27th August 2000
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President invites Sangha for talks

By Niroshan Godallagein Matara.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has invited the Maha Sangha to study the new draft constitution and have talks on any changes.

Addressing SLFP candidates from the Galle, Hambantota and Matara District at Matara on Friday she said the draft constitution had been misinterpreted by individuals or groups which had not studied it fully. 

The President pledging the Government 's commitment to non-violence warned that action would be taken against any party members or supporters found to be involved in violence.

" This is the first time I am meeting all of you after the presidential elections, and now in a few months' time we will be facing yet another. This election will be the first, which will be held after six years. I am meeting you all not only because of the election but I also want to thank you for all the services rendered and talk about the work that will be done in the future. 

" Don't forget that it is all of you who helped to form the Government. Your dedication and tireless efforts helped us to build the Government. 

"We cannot forget the dark period the country faced prior to the 1994 elections. 

The president added that it was important to safeguard human rights. She said although the country had healthy democratic record all this had been destroyed when the PA came into office in 1994.

"A few days back a person putting up posters was killed. We do not kill people. We are the ones who did away with political killings. Our Government did not and will not consent to killings. We will hunt down the culprits," she said.

President Kumaratunga said that before the PA came into office the society was completely emaciated and horrified. All those who were against the then-Government were chopped and killed. The people were against then-Government. It was the People's Alliance that was able to clean that terror-stricken political era.

We did not choose any police officers and give them weapons to kill our enemies. The economy had collapsed. Those who were in power destroyed the country. They robbed the country far from developing it. Most of the cabinet members of the then-government own houses abroad, and they even have estates. We have even found the addresses of such houses and estates.

The President added that during the past six years the Government was able to carry out a lot of development. The international monetary fund has revealed that the Government was able to increase the expenditure on rural development by 150% .

The President gave assurance that the Nilwala project would again come into operation. Even though the last regime gave a tender to a illegal company, the PA was able to commence it again, the President said.

" It was our Government which started the Colombo-Matara, and Matara-Hambantota express ways. First we started the Katunayake express way. We will start work on the Southern express way by the first half of year 2001. This will be the biggest project undertaken by the Government. Investors have shown interest in the Hambantota Port , and the area is good.

"Some Buddhist monks have urged us to continue with the war and kill all Tamil people. But all these people who are shouting will not tell us how we could feed the people while a war is going on. These are the very people who start shouting when the cost of living is increased slightly' , the President said.

"When we lost Alimankada I received many letters and fax messages advising me to finish the war. They say even suggest that we take money from the allocation for salaries. If we have 100,000 billion we can finish the war in three months. We will import the latest weapons. Who will find this large sum. If we stop development projects, increase the cost of living, and forego the salary we can find the required money and finish the war in three months," she said.

The President asked whether the people would like it if a kilogramme of rice was sold at 70 rupees. The people have not been kept hungry for a single day because of war. The UNP increased the cost of living by 15% at once. But the Government managed to bring it down to half even despite the war. 

"Rich countries usually increase the cost of living by 3 to 4% but during our first year we were able to bring it down by 3 to 4%. We brought down the cost of living, found more than eight lakhs of jobs. We have been instrumental in getting good prices for tea and coconut. There was a problem with prices for rubber but we have solved it and drawn up a plan for further improvement in prices.'

The President said the Government had achieved much improvement in the field of economy and there was much more work to be done in the future. 

" The salaries of government servants will be trebled by year 2005. These are not just dreams. The new Education policy will also be completed by 2005. By that year we will open a National school in every Provincial Council. Children will be introduced to new education skills, and more teacher training will be provided," President Kumaratunga said.

"If we did not have to fight a war, rural development will be much more.We will get foreign aid to an extent that no other Sri Lankan Government has got. We have Free Trade Zone. Several rich companies have signed contracts , but the delay is due to the war.

