A new bill aimed at easing procedure in land registration is on hold due to Bar Association pressure, said Lands Minister D.M. Jayaratne.
Bar Association secretary W. Dayaratne opposed the bill saying it was against the interest of the country. Mr. Jayaratne said the bill may go against the interests of lawyers but it would certainly hurry the issue of deeds.
The new bill will eliminate lawyers as the ministry would act on behalf of a landowner in case of a dispute. President Kumaratunga, it is learnt, had advised the Minister to withdraw the bill.
The World Bank has offered a grant of US $ 10 million and the Australian government US $ 350,000 and train officials.
The Deputy Director General of Sports of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Sunil Jayaweera has been interdicted on the orders of the Minister Richard Pathirana.
Mr. Jayaweera, a live-wire of sports promotion, in the schools and an organiser of the SAF Games and a former President of the Amateur Athletic Association, was served with interdiction order on Thursday, ministry sources said.
They said the interdiction followed the loss of a video cassette recorder from his office last year.
Mr. Jayaweera told The Sunday Times the keys of his room were handed over to the security office everyday and that he had no knowledge of how the deck was lost.
In a desperate bid to help out his wife and three children, a senior Naval officer in LTTE custody has written to a finance company requesting a plot of land.
Commodore Ajith Boyagoda, in a letter sent through ICRC, to Asian Finance Ltd last month, said he wanted to buy some land at a reduced price, for his sons aged five, ten and eleven, Assistant General Manager A.F.L., Bathiya Satharasinghe told The Sunday Times.
Meanwhile Chandani Boyagoda, wife of the officer said she was unaware of her husband’s request until the finance company had contacted her.
“We have made arrangements to give the family land in Panadura. But we are yet to receive official permission from the Navy,” Mr. Satharasinghe said.
However, a spokesman for the Navy told The Sunday Times a certain procedure had to be followed to grant approval and they were awaiting a letter from the company on which their decision would depend.
“We are unable to give a clearance without this letter because other officers in similar situations might protest,” he said.
|n their offices at Baudhaloka Mawatha, the Permanent Commission to
investigate Bribery and Corruption go about their business as usual. Talk
is guarded, hostility is very much in the air and there is a sense of impending
crisis. It was just the day before that Justice Minister G. L. Peiris had
made official the Presidential directive seeking the resignations of the
three seniormost officials of the country’s top graft fighting body on
the grounds that its credibility has been affected.
A predictable conclusion perhaps to the infighting within the Commission that had gripped the attention of the country from well over three months back. The opening act of the drama had commenced when the husband of Director General Nelum Gamage, Lal Gamage had been confronted with allegations that he had abused his wife’s position by having business dealings with persons under investigation by the Commission. At that time, the Director General had been abroad. Returning home, much time did not lapse before she herself was called to order by the Commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge T.A.D.S.Wijesundera and former police chief Rudra Rajasingham, who had summoned the Director General to appear before a subordinate officer of the Commission. The grounds were fourfold relating to the unauthorized drawing of allowances, non declaration of assets and the role that she had played in the files relating to the suspects with whom her husband had talked business.
Responding to what she saw as an attempt to humiliate her, the Director General filed writ in the Supreme Court challenging the action of the Commissioners. On the day before the application was due to be heard in the Supreme Court, an arrest warrant was issued against Mr. Gamage by the Magistrates Court on the direction of Commission detectives, which warrant was speedily vacated several days later by the High Court on the basis that it was obtained by misrepresenting facts to court.
Meanwhile, the Director General’s writ application continued to be postponed in the Supreme Court as the majority of judges declined to hear the case on the grounds that both parties were personally known to them. Amidst this, the Commission issued a charge sheet against Mr. Lal Gamage, the principal charge being reduced to allegations that he had not disclosed his proper age while working at a state institution.
As one move followed another, and an incredulous public speculated as to who would checkmate first, reports that President Chandrika Kumaratunga had intervened in the matter was confirmed when Justice Minister G.L.Peiris informed the cabinet press corps on Thursday that the two Commissioners had been asked to resign while the Director General had been transferred.
“ This has been done to ensure the smooth functioning of the Commission in whom a great deal of public trust is entrusted” said the Justice Minister
At present, in spite of the Presidential directive, members of the Commission have refused to quit, citing provisions of the law that specifies that the Commissioners could be compelled to resign only by a motion moved in Parliament. A different situation applies to Director General Nelum Gamage who is under authority of the executive.
