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16th July 2000
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Liberty, fraternity and equality - the concepts that first found meaning in politics some 211 years ago - were reminded to us when the French celebrated their national day. The spirit of these hallowed principles was evident when French ambassador Elizebeth Dahan joined Minister Mahinda Wojesekara and proposed a taost at the French Day celebrations at Hilton on Friday. 
Pic by Dunstan Wickremaratne

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Reforms: Tamil opposition grows

CWC also decides to oppose PA-UNP deal on constitutional proposals

Government plans for constitutional reforms suffered another major setback when the CWC faction led by Minister Arumugam Thondaman decided to join other Tamil parties in opposing the proposals made by the PA and the UNP.

On Friday night, CWC Parliamentarian R. Yogarajan along with eight other political parties issued a joint statement that they had decided to oppose the reforms.

"We have studied the PA-UNP agreement and we believed it would not provide an effective solution to the ethnic conflict," Mr. Yogarajan told The Sunday Times.

With the CWC also withdrawing its support, the government would face a crisis in getting a two thirds majority unless the main opposition UNP throws its weight and vote behind the reforms, political analysts said. 

The UNP itself though reaching an agreement with the PA has expressed reservations regarding related matters, including the transitional provisions dealing with the executive presidency. 

UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale told The Sunday Times that though the party had agreed in principle on constitutional reforms, it had reservations about some issues.

He said the transitional provisions dealing with the executive presidency till 2005, mechanisms of the new electoral system, the concept of regional councils and the proposal to increase the membership of parliament to 270 were among areas where there were differences of opinion between the two major parties. 

The TULF which did not sign the eight-party statement, has, however, expressed strong opposition to certain key aspects of the PA-UNP deal, describing it as a heavily-watered-down version of the 1997 draft.

"We are not supporting the new proposals as we feel they do not address vital aspects of the conflict," TULF Vice President V. Anandasangari said.

Political analysts said another option for the government would be to woo more UNPers to the so-called alternative group which is backing the PA. The group led by Sarath Amunugama now has six MPs and three more are expected to cross over soon. Former finance minister Ronnie de Mel is also reported to be ready to cross though he says he will not join the alternative group. 

The government needs 150 votes for a two-thirds majority to pass the constitutional reforms in the 225-seat parliament. 

So far the government is assured only of the votes of 105 PA members. Its traditional allies, the SLMC and the EPDP, have seven MPs each, but the SLMC is reported to be disappointed with the PA-UNP agreement as is the EPDP also.

CMs won't go 'home' 

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Three chief ministers who were earlier Cabinet Ministers, are allegedly still retaining their former official residences in Colombo despite no longer being entitled to do so.

The Sunday Times learns that former Cabinet Ministers Nandimitra Ekanayake, Berty Premalal Dissanayake and deputy minister Athauda Seneviratne still retain their former residences in Colombo with the government spending lakhs on them.

They are now chief ministers of the Central, North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces and have their official residences in the provincial capitals as well. 

The Colombo mansions they still use are situated at Thimbirigasyaya, Keppetipola Mawatha and Wijerama Mawatha.

PA sources told The Sunday Times the Chief Ministers should have vacated their Colombo residences when they were appointed to their provincial posts last year.

Each Colombo residence has a five-member staff and the government spends lakhs for their maintenance alone.

Police question Kusum, recover tampered tape

Acting on a complaint by The Sunday Times, the Kompannaveediya Police have recovered the newspaper's tape recorder and cassette from the Seva Vanitha controversy's chief actor, Kusum Wickremanayake. 

Police said they had gone to the offices of the Ministry of Plantation Industries to record a statement from Ms. Wickremanayake and recovered the tape and the cassette which she had grabbed from a Sunday Times reporter who interviewed her on the row rocking the VIP wives group. 

Ms. Wickremanayke, wife of Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayke, in her statement to the police admitted she wanted certain parts in the tape erased as she was not aware that the interview was being recorded.

She said she wouldn't have made certain remarks if she knew the interview was being recorded. Our reporter said the tape recorder was on the table for Ms. Wickremanayake to see and she was aware the interview was being recorded. 

Government blocks media reforms again

The Government has again blocked an all-party sponsored media reforms motion due to be taken up for debate in Parliament next Friday. Acting Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa has requested House Leader Ratnasiri Wickremenayake to strike the motion off the Order Paper of July 21.

Mr. Yapa in a letter said some of the members of the opposition were also in agreement for the postponement of the motion and therefore it should not be presented in Parliament on July 21. He did not name them, however.

He said that at a time when the Select committee on media reforms was seriously deliberating on remedying some inherent flaws contained in the original bill and was looking at a broader framework of media laws, it was inopportune and untimely to debate the motion. Speaker K. B. Ratnayake in August last year gave a six-week deadline to Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera to complete select committee sittings which began in 1998 and make recommendations. However, no recommendations have been made so far.

The call to indefinitely postpone the bill came despite repeated requests by the Editors' Guild and working journalists to move fast in bringing Sri Lankan media laws on par with international trends. The debate on the motion was originally fixed for August last year, then put off for October and then to December, then to July this year and now put off again. 

SEC deals severe blow to HNB, Stassens

By Feizal Samath
Hatton National Bank and Stassens Group have been slammed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for "acting in concert" over a failed bid to seize control of Sampath Bank while the Central Bank said it had sought a separate ruling from the Attorney General on the crisis.

Central Bank Governor A. S. Jayawardena told The Sunday Times he had sought advice from the Attorney General to ascertain whether HNB flouted provisions of the Banking Act in acquiring a more than 10 percent stake at Sampath Bank.

This came as the SEC, the country's main stockmarket regulator, on Friday reprimanded five companies, including HNB and Stassens, and two individuals for wrongdoing during the controversial takeover bid at Sampath Bank.

"On the basis of information obtained in the course of investigations by the SEC, it has now identified five companies and two individuals as having 'acted in concert' in acquiring shares at Sampath Bank and thereby exceeding the threshold limit of the Takeovers and Mergers Code of 1995," the SEC said in a statement.

The statement was issued after trading had closed at the Colombo bourse on Friday.

It said the five companies and two individuals have been ordered by the SEC within 35 days after June 20 to make a mandatory offer, as prescribed by the code, to all Sampath Bank shareholders at the highest price they paid for the stock in the past 12 months. 

Sampath Bank is now trading at around 50 rupees per share compared to a high of 70 rupees in mid-June when the takeover drama unfolded. It was unclear whether the code has punitive measures or whether violators could get away with a warning. 

The ruling, however, effectively put the brakes on efforts by HNB, Stassens and its millionaire chief, Harry Jayawardene, to seize control of Sampath Bank, among Sri Lanka's best five private local banks. Mr. Jayawardene is also a director at HNB and one of its biggest shareholders.

HNB, Stassens and connected firms and individuals, acquired a total 44-percent stake at the Sampath Bank through a string of questionable stockmarket deals that came under investigation. 


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