22nd July 2001
Achintha Gunaratne came for a protest march but it
By Shane SeneviratnePresident Chandrika Kumaratunga has told the Malwatte Mahanayake she is aware of corruption by some ministers but is unable to take action against them because of constraints imposed on her by the present constitution, informed sources said yesterday.
At a 25-minute meeting with the Ven Rambukwelle Sri Vipassi Mahanayake Thera in Kandy on Friday ,the President said that if she took disciplinary action against any corrupt ministers, they might cross over and thus weaken the government in a parliament where the balance was delicate because of the present constitution and the PR system.
The President was responding to comments by the prelate that some cabinet ministers appeared to be interested more in personal gain. President Kumaratunga, who was accompanied by one-time minister and now adviser Lakshman Jayakody, explained to the prelate the reasons why she decided to call for a referendum on whether the country needed a new constitution.
The Mahanayake, apparently not convinced, said that about ten elections had been conducted by the PA government during the past seven years and he felt there was little need for another poll where at least 600 million rupees in public funds would be spent or wasted.
The President also reportedly repeated her claim she was ready to abolish the executive presidency. The Mahanayake had said he was earlier in favour of the executive presidency, but now found that it was not working as he thought it would.
The President was also due to meet the Mahanayake Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, but he was not available.
Friday's meeting between the President and the Malwatte Mahanayake was their first in nearly two years. Last August during the crisis over the earlier draft constitution which the Buddhist prelates vehemently opposed, the President went to Kandy to discuss the matter with them, but the Mahanayakes were apparently not interested.
Meanwhile, the Malwatte Mahanayake yesterday criticised the police action
against the demonstration in Colombo on Thursday. At a meeting with Minister
Alavi Moulana in Kandy, he said the government and the police should have
acted with more restraint and responsibility.
By Dilrukshi HandunnettiIn the aftermath of the black Thursday street battles, opposition parties, including the JVP and the SLMC, have closed ranks for a joint campaign against the government, including the impeachment of President Kumaratunga.
A committee tasked to draft the impeachment motion is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to work out details and frame charges mainly on what the opposition sees as an illegal and unethical prorogation of parliament and other steps towards dictatorship, opposition sources said. The committee headed by UNP's constitutional expert K. N. Choksy includes W.J.M. Lokubandara and Tyronne Fernando, the TULF's V. Anandasangari and the ACTC's A. Vinayagamoorthy. The committee has been asked to complete its task in two weeks.
According to the constitution, the Speaker can entertain an impeachment motion against the President if the resolution is signed by not less than two thirds of the whole number of MPs (over 150) or not less than one half of the whole number of MPs (113) and if the Speaker is satisfied that the allegations merit inquiry and report by the Supreme Court.
The opposition now claims it has the support of 115 MPs for this motion. There was speculation that Speaker Anura Bandaranaike was due to leave for a two-week overseas trip yesterday, but he was down with flu and doctors had advised bed rest.
However, in the event of the absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker can entertain the motion.
Other measures, which the joint opposition has agreed to embark on together, are the dispatch of strongly-worded letters to President Kumaratunga, the Elections Commissioner and the Treasury Secretary, warning them they should not waste millions of rupees in public funds on a meaningless and non-binding referendum. In the letter to the Elections Commissioner, the joint opposition has urged that no funds should be released for the conducting of the referendum, and warned that any supplementary estimate presented to parliament for extra funds would be defeated by the joint opposition which now had a majority. The three letters are to be signed by 115 MPs — a clear majority in parliament.
UNP media spokesman Karunasena Kodituwakku, referring to government
claims that money for the referendum could be obtained from the consolidated
fund, said this fund was meant only for contingencies and not to achieve
the dictatorial objectives of any leader.
The Sunday Times learns that Inspector Salinda Samarakoon for whose arrest was ordered on Friday by Colombo's Additional Magistrate Ayeshani Jayasena, has been warded at the Police Hospital but there are questions as to whether he is really ill or injured. The other two suspects, sub inspector A. Silva and constable Nalin Watadeniya, have also not been arrested yet.
The Colombo magistrate ordered their arrest over the killing of UNP's youth front leader Manjula Prasad Kalansooriya at Kotahena during the attack on demonstrators.
A parade to identify the suspects is scheduled to be held tomorrow. Meanwhile, a police claim that a second person killed on Thursday was hit by rubber bullets rather than live ones, has been challenged by Colombo's Assistant Judicial Medical Officer M.P.B. Abeysinghe.
Three Peliyagoda policemen who were summoned for the post-mortem and inquiry on Friday at the Colombo Police Morgue told the AJMO that the victim, Achintha Gunaratne, had been killed when he was hit by rubber bullets. But the AJMO insisted he had found six pellets in the body of the victim.
Meanwhile, Colombo's Deputy Inspector General Gerard Ignatius said he had not issued orders to use live bullets on demonstrators who took part in Thursday's processions, though the police had powers to shoot at those attempting to damage public property or harm life.
The funeral of Mr. Gunaratne is to take place in his village off Warakapola
this evening while Mr. Kalansooriya's funeral will be held tomorrow. Large
crowds, including opposition leaders, are expected to attend.
At a special meeting on Friday, Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte explained why strong police action was required to stop an estimated crowd of 40,000 converging into the capital from four different directions demanding that the prorogued parliament be reconvened.
Gen. Ratwatte, who is also deputy minister of defence said it was better to have stopped the marchers outside the entry-points to the city than allow them to converge as planned in Maradana from where they may have proceeded to President's House in the Fort area.
Several ministers spoke in favour of the way police handled the situation in which two persons were shot dead by live bullets and scores of others injured by rubber bullets and tear-gas concocted with ammonia.
Strong support for Gen. Ratwatte came from Ministers Batty Weerakoon, Dinesh Gunawardana and Sarath Amunugama.
Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was attacked twice at Mirihana and Maradana by tear-gas canisters accused the Presidential Security Division of trying to assassinate him.
Inspector General Lucky Kodituwakku however told The Sunday Times that police did not target the opposition leader, but that he was treated as a participant in an unlawful assembly. Demonstrations are banned under the Referendum Act, but opposition argued that the demonstration was aimed at reconvening Parliament and had nothing to do with the proposed referendum scheduled for August 21.
One of the dissenting voices at the ministers meeting was Minister G. L. Peiris who said there was no planning involved in government strategy. Prof. Peiris, who earlier complained that he was not consulted when the President decided to suddenly prorogue parliament and call for a referendum, also referred to the Government criticism of the Organisation of Professional Associations as a UNP sympathiser.
President Kumaratunga is reported to have intervened to say that she "resented" his allegations that there was no planning in Government action, and added that merely because "some Ministers" were not consulted, it did not mean there was no planning involved. Prof. Peiris is known to have been told about the President's announcement on prorogation of parliament on July 10, only after JVP leaders had heard the news on the radio and asked him for details.
Another voice of dissent was Minister Mahinda Rajapakse who complained that police behaviour on Thursday was heavy-handed and unwarranted. Minister and SLFP General Secretary S. B. Dissanayake who in recent weeks is known to have been at odds with the President, said the government must be careful in the way it handled the upcoming JVP protest rallies. He advised that the government should try to drive a wedge between the JVP and the UNP.
The JVP which did not take part in Thursday's demonstration will hold protest rallies in twenty one towns — other than Colombo city — tomorrow, calling for the re-convening of Parliament. Police permission has been obtained for these rallies.
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to