10th March 2002

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Anura, Mahinda cross swords over presidency

Presidential candidate must meet three criteria
By Harinda Vidanage

Strongly defending his claim for being the next presidential candidate of the Peoples Alliance former speaker Anura Bandaranaike set forth three main criteria that he believed any candidate should fulfil.

He said the candidate should be recognised as a national leader and not a district leader. He must have the ability to handle any crisis situation and possess international recognition, Mr. Bandaranaike said if he is given the opportunity he would outshine in these areas.

Responding to a question regarding accusations of attempting to carry on the heritage of the Bandaranaike family rather than think of the party, Mr. Banadaranaike said his father founded the party and died for it, his mother was the prime minister and his sister was the only president in Sri Lanka to be elected twice. This was a reflection of the trust of the people, thus he believed he was the most eligible candidate.

Hitting out at his rival Mahinda Rajapakse Mr. Bandaranaike said if one compared his experience in Parliament with that of Mr. Rajapakse's it would be like the sky and earth.

Talking about his critics within the party itself, he said they were not originally from the SLFP and were being backed by dissidents who had left the party along with elements like petty business men and bookie owners. Vowing to fight to the bitter, he dismissed his critics saying those who counted in this matter were the people of the country and not the people in Parliament.

Referring to the traditional leftist elements in the PA specially Batty Weerakoon who has been critical of him, Mr. Bandaranaike said the traditional left was finished and whatever remained was the JVP.

When asked about his views on the development of the party he said they had to begin from grassroot levels and the UNP presently minus its minority party support held only a 6% majority in the house. Responding to a question regarding the PA- JVP relationship, he said both parties were acting as the opposition but when asked of a possible link up he dismissed it but quoted R.A. Buttler's saying "any thing is possible in politics".

There are more burning issues than presidential election

Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse said he was proud to be called a street fighter by former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike because that brought out his level of involvement in the party and the general public.

He said the Presidential election was more than three years away and there were more burning issues to be addressed and the final decision on the potential candidate would lie with the party's central committee.

The opposition leader also pointed out that in three years time there may not be an executive presidency at all since the existing constitution may be amended and the office of presidency may not even exist. Citing his involvement with the people he said he had organised and participated in many civil protests and demonstrations such as Pada Yatra for the benefit of the people.

Commenting on his involvement in the upcoming local government elections he said the President was heading the campaign and he was actively involved in organising the campaign.

Dismissing Mr. Bandara-naike's claim that his family heritage and experience were factors to be considered in his claim for the presidency, Mr. Rajapakse said people were more educated now.

Weerawansa grilled for six hours and remanded

By Tania Fernando

Former Customs Superintendent Anura Weerawansa, wanted in connection with the murder of Customs Officer Sujith Perera, was remanded yesterday till March 15 by Colombo Magistrate Sujatha de Alwis.

Mr. Weerawansa who was tracked down by the CID on Friday after having evaded arrest for almost a year, was questioned by the CID for almost six hours.

During the questioning, Mr. Weerawansa had denied any involvement in the killing of Mr. Perera and claimed that he was being framed. However, CID sources said they had ample evidence against him.

When asked how he had got a certified copy of the B report which the CID found in his room, Mr. Weerawansa said he had received it from a lawyer friend. The CID will be questioning the lawyer soon.

Acting on a tipoff, the CID had moved in around 7 a.m. on Friday to arrest Mr. Weerawansa who was in disguise at a house in Horana. A businessman who owned the house was also arrested.

After questioning Mr. Weerawansa, the CID handed him over to the Gampaha Police, who produced him before the Colombo Magistrate.

Mr. Weerawansa who reportedly fled to India after allegedly staging his own kidnapping when he was going with one lawyer to see another lawyer at Norris Canal Road, Maradana, was questioned with regard to that incident as well.

Dispute delays issue of new telephone directory

A dispute between Sri Lanka Telecom and Directories Lanka Pvt. Ltd., has resulted in a delay in publishing the telephone directory.

Directory publishers, Directories Lanka Pvt. Ltd., has pulled out of the contract taking along with it the data base which has forced Sri Lanka Telecom to employ the services of two specialised engineers to reconstruct the data base using customers' billing data and other information.

The provincial directory which was to be completed last April was delayed and a further delay was caused following the elections at the end of last year.

Telecom Customer Services Chief Christie Alwis said the new directory to be published in Japan at the cost of Rs. 70 million would be a revised and more informative one than the previous directory.

Meanwhile Directories Lanka Director Errol Perera confirmed there was a dispute but refused to comment further on the advice of company lawyers.

JVP going with complaint

A three-member delegation comprising Speaker Joseph Michael Perera, former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike and JVP's Sunil Handunnetti will represent Sri Lanka at next Sunday's Inter Parliamentary Union sessions in Morocco.

The JVP delegate is expected to hand over a petition to the IPU explaining the current political situation and complain about alleged harassment meted out to opposition legislators.

Kadir meets Jayalalitha

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on a private visit to India paid a courtesy call on Chief Minister Designate Jayalalitha and Governor Ramamohan Rao at their residences in Chennai.

