The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka » News Official website of the Sunday Times Newspaper in Sri Lanka Sat, 23 Jun 2012 22:01:47 +0000 en hourly 1 She sticks to one carrot Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:19:52 +0000 Pubudu

With vegetable prices soaring, a woman is seen walking away from a market in Colombo with a single carrot while checking whether she has enough money to buy something else. �Pic by Indika Handuwala

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India gets tough; Menon here for crucial talks Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:28:16 +0000 Pubudu India is sending a top-level emissary to Sri Lanka to convey in “the strongest terms” New Delhi’s concerns over a string of important issues.

Shiv Shankar Menon, National Security Advisor to the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will have one-on-one meetings both with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The one-time envoy to Sri Lanka arrives in Colombo on Thursday evening and will have the two meetings on Friday. There will be no other engagements for him except for these two meetings.

Among matters Mr. Menon is expected to raise will be issues related to the United States-backed resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March. The three-fold resolution, backed by India, among other matters, called upon the government to (a) to implement the ‘constructive’ recommendations of the LLRC and to take all additional steps necessary to fulfil
the government’s relevant legal obligations and commitment “to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans. (b) It also called upon the government to present a “comprehensive action plan detailing the steps the government has taken and will take to implement the recommendations made in the LLRC report.

The Sunday Times learns that Mr. Menon will during his meetings both with the President and the Defence Secretary express “strong reservations” over what New Delhi believes is an escalating anti-Indian stance by sections in the government. In this regard, India will raise a senior cabinet minister’s recent “inflammatory” statements which India says are “rousing communal passions” and “obstructing” any possible measures at reconciliation.

Mr. Menon is also to discuss with Defence Secretary Rajapaksa matters relating to demilitarisation in the north.
It was only in April this year that an Indian Parliamentary delegation led by Lok Sabha Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj told government leaders in Colombo, “We stood by you. There is a feeling of India being let down badly. There is disappointment.” Ms. Swaraj also said that troops in the north should not be involved in the “day-to-day lives” of civilians in the north. She later briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the visit.

Since the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration was voted to office in 2005, this is the first time an Indian government emissary has sought to have one-on-one meetings with the President and the Defence Secretary. They come ahead of Sri Lanka’s human rights record being taken up under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UNHRC in November.

Indo-Lanka ties ‘will never be weakened’

President Mahinda Rajapaksa held talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
The President’s office in a four-paragraph statement on the talks said the two leaders had “stressed that the relations between the two countries continued since time immemorial will never be weakened” and that “both leaders discussed the historical relations and the need to be in constant vigil over the strengthening of relations (sic). During crucial times the two states should explore the possibility of arriving at solutions through negotiations”.

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Supreme Court sends Chathuri to Visakha Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:26:52 +0000 Pubudu The Supreme Court has directed State Counsel to inform the relevant authorities that a girl without school be admitted to Visakha Vidyalaya within one week.�The ruling came in a fundamental rights petition filed by the parents of Chathuri Rashmika Gunasekera, who was denied admission to Visakha Vidyalaya.

Petitioners Neel Pradeep Gunasekera and H.K. Dhanushka Nirosshani Kumari cited Visakha Vidyalaya Principal S.S.K. Avripola, the school’s primary section chief E.M.E.A Madanayake, members of the interview board, three others and the Attorney General as respondents.
The Gunasekeras told court they submitted an application in April 2010, seeking admission to Grade 1 on the basis that their residence was close to the school. After an interview in August, the interview board told the parents that they scored only 28 marks which were insufficient.
After an appeal, the Gunasekeras said the marks were raised to 33. Yet the school rejected the application saying the marks were not sufficient. The parents then appealed to National Schools Director G. N. Silva. But he went along with the interview board’s decision.

The respondents rejected the parents’ claim that their child qualified under residence-close-to-the school criterion. The parents said they showed necessary documents to prove their residency close to the school and pointed out that their first daughter was admitted to the same school under the residency criterion.

The parents said in their petition that the action of the respondents was an infringement of their fundamental right and informed court that the child was still not attending any school.

The Bench comprising Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and Justices K. Sripavan and I. Imam ordered that the child be admitted to the school within one week and directed the State Counsel to convey the ruling to the relevant authorities.
Attorney Riyad Ameen instructed by Gowri Thavarasa appeared for the petitioners.

