14th January 2001
By Chris Kamalendran and Faraza FarookMore evidence has emerged about state institutions openly violating a Finance Ministry circular which stipulates that government institutions should insure their vehicles with either of the two state insurance corporations to protect public funds.
Government officials and politicians have been insuring state vehicles at high cost through brokers instead of approaching the state insurance corporations directly at a lower cost, an investigtion by The Sunday Times revealed.
The practice has gone beyond control with many government departments especially ministries obtaining insurance policies through an intermediary.
Despite the entitlement for a 10% rebate when directly insured with the state corporations and the comparatively lower cost, government officials opt to go through agents paying high commissions.
As a result, the government has been forced to pay colossal sums for insurance covers, being deprived of the 10% rebate when going through brokers.
Finance ministry sources said though the circular was in force, government institutions had failed to adhere to it.
Most luxury vehicles of ministers and deputy ministers have been insured through an agent. "The ministry is aware of this problem and we are very much concerned about the issue," chief executive director of the Public Finance Division of the ministry, W. D. Jayasinghe said.
The issue has been brought to the notice of higher authorities for remedial action.
Meanwhile, another directive is being circulated by the ministry instructing government institutions to obtain insurance cover from the Cooperative Insurance Co. Ltd.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times exposure last Sunday on an insurance deal has awakened the relevant authorities and government officials from their deep slumber.
Several important files relating to the deal have allegedly been removed by some senior officials of the Insurance Corporation of Sri Lanka (ICSL),The Sunday Times learns.
An official of the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) said it was difficult for them to detect a government vehicle when it is insured through an agent. "If an individual insures, we would not be able to identify whether it's a state vehicle or not. But if it is an institution, then we can identify and refuse to accept it," he said.
He said the officials approached brokers through advertisements placed in the newspapers.
"We don't get an opportunity to quote," he pointed out citing the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) quotations for a marine insurance cover for its crude oil shipment in 1998 as an example. Despite the NIC quoting 40% less than that of the ICSL, the CPC which sought the assistance of a broker, insured with the latter. But later, through the same broker, the CPC's marine insurance was obtained from the NIC.
The Sunday Times also learns the CPC has renewed its fire policy with the ICSL through the same agent at a premium of Rs. 600 million. In return the ICSL had to pay Rs. 7.5 million as commission to the agent.
With the government unable to put everything in place and little action being taken in this regard, doubts are being raised if this is a move to add the two state corporations to the list of public institutions facing the threat of privatisation.
Moreover, the Public Enterprises Reforms Commission has called for shares for the National Insurance Corporation.
Meanwhile, Minister Douglas Devananda has denied the last week's Sunday Times report on an insurance cover of a ministry vehicle. However, he would probe the matter, he said. He also said his ministry had adopted the direct insurance method and did not seek the services of agents.
Insurance sources, however, confirmed that a luxury vehicle valued at Rs. 3.5 million had been insured by his ministry with a premium of Rs. 110,000 being paid annually. The Sunday Times learns the black Volvo vehicle (WPGC 6380) purchased by the ministry, has been insured under the name of senior assistant secretary Mr. Chandrasekera.
Ranjith Fonseka who held the post of additional general manger (human resources) was replaced by a retired administrative service officer who previously held a post at the Ministry of Environment. His services had not been extended.
The CEB management had agreed with the CEBEU that the post of AGM would be filled by a qualified electrical engineer, the union said. Electrical engineers should manage the CEB's human resource functions, the CEBEU said in a letter to the general manager.
By Dilrukshi HandunnettiThe government has still not fixed dates for the presentation of the budget in parliament, sources said.
With the budget due in November being postponed due to general elections in October and the vote-on-account presented in December, the budget is expected to be presented in March this year.
Amidst uncertainty over the date of budget, government institutions are finding it difficult to finance their activities. Under a vote on account, generally allocations are made for recurrent expenditure, but no capital expenditure.
Meanwhile moves are underway to telecast the budget debates live, parliamentary sources said.
With the number of sittings increased from eight to ten days a month, Speaker Anura Bandaranaike has discussed the telecast of the budget debate with party leaders. Mr. Bandaranaike who was in favour of live debates told the party leader that positive changes were necessary to make parliamentary democracy more vibrant.