Mr. Kadirgamar and his wife were in India to attend the wedding of the daughter of Indian High Commissioner Gopalakrishna Gandhi on March 3.

Mr. Kadirgamar also attended a programme organised by the Asian College of Journalism where he delivered a lecture on "some thoughts on topical media issues".

Port trade unions query deal with Dubai firm

By M. Ismeth

An agreement signed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to lease out two acres of the Prince Vijaya Quay (PVQ) to a Dubai based Flour Milling Company has come under fire from trade unions.

Port trade unions claimed that under the agreement the Colombo Port should pay upto Rs. 4 billion as compensation to this company if the land was to be taken back for port expansion or development purposes.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga by a letter No.SEI/A/4/722 dated 29 January 2001 to the then Minister of Ports Development Ronnie De Mel said: "The proposed Flour Mill is a useful project, promoting market competition for the milling and distribution of flour in the country. The project proponent, Emirates Trading Company, intends to invest in other fields too.

"I therefore approve the leasing of the land belonging to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority situated at Mutwal within the Municipal limits of Colombo 0.60209 Ha. in extent, depicted as lot 1 in plan no LS/P/243 dated 19.1.2001, to Emirates Trading Company owners of Serendib Flour Mills PVT Ltd, charging Rs 750,000 as monthly rental for the establishment of the flour mill project, pending approval of the Land Alienation Committee."

Trade unionists say the agreement with the BOI for the US $ 50 million project which promised 200 jobs was signed for 30 years despite the Ports Authority's advice that it should be signed on a renewable basis for ten years.

The agreement has stated that if the port wants to acquire this land after a period of 10 years it will be liable to pay compensation to the company.

This works out to be between Rs. 2 billion and 4 billion though the revenue for the port for ten years would be only around Rs. 90 million by way of rental.

Trade unions alleged that the BOI had misled the port to believe that the Serendib Flour Mills (PVT) Ltd owned by Emirates Trading Company was the same company which entered into an agreement with the BOI under the name of "Gold Coin Flour Mills Lanka (Pvt) Ltd following its cancellation of the flour milling project with Galle Flour Milling Pvt Ltd, a Sri Lankan German collaboration.

The trade unions claimed that their inquiries from the Registrar of Companies showed that Serendib Flour Mills Pvt Ltd was not the same company with whom the BOI had entered into an agreement to set up a flour mill in the Port of Colombo after the Galle project was abandoned.

Census on displaced people before resettlement

By Faraza Farook

A census on the displaced people will be caried out soon in a move to expedite the resettlement programme, Rehabilitation Minister Jayalath Jayawardena said.

The census, to be conducted in in coordination with the Census and Statistics Department, the UNHCR and Government Agents , would begin on March 26 and the preliminary report would be ready by May, he said.

Census and Statistics Department Deputy Director R. Balakrishnan said about 500 enumerators would conduct the census in Mannar, Vavuniya, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, Jaffna and Puttalam.

According to statistics at the Census Department, there are 56,000 displaced families in Jaffna ,12,000 in Kilinochci, 28,000 in Mullaitivu 17,000 in Mannar, 13,000 in Vavuniya and 22,000 in Puttalam.

Dr. Jayewardene said that displaced people, however, would not be forced to resettle. resettlement. Depending on the data in the census, the Ministry will provide resettled families with Rs. 65,000 each to re-build their houses.

The national census conducted last year did not include several areas in the north and east, following an LTTE threat.

Kandy traders on warpath

By Shane Seneviratne

Members of the 'Sinhala Velandha Peramuna' comprising 3000 shop owners will close their shops from 8 a.m. to 12 noon on Thursday and march to the Kandy Municipal Council to protest against the increase in taxes payable by their business establishments.

Black flags will also be hoisted as a mark of protest since appeals to reduce the tax have been ignored.

Businessmen say that the increase was made to suit private organisations such as banks that earn a higher income. However, several small time businessmen in the area are unable to pay higher taxes.

Meanwhile members of the association say that arrangements are underway to shift the Kandy Municipality to a different location and allege that the Mayor has obtained ownership of the premises that houses the Council at present.

The affected businessmen claim that the Municipality has increased taxes in order to finance the re-location of its offices.

Help on way for Kandy neuro unit

Following The Sunday Times article regarding the lack of facilities at the neurosurgical unit of Kandy hospital, the Health Ministry has taken steps to address some of the immediate needs.

A Health Ministry spokesman said as immediate relief a new operating theatre and some beds have been provided to the unit.

Hundreds of patients had been transferred to the Colombo unit due to pror administration and lack of facilities in the Kandy unit.

WESCO takes back staff

One thousand two hundred employees of Werahera Engineering Services Co. Ltd. (WESCO) who had been laid off by the previous regime were re- employed recently and a sum of Rs 70 million paid to them in settlement of arrears of wages and other payments.

The settlement was made after Commissioner General of Labour Mahinda Madihahewe had requested WESCO Managing Director Ravi Wettasinghe to pay the employees their wages, etc., for the past nine months during which period they had been out of work.

It is learnt that WESCO has recommenced production and has also been entrusted the work of repairing 2000 out of 4000 buses belonging to state transport services which are not in a running condition.

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