It was past noon on December 1, the day when the countdown to Christmas begins. Freezing temperatures and thin sheets of ice on the streets, some covered with snow, lent the ideal storybook backdrop for a white Christmas in Britain.
At London's plush Mayfair district, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was in the Harlequin Suite at the five-star Dorchester Hotel. It was in this very suite that Elizabeth Taylor received the news of her record-breaking, multi-million pound deal to star in the epic Cleopatra and the suite still glows with Hollywood glamour. Rajapaksa had just ended an interview with The Times, UK, Editor James Harding and journalist Ben Macintyre. He had arrived there only two nights earlier. The Metropolitan Police amidst protests by pro-Tiger (LTTE) guerrilla groups whisked Rajapaksa away in a swift and secret operation from the Heathrow Airport to the hotel.
Rajapaksa received an urgent one-page letter. It was from James Kingston, then President of the Oxford Union. He said "…it is with the very deepest regret that I must report we now feel bound to withdraw our invitation to you, in light of pressing security concerns brought to us yesterday afternoon (November 30) by Thames Valley Police." The letter (dated December 1, 2010) was in marked contrast to a statement issued by the Union on December 2. It said "…… the union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address." Officially, the OU withdraws the invitation to Rajapaksa but tells the world outside that the talk is cancelled. There is a difference in the two statements. The first, the withdrawal of the invitation means, he is no longer invited. The second, which is a cancellation, raises the prospects of the event being re-scheduled.
President asked to stay on
Little wonder, President Rajapaksa was livid about the sequence of events that prevented his address to the Oxford Union on December 2. He told his ministers at last Wednesday night's weekly cabinet meeting that though Kingston wrote that letter to him, his tenure as President of the OU ended on Saturday December 4. The newly-elected President, James Langman, had called on him and asked that he remain in London until Sunday (December5) so a fresh invitation could be extended and immediate arrangements made for the address. He was not sure whether it was a trap and was not prepared to fall for it. Rajapaksa said he had already made his flight plans to return to Colombo. He even cancelled a lunch at the hotel with the Oxford University Vice Chancellor Andrew D. Hamilton.
Rajapaksa told his ministers how the Metropolitan Police had escorted him to the Dorchester Hotel. Soon after SriLankan Airlines flight UL 509 landed at Heathrow Airport on November 29, it was taxiing to a parking bay in Terminal 4, the terminal allotted to SriLankan Airlines. However, as the aircraft rolled, it was channelled by Air Traffic Controllers to the apron ahead of Terminal 5, the newly built glass, concrete and steel structure used exclusively by British Airways. Escort vehicles and the VIP limousines were waiting on the ground for Rajapaksa and his entourage. They stepped out from the passenger steps, boarded the vehicles and drove off with no hassle from the demonstrators. It was thereafter, that SriLankan Airlines Airbus A-340 headed to a parking slot at Terminal 4. Demonstrators learnt later that Rajapaksa and party had already reached their hotel.
|At the ceremony in BMICH to felicitate the new Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, President Rajapaksa examines Dr Jayalath Jayawardana’s hand that was injured by his colleagues in Parliament.
Rajapaksa was highly critical of two opposition personalities a UNP parliamentarian and the leader of a smaller opposition party. A woman Tamil journalist had told the Sri Lanka High Commission that these two persons had engaged in "desha drohi" or treacherous activity. She had said that they had consorted with groups supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Britain.
These allegations took a new turn this week when a group of lawyers, described as supporters of the government, lodged a complaint at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) against the conduct of these two persons. They cited legal and constitutional provisions and urged that they be prosecuted. Detectives are to question the duo.
In fact, President Rajapaksa snubbed the parliamentarian in question when he turned up for tea during a state ceremony at the BMICH to felicitate His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. "Oya karala thiyanney jaati drohi vedak," (you have carried out a treacherous act), he told the parliamentarian. It came as an embarrassment to opposition leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who stood nearby and left the parliamentarian in question speechless.
