10th May 1998
Eruption of corruption
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, our lobby correspondent.
At the opening of the new Parliamentary Complex in Kotte, President J. R. Jayawardene’s speech contained much hope of exemplary people’s representatives who would do the country proud. He said, “In this temple of democracy let us so conduct ourselves for the welfare of the many generations yet unborn …… that within this chamber our words and conduct represented our finest hours.”
If the Speaker’s constant complaints, constant trading of insults and
the general erosion in democracy are anything to go by, this is a voter’s
paradise gone sour!
As is customary, Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte on Thursday took exactly five minutes to move the motion to extend emergency. But if he has mastered the art of short deliveries, UNP’s W.J.M. Lokubandara differed in approach as he blended wit with humour.
“Despite the Minister’s assurances that the Dalada Maligawa reconstruction was progressing, just last week the whole area was flooded due to a lack of temporary roof — a barometer of the government’s efficiency in protecting the symbol of national security.
“The attack on Iqbal Athas was called an ‘occupational hazard’. It also appeared that certain ministers had ‘occupational privilege’ of unlawful enrichment or shooting one’s mouth at will,” he said.
Adroitly changing topics, the irrepressible member said the postal strike was aggravated by the stupidity and stubbornness of the government, which affected eager lovers and soldiers alike.
The situation would worsen, he warned, adding that one foolish politician threatened to send UNP members on ‘no pay’ for boycotting parliament while another was busy heaping scorn on trade unions.
Sustaining the clan, UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale sought to establish corruption in high places and violations of tender procedures. “There were glaring irregularities in procurement of arms, specially in the Air Force.
“The former Commander made whimsical purchases, one such being a Remiss Sesna. There was an Evaluation Committee appointed, and a bogus vote was taken to support this purchase. The Air Force was reeking with corruption,” he thundered. But there were bolts from the government benches who chorused to say the UNP leader’s alleged statement urging youths not to join the forces was treacherous.
UNP and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was enjoying every bit of his lieutenant’s delivery sprang to his feet in hot denial. “You deliberately misinterpret. I said conscription of school children was wrong, specially with Minister Kadirgamar successfully campaigning against LTTE conscripting students. If I am a traitor, so is he,” he exclaimed.
Firing his anti-aircraft gun, Mr. Atukorale said the Kfir aircraft was an old model, and only Israel was equipped to provide spares, and that too after considerable time. Tenders were being awarded to persons with dubious records, he charged, while UNP back bencher Rajitha Senaratne jumped up in protest claiming action was filed against him for a paltry Rs. 7,000 while the bigwigs made millions.
Following him was PA General Secretary D.M. Jayaratne. Referring to a call for a debate on military procurements, he said: “Yours is not a quest for justice but a desire to restore your badly tarnished images. Your gallery talk does not impress people who know the agonies of UNP tyranny.” The UNP Leader, quick on the draw, asked him whether it was correct to purchase outdated guns.
“I do not know of procurements,” he said, accusing the Opposition Leader of making traitorous remarks detrimental to national interest.
It was UNP’s Tilak Karunaratne who pointed out that the attempt on journalist Iqbal Athas’ life had to be further investigated, specially in view of the latest developments where Air Force officers having direct links with the ex- Air Force chief had been identified as part of the gang.
Those who unlawfully amassed wealth were putting up business towers in the heart of the city, and that deserved a special inquiry, he said stirring the topic of corruption again.
In a virulent outburst, PA’s Kurunegala member, T. B. Ekanayake thundered that UNP was making Wijeyapala Mendis the sacrificial lamb when the entire rank and file of the UNP was reeking with corruption, as rightly pointed out by Mr. Mendis whenever he was blamed for the controversial land deal.
“Mr. Mendis, a senior UNP MP has objected to a committee probing his conduct, claiming that none could expel him. Unlawful enrichment was a tradition in the UNP , and this was merely an attempt to defend other corrupt elements within the party.”
The perennial lone voice, SLPF’s Nihal Galappatty was next, accusing the government of unpardonable sins. “The UNP was affected by amnesia and the PA by viral flu.. There was a PA created media mafia to vilify the trade unions and misinterpret facts.”