"We could have ignored the war, there were leaders who did that. Tamil people were burned, and the country put into flames and war was waged. J R's Government and the Indian Government got angry with each other. From 1984 to 1994 the war was carried on effortlessly. The Indo-Lanka accord was signed and it was put into force," she said.

The President pointed out that her Government too could have given arms to Prabahakaran and mislead the people. If that happened Prabhakaran would have captured Colombo. 

"During black July in 1983 the so-called Sinhala people ran away when they were told that Tigers were coming. J R said that each person should think of his/her own security.It is the people who gave us the power. I will solve the problem and then go home. All these prestige is not important for me. People brought us into power not because they wanted us to have any prestige and wear the crowns, and we too have not forgotten this. International reports state that we have managed to strengthen the economy and continue with the war'

'It is our Sinhala boys who are sacrificing their lives, some people claim that we should continue with the war, and they don't want peace. These people have not sacrificed anything. They have not sent anyone to fight the war. "I love my country. I am a good Buddhist but I don't hold Bodhi poojas to get into the papers. I don't want to be in this post forever. I want to safeguard Buddhist principles," the President said.

Khan: a race well run without horse deals

Two weeks ago this page might have been checked and corrected by veteran Ismail Khan. But on a stormy and rainy Thursday evening at Maligawatte, the last page in his career was written when we laid the 69-year old journalist to rest. With hard work and commitment Ismail Khan made an important contribution to the Sunday Times and the Daily Mirror when he worked with us during the past five years in what turned out to be the final lap of a life he faced obstacles or hurdles including illness with courage and a smile.

During the past year especially he would often be heard coughing wheezing or holding his chest but he insisted he must carry on his work because Ismail Khan was not the man who would be defeated by setbacks or illnesses. Often he would be the first to come after leaving his beloved granddaughter in school he would work quietly and efficiently and was often the last to leave after ensuring that every page was right and good.

Born in Companna Veediya, Ismail Khan was educated at Cathedral College in Kotahena, he began his five-decade career in journalism at Lake House, then moved to the old Times and later the Sun Group. During a break from mainstream journalism he worked for the Sumathi Group's 'Sporting Star' where he built up a reputation for giving jack pot tips. Horse racing for him was not in any way linked to gambling but it was a sport which he closely studied to an extent that he predicted events at the Royal Ascot and other great races as well as any expert on the course. Colleagues would joke with him whether he liked a horse carriage for his final journey but he passed away as quietly as he had lived with only the aluminium casket for his burial on Thursday. 

Joining the Wijeya Newspapers in 1997 Ismail Khan made a multi-faceted contribution including editing and writing especially on films and the sporting art of horse racing. In one recent race he predicted as many as seven winners which could have brought him lakhs for a big punter but Ismail Khan himself had placed a rupee or two on his winners. 

At Wijeya Newspapers his professionalism was supplemented with personal qualities such as openness, a spirit of accommodation and a peaceful nature. Colleagues said they could not recall a single instance where he qaurrelled or used harsh words, even when he was loaded with page after page. He had a large heart and an open mind, getting on like a brother with people of all races and religions. He was faithful, loyal and undemanding, being blessed with the virtue of contentment with what he had. He never jockeyed for positions or condoned any horse deals though he was a virtual dictionary on jokeys and horses. 

The Sunday Times joins his family and friends in saying thank you to Ismail Khan for a job well done and a race well run. May he rest in the peace of God and as proclaimed in Islam - "From God we come and unto Him we return". 

NCC shuts door on Hashan

A fresh row broke out in national cricket when recalled Test batsman Hashan Tillekeratne was suspended from his club, the NCC, following a clash with former selection committee chairman Sidath Weetimuny.

An NCC official said Mr. Tillekeratne would be barred from entering the club until a three-member disciplinary committee headed by DIG Camillus Abeygunewardena completed its inquiry.He said Mr. Tillekeratne would be allowed in only for training with the national team to which he was recently recalled, after being out of the scene for more than a year.

