The Political Column

17th March 1996

Now, a live cement coverage

By Our Political Correspondent

With the World Cup cricket reaching its finale today, the people can now pay attention to a different kind of a battle in Parliament, when the government and the opposition debate the Tawakkal issue.

This debate will take place from Tuesday to Thursday as decided by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

The aim of the government is to clear its name while slinging mud at the opposition on the basis that this deal was initiated by the former regime.

But the opposition's aim is to question the government's policy of accountability and transparency on the same deal.

The fresh problem in the Tawakkal issue arose after the government having come into office in August 1994 agreed to change the earlier deal with the Tawakkal.

However, when the UNP decided to move a vote of no-confidence, the government has already decided to debate the matter in Parliament.

At the party leaders' meeting on the previous Friday the government representatives told the opposition, that they would agree to debate the matter on the statement made by Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar to Parliament, but refused to debate the no-confidence motion.

When the party leaders, including chief government whip Richard Pathirana and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe met to discuss the matter, Mr. Wickremesinghe suggested the no-confidence motion be taken up on March 19 and 20.

The matter was discussed during the meeting of the Ministers on Wednesday and they agreed to debate the UNP's no-confidence motion after the government sponsored debate scheduled for March 19, 20 and 21.

Another meeting of the party leaders to this effect was held on Thursday to announce the government's latest decision to allow the opposition to bring in the no-confidence motion on the Tawakkal issue after the debate. But the opposition did not agree. It insisted the no-confidence motion should be taken up before the debate on the Minister's statement.

With Mr. Wickremesinghe's observations there had been a sharp exchange of words between the government and the opposition.

Mr. Wickremesinghe would not budge from his stand that the no-confidence motion should be taken up first.

Mr. Pathirana hit back saying that during the UNP regime requests for no-confidence debates were met with lukeworm response.

Former UNP Chairman A.C.S. Hameed replied that from 1990 to 1994 the government had allowed nine no-confidence motions to be debated - a record in parliamentary history.

The government maintained that the three days debate was an outcome of a request made by an MP, who was elected on the UNP ticket. The reference was to a CWC member in Parliament, Muthu Sivalingam.

Mr. Wickremesinghe shot it down. He said in that case Mr. Devaraj (CWC) had no right to be present at the leader's meeting.

Mr. Hameed interjected to say that "Muttu" seemed to be going up and down and that the UNP would consider only those who voted with it to be in the opposition. Chief opposition whip Wijeyapala Mendis said it is "Mukku" meaning prop up.

Mr. Hameed raised the question about the status of the debate at which the leader of the House Ratnasiri Wickramanayake said it would be on the statement made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

A heated argument between Mr. Wickremesinghe and Minister Kingsley Wickremaratne which followed was silenced by the Speaker. Mr. Wickremesinghe requested it be recorded that the government had refused to agree to the no-confidence motion on Tuesday. But Minister Indika Gunawardena refuted it saying there was no agreement on the issue.

Ministers Wickramanayake, Peiris, Pathirana, Wickremaratne, Indika Gunawardena and Ashraff were present while Mr. Wickremesinghe, Mr. Mendis and Mr. Hameed represented the UNP. Parliament will certainly be full of drama when the Tawakkal issue would be taken up.

The government, no doubt, stunned by the hostile publicity that this issue has generated is gearing itself to take on the opposition move to expose the misdeeds of the UNP regime than to defend itself on the Tawakkal issue.

The government seems to be confident of its grounds, and the 42 files referred to by the President would be used as blasting powder by the government when it opens fire.

The UNP seems to be equally set to take on the government. The refusal by the government has not deterred the UNP.

The government-initiated debate on the Tawakkal issue is likely to take the form of an adjournment debate and it does not result in a vote. But if it takes the form of any other resolution the matter will end up in a vote. In the circumstances the debate initiated by the government would not bring in any result as a motion of confidence.

The President's signal to the government group clearly indicates that the debate will be used mainly to expose some prominent figures in the opposition.

Accordingly the Kelani Tyre deal will take a foremost place and by now the files have gone to several Ministers who have been assigned to talk on the issue.

The debate is also likely to be televised throughout the three days for the general public to know as to what was going on in the House.

At the weekly meeting of the Ministers, they discussed the modus operandi to launch the attack on the opposition. Among other things, the Minister talked of a re-shuffle suggested by a newspaper.

When the President referred to the Minister of Cultural Affairs on some matter, Minister C.V. Gooneratne asked whether she was referring to the new Minister or the old Minister.

The newspaper in question suggested that Mahinda Rajapakse now holding the Labour portfolio would become the new Minister of Cultural Affairs.

President Kumaratunga who paused for a moment said, "I know of only one Minister and that is Mr. Lakshman Jayakody".

The whole Cabinet took the report of a possible re-shuffle as a joke but nobody knows what is in store for them because President Kumaratunga has on many occasions hinted the need to change subjects allocated to the Ministers.

