Breaking News: Rupavahini pockets public funds donated for tsunami relief


The Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, the country’s national television network with the widest outreach, has caused raised eyebrows among Parliamentarians in the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), the watchdog body that monitors finances in the state sector.

The reason will no doubt raise many an eyebrow among the public too. The SLRC called for public donations after the devastating tsunami in 2005. That was to help tsunami victims among others, a laudable public-spirited exercise. Many school children broke open their small savings in tills to pay for tsunami relief work. Their ilk worldwide did the same and sent their savings through different charity organisations to Sri Lanka.
Rupavahini instead deposited the money in fixed deposits, call deposits and in ordinary bank accounts. Members of the public, both the rich and the not so rich, moved by the devastation the tsunami caused, had poured in Rs. 32,544,374. In 2008, the SLRC even earned interest to the tune of Rs. 924,000.

This, according to the Auditor General, is without “taking action to transfer” the moneys to the “President’s Fund for Disasters.” The AG notes that from this amount, the SLRC later paid five million rupees to the Api Venuven Api Fund and another five million rupees to “the National Project guiding (sic) to the Uthuru Mithuru Yal Devi.”

No questions have been asked and no answers have been given on who has been responsible for this act. An opposition member in the COPE described it as “legalised highway robbery.”

Another reference by the Auditor General relates to the monies owing to the Rupavahini from the main constituent party in the ruling alliance – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). This is what is said in an intriguing paragraph: “(the) Sri Lanka Freedom Party has paid a sum of 42 million rupees, which was due from them for election activities. Steps have been taken to obtain legal advice from the Attorney General in order to recover the outstanding amount related to election activities.”

Here is what is behind the news: It seems that even the Auditor General is now self-censoring. No reference is made to the balance amount due to Rupavahini from the SLFP.

A footnote worthy of mention says, “According to past experiences (sic) it seems there is no demand from the public for annual reports. Hence copies of the annual report have not been submitted to be bought by the public. If a request is made by someone who needs a copy steps will be taken to provide it to him.”

Whoever put together those words in the SLRC report did not realise that there is a legal requirement to publish annual reports. It was done with the express purpose of ensuring there is both transparency and accountability. Nowadays, who cares, anyway?

Lame duck approach to war on mosquitoes

Dengue is fast spreading in the Kotte-Sri Jayawardhanapura Municipal Council area limits.
Wards at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital are full with patients from the Greater Colombo townships of Nugegoda, Wijerama, Delkanda and other areas.

The only countermeasure so far is for Public Health Inspectors to visit homes and inspect them accompanied by the Army or the Police, sometimes both. There are two to three visits a day to one household, according to residents. One of them said “their only aim is to prosecute those breeding mosquitoes. No action at all is being taken to get rid of the mosquitoes breeding in empty patches of state land or even along the roadside.”

Another irate housewife said that the “dengue campaign is only being carried out in the media whilst the mosquitoes are breeding fast.”
In Kurunegala, even the UNP Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera was afflicted by the disease and had to be hospitalised for a few days. These ‘mossies’ are no respecters of persons or posts – they attacked Public Relations Minister Mervyn Silva just last month.

Bad times for Mervyn Silva

President Mahinda Rajapaksa chaired a District Development Committee meeting for the Gampha district last week.
The clearing of garbage in Kelaniya was one of the main issues discussed. This is in the light of the on-going tussle between the Pradeshiya Sabha members and the strongman Minister Silva, who is also the SLFP organiser for the Kelaniya electorate.

The Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha chairman sought the President’s intervention to settle the dispute. Minster Silva stood up and declared, “Sir, Mage me awurudde apalayak thiyenawa. Eka nisa thamai me arbuda” (Sir, I am having a malefic period this year according to astrology. That is why all these problems), he said.

“Aah. Ehemada, ehenam apale iwara wela denna ekathu wela weda karanna” (Is that so? Then you both work together after the bad period), the President responded.

The Pradeshiya Sabha Members, whose relations with Minister Silva have been strained, were in numbers before the DDC meeting began. They occupied themselves by relating “Mervyn” jokes. One of them said that with an economy ticket, the politician had sat in the Business Class. No amount of persuasion from the stewardesses would convince him to give up that seat and move to the rear of the aircraft.
The Captain of the aircraft arrived and whispered something in Mervyn’s ear. He promptly picked up his hand luggage and went to the Economy Class cabin. What did the Captain say?

Well, he told Mervyn that the Business Class portion of the aircraft would not go to his destination!! They all had a hearty laugh at the minister’s expense.

