political bombs shake UPFA
By our Political Editor
Three improvised political bombs were exploded over
the week by three equally colourful political figures. The collatarel
damage caused was not insignificant.
first bomb was at Ratnapura by JVP spokesman Wimal Weerawansa; the
second in Colombo by UPFA cabinet spokesman Mangala Samaraweera,
and the third in London by LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingham.
a mention about Mr. Weerawansa's speech. It was vintage stuff, hitting
round the wicket by the former Holy Cross opening batsman. It was
vintage JVP rhetoric. He slammed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
and President Chandrika Kumaratunga in equal measure, but while
his criticism of the former is understandable, his lashing at the
President was, well, understable too.
hell with the niceties of 'collective responsibility', and all that
British parliamentary rubbish, this is what he said referring to
the President: "The SLFP once it falls into the opposition,
takes a long time to get back on its feet, and has not been in a
position to mobilise and speak up against the UNP. For seven years
in power it has been harping about the peace process (saama baila),
and it was the National Patriotic Movement (spearheaded by the JVP)
that was able to awaken the people and bring down the UNP government.
"The President had been subjected to all kinds of 'ragging'
every time she attended a cabinet meeting when the UNP was in power
questioning her about her handbag or her vehicles. There were dark
circles around the President's eyes those days. She was under a
lot of pressure. She was seeing Ravi's ragging (ex Minister Ravi
Karunanayake) when she closed her eyes. She stayed awake at night,
and slept during the day."
went on to refer to the lame-duck President, Chandrika Kumaratunga
was from 2002-2004, how it was not worth "50 cents", and
how the Presidency was like a "pensioned Raalahamy (police
constable) and that the executive President became all-powerful
again, thanks to the support of the NPM (JVP).
has even a UNPer used such words on the President, prompting the
newly formed UPFA Deputy Ministers Forum head Dilan Perera to issue
a statement regretting the remarks made by Mr. Weerawansa. What
Dilan Perera may not know is that the Forum's own actions, to call
upon the President to begin negotiations with the LTTE on the ISGA
proposals would probably have been the provocation for the provocative
remarks by the JVP propaganda chief. That, more than gentle reminder
given to the powers-that-be, Mr. Weerawansa went into mute mode
at his next meeting at Polonnaruwa. So much so, the ex-schoolboy
cricketer used cricketing parlance to tell the crew from a private
tv channel present that if they had come to take another 'catch'
off him, he was not giving one.
Weerawansa then went on to take heavy toll on the ISGA (self-rule)
proposals of the LTTE, something that President Kumaratunga has
now said she was prepared to discuss, notwithstanding the JVP.
with the Weeerawansa explosion at Ratnapura, was an incendiary bomb
set off by the party's godfather, Somawansa Amarasinghe. He said
that the JVP sees the UPFA government under the dominance of the
President's PA, side-lining the JVP in the decision-making process,
and as an early warning signal, a cannon salvo above the bow, so
to say, they would consider withdrawing their support for the PA
in the six provincial councils which the two control.
are the twists and turns of contemporary Sri Lankan politics. When
the provincial councils were introduced in 1987, the PA (then the
SLFP) and the JVP opposed the concept. While the SLFP leadership
faced tear-gas attacks at the Pettah bo-tree junction, the JVP went
about burning state transport, state electricity pylons, state telephone
lines etc. Subsequently, they both turned volte-face, and contested
for seats and drew the perks of office. Now, they are using this
very same utterly useless administrative, and thoroughly politicised,
provincial council system to black-mail one another.
Samaraweera explosion was quite another. That was directed at the
opposition UNP. For quite some time now, the issue of whether the
President's second six-year term begins in 1999 when she was re-elected
(and therefore should end next year), or whether her second term
starts in 2000 (when her first six year term that started in 1994
was to have ended ) lay dormant. Neither side made an issue of it,
waiting for the other's move.
whole episode began when The Sunday Times and its sister newspaper
Lankadeepa ran an exclusive report saying that Chief Justice Sarath
Silva had administered an oath of office on the President sometime
in August 2000 in what was a secret ceremony at the President's
office. The story was subsequently confirmed by the Chief Justice
himself in an unusual move in the Daily Mirror. The first time this
news broke out was at the end of 2003! Strange things do happen
in Sri Lanka, and this was stranger than fiction.
comes the first noise emanating from the government camp, from its
spokesman Mangala Samaraweera, though technically, the first squeek
on the subject really came from the UNP's spokesman G.L. Peiris
last week when he said that the UNP was preparing for the next Presidential
elections in November 2005.
