11th February 2001

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Queries over derailed quarries

Railway funds allegedly going through family tunnel

By Sunil Jayatilleke

Some Railway top officials whose family members own metal quarries are alleged to be using influence to get the department to buy their products instead of getting them from state run quarries.

Railway sources claimed moves were underway to stall the department's bid to revive its metal quarries in Ambepussa and Galgamuwa.

They said the department received Rs 257 million Japanese aid in 1998 to revive and maintain the Ambepussa quarry but the work had come to a standstill though two engineers had received special training in Japan. They also said expensive machinery had been lying idle at the Galgamuwa quarry for several months.

Instead of obtaining metal from the Railway quarries, the department buys its monthly requirement of 4000 cubes, at a cost of 100 million rupees from four private quarries reportedly owned by members of top Railway officials, according to the sources.

They claimed that if the Ambepussa quarry was revived, it could supply 710 cubes a month and produce metal sand, the sale of which could bring in extra revenue to the department.

The sources also charged there was waste and corruption at several levels on the purchase and production of metal.

They said the department instead of effecting minor repairs to its Hydraulic Breaker and using it, had hired this machine from a private company at a cost of Rs. 200,000. It also hired a loader from another private company at a cost of Rs. 500,000 instead of using its own one after carrying our repairs.

The repairs were deliberately not carried out, the sources claimed.

The metal quarry at Galgamuwa was commissioned, with the hope of exploiting it for 30 years, but indifference on the part of railway officials, had let the quarry remain obsolete, with expensive equipment laying idle, and a building left unused with its water tank, the sources claimed.

It is alleged that some top officials deliberately let the Galgamuwa quarry remain unused, so that they could get the metal from their quarries.

Meanwhile Railways General Manager W.K.B. Weragama said the production at the railway quarry alone was not sufficient to meet the demand, so tenders were called from private quarries as well. He said this had been the case for the past 50 to 60 years.

"We have two state quarries, but one has not been functioning for the past 30 years. Only the quarry at Ambepussa is working," he said.

Uncertainty over BASL poll after candidate's death

By Laila Nasry

A lacuna in the Bar Association constitution which has not spelt out procedures in the event of a death of a candidate, has put the upcoming election of the premier lawyers' body in uncertainty.

President's Counsel Chula de Silva, one of the two candidates for the post of president died of a heart attack at Hulftsdorp last Friday, with all island elections fixed for February 20.

Lawyers are wondering whether they should elect the remaining candidate uncontested or urge the BASL to call for fresh nominations.

BASL officials said the Bar Council, executive arm of the BASL, was expected to be summoned next week to discuss the situation.

Meanwhile, BASL members have been requested to assemble at the Kanatte main entrance tomorrow at 4.30 p.m. for the funeral of the late Mr. de Silva.

CEB mulls over ways to enforce restrictions

By Shelani de Silva

The Ceylon Electricity Board is yet to work out a scheme to enforce restrictions on consumption of power under emergency regulations promulgated by President Kumaratunga in view of an impending crisis.

Under the emergency regulations, the use of power from the national grid to illuminate carnival grounds, signboards, shop windows, operate air-condition machines and floodlighting have been banned.

CEB's Consumer Services General Manager Nihal Wickremasooriya said before taking stern action, an awareness campaign on the emergency regulations would be carried out next week.

Stern action would be taken against violators once the grace period was over and a warning given, he said.

"We will disconnect the power, if our warning is not taken seriously," he said.

Mr. Wickremasooriya said the CEB would use its flying squad or any other means to monitor strict adherence to the regulations.

Despite the emergency regulations, several state institutions used national grid power to illuminate buildings during and after the Independence Day. Several business establishments also use the national grid power to light up signboards.

The emergency regulations say that any person who contravenes the provisions may without prior notice, be liable to have the electricity supply temporarily disconnected.

The CEB through the new regulation has estimated to save one million units a day. But one CEB source said the purpose could be defeated if more power was consumed watching cricket matches on televisions.

The state TV Rupavahini, meanwhile, is all set to telecast the upcoming England tour. Its chairman Upali Guneratne said telecasting cricket matches was a national duty and it would be shown as scheduled.

MP challenges govt. claims on hospital

While the government and its media claim that food, medicine and other essential items are sent to the North, the reality is quite different, an opposition MP said after a visit to the Jaffna Teaching Hospital.

UNP parliamentarian T. Maheshwaran said that let alone medicine, the Jaffna Teaching hospital did not have even doctors.

He told The Sunday Times that this hospital had only four doctors a visiting physician, a visiting surgeon, an obstetrician and an eye surgeon.

The approved cadre of more than 22 medical officers for the hospital should consist of three visiting physicians, three visiting surgeons, one nuero surgeon, a dermatologist, a radiologist, four pathologists, three anaesthetists, two eye surgeons, an oncologist, a resident obstetrician, a resident physician and a resident surgeon, the MP said.

These vacancies had to be filled immediately if the government was sincere in its claim that it cared for the Jaffna people, he said.

The crisis over the dearth of doctors had been aggravated by the shortage of medicine, Mr. Maheshwaran said.

He asked the government to open a branch of state pharmacy Osu Sala in the Jaffna town so that people could get drugs at a reasonable price.

"There is even a delay in obtaining clearance for the dispatch of drugs to Jaffna from the Ministry of Defence. Sooner the process is streamlined, the better it would be," he said.

Bill to set up Consumer protection Authority soon

A bill to set up a Consumer Protection Authority will be presented in Parliament soon, Trade Minister Rauf Hakeem said.

He said Cabinet approval had been obtained for the bill to set up the authority, which would carryout, the functions of the Fair Trading Commission and the Department of Internal Trade.

