24th Septemberh 2000

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Holding portfolio will have symbolic value

By Faraza Farook

Rauf Hakeem who took over as the joint leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress following the death of M.H.M. Ashraff said in an interview with The Sunday Times that he had full party blessings to accept a cabinet portfolio though the SLMC leaders' last political act was to sever all ties with the PA.

Q: Why did you decide to accept office as a Minister despite the late M.H.M Ashraff deciding to sever connections with the PA.

A: It has been a unanimous resolution by my party high command that I be assigned that portfolio, particularly in view of the fact that, it is an entitlement of our party which even though for a very short period of two to three weeks before the elections may have a symbolic value.

Q: Is it correct that there is some confusion about you taking oaths as a Minister?

A: The question is that there has been total misreading of the constitutional provision relating to this. In fact, the President's attention has been drawn to article 48 (3), which talks about ministerial functions. It talks about the fact that if a minister dies while the parliament is dissolved, only existing ministers can be assigned those functions or the functions must be reverted back to the President herself.

Unfortunately, the Attorney General has not considered article 70 sub section 7 and article 155 (4), both of which envisage the situation where, if parliament has been re-summoned for the purpose of debating the proclamation of emergency, and which happened on September 14.

For all purposes, from 14 of September, the parliament remains in session. And there is a resevoir of MPs now, from whom, the President can make appointments to portfolios. So we have pointed this out today, by tendering a legal opinion signed by both Mr. Faisz Musthapha and former Chief Justice Sharvananda.

The Presidential Secretary finally informed me that they are satisfied that this could be done and I have been asked to come and take oaths on Monday morning at 10 'o' clock.

Q: Is it correct that there are differences within the party on the appointment of Mrs. Ferial Ashraff as co-leader.

A: Some vested interests are trying to destroy the unity within the party. That is a fact. But the party leadership is very keen that we must not allow the minor differences that have arisen within the party to go too far.

As the only leader who can go out campaigning at the moment as she is confined to 'Idda' for the next four months, I have a duty to defend the party's decision and also will be carrying the cadres with me.

Q: Do some members want someone from the eastern province appointed as the leader?

A: There is some agitation for that. But, now there is no time to be debating that issue. In fact, Mrs. Ashraff herself has been quite reluctant to take up the responsibility and she told me that.

However, it is on the insistence of the President that she has been virtually forced to take over. Therefore people should not run away with the idea that she has become too ambitious at a time when she is supposed to be mourning. And I know for a fact that she is not somebody who is ambitious.

But then, we felt, that as a mark of respect to our great leader, we must extend that courtesy to our first lady. And when we did extend that courtesy, she was very honest and she just wouldn't readily agree. She needed time to respond and time was running out and that's when the President stepped in and persuaded her to lend her name.

Q: What is the latest information on the investigations into the crash?

A: We don't want to leave any stones unturned regarding this debacle. So we are looking at a variety of options. In fact, we also want to commission our own private investigator. I have already spoken to a senior retired Police Superintendent who has agreed to undertake the job and he is a personal friend of mine and the leader. Therefore we can be assured of a very thorough final investigation.

Q: What is happening to the investigation by the government?

A: We are still gathering information.

Q: Minister Ashraff, hours before his death said that he is bidding farewell to the SLMC and categorically stated that he has nothing to do with the PA. Don't you feel that you have betrayed your leader by promoting the SLMC and reviving ties with the PA?

A: That's an interesting question because most people get confused. My party leader was very clear and I know in what context he said that.

His bidding farewell to the SLMC is said in the context of, the National Unity Alliance, which he formed and through which he put forward candidates for this election. For all purposes, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is not contesting this election.

The SLMC is contesting the elections through its political alter ego which is the NUA. And therefore it is in that context that he said, he is bidding farewell to SLMC politics. So people have got to understand it in that context.

For all purposes, the SLMC is part and parcel of the NUA which is a recognised political party. The question of having the label 'Muslim' has been a big stumbling block to project ourselves as a truly national political force and it was a necessity of the time that we had to transform ourselves in this manner.