Samaraweera statement has caused some disquiet in the UNP camp.
Some say that Prof. Peiris ought not to have belled the cat without
the party being ready with a counter-plan. Its political affairs
committee is to meet on Monday to analyse the fall-out of this statement.
For the moment they are only saying they will challenge the contention
that the President is entitled to carry on till 2006, arguing that
President J.R. Jayewardene also called for early elections at the
end of his first term, and therefore had to forego an year in office
from the maximum 12 year period permitted under the constitution.
UNP sees the UPFA leadership as having a three-pronged strategy
to keep President Kumaratunga in office beyond 2005. Firstly, to
abolish the executive Presidency and permit Ms. Kumaratunga to be
Head of Government through a Constituent Assembly. Secondly, i.e.
if option 1 fails, to extend the period through the oaths argument
till 2006. Thirdly, to obtain minority support through negotiations
with MPs and form a two thirds majority in Parliament to effect
on Friday, immediately after the Samaraweera statement, UNP leader
Wickremesinghe reacted in a veiled way to these developments while
addressing the Asia-Pacific Democratic Union participants. He said
that plans by the UPFA government to bring about constitutional
changes through a Constituent Assembly based on the April 2 mandate
would trigger two reactions, a) that bi-partisan consensus to the
LTTE issue will break down, and b) the LTTE will form its own Constituent
Assembly using the same April 2 argument to secede. The seeds for
this secession are still bearing fruit. This is the third explosion
for the week, Anton Balasingham's latest book 'War and Peace, ala
Leo Tolstoy, to be released in London, extracts of which were this
week released by Tamilnet, the virtual LTTE website.
Balasingham has re-introduced the theory that the LTTE has not,
repeat not, given up its demand for a separate state. This must
be a terrible blow for the peaceniks who were in a make-believe
world that the LTTE has given up its call for a separate state and
were now comfortably settling down for some kind of federal set-up.
so, says Mr. Balasingham. He says, that the LTTE's decision to consider
ISGA (Interim Self-Governing Authority) for the north and east is
'internal self-determination', and that by agreeing to consider
ISGA they are not abandoning a separate state (external self-determination).
In other simple words, Mr. Balasingham says the LTTE wants to eat
the cake, and have it as well. It may be that Mr. Balasingham finished
writing his manuscripts just about now, but the timing of the release
of extracts from the book is rather relevant.
is Mr. Balasingham who has been, once again been given the task
of writing the "Maveerar Day" (Grand Heroes Day) speech
or "policy statement" by Velupillai Prabhakan. This time
when he turns 50 years. This time, when Political Wing leader Suppiah
Palani Tamilselvan met him in Geneva, he told Mr. Balasingham that
the leader wanted a punchy speech with a strong message for the
twin event - the address on the eve of his 50th birthday, at least
two decades of them as a revolutionary leader.
Balasingham seems to be setting the stage in style. First is the
timing of his book. Then the undoing of what has turned out to be
his blunder in agreeing to the Oslo statement for the LTTE to consider
a federal solution with internal self-determination. In one chapter,
Mr. Balasingham now juggles with words, a sport he had mastered
throughout to say, the LTTE had not given up its right to secede
if it wants. But soon after the Oslo declaration, the whole world
concluded that the LTTE had at long last shed its demand for a separate
state and agreed on federalism with internal self determination.
Even the New York Times determined that story was fit enough to
be printed. No one denied it then.
now Mr. Balasingham's about turn through a chapter in the book has
received billing in the avowedly LTTE Tamilnet website. First the
book, then the reference being played up in the website. The third
one, no doubt would be references in Prabhakaran's speech on November
26. After all Balasingham is drafting it. It is no secret that soon
after the Oslo statement, Mr. Prabhakaran lost his cool over what
Mr. Balasingham agreed to. So much so, relations were strained Bala
Anna was not seen with his verti in the arid lands of Wanni.
he has cunningly engineered a set of words to create the feeling
that he and leader Prabha are, after all, on the same wavelength
- both have not given up the ideal of secession. So the United National
Front Government and the Norwegian facilitators who drafted the
Oslo statement were taken for a ride.
Mr. Prabhakaran finishes his act on November 26, the process of
insulting the intelligence of all those who sat at the peace table
in Oslo except the LTTE would have been roundly completed. Is this
not re-writing history again, a fine art of the LTTE?
Balasingham argument is another spanner in the peace process works.
