The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

19th January 1997



Strike hinges on chairman's reply

By Shyamal Collure

Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman Ranjith Wickremasinghe has assured trade unionists a solution by tomorrow to the dispute caused by the dismissal of 185 employees and the banning of SLPA executive officers from taking part in strikes, union sources revealed.

However, at a meeting with representatives of 14 trade unions on Friday, Mr. Wickremasinghe asked for time until noon tomorrow promising to take up the matter with the management to arrive at an amicable settlement, the sources added.

Thousands of port employees struck work on December 27 in protest against the selling of the Queen Elizabeth Quay to a foreign investor crippling operations at the premier harbour. Consequently, 185 employees who participated in the strike were fired in addition to the issue of a new circular affecting the rights of SLPA executive officers. The sacked employees were under a three-year probationary period at the time of the token strike.

President of the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) of the Ports Authority, Mahilal Silva told "The Sunday Times" that these employees were dismissed without any hearing being given in their defence. "According to the rules of Natural Justice, a certain procedure has to be adopted in dismissing workmen. There was no hearing whatsoever. A charge sheet was not served. No warning was given. A pay-fine, one month interdiction and disciplinary action generally precede termination at the SLPA. None of these was adhered to. Therefore, the discontinuance of services of the workmen concerned is grossly unfair and totally illegal," he charged.

Students hit by teacher- retirement

By Chamintha Tilakaratna

The retirement of more than 13,000 teachers has hit students around the country. The retirement followed the government's circular of a couple of months ago.

A cross section of principals, teachers and children interviewed spoke of problems created by the exodus which has forced many schools to manage without the required number of teachers while some schools in remote areas face a threat of suspending classes until teachers are appointed.

Students mainly those due to sit the Advanced Level and Ordinary Level examinations would be the worst affected as the shortage could not be filled immediately.

D. S. Senananayake College Principal G. C. Adhikari said that they had to request voluntary teachers to attend to classes.

Devi Balika Vidyalaya Principal R. Lakshman said, "we are short of fourteen teachers and we are facing a great problem in carrying out the routine academic work."

A spokesman for the Sri Lanka Nidahas Guru Sangamaya said "Apart from teachers who passed out from the teacher training institutes recently, which is not enough to meet the needs of all the schools immediately, no new teachers have been recruited.

"The problem has not been looked into," some principals say. The ministry has promised to replace the retired teachers but still no action has been taken, they said.

As a result, students face the problem of not having work and the principals are facing a more difficult task of co-ordinating the teachers in order to keep the classes going. The principal of Mahanama College said that the teachers in school have taken the task of dividing their time in such a way that all students will have work.

Tamil parties in social work only

By Minna Thaheer

Tamil political parties, that set up offices in Jaffna following a clearance by the Defence Ministry to carry weapons to the peninsula, are presently concentrating only on social service activities.

PLOTE leader Dharmalingam Siddharthan told "The Sunday Times," "Our Vice President Manikkam Dhasam who is in charge of our new office in Jaffna is going ahead with the mission," he said.

"Already people have sought our help on various issues specially on missing persons," Mr. Siddharthan said.

"We have no plans to begin political work right now," he added.

Meanwhile EPDP which set up their office in Stanley Road, Jaffna is already busy with its share of social work too.

Party leader Douglas Devananda, who made an official visit to India just before opening their office in Jaffna said: "We are presently involved in social services only in the area. The people there need much aid and are deeply distresseed."

However, EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandran told "The Sunday Times" that his party has not begun work in the north, though there were such plans in the offing.

Three Hurrahs for Cooray as he turns 96

By Our Staff Reporter

"Hip, Hip, Hooray for 90 year Cooray" was the headline in a newspaper of 12 August 1990, but today we say Hip Hip Hooray for Cooray who at 96 years is the oldest living UNP stalwart in Sri Lanka.

P.Andrew Cooray, a seasoned campaigner, entered politics way back in 1928 when many of those in the political arena today would not have been born.

