3rd June 2001
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Campaign to stop talks gathers pace

By Shelani de Silva

The Sinhala Buddhist groups are reported to be active again canvassing support against the peace talks.

Last week a group of religious leaders at a meeting organised by the National Joint Committee (NJC), National Sangha Council, Sinhala Jathika Sangamaya and Maubima Surekeeme Sanvidhanaya moved a resolution on the implications of the forthcoming peace talks and the constitutional proposals.

The NJC secretary Piyasena Dissanayake told The Sunday Times that a similar meeting would be held in Kandy.

'He said another meeting would be held in the south.

The Sinhala Buddhist groups have decided to use the last week's resolution at every such meeting.

The resolution said Sri Lanka should continue to be a unitary state maintaining the legislative supremacy of parliament and the independence of the judiciary. The Jathika Sanga Sabha president Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera said the only solution to the terrorist problem was to defeat the Tigers militarily.

He said as the country had no problem with the Tamil people there was no need to have peace talks with a terrorist group.

Meanwhile, the Sihala Urumaya (SU) too has launched an-anti peace talks campaign. Party secretary Tilak Karunaratne said there was no alternative to a military solution.

No major displacement

Last month's fighting in the north, soon after the LTTE ceasefire ended, produced no major displacement of people, ICRC officials said.

Head of the ICRC's sub-delegation office in Mallavi Antonio Garcia Suarez said the situation in LTTE-controlled areas in the Wanni with regard to people being displaced has improved since last year. In the first half of 2000, the numbers displaced began rising and after that there was a reduction, he said.

Guild's media law reforms get PM's consideration

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has assured a delegation of the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka that the government will give its earnest consideration to the media law reforms proposed by the Guild.

The Prime Minister spent some time this week studying the proposals and raised several points relating to the Freedom of Information Act that had been suggested to enable greater access by the public and the press to records and information.

The Guild's president outlined the recent history of its campaign to bring the local media laws in line with both modern democracies and the country's international obligations by signing the International Civil and Political Rights Covenants.

He said some of the laws were over a 100 years old and needed reform.

A parliamentary select committee met for three years during the previous Parliament but did not make any recommendations despite a request by the then Speaker.

A motion stating the intention of Parliament to bring some of the reforms was introduced and debated but not concluded as the elections intervened. The Guild was now canvassing party leaders to bring in the reforms during the tenure of the current Parliament, he said.

Secretary Upali Tennakoon said the Guild had already formulated a code of ethics, which would be implemented through a voluntary press council.

The Prime Minister said he was very happy that journalists themselves had drawn up a code of ethics to abide by and added that he would request the Media Minister to study the proposed reforms and present a report on them.

The editors also made representations to the Prime Minister on the exorbitant cost of newsprint and the surcharge and duties imposed on them by the recent budget, making newspaper publication a very expensive business. The delegation pointed out that the ultimate victim was the public.

The Prime Minister who promised to look into the problem said even young writers and authors might face difficulties in publishing their work both in newspapers and books.

Order reserved in test case challenging CJ's appointment

The supremacy of the rule of law and the importance of an independent and impartial judiciary to uphold it was stressed by all three counsel for the petitioners in the case challenging the appointment of Sarath N. Silva as the Chief Justice.

The petitioners Victor Ivan of the Ravaya newspaper, attorney and journalist Rajpal Abeynayake and W. B. A. Jayasekera, a chemical engineer had filed three independent fundamental rights applications in the Supreme Court citing the present Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, the Attorney General and Presidential secretary K. Balapatabendi as respondents.

The petitioners prayed for an order that the appointment of the Chief Justice was unconstitutional, invalid and null and void as it infringed and/or threatened to infringe their fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 12 (1) which provided for the due process of the law. It included equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Article 17 permitted a person to come before the Supreme Court with regard to a violation of a fundamental right. Mr. Abeynayake stated that under Article 14(1) g, the right to practise his profession had been violated, as the integrity of the 1st respondent was in question.

A full Bench comprising five judges of the Supreme Court including Justices S. W. B. Wadugodapitiya, P. R. P. Perera, D. P. S. Gunesekera, Shirani Bandaranayake and Ameer Ismail presided over the support stage of the application to decide as to whether leave to proceed should be granted or refused.

Ranjith Abeysuriya PC appearing for. Victor Ivan stated that Article 17 had been afforded the dignity of a fundamental right and mandated for an independent judiciary without which fundamental rights would be meaningless.

Attorney General K. C. Kamalasabeyson appearing for the Chief Justice raised three preliminary objections. He submitted that the appointment of the CJ could not be questioned in the proceedings. He had been appointed by virtue of Article 107 of the Constitution which provided the sole discretion of appointment to the President and such an appointee could be removed only by an order of the President in Parliament arising from an impeachment.

