The Political Column

18th August 1996

Pandemonium over the Korean trip

By Our Political Correspondent

As it enters the third year in office the PA Government is facing a Herculean task to keep the country going on subsidies while waging a protracted war in the North and East.

Economically the situation appears to be bleak. However, President Chandrika Banaranaike Kumataratunga is making avaliant effort to pull the country out of this economic quagmire

Her visit to Seoul has borne some fruit after she made a determined effort to lure investors from south Korea and open the South Korean job market for Sri Lanka in a big way.

Yet this would only be a fraction of the country's need, where there is a growing demand for employment.

Two years of mismanagement and ad hoc decisions have aggravated this problem, thus putting a heavy burden on the Government.

The President was fully aware of the precarious economic situation in the country when she undertook a tour to Seoul.

It was in this backdrop that President Kumaratunga decided to visit South Korea, one of Asia's economic tigers. In the first few months in office the PA had decided to virtually donate a possible UN Security Council Seat to the Koreans who were very keen about it. In exchange the Koreans promised to give jobs to Sri Lankans.Already the South Koreans are major investors here, especially in the construction industry.Added to all this there were also speculation that the President had been astrologically advised that she must 'cross water' during these months and the hush hush private visit to Egypt last month was supposedly linked to this mumbo-jumbo.So, Sunday August 11 was fixed for her departure to Seoul. Not many were told certainly no public announcement was made on the obvious footing of security considerations.But lo and behold The Daily Island ran a front page news story on Saturday August 10 announcing the VVIP departure setting the stage for panic buttons to be pressed at 'Temple Trees' and some frantic change of plans to be set in motion.The delegation of officials who were to accompany the President were asked to pack their bags and be on maximum readiness for an early departure. An AirLanka Airbus and a Tristar were to be kept on stand-by for the VVIP flight. The PSD (Presidential Security Division) was handling the departure arrangements.Saturday came and went with the President still telephoning people to join her to Seoul. Labour Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and Southern Development Authority Chief Navin Gooneratne were among the late invitees to fill up the 300 odd seat aircraft, by then only about 30 were confirmed to go.Meanwhile PSD received information of what they called a 'Credible threat' from the LTTE to shoot down the VVIP flight. There was this possibility that a SAM missile might be fired from the roof top along the flight path though this has not been the first time such a threat has existed.The Officials were then asked to assemble at the Katunayake BIA at 9 o'clock on Sunday morning. The programme in South Korea was scheduled to commence Monday morning.From 9 o'clock to 4 o'clock in the afternoon the AirLanka VVIP flight and the delegation to go in it waited-and-waited - someone had bungled. There had been no airtraffic clearence that had been obtained for the aircraft to fly to Seoul via Indonesian air space or thereabouts.PSD squarely put the blame on AirLanka, which returned the compliment saying the departure plans were so secretive that it did not know what was happening.The Foreign Ministry was contacted to get things moving, only to be told 'The Foreign Ministry doesn't work on Sundays'. Naturally, tempers were frayed at the VIP lounge. BOI chief Thilan Wijesinghe decided to pull his bags out of the cargo hold of the aircraft and go home to Maradana, rather than to Seoul. But not before having a serious argument with Navin Gooneratne on how to run each other's jobs.They seemingly disagreed on everything but the only thing they agreed on was to go home. Navin Gooneratne also thought enough is enough and pulled out of the trip.Thilan Wijesinghe sent a message to the President that he was pulling out of the trip because his son was running a high temperature, but Navin Gooneratne had no valid excuse to offer.Rumour quietly went around that the BOI chief pulled out when he heard that Mahinda Rajapakse his bete-noir over the controversial Workers' Charter was to accompany them. Eventually, Mahinda Rajapakse himself had pulled out of the trip. The aircraft was emptying in Colombo even before it left.The South Korea bound delegation which was due to have had a Taste of Paradise aboard the AirLanka flight was to end up at the buffet lunch offered at the nearby Airport Garden Hotel. One of the more junior members of the delegation was heard to say in pithy Sinhala "machang, had we known this mess-up we would have had our buth- curry at home and come, no."While pandemonium reigned supreme the President herself with nary a word to the others had taken wing in a commercial flight of Emirates out of Colombo and onto Bangkok, accompanied by a lone security officer. Our Ambassador in Thailand Sarala Fernando had been woken up to be told of the impending arrival.Earlier plans of the President rendezvouing with the delegation at Singapore had to be abandoned because of the clearance problem.The VVIP delegation minus the VVIP thus left Colombo only around 4.00 p.m. Sunday. By the time it arrived in Bangkok, picked up the President and reached Seoul its ultimate destination it was close upon 4 a.m. Monday South Korea standard time.The protocol authorities must surely have had a time with this visit of the Sri Lankan visitors who went in to their scheduled meetings groggy and all carrying red-eyes with them.The return journey though not as maddening was not without its share of delays. This time they thought of returning via Kuala Lumpur where too they had to 'hang around' for three hours at the airport.On their return to Colombo the Director General of Political Affairs at the Foreign Ministry Nanda Godage chaired a meeting between the PSD and AirLanka, a post-mortem of what happened to last Sunday's travel arrangements. Again the blame was apportioned to each other.