Mr. Cooray was born on August 5,1901 and was a lawyer by profession. He was a founder member of the UNP. He entered politics two years after he passed out as a lawyer in 1928. He was the Chairman of the Kalutara Urban Council for 14 years.

The eldest in a family of eleven, he worked his way to popularity and prominence entirely through his undaunted efforts. He claims to be the oldest politician alive in Sri Lanka.

Speaking to "The Sunday Times", Mr Cooray living in retirement with his daughter for over 40 years said: "I am sad to note the UNP is silent today". Asked what made him say that, without batting an eyelid he said: "Where is the propaganda and activity of the party that was there in the years gone by?

Mr. Cooray recalled how after the debacle of the UNP in 1956 the late J.R. Jayewardene had asked him whether he could organise a UNP meeting in Kalutara, to which he readily said "Yes. I am prepared to do it". Though his arch politicial rival then was Cholomondely Gunawardena, he went about organising the meeting.

Asked how he did it, waving a clenched fist Mr. Cooray said: "I met force with force. Though Cholomondely had his men I had mine too", he added. However, no major incidents took place and the meeting went off smoothly said Mr Cooray laughing

The UNP is planning to hand over a memento to the oldest living UNP member in appreciation of his services to the party and the country on Tuesday. It is learnt UNP chairman Mr. Karu Jayasuriya will present him the memento.

When he was Kalutara UC Chairman and MP, he mooted the idea of a marine promenade at Kalutara North like the Bondi Beach in Australia. He built the promenade to attract tourists as well, he added.

The widening of the road at Kalutara was also one of his ideas. As Chairman of the Urban Council he had agitated for ten years to get the road widened to its present size.

Mr. Cooray became a Village Committee member for Payagala and Maggona in early 1927 and then contested a seat in the Kalutara Urban Council. He was elected and remained a member for the next 30 years. In 1938 he became the Chairman.

A founder member of the UNP Executive Committee he also entered the mainstream politics in 1952 when he contested and won the Kalutara parliamentary seat and remained a member for four years. At this election he defeated the Left leader Cholomondely Gunawardena and Dr. Zoysa by 332 votes.

Mr. Cooray took to business in 1934 and started distilling arrack and vinegar at his Anwil Distillery. Pickling vinegar which many housewives sought after at that time was Mr. Cooray's product.

He owned the Neboda Omnibus Company which was taken over by the then government. He was Chairman of the Free Lanka Finance Ltd. until he retired. He also produced films like "Kalu Diya Dahara" which enabled Ravindra Randeniya to enter filmdom. Next followed "God King", portraying the life of King Kasyapa which was directed by Lester James Peiris.

"What is the secret of his long life and how does he feel outliving his contemporaries like Sir John Kotelawela and Sir Ukwatte Jayasundera."

"God has been kind to me" is the simple response. "I take everything in my stride and never take problems seriously," he added.

"Will you notch a century?" "Why not? My father lived for 98 years. Another couple of years more would not make a difference," he quipped, full of smiles.

Before taking leave of him, I wished him all the very best on behalf of "The Sunday Times" and said "God Bless you, Sir".

New campus in Vanni

The newly setup Vanni Campus of the Jaffna university is expected to take in around 200 students for the academic year, officials said.

This campus was opened on January 1 after the closure of the Vavuniya affliated college.

Two VIPs take secret break in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka recently on vacation was Peter Brooks, the one time British Secretary for Northern Ireland, Conservative Party Chairman and Minister for Heritage together with his wife, a one-time Tory Party worker herself.

The Sunday Times bumped into the tanned and relaxed Brooks couple on the eve of their departure back to a cold and miserable winter back home, as well as to hardwork at the coming hustings.

Mr. Brooks says he will stand for election once again. His constituency is in London and includes Buckingham Palace.

Though the Queen has no vote, he will be checking the electoral list to see whether Princess Diana will be one of his voters. The vote is one right she won when she lost out on other privileges following her divorce early last year.