President Kumaratunga cannot be in a more unenviable position. On
the one hand, her restless ally, the JVP is warning her - "talk
of ISGA and we may walk out", and the LTTE is saying on the
hand - "You don't give ISGA and we may go to war ".
if saddled with these two extreme positions is not enough, the electorate
she can truly claim to represent, the middle and lower middle Sri
Lankans in the 'south' are just about fed up - with little to eat.
Last week, the President promised to bring down the prices of food
within three weeks, which means she has just a fortnight left to
do so. Otherwise, she may have to eat her own words.
if words could be eaten, Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Jeyaraj
Fernandopulle might take the cake. His first bout of vitriol was
aimed at Prima, then Shell Gas, then Laughfs, then the milk powder
importers, the rice farmers, rice millers, now the rice importers
and the list goes on. If the cost of living should tumble upon the
decibels emitted by the Minister, perhaps then Sri Lanka would have
stable prices than in any other country.
previous free-marketeer Minister Ravi Karunanayake was equally vociferous
and his conduct let the side down for his party when in office,
but at least he allowed that market forces to determine prices.
Fernandopulle who was earlier this week touring the US attending
the 4th Joint Council Meeting under the Trade and Investment Framework
Agreement (TIFA) is at loggerheads at home with the CWE Chairman
all because of a sugar deal gone bad.
Colombo-based trading company is reported to have offered the CWE
a cargo of Brazilian sugar at US$ 197/MT C&F Colombo. This was
an unsolicited offer. At this price, the offered sugar is about
US$ 90/MT below the current world market price.
with any knowledge of the sugar trade might tell you that prices
move in tandem with the futures markets for sugar (New York, Paris,
London) on a day to day basis. Further, all major International
Commodity Trading Houses, trading in sugar are members of the RSA
(Refined Sugar Association of London) and to trade this kind of
tonnage, only these traders have the capacity, the expertise and
the financial muscle. It is well known in the trade, that when offers
are made well below market levels, it is done with the intention
to defraud the buyer by negotiating his Letter of Credit with fraudulent
documents! The Chairman CWE therefore, has to be commended for resisting
is another hot topic in this Ministry. The UPFA government in his
yearning for a lower 'cost of living', is riding roughshod over
officials giving orders to purchase rice from India and Pakistan
at random without going through the usual tender procedures.
tenders are called for rice purchases by this Ministry. The modus-operandi
it is alleged is business for the 'boys'. The trade is agog with
stories that Indian and Pakistani sellers call on the Ministry with
a local contact, usually a 'political catcher', or a Pettah businessman
and orders are given by the Ministry to either Co-op Fed, Markfed
or STC (General), all of which organisations come under it, to establish
Letters of Credit in favour of the seller for these purchases.
of these organisations do not have LC facilities and run from Bank
to Bank looking for facilities to establish Letters of Credit for
the business done in their name. Business we are told is brisk under
this innovative and novel method of purchase. There are no specifications
for the rice purchased either, as is the custom of the trade. Most
sales have been made in the region of US$ 265 to 285 per MT C&F
Colombo for Ponni Rice and US$ 255 to 265 per MT C&F Colombo
for White Raw Rice.
current price for Ponni Rice (a par-boiled variety from Andra Pradesh,
India) is around US$ 305 MT C&F Colombo. Nobody in the buying
organisation are aware what Ponni Rice looks like, and a Pettah
trader said that "the Ponni Rice that will be shipped against
these contracts would be old-crop, with high brokens percentages
and mixed with other Par-boiled varieties, which is not strictly
Ponni, but are cheaper in the market".
alleged that the "system used to purchase the rice is unique"
and asked "why the JVP talk-show heroes such as Wimal Weerawansa,
Susil Handunetti, Anura Dissanayake, Nandana Goonetilleke and Vijitha
Herath are not reporting these shoddy purchases to the Bribery Commission".
JVP quite rightly raised hell when the former Minister purchased
rice for the CWE. The public heard in them the voices of clean government.
Today, these voices are muted. Probably though Wimal Weerawansa
doesn't bother about the niceties of British parliamentary government,
and the principle of collective government, the JVP is generally
abiding such values at the expense of clean government.
Treasury having sensed what was happening moved in quickly to allow
imports of rice by the private sector on October 6. Accordingly,
better quality rice is now entering the market at lower prices.
A cynic remarked "Kauda Mevata Waga Kiyanne" and added
that "Haal Horu Dang Katen Daney".