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14th June 1998

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'All the friends money can buy'

From the green corner

By Viruddha Paakshikaya

My friend, Paakshikaya last week wasted valuable space of The Sunday Times for his usual Sunday Sermon (with apologies to the Church!). He is, always, at a tangent, making his standard homily on corruption and attempting to make a major issue on how one of the advisors to our leaders received two Christmas hampers from an "arms dealer" and allegedly returned one!

Sarcasm oozes out of Paakshikaya as he labours over this "issue", but it did prompt me to do some double checking of my own, from our Party Headquarters at Sirikotha.

I found that though Paakshikaya's facts are correct and he is telling the truth, his weird innuendos suggest he is not telling the whole truth. So, I have to set the record straight.

Our advisor, whose business acumen, diplomatic skills, political strategies, loyalties to the party and our leader is unparalleled and unquestionable, yes, did receive two hampers.

And, what was inside was the usual egg noodle packets, baked bean tins and probably a bottle of cheap whisky which he doesn't drink anyway– he doesn't drink expensive whisky either! More importantly, there were no envelopes with bundles of green bucks, for he has plenty of them himself.

But both hampers did arrive at his doorstep the same day, on Christmas eve. One arrived first and the other an hour or two later. Realising there must be a mistake, he returned one. So, Paakishikaya, he at least returned one, your partymen would have taken them both, with both hands just like they take one credit card after another! - and I'll bet my last Premadasa commemorative coin on that !

Now that reminds me of a quote made by arguably the world's No.1 Arms dealer; certainly the most famous or infamous as the case may be - Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms merchant whose sister married the equally famous Al-Fayed and almost crept into the British Royal Family: "I have good friends in all political parties, "In fact I have the best that money can buy...."

The local Adnan's, the people who call themselves appropriately "Access", are no different. To be a successful arms dealer it seems you must have "access" to all sides of the political spectrum. You must win them or neutralise them.

And Christmas is the golden moment when bribery and corruption is legitimised in the spirit of giving (and taking!)

So, when as much as Rs. 26 million was spent by this one company with "Access" to all, we might as well rename them "Octopus" instead, the one with tentacles to all sides of the political spectrum.

Paakshikaya has been ridiculing my continued onslaught on graft and slime and sleaze under the PA government as if I had nothing else to write about. He tries to make out that I am possessed by this subject, that I would not let go of it even when he tries to detract, and that I rope him in to the issue again.

But Paakshikaya, see what your government has done now.

The Learned law Professor has been dragging his feet for months now after castrating the Permanent Commission - on Bribery and Corruption but now announces that 80 PA MPs have called for the sacking of the two commissioners.

So, this reminds me of the Buddha's eternal message - "Anichcha Vatha Sankhaaraa" - Nothing is permanent ! How relevant this Poson Poya week!

And why is it that the Commissioners are asked to quit? My position is this: Firstly, the PA appoints three ineffective Commissioners without a by-your-leave from the UNP (whose two-thirds majority was readily given) for the creation of the Commission.

In the early months, yes, the PA had not got down to business yet. Tenders and tenderers were still finding common friends and relatives to get to know the big shots in government, so they could treat them with tender loving care.

Among them, there were some, the Rajahs and the Kumars who were able to walk into the bedrooms of Ministers.

The gates of these Ministers opened when their Pajeros were sighted as if they were equipped with remote-controlled devices. Then there were old friends who returned to castle their Rolls from London.

But the tenders hadn't begun. So the Commission got down to work by investigating our then Chairman, A.C.S. Hameed and some Korean funds that had been diverted to his constituency at Akurana (Harispattuwa) - not to his pocket!

Of course, the Commission took a different course. They forgot about investigating politicians. Now we are told there was a Rasputin inside. He would have the ear of the Commissioners and direct the Commission towards investigating his personal opponents - and he had many!

In November last year we are told the President wrote to the Commissioners saying this:

Dear Mr. Wijesundera,

The establishment of the new Institution of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption was one of the priority concerns of my Government and it was with that serious concern that you were invited to accept the onerous responsibility of heading the new institution.

I myself personally and the Government are grateful for your accepting that position. I am also appreciative of the work that you and other members of your commission have put in during the last 3 years.

However, for some time past I have been distressed about the apparent breakdown in the working of the Commission due to internal disharmony and the prevailing criticism in the media and among the public.

It was in August this year that I invited you, the other member of the Commission and the Director General to a meeting, where among other matters relating to the functions of the Commission I expressed my views about the internal disharmony.

I expected that thereafter everybody would settle down to their work in a spirit of co-operation and activate the functions of the Commission.

The Government and the public have been looking forward to see the proper implementation of the responsibilities of the Commission. Unfortunately recent events have shown the situation to be otherwise. This has undermined public confidence in the Commission.

I had occasion to observe the comments made in Parliament by Hon. Members of Parliament from both sides and also to hear the views of the members of the Cabinet. The Members of the Cabinet and the Members of Parliament have urged me that a complete overhaul of the Commission is desirable and is an immediate necessity in order to make a fresh start, I am constrained to agree with them.

