The Political Column

1st June 1997

Media pressure brings justice

By Our Political Correspondent

It was a consolation to those who believe in equality before the law, that finally, the Police had been able to find one of the key figures present at the scene of the Joel Pera killing; Lohan Ratwatte.

Joel Pera, a rugby star from Papua New Guinea was killed on May Day, outside Carlton Club in Kollupitiya, one of Colombo’s well known casinos.

Lohan RatwatteLohan Ratwatte, whom eyewitnesses say, was present at the scene of the Pera killing, is a son of powerful Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte. It was no secret to the public that the Police dragged its feet on this matter for nearly one month without getting at the principal figure at the scene.

Consequent to the Police inaction there was agitation through the media which forced Police to act according to the country’s law.

In Parliament on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe urged the government to make a statement on the Joel Pera incident.

He said there was disenchantment in Papua New Guinea about the manner in which the Joel Pera case was being handled.

“We do not need to ruin our relations with Papua New Guinea over this. The UNP expresses its condolences to the Pera family on their bereavement,” he said.

The UNP leader said it was necessary for the government to make a statement about the incident and give a firm undertaking that justice would be done.

Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte who replied a question raised by a UNP Parliamentarian said he would not protect or cover up anything for his son or any Minister’s son.

Gen. Ratwatte said he would not in any way interfere in the case and things were not happening as portrayed in some newspapers.

Justice Minister G. L. Peiris said the government would stand by the principle that all were equal before the law and no one would get special treatment or protection in court cases. He said it was not the responsibility of Parliament to try people. That should be left to the courts of law. Dr. Peiris also deplored what he saw as a trial by media.

But now the fear is that the CID was trying to introduce someone else as “triggerman” whom, the eyewitnesses, including Pera’s friend Gideon Raka did not identify.

If the CID attempts something similar to this when the case is in progress, could there be a fair trial and equal protection before the law as pledged by Dr. Peiris in Parliament.

The government should ensure that all investigations connected to the Joel Pera killing are carried out according to the law. Otherwise the credibility of the Police would be damaged as badly as it was during the previous UNP regime.

The Joel Pera case was discussed at length at the UNP group meeting too, when Gampaha district MP and former Minister John Amaratunga called upon the group to express its displeasure over the manner the government was conducting the inquiry.

He said there was increasing tension in Papua New Guinea and Sri Lankans employed there were fleeing that country.

Mr. Amaratunga also said the government had failed to fulfil its obligation by the Pera family and PNG.

Besides this, Mr. Amaratunga urged the UNP group to appreciate the valiant effort by the armed forces who are at present engaged in linking the Jaffna-Vavuniya trunk road to facilitate access to the Peninsula by road.

Party leader Wickremesinghe, at this stage said though the UNP cleared the East of the terrorist menace the present government had virtually surrendered the East to the LTTE.

The government had sacrificed the East to take control over Jaffna and now they are wondering as to how they should find a way out, he said.

When Mano Wijeratne complained that confidential information relating to several discussions which took place in the “Sirikotha” had been leaked out to the media, Mr. Wickremesinghe said there should be some degree of self-restraint when talking to the media.

He pointed out that what they discussed about Susantha Punchinilame in his chambers at the Parliamentary complex had also been leaked.

He said that when the leave issue of Mr. Punchinilame came up, he first consulted K. N. Choksy who advised him on the matter.

“He explained that there were two ways to obtain leave, either through Parliament or Courts.

“Thereafter there was a discussion in my chamber and the third discussion which led to the final decision.”

Mr. Wickremesinghe said only what was discussed in his chamber had been reported in the Press and that he knew as to who had leaked it out. In many instances Mr. Wickremesinghe claimed that journalists themselves had told him as to who had given them the information.

His argument was that as a party they should not lose the confidence placed on them by the people by resorting to acts such as these.

Hambantota district MP, Mervyn de Silva at this stage told the group as the member who is responsible for moving a motion in Parliament to obtain leave for Susantha Punchinilame that details of the discussion where he participated had not been reported in the press.

The party leader told the members to exercise caution when giving out information such as this, since several UNP members, including Dr. Rajitha Senaratne had received death threats over what they discussed about Joel Pera’s case behind closed doors at Sirikotha.