Meeting her late Friday night, I ask the obvious question, to which the answer comes accompanied by a wry smile
“Yes indeed, I would go when I am given a specific date to go. At the moment, I have only been sent an undated letter from the President transferring me. Until then, I am proceeding with urgent financial and administrative work that has to be completed before the end of the year,” she says.
Come Monday, her writ application is due to be taken up in the Supreme Court where the implications of the presidential directive on the ongoing case would be more clearly seen. Suffice to say that at the last instance when the matter was called up before the Court, attention was drawn to the fact that the Commission may be operating illegally by functioning with only two Commissioners, instead of the mandated three. This is in view of the fact that the vacancy that had arisen following retired Appeal court judge Commissioner Siva Selliah passing away last December has not been filled as yet.
As legal technicalities compete with one another for attention, the greater crisis is reiterated by the embattled director general herself
“It is not that I have to go, or that the Commissioners have to go. One merely feels a sense of immense sadness at all this. It will take a long time before public confidence is restored in the Commission as an institution,” she comments.
Excerpts from the interview:
IST: You were transferred to the Justice Ministry in the last years of the UNP regime following certain investigations made by you that had angered some of those at the helm of power. Now, there is a replay of the turn of events by the PA which, in fact, had promised your reappointment in its election manifesto. Any comparisons that you would like to make?
DG: The two situations are entirely different. There was none of the present trauma associated with my transfer then. I was made an Additional Secretary at the Justice Ministry and was placed on a higher salary. No irregularities were alleged in my work. When I look back on that transfer, though it was somewhat upsetting at that time, I do not feel sad about the whole episode which is entirely different to what I feel now.
ST: Retrospectively, can you feel satisfied that your time over the last three years as Director General of the Commission was well spent?
DG: We did manage to get some work done. All the posts approved by the Salaries and Cadres Commission have been filled, excepting the police. Moreover, a three storey building approved by the Bribery Commissioners Department was later increased to five stories. It was difficult to get approval for all these things, but we surmounted the obstacles. Moreover, the number of bribery cases filed by us have been quite satisfactory.
ST: All this is well and good, but is it not correct that in all its three years of functioning, the Commission has not investigated a single allegation of corruption against senior public figures or politicians. To add insult to injury, the one case filed by the Commission for corruption against a school principal for allegedly accepting a tea set and a table cloth from a pupil for handing over her educational certificates was dismissed recently by the magistrate on the basis that she had committed no offence. As Director General, allegations have been made that you should take responsibility for this state of affairs?
DG: At the outset itself, it has to be made plain that I do not possess the same decision-making powers that I possessed as Bribery Commissioner under the old laws. It is the responsibility of the Commissioners to issue directives to me to investigate a particular case, and again it is they who take the ultimate decision to go to court. In fact, they can even direct investigating officers other than me to look into a particular case. Under the 1994 laws, I am just another investigating officer, and all I can say is that every directive issued to me by the Commission has been carried out to the best of my ability.
ST :Your office is on the other side of the road to that of the Commissioners.There is a suggestion that several complaints that came to you never went across the road for inquiry ?
DG: As I said, no complaint is directly referred to me.Everything is channelled through the Commissioners.Such an allegation can have no foundation in fact.
ST:Shortly after the dispute between you and the Commissioners became public, a senior police officer attached to the Commission was transferred out of the Commission, and several insinuations were made that you were responsible for the transfer. Can you respond to this?
DG: I was aware that innuendoes were made against me in the media. The transfer came as a complete surprise to me. I must state that I am personally aware that this particular police officer was never involved in the purported investigation against me as regards which I have filed a writ application in the Supreme Court.
When I heard about the transfer, I contacted the IGP and brought to his notice, the incorrect news reports against me. He informed me that the transfer was carried out by him for specific reasons, which would not be fair to mention in print.
The IGP has the sole control of transfers. Those who think that I have sufficient authority to influence the IGP in his duties must be suffering from severe delusions.
ST: It has been reported that following the recent turn of events, you met the President this Monday? Is this correct?
DG: I did not meet the President since August this year when she called the two Commissioners and myself to meet her and requested us to work together without any differences. This news report is not correct. I have not officially denied this because I cannot keep on denying all the false reports that appear about me.
ST: Have you written to the President, notifying her of the situation?
DG: After the August 4th meeting, I did write to her a month later, requesting a meeting and specifying that I was not asking for personal favours. The meeting never materialized.
