17th May 1998
Inquiries of Commissions
From the green corner
By Viruddha Paakshikaya
Reading from the "Blue Corner" last week, I cannot but help appeal to my learned friend, Paakshikaya to stop this duel of slinging mud at each other. Paakshikaya's - and his revered leader's - favourite theme is about what the UNP did in office from 1977 to 1994. Come on Paakshikaya, I think enough is enough about what the UNP did in office, because the people did oust us - thanks to a free and fair poll conducted by us - and the PA took over, if only by the skin of their teeth.
Paakshikaya wanted to discuss "issues". I only did not want him (or her) to get away by making allegations against the UNP and then pontificating on talking of issues.
So, let us open a new dimension to our debate, shall we, Paakshikaya? I am challenging you to debate on the most crucial issue facing this country today (you wanted to talk of issues didn't you?) - that of the on going war.
We all celebrated one year of Operation 'Jaya Sikurui' - the longest single military campaign in Sri Lanka's history - on May 13 and a day after the officer in overall command of the Vadamarachchi sector had to sacrifice his life is symbolic irony.
Your camouflaged hero - General Anuruddha Ratwatte said he will shake Prabhakaran's hand by February fourth, but instead Prabhakaran shook the Temple of the Tooth Relic, two weeks before that!
Of course, the General fought back in style - not hitting back at the LTTE but with a "public" outcry for his resignation, and that too only as a Deputy Minister of Defence! The mock resignation was followed by its refusal. What a show!
Be that as it may, what I want to say here and now are just two things: First do not think Paakshikaya, that the UNP gets a kick out of military debacles or that it wants the LTTE to win, just to discredit the PA. We are only too aware the LTTE problem will be foremost in our own agenda when we come to office in the year 2000. We would rather have you clear the decks for us than having to do the dirty work ourselves.
But secondly, is the PA doing a genuine job of taming the Tigers? Your government has taken two former Army Commanders (who held office during the UNP) to Courts - one for allegedly making some five million rupees out of a Ukrainian arms tender, the other for allegedly playing out on the food rations to soldiers. And a third Commander (who served in the transition period between the UNP and the PA) is now being questioned about the loss of some household items from the Commander's Official Bungalow!
While we don't condone any offence - the guilty must be punished - what is being done about the colossal amounts of money that are being 'commissioned' before our very eyes in arms deals since 1994?
So far, Mr. (or Ms.) Paakshikaya, we have been trying to bicker about trains with ship engines and Airbuses. But all these pale into insignificance when one considers the arms purchases that have been going on.
I'm not good at keeping records (or paper cuttings, like Paakshikaya) - I rely on my memory. But I do recall the instance when NORINCO the sole manufacturer of armaments of the People's Republic of China complained to our Defence Secretary, the versatile Chandrananda de Silva that somebody was using PLA (China's People's Liberation Army) Generals through a Hong Kong based company to finger these government to government purchases looking for commissions.
What came of this? I recall that the letter was either tabled in Parliament or published in the newspapers. It was deftly swept under the carpet.
Then, I also remember how the PA cancelled some Ukrainian arms deals entered into by the UNP and then went on and signed the same deal! How come, Paakshikaya, why the change of heart?
Then, the MI - 24 Helicopter deal stinks to high heavens. At last, the government has appointed a Committee of Inquiry into it. But I have my doubts if anything tangible will come out of these inquiries if they were to tarnish the image of the 'transparent' PA.
The past administration of the Air Force has been rather touchy when newspapers especially The Sunday Times exposed what seemed to be prima facie irregularities in the procurements of the SLAF.
But, Paakshikaya, have you ever heard of a Presidential Committee of Inquiry headed by the Defence Ministry Secretary and including an ex-Airforce Chief, ex-Army Chief, ex-Police Chief and the Additional Solicitor General unanimously finding that procurement is faulty in the SLAF, that the Commander himself is at fault. But then, surprise, surprise, the Commander turns around and says, when asked about the report of the committee - "what report?"
That is precisely why that one can expect little from the Commissions of Inquiry into the purchase of the Russian built MI - 24s, despite The Sunday Times Defence Correspondent Iqbal Athas' exposes on the issue for which he was rewarded with a gun pointed at his head. So, for all your Commissions of Inquiry, Paakshikaya, we will have to have another Inquiry of Commission when we come to power!
