4th February 2001

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Jaffna celebrates independence

The Jaffna Secretariat has planned religious ceremonies and shramadana campaigns to commemorate Independence Day.

A special pooja at Nallur Kanthasamy Temple at 6 a.m.will be followed by the national flag being hoisted to the accompaniment of the national anthem at 8.33 a.m.

A tree planting ceremony and shramadana campaign will also be conducted at the Secretariat premises.

True freedom is to live in peace

Calling on the people to set aside all differences and work towards ending the war and pledging to safeguard the identity and integrity of the country, President Chandrika Kumaratunga has issued her message for the 53rd Independence that falls today.

"I am happy to make use of this occasion to remember with respect and to pay homage to the innumerable numbers of courageous leaders who have laid down their lives for the independence and liberation of our land. I also pledge on this mementos day on behalf of my government to safeguard the identity and integrity of this country for which they have sacrificed their lives.

" The independence which we have won can only become meaningful if all communities can live in peace and unity.

"Every moment in which peace and unity prevails among our people will contribute in its own way to consolidating the economic, social and political independence of our country. It is only through such means that our people will be able to think freely attending to their day to day needs."

The president has also stated that while the country should not surrender to any force which seeks to work against peace, it is important that the country does not lose hope in face of the challenges posed by cowardly terrorist act.

"I wish to reiterate that I will not permit any inimical force to suppress the integrity of our nation which has been safeguarded through many years with great determination against considerable odds. It is only through determination and commitment coupled with courage, patience and vigilance that we shall be able to overcome the challenges before us," the message states.

Tight security at main ceremony, Colombo

With a security blanket being thrown over Colombo today in view of Independence Day, invitees for the main ceremony in Parliament complex have been restricted to 800.

The one and a half hour ceremony scheduled at 8.00 a.m. will be heralded by a 21 gun salute and will be presided by President Kumaratunga.

Meanwhile several religious programmes will be conducted to mark the country's 53rd Independence Day.

A Buddhist ceremony will be held at Ashokarama Maha Viharaya, Thimbirigasyaya at 6.00 am. The All Saints Church Borella will have a special mass at 7.00 am while a service would be held at the Baptist Church in Cinnamon Gardens at 7.00 am. A special Muslim service would be held at the Jummah Mosque Newham Square Kochichikade at 6.15 am and a Hindu pooja will be held at Sri Mutu Mariamman Temple at Kotahena.

Rights petition against DS over admission

By Laila Nasry

The Supreme Court has granted leave to proceed in a fundamental rights case filed by a parent and his son against the principal of D.S. Senanayake college, challenging the denial of admission to Year 1.

The petitioners, M. I. Falildeen and his son M. I. Isab from Borella, claiming that the school had granted admission to a child living further away than them and another with a Baseline road address where an eating house is situated, said the school had violated their right to equality.

To obtain Year 1 admission for his son, Mr. Falildeen said he submitted a duly filled application to the principal and he was called in for an interview where he handed over several documents of proof of his continuous residence at Baseline road, Borella.

However, when he received no response for two months, he met the vice principal who informed him that his son had not been selected, Mr. Falildeen said.

He said he then appealed to the principal and was later asked to appear before an appeal board. The members of this board had pointed out that his wife's address in the marriage certificate was different from their current address. He told them that at the time of marriage his wife was living with her parents, Mr. Falildeen said.

He said that when appeal board also failed to inform its decision, he sent two letters to the school through his lawyer, seeking a response, but he received no reply.

Mr. Falildeen claimed in his petition that the action of the principal and members of the appeal board was arbitrary, capricious and a violation of their right to equality.

UNP seeks early budget

Steps up commission campaign ahead of local polls

The main opposition UNP is to insist for an early budget and intensify its moves towards the setting up of independent commissions for police, Public service, judiciary and elections ahead of the local government polls.

UNP Assistant leader Gamini Atukorale said the party waited till the government came up with electoral reforms on local government elections to present a parliamentary bill on the setting up of these commissions but now the government was adopting delaying tactics with the postponement of the local polls.

The Government on Friday announced that it was indefinitely delaying local government elections saying that elections would be held once the recommendations of the select committee on local government reforms are ready.

The statement by Media Minister Anura Priyadharashana Yapa also claimed that the UNP and JVP had sent in their recommendations on local government electoral reforms, but the JVP denied sending any recommendations.

"We only wrote back saying that the government was seeking the party's views with the ulterior motive of postponing the elections," JVP parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansha told The Sunday Times.

UNP sources said they feared there were moves to postpone the budget as well. They said they would insist that the budget was held this month, instead of delaying it for the next month.

Meanwhile UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya called on the government to abandon its delaying tactics and support its motion to set up independent commissions.

Mr. Jayasuriya told journalists on Friday that the party had finalized the draft bill after consulting other opposition parties and the Organization of Professionals Associations (OPA) and it would be sent to parliament this week.