Rajapaksa told his cabinet ministers that the LTTE rump operating in Britain was spending large sums of money against the government. If Minister Douglas Devananda was given a visa to enter by the British, he could have countered some of the activities of pro-LTTE Tamil groups in London. A former British Minister has been provided accommodation upstairs in a building that was owned by a pro-LTTE group. They were operating downstairs. He said that the British High Commission in Colombo has been least helpful to Sri Lankans. Students were unable to get their visas and parents complained they could not also obtain visas to visit their children now studying in Britain. He had received many complaints, he said.
After the Cabinet meeting, Government spokesperson and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella also lashed out at the British Government. He asked whether they (the British) would allow al-Qaeda also to conduct demonstrations the same way pro-LTTE groups had done during Rajapaksa's visit.
President Rajapaksa told his ministers that when he was waging war against the LTTE, he was conscious of the problems he would face and the accusations that would be hurled against him. "We are not guilty of anything. We are not frightened. I am prepared to face them," he asserted. Rajapaksa said his government had termed the final assault on Tiger guerrillas as a "humanitarian operation" and did not give it any names like "Operation Jaya Sikurui" (Operation Victory Assured). This was to highlight the character of military operations. Its aim was to liberate the Tamil people who were under the clutches of terrorists.
Higher Education Minister, S.B. Dissanayake, a member of Rajapaksa's entourage to London, was to add that he was able to mingle with the demonstrators unnoticed. He said there were 450 to 500 protestors. Among them were Sinhala groups who had carried placards calling for the release of former General Sarath Fonseka who is now serving a jail sentence. He said no one made him out as he mingled with the protestors.
Kingston's letter in parliament
The only other cabinet minister in Rajapaksa's entourage, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, admitted in Parliament on Tuesday that there were requests from various quarters asking President Rajapaksa not to visit Britain to address the Oxford Union. However, he dodged questions from UNP's Lakshman Kiriella (Kandy District) to identify the quarters and whether the External Affairs Ministry was also among them.
Peiris tabled the letter (dated December 1, 2010) which President Rajapaksa received from the outgoing Oxford Union President James Kingston. The letter states:
"Earlier this year we at the Oxford Union extended you an invitation to come and address our society, in keeping with our unique tradition of hosting visits from distinguished foreign guests. We were delighted to hear that once again you had chosen to give us a visit; as President of Sri Lanka, you would have given us the unique honour of being the only serving Head of State to have twice visited the Union. As was the case in your previous visit, we were hoping to once again learn from you your views on the future of your country.
"However, it is with the very deepest of regret that I must report we now feel bound to withdraw our invitation to you, in light of pressing security concerns brought to us yesterday afternoon by Thames Valley Police. Since the time of our original invitation, new information given us by the Police has made us aware of a large-scale protest planned here in Oxford against your visit. Though the Union holds by its desire to have you here to speak, the unparalleled scale of this protest means that, in light of our responsibilities to the membership and to the wider community of Oxford, we cannot in good faith go ahead with the event.
"While the Union maintains a deep commitment to the principles of free speech and debate, we also have a responsibility to those who live and work in the city of Oxford. The disruption and danger that residents and citizens would face is by far too great to justify hosting the speech. This is to say nothing of our members who, similarly, could be directly placed in danger should the expected protests turn violent.
"Thames Valley Police have strongly advised that they will most likely not be able to guarantee the security of the Union, its members, its neighbouring businesses, or your delegation. Quite simply, the expected protests are likely to be on a scale that would be unprecedented in Oxford, placing immense strain on the local police and community.
"I wish to re-iterate my disappointment that your address cannot go ahead as planned, as I am sure that you would have shared a fascinating insight into the political climate of Sri Lanka and its international neighbours. However, given the gravity of the security concerns presented by your address, I feel I have no choice but to cancel the scheduled event."