Q: Subsequently are you planning to do away with the SLMC?

A: My leader's vision was that. He felt that there is a big vacuum in the national political scene for a truly national political ideology, which moved away from the traditional politics which is the politics of the majority.

The Majoritarian political culture has got to be totally eradicated from Sri Lanka. He firmly believed it. That is the root cause of all these problems. Therefore, he found this new theory of trying to forge a new national political mainstream party, which would, while espousing national politics, will not compromise the minority rights as well.

The very nature of majoritarian politics is such that, even within the party structure, it very often happens that a national political party would compromise minority rights and aspirations. And that shouldn't happen if it is a truly national party. Our ideology therefore, is to take forward that mission.

Q: What is happening regarding the letter calling for explanation issued to Mr. Hisbullah for having recommended the issue of a license for a bar?

A: Our party leader has apparently called for explanation from Mr. Hisbullah before his demise. That is a matter that my party high command will be taking up in due course.

Q: There are allegations against the late Minister Ashraff of having used state resources for election work. Can you comment?

A: The question is, the media is being very selective when it comes to levelling these allegations.

I would like to ask those people who level these allegations to probe all ministries equally and look whether things have been done properly.

But I'm not going to whitewash if anything improper has been done. But there is a tendency to highlight only things that happen in the ministry that the member of a minority party holds. And that is what we decry.

Blackbox blocks Mi17 probe

By Chris. Kamalendran

The data recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder -the black box-of the Mi17 helicopter which crashed last Saturday killing former Minister M.H.M. Ashraff and 14 others has not been recovered so far hampering the investigations.

Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Ajith Wijesundara told The Sunday Times that until Friday they had not been able to trace the blackbox and a search was on for the device in and around the Urakanda hill where the helicopter crashed.

An appeal was made yesterday seeking help to trace the black box.

The crash site has been guarded by Police personnel from Aranayake.

The Air Force spokesman said that there was a possibility that the device had been taken away by villagers who rushed to the crash site.

But, Aranayake Police ruled out the chances of outsiders removing the device saying that a police team was the first to visit the crash site and since then it had been under guard.

Meanwhile the Meteorological Department yesterday said that the Air Force had obtained a 'route forecast' report before the flight took off last Saturday.

Deputy Director, K. R. Abeysinghe who visited the scene of the crash told The Sunday Times that according to the information gathered from villagers they had arrived at the conclusion that there was low level cloud, known in meteorological terms as Stratus which could spread out in a wider area in a short time.

He said the Air Force had so far not sought the Met. Department assistance regarding the investigations. Meanwhile Police sources said bodies of all 15 people who died in the crash had been identified.They said that there were doubts about one person after it took two days to identify the body, but the person was identified as Jiffry Moulana, a resident from Tangalle who had known Mr. Ashraff for a long period and joined the Minister on the ill-fated helicopter.

Right of Reply

Lake House Chairman Lucien Rajakarunanayake referring to our last week's story has sent the following reply.

My attention is drawn to the news item headlined "Computers at Lake House: going all the way to election" published on page 3 of The Sunday Times of September 17th 2000.

I wish to inform you that the said report is completely false with regard to the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (The Lake House Newspaper Group) loaning 20 computers purchased on an urgent basis to the Media Ministry for a period of three months.

Our Company has placed an order for 20 computers for our own use and 20 percent advance on the value of the computers has been paid to the supplier. However, we have not yet received these computers and as such we have not loaned any of them to any Ministry.

Your news item refers to an approval granted at the Management Meeting of August 28th. The Management Meeting you refer to did not even consider the loaning of these new computers, that had been ordered, to the Media Ministry.

As stated to your reporter, who inquired about this from me on Saturday the 16th of September, I was not aware of any move to loan computers placed on order, to the Media Ministry, as there was no such request from the Ministry. From the above you will note that your report that this company has given 20 computers purchased on an urgent basis to the Media Ministry, to be used during the election, is completely false and is lacking in any basis of truth.

