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31st May 1998

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Throwing the dictionary at the traitor
From the green corner

By Viruddha Paakshikaya

Minister Samaraweera

Minister Samaraweera

It was with amusement that I read Paakshikaya's contribution from the 'Blue Corner' last week. Paakshikaya takes high moral ground and suggests that I tell our leader that the UNP leader should be truly ''bi-partisan'' and that it means not merely smiling for the cameramen with Her Excellency by his side at Sanath Jayasuriya's wedding.

I cannot agree more, Paakshikaya. But does your leader realise that? Have you told her that?

I ask you, Paakshikaya, because it was funny if it was not so sad to see her ladyship shaking hands with our leader at the SLMC Convention with a beaming Mr.Ashraff in the middle (how symbolic of the times!) last Saturday and calling for national unity and amity and then, barely 48 hours later going to the Piliyandala Central College and bombarding the UNP, it's past ''record'' on bribery and corruption, political violence, handling of the economy and many other issues.

Then, hardly pausing for breath her ladyship says she needs only 14 UNP votes in Parliament to have her Constitutional Reforms passed, however much the country opposes them! To crown it all she says the people ''may'' call those who do not vote for her package as ''traitors''!

Now, Paakshikaya I'm sure you must be able to lay your hands on a Concise Oxford Dictionary. Please do look up the word "traitor''. It will tell you a traitor is one ''who violates his allegiance or acts disloyally to country, king, cause, religion, principles, himself.''

I guess the UNP can be called traitors for acting disloyally to the ''king" (!), but can they be accused of being disloyal to the country, cause, religion, principles or themselves?

And, Paakshikaya, only nine years ago - Her Ladyship's Mother, Ms. Bandaranaike staged Satyagrahas at the Bo Tree Junction in Pettah when our J.R.Jayewardene was trying to push through his 'package' of provincial councils.

Like your leader now, he too sincerely thought it would end this war. Does that make Ms. Bandaranaike a traitor?

The President, who only the other day told students not to take to politics spoke nothing but politics at the Piliyandala Central College meeting. It was no doubt the launch of her Provincial Councils election campaign. (Or is it a Presidential Election campaign?)

But, Paakshikaya, can she face an election, what with Ministers like Mangala Samaraweera being her most trusted lieutenants - ministers who get Corporation heads under their purview to foot their credit card bills when they travel overseas, without so much as itemising, their expenses?

Mr.Samaraweera's defence is appalling. He says the ''money we get is not enough; so what is wrong in getting someone else to foot the bill?"

Then, he has the cheek to go on TV saying, ''as Mangala Samaraweera I would like to go to Paris and eat a piece of bread sitting in a small cafe.

But as a Minister of the government of Sri Lanka I spend well, I eat well, I drink well and I entertain lavishly...........''. What logic is this, Paakshikaya?

Come on, Paakshikaya, why doesn't young Mangala itemise his expenses, not to the last cent, but at least broadly and show some bills at least? He owes it, at least to the thousands of telephone subscribers who have now been burdened with increased charges and taxes by courtesy of Sri Lanka Telecom - the good company that foots Mr.Samaraweera's bills. As Oscar Wilde said, Minister Samaraweera must be having "nothing to declare except his genius,'' which he has shown us in no small measure already!

And, remember, Paakshikaya, that the government has not commented on the Sri Lanka Telecom Chief Executive Officer's response. The CEO's defence of his Minister is worse than the offence. He has the audacity to say that privatisation of Sri Lanka Telecom is not merely to handover to better management but also ''to change the system" or some such thing. What is this new system? So, is this the new ''commercial culture" of the ............PA government? Is this the ''open economy with a human face'' - the face of Kamitsuma, the Telecom CEO - that you spoke of? Speak up, Mr.Minister of Justice. We know that the Bribery Commission got castrated because people close to government came under scrutiny by the Commission. Now you realise why we in the Green Corner, Paakshikaya, are working to get the Commission reactivated .

Then, Mr.Samaraweera himself has accused people who have ''Access'' to the ''unconscionable profits" you and I have been writing about in these columns, Paakshikaya.

I too had to do some ''digging'' to find out what young Mangala was talking about. "Access'' seems to be a company that has reached ''new heights.'

What with one of the tallest new office complexes commissioned earlier this month at a bash that we are told cost over five million rupees.(No wonder Mangala is angry. His "allowance" was only Rs.250,000 and we are bothering him about that too!) From where is this kind of new money? How do this nouveau riche drink the finest Dom Perignon champagne now when they drank Pol Arrack only four years ago?

Are there arms dealers amongst you, Paakshikaya; who have profited from this war? People who have suddenly found ''good friends,'' ''old family friends'' and ''relations'' and bribe people from top to bottom to get their deals through?

