17th June 2001

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AG's report on agriculture body

Unspent millions not sent to Treasury

By M. Ismeth

Parliamentary sanction had not been obtained to increase the authorised capital of the Agricultural Development Authority (ADA) from Rs. 20 million to Rs. 89 million, according to the latest Auditor General's report.

This was among several alleged financial irregularities mentioned in the report.

The report said the ADA had not maintained a register of fixed assets and the value of assets which had been taken over from an agricultural project had also not been taken into account of the authority. It also charged that the ADA had not obtained the approval of the appropriate minister with the concurrence of the Minister of Finance for the investment of Rs. 10 million in fixed deposits.

Among other irregularities mentioned in the report are payment of employee gratuity amounting to Rs. 265,000 which had been shown as administration and general expenses and transactions related to the Agricultural Productivity Village (APV) Project which was launched with the European Union assistance in 1992.

The financial statements and the physical performance of the project which was completed in 1995 had not been submitted to the Auditor General, the report said.

However at the end of the project there was an unspent balance of about Rs. 28 million lying in the current account and Rs. 25 million was transferred to the savings account of the APV in 1997. No action had been taken to refund the unspent money to the Treasury, the report said adding that balance of about Rs. 4 million was shown as a liability in the financial statements of the ADA.

The report also observed that about 80 vehicles were not in use due to various reasons.

UNHCR raps government for refugee outpouring

Rated as one of the highest numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in the world, the fate of more than a million people is sad testimony to the consequences of the Sri Lanka's armed conflict, which continues to forcibly uproot people from their homes literally turning the North and East into camps to house the displaced, a UNHCR report says.

The report said an estimated 1.3 million persons out of a total population of around 19 million were displaced within and outside Sri Lanka. Of this, an estimated 800,000 were internally displaced mainly in the north and eastern provinces, and another 500,000 persons were estimated to be living outside Sri Lanka as refugees in India, Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States.

It said that 38% of the total population in the north and east was affected by the continuing phenomenon with Jaffna having a large displaced population.

The phenomenon of internal displacement had been both dynamic and long-term with thousands being newly or repeatedly displaced due to the armed conflict.

"Many of the persons are living with friends and relatives and close to 200,000 are living in government welfare centres.

In addition, some 67,000 Sri Lankan refugees are living in camps in India while thousands more are living outside among the local population in Tamil Nadu," UNHCR acting representative Alan Vernon said.

Meanwhile, a report by the Save the Children, a child welfare organisation, said the crisis had left 270,000 children displaced and faced an uncertain future. They had been living in welfare centres for long periods of time and many had experienced the loss of family members.

Mr. Vernon said the government assumed primary responsibility to ensure safety, security, nutrition, safe access to essential food and water, shelter, clothing and essential medical services and sanitation.

However, he said, they continued to face particular problems like having to live in crowded conditions and their liberty restricted which was particularly the case in Vavuniya.

While obliging security concerns, Mr. Vernon said UNHCR faced difficulties to dispense their services such as getting supplies to the areas.

The UNHCR urged for joint action by the government that bore the primary responsibility for the protection with assistance from international agencies to alleviate the plight of the internally displaced in Sri Lanka.

It said Sri Lanka along with other countries would mark the first-ever World Refugee Day on June 20 to recognize the plight of more than 22 million people around the world who had been uprooted from their homes and countries by violence and persecution.

State health sector takes a nosedive

By Faraza Farook

Lack of trained staff, poor maintenance and inferior equipment in the government health sector has forced hundreds of patients to seek treatment at private medical institutions.

Health sources said the equipment range from simple x-ray machines to expensive MRI scanners bought at state expense and sometimes on aid received from international agencies.

They also said there were allegations of favouritism in granting tenders to particular persons taking little or no interest in the quality of the equipment.

The tender for an MRI scanner is reported to have been awarded to someone who had never sold such an equipment in the South Asian region. Sources said the tender evaluation committee had approved the highest bid instead of the lowest tender.

They said although the tender was called in May 1999 no performance bond had yet been furnished by the tenderer.What is more, the Colombo National Hospital's radiology unit had not received the MRI scanner.

Meanwhile, health sources said some hospitals had trained staff but no equipment while others had machines without personnel. They said once a patient from the Kandy's cardiology unit was transferred to Colombo as the cardiologist did not know how to operate the Angiogram (equipment used to x-ray the coronary arteries). A medical officer said although nurses had been trained to use the equipment, they had lost touch with them.