We have also seen for ourselves huge buildings come up in Central Colombo almost overnight, some of them, so they say, with a birds' eye view of the official bedrooms of senior government personalities. Who owns these buildings? Some say the buildings are all legitimate business but many say the promoters have made unconscionable profits, that they are profiteers of this war and that the spoils of war have been well spread among the high and mighty.
So, Paakshikaya, that is why this war is dragging on and this Nation is dying a slow death.
As I write I suddenly get philosophical. Yes, there are those who made a lot of money during the UNP's heyday. They too made "unconscionable" profits, at the expense of the people of this country. They wormed their way into the corridors of power. They shared the loot with some of us, but not all of us. Where are they today? Where is their wealth? A few took their money and themselves overseas, but I wonder whether they sleep well at night? They were the ones who were responsible for the eventual downfall of the UNP - a party that did so much for the upliftment of the economic standards of a people who in 1977 were living like beggars with food rations, queues, no proper clothing and no foreign exchange. Despite the UNP changing all that and revolutionising the economy, the bad eggs did us in.
Will the PA not learn, Paakshikaya my friend? Is history correct in saying that one lesson we learn from history is that nobody learns from history?
Excerpts of the speech made by the General Secretary of the UNP, Gamini Atukorale on May 7 during the debate on the extension of the emergency
Mr. Speaker, Once again, the Minister of Power and Energy and Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte has moved the motion seeking to extend emergency. The motion makes references to the specified areas where emergency will be imposed, such as Hanwella, Kolonnawa,Kaduwela, Nugegoda, Maharagama, Moratuwa etc; in the Colombo District, but does not include Kesbewa and Homagama. I would like to know the reason for this, whether it is due to a mistake or some other reason.
PA Colombo District MP Dixon J. Perera: Must be a printing mistake.
Mr. Atukorale: A printing mistake indeed!
A.H.M. Azwer: It is a serious printing error.
UNP members: Kesbewa has a specially appointed Governor, but not him.
Mr. Atukorale: The Army has a camp in Homagama and Kesbewa is also a significant area. I would like to know why such important areas were missed out.
Govt benches: We will draw the Minister's attention to it.
Mr. Atukorale: These glaring lapses indicate the government's lack of attention.
Mr. Speaker, my friend Dixon J. Perera who spoke before me glossed over certain statements made in the recent past.
In six days dawns the first anniversary of Operation Jaya Sikurui. I clearly recall how the Deputy Defence Minister having launched this operation on the May 13,1997 addressed this House, brimming with fresh hope that the war could be concluded in two months time. But these deadlines had to be extended on several occasions.
Christmas passed, and New Year passed, but what has happened today? Minister Ratwatte now claims that the continuation of this process would require another 15,000 cadres. An amnesty has been granted to deserters and appeals have been made to them to join the operation. During the last two years, there have been at least eight such amnesties granted.
Recently on TNL television Mr. Harry Goonethileke who contributed so much to establish a PA government made a comment on this. Sri Lanka must be holding a world record for the highest number of military deserters. This merits special inquiry. The reason is the lack of leadership.
The Opposition Leader has categorically stated that Jaya Sikurui was a failure. If this was untrue, how could there be the need for15,000 more cadres? Then there is another statement that those between 18-30 years of age would be conscripted. I seek a clarification on this matter.
On one side, there is Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar accusing the LTTE of conscripting minors. Isn't that so Mr. Speaker. You are nodding in acknowledgment. But what was expressed when the UN's special envoy visited the country?
I think this was the best campaign launched by Minister Kadirgamar. So much of international level campaigning has gone into this. But there is some conflict of interest in some quarters which destroy those efforts.
Why do trained personnel desert the Army? One government member speaks of ushering peace through the Sudu Nelum programme, and another of a political package. Yet another claims the war would be over in so many months.
When the rank and file of the government are divided in opinion, does it not affect the armed forces as well? Would it attract people to enlist? These are the real issues. But the government got unduly disturbed when the Opposition Leader spoke the truth.
Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe:
Mr. Atukorale has already mentioned it but I think I should formally put on record what I said. I said the day before yesterday that we are against recruiting school children under this campaign. One of the few successful campaigns we have had in this war against the LTTE, is what the Miniser of Foreign Affairs, Lakshman Kadirgamar has conducted abroad focussing attention on the fact that children are being used by the LTTE. We have run campaigns internationally and this is one of the few successful ones.