Because these computers were needed for the modernization of the work at the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon limited, and as there was no budgetary allocation for this, the Head of Group - Finance raised a capital expenditure form for this purpose and obtained the necessary approval of the Director Finance as is the normal procedure to make this purchase.

This should make it clear to your readers that ANCL has not loaned any new computers to the Media Ministry for use during the elections.

Our reporter says: our story that Lake House has ordered 20 new computers without budgetary allocation is confirmed by the letter of ANCL Chairman. He however insists that the new computers have not been loaned to the Media Ministry.

While we are prepared to accept the Chairman's denial re: the new computers the question as to whether ANCL has loaned any computers to the Media Ministry remains.

I produce below a copy from the Projects Dept. of ANCL confirming the decision to loan ANCL computers to the Media Ministry, on a request from the Ministry.

Polls Chief takes anti-rigging steps

By Shelani de Silva

The Elections Commissioner has announced a series of measures that will ensure a free and fair poll on October 10.

Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake at a meeting on Friday with political party representatives discussed these measures at length, officials said.

They said one of the measures would be the deployment of officers to areas where they would not be familiar with candidates.

The Commissioner also has decided not to keep postal vote ballot boxes at the post offices after the votes have been cast and instead keep them under the custody of an Assistant Elections Commissioner.

On the day of the polls all political parties will be allowed to paste security stickers on the ballot boxes. Political parties have been advised to hand over the stickers to the Commissioner who will seal the packet and keep them in his custody.

The wooden enclosure in polling booths are to be made smaller lengthwise to prevent any stuffing. This measure is to be taken at booths which have been identified as vulnerable for rigging.

Bail for Bodhi Ranasinghe

Negombo Magistrate Saman Wickremarachchi has ordered that Bodhi Ranasinghe, an adviser to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe be released on bail.

Mr. Ranasinghe was taken into custody for allegedly helping former SSP Douglas Peiris obtain a forged passport.

The CID objected to bail, but the Magistrate overruled their objections. K.N. Choksy, PC appeared for Mr. Ranasinghe.

Navy fire kills six fishermen

Six fishermen were killed and six wounded when Navy opened fire at a group of boats in Trincomalee.

Police said it was a case of wrong identification. Six other fishermen arrested by the Navy had been released, they said.

Navy Headquarters sources said an investigation would be launched soon.

Women's voices must be heard

By Chandani Kirinde

Sri Lankan women make up more than half the country's population and contribute a lot to the nations's economy but their participation in politics is inadequate, according to women's groups and female politicians.

They are under represented in all elected bodies including Pradeshiya Sabhas, Provincial Councils and Parliament, they say.This was revealed at a meeting convened to initiate a dialogue on women's participation in the forthcoming general elections and in the political process in general .

There were only ten women in the last Parliament and only one nominated from the national list, it was pointed out.

In the forthcoming election among the more than 5,000 candidates who have handed in their nominations, less than 150 are women.

The JVP fields the highest number of female candidates with 22 followed by the PA with 15, the UNP with 11 and the Sihala Urumaya with 8.

Among the 29 people named in the national lists by each of the two leading political parties, the PA list consists of three women nominees Jezima Ismail,Manouri Muttetu-wegama and Kamala Ranatunga while the UNP has not included women in its national list.

The organiser of the meeting Nimalka Fernando, a candidate for the upcoming election from the Left and Democratic Alliance blamed the violent nature of politics as the root cause women for preventing actively involved in politics.

She added that an end to the northeast war was urgently needed as women were its real victims.

"There are 48,000 widows in the north and east and over 25,000 in the south. We must speak for their rights too," she said. Rohini Weerasinghe, the chief executive of the Kantha Shakthi said that women must have 50 per cent representation in all elected bodies as they make up 51 per cent of the population with over 90 per cent of them being literate.

"The voice of women must be heard in Parliament. There are horrendous crimes committed against women today and they must be stopped," she said. She said that the government is bound by its signature of international declarations to safeguard the rights of women and stop discrimination against them.