So, why is a PA Minister shouting about them, Paakshikaya? Why doesn't the PA enquire into their assets instead? Why not have ''Access" to their sources of income instead of dropping hints at press conferences? The answer is, they cannot, because if they do they will come up with some information that will embarrass the PA.

Paakshikaya, you say that I will be surprised if I know who in the UNP has ''Access" to this group.

Well, there's nothing to hide about the fact that the building I referred to was designed by a man who has a top post in the UNP.

But, I assure you, Paakshikaya, that is a strictly professional relationship between a professional and a client.

Yes, I can tell you also that some of our UNP members were sent expensive hampers by these people who had ''Access'' to them, at Christmas time.

But don't you worry, our leader, Ranil Wickremasinghe is aware of them and there is little that can be done when you are in the Opposition. It is you, Paakshikaya, who is in the government and you who dish out the favours.

Unfortunately, bribery and corruption is so rampant now I personally think the UNP has inadvertently made things worse by complaining to the Commission about Mangala Samaraweera and the AirLanka deal.

Now, the likelihood of the government appointing a third Commissioner (which is mandatory by law), police officers and State Counsel is remote indeed, what with all these allegations pending inquiry.

Maybe Paakshikaya, you should talk to your leader - after all, Bandaranaike's don't take bribes, says your new found pinch-hitter, Mr. Fernandopulle- and convince her to appoint, like in the United States, a Special Prosecutor.

But then, Paakshikaya, that is as likely as Sri Lanka conducting some nuclear tests in the next few days, isn't it, Paakshikaya?

In India, things go better with self-reliance, they say

By Sunanda K. Datta-Ray

SINGAPORE India must be the only country in the world where Coke yields in the public popularity stakes to a local cola.

The preference says much for the social and cultural orientation of the world's second-most populous country. It could also have profound meaning for the sweeping economic sanctions imposed on India by the United States in punishment for the nuclear tests carried out under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Bharatiya Janata Party.

I was not surprised to read of Coca-Cola's limping sales in India. It is not a drink of my generation. Our adolescence was the age of stringent foreign exchange restrictions and import substitution.

Instead of squandering its rupees on luxuries, India shopped abroad only for essentials like machinery, life-saving drugs and weapons. As memories of imported indulgences faded, lifestyles adjusted to a new set of bare material requirements.

Coke is not the only casualty. Take Tabasco sauce. When the local equivalent, Capisco, appeared in almost identical packaging, someone said that no one would buy it - that long ago we had all gotten used to doing without Tabasco! It was not with any sense of deprivation, either that we drank whisky, gin and rum that the government called rather quaintly IMFL Indian-made foreign liquor.

Under Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister there was no greater evil than conspicuous consumption.

Of course, there were exceptions. People with undisclosed income splurged on caviar and champagne. Shops with hidden stocks of smuggled goods catered furtively to a tiny urban elite. Agents, like the youth we called ''the chocolate man," went from office to office with battered gladstone bags filled with contraband chocolates, cheese and cosmetics. But the vast majority of Indians was quite happy with whatever was made at home.

Taste began to change when Rajiv Gandhi, Nehru's grandson, came on the political scene and later became prime minister. His fondness for things Western started with his Italian wife.

The predilection had both positive and negative aspects. Mr. Gandhi introduced computers to India. During the Asian Games in New Delhi - which he and his friends managed, though his mother, Indira, was still prime minister - a temporary relaxation of import rules resulted in a flood of colour television sets brought in as ''spares.''

The Rajiv Gandhi years exorcised the disapproving morality that had kept conspicuous consumption in check. It became respectable to flaunt wealth, which meant displaying a taste for Western luxuries.

The trend became more marked under the economic liberalization that Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao himself, a man of spartan simplicity, set off in 1991. I could not help wondering whether Mr. Vajpayee and his colleagues, then in the opposition, did not have a point in demanding that foreign investment should be confined to computer chips, leaving potato chips to domestic makers.

The prospect of a locally made Mercedes-Benz sedan that costs 142 times the average per capita income of $350 a year heightens the iniquitous contrast between rich and poor. Economists will say this is only a short-term effect, but with 30 percent of India's 960 million people below the poverty line, even the short-term can be a very long time.

Of course, foreign sanctions will cause hardship and set back the thrust for modernization. But they might turn out to be a blessing in disguise if, by forcing Indians to rethink priorities and fine-tune growth strategies, they lead to the rehabilitation of those two Nehruvian ideals self-reliance and austerity that have disappeared from the national vocabulary.

(The writer, a former editor of The Statesman in India, is an editorial consultant with The Straits Times in Singapore. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.)

India will not gobble up Pakistan, assures Vajpayee

India has assured insecure Pakistan that there is no plan whatsoever of gobbling it up, and that Pakistan, which broke away from India in 1947, is here to stay.