NCC President Lesli Hewage said last night that Mr. Tillekaratne was suspended mainly on an eyewitness account given by former Test bowler Romesh Ratnayake.

Mr. Tillekeratne who was once tipped to succeed Arjuna Ranatunga as captain had been removed from the squad after Mr. Wettimuny took over as chairman of selectors. 

The Sunday Times learns that a powerful lobby is working behind the scenes to back Mr. Tillekratne because if he is expelled from the club he would not be eligible to play for Sri Lanka. The report of the committee is expected within ten days.

Maize inquiry delayed

The Customs Department is yet to complete investigations into the 22, 000 metric tons of maize believed to have been imported from Argentina. 

Director Customs of Imports and Tariff Division K. Gunadasa told The Sunday Times that he was awaiting a letter from the Agriculture Department to carry out further investigations. 

The cattle in Argentine pastures have been tested positive for the antibody that causes foot-and-mouth disease.

Perumal will go with PA

By Roshan Peiris
Former North East Chief Minister Vardaraja Perumal yesterday announced his party would be fielding independendent candidates in Jaffna and Wanni districts while contesting in the eastern province with the PA.

Mr. Perumal said a final decision on the matter had been made following discussions with the PA.

Commenting on reasons for supporting the PA, Mr. Perumal said he beleived the government was sincere in its effort to resolve the ethnic conflict in a just manner. 

SC order loses potency when President says no

In late July this year, a short two-page order of the Supreme Court slipped by without much comment. Nonetheless, this order and the events preceding it can rightly claim their own importance in the political and constitutional scheme of things in Sri Lanka.

In so doing, they pose familiar dilemmas for individuals of different faiths in this country. For human rights activists, they raise age-old questions regarding the precise accountability of high officers of the State when grave human rights violations happen under their command. For constitutional lawyers, the order in particular manifests a nightmarish tussle between the executive and the judiciary where the President says a direct no to the Supreme Court. But first, as the famous Carrollian warning goes, it is necessary to begin at the beginning. 

And this would be none other than the "disappearances" of more than twenty five students of the Embilipitya Central School during the height of the JVP rebellion. This was one of the most horrific of personal vendettas during those extraordinary times, where selected students were given the ultimate punishment for having flouted the authority of the principal of the school over an affair being conducted between the principal's son and another student in the school. The students had been "disappeared" by officers of the nearby Sevana Army camp, instigated by the affronted principal. At the end of the three-year trial into the "disappearances", the Ratnapura High Court found the principal, Dayananda Lokugalapaththi and a number of security officers of the Army camp guilty of numerous offences under the Penal Code.

All of them were given varyingly severe sentences but in practical terms limited to a period of 10 years. As the bodies of the students were never found, no charges of actual murder of the students were brought against the accused. Protesting among other things, against the reduction of the sentences and the rejection by the Court of evidence relating to detention of the students at the Sevana Camp, the State has now appealed against the judgement. The 3rd accused, Rohan Parakrama (Parry) Liyanage who was district Coordinating Officer for the area was acquitted meanwhile on the basis that there was no direct evidence against him. His acquittal was not appealed from by the State.

Scarcely had nine months lapsed since the judgement of the High Court was delivered in early 1999 when Brigadier Parry Liyanage appealed to the Supreme Court. Making the Defence Secretary, the past and present Army Commanders and the Attorney General respondents, Brigadier Liyanage argued that he had not been promoted to the rank of Major General even though the Army Commander had recommended his promotion following his acquittal by the High Court. This resulted in him being treated arbitrarily, unreasonably and capriciously. The Defence Secretary, on the other hand, pointed out that Brigadier Liyanage had shown himself to have had "insufficient control over his subordinates". Thus, it was in the best interest of the Sri Lanka Army to deny him his promotion. The Supreme Court disagreed. In the absence of direct involvement in the disappearances, Brigadier Liyanage merely occupied a place of authority in the chain of command. The Supreme Court found the promotion of others above and below him (such as Brigadier Vajira Wijeratne, the Provincial Commander of the area who was Brigadier Liyanage's immediate superior and Capt. K.V.V. Chamarasinghe, Detachment Commander), to indicate discriminatory treatment. While Wijeratne had admittedly not been indicted in the Embilipitiya case, Chamarasinghe who was an officer in charge of the Sevana Detachment had been so indicted.