He also said the applications were flawed because the President was immune under Article 35 of the Constitution.

The petitioners contended that the provision for the removal of the CJ had not been specified. They said it was only one of the ways for the removal of a CJ. They also said although the President was immune from law suits, her actions could be questioned in a court of law.

The second objection raised by the AG was that there were glaring deficiencies in the pleadings that would disentitle the petitioners from presenting their case.

The AG said the petitioners had presented a case with flawed annexures to institute proceedings. The petitioners had cited two complaints to the Supreme Court against the respondent, one involving Magistrate Lenin Ratnayake and the other a complaint by W. B. Jayasekera.

The AG challenged Ms. Mahanama Tillekeratne's affidavit which stated that she met the CJ at Upali Abeyratne's home in 1995.

Elmore Perera said Ms. Tillekeratne's affidavit might be flawed but not fabricated.

The AG said there had been no violation of the fundamental rights of any of the petitioners and that they had no locus standi..

Mr. Abeysuriya said his client had locus standi for he forwarded a complaint to the Supreme Court to look into the alleged rape by the Magistrate when the 1st respondent was appointed Chief Justice. He said his client had been denied justice.

Mr. Abenayake submitted that the CJ's appointment had precluded him from appearing before the Supreme Court as a lawyer. He said if the independence of the judiciary was compromised, he would not be entitled to equal justice. He also said under Article 14(1) g he was entitled to practise his profession, but could not do so as there were questions over the integrity of the 1st respondent..

Elmore Perera said the rules of natural justice had been violated. The CJ's functioning was contrary to the principles of fairness, the rule against bias and impartiality expected of the judiciary, he said.

The order was reserved by court.

Cheaper drugs: it's all in docs' hands

The campaign to slash medical bills of patients by prescribing drugs under generic names instead of expensive brand names has gathered momentum with the State Pharmaceutical Corporation insisting that the problem and the solution lie largely in the hands of doctors.

SPC Managing Director Jayantha Liyanage told The Sunday Times the proposal by the Government Medical Officers to open 300 Osu Sala outlets for the sale of drugs under generic names was not a practical solution. "It should start from doctors who have been taught at both their MBBS and post graduate levels to prescribe drugs under generic names. If they do that, eventually the private pharmacies too would begin selling drugs under generic names," Mr. Liyanage said.

He said that for instance the drug amoxacillin (generic name) was sold under 14 brand names. So was the case with paracetamol, which cost 30 cents but was sold under brand names at prices ranging from Rs. 1.50 to Rs. 3.

Mr. Liyanage said that according to medical research, the efficacy of drugs whether under generic name or the brand name was the same.

Meanwhile , the SPC has identified areas to set up five more Osu Sala outlets in various parts of the country. At present, there are 12 state-run Osu Sala outlets and 38 franchised distributors in various parts of the country. Drugs under generic names are sold in all these outlets.

But investigations by The Sunday Times have revealed that as many as 70 percent of the prescriptions issued by doctors are contained expensive brand names instead of the generic names.

Every book on medicine and medical ethics make no mention of any brand names. The health service manual of Sri Lanka and other countries also speaks of drugs only under generic names with no mention of brand names. At medical colleges here or at post-graduate institutions where doctors sit for the FRCP or MRCP, they are taught and trained to prescribe drugs only under generic names and no brand names are mentioned. But when the doctors pass out and get higher degrees, the brand names come into play.

Experts in pharmacology say that if doctors and especially medical specialists prescribe drugs only under generic names, the battle to slash the medical bills of patients and the overall drug import bill of the country would be won. It is also suggested that if there are practical difficulties or safety concerns regarding an immediate switch from brand names to generic names, the doctors could initially write both giving the generic name and also an alternative brand name. This would give patients the option of choosing.

Often brand names are given and taken on the basis that the doctor knows best. But it is pointed out that different doctors issue the same drug under different brand names at various prices. So 'the doctor knows best' theory has little validity.

It is also pointed out that thousands of doctors generally prescribe drugs only under generic names when they work at public hospitals. But these doctors go to private hospitals in the evening many of them prescribe drugs under brand names. Thus the theory of generic drugs being less safe than expensive brand names also has little validity.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry is studying proposals for new legislation which would make it binding on doctors to prescribe drugs under generic names. Proposals have also been made for a clear-cut national medicinal drug policy and the setting up of a national drug authority with wide powers to decide on what drug should be imported, prescribed and sold.