Speaking in the Indian parliament on Friday, the Indian Prime Minster, Atal Behari Vajpayee, noted that many Pakistanis were insecure because they felt that India had not accepted their country Pakistan as a separate and independent state.

Assuring these Pakistanis the India would not seek to undo the partition, Mr. Vajpayee said: "There is no need for insecurity. After the country was partitioned, they became a separate and independent state. It is a fact now. They should live in peace."

Mr. Vajpayee said that both countries must work for a world free of nuclear arms. "India and Pakistan are neighbours and no matter what the state of relations, this fact makes it imperative for them to sit and discuss their problems," he said.

Reiterating his earlier post-blast statements about India's desire for peace, Mr. Vajpayee said that India had offered a voluntary moratorium on testing, and shown readiness to enter talks on the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty (FMCT). It was for controls on nuclear and missile technology exports and it was willing to enter in to a "no first use" agreement with Pakistan and other countries, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

Most importantly, the Indian Prime Minister said that India was ready to "probe" a 'No-War" pact offered by his Pakistani counterpart, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, on Friday. But Mr. Vajpayee cautioned that when this offer was made earlier, it was predicated to a resolution of the Kashmir dispute to Pakistan's satisfaction.

Referring to the Kashmir dispute, Mr. Vajpayee warned Pakistan against attempting any "mis-adventure" in Kashmir and said that India would not allow any third party mediation in this "bilateral" dispute.

Who needs to civilize whom?

By Roshan Peiris

Tisahamy was a proud chieftain of his for est tribe. In 1986 he told a team of scholars headed by Prof. Ponnamperuma and Prof. Ralph Buultjens who visited him at Dambana:

"You come from a crime ridden, drug addicted, corrupt, immoral and decadent society to civilize me. Our society in the backwoods is free of crime. We make no apologies for living close to nature. In fact we adore it, living in the very bosom of nature."

Tisahamy, the famous Veddah chief died on Friday marking the last chapter of the most colourful personality in the anthropology of this country. The hundred-year-old Tisahamy with glowing white beard topped with a bushy mustache has been the Moses of his people - their prophet and deliverer.

Dr. R.L. Spittel, who lived among the Veddahs and counted Tisahamy as a friend, wrote in his book, "Wild Ceylon" in 1925, "Let us leave the last of the Veddahs alone, and not try to fashion them to our ways, for that would kill them the sooner."

Tisahamy ruled over his scattered people in the jungles. They lived to hunt and use nature's bounty. With his death we hope the Veddahs as a race will not die, and be known to history only as a name.

In 1989 Tisahamy threatened to take recourse in the law. "If it is true that we live in a free and just society, no government official or individual can obstruct the way to my home, nor can they build a fence around my house." He was referring to his battle with the Wild Life authorities."

Tisahamy had the guts to spell out his claim. "This is my homeland Kotabakiniya. It is the land on which my forefathers had lived for generations. If anyone comes here, and attempts to disturb my way of life, it is a violation of my rights to live as a free man."

The jungle was his home but these words show the indomitable spirit of Tisahamy. He may well have argued for human rights.

On December 15, 1990 Tisahamy led a troupe of his people, to show urban society the cultural accoutrements of his primitive people. At the Riverina Hotel in Beruwala, they sang and danced, showing hunting patterns, witch dances, Veddah music and folk songs. They even demonstrated the primitive way of lighting fire and cooking.

Tisahamy did his people proud. They performed several jungle dances to the beat of drums. A devotional dance "Kirikohara netuma" was performed evoking the blessings of the "Kande Yaka" who provides Veddah's with a good hunt and protects them from wild beasts.

So Tisahamy did pay his obeisance to the town people. But nothing could force him to give up the culture of his tribe. So the Veddahs due to this tribal chief have kept to their customs and ways of life with an appreciative stubbornness.

In his book "Savage Sanctuary" Dr. Spittel recounts that Tisahamy was reputed as a Minimaruwa (murderer). The book says the wisdom he had acquired put such a finishing touch to him among the simple folk with whom his future lot was cast that he came to be looked upon as a man to respect and fear."

With Tisahamy's death a chapter of our history ends. We hope his sons and grandsons remain as staunch as he was to perpetuate the customs and ways of life of this tribe.

It would be apt to end with Dr. Spittel's "Leaves of the Jungle."

But oh for the trails that the wilderness trend,

For the hills that are haunts of the hiving bee,

For the twittering bill and the branching head

Oh Island, Wild Island you are home to me.

UN chief agrees new Iraqi oil-for-food plan

UNITED NATIONS,Saturday- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday approved Iraq's crucial plan on how it will distribute food and medicine to ease the impact of sanctions on its people.

