Political Column  

PM turns guns on corruption
By Our Political Editor
Come peace or no peace, the party has to go on -- and the Prime Minister seemed to conduct the UNP Central Committee sessions in this spirit this bygone week. But even he didn't seem to bargain for the fact that peace is not the only factor that weighs in the power equation -- until his MPs told him so.

MP Lakshman Senenviratne (Mahiyangana) fired the first salvo when he said the corruption in UNP ranks has made it difficult for UNP MPs to get back to grassroots and meet the people.

He said 'we have nothing to show the people' and he should know, he is the only man who retained his seat when the UNP was reduced to one electorate in the poll calculation of the Presidential election of 1994.

Perhaps the hint was taken in unexpected quarters, and Jayalath Jayewardene the Minister of Rehabilitation, ever the man to talk, said that he is in 100 p.c. endorsement of what was said by Seneviratne. He also said as if putting a cap on, that he has been accused by the media of various acts of corruption. He said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe could appoint a committee to probe these allegations and if he is found guilty give him the Singapore treatment, of stripping corrupt MPs of their assets and having them disenfranchised, etc.,

However, the discordant note was sung by Minister W. J. M. Loku Bandara, who said that the UNP has given' the press too much freedom which has resulted in the press acting irresponsibly in 'exposing so called acts of corruption by government parliamentarians.''

Premier Wikremesinghe was not biting, He replied that the press cannot be faulted, and that often the press accurately portrays the conduct of the MPs and Ministers which can be found wanting.

He said that he had himself reason to believe that the press was accurate, except in some cases such as the one involving Minister Johnston Fernando in which the press 'expose' of his private life and matters associated with that was not at all accurate.

For the most part however he said the press will report what happens, and that MPs should conduct themselves honourably if they expect a good press from the journalists. He added that the conspicuous and pushy conduct of some Ministers who commandeered the roads with their motorcades was not becoming of representatives of the people - - and added that there should be an ethics committee that should look into the matter of formulating a code of ethics for Members of Parliament.

The result was the actual appointment of an ethics committee to draw up a code of ethics for UNP parliamentarians, which will comprise of Minister Karu Jayasuriya, UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickreme, UNP Secretary Senarath Kapukotuwa and Sri Lankan Airlines Chairman Daya Pelpola.

Minister Milinda Moragoda couldn't resist putting in his own piece of acquired wisdom - - he said the press takes him to task all the time, but that doesn't deter him from doing his own things. Yeah, tell me about it……

Party time it was
As stated in the lead story in this page, Minister Milinda Moragoda has said press leaves him unfazed. He added he has unveiled a display Board at his Ministry which displays cuttings of all press articles that are critical of him. I am not perturbed, let the reader judge, he said.

But, after this column broke the story about his plans for the National Lotteries Board and the moves to bring in a Norwegian concern contravening all tender procedures, it seemed Moragoda was destined to hear more about lotteries.

It was not from the readers though but from the President who took the Development Lottery under her charge, which has at the time of going to press blown into a full blown crisis with constitutional implications - - -about which you could read elsewhere in the news sections of this paper.

But Moragoda had discussions earlier in the week with the Indians, prompting a repartee from a parliamentarian that 'Moragoda has Norwegians for breakfast, Americans for lunch and Indians for dinner.'' Moragoda's intervention with the Indians ended with the tables somewhat turned ; the Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Singha and Mr Mishra, Advisor on Foreign affairs to the Indian government expressed their concern over the fact that there seems to be a free for all in the Sri Lankan seas.

This situation needs to be monitored more closely they said. And Minister Moragoda then asked that an Indian official be named to ensure that here is some resolution of the crisis off the seas involving the Sri Lankan Navy and the LTTE vessels.

More than ever, this situation seemed to underscore the position and the commonly held view that the Sri Lankan crisis cannot be addressed without the active participation of India. Even though this was the case, Lakshman Kadirgamar who led the opposition in the parliamentary debate on the security situation fired several missiles at an Indian, making clear his view that General Satish Nambiar's recommendations for the withdrawal of high Security Zones is a first step towards emasculating the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state.

This opposition tirade against Satish Nambiar seemed to catch most analysts by surprise; it was said however in lighter vein elsewhere that the President had not turned completely anti Indian becasue of Nambiar, and that she was wearing a sari that was gifted to her by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha which was green of all hues.

The green, in typical Sri Lankan style, gave rise to a string of well intentioned jibes about the President turning green and UNP at the Presidential Banquet held in honour of Maldivian PM Gayoom. The Prime Minister seemed to have the last word when he said that green is the colour that sartorially matches the President best……

Party time it wasn't
Last week saw too rather curious meetings involving political parties, one in President's House involving the PA parliamentary group, and another that involved Muslim Members of parliament which took place in Vavuniya.

The Vavuniya meeting was by far the most volatile, almost ending up in a flare up. Minister Noordeen Masood was holding forth at this meeting, when he was interrupted midstream by MP Nusahaad Badi-u-deen . There was a flare up over this interruption which eventually led to a stand off which saw both sets of bodyguards of the Minister cocking their rifles and looking rather trigger happy.

The situation to say the last was explosive, until a police officer who was present intervened, and in the presence of media Minister Imtiaz Bakllr Markar sent the men present packing into another room. However, frayed tempers stayed that way, and eventually after several minutes of heated cross talk the Minister left the scene with what sounded like a challenge.

There was no violence or even a hint of it at the PA group meeting , but there was a pep talk by the President who deplored the fact that attendance was bad, and that the opposition was only a shadow of what the UNP was to the PA when the PA was in government. Some MPs immediately whipped themselves up into a lather saying that they should not allow Ranil Wickremsinghe to speak when he makes his statement in parliament, but Ranil Wickremesinghe got wind of this, promised a debate on the security situation, and with that everybody ended up happy which accounted for a virtually uninterrupted speech. However, the JVP was not happy and said that it was a clear case of erosion of parliamentary responsibility that the PM could make a statement of such national import, and get away with it without even a hum from opposition ranks.

Late or otherwise, the President did not turn up for the Cabinet meeting, but there was enough to cause a mild explosion about gas. Minister Ravi Karunanayake was livid that the Mundo Gas supplier was not allowed to unload at the Galle Harbour, even though the ship was insured with Lloyds. He said that Shell Gas had paid off the Shipping Master at the Galle Harbour.

The Prime Minister instructed Shipping Minister Rauff Hakeem to deal with the matter, but at the time of going to press the shipping master Galle had come out of his shell to make an announcement that the regulation needed a separate insurance permit if hazardous material such as incendiary gas was to be unloaded -- which cover the Lloyds insurance did not provide. We do not know if Shell has so much power to stop a ship that two Ministers want cleared -- but as of going to press, the stand off appeared to be unsolved.

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