ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 38
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Wijeya Pariganaka

Serious charges

One of our readers has suggested the installation of traffic lights - with red, amber and green -- at the gates of Temple Trees considering the number of bizarre comings and goings of MPs to take oaths as ministers - getting sacked - coming back, on bended knees, grovelling, all for the sake of the king's horses and men.

Fleets of vehicles, platoons of security guards, large bungalows with staff, foreign travel -- all on the people's purse -- that's the oxygen without which many politicians just cannot get by their daily lives. Of course, they are all Honourable men, who want to serve the country, and not themselves. But hasn't someone told them the spectacle they are creating.

It is in this context that the unceremoniously sacked Minister Mangala Samaraweera comes out, smelling of roses as it were.

This is certainly a rare compliment coming from a newspaper that has lampooned him, ad nauseam during his political career, especially during his utterly controversial stint as the Media Minister, but the question on everyone's lips now is "Why?" he should take such a confrontational course with the all-powerful President, and at this stage of his Government.

Mr. Samaraweera knows best the pitfalls of flying in the face of an angry President, as he has made it clear in a signed article to this newspaper this week. He knows only too well that, castrated from political power, he becomes a political eunuch.

Ex-facie, there is no evidence to show that he has a particular long-term political agenda, other than what the President has said of a conspiracy to have him eliminated. But then, a co-conspirator has been embraced and taken back even before one can say "Anura Bandaranaike".

In the meantime, Mr. Samaraweera has levelled some very very serious allegations against the President. Some of them are not just about political meddling by the coterie surrounding the President, but also about financial impropriety on the part of the President's own family. He has cited, in particular, the case of the Hambantota Port feasibility report which will be on the agenda when the President visits China later this month.

These allegations will blotch the image of the Office of the President of Sri Lanka, and the President himself, unless the people are convinced otherwise to the veracity of these allegations.

The allegations are against the President himself, and he simply cannot waive it away by asking his Media Minister to flippantly dismiss them at a media briefing. It will require more convincing to prove that they are not true.

Bold stroke

The new Minister for the Environment, under some pressure it seems, has decided to appoint a committee to look into the fallout on the recent Government decision to ban two-stroke three-wheelers. It was indeed a bold step for the Government which prides in calling itself a People's Government, to take in the first place -- inviting the displeasure of several hundreds of three-wheel owners and the wrath of a lobby that was wielding some political clout in the larger national interest.

The ban was effected because of the emissions there-from which are proved as being hazardous to the air that the citizenry, especially the young, inhale.

The single main exporter of these three-wheelers to Sri Lanka, very much the 'Common Mans Rolls Royce', is the Bajaj Company in India. In a statement they have issued (It appears in the Financial Times on Sunday section), they have said that Sri Lanka is not the only country to which they have exported these vehicles, and they go on to list the other countries -- Sudan, Tanzania, Nigeria, Somalia and Peru. They also say that 55 per cent of India's domestic sales comprise of these 2-stroke three-wheelers.

It was unfortunate that, both the UNP and the JVP joined hands in raising the ban as an issue in Parliament. Clearly, it is the role of the Opposition to speak on behalf of the aggrieved, on issues where the Government is straying from the right path.

They have tried to garner some support for themselves from among the community of three-wheel owners, but in the process they have ignored the cry of the majority, especially the children of this country whom, Health authorities have confirmed, have been increasingly subjected to respiratory complications, especially asthma, due to unclean air -- especially in the big cities.

Undoubtedly these three-wheelers are not the only cause of air impurities and environmental pollution. The Bajaj Company itself points out that vehicle manufacturers, component manufacturers, the oil industry and petrol products must be looked into.

In India, the usage of alternate fuels to eradicate the chronic problem of adulterated gasoline has already come into force.
Surely, Sri Lanka does not want to be another Sudan or Somalia - or like certain states of India.

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