In these circumstances I am reluctantly compelled to request the resignation of yourself, the other member of the Commission and the Director General. I shall be writing to the latter separately.

I think I should also make it quite clear that this request has nothing to do with any of the investigations or proposed investigations which have received publicity recently.

I reiterate that in regard to those matters the law must take its own course.

Then, this same President has written to our leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe on the 5th of June 1998 and said:

"A report of the work done by the Commission from December, 1994 to August 1997, sent to me by the Commissioners sets out their bleak record of work.

- Only 5 cases against 5 individuals have been completed in 2 yrs. 8 mths!

Over 100 police officers attached to the Commission have committed to trial a total of 442 cases of bribery and 1 assets case, an average of 1 1/2 cases per officer per annum!

These cases consist mainly of ones such as: - a school principal for misappropriating cups and saucers.

- a technical officer of the Buildings Department for soliciting a bribe of a few thousand rupees, etc.

Does this mean that under the PA regime senior public officials, police and armed services personnel have become incorrupt?

I must also add that this startling amount of work done (1) has cost the Government and the people a total of Rs. 125 million for a period of three years, up to 31st December, 1997.

The salary of the Chairman is as follows:

Salary - Rs. 31,715.00 p.m.

Allowances - Rs. 11,000.00 p.m.

Total - Rs. 42,715.00 p.m.

+official car and driver

Member's salary - Rs. 29,815.00 p.m.

Allowances - Rs. 11,000.00 p.m.

Total - Rs 40,815.00 p.m.

+car and driver.

I'm sure even your good self would agree with me that this is an awful lot of public funds spent for the meagre amount of work done.

You will also have noted that the Commissioners were engaged in a dispute with the former Director General (DG) of the Commission, which dispute received wide publicity and led to the Director General petitioning the Supreme Court seeking relief against the Commissioners on the grounds that the latter had acted in bad faith and in excess of their lawful authority.

This resulted in a marked lowering of the confidence reposed in the Commissioners by the general public, especially in view of the undertaking given by the Commissioners to refrain from taking any further steps in this regard.

I was so keen to ensure that the Commission fulfils its duties effectively and expeditiously that, I called for regular progress reports, accorded them every facility they requested whenever it was not an irregular request, and even held a discussion with them to attempt to solve this ugly quarrel with their DG. Here I must hasten to add, that this was the first occasion when I met the Commission quite unlike the good old days of your 17 years rule when multifarious forms of intimidation were employed against judicial officers. The second and last occasion was when I met the Chairman to request his resignation.

I was firmly of the view that this unacceptable development should be arrested and suggested to the Commissioners a way out of the difficulty; that the Commissioners and the DG resign and enable the reconstitution of the Commission with a minimum of embarrassment. The DG complied, whilst the commissioners declined vide attached letter Annex(1). After a long and friendly discussion the Chairman agreed to resign by 15th May. But on that day, informed me on the telephone, that his lawyer Mr. Tilak Marapone had advised him to do otherwise. At this point I informed the honourable gentlemen that there was no further point in continuing our discussion if he sought advice from Mr. Marapone who is an active member of the UNP Ex. Co and is the legal adviser to the Leader of the UNP and that serious doubts have been cast on the conduct of Mr. Marapone on the conspiracy to defraud the election process of August, 1994 by the improper introduction of ballot boxes in some parts of the country, as revealed in the Report of the Commission of Inquiry Into Certain Matters Relating to the Parliamentary General Election of 1994 and the Local Government Election in the Eastern Province and the Vavuniya Urban Council in March 1994.

Committed as we are to rectitude in public life, the Government has decided to take immediate steps to reconstitute the Commission, so that all pending inquiries can be expeditiously proceeded with in accordance with the law and would welcome the cooperation of the UNP in this endeavour. I trust that your co-operation and that of your party will be forthcoming in this regard, given your stated interest "in honesty and transparency in public life".

But I'm not sure if most others in the government could share young Mangala's views. After all, the Commission confirmed that there was a complaint against the Private Secretary of an influential Cabinet Minister under investigation. So, it might even embarrass that Cabinet Minister if the Bribery and Corruption Commission really got underway, won't it?

Can the Justice Minister deny that, the way it turned out, the Police investigators and the AG's lawyers were withdrawn from the Commission when not only several files of the PA Cabinet Ministers were opened and infact, an investigation had just begun to probe an allegation of corruption by the Private Secretary of a Cabinet Minister?

My personal view - and I'm sure it is the view of our leader Ranil Wickremasinghe as well - is that this move to appoint a Select committee is a sham; President Kumaratunga's letter to our leader is a red-herring for you never wanted the UNP's views when you wanted to appoint the Commissioners.

And now that the Justice Minister say's that you don't need the UNP's votes to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament to sack the Commissioners, the whole issue of Bribery and Corruption in Sri Lanka under the PA is a monumental disgrace specially for a group of people who portrayed themselves as the paragons of virtue in public life.

Refute that, Paakshikaya, if you can!

In essence, she complains that the Commissioners are paid Rs. 40,000 something and are doing no work.