Meanwhile, the Kandy hospital's CT scanner had been out of order for the past three months, health sources said. They said a large sterilizer at the Mirigama Base Hospital had not been functioning for almost one year. So was the fate of a CT scanner at the Sri Jayewardenapura Hospital which was bought last year. They said the price of such equipment ranged from US $ 5,000 for a portable x-ray machine to US $ 1 million for an MRI scanner.

Tit for tat

By M.Ismeth

As bona fide tourists from the United States are granted 30 days free visa upon arrival in Sri lanka, Sri Lankans on arrival in the US too should be afforded the same treatment.

According to authoritative sources the US embassy has revised visa fees effective from June15 for Sri Lankans. a statement said the reciprocal action had been taken by the US embassy considering the revised visa fee imposed by the Sri Lankan government.

Any reader comparing the table below would realise that the US and a few other countries charge a processing fee to issue a visa or refuse same.

Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and many other countries do not charge a processing fee.

The Sunday Times learns that a US citizen who stays in Sri Lanka for less than three months pays only Rs. 3,185 (US$ 35) whereas a Sri Lankan will have to pay US $ 235 (Rs. 21,150) to stay in the US.

The American embassy this week announced that the US government would reduce the validity period of most Sri Lankan visas from 60 months to 12 months. This was in response to the changes announced by the Sri Lanka government, it said.

Dengue warning again

With a dengue outbreak, the public has been cautioned to ensure a clean surrounding to protect themselves from the dengue mosquito. Dengue has been reported in Kaduwela and Dehiwela in the Colombo district and Wattala, Kurunegala town, and a few cases in Matara, the Epidemiology Unit reported.

A total of 1,497 suspected dengue cases have been reported of which 65 cases have been confirmed positive with nine deaths. The highest number of cases has been reported from Colombo. The outbreak occurs annually with the onset of rains.

Eradicating mosquito breeding places can prevent dengue. The dengue mosquito bites during the day and breeds in clean, stagnant water. The addition of a little salt to flower pots will prevent mosquito breeding. Tyres, empty cans and containers should be removed from your surroundings to prevent the collection of water.

UMSIA cries halt to Customs malpractices

By Tania Fernando and Jodie Jenkins

Charges of malpractice have been levelled against Customs officials by the Used Motor Spareparts Importers Association (UMSIA).

In an appeal to the President and Cabinet ministers the association said Custom officials had been using delaying tactics which might stop the free flow of spare parts into the country. It said deliberate delays in paperwork had led to loss in revenue.

Addressing a media conference UMSIA president Buddhika de Silva said the problem had arisen as they were willing to pay the legal dues, such as, the GST and other taxes.

He said the UMSIA would not bow down to arbitrary dictates of government servants. He further said the nose cut and face cut which had been imported in the past had been stopped to prevent people assembling vehicles. However, he said they were imported purely as spareparts.

Mr. de Silva alleged that although the import of nose cut and face cut was illegal, customs officials had allowed certain people to market them.

Meanwhile, the UMSIA claimed its premises had been raided by the Customs. It said although the necessary documents were produced Customs had not yet released goods valued at Rs. 300,000.

Pharmacists get photocall

A recent amendment to the Cosmetics Devices and Drugs Act requires all pharmacies to display the chief pharmacist's photograph.

Under the amending regulation which came into effect from last Tuesday all pharmacies should display a recent photograph of the chief pharmacist. The pharmacist registration will also have his photograph. The Drugs Authority would ensure that all registered pharmacies followed the new regulation by September 1, sources said.

They said in the past a pharmacy could be run on the supervision of a pharmacist. Under the new regulation a chief pharmacist would be required to run the pharmacy.

Mystery surrounds cell death

By Chris Kamalendran

Mystery surrounds the death of a remand prisoner who had been taken into custody over the recent disturbances in Mawanella.

Twenty-six-year-old Vijitha Bandara Alahakoon, a trishaw driver of Ganetenna in Hingula, was taken into custody by the CID and remanded. He died last Saturday after a sudden illness.

The victim's brother Kapila Bandara told The Sunday Times that he saw Mr. Alahakoon at the Kegalle remand prison on the previous day. But he made no complaints about any illness. He said he gave a lunch parcel as his brother appeared to be healthy. He said he could not think of any reason for his brother's death.

