Columns - Talk at the Cafe Spectator

Plain truth about a pilot's heart

The news about a young pilot recruited due to his close filial connections in a state arm has become the subject of serious concern. Just weeks earlier, after he had been put through a number of operational phases, it was discovered during the periodic routine medical check that he had a heart murmur.

Doctors were called in to determine whether it would be safe for the young pilot to be allowed to fly aircraft. They felt it would be a danger and the young man has been grounded.

Doctors say there are two types of heart murmurs -- innocent (harmless) and abnormal. Innocent heart murmurs, they say, are not caused by heart problems and are said to be common mostly in children. However, people who have abnormal heart murmurs, they point out, could bare symptoms of heart disease. The latter was suspected.

Now, a probe has become a difficult task. The doctor who gave medical clearance has since emigrated. Hence, they have introduced a new rule -- future recruits will be examined by a team of medical experts.

Highway bombshell cannot be defused

My story headlined "HEALTH MINISTER DROPS BOMBSHELL ON HIGHWAY CORRUPTION" has drawn a response from Tilak Devagiribandara, Secretary to the Chief Government Whip of Parliament. He states:

"While the second session of "Our March" awareness programme conducted for the benefit of the Hon. Members of the Government Parliamentary Group on the Programmes of the Ministry of Economic Development was held on 09.08.2011 at the Central Bank Auditorium, all the Members of the Government Parliamentary Group were summoned for the Session by the Office of the Chief Government Whip of Parliament which organised the session.

"While it is emphasised that Hon. Maithripala Sirisena, MP, Minister of Health did not make any reference to the subject of Highways as referred to in the Sunday Times on 14.08.2011 you are kindly requested to take action to make a correction of the report published in your newspaper."

Note by Jamis Banda: Firstly, I must thank Mr.Devagiribandara for the interest shown in Café Spectator. Since his letter, I have spoken with more MPs who attended the event. I emphasise that Mr. Sirisena did make those remarks about corruption in the construction of highways.

He spoke immediately after Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa made a presentation. He was followed by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. It seems unusual that Mr. Devagiribandara should seek a correction when it should be Minister Sirisena who should be doing so, if at all. As I said, when the meeting ended, the talking point among those who took part was the bold remarks Minister Sirisena had made. I stand by my report.

Tissa's book and the bet on CBK

The occasion was last Thursday's launch of "Tissa," the biography of United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Tissa Attanayake to mark his 30th year in politics. It was to begin at 3.30 p.m. When it was getting delayed, Dayasiri Jayasekera (UNP - Kurunegala Distrcit) asked Mangala Samaraweera whether the entire UNP was waiting for Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to turn up. Samaraweera replied that she would be there at 4 p.m.

"What's the bet? She will not come until 5 p.m.," declared UNP Chairman, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera. Samaraweera replied that the bet would be Attanayake's book. "If she comes before that, you buy me a copy. If she arrives after 5 p.m., I will buy you a copy," replied Samaraweera. Both shook hands confirming the bet. The event began at 3.45 p.m.

As promised, Ms Kumaratunga arrived at 4 p.m. though in her presidential days she was notorious for coming late for most events. However, there was still no free copy of the book for Samaraweera. Jayawickrema Perera had left the event when he looked for him.

Shoplifter gets a DPL post

The latest to join the Foreign Service under External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris is a shop-lifter. The man has been appointed to the diplomatic ranks on the recommendations by the Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB).

However, this potential diplomat, who holds a name associated with forests, was on a mission to South Korea. That time, it was in his capacity as a member of an FEB delegation which visited that country. There, he was caught shoplifting. Hence, Seoul rejected a request by the External Affairs Ministry to post him to South Korea.

The man has now been named as Labour Counsellor in a West Asian country and is to soon assume duties. Not so long ago, a Sri Lankan diplomat posted to Japan returned home after the end of his tour of duty. He also brought along with him the piano and a clock of the landlord whose house he rented.

After the landlord complained that the piano and the clock were of sentimental value since it has changed hands for generations, and were not "take aways", he was forced by the External Affairs Ministry to return them. Oh, what a come down for a once proud service.