The angry member said that President Kumaratunga had no right to claim that the SLFP protected workers’ rights. During Mr. Bandaranaike’s rule, there were 380 strikes which were ruthlessly crushed. The PA has adapted the UNP style in governance — from disappearances to arbitrary arrest of workers.
“Some elements shamelessly branded Iqbal Athas as a traitor in cahoots with the LTTE and owner of a house of ill fame. It appears that these people had direct links with the Air Force. Why not launch a probe when a man is under constant threat rather than doing it after he is murdered?”
Burly Gamini Lokuge, a recent convert to championing trade union causes from UNP platforms claimed the PA rule was characterized by loss of military equipment and wildcat strikes. The anarchic rule has destroyed public faith, hence the reluctance to join forces.
“Why conscript school children and not the unemployed 30,000 Samurdhi animators? Despite the rhetoric, the government has ruthlessly crushed trade unions and was unjustly heaping scorn on the opposition for its lack of management skill,” he said. Breathing fire was Posts, Telecommunications and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was quick to pin blame on the UNP for the continuing postal crisis. As the Minister berated the UNP, the PA members in a spirit of comradeship shouted ‘balla, booruwa’- words now liberally used inside the House.
“This is not a workers’ struggle but a UNP-JVP conspiracy,” Mr. Samaraweera said. The Minister who often makes a habit of putting his foot in the mouth said he had come to an agreement with unions but they decided to change stance owing to instigations by a dentist from ‘Norris Canal Road,’ — a comment which provoked UNP members to shout in protest, compelling the Chair to admonish the errant members that it was not the May Day rally to shout so much and warned of bodily removal from the house, if the situation went out of control.
“We are not oppressors stifling voice of the people,” Mr. Samaraweera thundered, adding that remote control unions could not assist in solving problems. Promising tough action, he said already 178 had been dismissed and a similar fate would befall those violating procedure. But he also said that doors for talks were not closed.
Minister Ratwatte in reply accused ‘The Sunday Times’ of publishing a ‘traitorous and mischievous’ report to undermine the government’s military recruitment drive.
“The story is an utter falsehood which does not name the source and it was detrimental to the national interest. The UNP has forgotten that there existed an unofficial Eelam during its regime,” the Minister charged. But Wednesday’s debate on amendments to the Penal Code and related legislation provoked no heated battles, with the law professor and Minister G.L Peiris laboriously explaining why new laws were required to prevent child abuse.
Though the learned professor thought the legislation was crucial, his side did not, as the speeches were delivered to empty and subdued parliament.
“Laws cannot remain archaic and static, for they must reflect current needs, extending special protection to vulnerable sections of society. Hereafter, using persons below 18 years for begging attracted criminal sanctions, and so did procurement of young persons for grave sexual abuse, trafficking of dangerous articles and pornography. Attempted suicide was decriminalized for such persons needed counselling and not a jail term.
Comparing the PA’s exuberance in introducing legislation to uphold lofty ideals to a theatre performance at Navarangahala, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accused the government of showing a reluctance to implement laws.
“If not for G.L.’s legislative programme, Parliament need not sit so often, and there won’t be work to do,” he scoffed. Adding sense to the whole question of legislation and child abuse, TULF’s Neelan Thiruchelvam pointed out that it was mandatory to couple laws with social reform programmes to achieve goals. Laws alone were inadequate deterrents, specially in a country with more than 30,000 child prostitutes.
The affable UNP member from Kandy, A. C.S. Hameed glossed over laws delays and the exorbitant legal costs. Quoting Lord Denning, he said: “Justice was like the Ritz Hotel, anybody could go in, but one must be ready to pay the price.”
Does it violate the Constitution?
The Church Bill
By Mallika Wanigasundara
Seven Buddhist organisations made repre- sentations to the Secretary General of Par- liament in November 1996 and later protested to Standing Committee B (chaired by Rauf Hakeem) against a Private Members Bill for the Administration and regulation of the Church of Ceylon, for incorporation of Bishops and Trustees and the repeal of existing Church Ordinances governing the activities of the Church of Ceylon.
