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20th May 2001
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One of the emotional high points of the Editors Guild Awards ceremony this week was the presentation of an award to Jaffna-based journalist Mylvaganam Nimalarajan who was killed by those who did not like what he reported. The award was accepted by his sister Premaranie Jegathies Paul. The audience gave a standing ovation followed by observing a moment's silence in the slain scribe's memory. (See Pg 3 and Plus pages) Pic by Gemunu Wellage

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Garment industry in quota turmoil

Textile Quota Board faces allegations of 'catchers and favourites' lining their pockets
By Feizal Samath
Sri Lanka's garments industry has been thrown into confusion as allegations and evidence surfaced over serious irregularities in the disbursement of export quotas by the Textile Quota Board, industry sources said.

"This is a terrible situation in the export trade and the crisis might blow up into enormous proportions in two weeks time," a top exporter and head of a local conglomerate warned as the Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association, the premier private sector industry voice, prepared to meet at an emergency session today to discuss industry concerns.

He said there were many allegations and alarmingly quite a lot of evidence too in the manner in which quotas were being disbursed by the TQB.

At stake are export quotas redistributed in March to the trade by the TQB. Industrialists allege the quotas have been given to "catchers" and favourites by Industrial Ministry officials through the TQB. The industry has representatives from the association, the Free Trade Zone Manufacturers Association and chambers on the TQB but these representatives are apparently unaware or have not been informed about recent redistribution plans.

The TQB which plays a major role in distributing export quotas to the garments trade, the biggest export sector in the country, has come under scrutiny in the past too over similar accusations of farming out quotas to favourites. But industry sources said that the system was streamlined and more transparency provided when the late C.V. Goonaratne was Industrial Development Minister.

This year, the crisis has worsened with major "hot" categories being withdrawn from the quota redistribution scheme in March. "They (government officials) are selling these quotas to outsiders at five rupees a piece which considering the fact that it runs into thousands of pieces could net in a couple of millions of rupees for some people," an industry source said.

TQB officials were not immediately available for comment on the allegations and trade concerns. The Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association also held a meeting on May 15 where industrialists raised these problems and urged the association to take some action resulting in another association meeting today.

Under the garment quota system, export quotas are distributed to manufacturers depending on their size, capacity and past performance at the beginning of the year. By March, some of these quota allocations are returned to the TQB by manufacturers who believe manufacturers who believe they are unable to fulfill their annual allocation, which are in turn redistributed to others.

In addition there are other quotas available in March which are distributed to the trade. This time the TQB after announcing the availability of various quota categories including the hot category - which are the garments segments that are in demand - had issued a second announcement withdrawing the hot category of items for distribution.

"What was the reason for pulling out these categories from the quota distribution list? What is going on?" asked an angry industrialist.

"A government that talks of transparency has to explain to the trade. These are important categories that the trade required," he added. 

Eelam gun on Gen. Janaka misfires

A campaign by the Eelam lobby and other groups to persuade the Australian Government not to accept retired Major General Janaka Perera as Sri Lanka's next High Commissioner in Australia has misfired.

Reports from Canberra said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had confirmed to Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar that Major General Perera's credentials would be accepted. Mr. Downer conveyed this position when Mr. Kadirgamar intervened personally by telephoning his Australian counterpart following delays by Canberra in accepting Major General Perera's appointment.

The Eelam lobby in Australia and other groups such as Amnesty International had raised cries over Major General Perera's appointment. These have been on grounds of alleged human rights violations during the course of his military career in Sri Lanka. However, Mr. Kadirgamar had during his telephone call clarified matters and strongly asserted the Government's backing for Major General Perera.

Mr. Downer is then learnt to have agreed to recommend to the Governor General the new Sri Lankan envoy's appointment.

Major General Perera retired as Chief of Staff from the Army on January 31. Later, President Kumaratunga appointed him as High Commissioner to Australia. 

No agreement on talks yet: Solheim 

Norway's special envoy Erik Solheim has conveyed to President Chandrika Kumaratunga the LTTE's demand for a de-proscription before any peace talks could begin.

Mr. Solheim briefed the President shortly after his return from the Wanni. Also associated with the discussion was Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

On Thursday he held five hours of talks with LTTE's political wing leader S. P. Thamilchelvam.

After the talks with President Kumaratunga on Friday, Mr. Solheim in a statement issued through the Norwegian Embassy said it was clear to him the two sides were close to agreeing on "issues related to a halt in military operations and measures to alleviate the living conditions for the civilian population."

However, he said it was also clear that on certain matters related to the starting of peace talks agreement had not yet been reached.

Government sources said the Norwegians would continue their facilitatory efforts after they reviewed on the working of the peace process so far. 

(Please see Situation Report on page 9 for further details.)

Tough screen test for Sanath

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Members of several opposition parties are opposing the appointment of former presidential media advisor Sanath Gunatillake as chairman of state television Rupavahini on the grounds he lacks experience for this key post and there are still clouds over the Channel 9 allegations.

Opposition sources told The Sunday Times the film actor was likely to be severely grilled when he appears before the Parliamentary Committee on High Posts for a screening.

They said another appointment that had run into a storm was that of Tara de Mel as secretary to the Ministry of Education.

They said Dr. de Mel when she appeared before the committee earlier had been questioned on allegations relating to links with a pharmaceutical company. She had claimed that the Sri Lanka Medical Council had exonerated her but the sources said their information was that inquiries were still pending. The Government ensured that its full compliment of MPs on the committee attended the meeting.

Among others to be screened by the committee are SriLankan Airlines Chief S. K. Wickremasinghe, Essential Services Chief Sripathi Sooriyarachchi and Ports Authority chairman Mohan Samarasekera, who have functions in their posts for some time now.

Indian envoy interferes in case

By Chris Kamalendran
Breaking diplomatic norms, an Indian diplomat has visited a magistrate in Jaffna to discuss matters relating to the detention of Indian fishermen.

Deputy Indian High Commissioner S. Tripathi had sought an appointment with Jaffna Magistrate R. T. Vignaraja in the Chambers on Tuesday and taken up matters relating to some 39 Indian fishermen detained by the Navy.

The envoy had earlier visited the detainees at prisons in Jaffna, accompanied by the high commission's defence advisor Navy Captain Gopinath. 

The Sunday Times learns that the envoy had requested the Magistrate to direct the police to give extra facilities to the Indian detainees and protect their fishing gear.

The Indian fishermen had been arrested by the Navy for allegedly intruding into Sri Lankan territorial waters. They were subsequently handed over to the Kayts Police who had produced them before the Jaffna Magistrate.

Judicial sources said it was not correct for the diplomat to visit the Magistrate while a case was pending regarding the fishermen.

The incident came about two months after another deputy high commissioner based in Kandy took part in a Satyagraha campaign launched by the Ceylon Workers Congress. 

Meanwhile the intrusion of Indian fishermen into the northern and north western areas has posed a major problem to the Navy with sources saying they are finding it difficult to differentiate between LTTE and Indian fishing boats.

The Defence Ministry over the past two months has reported a series of cases in which Indian fishermen have entered the Sri Lankan territorial waters. 

In some of the instances more than 500 Indian fishing boats had been spotted. 


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