He said the government was uninterested in the appointment of these commission and adopting tactics to hoodwink the people and the opposition.

The government recently announced that it would set up a parliamentary select committee headed by Minister and NUA leader Rauf Hakeem to prepare a bill in this regard after getting the views of all political parties.

The move followed a meeting Mr. Hakeem had with President Kumaratunga in the wake of the expiry of a hundred-day deadline set by the NUA leader. Mr. Hakeem had threatened to withdraw his support to the government if the commissions had not been set up.

Mr. Jayasuriya said the government was especially not keen on setting up an independent Police Commission.

"The other commissions would be of little use without an independent Police Commission. Their main aim is to depoliticise these institutions," he said.

Chief Olympic architect coming

By M. Ismeth

The man responsible for designing the Sydney Olympic 2000 stadium and the Olympic village will be in Colombo soon.

Australian architect professor, Lawrence Nield, will be one of the many distinguished panel of international speakers invited for the 19th annual sessions of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects to be held at the BMICH on February 21. Prof. Nield will speak on the "Most successful Olympics ever" on February 22.

Sir Jeremy Dixon from Britain will deliver the keynote address on the theme "London and Millennium."

SLIA president Mihindu Keerthiratne told a news conference that to coincide with the annual session, a trade exhibition would also be held, displaying a variety of items used in the building industry

Delegates from India, Pakistan, Singapore and Japan will also participate at the annual sessions, which would be declared open by Urban Development Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Deputy Minister in remand

Deputy Health Minister Janaka Bandara Tennekoon has been remanded till February 12 in connection with the killing of two persons in Matale during the general elections campaign in October last year.

Mr. Tennekoon at the time of his arrest by a special police team from Dambulla was warded at a private hospital in Colombo. He was produced before Colombo Fort Magistrate Priyantha Fernando, who ordered him to be remanded till February 12. The two victims, supporters of Matale district UNP parliamentarian Ranjith Aluvihare, were attending a UNP rally when they were shot at allegedly by a group led by Mr. Tennekoon who had come to the scene along with members of the Ministerial Security Division and his son, police said.

Mr. Tennekoon and three MSD officers have been remanded while his son who is also wanted in connection with the killings is in London, police said.

Ratwatte wants disciplinary action against Jayaratne

Minister and Kandy District chief SLFP organiser Anuruddha Ratwatte has requested President Chandrika Kumaratunga to hold a disciplinary inquiry against Minister and PA General Secretary D M Jayaratne over statements the latter made against him in the run-up to the general elections in October last year.

Gen. Ratwatte has protested over Mr. Jayaratne's remarks alleging violence and malpractice in the Kandy district from where the two ministers contested at the parliamentary elections.

Minister Ratwatte in a letter to President Kumaratunga has stated that the allegations leveled against him were damaging to the Government and requested that Mr. Jayaratne be subjected to a disciplinary inquiry.

During the election, Mr. Jayaratne reportedly made statements that Gen. Ratwatte and his supporters had rigged the polls and had created much chaos in the Kandy district.

'Peace' group launches cost of war campaign

A peace group has said the rising economic, social and human cost of the war has left Sri Lankans with a pervasive sense of insecurity and is launching a series of awareness campaigns on peace.

The National Peace Council campaign would present its latest report on the 'Cost of War' to all sectors of society. The report would be supplemented by an account of the effects of war with real life stories, the group said.

"Today's escalating cost of living has been directly attributed to the ongoing conflict in the North and East which has had a negative impact on production and economic activity on all sectors," the report said.

According to the report, resources lost, especially in the North and East are immeasurable. While agriculture, the primary income generator of the north and east, has been the worst hit, the war has also affected a number of vital industries such as cement, paper, chemicals, mineral sands and salt, in addition to the loss of revenue in the tourist sector, the report said.

A sharp drop was recorded in agricultural production largely paddy, chillies, potatoes and red onions. For instance, paddy production in 1982/83 in the region excluding Ampara was about 498,000 tons, but this fell by more than half in 1988/89.

In 1998 the production rose to 249,000 tons from 173,000 tons in 1996. Accordingly, when compared with the production in 1982, the output in 1998 shows a drop in production by 50%, the report said. The potatos yield had fallen by 85% and onions by 69% when compared with 1982/83 figures. Fisheries showed a drastic drop of 63% in 1996, the latest year for which data are available.

The tourist industry is another sector that has suffered badly due to the war, the NPC report said. If there had been no war, more than one million tourists would have visited Sri Lanka, the report taking into account the average tourist arrival figures before 1983.

However, the report said the losses in tourism could not be directly attributed to the war alone. The JVP insurrection in 1987-1990 and the Central bank bombing in 1996 and terrorist threats have all contributed to the poor tourist arrivals.

Batty: If war continues, there won't be an economy

By Shelani de Silva

Justice Minister and LSSP leader Batty WeerakoonJustice Minister and LSSP leader Batty Weerakoon says the only way to combat the rising cost of living is to find a solution to the war in the north and east or to drastically reduce the military expenditure. In an interview with The Sunday Times he dismissed claims that the government was spending extravagantly on an extra-large cabinet and the presidential complex.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: How do you assess the current economic situation in the country?

