The Political Column

15th September 1996

Many blunders on many issues

By Our Political Correspondent

The Sri Lankans have proved beyond doubt they are world champions in one day cricket.

They beat Australia in two successive matches in the Singer World Series here, to show the world their victory at the World Cup finals was not a fluke.

Sri Lankan fans enjoyed good cricket and they saw four cricketing nations in action. However a very few knew about the politics and undercurrents, that sent shock waves through the Board of Control for cricket in Sri Lanka during the final between Sri Lanka and Australia on September 7.

Board President Upali Dharmadasa was in the centre of the controversy, getting hit by bouncers from both sides.

It began with the Board deciding to invite President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for the grand finale to present the Singer Cup to the champions.

The President was apparently keen to come but her security staff thought that the risk would be too much.

So the President declined the invitation, but decided that she would make a surprise visit to the Premadasa Stadium.

The Cricket Board, then invited Sports Minister S.B. Dissanayake to be the chief guest and he accepted it after much persuasion by BCCSL Vice President Thilanga Sumathipala who is also a close friend of the Minister.

Mr. Sumathipala had apparently spoken to world series sponsor, Singer and got them to agree to his suggestion that Minister Dissanayake should be the chief guest.

During the match the Minister came to the VIP lounge. A happy Minister later joined President Kumaratunga in cheering the winning team and sharing in the joy of the nation.

As this was taking place CWC deputy Arumugam Thondaman who was enjoying the match in the VIP lounge, walked up to the television crew and told them to focus the cameras on the President. But they had had no instructions to do so. Accordingly the President was shown on the TV screen for a few seconds with the other VIPs.


Later when Rupavahini was told by the Presidential Secretariat to show the President's arrival at the match in their news bulletin, they were in an embarrassing situation as they had only a brief record of the President's visit to the grounds.

The President was present at the Premadasa Stadium for nearly half an hour watching the match, but the political mileage from this visit was much less than what her advisers expected.

Later, Mr. Dissanayake was back in the VIP lounge getting ready for the grand occasion to present the Singer Cup. But just minutes before the ceremony, Board President Dharmadasa was coming under pressure to amend the order of presentation. Mr. Dharmadasa asked Mr. Dissanayake whether it would be OK, if the Minister gave away all the other prizes except the Singer Cup, which would be presented by the sponsors.

Mr. Dissanayake told Mr. Dharmadasa it was not the proper way to do it after inviting him as the chief guest. Thereafter the Minister sensing that Mr. Dharmadasa was facing a serious problem told him he would quietly go away and the Board could decide who should give away the prizes. But Mr. Dharmadasa insisted the Minister should not go away and he would arrange everything accordingly.

The Minister, after the assurance given by the Board President thought everything would take place according to the schedule and stayed on to present the Cup. Even when the Master of Ceremonies, Ian Chappel announced the Minister's name to give away the cheque to the runner-up Australia, the Minister never realized that the original plan had been amended.

When the final moments arrived and as Chappel said he was inviting the chief guest, Minister Dissanayake not knowing what had gone wrong, took one step forward to hand over the Cup. But he stepped back apparently in shock, as Chappel announced the name of Singer Chairman Hemaka Amarasuriya to present the Cup. Events came to a close without much hassle that night, little or nothing noted by spectators. Fireworks took place the following day.

Mr. Dissanayake, angry over the incident, told Ministry Secretary R.M.K. Ratnayake to fire out a letter to the Board Secretary saying they had brought a Cabinet Minister to public disrepute.

Though the Executive Committee of the BCCSL did not discuss this letter, Board President Upali Dharmadasa wrote a personal letter to the Minister apologising for what had taken place.

Mr. Dharmadasa said that Master of Ceremonies Ian Chappel had apparently carried out the instructions given by officials and not the BCCSL.

He profusely apologised to the Minister for the unfortunate incident and said any decision taken by the Minister in this regard would be accepted by him.