I must commend the Minister for that. But on the day the UN special rapporteur came to Sri Lanka, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, gets up and says that the Army is going to run a campaign in schools to recruit students who are 15 years and above, for the Army. So, in one blow, he undermined the whole campaign which Lakshman Kadirgamar conducted .
We are against going into schools. We are for voluntary conscription. You can have voluntary ones for school leavers. But here, when you go into the schools and say you are doing it and you say it publicly - when a Minister involved in this campaign says it publicly, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs had got the special rapporteur down to brief him further and to put pressure on the LTTE, what you have done is, you have undermined the campaign by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. So, the traitor then cannot be ........
You will have to discover traitors from elsewhere, not here. I spoke the truth, and for that I am called a traitor. If I am a traitor so is Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar.
I think the SLBC can give publicity to that Sir.
Speaker K. B. Ratnayake: Order Please! Please sit down. The Deputy Speaker will now take the chair.
Mr. Atukorale: Mr. Deputy speaker, I am pleased to speak while you are occupying the chair. Our leader now made a categorical statement.
Conflicting views are being expressed today on this issue. The Minister in charge, general Ratwatte says one thing and another minister expresses another thing
The reality is this. The PA's war effort was similar to a cocktail. No wonder people refrain from enlisting while others continue to desert the forces. The same situation shall prevail, be it school children being enlisted or conscripted. Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is massive corruption in the military procurement process. Are these encouraging signs?
Please take cognizance of the recent attack on The Sunday Times journalist Iqbal Athas who exposed these corrupt activities. What happened after that? Mr. Athas began receiving constant death threats. Who has been arrested in that connection?
This is how the "Dinamina" of 5.6. 98 reported the incident. I am quoting from the government newspaper.
It says that those responsible for the attack on Mr. Iqbal Athas on February 12, 1998 have been arrested. But the "Mid Week Mirror" states thus: Oliver's bodyguard identified".
Who is this Oliver's bodyguard? The bodyguard of former Air Force Chief Oliver Ranasinghe. What does the "Lankadeepa" of May 6, 1998 say? Two Air Force officers have been remanded in connection with the attack on Mr. Athas.
What is the purpose in submitting all these here? Sir, when mal practices are exposed it results in assault, and when corruption is exposed there is even attempt at murder! The entire country has been gripped by these sinister forces. But such acts are conveniently 6LABELled as the work of underworld gangsters'.
Here the references are to the former Air Force commander Oliver Ranasinghe. On the last occasion when the motion for the extension of emergency was taken up, I tried to expose corruption. Not only Oliver Ranasinghe, but the Defence Secretary,the Deputy Defence Minister and Defence Minister should be held responsible for these extreme levels of corruption. All these people are connected.
How can people bring matters to the notice of authorities when there is the fear of intimidation and possible death? And who would wish to enlist either?
Deputy Speaker, it is a matter of grave concern when outdated military equipment is being purchased. This resulted in low levels of productivity by our valiant troops whose lives are destroyed for no purpose. This is the scenario in which there is mass deserting by our forces. It is to destroy future generations that recruitment drives are being proposed at school level. This should clear the confusion over the issue in selecting the actual traitors.
Sir, take the situation prevailing in the Air force at present. The Minister of Power and Energy and Deputy Defence Minister in his concluding remarks during the previous debate on emergency extension had mentioned the appointment of a special committee to probe into these allegations. I will reply to that at the end.
Corruption within the Air Force is not confined to procurements alone. There are gross violations of all laws and financial regulations.
The officer in charge of the Air force Camp in Diyatalawa, Base Commander Squadron Leader Palitha Obeysekera deserves special mention. I recall that this name has often come up in Parliamentary debates. He has been allowed to spend Rs. 400,000 monthly without any tender procedure.
He has continued to spend in this manner for the last 30 months. How did he escape the law? I shall elucidate with the facts I do know. He has authority to spend up to Rs. 50,000 without resorting to the tender procedure, but the question is how?
1225.Quotation for the purchase of chandeliers.
