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5th April 1998

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Still UPTO no good?: due to the ongoing postal
go-slow protest the letters pile up in thousands
at the Central Mail Exchange, despite the herculean
task of those who are at work to clear the backlog.
Pic by Kumara Dayawansa Nanneththi.
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Postal union in lightning strike

Mafia drama at Mail Office

By Arshad M. Hadjirin & Chamintha Thilakaratne

The two week postal dispute took a dramatic turn yesterday when a major union declared an all out strike after an unidentified group escorted by police allegedly entered the Central Mail Exchange and took away bag loads of foreign mail for sorting.

The Union of Posts and Telegraph office(UPTO) which has been leading a goslow campaign in support of demands for overtime payments, reacted angrily to yesterday's move which came after Post Minister Mangala Samaraweera accused the union of being a political mafia and warned the government would deal with it sternly.

An angry UPTO President S.T.B. Wickramasinghe, told The Sunday Times last night all mail services and post offices would be totally crippled from today in view of the all-out strike action. He claimed the foreign mail bags had been taken to the Post Mistress General's office where they were sorted by workers who did not belong to major unions.

The strike would continue until this high-handed and provocative action was stopped.

During the past two weeks of the postal go-slow, millions of letters and parcels piled up at sorting offices and the situation is likely to worsen now.

Many public examinations were postponed, while business transactions and bank dealings were reportedly stalled due to the mail delays.

UPTO Secretary N.T. Hettiarachchi said yesterday the union was insisting on its demand for overtime payments to some 800 staff grade officers but Minister Samaraweera said while the Cabinet had agreed to give an increase of Rs. 40 a day for postal staff officers, it would not go beyond that and allow a situation where some postal officers were making up to Rs. 15,000 a month through criminal and corrupt means in the guise of overtime.

"With the New Year dawning, and the thousands of armed forces eagerly awaiting news from them, one will see a public outcry against striking postal workers before long," the minister warned.

Impending trade union action by state bank, railway employees, and nurses along with the all-out strike by postal workers might cripple the country with less than a week to go for the New Year holidays.

State Bank staff will begin their symbolic trade union action tomorrow by taking their lunch break together instead of the usual shift basis, followed by other protests and work-to-rule campaigns which are likely to affect banking services in the coming days. They are protesting against delays in finalising a collective agreement.

Ceylon Bank Employees Union(CBEU) Secretary M.R. Shah said as part of their protest, their members would not volunteer to work on New Year's day for the traditional 'Ganu denu' transactions where customers make their first financial dealings for the new year at an auspicious time.

The railway employees are due to go on a 24-hour token strike on Tuesday in a move that would have adverse effects at a time when festive season traveling is at its peak. They are seeking additional overtime payments.

Commission stripped

By Christopher Kamalendran

The Permanent Commission set up to probe bribery and corruption finds itself in a ridiculous situation where it does not have even a policeman to guard its own offices, let alone investigating any cases, a frustrated Commissioner said.

Commissioner Rudra Rajasingham, a former Inspector General of Police said all the police officers attached to the commission had been moved out since January and the trouble-plagued Commission is virtually crippled.

The commission, which was set up with much fanfare as the flagship of the PA's anti-corruption drive, has been embroiled in an internal controversy for several months arising from a clash between the commissioners and its first Director General Nelum Gamage.

After Ms. Gamage was asked to resign, President Kumaratunga also asked commissioners T.A.D.S. Wijesundera and Rudra Rajasingham to quit but they are staying on.

Mr. Rajasingham said the investigative policemen of the commission were moved out in three batches. The first batch was removed by the police department on the ground that they were needed to provide more security after the Dalada Maligawa bomb explosion. The reason given for the removal of the second batch was that extra security was needed for the visit of Prince Charles. No reason given for the removal of the third batch, Mr. Rajasingham said, apparently not pleased with what his old department was doing.

Police Headquarters Personnel Director C. Kombalavitha confirmed that all police officials from the Commission had been transferred out, but did not say why a new batch had not been assigned for vital investigations into hundreds of bribery and corruption allegations against top personalities including former ministers and present VIPs.

Mr. Rajasingham said yesterday he did not wish to comment on why the Commission was in such a position but he pledged that no one could pressurise the commissioners to resign.

Missing household items

Ex-Army chief on the mat

The Ministry of Defence has challenged upon the former Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Gerry de Silva, to explain how a long list of household items have gone missing from the General's House when he relinquished command.

General's House located at the heavily secured Bauddhaloka Mawatha is the official residence of the army Commander.

