Political Column  

Salvoes on Govt. from every front
By Our Political Editor
Was the UNF wishing that there will be floods forever? Of course not, but judging by the political debris that surfaced after the flood situation had subsided last week, you can excuse any government ranker for thinking that even floods may not be so bad after all.

It is by now well known that trouble broke out on three or four fronts. On the one hand, the LTTE rejected a proposal by the government for an Interim Administration (IA) in the North and the East on the grounds that it was old wine in new bottles (ie: no real power to the LTTE) and that the LTTE is not explicitly recognised in the proposal. On another front, the President seemed hell-bent on reviving the old Development Lotteries Board brouhaha that had brought about a so called 'constitutional crisis.' As if that was not enough, a Southern Provincial Council Minister of the PA was killed in daylight in the High Security Zone close to President's house, bringing in its wake certain fallout, including an argument between the President and Prime Minister about the general security arrangements in the city. The list of government woe seems to go on and on.

The President was in a huddle with a team of top bracket lawyers of the PA persuasion, planning a virtual putsch when the Prime Minister will be out in Japan for the donor conference. Several other national establishments run by the UNF government such as Rupavahini and the Ministry of the Interior are to be 'taken over' by the President it is reported, and it has been rumoured that there is a proposal at least by the said team of lawyers that a new government be appointed with a Cabinet of the President's choice after which the President should dissolve parliament and call for elections.

The Prime Minister seemed to take all in his stride, which means that even if he may have been worried sick, he was not showing it. At a meeting with his confidantes and Cabinet Ministers (the so called pre-Cabinet session) the Prime Minister said that the President's new letter about the Development Lotteries Board asking the Chairman of the Board to take certain steps, such as withholding payment of monies etc., is of concern. The Prime Minister also hinted that the entire original letter of the President on the DLB takeover can effectively be ignored, even though when the DLB crisis first developed, the Prime Minister sent a short reply saying that he will reply with more details later.

It seems to be his view that the President is determined to extract an answer from him on the DLB issue, which will in effect commit the Prime Minister to a certain position that takes into account the legal provisions in the Constitution. But the Prime Minister's position is that he can let the situation ride by ignoring that whole demand for a response, and getting about his own business. This fact was his position on the issue of elections etc., as well. When one UNF insider proposed that the UNF ask for elections, the Prime Minister was of the view that elections will be unpopular with the situation of floods and connected events in the country. "If she wants let her call for elections,'' was his manthra -- let her commit herself to a position or paint herself into a corner, we will then reply in kind.

All things taken in all, therefore, his bigger worry seemed to be the fact that the LTTE rejected the government proposal for an Interim Administration, which was structured by him and Milinda Moragoda with input from Ministers G. L. Peiris and Rauff Hakeem as a body that was wholly within the Constitution, and which had one apex body which had decision making power which should include 'the true representatives of the Tamil people.''

Two separate sets of this proposal was despatched one to Anton Balsingham and one to the man that matters in the Wanni. The reply came, after hours of hand wringing needless speculation last Friday, to the effect that the LTTE has rejected these proposals. The LTTE reply - drafted in no frills but very effective English -- would have been hilarious to read, had it not been on such an important matter. It made some points almost tongue in cheek, and asked for instance whether the LTTE was not mentioned in the IA (Interim Administration) proposals deliberately, and whether the phrase used in the document 'true representatives of the Tamil people' was meant to be ambiguous.

The document almost (we stress , almost ) seemed to poke fun at the fact that the Prime Minister was talking of building an international safety net to keep the Tigers ticking in the peace process. The document seemed to pat the Sri Lankan government on the back for de-proscribing the LTTE -- while proceeding thereafter to totally attack the international community for not lifting their proscriptions on it, and for other bad behaviour such as shabbily treating the LTTE with a terrorist label and 'applying undue pressure on the LTTE' because of the Prime Minister's request for a grand safety net.

So there - the government is going to map its own response to the LTTE response later, but the general feeling in government was that the LTTE will participate in the Japan donor conference in some way -- at least in a token way. The government meanwhile is set to address this and other issues this coming week, when the UNP working committee meets to discuss not just the issue of the negotiations but the creaking system of government by cohabitation as well.

A Moving shaking opposition
Last week was a week of very pro active action by the PA and the President, and a very vocal President even resorted to calling the Prime Minister demanding to know how a PA Provincial Council Minister could be shot like a dog in the high Security Zone near President's House. The Prime Minister seemed to reply in the same coin - he said that if it happened near the President's House, the Presidential Security Division could have prevented it. The President seemed to flare up at this, and reminded that the PSD has been treated by the government in such a way that if the PSD got involved the government would have been surely saying that the PSD killed provincial Minister Ranjith.

One could say that this exchange was almost an aside, compared to all the movers and the shakers of government going into a huddle this time over how the President should reply to the Norwegian Prime Minister who went to Japan and 'let the Sri Lankan President have it' with words to the effect that the President is irrelevant with regard to the peace process because it is the government that calls the shots.

The President almost immediately met with ex-Foreign Minister (and shall we say shadow Prime Minister - yes we shall) Kadirgamar on this issue, and both decided that a response was to be issued in the strongest terms. The Norwegian PM's statement was condemned in the strongest terms indeed, but not without a sideshow of Mangala Samaraweera calling the Norwegians a 'salmon eating nation' as if eating that kind of fish appeared to make the Norwegian PM's statement even more fishy than it was said to be.

In the meanwhile another mini flutter was created , when that impish Minister Mr Maheshwaran met the President, and later blabbed to the press that the President was keener than most about the peace process, and wanted to initiate direct talks with Prabhakaran.