Letter PUR/1321/15/EQ dated 5th June, 1996.Tender Board approved the purchase from the lowest source, M/s Central Electricals Rs.32,000
1229. Quotation for the purchase of another chandelier.
It is the same letter. Tender Board approved the purchase from the lowest source, Ms Central Rs. 32,000.
when you add up the two claims, it amounts to Rs. 64,000. The claims were separated for this purpose. This is only an example. I do not know why such things are done. They must be living in an entirely different world. This is how these people operate.
Deputy Speaker, I have plenty to say about his conduct. Finally he was given a two year scholarship. This is the reward for all his actions. When the same scholarship was offered to the Army, what did they say?
"We cannot afford. We are not sending anyone."
But the Air force sent this person and he was replaced by another officer, wing Commander K.J.C. Samarabandu.
Govt. benches: Why don't you submit these things to the committee?
Mr. Atukorale: It would be similar to seeking redress from the thief's mother! I want to be brief Sir, and I wish to read a letter next.
This is a letter issued by the Air force, and even contains a minute by former Commander Oliver Ranasinghe. It states thus:
"Qty. 12 of 23 mm weapons received under Order Y 6061 were allocated to No.9Sqn. H'goda. The said weapons have been degreased and found as used weapons except for one weapon bearing S/number."
They have given a serial number.
"Undersigned had personally inspected these weapons." This letter is written by Air Commodore de Silva.
Sir, all the defects in the purchased weapons are mentioned here. What is mentioned next?
" The passport (Log Book) of the above weapon indicates that these weapons are new weapons."
"Please note that these weapons were received without the Flash Hiders and the Gun Pods and presently they are unable to utilize for Ops commitments."
In this backdrop Sir, who are the traitors? Those who purchase outmoded weapons, ones which cannot be fired and thereby putting our soldiers lives at stake(interruptions). Thereafter it is so mentioned.
" It is requested to inform the above facts to the supplier and withhold payment until correct items are received."
The money flowed, and then Oliver Ranasinghe's minute states this.
"We have, over the last two months, noticed that the guns have been used. This was our fault. However, see that the supplier replaces the guns immediately."
He has not stopped the payment. He wanted the supplier to replace the guns. If so, is he not connected to all this?
Ranil Wickremesinghe: It is a shame that they have allowed to tender and supply some more defective weapons to the Army.
Mr. Atukorale: why was the payment not cancelled Sir, but replacements sought? Do you believe these irregualrites are only known by the commander and not the Deputy or the cabinet Minister of Defence. It is a fallacy to believe that.
Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku: They are 'general merchants'.
Mr. Atukorale: I agree that we have general merchants and not generals.
Even when innocent soldiers pay the supreme sacrifice (interruptions) we are told a different story. Who are the traitors Sir?
Sir, tenders were called to purchase a "Maritime Petrol Aircraft". I have held a cabinet portfolio and am familiar with the procedures.
When seeking to purchase a Remis Cessna F 40 aircraft and BM-27-4 S Defender 'Beachcraft' tenders were called and the matter was also referred to an evaluation committee.
The Air Force Commander was keen on purchasing the 'Beachcraft'. I have the reports and I can forward them to an objective inquiry, but not here.
Commander Ranasinghe called Wing Commanders, Squadron Leaders, Flt. Lieutenants and pilot officers and sought their opinion on the matter. Even a vote was taken. The evaluation committee has also approved the purchase of another aircraft, and here too a vote was taken. The new trend is to take a vote on purchases.
(interruptions) This is similar to impersonation and illegal casting of votes at elections Sir. Two people refrained from casting their vote, Group Captains N.H. Gunaratne and F.M.M. Fernando.
"At the conclusion of voting the Commander stated that as the majority support the purchase of the Remis Cessna F-406 the same would be progressed, and expressed his displeasure on those who could not make up their minds…."
When two gentlemen took a decision according to their conscience, this is what he said:
" He expressed that officers should be able to make decisions with the information made available to them. He was very specific about the CO.NO.8 Sqn.
The reference is to Sqn. Leader R.Y. Senanayake, CO.NO. 8 Sqn.
"Who was non-committal citing that the Evaluation Board has already made recommendations to purchase the aircraft."
There is a Tender Board appointed to call for tenders, and there are evaluation boards too. All this is followed by a vote on the same matter. Seven officers have cast their vote in favour, and four against. If those three officers also cast their vote against the purchase, that would be seven against.