GMOA Secretary Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya told The Sunday Times that the 6,000 doctors in the association were ready to cooperate in slashing the medical bills of patients. He said that even when doctors issued drugs on generic names, mushroom pharmacies persuading or fooling patients into buying the more expensive brand names.

The GMOA also has called for tough legislation by the ministry on the sale of generic drugs with stern action being taken against pharmacies which plunder patients.

Web of corruption before classroom

Grama Niladhari forges school documents for Rs. 300,000
By Chandani Kirinde

Making false documents including national identity cards, land deeds, electricity and water bills in a bid to admit children to big schools has become a widespread practice which even the law enforcing authorities are finding hard to curb.

Although the Education Ministry has repeatedly warned of severe consequences to parents who submit false documents along with their school applications, the warning seems to have largely gone unheeded.

A Nugegoda Grama Niladhari who has allegedly become a specialist in this racket manufactures the whole range of false documents-as many as 17 varieties- but at a huge price.

For admissions to top government schools, his fee is Rs. 300,000 while for smaller schools, it is around Rs. 25,000. However, the money is not for himself alone.

It is split among his 'catchers' in the various government institutions who help him get the necessary documents.

When a person approaches him, he asks for their address, full names, copies of birth and marriage certificates, two ID card size photos and photo copies of their ID cards.

Then he obtains these documents with the names of the interested parties but with different address. His services also include finding the desperate parents a new address close to a popular school.

However, the Grama Niladhari is only a small fry in the whole web of corruption that has been spun around school admissions in the country.

Grandpass police last week arrested eight persons who had allegedly been forging documents mainly in connection with school admissions for the past five years .

They had been forging documents in a house at Mattakkuliya with the charges ranging from Rs. 5000- 10,000.

Expert calls for precautions

By Faraza Farook

With India planning the setting up of a 2000 MW nuclear power plant off the Gulf of Mannar, Sri Lankan experts on the issue and environmentalists are voicing concern calling on the Government to take preventive measures and educate people on possible health effects. The Russian built reactor which is to come up in Koodankulam in the southern tip of Tamil Nadu has raised concern of a possible disaster to Sri Lanka in case of a mishap or leak.

The Colombo University's nuclear science director Granville Dharmawardena said the Tamil Nadu reactors would probably carry 'enormous quantities of highly toxic and radioactive substances.

In the event of a mishap, large quantities of these materials could be airborne from a large radio active cloud and move in the direction of the wind. Moreover, the radio active cloud, when passing over a country, could deliver varying doses of nuclear radiation to those living underneath. And if there was rain when the cloud was passing over, it would deposit radioactive materials on soil and plants. Thus, everything from, soil, food and milk to rooftops would contain radioactivity, which in turn would enter our body, Dr. Dharmawardena warned.

Charges and counter charges in company row

By Tania Fernando

A financial dispute between a Chinese company and a local one, is reported to have sparked off last Sunday's Wattala row which has now assumed political and diplomatic proportions.

In these incidents 29 Chinese workers at a construction site in Wattala were allegedly assaulted by private security men over the reported non payment of Rs. 25 million to the local company. But the security firm and the local company are denying the allegation by the Chinese firm, while the Chinese embassy here is taking up the matter at government level.

According to reports, Orient Real Estate Developers (Pvt) Ltd.- a BOI approved Chinese company, had leased a property in Wattala from Infra-Structure Developers (Pvt) Ltd., a subsidiary of East West in December 1999. The Chinese company had reportedly made a down payment of Rs. three million.

The agreed price for the 250 perches had been Rs. 30 million. The agreement between the two companies reportedly stated that if the outstanding amount was not settled within a stipulated time, the property would revert to the owners.

East West chairman Nahil Wijesooriya said the Chinese management had agreed to move out of the premises as it was having problems in getting the necessary money from China due to exchange regulations. "After many extensions were given, the final date was set for May 27", he said.

Subsequently as these Chinese were not leaving, East West had approached De Zoysa Security Ltd., to assist in getting the Chinese out of the premises, The Sunday Times learns.

Meanwhile, De Zoysa Security chairman Richard de Zoysa said they had sent 15 men to the premises and had not assaulted the Chinese workers as alleged. "We just put them in a lorry and dropped them off at their head office in Colombo 5", he said. He claimed it was the Chinese men who had assaulted his security personnel.

However, according to complaints made to the Police by the Chinese workers, the Security Company had sent more than 50 men who allegedly assaulted the Chinese workers and damaged the premises. After that the security men allegedly put the Chinese in a lorry and dumped them on Galle Road, the workers alleged.

The legal officer of Oriental Real Estate said this property had been purchased from East West in December 1999 to construct 200 condominiums, but the project had not got off the ground, as necessary approvals had not been granted.