No pain, no gain; no show

The workshop for Sri Lankan envoys overseas has come and gone. But the talk about at least one EAM staffer has become the talking point in the corridors. The story is about ‘Queen Bee’, as they call her in the corridors of the FO. Though she kept silent during the workshop, she was in her Sunday best to travel in a luxury coach to Hambantota through Matara. ”

An EAM official had whispered that would be an opportunity for her to cultivate a young politician, one of the diplomatic skills she had mastered during her foreign service career from the days when the late A.C.S. Hameed, was foreign minister.
When ‘Queen Bee’ arrived in Hambantota, there was no young politician. For that matter there were none, young or old. So she chose to travel in the opposite direction, to Colombo and left the rest to mend their way for the rest of the guided tour.

The bureaucrat was at the Military Cantonment in Diyatalawa seated somewhat away from the others and appeared preoccupied. The question some EAM officials asked is whether she had in fact been bypassed by any instructions from above.

Norway Tamils North-bound

Last Tuesday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa met a group of Tamil businessmen from Norway.
Among them was a businessman, who operates a ticketing agency. He said around 6,000 Tamils had bought tickets from him to come to Sri Lanka in the past few months.

One had complained that when he visited the North for his father’s funeral during the separatist war, the LTTE had taxed him. Another asked Rajapaksa to pay a visit to Norway.

The President asked them to visit the North and witness the development work carried out after the war.
“When I went to Kandy recently people asked me to bring ‘Spring (Uthuru Vasanthaya) to the Upcountry’ as we did ‘Northern Spring’. That is the situation,” the President told the delegation.

Political airman caught in turbulent weather

A former Air Force officer who entered politics to become chairman of a local body in Ampara has been banned from entering the SLAF camp there. He is alleged to have posed off as Namal Rajapaksa MP and requested the transfer of a serving officer to a “good station.” He has now been suspended.The Attorney General is to file indictments against the two now.

Locked out: Sri Lanka’s new envoy to Geneva can’t get in

Tamara Kunanayakam, one time Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva and now transferred to Havana, seems still unhappy about her shift. She is being simply cussed, or is altogether forgetful.

She has not left the keys behind for her successor Ravinatha Ariyasinha so that he may occupy the Ambassador’s residence in Geneva.
Hence, the new envoy, who was also at the centre of many a controversy, had to check in to a hotel in the city. He is still waiting whilst the taxpayer’s money goes to meet hotel bills.

To ‘Sa’  with love

Singer Victor Ratnayake is capable of not only winning the hearts of his fans, but also literally moving a Cabinet of ministers.

The weekly Cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening was advanced to morning. The reason — President Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted to attend Ratnayake’s “Sa” musical programme at the Nelum Pokuna auditorium. It was his final performance of the long standing “Sa” programme.

Which way does the wind blow for SLMC?

After Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem announced that his party would go it alone and contest the September 8 Eastern Provincial Council elections on the tree symbol, its rival, though on the same side in the Government, remains Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan.

Pilliyan, the ex LTTE combatant remarked to his supporters that President Rajapaksa is like a “tornado. We’ll see whether their (the SLMC) tree can stand against it,” he said.

Of course, Hakeem has said that whilst contesting on his party ticket, the SLMC would still support the Government. In cricketing parlance, as a witty politician said, it was like bowling for one side and batting for the other in a cricket match.

No fuss, Namal drives a bus

Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa travelled to Wattegama in the outskirts of Kandy to declare open the newly built bus stand.
He was accompanied by several young MPs of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. After the opening young Rajapaksa was invited to drive the first SLTB bus. When he sat on the driving seat, his Parliamentary colleagues started teasing him.

“Methumata puluwan Hambantota naw elawanna vitharai… bus elawanna behe” (He can only sail ships in Hambantota. He cannot drive buses). However, young Rajapaksa drove a bus ably assisted though, by a driver.

All’s well that ends well for Butenis

The air of entente cordiale or friendly understanding prevailed at ‘Temple Trees’ on Thursday morning as President Mahinda Rajapaksa entertained outgoing United States Ambassador Patricia Butenis to a typically Sri Lankan breakfast.

She had sought a farewell call before her departure in early August and ended up being invited for breakfast. There she sat with President Rajapaksa chatting about her tenure in Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa in turn spoke of the Government’s development programmes.
The friendly conversations went on as string hoppers, hoppers, kiribath and a variety of curries including lunu miris, seeni sambol, fish and potatoes were served. It was a sit-down breakfast.

Joining Rajapaksa were Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to US, Jaliya Wickremasuriya, Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.

The event came as reports circulated in Washington that Robert Blake, now Assistant Secretary in the State Department for Central and South Asian Affairs was in for an overseas diplomatic posting.

As for Ms. Butenis, she leaves after an eventful period as envoy for arguably the most powerful country in the world. During her tenure the US sponsored a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council and imposed sanctions on duty free imports from Sri Lanka to the US. She was summoned to the Foreign Office for offending Sri Lanka and she made several complaints herself against Sri Lankan authorities on behalf of her employer. But, it seems Sri Lankan hospitality was showered on her prior to her leaving in a fortnight’s time.
She will take up appointment as a Dean in the US Diplomatic Training Institute located in Virginia, Washington DC.

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