Presidential spokesperson Harim Peiris said that it was for the President to say what had taken place at the meeting between her and Maheshwaran and not for Maheshwaran to say it. But already what Maheshwaran had said had created an altogether new talking point in political circles -- a new query as to whether the President wants to open a parallel line of negotiations.

Apparently the President's camp has been made aware by Bishop Rayappu Joseph at a meeting that there is no real agitation by the Buddhist monks on the peace issue, because the LTTE has somehow wangled a meeting with the Maahanayake priests (through certain proxies) and made a solemn promise to the Mahanakayakes that the Dalada Maligawa will never be attacked in the future!

But the President had her share of weddings and social engagements as well -- one at the BMICH - for instance, and it was left to the leader of the Opposition and others to ponder what the UNF strategies are.

Whatever they may think, the UNF strategies seem to be multi pronged, and one prong very visible this week , and this was getting the Indian industrial juggernaut here in Sri Lanka virtually as an insurance policy against the failure of the peace process.
You could say that the Indian industrial juggernaut went helter-skelter here this week, even though that might sound a little too much in terms of the use of cliché. First, they wanted to augment the use of the Trincomalee oil tanks as a buffer supply of oil for India, then they embarked on a long term oil prospecting exercise in Sri Lanka, and as if that was not enough a private concern which is of course an Indian petroleum giant made a splash by opening a new petrol station that will be part of a franchise.

All this indicated that the Sri Lankan Prime Minister is buying into the safety net heavily, not just in terms of the Norwegians and the Japanese as contributors and facilitators but also by getting India here as partner in an industrial juggernaut which will make India have a much greater stake here if the LTTE causes a breach of the peace. Also worthy of mention was the fact that the Indian aid ship which docked in Colombo did the entire flood relief operation and sailed off without so much as signing a piece of paper as a formality -- a clear indication of Indian presence if ever one was needed.

Flood relief operations were more streamlined this week, but it also needs to be mentioned that in Cabinet a decision was taken that those living in high risk potential landslide areas - 256 such danger areas were identified of which 46 are imminent -- should be given the option of resetting in other areas for which land was to be offered via the good offices of Lands Minister Rajitha Senaratne. Also taken up at Cabinet level was the release of funds for the Mahapola scholarship from the President's fund, where an indignant Minister Ravi Karunanayake said that there was no necessity for the President to create a scholarship fund of her own when there was already one.

The Prime Minister said that this is correct and that corrective strategy should be taken to ensure that funds are released for the Mahapola scholarships. Minister Karunanayake also said that steps should be taken to help those aggrieved from the Pramuka Bank collapse.

…Sublime to the ridiculous in legal-land
While the Supreme Court issued judgment in the case of Samaraweera Weerawanni and Dayananda Dissnayake there were other bizarre happenings in the legal arena. The Supreme Court in a judgment which has far reaching implications for the franchise and the protection of the sovereignty of the People overturned a decision of the Court of Appeal and issued a writ of certiorari quashing the election of the former Chief Minister of the Uva Province, Samaraweera Weerawanni as a member of the Provincial Council. The judgment was delivered by Justice Mark Fernando with Justices D.P.S. Gunasekera and C.V. Wigneswaran agreeing.

The two petitions filed by the Centre for Policy Alternatives and its Executive Director, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, and Rohan Edrisinha challenged the interpretation given by the Commissioner of Elections, Dayananda Dissanayake, to Section 65 of the Provincial Councils Election Act. Section 65 provides that when a vacancy occurs in a Provincial Council, the Secretary of the party to which the ex member belonged is entitled to nominate "a person eligible for election" to fill the vacancy. If the Secretary fails to do so then the Commissioner will declare that the candidate who received the next highest number of preference votes is elected.

Court ruled that this provision violates the sanctity of the principle that it is the voter who elects a candidate, and not any other (ie: not a Secretary General of a party.) In some sections this was interpreted to mean that there is more sanctity to the voters wish than there is to any legal stipulation -- and that even in the current cohabitation crisis, the voter's wish in electing a UNF government should be paramount and not the President's view that she is legally correct.

But now from the sublime to the more sublime -- the Asian Human Rights Commission issued a press release saying that Emmanuel (Tony ) Fernando who was sentenced in Contempt of Court earlier this year by the Supreme Court headed by Sarath Silva Chief Justice, was in fact a prisoner of conscience. It was also said that Tony was being considered for a Human Rights Award.

For a Bar Association which does not contemplate any action on this matter, this must have sounded like, who knows, an anti climax?? The Secretary of the Bar Association issued a rather vacuous if not sugary press release saying self righteously that while respecting the right of the media 'to publish information pertaining to public interest, it is also relevant to mention that no accusation or allegation should be made unless there was a conclusive finding against an individual or a body.'

This was in response to an article in the Daily Mirror which said the Bar Association is in financial crisis after the former committee relinquished duties. But we have confirmed news that in fact there was a Watergate style burglary at the BASL office in Hulftsdorph. It was reported that burglars had broken in - some vital files pertaining to financial matters etc., were missing. But, observers found to their chagrin that the so called burglary had been carried out from the inside -- because shreds of glass from the windows had actually been found on the outside and not the inside of the building, where the windows were smashed. Elementary, as they say, My Dear Watson.

The Bar Association should come clean about past records etc.., and not issue inane press releases -- and this at a time when the Asian Human Rights Commission has issued a considered and lengthy statement saying that Tony Emmanuel Fernando is a prisoner of conscience. Though the BASL is aware, it has been studied in its silence on this matter - and it also needs to be mentioned that the AHRC in an earlier press release few weeks back stated that the Sri Lankan judicial system is in the absolute pits. Does the BASL have a sugary press release about that as well?

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