The Ministry's letter , The Sunday Times learns, has been forwarded through the Foreign Ministry to Lt. Gen. De Silva who is currently Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in Pakistan.

Lt. Gen. De Silva moved into General's House in 1994 after he succeeded Lt. Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne, who like his own predecessor, is now facing charges in courts for criminal misappropriation of funds.

The MOD letter to Lt. Gen. de Silva follows inquiries conducted by Army Headquarters soon after Lt. Gen. De Silva moved out of his official residence. Army sources said a variety of things from an itemised inventory had gone missing.

Lalith Front says it's weighing all options

The United Lalith Front(ULF) is having talks with the UNP and other parties on the coming provincial elections but it has not yet taken a decision on any alliance, party leader Srimani Athulathmudalli said.

Amidst media speculation that the Lalith Front would formally break from the ruling PA and loin the UNP, Ms. Athulathmudalli said no final decision had been taken though she and other party members were disappointed over the treatment given to them by the PA.

She said the Lalith Front was weighing all options and would taken a decision soon in the highest interest of the party and the people.

PERC bosses summoned by COPE

By Frederica Jansz

As the dispute over the AirLanka-Emirates deal grows, the chairman and the director general of the Pubic Enterprises Reform Commission (PERC) will be summoned before a Parliamentary committee to probe whether they misled the committee regarding the controversial partnership.

Deputy Minister Reggie Ranatunga who heads the Parliamentary Committee On Public Enterprise (COPE), has agreed to summon PERC Chairman P.B. Jayasundera, and Director General Mano Tittewella to ask why they refused to divulge details to MPs when they testified a day before the Cabinet approved the deal.

If the officials are found to have misled the committee it would amount to a breach of Parliamentary Privilege.

The Commission officials were summoned before the committee of MPs on March 24 and among other issues the privatization of AirLanka was brought up.

They were reportedly evasive when MPs questioned them as to whether the deal with Emirates had been finalised- but the next day the cabinet approved the deal, indicating that it would have been finalised by then, a COPE member said.

Mr. Tittewella is on record as having said on March 24, that negotiations were continuing with Emirates and so, he could not divulge details.

However, it has since come to light that the cabinet paper for the deal was already signed before March 24 by president Chandrika Kumaratunga and Aviation and Tourism Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake. Mr. Tittewella told The Sunday Times he did not mislead COPE and there appeared to be a complete misinterpretation of facts.

He claimed that until the cabinet approved the deal, he could not divulge details of the talks as the cabinet could have made amendments. On Wednesday COPE member Ravi Karunanayake wrote to Committee Chairman Ranatunga, questioning whether the top officials of PERC had concealed information when they presented themselves before COPE on March 24.

Mr. Karunanayake said details given by the PERC officials to COPE appeared to have been false and misleading.

He said the PERC officials had appeared before COPE only some 14 hours before the cabinet approved the deal.

The deal had also been sanctioned by Aviation Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake who left Sri Lanka on March 22. This showed that the deal had been finalised before March 22.

Special US, British envoy coming here

By Imran Vittachi

Mid-April will bring flurry of diplomacy to Sri Lanka with separate visits to Colombo by special envoys from the United States and Britain, according to diplomats.

Bill Richardson, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, will arrive here on April 18 for a day-long visit, along with Karl Inderfuth, the Assistant Secretary of Sate for South Asian Affairs and Special Envoy on Global Humanitarian De-Mining, the United States Embassy said yesterday.

Almost at the same time, Derek Fatchett, Mr. Inderfuth's counterpart in the Britain's Labour Government and successor to Dr. Lima Fox - the Tony emissary who in 1997 mediated between Sri Lanka's main political parties- will also visit later this month, diplomats confirmed.

The Richardson visit, although brief, would mark one of the highest-ranking visits to Sri Lanaka by an American official.

Although a programme for his visit has not been set, Mr. Richardson is expected to meet President Chandrika Banadaranaike Kumaratunga and other Sri Lanka officials, including senior members of the main opposition UNP, a U.S. spokesperson told The Sunday Times.

Meanwhile, British Minister of State Derek Fatchett- whose mandate covers South Asia, West Asia and North Africa- will call here as part of a maiden tour of South Asian nations, marking the first to Sri Lanka by a junior minister from London since Tony Blair took over as Britain's Prime Minister in May 1997.

According to diplomatic sources, he is expected to meet with President Kumaratunga, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadiragamar, and UNP leader.

Reports about Mr. Fatchett's imminent visit have fuelled speculation that the Blair Government might be making its own diplomatic overtures with the People's Alliance Government and main opposition UNP where the 15-year old conflict with the LTTE is concerned.

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