Speculation ends as crash victims are identified

By Chris Kamalendran

Rumours and speculation over an unknown body recovered from last Saturday's Mi- 17 crash site ended yesterday with the victim being identified as Jiffry Moulana, a resident of Tangalle, known to Mr. Ashraff.

Mr. Moulana had reportedly arrived at Mr. Ashraff's residence on Saturday morning and had been told by the minister to accompany him in the same flight.

"It was only after the body was recovered that the relatives came from Tangalle to identify it clearing doubts about the person," Minister Ashraff's Media Co-ordinator M. Naeem told The Sunday Times.

Initially there was speculation that it was the body of a youth known to PA candidate S. Kadirgamathamby who was also on the ill-fated flight.

Mr. Kadirgamathamby 48, an Ayurvedic physician hailing from the Samanthurai area had been a longstanding TULF member and in 1994 had contested the Ampara district unsuccessfully.

Soon after the assassination of Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam he had left the party following a dispute with the party leadership and thereafter associated Mr. Ashraff. Later he was named the PA candidate for the Ampara district.

Meanwhile police said they had been able to identify all the people who were on board the ill-fated flight.

They included a personal Secretary of Mr. Ashraff Joseph Periyathamby, 54 who had been with the minister for the past six years.

Mr. Periyathamby,a father of three daughters had left his home at kochchikade, Negombo two days prior to taking on the tragic journey and had been living at Minister Ashraff's residence.

"On Saturday morning he called me and said that he was on his way to Ampara with the Minister and will be returning soon. We were not aware of the incident until a radio station broadcast the news about the helicopter crash', the widow Mrs. Periyathamby told The Sunday Times.

He had been employed at the Ports Authority for the past 30 years and the Minister had selected him to attend to his correspondence," she said.

Other passengers on the ill-fated flight were identified as Mr. Ashraff's Chief Security officer Ajith Vidanagama (MSD), Chandana Silva, Ports Authority Assistant Security officer, Sakideen, a PC attached to the Kalmunai Police, S.H. Niyamathulla, a Provincial correspondent, S. Raufdeen, a schoolmaster attached to Almanar Vidyalaya Marathamunai and A.Aziz a lecturer attached to the South Eastern University at Oluvil.

The other five were identified as Air Force personnel including the pilot Siran Perera.

UNP storms court with petitions

By S.S.Selvanayagam

The main opposition UNP has filed several petitions in court with the apparent aim of pre-empting any attempts at large-scale polls rigging or violence.

UNP General Secretary Gamini Athukorala has filed two petitions in the Court of Appeal one citing the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation and other one citing IGP as respondents.

In another petition, UNP Chairman Karu Jayasuriya has cited the Elections Commissioner as respondent among others.

In these petitions the party says it has appealed to the Commissioner of Elections to ensure the credibility, integrity and reliability of the electoral process by introducing safeguards.

However, the Commissioner had cited loopholes in the laws and the lack of resources for him to take corrective action.The party also says the existing electoral process is fundamentally flawed becasue of inadequate security while police personnel remain passive in the face of violence in and around the polling stations. It adds that previous elections were marred and distorted by a high degree of impersonation, intimidation and stuffing of ballot boxes with ballot papers either obtained through forceful means or forged.

The party states the system of transporting ballot boxes and the counting process are vulnerable to abuse, manipulation and distortion, resulting in the negation of the people's franchise.

The party claims it is entitled to an order from court directing the Commissioner of Elections and the IGP to perform their statutory duties in conducting the forthcoming General Elections in a free and fair manner.

It has also asked court to request the Commissioner of Elections to make the following directions.

* that a proper account of ballot papers including the number printed, the number damaged during the printing, the numbers dispatched to each Returning Officer, the numbers remaining with the Government Printer, the numbers distributed by each Returning Officer to the SPOs and the number remaining with each Returning Officer and finally the number of unused ballot papers returned by each SPO be made available to recognised political parties;

* SPOs to record instances of unlawful removal of ballot papers in their ballot paper accounts, noting therein the serial numbers of the ballot papers so removed.