The Bill was presented in Parliament by the Hon. D.P. Wickremasinghe on May 12, 1996. The representations were made by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, the World Fellowship of Buddhists, Sri Lanka, the Sinhala Arakshaka Sanvidhanaya, the Dharma Vijaya Foundation, the YMBA, SUCCESS, Colombo and the All Ceylon Womens’ Buddhist Congress.
In June 1997 the organisations were summoned before the Standing Committee B and at that meeting they outlined some of their objections to the Bill. Those included their opposition to the empowerment of the Church of Ceylon to create Dioceses in any part of the country. Another objection related to the fact that the Act would empower the Church to set up a Constituent Assembly, to draw up and adopt a Constitution at some future date AFTER the enactment of the Act.
The Bill which was due to be taken up in Parliament for its third and final reading on May 5, 1998 but now put down does not contain a copy of the new Constitution for the Church of Ceylon.
At a press conference held last week spokespersons for the Buddhist Organisations expressed their displeasure at the treatment meted out to them by Standing Committee B and the course of events which followed leading to the second reading of the Bill on March 18, 1998.
The Buddhist Organisations demand that the third reading of the Bill be postponed until the Bill undergoes further changes and the Church presents their new Constitution to Parliament along with the present Bill. At the meeting with Standing Committee B Mr. Hakeem assured the representatives that the Bill in its present form would be frozen and the Bishops would be requested to present Parliament with a new Constitution.
These organisations were invited again to meet the Standing Committee. At the press conference, one of the spokesmen, Gamini Perera of the Dharma Vijaya Foundation, said that they went to Parliament under the impression that the Church of Ceylon Constitution was ready and that there would be further discussions.
To our consternation, Mr. Perera said, we were told that the Attorney General had ruled that the Bill in its present form did not violate the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Proceedings concluded abruptly and we were told that the Bill would be presented in Parliament.
Spokespersons at the press conference included Dr. Anula Wijesundera (SUCCESS) and Prof. M.B. Ariyapala. The press conference was called to explain to the media the implications of the Bill and the impact it would have on the country.
Surprisingly there were two adherents of the Anglican faith at the press conference and they too expressed their objections to the Bill. They said that it violated their fundamental rights as Christians, and deprived them of the right to have a democratic say in the affairs of the Church. The Bill they said would concentrate extensive powers in the Bishops and this they said was unacceptable to sections of the Anglican faith.
Both the Buddhist and Anglican spokespersons agreed that the Bill was illegal as it has not met with the articulations as laid down in the Church of England in Ceylon Ordinance No. 6 of 1885 and other relevant ordinances which the proposed Act seeks to repeal and replace.
Mr. Sidney Perera, a member of the Church of Ceylon in his criticism of the Bill says, that it is illegal because it did not get a two-thirds majority of the House of Clergy and the House of Laity, voting separately as provided for by the existing ordinances and upheld by a Constitutional Court ruling in 1975.
The Buddhists fear that the Church of Ceylon, empowered by an Act of Parliament would be in an enhanced position to make inroads into Buddhist areas for proselytisation.
At present there are only two Church of Ceylon Dioceses in Colombo and Kurunegala. The Act would empower the Church to create Dioceses in any part of the country and appoint Bishops in their charge.
The Church of Ceylon would be able to spread its wings, expand and penetrate into any Buddhist area and plant Churches in any of the 25,000 villages in Sri Lanka, Dr. Wijesundera said. This would compound the unethical conversion of the poor into Christianity by evengelical Chiristian sects which are doing so freely, she said.
When the security situation is so unstable, why is there a hurry to push this Bill through Parliament, Mr. Gamini Perera asked. No one knows what the content of the Church’s new Constitution is going to be. He would like to see it and satisfy ourselves that we, the Buddhists will not be adversely affected, he said.
Among the provisions of the Bill are the following:
1. The Bill seeks to repeal all existing Church of Ceylon Ordinances and replace them with this Act.
2. The Church could create Dioceses anywhere in the country.
3. Every Bishop of a Diocese will be a corporate body, shall have perpetual succession, and full power to acquire, purchase, accept, take, hold, take on lease, enjoy movable and immovable property of any description. It can sell, mortgage, let, lease and otherwise deal in any manner whatsoever with the same and may sue and be sued in its corporate name.