Soon after this Sunil Shantha Ranaweera raised another matter of importance relating to a meeting organised by former UNP General Secretary Sirisena Cooray under the auspices of the Premadasa Centre mainly to raise funds and increase its membership.

He said certain elements were trying to destroy the unity within the UNP ranks and disrupt its progress.

Mr. Ranaweera urged the party to take counter measures, but Mr. Wickremesinghe said there was no reason to get alarmed.

It appears that Mr. Cooray’s action has disturbed the UNP hierarchy though they have not reacted so far in a tough manner.

The thinking in UNP circles is that Mr. Cooray had apparently antogonised Mr. Wickremesinghe by trying to show his strength through the Premadasa Centre.

They believe Mr. Wickremesinghe is unlikely to yield under pressure and give in to Mr. Cooray.

Ranil loyalists feel that any split brought about by Mr. Cooray would be negligible.

At next Monday’s Parliamentary Group Meeting several more questions relating to the Cooray issue are likely to surface.

Hambantota district Parliamentarian Mervyn de Silva is likely to raise this issue as to whether members should participate in the ceremonies organised by the (“Kendare”) Premadasa Centre.

The main commemorative meeting of the Premadasa Centre was originally fixed for June 23, but Mr. Wickremesinghe would not be available for this since he had already agreed to go along with President Premadasa’s only son Sajith to Hambantota.

Mr. Cooray had then wanted to change the date to June 29 to which Mr. Wickremesinghe has not responded so far. However UNP Chairman and Colombo Mayor Karu Jayasuriya is also expected to participate as the chief guest at this meeting unless and otherwise the party imposes a taboo.

What is happening right now is something interesting. Party loyalists are trying to determine the capabilities of their former General Secretary.

Some point out that the biggest debacle - the impeachment motion against President Premadasa, took place during the tenure of Mr. Cooray as the General Secretary of the Party and that he was totally unaware of this until the Speaker entertained the motion jointly moved by the SLFP and a faction of the UNP.

Others have pointed out that he could not get on well with the Premadasa circle in the UNP, including Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, Ratnasiri Rajapakse, A.J. Ranasinghe, Hudson Samarasinghe and even Hema Premadasa.

At the same time, some have pointed out that he possesses very good qualities as a politician who would never let down people who helped him and remained loyal to him.

The stronger side of Mr. Cooray is his ability to adopt himself according to a given situation and the capability to achieve any given target.

The main argument that is put forward by the anti-Cooray group within the UNP is as to whether he would be an effective front liner in the UNP with a vote base.

To substantiate their claim they bring in the results of the 1989 General Election where Mr. Cooray finished as a far second to Lalith Athulathmudali in spite of President Premadasa’s support.

The UNP leadership believes Hotelier Cornel Perera and Journalist Dayan Jayatillake as the two main persons firmly behind Mr. Cooray’s efforts to launch a membership drive to strengthen the Premadasa Centre.

In an interview with a popular Tamil weekly “Navamani”, Mr. Cooray said if he decided to join the UNP again, it would be on his own volition.

He said he would reveal certain secrets about the UNP at the appropriate time and said he had never been an accomplice to any crime.

He said he was dissatisfied with the activities of the UNP and that he knew how to join the UNP again.

Though he admitted he met several political leaders after his arriving, he said nothing important was discussed with them.

Now Mr. Cooray is involved in canvassing support for his membership drive throughout the country and he had already toured several provinces including Anuradhapura and Kandy.

Meanwhile an organisation describing itself as ‘Api Premadasa’ has called upon the UNP leadership to accommodate Mr. Cooray in the UNP.

In a statement issued by its President Wimalanath Dissanayake the group says:

“A resolution has been unanimously passed by the ‘Api Premadasa’ movement requesting Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the United National Party and its Executive Committee to obtain again for the upliftment of the party the services of the veteran politician B. Sirisena Cooray.

In the same resolution Mr. Wickremesinghe has also been requested not to get the UNP away from the Temple, Church, Mosque and the Kovil as Sri Lanka’s political history has proved that no political party away from places of worship and religious activities could win the hearts of the masses.”

