19th March 2000

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SB douses fireballs hurled at him

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent.

Our legislature still seems to thrive on a bit of S.B. Dissanayake bashing, a favourtie pastime of the lethargic Opposition which gets galvanized into action out of the blues, and abandoning their zealous campaigns with equal swiftness. To such an Opposition, Minister Dissanayake with his unrepentant tongue is a blessing.

And given Minister Dissanayake's penchant to rile the entire nation with a remark or two added to his ability to thrive on controversy, the debate on the votes on the Ministry of Samurdhi, Youth Affairs and Sports from the outset was expected to be tension-filled. And the debate full of snide remarks, was also plagued by offensives and equally strong defences and attempts to defeat the vote amidst general chaos.

The controversial ministry which should have been dedicated to the task of poverty alleviation but in return has got absolutely politicized came under severe fire as an angry opposition tried to pin the blame on the ministry for a range of sins - from organised rigging, violence to corruption.

So when UNP's R.A.D. Sirisena opened the debate for the Opposition, the generalisation was that a 'sellam emathi' who played pandu with local sports and youth has finally opted to play hell even in local politics.

As the minister continued to swivel in his chair with stoic defiance as the charges were heaped on him, the Deraniyagala member lambasted the Samurdhi Movement - a movement he alleged under the guise of poverty alleviation served the PA's political agenda alone.

"In your euphoric state following the presidential poll victory, you shamelessly sent 18 Samurdhi officers to celebrate victory in style in Bangkok. This celebration cost Samurdhi Rs. 2.5 million paid for by the public.

They were to receive overseas training in team work. Bangkok training on collective efforts is unnecessary for a society with agrarian roots. It has been our tradition to cultivate together and share the produce. That is world's finest training in collective work" he opined.

The MP successfully painting a picture of lavish spending by the ministry at explanation point noted: "You have provided financial assistance through the Samurdhi Fund to artistes. Usually such things are done through the Presidential Fund.

More so, a 'ran weta' was constructed for a Hanguranketa temple at a cost of Rs.600,000 the same way!"

Warming to his theme, Sirisena thundered that from overseas training for animators, to the construction of 'ran wetas' for the village temple with money meant for the poor in a bid to bloat his own image only proved the political arrogance of the cherubic minister, who has recently displayed his lack of respect for the democratic traditions rooted in the land.

"You have the prime ministerial stakes in mind," he scoffed, as the minister continued to shake his head in denial.

"That's why you were switching off fans and providing paper tissues to the President during her millennium address over national television." But one thing was certain - that the future of Susanthika Jayasinghe which he darkened and many others who suffered at his hands want him out. These multiple sins cannot be washed off by erecting 'ran wetas' for the village temple, he opined.

Holding sway, he thundered that sports have become most corrupt and politicised since he took over. Susanthika's sporting career was ruined by the minister. And the Worldtel bribery scandal rocked cricket administration and for the first time, a Cricket Board election resembled the Wayamba polls with violence being its highlight.

Charging the minister of politicising sports bodies, he noted that others have also followed this example. When Nandimitra Ekanayake wanted to contest for the Cycle Federation presidency, the Federation files containing vital documents went missing. Many other ministers have also creeped into various sports bodies by now. The rivalry and intensity has risen to such levels that deputy minister Shantha Premaratne suffered a grenade attack recently for daring to contest for a provincial cricket body.

"The minister leads by wrong example - Samurdhi which is meant for the poor should be used for their benefit and not to win elections. It has been converted into a political programme - the minister's winning formula. If you are so concerned about poverty alleviation, allow benefits to flow to everybody and introduce a system for the poor not to be indirectly taxed," he called.

Sirisena told the House that he took pride in the garment factory programme introduced by President Premadasa for ensuring that those who survived on food stamps be given priority in employment to garment factories.

That was effective poverty alleviation. While the PA could only laugh at the UNP programme, it was this which arrested the culture of poor village children becoming domestics at rich homes - a fate which befell thousands of poor folk.

Enjoying his kill, Sirisena riled the government by questioning the government on its human rights record. To ridicule the ÜNP, the PA constructed a Shrine of the Innocent.

Having destroyed the career of sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe and killing of Rohana Kumara, this government has demonstrated its tyranny. Probably Rohana's name also should be included in the plaque of the Shrine and be unveiled by minister Nanda Mathew, he sniped.

Dredging Minister Dissanayake's recent remarks on the judiciary and parliament next was UNP's Piyasoma Upali. The minister, in his opinion needed to reconsider his role in a democratic society. Driven by an insatiable hunger for power and a desire to control the masses, he had brazenly suggested that the two prime institutions - the courts and the legislature should come to naught!

"What he wants is power for the PA and fear for the masses.

If a Constitutional Assembly is required that could be set up without arresting the general functions of Parliament. In a state of lawlessness, what kind of constitutions could be created?" he queried.

What the minister envisaged perhaps could be done - and would be done if the general trends are indicators to go by. But such trends only sowed seeds of dissension.