Nasheed at Oxford
It was however different in the case of Rajapaksa's good friend and Sri Lanka's southwestern neighbour, the Republic of Maldives. Its President, Mohanmed Nasheed spoke to the Oxford Union the next day (December 3) on the most troubled subject for all Maldivians -- global warming. The consequence of a sea level rise would erase the Maldives from the world map. The President's office in Male said Nasheed noted the "weakness" behind attacks fuelled by what he called the "Climategate to malicious slurs" against people like the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Rajendra Pachauri and former US Vice President Al Gore. He told Oxford students that he viewed these "disinformation" as the "death throes" of "dying industries."
He was alluding to the fact that the dominance of the world economy by fossil fuel companies was ending. On the same day as Rajapaksa was to address, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the British explorer and described by the Guinness Book of Records as 'the world's greatest living explorer' spoke to the OU. Sir Ranulph has climbed Mount Everest. Together with Charles Burton, the two are credited as the first men to reach both North and South Poles.
President Nasheed was in London at the same time Rajapaksa was. Unlike his Sri Lankan counterpart, Nasheed met with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, British Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne. He also took part in BBC's Hard Talk programme with Stephen Sackur. There he hit out at the United States and China for "so irrelevantly talking about this issue (climate change) as if it was arms control or trade negotiations." Another speaker at the Oxford Union the previous week was buxom Baywatch star Pamela Anderson. The 43-year-old actress spoke on vegetarianism. She has been a vegetarian since her teenage years.
Events took a startling turn this week as the Rajapaksa's aides began unravelling what had really happened. It has now been revealed that the Thames Valley Police, whom then OU president Kingston quoted as warning of "unprecedented protests", if Rajapaksa addressed Oxford Union, has denied the claim. Alice Adderley, Communications Officer of the Thames Valley Police Headquarters, said on Friday that the visit was not cancelled on the advice of the Police. She said it was the Oxford Union, which rescinded the invitation.
Ms. Alderley told the Sunday Times by telephone from their headquarters in Oxford Road, Kidlington, "Thames Valley Police had developed a comprehensive policing operation in advance of the President of Sri Lanka's visit to the City and the Oxford Union. This was aimed at facilitating those who wished to peacefully protest, as well as providing an appropriate level of security to the President and his entourage whilst in the City."
She quoted Oxford Commander, Superintendent Amanda Pearson as saying, "we are expecting a large number of protestors to gather in the city that would have clearly caused a disruption to the city centre of Oxford. We did have plans in place to deal with, and facilitate, large numbers of people gathering in the Cornmarket area of Oxford. We are now not expecting a large scale protest so would recommend that the community of Oxford go on with their day as usual."
Ms. Alderly said Supdt. Pearson's remarks as well as hers have also been made to other media on December 2. However, she declined to answer questions.
This startling disclosure raises an all-important question. How did Kingston, then President of OU, come to the conclusion that the Thames Valley Police had "strongly advised" him that they were unable to guarantee "the security of the Union, its members, its neighbouring businesses," or even President Rajapaksa and his delegation. Did he use the purported claim as an excuse to call off the address?
If indeed the Thames Valley Police had not made any such recommendation, Kingston has opened himself for an inquiry by them for grossly misrepresenting matters.
More importantly, that also becomes a key issue for the British government since it was also blamed for the string of events. A number of questions arise. Did Kingston succumb to pressure from pro-LTTE groups? If indeed that was the position, the lack of intelligence information on such matters is a damning indictment on the Sri Lanka High Commission. It was a non-state actor holding the President and the government of Sri Lanka to ransom and they were in the dark about it. Attempts by the Sunday Times to reach Kingston, who is no longer President of the OU, both on Friday and yesterday were not successful.
On the other hand, did any British under-cover agency send a signal to Kingston? Is that too far-fetched or could it be a reality? It is not clear whether Kingston's successor, James Langman, asked President Rajapaksa to remain until Sunday for a fresh invitation and hurried arrangements to schedule a lecture purely on the Police assurance to provide security. However, such a delay would have caused at least some embarrassment to Major General Chagi Gallage, head of the Presidential Security Division (for the Army) who accompanied Rajapaksa. Perhaps that prompted President Rajapaksa to entertain suspicions over whether it was a trap.