The truth is that there is a heavy commission which made the Beachcraft an extremely attractive purchase. What would you call such actions Sir.This is corruption in its crudest form.
Dr. Rajitha Senaratne: Deputy Speaker, there is a case against me for a paltry Rs. 7,000. Why not file action for these instead?
Mr. Atukorale: If so, they could be sent home.
Dr. Senaratne: The Air Force is reeking with corruption, and so are the Ministers but there are no cases!
Mr. Atukorale: Sir, you have functioned as a Cabinet minister. We cannot forget the fact that your sense of responsibility elevated the CTB to a certain level. When you purchased buses, did you also bring in bus drivers and conductors to sit at the tender Board? Why do these things except to amass wealth by unlawful means? This is their performance record. And then we are instructed to hand over our material to various committees.
I will submit my documents on my own terms Sir .
Deputy Speaker: your time is up.
Ranil Wickremesinghe: We are giving him more time. Let him take more time. He is coming out with some very interesting facts Sir. The Israeli made Kfir aircraft which were specially created for a particular purpose were brought here.
This was also highlighted in the press. What did our villagers think? The Kfir aircraft came and the war would soon end. They travel at lightning speed, and seconds after leaving Colombo, they land at Jaffna. From where did they come?
Deputy Speaker: From Israel.
Mr. Atukorale: Sir, you are aware that Kfirs were finally used in 1973 for purposes of war. The Israeli military establishment has a policy with regard to its military hardware. They always have several reserved. When they manufacture 100 weapons they have about 25 in excess for an emergency. It was these reserve aircrafts that we purchased after 25 years of manufacturing.
But the question is this. What will happen if we ever want spares for these aircraft? They are only available in Israel and nowhere else. What is the applicable condition? For example,
" Tender description: fuel tanks
Purchase of external fuel tanks for Kfir aircraft. Fuel tanks 3. Delivery period 20 mts each"
According to this invoice, we have to make 50 % initial payment, and the remainder can be settled soon after receiving the item.
I will give yet another example Sir.
Tender Board decision:
The tender board approved the purchase from the manufacturer as stated in para 5 for a total value of Rs. 6,826,774.50.
50 per cent down payment upon receipt of IAI invoice
50 per cent to be paid upon delivery
Sgd. O.M. Ranasinghe
Air Marshal Chairman
SLAF Tender Board"
Mr. Deputy Speaker, we all know what kind of person Suvi Joseph is supposed to be. He has a close relationship with Oliver Ranasinghe, and through him to the highest echelons. Aren't these traiterous acts Sir.
Lloyds Auto Mart,73,
The Commander of the Air Force,
Sri Lanka Air Force,
Sir Chittampalam Gardiner Mawatha,
Supply of 9 mm machine guns. No. 100
"Our principal Ms. W. H. Brennen & Company - Singapore, quoted us US dollars 421.25 CIF per unit. According to the tender reading at the tender opening we were made to understand the offer of our principal was the lowest. The quotation submitted by Ms. W. H. Brennen was a very reputed one with guaranteed spare support. Our principal was disturbed as to how the Air Force made the evaluation when awarding the tender. And if this is the attitude, we are not willing to submit any more quotations to the Air Force.
"We are given to understand that if the tender was awarded to Ms. Ork Enterprises they would have quoted a price of US Dollars 850. The price quoted by our principal is almost half. We are at a loss to understand as to how the tender was awarded to ms. Ork Enterprises when their prices were almost double…"
I did not read this letter out for any other reason, but to point out that the above could have been most certainly a corrupt purchase.
There is much more to this saga Sir.
This letter has been signed by Mr. Oliver Ranasinghe.
" If it is the lowest bidder only all the time, then there need not be a tender board."
A new procedure is adopted for this as you can see. Sir, when these people order military hardware there is absolutely no end to that process. Why? As the numbers increase, so shall the commissions that flow from such purchases. So, it is a blessing when numbers increase.
There is yet another letter from the Air Force, and it goes:
" with the introduction of MI 24 helicopters to the to the SLAF to meet the initial requirement of munitions, an order was placed by Vide Ref. "A", which was received on 11th November, 1995. Further, another order was placed under X 801 for the purchase of Qty. 5000, 80 mm Rockets from global Omarus Technologies. However, when compiling the stocks received from the Global Omarus Technologies, as appearing in Annex "A", it was found that the following items were surplus to the order placed by the SLAF.