The irony of this matter is that the son of Wimalanath Dissanayake is working for the UNP leader as his media consultant.

Some people think that the TNL political satire “Always Breakdown” is a creation to prop up the image of Mr. Wickremesinghe while attacking several people around him, who are being labelled as “liabilities”. Others believe it to be equally irreverent to all politicians, and Mr. Wickremesinghe is no exception, being sometimes lampooned mercilessly.

A recent TNL programme portrayed the members of the inner most circle of Ranil Wickremesinghe as dangerous people.

This included Charitha Ratwatte and Mr. Wickremesinghe’s closest advisor Milinda Moragoda.

The matter was raised within the topmost circles in the UNP but Mr. Wickremesinghe had reassured the confidence in them which encouraged them to continue within the UNP.

The present rating in some circles is that Mr. Wickremesinghe could emerge like former President J. R. Jayewardene since the countrywide vote base is there for the UNP while they enjoy the confidence of the elite families in Colombo.

But how far this would work is yet to be seen in the years to come, where the UNP would be testing its strength against the ruling People’s Alliance.

The other immediate problem faced by the UNP is the matter relating to Chief Opposition Whip and former Minister Wijeyapala Mendis.

Mr. Mendis, now in London, telephoned Mr. Wickremesinghe on hearing a move by the party to request him to step down in the wake of the findings against him by a Special Presidential Commission.

Mr. Wickremesinghe told Mr. Mendis there was no such move, since there was nothing official on the matter.

However it is clear that the party is pondering as to how they should get Mr. Mendis to step down. On the other hand there is a growing demand for this, specially from the Gampaha district UNP politicians after Mr. Mendis started clashing with former Minister John Amaratunga on several political issues.

Mr. Mendis on several occasions had found fault with Mr. Amaratunga for failing to act together, when he was fighting a lone political battle with Deputy Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle in Katana.

Meanwhile the latest controversy reported in the UNP is surfacing between Anura Bandaranaike and Paul Perera.

This was after Mr. Perera presided over the UNP Balamandalaya in Attanagalle after he was appointed as the co-ordinator for the area.

Mr. Bandaranaike who was perturbed over this has told the UNP leadership that it was not proper for Mr. Perera to have acted in that manner, and Mr. Perera was not too happy too, after he heard about Mr. Bandaranaike’s complaint to the UNP hierarchy.

While the UNP was saddled with many problems including that of Mr. Cooray, the government was busy trying to convince possible investors to come in a big way to Sri Lanka.

As we mentioned last week the government has focussed attention on the Asian investors and last week it had a second delegation from Malaysia under the auspices of UNP advisor Milinda Moragoda, and his uncle, President’s advisor on economy, Lal Jayawardena who are trying to promote investments through their Mercantile Bank.

The Malaysian delegation was taken by the Sri Lanka Air Force to Kankesanthurai via Palaly to see the Cement Factory there. They left the country on Friday.

Besides this, President of the Daewoo Corporation of South Korea who arrived in Sri Lanka recently is also expected to invest in several projects here.

But what disturbed the government was his purported letter to President Chandrika Kumaratunga requesting her to support a South Korean Scientist for the post of Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

A copy of the letter was sent to Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar with the addition of a nomination paper. That was a letter the Foreign Minister was expected to sign and send to IAEA stating that the government of Sri Lanka is supporting the candidature of the South Korean Scientist.

Mr. Kadirgamar was aghast at this when he found out that even the South Korean government had not canvassed this so-called candidate.

The nomination papers were subsequently ignored by the government after checking with the South Korean authorities.

The controversy over the South Korean nominee surfaced after Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Washington Jayantha Dhanapala tendered his resignation from the foreign service after the government’s refusal to nominate him as a contender to the prestigious post of Director General of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

These bizarre events involving the remanding of a minister’s son;the squabbles withinthe opposition; multi-nationals sending letters in the mail to Foreign Ministers to support a candidate for a prestigious UN agency’s top job and the government doing business with the UNP’s chief advisor were all part of the week’s events.

“Afterall”, a political wag did say “the business of business is business”.

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