Meanwhile,the victim's family members said they suspected that Mr. Alahakoon might have been poisoned by rival inmates at the remand prison. He had partaken a meal brought from outside on the previous day according to other inmates of the prison.

The Judicial Medical Officer's report indicated that the prisoner's death was due to viral haemorrhagic fever similar to dengue. However, blood samples had been sent to Colombo Medical Research Institute for a further examination.

Kegalle Magistrate Priyantha de Silva has called for other witnesses to testify on June 22 and the verdict will be delivered on receipt of the MRI report.

Kapila Bandara who was also a trishaw driver said six CID officers who came to the Hingula threewheel stand had made inquiries about his brother and took him also into custody. He was later produced before the Magistrate and remanded.

He said until his brother's death he visited him daily at the remand prison with a home-cooked lunch packet. During that period he never complained of any illness. He also did not complain about any persons assaulting or torturing him, Mr. Bandara said.

According to other inmates, Mr. Alahakoon vomited after eating a lunch parcel brought by another group of inmates from outside. On the following day two inmates had taken him downstairs and handed him over to the medical officer. Two hours later Mr. Alahakoon had been admitted to hospital. He was pronounced dead on admission.

The Kegalle prisons superintendent A. Nelson told The Sunday Times that the victim had not made any complaint of illness when doctors examined him.

Though the JMO in his report said the victim had died of viral haemorrhagic fever similar to dengue so far no patient had died of it in the recent past in the Kegalle district.

Gun-holding second intruder identified

By Laila Nasry

Anoma Athas, wife of the Sunday Times Consultant Editor and defence correspondent Iqbal Athas told the Colombo High Court this week how one of the intruders who entered their bedroom thrust a pistol at her husband's head and ordered him out of the room during her testimony in the criminal trespass, intimidation and unlawful entry with weapons case filed against two ex-Air Force officers.

Mrs. Athas in her examination-in-chief said it was the first intruder who held the gun at her husband's head and ordered him out of the room.

The accused are two Air force officers, Squadron Leader H. M. Rukman Herath the bodyguard of a former Air Force Commander and Squadron Leader D. S. P. Kannangara OIC of the Special Air borne Force (SABF).

Mrs. Anoma Athas, the second witness to take the stand last Monday, described the sequence of events which took place, stating that two intruders had burst into their room, while she and her husband were watching T.V. Both intruders had pistols in their hands and had cocked their weapons.

Mrs. Athas said she had had a look at the intruders' faces and answering a question posed by the state counsel stated there was adequate light in the room to identify them.

The intruders had ordered them out of the room and Mrs. Athas said as she came out she saw two other men carrying pistols running towards their daughter's room. She had also heard one of the intruders ordering her daughter and domestic aide be locked up inside the room.

At that moment their frightened daughter had come running out of her room and desperately clung on to her husband.

Mrs. Athas pointed out the second accused Sujeewa Kannangara in court and stated she had identified him at the first identification parade. As to whether she had seen him prior to the parade, other than on the night of the incident she said she had not and only learnt his name subsequent to the parade.

Responding to a question as to where she was immediately prior to the identification parade Mrs. Athas said two policemen had detained them in a room in the Gangodawila Magistrate Court premises prior to the parade and following it they were taken to another room within the court premises.

Earlier Mr. Iqbal Athas The Sunday Times Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent during cross examination revealed to court that an LTTE suspect had been coached by the defence establishment to make a false statement against him.

Mr. Athas said certain sectors of the state and private media had reported that one Selvadurai Senthinathan, a member of the LTTE who had been coached in Vavuniya by the security officials to make a statement that LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabakharan gathered information by reading the news reports written by him on the military establishment.

Mr. Athas said even before Mr. Senthinathan was paraded on state television to make the purported claims, he had come to know of the move. He said both Lankadeepa and Daily Mirror newspapers had reported this fact long before Senthinathan made the purported claims.

Mr. Athas said Minister Mangala Samaraweera had informed people who were watching Mr. Athas' movements but they were not acting in an official capacity and the government was not aware of it.

He had also complained to the CID and forwarded a number of a trishaw and a black motorbike purported to be of the police spotted in the neighbourhood on several occasions.

Defence counsel Srinath Perera asked Mr. Athas about the identification parade, to which he said the CID had informed him by telephone that an officer would be present to escort them to the Gangodawila Magistrate's court.