80mm Rocket Motars-4,798
80mm Rocket heads-5,000
23mm Links-20,000 "
There is a footnote here too.
"Was not the above from the cheapest source?"
What is the conflict in all these? The difference is there is plenty of money flowing to their foreign bank accounts, like in the case of AirLanka. We shall speak at length on AirLanka on the 19th.(interruptions)
This is the manner in which they conduct themselves Sir. Last week's Sunday Leader carried a story titled, " Sinister saga of serial numbers"
A.H.M. Azwer: Sir, I rise to a point of order. Sir, there is somebody in the gallery carrying a thing like a machine gun. I do not know whether it is a machine gun or a camera. Have they obtained your permission Sir? What are they trying to do there?
Deputy Speaker: I will inquire into it now.
Mr. Atukorale: Yes. With such high levels of corruption, people would never want to enlist. You could experience it. I also challenge minister D. M. Jayaratne to hold an election tomorrow, to show the people's power.
Minister D. M. Jayaratne: Let's hold an election today!
Mr. Atukorale: We are ready at any time, just name the date. It does not matter whether it is the provincial polls, general elections or presidential polls. I like to remind you that the UNP is geared and ready to contest anything!
We in the UNP are totally opposed to corruption, and we deplore all these activities. We urge the government to inquire into all these allegations.
When we point out glaring lapses, we are branded as traitors. When we show the loop holes, the mistakes and caution about the future, we are being branded.
I urge the Minister to appoint a Parliamentary Committee, and name your members. Opposition Leader can nominate the UNP members. Then we can all go into all these allegations objectively.
Both parties are committed to the ideal of creating a corruption free society. We can inquire and investigate. Thereafter action could be filed against those who are responsible for these acts.
It is a useless exercise when you appoint a committee consisting of officials who are thereafter influenced and induced. Such reports serve no purpose either.
I once told in Parliament that we once have brought aircrafts which were not the ones we actually order. Who has authorized such purchases? The Ministry Secretary. We also know that the Deputy Defence Minister and the Cabinet Minister must necessarily be aware of anything that is sanctioned by the Defence Secretary.
What has a government which came into office by pledging to eliminate corruption to say about its own lack of transparency? Where is the transparency?
What did Minister Ratwatte tell this House on April 7 1998? I am quoting the relevant Hansard Sir?
"I must remind you one thing. Before the UNP's Parliament boycott, MP Gamini Atukorale in his speech complained regarding irregularities in procurements and Air craft purchases. I promised to appoint a committee, and requested him to furnish the necessary details.
Now there is a three member committee appointed for this purpose and you should kindly make your formal complaints to that. We are ready to hold an objective inquiry into all allegations and take necessary action against wrongdoers."
The committee members will be told at gunpoint to make their report in the instructed manner. I am unwilling to go before a committee lacking the necessary power, a group of innocent individuals. We must realize that corruption under the UNP or the PA would mean the same.
This is why I call for Parliamentary committee. I have plenty of documents to prove the stand I have taken.
By Roshan Peiris
Herman Leonard (HL) de Silva is one of the country's most respected lawyers. For three years he served with astute decorum in the highest diplomatic post as Sri Lanka's Permanent Representatives at the United Nations. Honours and tributes rest lightly on his slender shoulders . When The Sunday Times told him that the Bar was eagerly awaiting for his return, he said "It is a stressful life and one tends to take clients' problems even to bed. I like to have some time to myself. I think I owe it to myself. I am not cutting myself away from the Bar completely. I will occasionally take a case where the issues involved interest me. But I will not accept a regular inflow of work." Excerpt from the interview:
Q: The Bar is eagerly awaiting your return. Are you getting back to full time practice?
A: For 45 long years I have been a lawyer. There comes a time when a person would wish to have some time for himself. I am getting on in years and hence I don't want to work as a full time professional as I have done before and get tied up in schedules. The Bar can be stressful and give rise to tensions.
Believe me when I took up my appointment at the UN, it was a tremendous relief. I did not have to deal with people's personal problems. Unlike in the case of an Ambassador to a particular country at the UN. as the country's representative one is called upon to deal mainly with issues especially those concerned with one's country and not so much with personalities. I do not intend to cut myself off from the Bar - perhaps take cases where the issues involved do interest me.
