Columns - Talk at the Cafe Spectator

High drama in the deluge

When Parliament sessions ended on Wednesday evening, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe travelled to Meegoda in Homagama for a ceremony in a temple. On his way home, he found that his car could not go past a flooded road at Rajagiriya.

He then got in to an old Toyota police vehicle that was escorting him. There was water up to the floor board by the time the long vehicle with a rear door came to the Kanatte Junction in Borella. When he reached his private residence at Fifth Lane, it was past 10 p.m. It had taken him three hours to get to Kollupitiya from Rajagiriya.

The next morning, Water Resources Minister Dinesh Gunwardena, rang to tell him that the ground floor of Parliament was under four feet of water. "Let us go to the house by boat," said Gunawardena. Wickremesinghe agreed.

En-route to the House, he met UPFA parliamentarian Chandana Weerakkody and asked him also to follow the Jeep with exhaust pipes fixed to the roof. At Madiwela (the rear entrance of Parliament), they found the waters were rising and they would have to get into a boat. Later, they travelled to the front entrance and boarded a Unicorn high clearance armoured vehicles for the journey.

When photographers took pictures of him inside the military vehicle Wickremesinghe mimicked and crossed his hands as if he was a manacled prisoner being taken away, probably like former General Sarath Fonseka.

At least one Jeep ended up in the Parliament pool. It turned out that the driver was not familiar with the roads there.

All's not wunderbar

Last week's references in this column about opposition leaders being livid about a meeting they had with a five member German Parliamentary delegation have had their sequel. The report said four of the five defended the UPFA government stoutly during the discussion. Only the fifth was a dissenting voice.
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and his deputy Karu Jayasuriya received telephone calls from the German Ambassador Jens Plotner.

He wanted to know how the report found its way into Café Spectator. Plotner, who has preferred an Indian built Bajaj scooter over some of his country's best known driving machines like Mercedes Benz and BMWs, despite his pressing inquiries, was unable to determine the source.

Both leaders had pointed out that the media had their own ways of finding things out. Meanwhile, the embassy was concerned that there were reports that there was division within the German MPs on the way they felt about the Government's post-war initiatives and the need for the UNP to get its act together. They wanted very much to clear the air.

Regional engineers in a tight spot

On a directive of the Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga it has been decided each regional engineering officer in the provinces should collect at least Rs 100,000 to put out a supplement to mark the President's swearing in ceremony. For this they have been told to tap the contractors in the province.

A circular signed by Deputy Chief Secretary (Engineering) to this effect had gone out. The staff are wondering as to how they could take action against contractors in the event if their projects are not up to standard as they would point out that they have funded the supplement.

Charika going fine but not so Karu's security

The main opposition United National Party's (UNP) third Grama Charika programme got under way in Kundasale this weekend. The earlier charikas were held in Horana and Matara.

If that was good news for the man who mooted the idea, UNP deputy leader, Karu Jayasuriya, there was also bad news for him.

Police have warned him to take extra precautions since there was a threat to his life. Yet, Jayasuriya has only one police officer assigned for his personal security.


President opens door for Al Jazeera

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has over-ruled a move by the External Affairs Ministry to disallow a crew from the Qatar based Al Jazeera satellite TV channel to visit Colombo for his swearing in on Friday.
Rajapaksa, who is media savvy enough, has directed that the crew be allowed to come and report on the event.

The Ministry, which wishes to be more loyal than the chief, barred the crew after the channel had featured photographs of what it called were killings of civilians in the north during the fighting to end the separatist war in May last year. The Media Ministry rejected the tv channel's claim and said that it was a fabrication.

Bread scene: Nothing to toast about

The President's son Namal Rajapaksa was at a girl's school in Kurunegala. He watched students stage a play where one of them dashed loaves of bread on the ground.

He turned to Trade Minister, Johnston Fernando, seated next to him and asked, "are they trying to hurt you by doing this?"

Later, young Namal said in his speech, perhaps light heartedly, that students would have to be careful. They should not dash bread on the ground when their Trade Minister was present since that would be an unfriendly act.

West Point gets lessons from Lanka

Is Sri Lanka bent on providing a crash-course in anti-terrorism tactics to one of the world's major military's? Last week Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the UN Palitha Kohona was invited to address a gathering of cadets at the premier United State's military training school: the West Point Military Academy in upstate New York. The subject: how to defeat terrorism.

He was joined by British Ambassador Sir Nigel and his wife Julia. All three were also hosted to dinner by the Commandant Lt. Gen David Huntoon and former Secretary of the Veteran's Administration James Nicholson.

The grand finale was an Army-Navy American football game-- one of the most intense and competitive sports events at West Point.

Red hat for wavering John

At the UNP's Parliamentary Group meeting on Tuesday, its leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, endorsed a proposal for a three member delegation to represent the party at the consistory of Cardinals at the Vatican where Colombo's Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith will receive his red hat as a Cardinal.

The trio who will be part of an official Sri Lanka delegation are Joseph Michael Perera, John Ameratunga and Jayalath Jayawardena, all from the Ja-ela, Kandana, Wattala areas of the Gampaha district.
"It is good John Ameratunga is going there (Vatican) during the budget time," quipped Anoma Gamage, (National List).

The remarks were an obvious reference to Ameratunga visiting the United States in September on a Business Class ticket paid for by the Government. He was du to pay the money back though after the fact was highlighted and became an issue within the UNP.

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