Mr. Athas said he did not know the name of the CID officer and had travelled to the Magistrate's court not in a CID vehicle but in a rented van for which he had paid.

Answering questions raised by defence counsel Anil Silva regarding legal representation Mr. Athas said prior occasions did not give rise to a need for legal representation. For the purpose of identification parade legal assistance was arranged by his Editor.

"We were kept in an office within the court premises for around two hours prior to the identification parade," Mr. Athas stated.

Mr. Perera suggested the possibility of different motives of the intruders. Mr. Athas said he was unaware of there being a rift between the then Airforce Commander Oliver Rana singhe and second in command to him Air Vice Marshal Anslem Peiris.

Mr. Perera also drew attention to two people coming to the Athas home in September 1997 looking for women. Mr. Athas said his wife and domestic aide Kumari had made a complaint to police and later Kumari had identified them.

Mr. Athas said he wrote to the President regarding the incident stating that as a result of having written investigative news reports a mud-slinging campaign was being carried out. A campaign had been carried out that there was LTTE activity in his house and he ran a brothel there.

Asked whether he wrote any articles about the misdeeds of the CID Mr. Athas replied in the negative.

On the previous date the Defence Counsel for the 1st accused sought to establish there was no height difference between the 1st and 2nd accused as stated by Mr. Athas to the CID. Srinath Perera requested both the accused to stand up in the dock to point out that the 2nd intruder was not a foot taller than the 1st, but was of similar heights.

Answering a question posed by the state counsel last month Mr. Athas said he had not looked at the footwear of the intruders at the time of the incident. Nor had he looked at their footwear whilst he had pointed them out in court, stating he had seen the upper part of their bodies.

Mr. Srinath Perera suggested that the 1st and 2nd accused could not have been the intruders due to a difference in their ranks. Questioning Mr. Athas about a statement made to Mirihana Police that the 1st accused acted as the leader of the group, he asked Mr. Athas about his knowledge of the ranks of the two accused, to which he replied that following the identification parade he had learnt the first accused ranking to be that of flying officer while the 2nd accused was ranked as Squadron Leader.

Mr. Perera then questioned Mr. Athas on the seniority of the ranks stating a Squadron Leader was higher than a Flying Officer, to which Mr. Athas agreed. Mr. Perera further questioned as to whether Mr. Athas as an investigative reporter writing on the defence establishment was familiar with the general principle followed by the forces where an officer junior in rank always followed the orders of his senior, adding that it was a special feature. Mr. Athas accepted that position. As to whether Mr. Athas accepted that the 2nd accused was senior to the 1st accused, Mr. Athas said it was a point which had now been clarified.

Mr. Athas responding to Mr. Perera who suggested that the lack of description in the statement made to the police as opposed to that of the CID was a fabrication said at the time the first statement was made to Mirihana Police he was under immense pressure and merely answered the questions posed to him by the officer.

Mr. Silva trying to establish a contradiction questioned Mr. Athas on the sequence of events of the incident. Questioned whether one of them asked 'ko badu', Mr. Athas stated the intruder who came in second made such a statement. As to whether an intruder in the room stated 'api ave mankolla kanna nemei, genu balanna," Mr. Athas countered saying it was a statement made outside the room.

Mr. Silva inquired further on the number of domestic aides in the Athas household. Mr. Athas replied that there were three aides, all were Tamils, around the ages of 18 years and from the estate community.

The trial was further fixed for July 16. Daya Perera PC with T. G. Gunesekera and G. G. Ponnambalam watched the interests of Iqbal and Anoma Athas. Senior state counsel P. P. Surasena and M. Navavi appeared for the prosecution. Srinath Perera PC with Anil Silva and Ganesh Dharmawardene appeared for the defendants.

Venom of life

In a society where many rob and even sometimes kill to earn a living, this little boy who helps his Imagefather to earn a living while battling for life, could be a shining example or a cruel example of child exploitation.

Seven-year-old Saman, a victim of leukemia is seen sometimes performing alongside his father, as a Imagesnake charmer to enthusiastic crowds at the Viharamahadevi Park.

Saman travels regularly from his hometown Thambuthegama in Anuradhapura, to the Maharagama Cancer hospital for treatment. On such days his father apparently takes him along to earn an extra buck .

Although he's lost all his hair due to the treatment and is probably in pain this child handles slimy reptiles including a Python, showing little fear for these creatures.

Pix by Gemunu Wellage

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