The Court did not accept the plea of the State that the "disappearance case" had attracted international as well as local concern and that the miscreants must be seen to have been suitably dealt with. On the contrary, there was no rational reason why Brigadier Liyanage should be singled out from those who might be held accountable because of their positions in the chain of command. The "recommendations of the Commander of the Army" sent to the Defence Secretary. .(regarding Brigadier Liyanage's promotion) were directed to be "implemented". Brigadier Liyanage was also given compensation.

In the majority of cases, the matter would have ended there. In this instance however, things were different. This February, Brigadier Liyanage was served with a letter from the Military Secretary communicating an order of the President "regretting that she cannot agree to the recommendation of the Commander of the Army " to promote him to the rank of Brigadier General." In effect, it amounted to a direct flouting of the order of the Supreme Court. Adding insult to injury, the Brigadier was informed that he was deemed to have been retired from the Army at a time when an interim order had been issued by the Court staying the retirement of the Brigadier until the final determination of his rights petition. And thus it was that in an undoubtedly interesting turn of events, Brigadier Liyanage again went before the Supreme Court pleading that the Presidential refusal to promote him amounted to contempt of court.

In its order delivered last month however, the Supreme Court in a Biblical washing of its hands, declared that it can do no more. The Court has no power to make an order promoting Brigadier Liyanage for the power to make such appointments is, by law, vested in the President.

"We are unable to give further directions other than that we have already made…..since the appointment has to be made by the President who was not a party to these proceedings. Reliefs are available only against parties to proceedings" the Court stated. The Bench comprised Justices Amerasinghe, Wijetunge and Bandaranayake, all judges before whom Brigadier Liyanage's original petition had been heard. Their order was made after persuing confidential communications made in this respect between the President and the Defence Secretary.

The August order of the Supreme Court did not itself specifically discuss the question of Presidential immunity. That this is an issue central to the case is however without a doubt. Under the present Constitution, the President cannot be brought before court while in office for anything done in his/her official capacity. However, in regard to any subject or function assigned to the President (Article 44(2)) or in the case of an impeachment (Article 129(2)) or election petition (Article 130 (a), the Attorney General can be cited instead. Brigadier Liyanage's position was that he had cited the Attorney General as a respondent in lieu of the President, precisely for this reason. In other words, the President had acted under the Army Act read with Article 44(2) in the matter of his non-promotion. The State, on the other hand, argued that the President had exercised powers as the Commander in Chief of the Army under Article 30 of the Constitution. Therefore, the President was not a party to the application and her refusal to abide by the decision of the Court cannot be challenged. The order of the Supreme Court amounted to an acceptance of the latter argument.

Legal quibbles aside, what does this all boil down to? We have had situations in the past where Presidential regulations and Presidential appointments have been declared reviewable by the Supreme Court on the basis as, famously stated, that immunity is a shield for the doer and not for the act. Those cases mainly concerned less thornier instances where an officer of the State such as the Defence Secretary or the Commissioner of Elections relied on acts done by the President in order to justify his or her own conduct. 

Here, the appointment was directly in the hands of the President. In the face of her outright refusal, pious articulations that the President is not above the law can ultimately only be of academic interest.

And notwithstanding the reactions of absolutist rights advocates to the promotion of high security officers who carry the burden of vicarious responsibility for human rights violations, such direct flouting of Supreme Court orders by the President can only carry uneasy precedents into the future. 

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