How could a man who ruined Susanthika be trusted with the vast population of youth in the country, he asked amidst protesting noises from the government who accused him of playing into the hands of a media campaign to vilify the good minister.

If the negative speeches were aplenty S.B. defenders were also not scarce. Yet doing it gently, unlike some who brazenly bared their shark teeth over the past two weeks was deputy minister of foreign affairs Lakshman Kiriella.

With finesse, he pointed out that the minister has done much for the development of sports, opining that the Cricket Board fiascoes were nothing new in this country. From its inception, it has been rocked by scandals and political monopolies.

Drawing a good defence, the deputy minister noted that cricket here has always been surrounded by controversies. At the outset, it was late Gamini Dissanayake who divided the cricket team itself into two - perhaps he believed in the divide and rule theory.

"The group which supported the minister received immense benefits. Others were denied everything. Those who toured South Africa were those he opposed, hence the 25 year ban. It was he who decided on the fate of local cricket and the future of players," he noted.

Enterprising young SLFP parliamentarian T.B. Ekanayake in his zealous Dissanayake defence perhaps put forward all the wrong reasons.

Springing to defend, he considered all the fracas to be a UNP effort to gain political mileage.

"Here is a minister who came from a village, simple farmer Ukku Banda's son who attended Poramadala Vidyalaya and rose to this position through sheer hard work.

He does his best for the people, defends this government and works hard to keep it going and therefore has become an easy target.

While we are uncertain whether Mr. Ekanayake viewed the manner in which some Samurdhi animators were used was for the benefit of the masses is debatable, the MP surprised the House when he claimed that if someone hailing from a walawwa made plain vitriolic statements, specially in English, nobody would have demanded his blood.

"The minister's folly was in speaking the native language and for being honest. This government has been given a clear mandate to change the constitution and if he spoke his mind out, that should not be held against him," he opined.

Calmly replying to the queries raised devoid of any display of temper and rejecting the rich and graphic comments about the minister's hidden ambition to become the prime minister, S.B. Dissanayake listed a string of achievements of his ministry (barring electoral victories and overseas training for Samurdhi officials at state expense to do a political job), he disclaimed any ambition to become the prime minister.

"I have never been offered it, and if offered, I'd simply kick it off my sight," he said with a flourish.

The minister however explained that a simple comment by him has been blown out of proportion and what he said was not out of disrespect for the Parliament - but a mere expression of willingness to do the best to usher in peace.

At closing time, it was daggers drawn - with a UNP belatedly asking for a division on the ministry votes. Amidst pandemonium in the House, the UNP tried futilely to defeat the votes by calling for a division which came a little too late.

"They don't switch my mike on, so how can you hear my call for a division," protested UNP's perennial heckler A.H.M. Azwer as Rauff Hakeem, the Deputy Chairman of Committees tried to quieten the House.

A harassed Hakeem stuck to his decision that the UNP moved the division only on Head 443 - Samurdhi Commissioner General's votes and nothing else - and held the previous Head as being already carried by the Committee drawing an angry response from UNP frontliners.

A visibly moved W.J.M. Lokubandara thundered that the division was for all Heads not just one while pint-sized Renuka Herath jumped to Lokubandara's support, shouting slogans.

"It is very unfair to take only the government's version!" thundered throaty UNPers crying themselves hoarse - defeated once again in their effort to carry a mini battle in the House.

Amidst thumping on desks, files which flew about, slogan shouting and general discord coupled with reminders by ministers that the vote has to be taken continuously without interruption - Chief Whip Richard Pathirana went on getting approval for each Head regardless of a riled Opposition's jeers.

A goaded Chair thundered that if his ruling was unacceptable, to avoid throwing documents all over and littering the House - but to be constructive and move a substantive motion to challenge it.

"I am governed by the rules of this House. So stick to them," he warned an errant opposition futilely attempting to repeat its performance in November 1998 when the votes on the Ministry of Livestock, Estate Infrastructure Development was defeated. And the loser was Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene poised to move an adjournment motion, as a taxed Rauff Hakeem adjourned for the day - a House which had obviously gone wild.

Dilapidated and abandoned buildings a security threat

By Udena R.Attygalle and Laila Nasry.

The Rajagiriya bomb and shoot-out fiasco last week made abandoned houses an overnight security hazard. People were suddenly becoming aware of those places they never noticed before.

An investigation by The Sunday Times revealed many such places in the vicinity of the Colombo Port, giving a vantage view of the activities within the Port complex.

The Bang Bang building on Reclamation Road which was recently in the news as a result of part of it collapsing, is one such place.We entered the building unhindered. The top floor had collapsed and is now abandoned.

The ramshackle rooms facing the Port complex gave a clear view of the container yard and jetties, providing a convenient place for a missile launch. The entrance to the port is also clearly visible. The security manoeuvres and the sentry operations could be watched without any hindrance.

"The armed forces check the building regularly and they have told us not to let any one enter the premises," said the owners of a lodge a floor below.