Tamil Forum law suit
On December 3, Rt. Hon. John Ryan (a former Home Minister) filed an application on behalf of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in the City of Westminister Magistrate's Court for the issue of a warrant for the arrest of Maj. Gen. Gallage. The application alleged that he had committed "war crimes"-- a charge repeatedly dismissed by both the Sri Lanka military and the Ministry of Defence. Manjit Gill, Queen's Counsel represented the GTF. The Magistrate directed the Scotland Yard Police to ascertain whether Maj. Gen. Gallage was still in the United Kingdom. They later reported that the senior Army officer had left at 11.10 p.m. the previous (Thursday) night. Hence, the Magistrate made no order in keeping with the provisions of the British law. It came a little too close for comfort.
The Sunday Times learnt that Dilan Fernando, President of the Sri Lanka Society at Oxford, was responsible in having the Oxford Union invite President Rajapaksa, for a second time. He has been in close touch with Kshenuka Seneviratne, a former High Commissioner to London and now Permanent Representative at the UN in Geneva, UPFA parliamentarian Sajin Vaas Gunawardena and P.M. Amza, Sri Lanka Deputy High Commissioner in Britain. The two-page invitation letter from Kingston to Rajapaksa dated September 8, 2010 said "….we shall be working closely with the Sri Lankan Society of Oxford" to host him as well as to invite the "international diplomatic community resident in the United Kingdom for this talk."
In fact, heads of UK missions from India, Pakistan, Argentina, Algeria, Belize, Mongolia, Barbados, Indonesia, Bahamas, St. Lucia, Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone had agreed to attend. China, Poland, the Philippines, South Africa and Bhutan had agreed to send their diplomats. John Goddard, the Mayor of Oxford, was also to attend.
A statement from the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society said:
"… The public statement issued by the Oxford Union citing security fears is belied by a statement issued by the Thames Valley Police stating that it did not advice the Union to cancel the event and it was completely the decision of the Union (attachment 3). In fact, Oxford Commander Supt. Amanda Pearson had stated several times that measures had been put into place and the Police were very confident about handling the situation, despite some expected disruptions. Thus, one can infer that there was an unseen force behind the cancellation
"It is fair to say that the cancellation was not a collective decision by the Oxford Union but rather, by its president. The decision has caused ripples within the organisation. Although a joint organizer, the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society was completely helpless in this matter as the right of cancellation lay only with the President of the Oxford Union. Our strong objections were simply not considered.
"It is highly commendable that James Langman (President-Hilary Term of the Oxford Union) visited President Rajapaksa on the 2nd of December and offered his sincere apologies to President Rajapaksa. Representatives of the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society were also present. A very cordial discussion followed with the President. He talked about President's address in 2008 being one of the highlights of the Term and how Oxford Union members were eagerly waiting to hear him again. James Langman invited the President to address the Oxford Union on 5th December 2010. HE the President Rajapaksa politely turned it down citing commitments back home. The President then hosted the delegation to lunch……."
Foreign policy weaknesses
The Oxford fiasco, though now history, lays bare a number of inherent weaknesses in the conduct of Sri Lanka's foreign policy. It took millions of rupees for the President and a 40-member delegation to travel to Britain for the non-event. Though technically he was addressing the Oxford Union, much of the audience would not be Oxford undergrads but Sri Lankans transported by the High Commission; at least 40 of them having travelled from Colombo with the President. Despite the presence of a key Sri Lanka diplomatic mission in London, supported by Bell Pottinger, a public relations firm receiving more than a million Sterling Pounds a year, a sovereign government could not counter the antics of a few hundred pro-Tiger guerrilla supporters.