"The bill will enable the government to step in as a regulatory body to prevent anti-competitive practices, and be a watch dog to prevent monopoly situations arising out of orchestrated mergers," Mr. Hakeem said.

The Sri Lankan consumers are largely ignorant about fair trade and 'consumer protection' concepts and the ministry should also launch an awareness campaign on the proposed authority, a consumer said.

SC holds doctors' right to equality infringed

The Supreme Court on Friday held that two medical doctors' right to equality had been infringed and directed that they be admitted to follow postgraduate studies.

The Bench comprised Justices Mark Fernando, D. P. S. Gunesekere and P. Edussuriya.

The petitioners Dr. Neelamani S. Hewageegana and Dr. Sujatha Senaratne in their fundamental rights application, citing the Colombo University, the Director Postgraduate Institute and 26 others of whom were eminent doctors as respondents, stated that in June '98 for the first time the Postgraduate Institute advertised a course in medical administration for an MD.

Although applications were called for admission to the programme, the qualifying exam was not held resulting in it being abandoned.

In November 2000 once again applications were called for admission to the same course of study. However, the criteria and eligibility for the MD programme were different to those on the previous occasion.

Dr. Neelamani addressed a letter dated December 4, 2000 to Dr. J. B. Peiris, Director of the Postgraduate Institute, giving her administrative qualifications and requesting she be considered under category B which exempted candidates from the qualifying exam.

She addressed a further letter on December 5, 2000 seeking formal clarification of the position which was approved by the board for the course in respect of category B.

Dr. Sujatha in her letter dated December 8, 2000 sought formal clarification in respect of the acceptability of administrative positions she held and indicating (if she was qualified) her preference for category B.

However, though the closing date for applications was December 15, 2000 they had not been formally informed whether they were eligible to apply under category B

The uncertainty as to whether the positions held by them would be recognised under category B prompted them to submit applications under category A for which they also qualified having obtained MSc in Medical Administration.

The petitioners said while those with MSc in Medical Administration were required to sit for a qualifying exam those without the postgraduate qualifications were not required to do so, making the categorisation of candidates in both segments arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and devoid of any rational basis.

The petitioners further said a person of the board of study in Medical Administration who did not possess an MSc in Medical Administration forwarded an application for the same programme and was considered under category B.

Thus the petitioners stated their fundamental right to equality and equal protection of the law as guaranteed by Article 12(1) of the Constitution had been infringed.

Transport Ministry's 'election' vehicles yet to come back

Eight Transport Ministry vehicles allegedly used for election work in October last year have not been returned, official sources said.

The disclosure came hard on the heels of Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union's claim that 30 CEB vehicles had not been released after they had been released for election work.

The Transport Ministry Secretary in a letter dated November 9, 2000 wrote to the Presidential Secretariat, giving details of the vehicles, but the vehicles had still not been returned.

According to the letter addressed to the Presidential Secretary, Minister A.H.M.Fowzie and his staff had used the following vehicles:

302- 0151 bullet -proof, 301- 6666 Car Audi, 32- 2356 Jeep,17- 9066 Car and 56- 9750 Double Cab.

The letter also said that Minister Athauda Seneviratne had used a jeep bearing the number 65- 3065 while Deputy Minister Maheepala Herath had used a vehicle carrying the number 64- 1579.

As regards a vehicle taken by Minister Reggie Ranatunga, the Ministry secretary's letter says the President had given permission to Mr. Ranatunga to use the vehicle until a new vehicle was given to him.

British funds fuel war flames, says NJC

The National Joint Committee has urged the British Government to ban the LTTE stating that the war defied a solution for the past 18 years mainly because of the financial resources which the LTTE was able to obtain from overseas, including Britain.

The NJC, an umbrella group comprising more than 40 Sinhala organisations, referring to a letter it wrote last year to the British Prime Minister and a response it received, said in a statement:

"We told the British Prime Minister that if the British government was willing to stop the LTTE from operating in the United Kingdom the LTTE would be compelled to terminate its terrorist activities. We were informed that the United Kingdom was in the process of enacting legislation relating to international terrorism and that Sri Lanka's concerns would receive due attention at the appropriate time after the law was enacted."

The NJC also criticised Tamil parties that urged the British government not to ban the LTTE at a recent meeting with the British High Commisioner.

"We find it difficult to understand the British government holding talks behind the back of our government regarding the dismembering of this sovereign state," the NJC said.

It said the banning of the LTTE in Britain was not an issue that concerned the Sinhala people alone. Instead it was intimately bound with the future well being of all those who consider Sri Lanka as their motherland.

"The desperate manner in which the LTTE has reacted to the mere threat of being banned in Britain indicates its existence and its future as an effective politico-military outfit depend largely if not wholly on its ability to continue to maintain its headquarters in London," the statement said.

The NJC has called on all political parties to close ranks and rally behind Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in his effort to make the LTTE a banned terrorist group in Britain.

Chick makes big news

A penguin chick was born at the National Zoological Gardens in Dehiwela recently, making it the first such birth in South Asia.A penguin chick

According to the Director S.Gunasena, two chicks of South American origin were born on January 18, but one had died shortly after birth.

"This is good news .Two more eggs have been laid and we hope to have more penguin chicks soon," he said.

Mr.Gunasena said seven adult penguins had been gifted to Sri Lanka from Japan a year ago.

They are housed in a special air conditioned enclosure at a temperature of 18 degree Celsius. The penguins are let out for a short period so that they can be in a natural environment for some time.

He said over 20 years ago, the zoo had a pair of penguins but they did not breed and died a few years back of old age.

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