A: The economic situation cannot improve unless the military expenditure is reduced drastically. An additional military expenditure of Rs. 30 billion, which the government was compelled to spend on urgent military hardware last year, has added to the cost of living. The likelihood is that if the war continues at the present phase more expenditure will be incurred. If not for the war expenditure, the Government could have offered some relief when the world oil prices increased.

Q: But opposition politicians say some sort of relief could be offered if the government cut down on additional expenditure incurred on the unusually large Cabinet?

A: That is wrong. I don't think much is spent on the ministers.

Q: What about the large sum spent on a presidential complex and the Speaker's house ?

A: Those have not come up and no money has been allocated for them. It is part of the hostile media campaign to pressurise the Government.

Q: But the President's house is being built and even in parliament the matter was raised.

A: There is no allocation, there is no construction taking place. Where do you see construction taking place?

Q: Close to the Parliament?

A: No, I go that way everyday. I don't see any construction taking place.

Q: What about the Speakers House?

A: I don't even know what you are talking about. Show me if you know it.

Q: The building work has already begun. The land has already been allocated?

A: They can allocate land but there is no expense involved.

Q: As a senior minister what have you done in regard of the CoL ?

A: The LSSP has been of the view that the only way to bring down the cost of living is through ending the ethnic conflict.

Q: Where is the political solution to the conflict?

A: The package which was presented in last parliament will be brought back to parliament for approval with necessary changes.

Q: The LSSP issued a statement expressing concern over the rising cost of living. Are you finding fault with the government?

A: It was a comprehensive statement giving our perspective of the situation. It is not an agitation or propaganda statement. It is a serious statement issued by a political party which is part of the Government. Therefore the statement is not anti-government.

Q: What was the motive behind the statement?

A: As a political party we have to state our position. We want to show the people that the Government and the LSSP are concerned about the burden placed on the people. The problem cannot be solved through methods proposed by the UNP and the JVP. These two parties talk purely in terms of the management of the economy. They must understand if the war expense continues there will soon be no economy to manage. So we have been forthright in our statement.

Q : How will each ministry try to cope with the situation. Will there be a slowdown in development work?

A: Development projects which are foreign funded cannot be stopped. If we do not give our share to these projects, the foreign funds could be withdrawn. So we have to ensure the development projects go on.

Q: Several trade unions are planning to stage protest or "public awareness' campaigns on the economic situation. Any plans by the LSSP?

A: What we need is not protest but a solution.

Q: Will there be further increase in commodity prices?

A: In an open economy, prices are adjusted automatically. What a Government should do is to see how best the poorer section of the community can be cushioned against the adverse impact of the market forces. Unfortunately, we no longer have the machinery we had upto 1977. When food imports were monopoly of the state, we had an efficient cooperative system. All this machinery was dismantled by the UNP during its 17 year rule. Now we have to resort to other methods such as the Samurdhi scheme to help the poor..

Q: Don't you think the government should seek the cooperation of opposition parties to overcome this economic crisis?

A: You cannot expect other parties to unite with the PA, because there is a power struggle, especially with the UNP, which feels that it must use every weakness in the system to push itself forward. It has the backing of the private media.

First time varsity hopefuls in quandary

By Shane Seneviratne

A section of students who sat the Advanced Level examination are in a quandary over the new selection system for the university as it has turned out to be disadvantageous to students who sat the exam for the first time.

Under the new system, students who have sat the three subjects under the new syllabus at the A/L exam for the first time, are at a disadvantage as against those who had sat four subjects under the old syllabus.

According to mathematical calculations students who sat for the first time have a lesser chance of being selected, despite obtaining the same amount of marks. A student who has sat four subjects could get a better average and a better rank than a student who has sat three subjects.

With the closing date for applications to enter the university approaching and the University Grants Commission (UGC) failing take into consideration the appeal made by the parents of the affected students, the students are desperate, according to teachers and principals of some schools.

Education Minister Susil Premjayanth last month told Parliament that complaints from parents had been referred to the UGC for a decision, but parents point out that the UGC has so far not made any statement on the matter.

'The dates for closing of applications is February 10. We feel that the authorities will go ahead with their new selection system and our children will be deprived of entering the university', a parent of one of the students who sat the exam for the first time said.

Prof. M.T.M. Jiffry, a member of the UGC board, when contacted by The Sunday Times said the new scheme had been worked out after a series of meetings.

'During a transitional period it is expected that some students will be affected. We are taking all steps to see that the least number of students will be affected', he said.

However parents pointed out that it was unfair that one particular batch of students should be affected during the so called 'transitional period' as such students would be missing a chances of gaining entrance to the university after 13 years of study.

The parents had earlier appealed to President Chandrika Kumaratunga as well, with no response.

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