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Illegal buildings on state land to go, says UDA Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:26:22 +0000 Pubudu The Urban Development Authority (UDA) is to demolish unauthorized constructions built on State owned land within the Colombo city and its suburbs, a senior official of the Authority told the Sunday Times.He said that some of the buildings constructed on unauthorized land have been in existence for more than 10 years and cover over an acre in extent. At least six such locations have been identified, he said.
“We have given notice to the respective parties more than a month back informing them they were occupying State land and have put up unauthorized constructions,” the official said.

He said that in some of the areas paddy lands have been filled interrupting rain water flow causing floods and inconveniencing people in adjacent areas.On Friday unauthorized constructions put up by a businessman in the Thalawathugoda area were demolished by the UDA.
The buildings were put up on a former paddy field in the Thalawathugoda area. A service station, two timber depots, a welding workshop and a cement block making workshop had been constructed on the land.

More than 60 policemen, the riot squad, a group of soldiers along with 20 tippers and other heavy equipment were deployed for the operation. The constructions were put up by former UNP Western Provincial Council member Nimal R. Peiris.
Ms. Priyadharshani Peiris, wife of the former provincial council member, said intends taking legal action on the issue as the land had been allocated to her family after a court case.

The UDA official said the operation was part of a programme to re-acquire State land which has been taken over illegally and to develop them in a manner suitable for commercial purposes.

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Waiting game: Hapless heart patients Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:24:12 +0000 Pubudu The government health sector is having serious heart trouble.�Even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer in Sri Lanka, the six-storey building of the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital to cater to patients with heart disease, is sans heart (cardiac) surgeons, other staff as well as operating theatres, the Sunday Times learns.

Built in 2008, although it has two cardiologists and a paediatric cardiologist in place, an intensive care unit and a cardiac catheterization laboratory (cath lab), not a single heart surgeon has been appointed and the operating theatres are just shells with no equipment. The special copper tubing needed for the operating theatres has also been stolen, sources said.
This is even though Kurunegala Hospital caters to a large number of men, women and children, from the North Western Province, another pointed out, explaining that cardiology and cardiac surgery go hand in hand and surgery is an essential component in the treatment of numerous patients.

Why is the Health Ministry lethargic in appointing staff and providing equipment to the cardiac surgical unit at Kurunegala, when the consultant cardiologists refer around six patients on average per week for cardiac surgery either to the Kandy Teaching Hospital or the Colombo National Hospital, is the question causing much heartache.

The Sunday Times understands that on average about 500 echocardiograms (ECGs) and more than 10 angiograms are performed weekly at Kurunegala.

The cath lab is also under-utilized as the cardiologists only perform less-complicated procedures as the more complicated ones need a heart surgeon, a source said, adding that now the building is being occupied by other doctors and not heart surgeons.
Heart trouble is not only ailing Kurunegala but the whole country and the Sunday Times decided to focus on this after numerous calls from humble patients and the shocking revelation in Parliament recently that there are 8,130 on the waiting list for heart surgery including 2,400 at the Colombo National Hospital.

By the time a slot is allotted for some of these patients to have heart surgery, their time may be up, as the Sunday Times found. Many relatives who contacted the Sunday Times were vociferous in their anger towards the health authorities, for when the time came for the operations, their loved ones were dead.

Although heart surgeons across the country were tightlipped, the Sunday Times was able to put together a grim picture with regard to heart surgery.Heart surgery is being performed only at the Colombo National Hospital, the Kandy and Karapitiya Teaching Hospitals and the Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH) for Children, Colombo, and that too with long waiting lists.

Patients can seek cardiac surgery for a fee at Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital or at four private hospitals at exorbitant rates, ranging from Rs. 550,000 to more than a million rupees for complicated procedures, the Sunday Times found.
About 5,500 heart operations are performed annually in Sri Lanka and the State health sector handles only 50%. Can the other 50% of patients afford to go to the private sector or are they forced to sell hearth and home to seek heart surgery because they just cannot wait, was the concern in health circles?

“The waiting lists for heart surgery at the four State hospitals will be dependent not only on the heart surgeons available but also whether there are facilities to meet the demand and the consumables needed are available. As such the waiting time could vary from six months to two years,” a source said.