With the Speaker giving the green light for live telecast of 'important debates', UNP MP Milinda Moragoda has also moved a private members' motion in support of this.
Mr. Moragoda's motion which is the first private members' motion appearing in the Order Paper calls for the immediate working out of modalities and mechanisms to make live telecasts of debates a reality.
With the budget debate expected to be held in late March, the opposition UNP is to move for amendments to the Standing Orders calling for the increase in the number of days allocated for debating the Appropriation Bill.
The UNP which originally called for the increase of the number of Parliamentary sittings, also urged that the Standing Orders be amended to allocate more days for the budget debate as the number of ministries have shot up from 31 to 46, hence meriting more debating time for the opposition.
By Shane SeneviratneWhen telephone bills of an ordinary subscriber is not settled within two months the line is cut, but the telephone line of the SLFP office in Kandy which was in arrears of Rs 550,000 for 15 years was disconnected only recently.
The telephone at the SLFP office at D.S. Senanayake Street in Kandy has been registered under the name of Anuruddha Ratwatte and the number is 08- 234271.
By Shelani de SilvaThe government is to issue special identity cards to widows, parents of soldiers who have lost their lives and disabled soldiers in order to grant them easy access to institutions.
The identity cards issued to the widows and parents of soldiers who lost their lives would include details of the soldier, including his rank and the operational area.
The photograph of the widow and the parents would also be included. The ID issued to the disabled soldiers would have the membership number of the Association of Disabled Ex-Service Personnel.
A public awareness programme is underway as this would be the first time that such identity cards are being issued.
The identity card is issued to mark the World Disabled Day which falls on December 3. The project is handled by the Ranaviru Seva Authority and the Association of Disabled Ex-Service Personnel.
Mr. Solheim has reportedly commended the manner in which the two main parties seem to be coming to some understanding about a common agenda for peace — which formed a better foundation for future talks with the Tiger leader.
It is learnt that President Kumaratunga had informed the special envoy the government's inability to accept the LTTE's unilateral cease-fire because the rebels have in the past made use of the de-escalation period to regroup and relaunch the offensive.
At a lengthy meeting with Mr. Solheim on Thursday night, President Kumara-tunga had reportedly explained that while the government had no intention of closing the doors to peace, it was also not willing to be taken for a ride.
Mr. Solheim is expected to be in Sri Lanka again in March with the initial modalities for a path-breaking discussion to resolve the ethnic conflict.
The former magistrate of Jaffna K. E. Eganathan who tried to expedite a case against three members of the Eelam People's Democratic Front (EPDP) for killing a civilian in the Delft island in mid -1998 had been suddenly transferred to Point Pedro, The Sunday Times learns.
The transfer came after the government authorities, police, army and navy had repeatedly blocked the investigations, despite orders from the magistrate.
The Sunday Times learns that after political pressure the magistrate had been transferred. However, no action has been taken to proceed with the case against the EPDP members who allegedly killed the civilian and buried him without a magisterial inquiry.
The magistrate had first issued an order to Kayts police to arrest the suspects who were reportedly living with the EPDP in the Kayts island. Police had informed courts that the suspects could not be arrested as the island was under EPDP control. A second order was given to the navy which controls the security of the island to assist in arresting the suspects. But the navy too had given the same excuse. Lt K. T. Perera had informed court the suspects could not be arrested by the navy.
Meanwhile, Jaffna town commander too had informed court that the directive could not be carried out as the suspects did not reside in the area under army control.
When the three suspects and the grama niladhari finally surrendered to court they were given bail.
However, they did not attend court when the case was called.
The magistrate also issued an order to arrest the senior EPDP cadre who surrendered the three suspects and stood surety for them, but he was not arrested. Prior to the incident an assistant government agent who was detained by the EPDP in the Delft island had allegedly been killed.
By Tania FernandoA nine-year-old girl of a leading school in Minuwangoda had been raped last week allegedly by the driver of her school van, police said.
The girl has been warded at the Ragama Hospital and the suspect driver A. D. Somaratne alias Arty Mama, 47, remanded.
The girl's mother had entrusted her to the van driver quite unaware of the disaster that lay ahead.