The President is also likely to take an assessment of her side during the three day debate on the Tawakkal and other issues including Kelani Tyres. But it seems that CWC Minister S. Thondaman and DUNLF leader Srimani Athulathmudali will be placed in an awkward position. Mr. Thondaman was a Minister in the UNP government for 17 years from 1977 and Ms. Athulathmudali's slain husband Lalith was also a Minister during the period under scrutiny. If the government takes the UNP as a whole to level charges of corruption then it would cause some problems for these two Ministers. In the circumstances it is hoped that the government would be cautious in the exercise.

But if the charges are on individuals now in the UNP, then there would be no problem.

Apart from the Tawakkal issue the government is facing a problem on the Sevanagala Sugar factory issue also. The privatisation of this sugar factory was halted just prior to the date fixed for the finalisation of the deal.

A Chinese firm agreed to buy it at a higher price than it was valued and the Cabinet too approved the sale. The Chinese firm has paid 50% of the money in advance when the government moved to stop this deal in view of reports that this sugar factory would be sold at a higher price.

The Chinese firm filed action in the Supreme Court under the fundamental rights clause of the constitution and the judgment is expected soon.

But in the meantime the matter came up for discussion before the Cabinet where the President moved to clear Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake's name.

Several newspapers alleged that Mr. Wickramanayake has had a hand in stopping the Sevanagala sugar factory deal which was to be sold to a Chinese firm by the PERC.

Now Mr. Wickramanayake is trying to sue the newspaper concerned. But it has been reported that Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike wants this matter sorted out. She has apparently had a meeting with some officials in the Chinese embassy and the representatives of the company in question participated in this discussion.

Prime Minister Bandaranaike was apparently keen to hold an inquiry into the matter. She is likely to take this matter up with the President.

After Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, several collegues asked Mr. Wickramanayake about the Sevanagala deal. He said he had nothing to do with it, PERC was responsible.

By Thursday, Mr. Wickramanayake's lawyers sent a letter of demand to the Ravaya newspaper claiming Rs. 10 million as damages. The letter said the article published in the Ravaya under the caption "Another Minister asks for Rs. 50 million" was defamatory of him.

Meanwhile, the Select Committee on Constitutional reforms met and discussed various aspects relating to the political package.

The way things are moving, the matter is likely to be dragged for a long period with various political parties presenting their views.

The Up-Country People's Front headed by Deputy Minister P. Chandrasekeran has proposed a separate council for the Indian Tamil community in the Up-Country.

Some of the UPF proposals are published separately on this page. This week's events will be politically very significant for both the opposition and the government which are trying to score points over each other.

No dynasty, says CWC

The CWC in a letter to The Sunday Times states:

"We write in reference to the page 6 article in The Sunday Times of 3rd March '96 under the headline "Problems Same Whether Blue or Green" by your Political Correspondent.

"It is indeed disapointing that your Political Correspondent writing about the CWC has pieced together a story that is bereft of fact and accuracy.

"If your Political Correspondent had not been deliberately misled by elements that are venomously opposed to the CWC and had been impugning the character of its leadership, he would have become familiarised with the fact that all major policy decisions of the CWC are made by the Politbureau (Office Bearers), the Executive Committee and the National Council.

"As indicated in the article under reference, Mr. Sellasamy who functioned as the General Secretary of the CWC did not leave the Organisation but was expelled from the Congress by the National Council in terms of the Constitutional Provisions of the CWC for defying party disciplinary procedure.

"Apart from unsuccessfully attempting to move the Courts of Law for a permanent injunction against the CWC, Mr. Sellasamy has also registered a Union named as the Ceylon National Workers' Congress of which he is the President. But he still continues with his attempts to thwart the functions of the CWC as a Political Party and a Trade Union.

"Your Political Correspondent's comment in respect of Mr. Chandrasekaran, President of the Upcountry People's Front and our President's grandson Arumugam Thondaman are totally misleading. Mr. Chandrasekaran or any other person for that matter, if he is qualified to become a member of the CWC in terms of the Constitution of the Organisation, has the freedom to become a member and aspire for elected office in the CWC.

"Mr. Arumugam Thondaman was not foisted on the CWC with a view to a dynastical control of the Union by the Thondaman family. He was unanimously elected by the National Council of the CWC which is the Constitutional Electoral College of the Organisation.

"It is equally untrue that the Vice Presidents of the CWC other than Mr. S.A. Kandasamy are opposed to any of the current strategies that had been developed by Mr. Thondaman and endorsed by the Governing Bodies of the CWC in respect of Trade Union and Political matters.

"In order to put this issue beyond debate this letter is being signed by all the Vice Presidents of the CWC."

Signed by A.M.D. Rajan, M.P., T.V. Sennan, M.P., S. Sathasivam, M.P., S. Rajaratnam, M.P., S.A. Kandasamy and P.P. Devaraj, M.P.

Our Political Correspondent says:

More than anything the CWC's concern is to prove that all the Vice Presidents are supportive of the leadership and the decisions taken by Mr. Thondaman.

If the leadership thinks that by getting their signatures on a letter it could convince the people that all the Vice Presidents are supportive of the CWC leader, we wish him good luck.

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