When contacted, Karapitiya Hospital Director Dr. Shelton Perera said their list with about 800 operations pending is due to the cardiothoracic unit being closed for seven months for repairs. He assured that there are no other major issues.

Karapitiya has two cardiologists, two heart surgeons and one paediatric cardiologist, he said.

Kandy Hospital, meanwhile, has three cardiologists, two resident cardiologists and three heart surgeons, according to Director Dr. Gamini Dissanayake, with 5,440 patients being registered since 2006, when the cardiothoracic unit started, up to April this year.
“We have cleared 1,894 of those patients,” he said, explaining that though there was a balance of 3,546, it may be on average less than about 3,000 because some may have got themselves attended to either at Colombo or in the private sector.
Analyzing the situation, a source said the heart surgery units at both the Jaffna and Ratnapura Hospitals were closed between 1970and 1980, due to lack of heart surgeons. Although the Government has set up a cardiology unit and a cath lab at Jaffna, no heart surgeon has been posted there, with people having to come a great distance to Colombo or Kandy for heart surgery.
Opinion was divided over whether the foremost need was a cardiothoracic unit at Kurunegala or Jaffna, with some in health circles pushing for Jaffna, as patients from Kurunegala could easily access Kandy Hospital.

“We hear that a private hospital is due to set up heart surgery facilities in Jaffna,” a doctor pointed out, lamenting the fact that the health authorities did not see it fit to look after the people there.

Delving into the heart problems of the country which have more issues than meets the eye, a senior doctor said that young doctors were also reluctant to specialize in cardiothoracic surgery as opposed to cardiology. The work is long and hard, there are no cardiac surgery facilities in hospitals and cardiology brings in more money because of thriving private practice, he said, adding there is no incentive being provided by the Health Ministry.

Figures from the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine up to 2011 are an eye-opener. While the number of Board-certified Cardiologists since 1980 is 44, there are only 18 Cardiothoracic Surgeons. Since 2008, every year two each and three for 2011 were Board-certified for Cardiology while only one each in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and none in 2010 got the qualification for cardiothoracic surgery.
In recent times, six heart surgeons have left the Government sector, with three joining the private sector and three to work abroad, it is understood.

That is why the Health Ministry must try to retain and encourage those taking up these ‘rare’ specialities, was the view of many.
The Health Ministry has planned to establish cardiothoracic units with two heart surgeons in every province from 2020-25 under its Master Plan. Are these grandiose plans only on paper? Where is the action, a source asked.
These are the questions that the ministry needs to answer, for men, women and children requiring heart surgery are dying for lack of answers as well as action.

Meanwhile, a top-level ministry source conceded that there was an urgent need to address the issue of more cardiothoracic surgical facilities as well as surgeons, while also launching programmes to prevent congenital heart disease and deal with the risk factors of ischaemic heart disease.
A national database is essential on the numbers needing heart surgery, the source said, dding that the disease burden also needed to be addressed, along with the streamlining of the supply of consumables.

Was outdated equipment used in heart operations at Children’s Hospital?�

Were expired oxygenators (artificial lungs) used on children who needed heart surgery at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH) in Colombo, on the alleged instructions of the Health Ministry?

There was strong speculation that when the LRH ran out of oxygenators used for open-heart surgery about a month ago, the Health Ministry allegedly gave verbal instructions that stocks that had expired more than 12 months ago be used and the doctors were vehemently opposed to this.

The Sunday Times was not able to get confirmation from either the Health Ministry or the LRH about this, but an LRH source stressed that the doctors would never do anything to endanger the lives of children.

When there was a shortage of oxygenators, as the Medical Supplies Division (MSD) was unable to provide stocks, as far as the source knew, a local tender was called and six months of stocks provided two weeks ago, the source said.
The non-issuance of consumables on time by the Health Ministry is severely hindering the performance of heart surgery, the Sunday Times understands.

Even at the National Hospital, open heart surgery for people who weigh more than 50kg had to be postponed as custom tubing packs containing sterile tubes which are used to hook up patients to the heart-lung machine were unavailable, other sources pointed out, while many patients also complained that they were required to purchase some items from outside whenever they had to undergo heart surgery.

The National Hospital has now borrowed about 50 tubing packs from the Kandy Hospital, it is learnt, with health circles wondering whether this is the right thing to do without bringing about a long-term solution to such shortages.