ST: It has been alleged that you are being favoured by the present government due to close personal ties that members of your family have with those in power, and that as a result certain irregularities that are alleged to have taken place concerning you are sought to be swept under the carpet. Any comments?
DG: I cannot help the fact that my mother is a close friend of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike. But I resent the allegation that this could have any bearing on my credibility as a public officer.
I joined the public service in 1975, during the SLFP government. I got my promotion as Assistant Bribery Commissioner and Deputy Bribery Commissioner under the Jayewardene regime. I was appointed Bribery Commissioner by President Premadasa. At that time, my mother was a central committee member of the SLFP. As this would show, I have served under governments of all hues, and I have tried to act with political impartiality at all times.
If there are any irregularities supposedly committed by me, then the matter ought to be investigated in the proper manner without all this sensationalism. What I can assert with complete confidence is that any file I have handled for the past 22 years will withstand scrutiny by anybody.
ST: What has happened to the inquiry that took place when the President said she was offered a bribe?
DG: Allegations have been made against me over and over again on this matter. I did the needful at that time, though the exact details cannot be disclosed as we are bound by a secrecy provision. My conscience is satisfied that I did my duty.
ST:The needful would mean that you notified the President to appear before you?
DG: I cannot comment because of the secrecy clause
ST: The case against your husband for allegedly not declaring his correct age while working in a state institution is presently pending in the Colombo Magistrate’s Court, and is due to be taken up in January. Without commenting on the merits of the matter as it is before court, are there any remarks that you would like to make?
DG: At the time, I informed the Commission that I was prepared to sign his charge sheet. I am only sorry that the warrant against him was obtained by following procedures that were not correct and which were subsequently criticised by the High Court. This type of hasty action would naturally bring disrepute to the institution that I also work for.
I have to add that I am saddened by the manner in which the media, in general, gave me a lot of adverse publicity and condemned me out of hand. I do not think that I deserve this.
In the opinion of many, the hallowed institution by the Diyawanna could be easily compared to a limited liability company; a house so divided, yet unanimous on matters affecting its members in common — be it Pajeros, salaries and the like.
Mercifully the ‘ballas’ and the ‘booruwas’ were spared in verbal exchanges when the committee stage budget debate continued, perhaps to the relief of the canine and the bovine kind.
Opening the debate on the votes of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education was one time Provincial Education Minister Suranimala Rajapakse who made the House reverberate with his voice, much to the annoyance of the government members who remarked that at that rate, they expected their ear drums to burst. Suranimala continued regardless, praising the visionary C.W.W. Kannangara for the introduction of free education, ending the era when only aristocrats and the wealthy had access to education.
“There are 245 National Schools at present. A School has to fulfil certain requirements in order to be recognized as National School. Despite my endeavours, Malwana Al Mubarak Vidyalaya was not raised to this level, but Minister Ashraff has done this without a blink. Is this the Malwana Al Mubarak Vidyalaya, or is it Ashraff Vidyalaya?” thundered the MP, a charge the Minister did not reply to.
It was the burly Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva who stressed upon the need to bring stringent anti ragging legislation in education institutions. He noted that education came only second to national security in the government’s agenda for progress, and it was heart breaking to watch the educated youth resorting to sadistic practices by torturing fellow students in the guise of “getting to know each other.”
The Vice Chancellor of the Ruhunu University has issued a statement that there were death threats to him. The institution is in shambles, and the government take steps to prevent a closure. Students should behave better, and administration less rigid, said he.
In an apparent reply to Tissa Attanayake, Deputy Education Minister Wiswa Warnaplaa said that the government was committed to introduce educational reforms suitable for the next fifty years, yet lofty ideals are difficult to achieve when university students remove Vice Chancellors as in the Ruhuna Universities.
“I am doubting whether these are institutions of activity or agitation, when lecturers are detained or harassed by students. The students have issued a statement that they have removed the Ruhuna VC and declared university premises out of bounds to him! Copies of the letter have been sent to others within the university, UGC Chairman, chief security officer and to his wife!”
An annoyed Prof. Warnapala informed the House that there was no way that the administration be dictated to by students and others with vested interests and therefore instigating students to achieve their narrow ends.
“We shall not be bulldozed by students. There are no VCs that they appoint or remove. They are appointed by the President for a period of three years upon the recommendations of the Education Commission.”
Counter challenging students, he said, that they were free to put up large posters condemning the government and hold protest after protest. The custodian of the universities shall not be humiliated by those unable to appreciate their value, he added.