Culture bhai-bhai

Sri Lanka-India political relations may have its ups and downs -- depending on the fluctuating mood swings in New Delhi or Chennai. But in an example of Indo-Sri Lanka cultural amity, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the High Commission of Sri Lanka will jointly present an "Evening of Music" tomorrow at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi.

The concert will feature two renowned Sri Lankan artistes from the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York: Pianist Rohan De Silva and soprano Tharanga Goonetilleke. The chief guest will be Dr. Karan Singh, President, ICCR, while the guest of honour will be Nirupama Rao, India's new Ambassador to Washington and a former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. If politics fail, at least culture may save our bhai-bhai (instead of bye-bye) bilateral relations.

Indeed that was the case in Colombo where a cultural show -- a kathak dance by two sisters -- on Indian Independence Day last Tuesday at the Bishop's College Auditorium. Pakistan's High Commissioner Seema Ilahi Baloch was one of those who attended.

Millions on PR, but embassy wants more

The Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington DC has recruited three more US nationals to assist Ambassador Jaliya Wickrmesuriya. A lady has been designated as Senior Executive Assistant to the ambassador. The other's title is Congressional Aide. The third is a media consultant.

This is besides US$ 35,000 (more than Rs. 3.8 million) being paid to Patton Boggs, a public relations firm, monthly. For this fee, the firm has designated an American of Sri Lankan origin and an American of Indian origin to liaise with the mission. Additional fees are charged when specific assignments are undertaken by the firm, according to External Affairs Ministry sources.

Grease yaka at Cabinet meeting

The so-called grease yaka was recently referred to by a website as "Greece Yaka," perhaps suggesting the phenomenon came from Athens.

The fictitious character, associated with different types of crime, figured at last Wednesday's weekly Cabinet meeting.

It was Higher Education Minister, S.B. Dissanayake who related a humorous story to liven up proceedings.

He said people were spreading rumours that the government had plans to dig for treasure in Mahiyangana. It was to thwart this move that the phenomenon called grease yakas had surfaced.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa who has climbed the greasy pole of politics joined the ministers in a hearty laugh.

Corruption com. Chairman also hit by corrupt petrol

Amidst the crisis in the United National Party, three of its Parliamentarians found time to go to the office of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.

There, they met the Chairman, former Supreme Court Judge Jagath Balapatabendi, to complain about the scandal involving the import of contaminated petrol. More than 2,000 cars were damage when they used this petrol. What Justice (retd.) Balapatabendi said shocked them.

The official vehicle provided to him by the Commission had also developed trouble after using contaminated fuel. It cost the Commission Rs. 75,000 to have it repaired.

UNP bans camera phones

Strict security measures were in force when the Working Committee, the United National Party's main policy making body, met at Siri Kotha, the party's headquarters on Wednesday. Mobile phones were banned. Members had to leave the units before they entered the meeting.

This is the result of a UNP Parliamentarian recording proceedings of the Parliamentary group the previous Tuesday. The speeches, which were critical of their leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, were played over a leading television channel. Wickremesinghe himself commented later to a loyalist, "imagine these fellows in a future Cabinet when a tender is being discussed. They will record the proceedings and give it to the same people"

Karu's straight bat and Ranil's googly

Internecine political battles in the United National Party (UNP) have led to some shadow boxing. Their leaders seem to be taking pot shots at each other.

On Thursday, speaking at a ceremony that marked the launch of UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake's biography, party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said there were ministers and deputy ministers in a government. A deputy minister had to serve before he became a minister. It cannot happen overnight, he noted.

That seemed a response to his deputy, Karu Jayasuriya who told the UNP Working Committee on Tuesday that being a student of Ananda College, he had always batted for his alma mater. Talking in cricketing parlance, he said he had never batted for Nalanda College.

News channel gives sleuths a slip

A cat-and-mouse game was played in the northern capital of Jaffna where a foreign TV channel had been allowed access.

Intelligence sleuths trailed them in the back alleys of the town area after reports that they were interviewing war victims. One Military Intelligence source said they lost track of the crew.

The work of the TV crew, which was here with full permission from the government, was telecast on Friday, but it was not self-censored, as normally done, by the local channel which beams live the programmes of this foreign channel.

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