4. All property movable or immovable vested now or in the future shall devolve on and be vested in the Bishop.
5. There will be established a corporation known as the ‘Incorporated Trustees of the Church of Ceylon? with members appointed by the Diocesan Councils.
6. A Constituent Assembly of 32 members (five clergy and five laity to be appointed by the Bishops) will draw up and adopt the Constitution.
Another spokesman from the Church says that this present Bill seeks to circumvent a 1975 decision of the Constitutional Court which overruled an attempt by the Church at unification. The Bill was turned down by the Court.
Killing a generation
By victimising children, the war slowly devours the future of the country
By Frederica Jansz
An estimated nine hundred thousand children (900,000) are victims of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict.
According to Save the Children Fund (SCF), 40% of a total population of 2.2 million persons, in the north and east consist of children-children living in Jaffna, Mannar, Wanni and the Eastern province- who are in more ways than one witness to, and casualties of the present war.
It is estimated that 488,000 children have been affected in the eastern province while in Jaffna and other areas it is 260,000. In the Wanni the number is estimated at 188,000.
However there are no statistics available to determine how many children have been, and continue to be, conscripted by the LTTE, in its fight for a separate state.
SCF maintains that 10,000 children from a total of 66,000 living in LTTE controlled areas, are unable to go to school due to the war.
The LTTE has been using boys and girls as young as ten years old in its fight for Eelam against the armed forces of Sri Lanka. This was confirmed in the 1996 study by Graca Machel of Mozambique, on the impact of armed conflicts on children. UNICEF maintains that the LTTE dependence on child combatants is increasing rapidly.
In October last year, following a heavy battle when government security forces attempted to gain control on the highway to Killinochchi, troops are reported to have found 36 bodies of very young children of both sexes.
The Machel study has observed with reference to Sri Lanka, that “Adults have used young people’s immaturity to their own advantage, recruiting and training adolescents for suicide bombings.”
Joe Mahes, from Guyana, and Planning Officer for UNICEF in Sri Lanka, told The Sunday Times, that while there is anecdotal evidence that children are being conscripted by the LTTE, such evidence has not yet been verified.
The LTTE have denied kidnapping and forcing children to fight its separatist war. Mahes said, that Mr. Olara Otunnu, Special Rappoteur to the Secretary General of the United Nations in his meeting with LTTE representatives in the Wanni last Wednesday, advocated that the rebel organization should refrain from conscripting children. “Only time will prove if such advocacy will bear fruit,” Mahes said.
Even children living in Colombo have been affected as a result of the war when there have been bomb blasts.
According to UNICEF, between 1985 and 1989 as a result of the southern insurrection, and much violence, left in its wake, an aftermath of affected families including children.
Many Sinhalese and Muslim children too are victims of the war. Children living on the borders of three districts, that of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Puttalam have also been killed and maimed and have been witness to extreme forms of brutality and violence.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on April 16, this year at the 54th session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva said, the ICRC is not satisfied with the results of the latest session of the Working Group which has made limited progress on the issue of the optional protocol which it asserts does not enhance the protection of children in armed conflict.
The ICRC maintains that the practice of recruiting children into armed forces or armed groups and of allowing them to take part in hostilities constitute war crimes, whether they occur in the context of international or internal conflicts.
They must be punished accordingly. This is why the ICRC continues to argue that these practices must be included in the list of war crimes falling under the jurisdiction of the international criminal court. The United Nations has called for action to protect children from armed conflict whereby children are caught up in wars in which they are not mere bystanders, but targets. And more shockingly like in the case of Sri Lanka, where children are used as combatants.
Children recruited by the LTTE may often start out in a support function to the rebel organization. However, it is merely a matter of time, before they are forced onto the battle field
The LTTE has been accused of kidnapping or luring children into its call for Eelam by glorifying and romanticizing the war. Tamil children are reportedly brainwashed into believing in the cult of martyrdom. Unconfirmed reports allege that in some cases, Tamil children have been forced to commit atrocities against their own families as a way of severing ties with their communities.
UNICEF strongly supports the finalization of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, making clear the recognition of the fact that children under the age of 18 should not be recruited or forced into armed forces.