The stocks for 2012 for the National Hospital were ordered in 2010, as is the procedure, but although half the year is gone supplies have not been issued, it is learnt.

Attempts to contact the MSD were futile.

Surgery needed for these �heart problems

Cardiac surgery is an essential component of care for heart disease, the Sunday Times understands. Here are the types of heart disease that need surgery:

  • �Ischaemic heart disease needs coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG)
  • �Valve disease needs valve repair and valve replacement (implantation of artificial valves)
  • Congenital heart disease which afflicts children with birth defects of the heart, those with a hole in the heart or blue babies.
  • When the heart is injured or there is a tumour, etc.
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Nishantha says he got millions, wrist watch as gifts from sons Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:21:20 +0000 Pubudu SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe yesterday declared that the foreign currency amounting to Rs. 4 million and the gold watch stolen from his residence were gifts from his two sons in Australia.

The diamond studded gold wristwatch

Mr. Wickremasinghe told the Sunday Times the two sons who came on a holiday in April had given him the money as a present to his wife while the diamond-studded gold watch was a birthday gift for him.“Since the foreign currency was gifted in April we have a 90-day period to deposit the money. We were negotiating with the bank to deposit it,” he said.

Mr. Wickremasinghe said he was happy that the watch had been recovered along with part of the money.
Police on Wednesday arrested a drug addict who was reportedly involved in the robbery at Mr. Wickremesinghe’s Mount Lavinia residence on June 9.

The suspect was arrested in Dehiwala following information that he had been changing dollars in recent weeks. He was produced in the Mount Lavina Magistrate Courts and granted bail.Meanwhile, Exchange Controller P.H.O. Hewawasam said that for them to carry out an investigation about a person holding excess foreign currency, the police would have to make a complaint to them.
He said under the law a person could hold only US dollars 2,000 and anything above that should be deposited within 90 days of receiving such money.

However, Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said he was unaware whether the Exchange Controller had been informed about the declaration made by Mr. Wickremasinghe.

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Central Bank defends EPF investments Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:18:33 +0000 Pubudu The Central Bank is stoutly defending itself against repeated criticism from the opposition and other quarters over investing Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) money in the stock market, particularly the banking sector.

Central Bank’s EPF Superintendent Kalyanee Gunatilake said only a marginal amount of the EPF — 5.8 per cent – had been invested in the banking sector and in some of the best companies in the market with the consent of the Central Bank Monetary Board which included Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera. The other investments were in government securities.

The Monetary Board was entrusted with the responsibility of managing the Fund, and the EPF division was carrying out its directions, she claimed.

On Thursday, Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe demanded that investments so far made with the EPF and ETF (Employees Trust Fund) money be revealed to Parliament.

He told Parliament that the media had carried news items alleging fraud and market manipulations in share transactions. He said EPF and ETF money had been used to buy shares of companies whose value was being pushed up by speculators.
But the Central Bank said the EPF�money had to be diversified into other areas as government securities no longer brought high returns — with interest rates likely to come down in the future.

Ms. Gunatilake said there was no legal barrier to investing in banking sector stocks and an internal protection system was in place to avoid conflict of interest or insider dealing in EPF stock market transactions.

This week, global rating agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P), in a report, also highlighted the Central Bank’s conflict of interest in banking sector share transactions.

In response, the Central Bank said the EPF Department functioned independently from all other departments of the Bank, with stringent firewalls established for this purpose. “These are adhered to at all times and the integrity of the Bank or the EPF is not compromised in any way,” the Bank said.

Ms. Gunatilake said these investments were made with proper approval process and after conducting due diligence and stock market research. This sector was expected to provide high returns over the medium to longer term to the fund.

Former Attorney General Shibly Aziz told the Sunday Times that when the department was consulted in late 1995 or early 1996 by the Bank for an opinion on investments, his opinion was that investments in the stock market was against the EPF Act No. 15 of 1958.

It only permitted investments in government securities, he said adding that the EPF money could not be used for risky and volatile investments.
The responsibility of the EPF management was to protect the money of public and private sector employees properly managing the fund as its custodian without investing it in risky businesses like gambling, he said.

