4th February 2001

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Maha Sangha to bless UNP protest march

By Shane Seneviratne

The Malwatta Mahanayake Ven. Rambukwelle Sri Vipassi Thera has cautioned the UNP leaders to take all precautions to protect themselves during today's week-long protest campaign in which the party is calling the government to resign on the grounds that it has been illegally constituted.

The Mahanayaka Thera on Friday told the UNP general secretary Senarath Kapukotuwa the leaders should protect themselves due to the existing dangerous situation.

The Malwatta Mahanayake and the Asgiriya Mahanayake Ven. Udugama Shri Buddharakkitha are due to give their blessings for the UNP march which is scheduled to commence from Kandy. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is due to offer flowers to the Maligawa earlier in the day before commencing the protest march.

By Friday a large presence of CID officials were observed in Kandy town ahead of the protest while the UNPers were busy making preparations by decorating vehicles, putting up flags and making cut outs.

The UNP which plans to spark off a series of other protests calling the PA government to resign on the grounds that they do not have the right to hold power as they have not been legally elected by the people.

The protest starting off from Getambe in Kandy around 8.00 a.m. is scheduled to stop over at Mawanella, Galigamuwa, Weweldeniya, Yakkala and Peliyagoda before it finally reaches Colombo on February 9. The party plans to have a public rally opposite the Town Hall.

The UNP has informed police about their route, amidst reports that there were plans to attack the procession and even let loose wasps which had been collected from the Mahiyangana area.

UNP parliamentarian Tissa Attanayake, one of the committee members involved in organising today's protest, said at least 40 UNP members of Parliament had been requested to attend the protest march and the their presence would be helpful to beef up security.

"We also have our own security plans which we would be putting into operation", Mr. Attanayake said. He said all party organisers had been ordered to maintain discipline.

The UNP's deputy leader Gamini Atukorale on Friday told journalists the party expected around 10,000 people from all parts of the country to participate.

"We are starting in Kandy because it is the centre of the Central province where most of the rigging took place during the last election. Because of that the results of the elections were also altered.

As for rumoured government plans to unleash wasps on the processions, Mr. Atukorale said they were not afraid and would move ahead.

Mr. Atukorale thanked the President for instructing her ministers not to disrupt the UNP march. Meanwhile, Karu Jayasuriya said the march was not intended to create turmoil in the country.

Nugegoda supermarket burgled

Six shops in the Nugegoda supermarket had been broken into and goods valued at several thousands of rupees was robbed on Friday night, police said.

The worst affected was the 'Foto Centre' studio on the top floor of the three storey building from which camera and video equipment worth over Rs.150,000 was robbed, the owner, Bernard Fernando, said.

"This is the second such incident in six months. Although complaints had been made regarding the previous robbery, police have failed to arrest anyone in this connection," Mr. Fernando charged. It is believed that the same gang was responsible for this robbery as well as they had adopted a similar method of breaking in.

The supermarket building is owned by the Municipality and every evening the shops are locked up and the keys are handed over at the police station. The three security guards stationed at the building say they did not see the intruders.

The other goods robbed from the shops include cash, shirts, saris, swimming trunks and underwear. Mirihana Police are conducting investigations.


S.B's house gets facelift

Workmen are busy these days giving a facelift to the house earlier occupied by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake to make it ready for Minister S. B. Dissanayake who is planning to move there.

The terra cotta floor which was in a good condition is being replaced with granite flooring. The total cost is around Rs. 900,000, sources said.

The renovation has been ordered as Minister Dissanayake is not happy with the house and its fittings.

The toilets too are being given a complete facelift with new fittings replacing the old ones, they said.

The renovations are being done after President Kumaratunga on Wednesday called on her Cabinet ministers to cut down on extravagance in an apparent bid to cut down expenditure.

Snake at Temple Trees

The wildlife men were summoned to Temple Trees last week to catch a snake which had penetrated the high security barricades.

