who had worked on a Greek vessel as an electrical technician for more than ten years said former Minister Lalith Athulathmudali had signed agreements with the Greek government and shipping companies to recruit Sri Lankan seamen for Greek vessels, but there had been little or no follow-up action.

He said that as a result, Filipinos, Indonesians, Ukranians and other were benefiting from vast opportunities on the sea while talented Sri Lankans were tied to the land.

Repair row hits Telecom

Key institution's security under threat

By Leon Berenger

A top level inquiry has been launched by Sri Lanka Telecom about the failure to repair for 11 months a vital piece of electronic equipment used to detect explosives at Telecom a key target of the Tigers.

The repairs had remained unattended after there was a conflict on who would foot the bills Telecom or the supplying company.

According to the sources it all began in 1997 when Sri Lanka Telecom purchased highly sophisticated explosive detectors (EVD3000) through a local firm, each costing about Rs. 3.6 million.

The trouble began when one of the pair went on the blink sometime early last year, and the importing agent was asked to foot the bill for its repair, a request that was turned down.

The supplying company was reportedly insisting that the initial purchase of the devices did not specify a guarantee period and therefore Telecom would have to see to its repairs, sources said.

The security authorities at Telecom refused to come forward with any payments for the repairs the end result being that security at the institution was dangerously compromised for up to 11 months, the sources told The Sunday Times.

Now it has been further revealed that the pair of EVD3000 were purchased even without the required user report either from the state security authorities or any other place where such equipment was already in use.

In addition the supplying company had allegedly forced Sri Lanka Telecom to part with nearly Rs. 3.7 million while the same piece of equipment was sold to the Defence Ministry for only Rs. 1.5 million.

Thereby it is now learnt that Sri Lanka Telecom was played out for millions of rupees while all the time it also endangered the security of the vital agency.

Telecom sources said the main reason for the damage caused was that the persons handling this security equipment were incompetent.

They said Telecom security chiefs were currently under probe.

Norachcholai coal blows hot again

By Shelani de Silva

The on-and-off controversy over the proposed Norachcholai power plant is hotting up again with both sides firing fresh salvos.

Government ministers and CEB officials have again stressed the need to go ahead with the project but Chilaw's Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando who is leading the protest campaign has reiterated the strong opposition of the Church and the people of Chilaw.

Amidst the dispute, President Kumaratunga had last year directed that the project be reviewed. But Power and Energy Minister Anurudhdha Ratwatte and Deputy Minister Felix Perera told Parliament recently there was an urgent need for alternative sources of energy and the project should be implemented.

Bishop Marcus referring to the Minister's statement said he hoped the country was having a government where the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing.

CEB officials said funding by the Japanese Government for the power project remained open despite the disputes and delays.

The first stage of the project which is estimated to cost 410 million dollars has been hanging in the balance for months or years.

However the Japanese Government which provided the funds for the study has not cancelled the funds for the project, government sources said.

Environmental groups have also joined the Catholic Church and people in the protest campaign saying the project had far more negatives than positives.

Serpentine raid: Why only C?

Residents of the flats in Serpentine Road have expressed concern they may not receive compensation for the massive damage caused to their houses during the pre-dawn operation on March 11 to flush out suicide bombers.

They said a team had come to make an assessment of the damage but they had visited only some houses in the C block while other blocks were not checked though they had been heavily damaged.

Earlier, the House Ministry also issued a statement saying the C block would be renovated.

It said C block residents would be accommodated temporarily in a Punchi Borella apartment complex.

Plane Germans: LTTE nexus under probe

By Chris Kamalendran

Two Germans placed under detention for allegedly turning out a light aircraft on the pretext of making sky sports items were produced in court but released on personal bail.

Police said part of their probe was to find out whether the Germans had a connection with the LTTE.

The two Germans have been ordered to appear before the Negombo Magistrate tomorrow while police have also questioned the Sri Lankan wife of one of the Germans.

Police said the Germans had imported the accessories through the BOI, with a permit to turn out sky sports items, but they had had no authority to assemble an aircraft.

Police on a tip-off raided the factory of one of the Germans and detected the light aircraft.

Corruption probe still on crawl

The appointment of more than 100 police officers to assist the permanent commission probing bribery and corruption has been put on hold, giving rise to speculation that attempts are being made to block probes.

"They are finding secretaries but investigations are still blocked," one official said.

Not a file containing charges of bribery or corruption has still been opened giving rise to speculation that several matters of much public interest will ultimately be swept under the carpet.

The commissioners for their part have repeatedly said the recruitment of policemen and others to be involved in the work would take a considerable time, and these matters could not be rushed.

The commission had been crippled for more than three years while a dispute raged between the earlier commissioners and the government. There term expired in December last year and the government appointed new commissioners and an acting director general. But effective work has still not got off the grounds while reports indicate that bribery and corruption are rampant.

Operation drug drain at NHSL

A massive racket at the National Hospital involving the pilferage and the sale of drugs to private pharmacies is being probed by the Fraud Bureau.

Senior Superintendent V. Kanthasamy told The Sunday Times that detectives had got hold of scores of prescriptions and other documents that were cleverly doctored to authorise the removal of the drugs from the National Hospital stores and the OPD.

He said the hospital authorities had first called in the CID when they noticed that there was something seriously wrong with several balance sheets at the stores and the OPD.

SSP Kanthasamay said it was too early to say whether there was inside connivance in the scam that had apparently been going on for a long time and involved millions.

According to detectives, drugs were taken out after the culprits had cleverly forged the signature of the issuing officer who is also a senior doctor. But it was hard to believe that all this could take place without the possible connivance of those inside the hospital, they said.

Hospital top brass were tight-lipped and refused to give details except to say the drugs were expensive. "We cannot put out the names of these drugs since those currently selling it in the open market will be warned and the goods will definitely be forced underground making it difficult for the police investigators," National Hospital Director Dr. Hector Weerasinghe said. He said the hospital had now taken stringent security measures with additional checks being made in a bid to prevent such rackets.

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