However, when the late K.C. Kamalasabayson, Attorney General, was consulted in 2002, his interpretation was that the EPF could invest only in listed blue chip companies. According to his opinion, it cannot invest in smaller companies.

When asked about these legal opinions, Ms. Gunatilake said the EPF was not legally prohibited or restricted in investing in banking sector stocks.
She said the main aim of the fund was to invest the money of employees in a prudent manner providing a reasonable return to members while safeguarding and enhancing the fund.

In 2002, the EPF took a policy decision to refrain from investing in banking sector shares in the stock market in accordance with the internal investment policy statement and standards of professional conduct of 2002, she said.However the policy changed in 2005 allowing the Central Bank to invest in the National Development Bank and thereafter the EPF began investing in banking sector shares, she said.

“The EPF is confident that its sound investment decisions will be proved pragmatic, sensible and profitable over the longer time frame, and therefore wishes to advise its millions of stakeholders not to be misled by vituperative and negative propaganda,” she said.

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Don’t intimidate complainants, court warns minister Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:17:28 +0000 Pubudu The Warakapola Chief Magistrate granted bail to Senior Minister Athuda Seneviratne on bail on Friday after warning him not to intimidate the complainants in this case where the veteran politician is charged with trespassing into a private property and causing damage to a water-bottling plant there.

Chief Magistrate Awantha Lakmal released the minister on Rs. 1 million cash bail and told him to refrain from threatening or intimidating the complainants and report to the Warakapola�police every Sunday between 9 a.m. and noon.

Mr. Seneviratne, accompanied by a group of villagers, is alleged to have entered the property at Kohomadeniya, where a water bottling project was underway and abused the people there.

The minister’s lawyer admitted that the minister visited the property to discuss a problem with the plant’s owners following complaints from villagers that the water level in their wells had drastically dropped after the bottling plant began its operations. But the lawyer denied the minister caused any damage to the property or the plant.

The case will be taken up again on July 20.

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Sanath no-balls his letter Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:17:00 +0000 Pubudu Matara District Parliamentarian Sanath Jayasuriya who wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa asking for a deputy ministerial post has withdrawn his letter and apologised for the request.

Mr. Jayasuirya, who along with three other MPs wrote to the President in April this year had sent a letter saying he now understood it was the prerogative of the President to make such appointments.

The former Sri Lanka cricket captain and master blaster batsman in its letter said:“I appreciate and do understand that such appointments are your Excellency’s prerogative and profusely apologise for having made a request for such appointment. I respectfully state that I do not expect any such appointment. May the triple gem bless your excellency and the country.”

The other MPs who signed the letter requesting deputy minister posts were Galle district MP Nishantha Muttuhettigama, Ampara district MP Sarath Weerasekera and Matale district MP Lakshman Wasantha Perera.

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Govt. evading questions on EPF, ETF: Ranil Sat, 23 Jun 2012 19:16:30 +0000 Pubudu Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday blamed the Government for not giving the proper answers to questions he raised in Parliament on all the EPF and ETF share purchases by the Central Bank from January 2010 to the end of April this year.

He said he made a statement in Parliament requesting the Government to inform the House of the present position of the investments made by the EPF and the ETF certified by the Secretary of the Finance Ministry as the chief accounting officer of the two funds, and to provide this information in a particular format he had given.

Mr. Wickremesinghe told the Sunday Times the Government tabled the Equity Investment Portfolio of the EPF and ETF and the Summary of the Investments of the ETF.“It is not the reply to my question and has avoided answering me. It is not certified and does not give the date of purchase, the purchase price and the quantities. In fact, it refers to purchases which are outside the time frame such as Blue Diamonds, Chemanex, Maskeliya Plantations etc.,”, he said.

The Opposition Leader said some of these EPF and ETF related transactions had taken place on April 10 and 18 during the nonagathey period of the National New Year holidays when the share market was inactive.

Meanwhile, an announcement is to be made on Tuesday that the Colombo Stock Exchange will begin a Sri Lanka Index in collaboration with the international rating agency Standard and Poor’s which criticised the Central Bank’s conflict of interest issues over its investment of EPF and ETF monies in the stock market.

The rating agency was also critical of the Bank’s supervision of finance companies and took into account the status of the rule of law in Sri Lanka in a stinging attack which rated the Sri Lankan banking system as “very high risk”.

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