Soon after the Minister received this letter, the Ministry fired another letter to the BCCSL asking whether Mr. Dharmadasa had the qualifications to hold office as President in terms of the Sports Law.

If Mr. Dharmadasa did not have the qualifications, how was his appointment approved in the first place, sports fans ask. Is it a matter of qualifications or patronage by the Minister.

The Minister has told friends he felt Mr. Dharmadasa had failed to use the powers of the Board, to override the sponsors.

Officials close to the Minister allege that the plan to deviate from the original agenda appeared to be a plot to embarrass a senior elected Minister.

But after the letter of deep apology sent by Mr. Dharmadasa the Minister has apparently changed his hardline attitude. Yet it seems he will take stern action against the Board for what he sees as an attempt to bring disrepute to a Cabinet Minister.

On Wednesday evening businessman A.J.M. Muzammil who was actively mediating between the Minister and Mr. Dharmadasa met Mr. Dissanayake to bring about a settlement. Mr. Dharmadasa who went to see the Minister along with Mr. Muzammil again apologised profusely for the mix-up which he said was never intended.

The Minister having listened to Mr. Muzammil and Mr. Dharmadasa said he would see what he could do.

Subsequently Mr. Dharmadasa submitted his letter of resignation to the Ministry of Sports on Thursday morning, but the Minister was away in Nuwara Eliya at that time.

Mr. Dharmadasa's resignation letter states:

"I humbly wish to bring to your kind notice that there was a serious lapse during the awards ceremony. I wish to clarify the following:

"1. Thilanga Sumathipala, a Vice President of the BCCSL had invited you as the chief guest to the ceremony and to give away the awards.

"2. As the sponsoring Company, the Chairman of Singer (Sri Lanka) Ltd was insisting on giving away the Singer Trophy, I requested the Chairman of Singer, Hemaka Amarasuriya and the Marketing Director Gamini Abeysuriya, that as the Minister was present that the Minister give away three other awards. The Chairman of Singer and the Marketing Director agreed to this in the presence of Tryphon Mirando, Secretary of the BCCSL.

"3. I am indeed grateful to you Sir, for your graciousness in accepting my proposal in permitting the Chairman of Singer to give away the Singer Trophy whilst Your Honour distribute three other awards. It is indeed unfortunate that the Singer officials failed to carry out this agreement by not communicating with Ian Chappel, the Master of Ceremonies.

"4. I never expected that such responsible personalities at Singer would violate the agreement that they had made with me.

"I apologise most profusely on behalf of the BCCSL in Sri Lanka and myself for the embarrassment caused to you, both as an Honourable Minister of State and as a person.

"In the circumstances, I, as the President of the BCCSL humbly wish to tender my resignation with immediate effect. I reiterate that I hold you in the highest esteem and neither I, nor the BCCSL intended to cause you any pain of mind or embarrassment.

May I conclude Sir, by thanking you very much for the constant support, guidance and assistance given to me during my tenure of office. Without your blessings, I would never have been able to perform the tasks I have carried out so far.

"I once again thank you and wish you all success during your tenure of office as the Minister of Sports."

A letter

Singer Chairman Hamaka Amarasuriya also wrote a letter to the President of the BCCSL in this connection.

He states:

"As you are aware, we invited Her Excellency the President of Sri Lanka to grace the finals as chief guest. When the President turned down the request due to security reasons, it was decided by consensus to invite the Chief Executive of Singer overseas or locally, to be the chief guest. This has been the practice in the past and our Chairman, James Ting flew down from Toronto to be the chief guest in the 1994 finals.

"I am aware that as the Hon. Minister of Sports was present at the closing stages of the game, you invited him to give away several other awards as our guest of honour. Unfortunately this message has not been communicated to the Master of Ceremonies, Ian Chappel correctly. As a result and to our surprise, he only announced that the Hon. Minister will award the runners-up cheque and stopped thereat.