Protection only becomes meaningful if a clear ban is made on the direct and indirect participation of children below 18 in hostilities, regardless of whether they have been forced to join, or voluntarily decided to join an armed group.
UNICEF says that there is little doubt that a whole generation of children in Sri Lanka are now growing up in an environment of war, perceiving violence as almost normal. The conflict areas have an underlying situation of grave economic and social deprivation. Bradman Weerakoon, a Member of the Committee on the International Convention of the Rights of The Child said while the Government of Sri Lanka had ratified the international humanitarian convention, what had been of immediate concern was the implementation of such legislation. The LTTE claims to honour such legislation but continues to break the law.
There is also a need they say, to establish special protection measures for children, particularly those who have been traumatised, disabled and unaccompanied. UNICEF claims that there is reason to believe that there are large numbers of unaccompanied children both in the Northern and Eastern provinces as well as the border areas.
At present, they say, there is no process in place to identify such children. These children are being exploited and taken into unauthorised “orphanages”.
They are also being taken as domestic servants to the big cities. There are also NGO reports of such children being sexually exploited. There is at present, no organised system to protect and help these children, and hence they are vulnerable to exploitation.
Next step a United States of Europe
World News Analysis
By Jonathan Power
“Some frontiers are only in the imagination” wrote Jan Morris in her “Fifty Years of Europe”. Prince Metternich used to say the frontier of Asia was at the Landstrasse, the street which ran towards Hungary away from Vienna’s city walls. It is also said that Konard Adenauer, the first chancellor of West Germany after World War 2, held similar feelings about Prussia. He was a Rhinelander, and whenever his train crossed the Elbe, on its way eastward to Berlin, he too would groan, “Hier beginnt Asien” and pull the blinds down.
After last week-end’s momentous event, the launching of the single currency, the Europeans now have to consider where they go next. Do they in fact need frontiers within Europe any more? If they can come this far, shouldn’t they let their imaginations work further and complete the journey to a United States of Europe?
By any measure of history the European monetary union is a milestone. Those who try to put it into perspective by comparing it with the long forgotten monetary union of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor or, in more recent years, the failed shilling that linked Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda miss the point.
This single currency of western Europe is not only a more sophisticated concept, resting on the most rigorous monetary discipline that was taken years to perfect, it is part and parcel of a union, that like no other in history, has voluntarily wedded a majority of the world’s most developed economies which, if they had chosen, could have continued reasonably well as independent economic entities.
The reason they chose not to is essentially idealistic and visionary. Of course, economic union, starting with a customs union for iron and steel in the 1950s and maturing today into a single currency zone does have economic benefits - we know that from the stunning twentieth century success of the greatest continental economy of them all, the USA. But on its own, long-term, economic self-interest was never enough to drive Europe’s horses through and over the forest of hedgerows and fences that lay in their path. It was to end war, to remove the causes of belligerency and to create institutions that would further the development of democracy and to push forward the supremacy of human rights law out of reach of the meddling of the politicians and bureaucrats.So what next? The question will not disappear simply because the process of the change-over of currencies is fairly complex and will take a few years to resolve. Nor because the issue of British, Swedish, Danish and Greek entry still has to be sorted out. Nor, even, because the new Europe has to realize that it has to bite the bullet on Turkish entry, a necessary Muslim counterweight to the monolithic Christian culture of Europe.
No one more personifies the quest for a united Europe than Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In the push for the single currency he has not had the majority of the German people behind him. Nor did he have the Bundesbank. But the German parliament gave the go-ahead with an overwhelming majority. Scarred by a brother dying in combat in World War 2 and by his own teenage years as a conscript, he has nurtured and brought to fruition a dream that many of Europe’s sophisticated commentators, at one time or another, have misinterpreted, maligned or, too casually, derided.
As the single currency becomes ingrained in everyday habits a united Europe will seem a more natural evolution. It may take another quarter of a century to realize but it is probably inevitable that the frontiers of Europe which are set to become more and more “only in the imagination” will begin to disintegrate.
(This column is syndicated to and appears today also in Bangkok Post, Boston Globe, Dawn, Japan Times, Los Angeles Times, Manila Chronicle, New Straits Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Statesman, Toronto Star and many other leading newspapers of the world.)
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