Serious questions are now being raised in banking and financial circles as to how the President could instil confidence in the investors in South Korea when she chose to takean EmiratesAirline flight from Colombo and send the rest of the delegation by AirLanka.

One Sri Lankan businessman remarked, "This is a funny situation. Does the President think that only her life is precious.

If she decided not to take AirLanka on some security advice, it should apply to others as well".

With the departure of the President, on Sunday, Deputy Defence Minister General Anuruddha Ratwatte went before a JP (Justice of Peace) to take his oaths as the Acting Minister of Defence skipping the Prime Minister apparently because of a recent misunderstanding between the two.

Article 53 of the Constitution allows him to do so. It does not specify that he should take the oaths before any particular person.

Meanwhile Ms. Bandaranaike appears tobe angry over a remark made by Mr. Ratwatte concerning her son Anura at a meeting in Ratnapura last week.

The angry Bandaranaikes at Rosmead Place are in the process of making inquiries from top lawyers, including President's Counsel Kanag lswaran to determine whether there is a prima facie case against Mr. Ratwatte.

Initial consultations have indicated that Mr. Bandaranaike could go ahead with a civil suit against the Minister. He is planning to claim at least Rs. 50 million as damages.

If this case goes before the civil courts, Kamani Ratwatte, the exwife of Minister Ratwatte and SirimaBaridaranaike are likely to play. a prominent role in giving evidence.

Though the Bandaranaikes are quite angry with Minister Ratwatte he wields much power in the government.

He raised objections when a top government team discussed the issue whether Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe should be arrested regarding disclosures made before the Batalanda Commission.

There were suggestions, that not only Mr. Wickremesinghe but Joseph Michael Perera and John Amaratunge, Ministers in the previous regime should also be detained.

Mr. Ratwatte argued against this move. He said so many other names had been mentioned before the Commission including that of Presidential Media Advisor Sanath Gunatilleke. The matter ended there and later the Minister directed CID Chief T.V. Sumanasekara to tell the Press that there was no such move to arrest Mr. Wickremesi nghe.

When the possible arrest of Mr. Wickremesinghe was subsequently discussed at length at a meeting, Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike opposed the move vehemently.

The previous Saturday when Mr. Wickremesinghe was about to leave with his wife for Bentota he received a message from a high ranking official indicating that he was to be arrested.

Mr. Wickremesinghe was advised by this official to take precautions and not to go out as planned. But Mr. Wickremesinghe was not botheretland went ahead as planned, though he studied the provisions under which he could be arrested.

In provisions under the Public Security Ordinance, the Defence Secretary could issue a detention order under Regulation 17 of the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulation No.4 of 1994 published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 843/12 of 4th November 1994.

At present there are moves to arrest several more Police Officers, Police top brass have opposed it saying it could create more problems.