The Sunday Times learns that although the property should have reverted to East West in terms of the agreement , the delays were due to the alleged involvement of a minister, who had approached East West requesting that more time be given to the Chinese company.

Meanwhile, Wattala police inspector Chandimal Wijesinghe said they had got a call on May 27, around 5.00 pm, informing them of the incident. When police visited the site, they found two men who had allegedly been involved in the assault of the Chinese.

These two men were arrested and questioned.

He said four others including the Operations Manager of De Zoysa Security had been arrested and remanded. Police have also identified the vehicles involved in the clash and were looking out for other suspects.

An official of the Chinese Embassy said they had requested Police protection for the Chinese workers and the matter was been taken up with the Government.

News in brief

Minister refutes Amnesty charges

World human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern over increasing paramilitary and vigilante activities in Sri Lanka and lack of action by the government to bring to justice those responsible for violating human rights. In its report for 2000 the AI said blames security forces and Tamil armed groups working alongside them for various extra-judicial acts, including the killing of Jaffna-based journalist Mylvaganam Nimalarajan who was shot dead at his home in a high security zone while a curfew was in force. "Circumstantial evidence put the blame for the killing of Mr. Nimalarajan, on EPDP members working with the security forces," the report said. Responding to the AI charges, Minister Alavi Molana said the government was prompt in rectifying issues and taking action against human rights violations. "It was during the period 1977 1994 that there was state sponsored terrorism. AI can't make such allegations as no paramilitary group is known to have engaged in human rights violations with the connivance of the Government," the minister said. He said that he could not accept the report's claim that paramilitary and vigilante activities were on the increase.
Customs killing: Interpol help sought

Police have sought the assistance of the Interpol to arrest Customs Officer Anura Weerawansha , who is reported to has fled to India after allegedly organising the killing of fellow Customs officer Sujith Perera. Police said they believed the suspect have fled the country by boat through the north western coast.
Hotline on bad food

The Colombo municipality's Public Health Department has set up a hotline for the public to make complaints on unhygienic food products.An official said action would be taken within half an hour of a phone call. The hotline number is 676161.

The deadly sting is back

With the onset of rains, and sporadic outbreaks of dengue, the public has been alerted once again to take precautions against the disease by ensuring a clean environment.

According to the Epidemiological Unit, 20 suspected cases, of which seven were from Kaduwela were reported in the latter part of May.

Epidemiologist Dr. A. Abeysinghe said because of the increased awareness programmes on Dengue, people report to the nearest hospital without delay.

This has also helped the Unit in identifying areas that are prone to the disease.

U-turn of the prodigal son

The son of a cabinet minister who was in the news in March this year for threatening security officials to get into the Royal-Thomian Big Match without tickets, has done it again.

The young man for all seasons has shifted easily from the cricket season to the rugby season, but this time he met his match.

While he had his way at the Royal-Thomian by getting his father to telephone an ex-Thomian cricket Board official and waive the rules by opening the SSC gates for the father's son and his rowdy buddies to enter without tickets, luck ran out last week at the Sugathadasa Stadium.

It was the Royal-Isipathana rugby encounter. The gang tried to get in without tickets, but this time the retired military officer in the match committee gave the gang marching orders straight to the ticket counter where they sheepishly bought tickets and took their seats, like good boys.

Interim order against HNB

The District Court of Colombo issued an interim injunction restricting the voting rights of HNB and connected parties in the legal battle ensuing from an attempted hostile take over of the Sampath Bank by the former.

Stating a hostile takeover would be detrimental to the economy of the country District judge Sunil Rajapakse granted the interim injunction following an application by plaintiffs and Sampath Bank shareholders Kapila Chandradasa and Rammini de Silva. The interim order restricts the HNB and connected parties from appearing on behalf of any share, representing by way of proxies or exercising their voting right in excess of 10% of the issued share capital of the Sampath Bank at the AGM or at any other special general meeting.

The plaintiffs, shareholders and trustees of Sampath Bank Employees Union prayed for a declaration that posession in excess of 10% of the issued share capital of Sampath Bank and ownership of total share exceeding 10% in unison is illegal and an order to effect the sale of the excess shares in the stock market.

The dispute arose after HNB, the Stassens Group and related parties acquire 44% of the total shares of Sampath Bank and claimed their transactions on the basis that parties were unrelated.

However, the Security and Exchange Comission on July 14 last year ruled HNB, Stassen Group and other parties involved had acted in concert and therefore did not qualify to hold Sampath shares to the extent that they held, requiring them to make a madatory offer to remaining shareholders.

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