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Karu raises privilege issue over prison visits

UNP Parliamentarian Karu Jayasuriya, one time deputy leader, met Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa this week with a complaint.

He said that MPs were not being allowed to visit former General Sarath Fonseka who was then undergoing medical treatment at a private nursing home. He has since been transferred to the National Hospital.

Speaker Rajapaksa told Jayasuriya he would go into the matter. In the meantime, Jayasuriya, who had raised issue with prison officials, were told they could grant him permission as a "special case". He rejected the offer and said he was fighting for a privilege that MPs were entitled to.

Besides Magistrates and Judges, it was only Parliamentarians who were entitled by law to visit prisoners either in prison or wherever they are held. Prison officials, however, argued that visits to Fonseka at the hospital was curbed on medical advice.

Anandians rule, Royalists rue

It was a wedding ceremony of a journalist held at Gangaramaya temple last week. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa signed as witnesses.

Later on they were having a friendly chat. Also present were Government MP Sarath Weerasekara and UNP's Ranjith Maddumabandara. The discussion turned to schools. "Anduwa athule nam wedipura inne Ananande aya" (Most of the people in the Government are Anandians), Weerasekara said.

The reply came from Ranjith Maddumabandara who is also an Anandian."Apitanam vipaksheta wela inna wela thiyenne Royalistsla nisa" (We have to remain in the Opposition because of Royalists). Both UNP Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe and Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa are old Royalists.

Ranil-Douglas pow-wow

Whilst in Jaffna to mark the May Day rally together with the Tamil National Alliance, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe received an unexpected telephone call. It was from Minister Douglas Devananda, leader of the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), a constituent partner of the UPFA.

The next day, Devananda called on Wickremesinghe at Expo, the hotel where he stayed in Jaffna, for a lengthy conversation.

TNA split over National Flag

The decision by TNA Parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan to jointly hold up the National Flag along with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has also led to some disquiet among people in Jaffna.
When World Press Freedom day was held in Jaffna two days later, another TNA MP Mavai Senathirajah said he wanted to apologise for Mr. Sampanthan's actions.

It's certainly not the first time that politicians seem confused, both in word and deed.

President's vehicle loan only a promise?

During the November Budget speech, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave a promise that an interest-free Rs. 1.2 million loan would be given to journalists and artistes with 25 years of service. In a subsequent speech, the President relaxed the rule and said journalists and artistes with 18 years of service would qualify for the loan.

Five months have lapsed, but there is no indication as to when the loan would be given and how. When asked, the President's office told the scribes to find out the details from the Media Ministry Secretary. When inquiries were directed to the Media Ministry Secretary, the scribes were told they were awaiting the return of Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella for the proposal to be presented to the Cabinet for approval.

With Mr. Rambukwella's health condition, how he fractured his leg in Australia and his arrival in the country unknown even to some of his Cabinet colleagues, the President's promise has put some scribes and artistes in a major financial soup.

One scribe said he wanted to purchase a vehicle through a bank loan or a leasing arrangement in November but he put off the decision thinking that the Presidential loan would come within a month or so. But instead, during the waiting period, not only car prices, but also the interest on bank loans went up.
Even if the President's loan eventually comes, as some hardline Rajapaksa supporters among the scribes believe, it would be hardly sufficient to buy a Maruti, the price of which has shot up from Rs. 1.2 million to Rs. 1.7 million after the tax increase in March.

Lands Minister shows his Dambulla strength

Lands Minister Janaka Bandara Tennekoon has been in the eye of a political controversy over moves to shift a mosque in Dambulla. This is on the grounds that it is located on sacred grounds. However, he won accolades from his party (SLFP) seniors for a different reason. It turned out that he had brought the largest crowds from Dambulla for the May Day rally in Colombo.

China, Russia get six more months at UNHRC

Contrary to speculation, Russia and China will not leave the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in June this year. According to an earlier system, from 2006 to 2011, UNHRC elections were held each year in May and members rotated on and off in June.

However, the new system beginning in 2012 will have membership coincide with the calendar year.
In this transitional year, members like China and Russia get an extra six months, exiting in December 2012 instead of June 2012.

History lost in translation

The UNP's decision to hold the May Day in Jaffna has not been without its share of controversies but there were also some small slipups during the rally itself.

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who addressed the gathering praised some Tamil political leaders including Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who he said had contributed immensely to have D.S.Senanayake released from custody in 1915.

The translator seems to have been confused because what he told the audience was that it was G.G.Ponnambalam who intervened to get D.S.Senanayake released and not Sir Ramanathan.

Ministry in flat deal for MPs

Public Administration and Home Affairs Ministry is negotiating to rent an apartment complex in Colombo to provide housing for ministers and MPs.

Ministry officials say around 25 MPs including some ministers have requested for housing in Colombo.
The owner of the apartment complex under negotiations has quoted a higher price than the government valuation. However Ministry officials say they are hopeful they can reach a consensus.

Cracks on Ceramics Corporation widen

Cabinet on Wednesday granted approval to release the EPF contributions of Ceylon Ceramics Corporation employees who have opted to retire under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme, before reaching the age of 55.

The approval was granted on a proposal made by State Resources and Enterprise Development Minister Dayashritha Tissera. This is part of the government plans to abolish the Corporation, the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was informed by officials who came before it last year.

It has been decided by the Government to lease out all the factories of the Corporation and to abolish the institution at the end of the restructuring process while compensation would be paid to the existing staff.

EU official's talk on tanks

Jean Lambert who headed a three-member EU Parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka said that one thing they learnt a lot about during their visit to Sri Lanka was the importance of tanks to the local populace.
"I am not talking about military tanks but about the irrigation tanks," she was quick to point out to reporters whom she briefed upon winding up the five-day tour.

Political interference in prison transfers

The Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms is getting unusual requests from politicians these days. The reason is the Ministry's decision to transfer some of the officials attached to prisons. The transfer order is scheduled to take effect from June. Senior prison officials from Galle, Welikada and Mahara are said to be on the transfer list.

However, the ministry is getting requests from several politicians not only on behalf of those who are on the transfer list but also from those who wanted to replace them.

Namal on Bandula's Rs. 2,500 remark

Young UPFA Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa (SLFP- Hambantota) is fast developing a good sense of humour.

He made some witty remarks at a cricket match between a Parliament team and a Provincial Council team. The MPs were led by national cricket icon Sanath Jayasuriya who ended up being the Man of the Match. The provincial Councillors were led by Prasanna Ranatunga, Chief Minister of the Western Provincial Council.

It was prize giving time and the chief guest was Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena. Ahead of the award of the prizes, Namal took the microphone to announce that Gunawardena would not only hand over prizes but give one on his own too. That was a voucher for Rs 2,500 which could be used to meet expenses for a month.

Minister Gunawardena made a controversial remark earlier that a family of three could survive on an income of Rs 7,500 for a month.

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