Annan had to sign off on the plan before the next six-month phase of the "oil-for-food" programme could begin next week. The complicated programme is an object of controversy whenever it comes up for renewal.

Iraq has been allowed to sell oil to buy food, medicine and other supplies under strict U.N. monitoring as an exception to the sweeping sanctions imposed after Baghdad's troops invaded Kuwait in 1990.

"The secretary-general has approved the distribution plan," U.N. spokeswoman Myriam Dessables said late on Friday.

In February, the Security Council approved an increase in Iraqi oil exports from $2 billion to $5.25 billion, to begin after Annan approved Iraq's distribution plan.

The plan provides for $4.5 billion in oil sales over the next six months if Iraq can upgrade its oil industry. Of this amount $3.1 billion is for humanitarian supplies and emergency infrastructure repairs and the rest deducted for compensation to victims of the 1991 Gulf War and other U.N. costs.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Sahaf, however, told reporters he expected Baghdad could only pump a total of $3 billion at current prices over the next six months, leaving less money for humanitarian projects.

U.N. officials briefing diplomats have said there were deficiencies in the allocation of food supplies. But they say Iraq's plan showed the government was committed to improving the distribution of goods.

The Security Council in February approved a plan by Annan that would appropriate monies to specific health and nutritional sectors and call for more than $1 billion in infrastructure repairs related to those areas. The United States and other countries want to make sure those priorities are not changed.

The next step is for the Security Council to approve $300 million in spare parts for Iraq's dilapidated oil industry that is already contained in the distribution plan Annan approved. But members disagree on how to do it and no action is expected until next week.

Proposals from Britain, Portugal and Sweden, backed by the United States, would approve the $300 million in equipment but insist the council's sanctions committee on Iraq has to sign off on each item as the parts are purchased.

The committee includes all 15 council members and allows any one of them to block a request.

But France drew up an alternative document that would have the council approve immediately a list of spare parts as proposed by oil experts engaged by the United Nations.

Another major difference between the two proposals is how often Iraq's distribution plan would be renegotiated.

The United States, Britain, Portugal and Sweden say under present procedures the new plan, about to be approved, is ongoing as long as sanctions are in place but can be amended at various intervals.

France disagrees with this provision, the object of which is to prevent renegotiating the distribution plan every six months.

Well done Premnath, you played the game well

Seldom in the field of entertainment and sports has so much been done by one personality in so many spheres.

Such was the extraordinary contribution made by veteran journalist and film personality Premnath Moraes who was buried last Monday at Jawatte in the presence of a large gathering of top entertainment figures, friends and colleagues from the media.

For 75 years, the life of Premnath Moraes was like a glittering multifaceted diamond. In the film world he played almost every role - director and producer, script and song writer, actor and singer. The presence of film greats like Gamini Fonseka, Ravindra Randeniya and Robin Fernando at Jawatte was testimony to the unique and unforgettable role Premnath Moraes played.

Not only in Sri Lanka, but also internationally, Premnath Moraes knew and worked with famous figures such as Vivian Leigh, Gregory Peck and Peter Finch from the West, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor from the East. When Leigh died Premnath wrote a persona tribute that was widely hailed.

In journalism, Premnath Moraes emerged as one of the top sports writers with a powerful and dynamic style that helped make the then 'Daily Mirror' a big hit among sports fans. Premnath Moraes along with Lawford Martinesz and Harry Jayawardena formed a team that produced some of the best sports pages in Sri Lanka. While Reggie Michael rode on the front page, the sports trio rose to equal heights. Premnath's best known sports column was 'Petals and Pellets' under the pen name 'Searom' (Moraes in reverse). When the famous West Indies team came here in the early sixties for the sellout Daily Mirror match, Premnath Moraes met the legendary Conrad Hunte and they struck up a lasting friendship.

Another memorable facet of Premnath Moraes' life was his devotion and dedicated service to his Alma Mater, St. Benedict's College. In the words of the College Anthem, he was ever loyal and staunch in victory or defeat, promptly he would rally at duty's call.

So it was fitting that the coffin was draped in the Benedictine green and white as Premnath Moraes was laid to rest after he had travelled each and every highway and did well in whatever he had to do.

The Sunday Times joins hundreds of friends and colleagues in saying, 'Well done Premnath, you played the game well, may the turf lie gently over you and may God be with you!

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More News/Comments * Pioneer Tamil Editor dies * NATO chief condemns Pakistani nuke testing * U.S. to meet major powers on nuclear tests threat * IRA wants to end war * Germany condemns Pakistan, but no sanctions * Japan recalls Pakistan envoy over N-testing * "Our hand was forced by reckless present Indian leadership" * World pressure grows on Pakistan after n-tests

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