The Diaspora pressure groups appear to be working even if the guerrillas were militarily defeated in their strongholds in the North and East. Last week we gave details of their ability for rapid deployment and to assemble a team to demonstrate even in freezing cold conditions. Faulting the opposition or for that matter the British, who undoubtedly have their own faults, and launching officially backed protests therefore have long term implications. Blaming the opposition for the fiasco is also crediting it with far too much importance and capability when it cannot even get its act together at home. Those diversions could boomerang.
New journey for UNP: Unexpected getting together
For the founder of the United National Party (UNP), the late Don Stephen Senanayake, six decades and four years ago, the greater worry was the struggle for independence from British rule. Just two years after he formed the party, he and others who fought for freedom won that freedom for a subjugated people.
Since then, leaders have changed as UNP governments ruled Sri Lanka for more than half of the period of their existence. The rest of the time, they have remained in the opposition.
At no time before has the UNP been so divided than united as it is today. In the past years, its parliamentarians have crossed over to strengthen its opponents in the government. In the recent months, those outside who walked into Parliament on the UNP ticket and won votes from the UNP have thought nothing of abandoning their voters and grabbing portfolios and helped swell government ranks. Worse enough, the party is split with each side claiming greater public support than the other does.
A significant faction is backing its leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, though many of them are coy to say so. A sizeable faction, however, is more vociferous and wants to see Sajith Premadasa (Hambantota District) as the new leader. The internecine battles have raged for weeks and months now pushing national issues to the limbo of forgotten things.
|Ranil Wickremesinghe in a pensive mood at the press conference yesterday on the UNP’s special convention scheduled for today. Pic by Sanka Vidanagama
It is in this backdrop that the UNP, the country's premier opposition, is having its annual convention today at Siri Kotha, its headquarters in Kotte. The Premadasa faction hotly challenged the venue, favoured by Wickremesinghe and his backers. It was not without reason though they did not succeed. Some 13,862 are invited to attend the sessions. However, only 4,000 chairs have been ordered. It would be difficult for the organisers to place even those chairs in the smaller space available. Backers of Wickremesinghe defended the move saying not all those invited would turn up leaving enough room for others.
Causing even more concern for the Premadasa faction is the breakdown of the invitees. They fear it is heavily weighted in favour of Wickremesinghe though there will be no voting at the event. The Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya and other trade unions of the UNP have been allocated 500 invitations. The others: young professionals group 10, independent professionals group 10, senior citizens 10, National Executive Committee 68, Working Committee 19, Chief organisers in 159 electorates to bring 55 delegates each making a total of 8745. In addition, the Advisory Board 10, Bhikku Front 50, National Lawyers Union 10 and elected MPs and Pradeshiya Sabha members 3938.
For the first time, the four National List MPs (nominated after the April parliamentary elections by Wickremesinghe) have been allowed 55 delegates each whilst the leader and deputy leader will be entitled to a further 55 more delegates each.
In the Kaduwela electorate where MP Sujeeva Senasinghe, a Wickremesinghe protégé turned Premadasa loyalist, was protesting over the party appointing a second organiser, Jayantha Pathberiya, both have been allowed 55 delegates each. Pathberiya is renowned in the party as the man who provides 'security' for the party Hq whenever it is under siege.
A last minute move to stall the annual sessions came when Srilal Wickramasinghe, described as a close associate of UNP MP Manusha Nanayakkara who crossed over to the government side soon after the elections, went to the District Court seeking an injunction. He is the chairman of the Bentara-Elpitiya Praddeshiya Sabha. In his petition he complained that it was because he had not been invited for the party convention though he was a senior member of the party that he wanted the convention cancelled. Supporting his application was Vidura Ranawaka, once a junior lawyer for Mohan Peiris, now Attorney General. The case was filed at 1.45 p.m. on Friday before District Court 1 where the Judge was on leave. Thereafter, it went to DC 2. However, Judge Amal Ranaraja did not hear the case since he had only assumed duties that day. It later went before DC 4 where Judge M.A.R. Marikkar heard the case at 3.30 on Friday afternoon.