It all started when some members of the Prime Minister's staff spotted an innocent looking "garandia'( a harmless snake) slithering near the office. They immediately summoned the Wildlife department men to catch the snake.

The wildlife men hell bent to catch the dangerous intruder at Temple Trees started searching for it in every nook and corner. After hours of searching they ended up catching a "garandiya." The snake was found close to the swimming pool.

A million - billion jingle

When a journalist questioned the CEB boss at a press conference last week why Rs. I million was spent on renovating an office room, pat came the reply: "It was just a million but we deal in billions'.

It was a jingle with millions and billions between chairman and the general manager when they tried to explain the profits and losses incurred by the CEB.

While one official was saying billions the other was saying millions, finally coming to billions.

CEB and the country's image

With the government imposing a 25 % surcharge on electricity bills, questions were raised as to why the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) failed to impose power cuts as early as December as advised by electricity engineers.

The CEB boss Arjuna Deraniagala said the CEB did not want to impose power cuts since it would tarnish the image of the country.

"It has nothing to do with elections, but we did not want to create a bad picture for the country," he said.

That's well and good but consumers would be compelled to cough out a few more rupees to obtain electricity now.

New job for Sudu Nelum originator

Many moons ago the Sudu Nelum was launched with much aplomb, involving stage dramas, roadshows and getting school children to watch them in the scorching heat.

Millions of rupees were spent on the so-called dramas.

Now the same author of the Sudu Nelum is entrusted with the task of organising a show involving millions of rupees to tell the people that everything that is done is for the forces.

The peace drums that were beaten then have now turned into war drums. This time an enormous amount of money is to be spent on putting up digital pandols in the seven provinces depicting the history of the country and the on-going war.

This is done with the motto "All for the sake of the forces."

From Kataragama to Tirupathi

The one who rolled on the ground to offer his thanks giving to the Kataragama God for ensuring a PA victory at the last general election and his getting a deputy ministerial post has now taken wing to Tirupathi.

This time too he is going to fulfil another vow. Instead of rolling on the ground he might shave his head.

The big mouth from deep south has vowed to do it if and only President Kumaratunga gets another term. God Venkateswara in Tirupathi must be watching the antics of his new disciple from Sri Lanka. We might see a parliamentarian with a clean shaven head in the House at the next sittings.

Floating with dollars

Some have all the luck whether you float the rupee or not. Those who had known that the rupee would be floated thought it fit to capitalise on it by investing dollars in foreign countries.

Some of them have even taken wings to foreign lands to reap the harvest of investing dollars, knowing well that the ground situation in their own soil is not conducive to investments.

VIP caught in the act again

Part two of the drama which was acted at Battaramulla a few months ago took place at the 18th level of the World Trade Centre on Thursday.

The drama unfolded when the VIP's wife stormed into his office only to find a "highly connected" female officer hiding behind a pillar.

The VIP's wife lost no time in fishing out her husband's heartthrob and delivering a few well-aimed blows on her with her handbag and the books that were lying around.

She aimed the final blow with a teacup which hit the pillar and broke into pieces making a loud noise in the usually quiet office.

Security officers who tried to intervene were told to keep off and the VIP's wife was heard yelling, "She has ruined my life and my child's life."

The security men then tried to send away the lover girl, but she too stood her ground. She was not ready to leave, even though police pleaded with her to run away.

The drama did not end there. The VIP's wife in a frenzy pulled down a picture of a priest from the wall saying, "This is no place for priests. You had better hang pictures of pin-up girls or topless women here."

A concerned official who was looking for plasters for her bleeding finger was told to stock some condoms instead.

UK should impose ban on LTTE - SU

The Sihala Urumaya (SU) in a strongly worded letter to the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, Jack Straw, has requested Britain to ban the LTTE.

It stated that the LTTE, which has been operating from the UK for many years, is waging a ruthless ethnic war in Sri Lanka.