And the parents had apparently not known that it was a school holiday.
The girl who found that there were no classes on that fateful day had stayed back in school to be picked up by the van.
Around 1.15 p.m. a student from a higher class had helped her to get into the van.
In a statement to Minuwangoda police, the girl had claimed the suspect kept the door open and asked her to go to the back seat in the van. Then the suspect also got into the van and raped her, police said.
The suspect had squeezed her mouth and held her hands tight when the girl resisted his moves.
After the alleged rape, he had threatened her with death if she disclosed it to her elders. He had also told her to say that it was done by two students in year 13 in the same school, police further said.
The driver has been remanded till January18.
By Shelani de SilvaResidents in Madiwela where a presidential complex is coming up, are making another complaint — this time over noise pollution in the night from the construction site.
The drilling which started last week continued throughout the night, disturbing the peace and engulfing the area in a cloud of dust, residents said.
Protests heated up when construction continued throughout Tuesday the Poya day when around 250 people assembled at a nearby temple to observe sil.
Ven. Omanthe Soratha Thera at the Eamporuwa Temple told The Sunday Times that the sound was so loud that it seemed the drilling was taking place inside the temple.
"The people who came to observe sil could not even meditate and they were also inconvenienced by the dust," the monk said pointing at the shrine room that was covered with dust.
"We opened a new shrine room on December 28. It was so dusty that we had to paint the Buddha statue thrice because the dust settled on it even before the paint dried," he said.
One resident said they understood the need for a presidential complex, but the authorities should have concern for people's health. "We can bear it if drilling takes place only during the day, but when it continues throughout the night, it is absurd or it shows how callous the people who govern us are," he said.
When angry residents contacted the UDA officials, they had said the drilling could not be stopped in the night because they had to meet a three-month deadline.
"One arrogant official even told us that we either put up or leave the area because there will be more problems when the filling starts," another resident said.
Project Director Nihal Fernando told The Sunday Times a plan could be worked out to ease the inconvenience caused to the people if they had discussed the problem with him.
Earlier, the Madiwela complex had come under heavy criticism from environmentalists and residents who raised questions regarding bird sanctuaries and security.
By Tania FernandoMore than five thousand fishermen took to the streets yesterday protesting against the hike in fuel prices and calling on the government to offer them relief to carry on with their work.
The fishermen marched along the streets of Negombo after mooring their boats on the shore.
They claimed that the hike in fuel prices was unfair and unjust and affecting their livelihood. They charged that the government was doing little or nothing despite appeals to the fisheries minister.
The fishermen warned that if the relief they sought was not granted, the protest would spread to the entire country and the fishing industry throughout the country would be paralysed.
There are about 65,000 motor boats being used in fishing and they require either kerosene or diesel. In Negombo area alone there are about 5,000 boats which go out to sea on a daily basis and most of these boats have ouboard motors as they do not go to deep sea. Though some of these boats start up their engines with petrol, at sea they use kerosene.
The fishing industry employs a large number of people, including those who help pull the boat to shore, the fish sorters and fish vendors.
"We don't like to go far because it would mean more fuel consumption and less profit," said W Anthony Fernando, a fisherman and former President of Gampaha District Fisher Co-operative Society.
"We have been absorbing all these price increases before but we never protested. Now the time has come to put our foot down and fight for relief," he said.
The fishermen also claimed that when they met Fisheries Minister Mahinda Rajapakse in April and November last, they were promised some sort of relief.
"Instead of relief what we got was a series of fuel price hikes," said W Maximus Coonghe, President of Fishermen's Federation of Negombo.
The grievance of these fishermen is that in spite of the many price hikes in kerosene and diesel they are unable to increase prices of their catch.
Mr. Coonghe said that since fish is perishable without refrigeration, they always tried to sell it at whatever price.
The situation is worse when the catch is big. It is the middleman who purchases fish from them is able to sell it at a higher rate as most of them have storage facilities.
W Cannicius Fernando, secretary of the Fishermen's Federation said that after the price hikes, they had to spend about Rs. 235 more every day on fuel. "While we have to spend more to earn our income, we have to pay more for other things as well as the prices of almost everything is going up as a result of fuel and gas price hikes," Mr. Cannicius said.
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