Both the Wickremesinghe faction and the Premadasa faction have been keeping a close watch on courts to ascertain whether there would be any move to stall today's sessions by either party. They were suspicious of one another. So much so, this case appears to have united the opposing factions on one issue, to hold the sessions today. Once the news alert went to the UNP hierarchy that a case had been filed there was a frantic effort at contacting party lawyers who had already left Hulftsdorp and were preparing for the weekends. Fortunately, signed proxies of Wickremesinghe and Tissa Attanayake, UNP General Secretary, were on hand with the lawyers.
Attorney Ronald Perera appeared for Wickremesinghe. He told courts that the petitioner had made the UNP the first defendant, Ranil Wickremesinghe the second and Tissa Attanayake the third. However, he had not listed the UNP Working Committee members who had resolved to hold the annual sessions party to the action. Perera argued that more than 13,000 delegates have been invited to attend today's sessions. He said this was like a wedding. Just because a family member is not invited, one does not cancel the wedding. He argued that the Bentara-Elpitiya chairman would have been invited as a local council member, but then produced an invitation and said Attanayake would extend that to Srilal Wickremesinghe to take part in the sessions. He said that Attanayake could even take him in his own car for the event. Srilal Wickramasinghe, however, declined it despite Judge Marikkar suggesting that he accept it.
The court house was packed as UNP parliamentarians who were attending the budget committee stage debate in Parliament rushed to Hulftsdorp. Warring factions, Karu Jayasuriya, Tissa Attanayake on the one side, Sajith Premadasa, Dayasiri Jaysekera on the other, with lawyers were shoulder-to-shoulder. They had come to realise that neither faction was instrumental in the attempt to scuttle the convention. Eventually, Judge Marikkar refused the enjoining order against the UNP and merely gave notice to parties to appear in court next week, after the convention.
The talking point in UNP circles was on who was behind the court action to stall the annual sessions. It was felt that it was possibly an amateur attempt by sections in the Government to allow the crisis in the UNP to fester even further.
High on the list of suspects was a deputy minister who was present that morning in Hulftsdorp with Manusha Nanayakkara and Upeksha Swarnamali alias Paba the UNP Gampaha MP who also crossed over. Still, it was not clear what the government would have gained by a cancellation of the UNP convention other than to create further ripples within the party with increased tension and suspicion.
Today's sessions are primarily to adopt a new constitution for the UNP. It is basically a come down for Wickremesinghe because the undisputed powers of the party leader are now subject to a more democratic decision-making process at least in the appointment of senior office-bearers.
Wickremesinghe pointed out that it would become effective only in four months. It is only thereafter that elections would be held to pick top officials, if there is a contest. Today's speakers will be Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya, Ravi Karunanayake (Colombo), Provincial Councillor Shiral Laktilleke (Kotte), Tissa Attanayake and Sajith Premadasa.
Last Wednesday, another controversy over the UNP constitution erupted. That was when the Pramadasa faction alleged that a new provision had been included to allow the party leader not only to select the General Secretary (which was agreed by the Working Committee) but also the Treasurer (which was not agreed to). They made frantic telephone calls until late night to members of the Reforms Committee. All of them agreed with their position but were told that Wickremesinghe had wanted that change made.
They couldn't wake Attanayake who was said to be fast asleep by 10 p.m. Premadasa had wanted to meet Wickremesinghe to raise issue on Thursday morning. When he walked into his office in Parliament, his supporters said, Wickremesinghe had left. Thus, even Talatha Athukorale (Ratnapura District) and Ranjit Madduma Bandara (Moneragala District) who followed Premadasa were left in the lurch. The official text of the Reforms Committee that was released to the media at the time states, "The leader shall appoint the General Secretary in consultation with the Working Committee".