The letter which was sent last week stated that the LTTE does not represent the Tamils. The LTTE has carried out over 200 attacks on innocent civilians over the past 17 years and their victims include Buddhist monks, pregnant women and infants.

''They have systematically destroyed all Buddhist places of worship in the North and East of Sri Lanka in an effort to ensure that all archeological evidence to prove that the Sinhalese had been the earliest settlers in the North and East is destroyed.

"The LTTE had no qualms to attack the most sacred and venerated places of worship of Buddhists. They had attacked the sacred Bo Tree killing over 200 pilgrims who were engaged in worship three years ago. The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, which houses the tooth relic of the Buddha, was also attacked," the letter stated.

The SU letter also stated that all previous attempts by successive Governments in Sri Lanka to negotiate with the LTTE have proved to be disastrous.

'The LTTE is merely using the periods when there had been a cessation of hostilities to re-equip, reorganise and relaunch murderous attacks on the military and innocent civilians," the letter further stated.

The SU letter further stated that should the UK fail to ban the LTTE it would be an endorsement that the British Government condones the activities of the LTTE which is perpetrating crimes against humanity.

Soldiers of 51st Division felicitated

A function to felicitate soldiers who had been involved in recent military operations in the north was held by the 51st Division of the Sri Lanka Army in Jaffna recently.

Major-General Gamini Jayasundera, General Officer Commanding 51st Division was the chief guest.

Ninety-six officers were awarded certificates at a simple ceremony in Jaffna.

Judge messing up marriage probed

The Human Rights Commission office in Kandy is probing a complaint against a judge who is alleged to have used his influence to break up his daughter's marriage and using police to intimidate his son-in-law.

The complainant son-in-law, a computer programmer, had made three unsuccessful attempts to lodge complaints with the police. Finally he sought redress from the HRC.

The complainant had married the judge's 23-year-old daughter around October last year before the Udunuwara/Yatinuwara marriage registrar Ms. L. Keerthirathna. However, they had been living separately.

The judge is alleged to have used his influence and got the couple down to Kandy police and wanted to break up the marriage. However, the complainant said they had refused to do so as they had been living together.

Subsequently the couple had been invited to the Judge's residence situated a short distance out of the Kandy town. The son-in-law had been told that he was wanted upstairs as the computer was out of order.

When he reached upstairs, he complained, he was pushed into a room and was severely beaten up by two persons believed to be police officers who were armed with pistols. He said the judge who was present at the time of the assault warned him again to break up the marriage.

After the assault he had been brought by a three wheeler by the judge himself and dropped in Kandy town. The daughter had been reportedly detained by the family and had been shifted to another location.

The complainant and his family thereafter had been receiving threatening calls warning him to put an end to the marriage.

He claimed he made two attempts to lodge a complaint at Peradeniya police and the DIG's office, but was turned away. He avoided going to Kandy police as he had suspected that they were assisting the Judge.

An HRC spokesman said instructions had been issued to the DIG to investigate the matter about three weeks ago. However, there had been no response. The DIG had been summoned for the investigation, he said.

Meanwhile, the complainant has asked the HRC to take action to protect his and his wife's lives and allow them to continue with their marriage.

Dollar crisis: Our side of the story

The two state banks and the Central Bank issued statements denying The Sunday Times report last week that dealers at the two banks triggered speculation in the money markets.

Bank of Ceylon General Manager Sarath de Silva said his dealers were not responsible for the speculative trading and added the report had tarnished the image and reputation of the bank. The People's Bank, separately denying the report, said it had "damaged the trust and confidence of the people (in the bank)". Strangely, the Bank of Ceylon statement was issued via the state

Information Department and not directly to the media, which is unusual since the bank has as a practice sent all its statements - including clarifications on newspaper reports - straight to the media without recourse to the government's information agency.

The People's Bank's denial was sent to the state media earlier this week, but not to The Sunday Times.