In a related development one Police Officer who was before the Batalanda Commission, Senior Superintendent Douglas Peiris has written to the President atter he went underground.

Mr. Peiris has slipped out of the country from under a differeni name. It is known that he had the support of a Government politico at a high level to leave the country.

Mr. Peiris' letter to the President dated July 03 is as follows:

"At the outset, let me bring to your notice matters regarding my dedicated services in the Sri Lanka Police Service from the rank of Sub-Inspector to the higher rank of a Senior Superintendent over a period of 25 years from 01.05.1971 to date. My loyalty was alway's, to the regime sitting in authority commencing from Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike's government (from 1971 - 1977) and then the subsequent governments in power to date.

"I was the Senior Superindent in charge of Batticaloa Division during the 1994 General Elections. I rendered my duties very impartially during the Elections and I took all the trouble to see that the polls were undisturbed amidst external threats. With the change of government in 1994, after Your Excellency assumed office, it was quit evident that several top people were influenced to bring unmerited disrepute on me and my unblemished career in the Police Service.

"The following harassments have been meted out during your tenure of office since 1994 to date.

On the 3Oth of January 1995 I was interdicted by the I.G.P. Frank Silva on charges against me pertaining to 1994 North and East Local Government Elections. To prove my innocence, I possess evidence, documentary and otherwise.

Over this unjustifiable interdiction, I filed a submission in Supreme Courts on Fundamental Rights (SC Case No.68/95). The Supreme Court decision was that my interdiction was illegal and thereby the Chairman, P.S.C. and the I.G.P. were ordered to reinstate me with immediate effect. Thereafter, I was reinstated by the P.S.C on 02.06.1995.

Despite the Supreme Court decision, I was sent on compulsory leave by the Chairman P.S.C.. with effect from 13.10.1995, based on the same charges aforesaid. Immediately after placing me on compulsory leave, my parental home at Kalagedihena and my residence in Colombo 5 were searched by the Police, reportedly on instruction's, of certain persons. The searches were carried out without adducind any resons for same and in my absence.

While I was on compulsory leave, a letter was received by me on 01.01.96 from the P.S.C. through I.G.P. that I ha"e been interdictec with immediate effect. Upto date, the cause for same is not known. Together with the interdiction order, I have been ordered not to enter any premises belonging to the Police Department. The reasons fo same are yet unknown.

As ordered by the Supreme Court, the I.G.P. had to provide me with Police security from 08.03.1995, as there were serious threats to my life. But, from 19.03.1996, the I.G.P. had withdrawn my guard wiithout any reason for same whatsoever. I understand that, thereafter the two constables who provided me with security had been taken to the C.I.D. and questioned to get more information about me. They are reported to have been highly harassed and wilfully humiliated at the time of interrogation.

It is quite evident that relentless afforts are being made to mphcate the Leader of the ()pposition, Honourable Ranil Wickremesinghe, thereby making me an instrument to help in the abolishment of his civic rights. False statements are being given against me to implicatt the Honourable Leader of the Opposition.

Now it is high time for me, in the interest of my safety to resort to a preventive move to hide.

I am sad to mention herein that I have become the only Senior Police Officer in the country who is harassed so much unnecessarily, after having done so much loyal and dedicated service as a polic officer over a period of 25 years.

I have no alternative but to go 'under-ground' in order that I may safeguard myself from the monstrous planning and scheming surreptitiously levelled against me.

Thanking Your Excellency for promoting me step up to new expeditions in life.

Yours Respectfully,

Douglas Pelds, 03.07.1996

(Senior Supdt. of Police on Interdiction)

(Certain parts of this letter have been deletetl on legal grounds)

While the Government is busy with UNP politicos and Senior Police Officers in the Batalanda affair, the UNP is planning a massive anti-government rally at Hyde Park tomorrow.

Parents of the missing soldiers from Mullaidvu are also likely to be present at this meeting.

The UNP is planning a big show in Colombo tomorrow unless government moves to interrupl it by using the emergency regulations.