The final draft to be put to the convention today, however, has this as Clause No: 8.5: "The Leader shall appoint the General Secretary and the General Treasurer". Clause 8.9 also gives the Leader powers to issue "any direction to office-bearers of the party and members of the party. Such directions shall be binding on the office-bearers and the members…"
Though today's sessions will be routine in character, its significance is underscored by the internecine tussles. A continued leadership by Wickremesinghe is a certainty, for the time-being. However, his loyalists say the Premadasa faction may get his supporters to demand that the electoral college that picks the party's top office bearers be expanded to cover Provincial Council and Pradeshiya Sabha members, even though Premadasa had previously agreed at the Working Committee to limit it to MPs and Working Committee members.
A cause for great concern for Wickremesinghe loyalists is the support extended to Premadasa by Tiran Alles, the General Secretary of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA). The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is the key partner in the alliance and is not pleased with it.
As reported in the Sunday Times last week, Alles, who is a DNA National List MP, has given part of the five million rupees, his allocation of the decentralised budget to projects carried out in the Hambantota District by Premadasa. The report last week prompted Sarath Manamendra, the leader of the Nava Sihala Urumaya, who has been sacked from the DNA, to ask whether the JVP would take "necessary measures to expel" Tiran Alles. Speaking to the Ada Derana website, he said " that he is querying on the matter due to a national newspaper today publishing an article stating that Tiran Alles had donated Rs.5 million (sic) to UNP MP Sajith Premadasa's 'Jana Suwaya' project, from the businessman's decentralized budget funds."
Sarath Manamendra recalled that the party's General Secretary Tilvin Silva had previously issued a statement that Mr. Manamendra had told Tiran Alles and Executive Committee member Jayantha Ketagoda that he was faced with severe economic and personal problems and that he intended to support the Government or the UNP. The website quoted JVP's Vijitha Herath saying it was against the principles and objectives of the Democratic National Alliance."
The same website asked Tiran Alles about last week's the Sunday Times account. His response: "A Member of Parliament cannot transfer any amount from his decentralized budget allocation to another Parliamentarian, Chairman of the Democratic National Alliance MP Tiran Alles states. Those finances can only be used to fund projects and work on certain establishments, he pointed out when Ada Derana inquired of him regarding the allegations made by the Nava Sihala Urumaya leader Sarath Manamendra today. As a Parliamentarian I have only provided money to institutions according to requests received through letters.
I have not granted funds to any other Parliamentarian whatsoever, Mr. Alles emphasized."
Quite clearly, Alles has taken umbrage on a technicality that one MP cannot give cash from his decentralised budget to another colleague. If he is talking of simply transferring cash to Sajith Premadasa personally, he is right. However, File No MED/5/1/DCB 2010 at the Hambantota District Secretariat tells it all. Parliamentarian Tiran Alles donated Rs 615,000 from his five million rupee decentralised budget for projects in the Hambantota District directly undertaken by Sajith Premadasa. A letter to the District Secretariat from the Ministry of Economic Development clearly states that Alles made these donations to Premadasa's projects.
Among the recipients are pre-school projects run by Premadasa at Angunukolapelassa, Sooriyawewa, Tangalle, Hambantota, Weeraketiya, Katuwana and Walasmulla. They have received amounts ranging from Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000 from the moneys donated by Alles. Furthermore, the Jana Suvaya (a project personally launched by Premadasa) Sri Sucharita Pre School has received Rs 10,000. As JVP's Herath noted, it is against "the principles of the DNA." Senior JVP leaders are embarrassed by the move and complain they were not consulted nor their projects given any consideration though they are within the DNA.
Their disappointment comes at a time when the DNA's or more particularly the JVP's campaign to free former General Sarath Fonseka has slowed down or lost steam. Instead, the party is making preparations to step up its district-wise campaign against the mounting cost of living and the resultant hardships to people. It has fallen on the UNP to pursue the Fonseka campaign.
Thus, today's UNP sessions will be the start of a new journey for the grand old party. How it will begin -- whether it will go the Wickremesinghe way or wind every now and then along the Premadasa path is what the party's large support base is now waiting to see.