This, in part, explained the owners' agitation at our entering the building undetected. The lodge, on inspection, housed many people from operational areas. The lodge owners claimed that the lodgers from these areas were registered at the Pettah police station.

The OIC of Pettah Police, Y.D.M Karunaratne confirmed this fact but could give no assurance as to whether every single new occupant was being registered as this process was done by the owner and not by the occupant. "When our suspicions are aroused we summon that person to the station or check him out ourselves. We also do regular random checks," he said.

The Gordon building next door was as easily accessible and provided the same great view of the port. But here the building is supervised by Hunter and Company Limited. The respectability of this company provided the building with its only security.

"The Navy authorities has told us not to crowd around the windows too often as we have a good view of the port," said H.E. Chaminda, executive director of Ocean Marine Services, which occupies the top floor of the adjacent building.

"Once when we had a big crowd in our office they came and searched the premises and checked our ID cards," he added. But he was not satisfied with the security checks. He said that what happens in the building at night is anybody's guess.

"Colombo is divided into several sectors for the purpose of security arrangements. One such sector is the port. The Navy is in total charge of internal security for the port. But we do also provide back-up support for the Army by providing personnel for random checks and foot patrols outside the port," said a senior Navy official.

Meanwhile Shelton, a trishaw driver who had been in this area for the past 30 years described the security measures lucidly. "They just take down the ID numbers of the food and sweetmeat sellers," he said.

According to him the Bang Bang building is very vulnerable at night. Prostitutes and drug addicts frequent it during the night, he claimed.

Talking about the security measures he said, "Nobody checks the many vehicles parked in this area, specially near the entrance to the ports complex. In my opinion the shops extending from the entrance towards the clock tower should be closed down as they pose a possible threat."

The top floors of the buildings on Reclamation Road should be inspected regularly, was another suggestion made by him.

Meanwhile the Gaffoor Building in the heart of old Colombo lies abandoned and deserted with yet again; a good view of the ports complex.

But here at least the building is fenced and guarded by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority security personnel. According to the Urban Development Authority Chairman, Prof. T K N P de Silva, "The building is soon to be reconstructed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) in consultation with the UDA." But for now the building remains a dilapidated giant in the middle of the city; with enough space to hold a small army.

"The port remains the heart of throbbing Colombo,the Achilles heel of the nation, a prime target for an attack by the LTTE. Everybody seems to be aware of it. But are we taking enough precautions?" is the question posed by Shelton. Those who have business in the vicinity of the port have reservations. The Rajagiriya incident may have been an eye-opener. A reminder that we should keep an eye on buildings we have taken for granted as secure.

The Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Admiral Mohan Samarasekera meanwhile said, "Although the security of the port is handled by the Navy, the SLPA does not shy away from responsibility'. He added that there are a few tenants occupying the Gaffoor building with a couple of army sentries inside the building.

He also confirmed that the Navy, with the coordination of the Army conducts patrols and random checks of the buildings surrounding the port.

'The security of the port is constantly being reviewed and improved; but at no stage can we say that the port is 100 per cent secure,' he said.

Meanwhile the question of the Port taking over the Bang Bang building had come up sometime back but was rejected by the Minister.

EPRLF rivals explode

By Roshan Peiris

EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran has said Varatharaja Perumal was expelled from the party for allegedly engaging in anti-party activities that could damage the image of the party.Suresh Premachandran

He told The Sunday Times that Mr. Perumal was also trying to militarise the party since he returned in February last year without even informing the party that he was coming back.

Mr. Premachandran said Mr. Perumal had also violated the party laws by trying to form another party within the party.

He charged that Mr. Perumal was spreading false information about members and trying to destabilise the party by creating cliques.

He said Mr. Perumal was supporting President Kumaratunga without the approval of the party. He had allegedly "collected information of displaced persons from Jaffna through the grama niladharis with the apparent intention of using their votes at an election."

Varatharaja PerumalMeanwhile Mr. Perumal has filed two cases against Mr. Premachandran and the Central Committee, challenging his expulsion.

He charged that it was Mr. Premachandran who had violated party discipline. He was expected to attend central committee meetings once in three months but had not done so and was allegedly running the party like a dictator.

He said Mr. Premachandran was apparently afraid of his high profile personality.

"This is not a personal matter, Premachandran did not abide by the Party constitution and mishandled functions by treating the EPRLF as his own property. For instance in February 1997 his tenure of office was over, but he continued in his position, not prepared to abide by the constitution of the party," Mr. Perumal said.

Jaffna gets its high court judge

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

The Jaffna High Court which was crippled for10 years has been reactivated with the appointment of a judge.

Trincomalee District Court Judge K.P.S. Varatharajah has been appointed as the new High Court Judge of Jaffna.

Earlier other courts in North, including those at Point Pedro and Mallakam were also reactivated as part of the plans to restore civil administration in the war-ravaged district.

Meanwhile, District Court Judges K. Ekaratne and H. Yogasigamani have been promoted as Badulla and Ampara High Court Judges.

There are at present 25 High Court judges islandwide while the constitution provides for 40.

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