The Sunday Times stands corrected in reporting that the two state banks would have triggered the speculation in the US dollar, but there is evidence to show that an import bill from a large government agency involved in the import of essential food items had led to frenzied trading in the dollar, putting pressure on its value.

Banking sources said the import bill, which Central Bank officials said did not exist, was in fact a genuine one and the trades that took place on Thursday, January 25 - sending the dollar to dizzying heights - was to finance the dollar requirement amounting to some millions in US currency, for the state agency.

"There was hectic trading in the dollar and speculative trading can occur in such a situation. But the fact remains that there was a demand for dollars and for a genuine purpose, too," one source said.

The sources said when the import bill came into the market, many banks - private and state - made a bid to provide dollars for the bill, which naturally sent the dollar shooting up, speculative or otherwise. And in an environment where the dollar was heading for uncertain times due to the free float earlier in the week, it reached unprecedented levels, sources added.

New tender board for Government purchases

By Tania Fernando

The President has decided to appoint a special tender board to approve all purchases by the Government.

The Sunday Times learns that the President has made a decision in order to curb malpractices taking place. As such, all purchases for government institutions should be approved by this special tender board which will have representatives from the office of the Commissioner General of Essential Services and the Treasury.

At a meeting held on the 29th of last month with traders and sugar bondsmen, it was intimated to them that all tenders would be channelled through this new board and that they should not directly deal with any government institution.

This board will call for tenders and decide to whom a particular tender should be awarded depending on the market price. It would then advise the government institution concerned from whom it should purchase the goods.

It is alleged that this decision has been made in order to curb malpractices which have been taking place recently.

Despite numerous attempts to contact Minister of Food and Marketing, Reggie Ranatunga, who is responsible for the CWE which is the largest government purchaser, he was not available for comment.

Labour crisis in foreign bank

The Labour Department has intervened to settle a compensation issue governing employees of a foreign bank in Sri Lanka that is either contemplating closure or is planning to merge with another bank.

The employees of the Bank of Nova Scotia have appealed to the Labour Commissioner to intervene and make arrangements to get them compensation.

The bank began operations in Sri Lanka in August 1999 with a limited staff. In October last year, the Country Head had announced that a decision had been taken to wind up operations in Sri Lanka and said that a severance package will be given to the employees.

Though the employees were promised the severance package in about two or three weeks, little has been done to compensate them.

Employees are perplexed as to why the bank decided to cease operations despite making profits during last year with its limited cadre.

The Sunday Times learns that the bank is currently negotiating with another private bank. However, Country Head Mr. Christopher Bell-Knigst declined to speak on the matter due to standing procedures.

Labour Commissioner Mahinda Madiahewa said that the Department was only looking into the welfare of the employees and was unaware as to why the bank wanted to cease operations here. He said a meeting to discuss the compensation issue was due on February 13.

Medical body under fire in specialist row

Some senior doctors in the Government health sector have accused the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM) of not providing the cadre requirement of specialists to meet the country's health needs.

They said the number of surgeons who retire annually exceeded the number of those passing out at the exams held to qualify as consultant/ surgeons.

The proposal to bring foreign surgeons to private hospitals in Sri Lanka has also perturbed the medical sector and seems to have posed a threat to local doctors.

A senior registrar at the Colombo National Hospital said that failing to train local doctors in specialised fields will result in few specialists being available, which means poor patients unable to receive free services will have to opt for private medication spending vast sums of money.

The lack of specialist doctors in state hospitals could mean that foreign doctors will charge more, they warned.

Allegations have also been made against the PGIM on the 'very strict' examination procedures adopted which have resulted in even senior doctors failing their exams many times.

However, head of the PGIM Prof. J.B. Pieris said with the postgraduate degrees awarded by the PGIM being the only recognised qualification for consultant status in the state health sector, they were particular about putting out quality medical practitioners.


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