The Brooks say they had a wonderful 11 day holiday touring Nuwara Eliya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Kandy and down to the South in Galle and Hambantota. They say they were fascinated by the twin factor of beauty and history of Sri Lanka and will be recommending the island to their friends and colleagues upon their return.

A cricket-buff like his Prime Minister, Mr. Brooks says he's working on a British Parliamentary cricket team touring Sri Lanka. They have already made tours to the Caribbean and Africa.

Mr. Brooks preferred to avoid commenting on the Sri Lankan political scene but said he was keyed into current issues. However, being a politician as well as a minister in charge of the media, he felt it was unwise for politicians to go on confrontation courses with the Press.

He said that when he was Northern Ireland Secretary where the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was in force, a television station telecast an account of corruption in the Royal Ulster constabulary force. His officials have asked him to take action against the TV station. Being the seasoned politician he is, rather than using the PTA sledgehammer on the TV station, Mr. Brooks opted to take the Managing Director of the TV out for lunch where issues were discussed in a critical way.

The net result of that luncheon was that whenever there was a thorny issue between the free media and the government both sides did not hesitate to talk to each other on the telephone first.

The only function the Brooks attended on their virtually secret vacation was a dinner hosted on the eve of their departure by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and his wife. British High Commissioner David Tatham and Mrs. Tatham and fellow Oxonian former Information Minister Tyronne Fernando were the other invitees.

Also last week another distinguished guest who has slipped into the country without much fuss was the Prime Minister of Bahrain, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, also here on a private vacation.

Sheikh Khalifa said he found Colombo tranquil and the people most hospitable.

Where the cell is hell

Overcrowding creates terrible conditions in Welikada prison

By Christoper Kamalendran.

With three prisoners occupying a cell meant for solitary confinement and hundreds of inmates sometimes forced to wait for hours in the scorching sun to get some lunch, Sri Lanka's main Welikada prison is bursting at it's seams and turning into a virtual hell-hole.

The 150-year-old prison now accommodates double the number it could hold, mainly because more and more remand prisoners are being thrown in and held in terrible insanitary conditions for long periods.

The jail which could insanitary 1400 inmates, today has more than 3000 prisoners on any given day.

The dilapidated conditions of the prison with broken doors, stinking toilets and minimal cooking facilities in the kitchen, were evidence of the horrible situation in a prison which holds murder convicts along with those remanded for petty thefts.

It is not only the prisoners who are suffering, , even prison officers say they cannot cope and there might be a major breakdown unless effective remedial steps are taken.

We saw prisoners waiting to collect their lunch in the hot sun for about two hours with just four of their colleagues dishing out the food to hundreds. The wait for food appeared to be part of the punishment for the remand prisoners who have not yet been convicted.

According to prison's statistics, the daily average of the number of remand prisoners has dramatically increased. In 1995 the daily average in the prisons was 6,117 compared to 5,330, convicted prisoners.

Prison's Chief K.W.E. Karaliyadda admitting the problems caused by overcrowding of prisons told "The Sunday Times" the main cause was the huge increase in the number of remand prisoners, most of them because they were unable to pay fines imposed by courts.

He said that Welikada was overcrowded because a number of open prison camps for remand prisoners had been closed down. The Weerawila camp was converted into detention centre for terrorist suspects and the Koggala camp was closed in 1990 to make room for the Free Trade Zone.

The Jaffna open prison camp at Kopay was destroyed during terrorist activity in 1985, Mr. Karaliyadda said.

To cater to the increasing population, other programmes and projects have been developed, such as new police stations, new hospitals, new schools but new prisons have not been opened up in recent years, he complained.

The prisons chief proposed that as a remedial measure remand prisoners should be transferred to open prison camps.

He also proposed the setting up of vocational training camps on a larger scale so that convicts could be helped to develop their skills and even make a living while in custody.

Former prisons Chief H.G. Dharmadasa told "The Sunday Times" that Sri Lanka should adopt the system followed by India where the period served in remand would be taken into account when sentences were passed.

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