The last Opposition speaker was W.J.M. Lokubandara, one time Education and Cultural Affairs Minister. In his inimitable style, he went on to express his reservations on the plight of educated youth.
“Goddess Fortune smiled with the PA, and the goodwill of the people was directed their way. But the PA scorned fortune’s favour and people were gradually alienated from the PA.
Not to be outdone, Minister Richard Pathirane said that those who did not do a stroke of work to resolve outstanding problems during their tenure have today resorted to preaching. Staunchly defending the PA, he reiterated its commitment to revolutionize the system of education to suit the present day requirements.
Refuting the charges raised by the Opposition, he said that Ruhunu students have become too big for their boots and contravening the laws of the country and universities. He compared the indiscipline among students to that of a spreading epidemic which spreads from one university to another.
He explained that the students who are threatening the Ruhuna VC have a case pending against them for illegal detention of University Council members, and he had no intention of relaxing their suspension in response to their threats, promising that ragging would be legally banned in January, an announcement welcomed by both sides of the divide.
It was Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kiriella who emphasized on the need to have a practical approach to national integration.
Speaking on the votes on the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional and Ethnic Affairs and National Integration, he said that the present generation was badly compartmentalized with no friends from other communities. “We had friends from other communities, and those are the bonds upon which we sow the seeds of ethnic harmony,” he said, stressing the need to make institutions of learning the foundation for amity among communities.
“Make schools the cradle of national integration, and let human bonds flourish in a spirit of oneness,” he said. At the same time, he did not lose the opportunity of having a few verbal punches at the opposition saying that it was the PA which re-established the independence the judiciary.
Adding more sauce to the spicy comments which made government benchers smile gleefully, he added:
“During the UNP rule, the judiciary was humiliated and to counter one judgment a Constitutional Amendment was moved in a hurry and the then Chief Justice was summoned before the Parliament.
Estranged PA coalition partner Srimani Athulathmudali with her customary gentleness pointed out that certain Ministers were using Parliamentary privileges to insult rural women who had no right to reply.
She said that her party was not against devolution within a unitary framework, reiterating that the proposed package should not be imposed on the people against their will.
In an unusual mood was EPDP Douglas Devananda who sought to indict the government for perpetrating fears in the minds of the Tamils.
Unleashing a scathing attack on the present administration, he said there were two classes of people in the country, and Tamils comprised the second or the lower class. Tamil speaking people were humiliated and harassed in the name of fighting the LTTE, he added.
“You may be winning wars, but not the hearts and minds of the Tamil people. There has been more rhetoric than action during the last three years, he said in an apparent warning to the PA, which is dependent on Tamil parties’ support to get the Package through.
“There was no light at the end of he tunnel , and the package fell short of the aspirations of the Tamils. But there is a President and an Opposition leader both committed on principle to devolve power, and this should be the ideal situation to bring about lasting peace,” he said, pinning hopes on third party mediation and urging the government to show results like the Blair administration.
A Parliamentarian, branded to a certain extent as a Sinhala hard-liner was again the chosen party to wind up the debate for the Opposition.
Taking on the language policy of the government, he said that despite the country’s official language being Sinhala, the courts still used the colonially inherited English.
“Court decisions are announced in English, while convicts die a Sinhala or Tamil death. People would develop an inferiority complex if this trend continues.
Moving on to the much discussed Devolution Package, Mr. Lokubndara said that this was a harangue rejected by the people. “The Sinhalese are peace loving people. We do not resort to barbaric practices every time a bomb explodes killing Sinhalese. This was why a disgusted Anagarika Dharmapala wished to be born in India, and not here. Under the guise of devolving power, there was distribution of poverty and unhappiness. The Maha Sangha was divided and so were the people, all because of a Package that is being pushed with vehemence, he said.
Concluding the debate, Minister G.L. Peiris complimented Mr. Lokubandara for his exhilarating delivery and content. Agreeing with the Badulla Parliamentarian he said that the ethnic problem was created due to a failure of communication. The system of education has unwittingly contributed to this pitiable situation
He said that the PA looked forward to working with the UNP to resolve the country’s biggest problem. The problem was that here were so many men, and so many opinions sounding hopeful, Once there is unanimity amongst the UNP ranks, peace shall not elude the county any more.
“The question shall persist until we stand divided which is why I call for building of bridges instead of walls,” said Dr. Peiris hopeful that the government’s endeavour would bear results.
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