Acting on another petition filed by the UNP, Court of Appeal Judge Upali de Z. Gunewardene on Friday issued notice on the SLBC, Rupavahini and five other respondents, to answer charges relating to excessive publicity time given to the ruling PA.

Justice Gunewardene also upheld that the view that the Commissioner of Elections is at his liberty to call for this complaint and to express his opinion to the parties concerned.

Mr. Jayasuriya in his petition has objected to the decision by the Commissioner of Elections to allow employees of peoplised bus companies to cast postal votes.

The commissioner had said the services of these employees were essential for the election and so they should be entitled to vote earlier by post.

But the UNP had sought a court order quashing this decision of the commissioner.

PA pledges peace with justice

By Nilika de Silva

Pledging that peace will be achieved based on democratic principles, the People's Alliance has unveiled its manifesto for the October 10 General Elections.

Introducing the manifesto, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told a news conference said the PA's vision was based on democratic principles such as justice, human rights and equality.

Among the other salient features of the manifesto are moves to make Dhamma school education compulsory, modernisation of theatres and installation of garbage-recycling plants.

Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the manifesto was a reiteration of the Vision 21 policy statement presented to the country by the President last year when the PA Government celebrated its fifth year in government just prior to the Presidential Election. Predicting the outcome of the polls, he said, "It's going to be a great result. Who knows we may even be knocking on the doors of a two-thirds majority." SLFP General Secretary and Minister S. B. Dissanayake said that during these past years the government, instead of following just a popular road, chose an economically correct road.

"The UNP campaign is based today on lies, more lies and damned lies," he said. When asked about polls-related violence, Minister Samaraweera said what had been reported so far was very little when compared with the 1994 General Elections record.

"It is false to say that the number of polls-related incidents have increased. From July 07 to August 16, 1994, 15 killings took place, and there were 1542 cases of reported violence. On an average, there were about 45 incidents of violence a day.

But at this election, just 16 incidents a day are recorded. Mr. Samaraweera said those who tied yellow ribbons should know that it was the PA that wanted a free and fair election then and now.

No fair poll possible in NCP, says deputy minister

Deputy Minister Shantha Premaratne who is contesting the Anuradhapura District said yesterday that a free and fair election would not be possible in the North Central province.

Mr. Premaratne in an interview said the struggle within the party for preference votes could even instigate violence.

He alleged the police had become mere pawns in the hands of certain politicians and they had not even launched an investigation so far.

"I am facing serious threats more from the party than from the UNP. This is because of the battle for preference votes. There is a person who is unleashing terror making use of the official vehicles belonging to the Provincial Council. There is also a group called Ninja led by a Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman who goes about assaulting even PA supporters in a frenzy," Mr. Premaratne said.

Most of the PA supporters were disgusted with the conduct of the campaign, he said adding that things could turn more violent closer to the elections day.

Monitors' show draws only 10

In spite of a much hue and cry by various political parties for free and fair elections, only ten out of 42 parties contesting the upcoming polls were represented at a meeting convened by European Union polls observers.

When asked to name parties that were present, European Union Observation Mission spokesman Peter Cross declined.

He said 28 EU monitors were already in Sri Lanka, familiarising themselves with the elections process and 40 others were expected closer to election day.

"The 28 monitors will be sent to provinces this week. Their first task will be to drive into the regions, study the campaign and report back to the mission," Mr. Cross said, adding that he would welcome feedbacks from political parties, candidates and the people.

Earlier, polls monitor John Cushnahan, a member of the European parliament, addressing newsman in Colombo said they were an independent team in the true sense of the word.

Mr. Cushnahan also said the team was satisfied with the role of the Elections Commissioner with regard to the controversial sticker issue.

"We had a lengthy discussion with the Elections Commissioner and we have been assured full and free access to the polling booths," he said.

Mr. Cushnahan said their team would be able to monitor only five percent of the polling booths because of their limited manpower. He, however, added that this five percent would be selected after a careful study of the events in the run-up to the October 10 elections.

Based at the Colombo Hilton, the EU mission will submit its final report to the EU commission a week after the elections.


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