"We are deeply sorry that the Hon. Minister had to face this embarrassment at our own sponsored event, particularly when we have worked so closely with him in his bid to improve the sports image in Sri Lanka. I hope that this unfortunate event will now be forgotten, as it is the result of a series of miscommunications brought about by the intensity of the moment, which led to a bona fide error."

On Friday the Minister softened his attitude and wrote to Mr. Dharmadasa saying his letter of resignation was not being accepted.

It appears that the other officers of the Cricket Board too were shaken by these incidents but were quite confident on Thursday that the Minister would bail Mr. Dharmadasa out of this difficult situation though he had tendered his resignation.

The letter said the Minister appreciated the fact that Mr. Dharmadasa realized the gravity of what happened at the concluding sessions of the Singer World Series final.

The Minister has stated that he came for the final sessions on BCCSL Vice President, Thilanga Sumathipala's invitation to be the chief guest. He agreed after much persuasion by Mr. Sumathipala.

The Minister apparently bailed out Mr. Dharmadasa and the Cricket Board from the mess saying what happened was not intentional. He blamed "external forces" for it.

The Minister said he was not surprised that this kind of thing was taking place against him and the government, specially when "external forces" were at work.

While refusing to accept Mr. Dharmadasa's letter of resignation the Minister said he hoped in future no "external force" would be allowed to arrogate the powers and responsibilities of the BCCSL.

On the political front, the decision of the Chandrika Kumaratunga administration to appoint a Co-ordinating Committee for the Northern and Eastern Provinces headed by Minister M. H. M. Ashraff has run into a storm of protests.

The Tamil parties have protested vehemently. The rumour doing the rounds in Colombo's political circles is that the suggestion to appoint Mr. Ashraff to head the Committee was made by TULF's constitutional expert Neelan Thiruchelvam.

The displeasure of prominent Tamil politicians was quite evident at the cocktails hosted by US Embassy Chief for Political Affairs Scott M. Delisi on Wednesday where these politicians were present.

Among those present were Neelan Thiruchelvam, Deputy Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Ravi Karunanayake, Sarath Kongahage, Joseph Pararajasingham, Douglas Devananda and D. Siddharthan.

All the Tamil politicians except for Dr. Thiruchelvam who was present there briefly expressed dissatisfaction over the constitution of the N & E Interim Committee. The Tamil parties feel it would be a non starter, since more than 100 people are serving in the Committee including divisional secretaries and other officials.

But Minister Ashraff was very keen to get it off the ground and make it work. So he wanted to speak to EPDP leader Douglas Devananda to get his support.

Mr. Devananda, while having a discussion on the subject at Mr. Delisi's received a call over his cellular phone from Minister Ashraff.

On Thursday night Mr. Devananda was seen at a function held at India House to bid farewell to three Indian journalists who worked in Sri Lanka for several years.

There he told Deputy Minister Alavi Moulana the Tamil parties were totally against the appointment of Ashraff to head the N-E Committee.

Mr. Devananda said they were seriously thinking of pulling out from the government and asked the Deputy Minister as to why the President appointed Mr. Ashraff without even consulting them though they had been agitating for an Interim Council for the past few years.

Mr. Moulana pacifying Mr. Devananda said, "Don't worry, I understand the problem. I will arrange for you to meet the President."

Mr. Devananda said the President had appointed over 100 members for the N-E Interim Committee whereas the whole North-East Provincial Council consisted of 71 members.

After having learnt that the Tamil parties are opposing the government's move, Mr. Ashraff issued a statement on Thursday saying the North-Eastern Co-ordinating Committee had nothing to do with the proposed interim administration.

Meanwhile, North-East Governor Gamini Fonseka on receiving the letter appointing him as the Secretary to the Co-ordinating Committee felt insulted.

He immediately summoned his officers and looked into the constitution of the Committee.

Mr. Fonseka learnt that the government was at fault. He observed that it was against all accepted norms to put a Governor to work under a Cabinet Minister.

He then decided to write to the President pointing out the mistake, but the next morning Presidential Secretary Kusumsiri Balapatabendi came on line and said, there was a small mistake and they would correct it.