Q: The US. Supreme Court has recognized that criminal defamation actions could seriously inhibit free expression especially for journalists. What are your views?
A:Speaking generally I can say that the law of defamation differs from country to country and the interests to be protected are determined by social mores and the cultural ethos that prevails in that country.
If what is of pre-eminent value is the free expression of opinion, then the law of defamation tends to be liberal.
In other cultures, where reputations and personalities are considered important values then any injury or wrong done to one's reputation is considered a serious matter that needs to be remedied.. To this extent freedom of speech and opinion is curtailed.
So the balance between these two competing interests that is struck varies with the cultural and social mores of that society.
So we cannot adopt the example of any one country such as the USA as being the proper standards because such traditions vary from country to country.
Q: Why did you say recently that tampering with the Constitution amounts to treason.
A: Actually this comment was made in the context of certain views that were expressed in the media. If we are introducing a new constitution or amending the present constitution what is prescribed by the constitutional procedure must be followed. But the position was somewhat confused because of certain articles written by Professor A.J. Wilson and Professor Lakshman Marasinghe both living in Canada now. They advanced the view that this was not necessary in the present circumstance. Prof.Wilson quoted the old adage " if there is a will there is a way," meaning if the Government had the political will to restructure the constitution , nothing could prevent it from achieving this objective, and certainly the requirement of obtaining the two thirds majority in Parliament was said to be no barrier.
It was contended that the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty enabled the present Parliament to act freely , without being fettered by procedural rules . The argument was that if you are a sovereign Parliament you are not bound by the restrictions as to amendment imposed in the Constitution by a a previous Parliament .
Secondly they argued that the doctrine of necessity empowered a government to do anything that was necessary in the circumstances, if it was considered essential in the interest of the people... 'Salus populi suprema lex.'
The third ground was a theory put forward by Professor Hans Kelsen, at one time a Professor of Jurisprudence at Berkley. In terms of his theory even if there is a break in the legal order, in consequence of a revolution, if the new legal order was efficacious then it had legal validity
Q: In terms of this theory the JVP then could have triumphed.
A : Yes of course and the same goes for the LTTE , if they win.To reinforce my argument I quoted from the judgment of the Pakistan Supreme Court in the Asma Jilani case. That case overruled the Dosso case on which the two professors mentioned were relying. The Judge there pointed out that disregarding mandatory provisions and seeking to set up to new legal order may amount to treason in certain circumstances.
Q: After your three years terms at the United Nations do you think that in the present context of world politics the UN has a significant role to play? Or is it just a talk shop, with no clout?
A: I don't think so. It is clear to me that we cannot do without the UN. It may not be the most effective instrument for regulating international politics and it does urgently need reform. But there is no question that it is a necessary institution. There are essential functions it can perform.,
But reform is needed. As to whether the proposed reforms will ever see the light of day is another question. This is because the powerful states in the world are concerned about preserving their own powers, privileges, and their national interests. They are averse to any reforms that would erode their strength.
So there has been a long drawn out discussion going on for several years and still there is, unfortunately little indication of an early solution to the problem of reform.
Q: What are your views about India's nuclear explosions?
A: No comment just now. It is a sensitive issue which is naturally a matter for concern.
Q: Would you comment on the sweeping sanctions imposed on India by the United States?
A: It is also is a controversial issue. While it is true that a 1994 law requires the US. government to impose such sanctions, the question is whether they are appropriate in the present circumstances. This is a matter on which there can be a difference of opinion. I do not wish to comment further at the present juncture..
A parliamentary official was forced to return some planks which he removed from the Parliamentary premises without authority, police said.
The Thalangama Police had rushed to the Parliamentary complex to investigate a complaint by an engineer that planks had gone missing from the complex. But later the Secretary General of Parliament withdrew the complaint following an assurance given that the material would be returned.
One of the officials who had installed the new x-ray machines for additional security at the Parliament, thinking that the box in which the machine was transported would not be of use to the Parliament had taken it home with innocent intentions ," Secretary General S.B Tittawella said yesterday.
Whether it was just a pakis pettiya or some planks that were removed is still not clear but the episode rang alarm bells in Parliament and brought the police rushing there.
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