Political observers view this as a major step towards challeng the government focusing on it's weaknesses and faults within the first two years. Meanwhile the government appears to be concern over the UNP's ability to whip up public criticism.

But there are various problems developing In the UNP. One is among Muslim members. Some Muslim MPs are reportedly searching for a new Muslim leadership In the UNP.

In a related development, several Muslim politicos in the UNP met for dinner at the residence of Abdul Cader Hadjiar, In Colpetty recently. They discussed their posItion In the UNP.

These Muslim MPs and businessmen felt that the present leadership in the UNP was not effective. They wanted a new leadership.

Among the Muslim MPs psesent were A.HM. Azwer, Intiaz Bakeer Markar, Kabir Haskim and M.E.H. Mahroof.

Muslim leaders lIke A.C.S. Hameed and M.H. Mohamed were not invited for this meeting.

As the meeting was in progress, Mr. Hadjiar, told the group he felt there was nobody to take the leadership of the Muslim community supporting the UNP.

He claimed he had spent nearly 10 million Rupees annually for party activities and he felt he was suitable to lead Muillms in the UNP.

Others observed that the present Muslim leaders are ageging and there was need for a new leader.

A.H.M. Azwer and Imtiaz Bakeer Markar expressed support for Mr. Cader.

The group also expressed the view that Abdul Cader and Imtiaz Bakeer Markar should be elevated to Cabinet ranks in a future UNP government.

As the meeting was in progress, another invitee Zaeer Moulana arrived. But others were perturbed when they saw Dr Rajitha Senaratne with Mr. Moulan So the topic was chinged.

A.s the Dr. Seneratne saw that many of the Muslim UNP MPs were present, he came out with scathing atack on former speaker M.H.Mohamed in connection with the attack on Assad Sally, the Editor of The Nation, atlegedly by a group of UNP thugs.

Many MPs who were present however defended Mr. Mohamed saying he was much respected and would not stoop to violence. But they acknowledged that some of his supporters might be involved.

Many feel the Mohamed-Sally conflict is a consequence of rivalry between the former Speaker and Hema Premadasa. It is said that Mrs. Premadasa is solidly behind Asad Sally who is well known as a successful organiser. Asad and Dr. Rajitha Senarathna are two of the key figures who defected from Chandrika Kumaratunga's BNP and joined the UNP during the Southern Provincial Council Elections in early 1994.

However, there is speculation to why the UNP is allowing this issue to fester. Some say the party could have resolved this much earlier. Some moves are now on to settle the matter amicably, but the bone of contention seems to be the Maligawatte Municipal Ward. Would Mr. Mohamed agree to say good bye to his pocket borough?

The falling standards of politics and politicians was the subject of discussion when the party leaders met for their deliberations the previous week. Some said Parliament was failing in its role.

Deputy Speaker Anil Moonesinghe who chaired the meeting in the absence of Speaker K.B. Ratnayake, said he felt the main problem was the was the lack of political leadership in the House.

At this stage former Minister A.C.S. Hameed quipped:

"Why don't you ask the President to come hare as early as possible?" Nihal Galappaththy, JVP MP said", " Parliament has become a forum for discussing feudal issues and people are definitely going to blame us for acting in this irresponsible manner" "If the situation deteriorates people will look up to you", remarked Wijeypala Mendis possibly meaning the JVP. Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, leader of the House. said, "both the Government and the Opposition must put their heads together and make Parliament a responsible forum". "Some of us who have seen many Parliaments have not witnessed the type of scenes that we witness now", said Mr. Hameed.

The Deputy Speaker, who faced the brunt of the situation marked, "the trouble is not with the front or second benches, because members in the front benches act with responsibility. The problem is with the last line of back-benches on both sides of the House. It is in this area that trouble erupts."

The Secretary General informed members that because of continuous slamming on tables some of the ear phones had been damaged and also some of the lights that are fixed on the tables of the MPs. He said it was difficult to replace those since the specifications were not available.

So it appears that it is very important that all political parties get together on a common cause to bring the standard of politics and politicians to a better and an acceptable level, so that they could set an example to the country.

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