Mr. Fonseka told him it was not a mistake but an insult to the Governor.

Mr. Balapatabendi said he was not there when this decision was taken. He told him to expect another letter. But Mr. Fonseka said the damage had already been done since the state media had carried the news item.

After some time Mr. Fonseka received a letter delivered by hand from the President's office which said Mr. Fonseka had been appointed as a Co-Chairman of the Co-ordinating Committee for the North and the East.

The dispute ended there. However he did not forget to send the letter drafted earlier pointing out the error made by the Presidential Secretariat.

It looks like the Tamil parties have now begun to drift away from the government which they supported actively at one stage.

Five Tamil parties which met at the Centre for Society and Religion to discuss the future of the Devolution Package and the Nort-East problem, were quite critical of the government for its failure to come up with some plausible solution.

The meeting convened by EPRLF's Suresh Premachandran was attended by representatives of the EPDP, the PLOTE, the EROS the TELO and a representative from the LTTE.

They said that nine years after laying down arms they had achieved little.

The parties were also critical about the government's attitude towards the amendments submitted by them to the package.

They felt this wouldn't go further since the government had not been able to reach a consensus on many matters.

One speaker said the Tamil parties had been awarded a contract to convince the UNP, but the UNP's position is that there was no point in supporting anything that could not be implemented.

As the Tamil politicians were breathing fire, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her Ministers also discussed the appointment of an Interim Committee to look after North-East affairs.

At this discussion Douglas Devananda's name figured prominently and the Ministers expressed their doubts whether Mr. Devananda would agree with the suggestion that Minister M. H. M. Ashraff should head the Committee.

However there was no alternative but to go along with the decision. The President also spoke about the rising cost of living.

She said though several Committees had been appointed to look into the matter, nothing productive had been done to bring the COL down.

The President said the people were blaming the whole government for this and empahsised the need to take immediate steps to bring redress to the people.


At this stage Trade Minister Kingsley T. Wickremaratne categorised the income groups that should receive subsidies under the government's welfare scheme.

As the President battles with the COL, Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike is continuing her battle with powerful Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte. Among other things she is considering what will happen if she as SLFP President expels Gen. Ratwatte from the party.

Ms. Bandaranaike and her son Anura, offended by a speech made by General Ratwatte recently at Ratnapura where he referred to a baby mix-up in the Bandaranaike family are exchanging letters with the General and attacking each other verbally in Parliament.

Though Ms. Bandaranaike has the power under the party constitution to suspend General Ratwatte any communication of letters of that nature has to be done by the SLFP General Secretary Dharmasiri Senanayake.

Minister Senanayake who feels that such an act would lead to more complications had so far avoided the issue effectively, but it might surface again.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is also busy trying to find out as to who was responsible for registering a new Trade Union under the SLFP.

At present there were two SLFP Trade Unions of which the President is Ms. Bandaranaike.

But the Prime Minister has received complaints that the government's patronage is received by a third Trade Union headed by President Kumaratunga and the Prime Minister has called for a meeting of those responsible for registering this Trade Union.

As the government was tossing in turbulent waters after two years in office, the main opposition UNP celebrated its 50th anniversary with the participation of two former Presidents - J. R. Jayewardene and D. B. Wijetunga.

Mr. Jayewardene was happy to be actively involved with the UNP again and asked for a green cap as he arrived at the meeting, but it was difficult to find one and ultimately Karunasena Kodituwakku had to give his to the President. Mr. Kodituwakku wondered as to whether the President would wear his cap, but there appeared to be no problem. The organisers thought that Mr. Wijetunga should also be given a cap and found another one for him in the Opposition Leader's car but to the surprise of others Mr. Wijetunga said he didn't want the cap. One politician quipped "DBW may have thought the green cap wouldn't fit him any more."

Go to the Situation Report
Return to the Editorial/Opinion contents page

Go to the Political Column Archive