Well, Paakshikaya, the Attorney General removes his officers, the IGP removes his investigators (both the AG and the IGP are loyal government servants are they not?) you castrate the Commission and then you say they have done no work. A fantastic arguments, I must say, like Lorena Bobbitt (remember her?) blaming her husband for not getting pregnant!

Now we know what is next. A select committee of Parliament. And, like all of Prof. Peiris's select Committees, it will go on for ever.

The Permanent Commission on bribery and corruption will not be just a lame duck, it will be a dead duck for some time! Investigators on bribery and corruption will be on holiday and Sri Lanka will be a haven for the corrupt.

So, when your able and amiable Mr. Mangala Samaraweera told the post-cabinet news briefing that he will be the happiest man if the Commission can get activated to set him free from the allegations that he was bribed by the CEO of Sri Lanka Telecom, he ought to have turned sideways and told his cabinet colleague Prof. Peiris who was seated just next to him to just "return the investigators so that the Commission can get down to 'good work', (the kind that the President referred to in November last year) they've been doing - and help me prove what an honest man am I !"

New Delhi still on the Tiger trail despite TN allies' plea

By Our India Correspondent

Barely two days after the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, "attentively listened" to a delegation of his allies from Tamil Nadu seeking an Indian intervention in Sri Lanka to stop the "genocide" of Tamils there, two crucial developments took place in India, which dampened the spirits of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and threw cold water on the schemes of the pro-LTTE parties in the Vajpayee-led alliance in New Delhi.


One was an official statement confirming and rationalising the ban on the LTTE imposed on May 12, and the other was the new direction given to India's intelligence agencies to mount a close watch on the growing nexus between the LTTE and the People's War Group (PWG), a Naxalite or Maoist revolutionary group operating in South and Central India, with its tentacles reaching troubled Kashmir and the north east.

Both these happenings were aimed at curbing the LTTE, a force with which some parties in the Vajpayee cabinet have close links, a force which Sri Lankan Tamils typically consider a necessity, a necessary evil.

Of course, it can be argued that the two sets of happenings are unrelated. It can be argued that mounting pressure on the LTTE or marginalising it is one thing, and putting diplomatic pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to solve the Tamil question is quite another. But the Tamils of Sri Lanka would not like the two to be delinked. Ideally, they would like Indian pressure to supplement the existing one from the LTTE. They believe that there can be no permanent solution without the LTTE's active involvement in its formulation, and without its express consent to it.

It is in this context that it could be said that the euphoria generated by the Tamil Nadu parties meeting with Mr. Vajpayee is not justified.


What sparked euphoria among Lankan Tamils was the fact that their slumbering supporters in Tamil Nadu had woken up at long last. On June 10, leaders and MPs of the AIADMK, MDMK, PMK, Tamilaga Rajiv Congress and the Janata Party met Mr. Vajpayee at breakfast and presented a memorandum urging him to persuade the Sri Lankan Government to withdraw the armed forces from the "Tamil Homeland", immediately halt the military operations, send a team of Indian MPs to visit the war torn areas in the "Tamil Homeland" and above all, review the relations with Sri Lanka. The issue of Indian fishermen being shot at by the Sri Lankan Navy around Katchathivu was also raised. The first signature on the memoradum was that of the AIADMK supremo, Ms Jayalalitha, but those who met the Prime Minister were Dr. S. Ramadoss, founder leader of PMK, Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, Janata Party President, Mr. V. Gopalasamy, Gen. Sec. of MDMK, and members of the Central Council of Ministers from the AIADMK, Mr. S Thambidurai and Mr. Kandambur Janardhanan. The members of the delegation seemed to be primarily concerned with getting Mr. Vajpayee to dismiss the DMK government in Tamil Nadu. To pressurise Mr. Vajpayee they said that unless the DMK regime was sacked, it would be very difficult to continue supporting his minority government at the Centre. To throw him further into a corner, they raised the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, an issue on which he can do precious little, given the present good relations with Colombo and the fast deterioraing situation in South Asia, following the nuclear blasts.

Already at logger heads with Pakistan and China, and with less than war relations with other South Asian nations. the last thing that Mr. Vajpayee would want now is a confrontation with Colombo on the sensitive Tamil question. But, unfortunately for Vajpayee, he desperately needs the support of the AIADMK, PMK, nad MDMK. He should be in a fix. But seasoned as he is, Mr. Vajpayee did a clever thing. He heard them out with his eyes closed and kept nodding his head. Finally he said he would see what could be done. This was enough for the pro-Sri Lankan Tamil/LTTE parties to go to town on the memorandum, with Gopalsamy even giving an interview to the BBC Tamil Service in which he declared that Ealam was the only solution to the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka. Dr. Ramadoss, in the meanwhile, told the press in Chennai that he considered the LTTE a "liberation force" though he would not like them to operate in Tamil Nadu.

But even as these leaders were basking in euphoiia came an announcement from Delhi on Thursday, saying that the government was extending the ban on the LTTE because this organisation was "indulging in activities prejudicial to India's unity, sovereignty and integrity".

The LTTE the statement further said, had sympathisers, supporters and agents on the Indian soil. Many of its activists had been arrested in India with arms.

On the same day, a New Delhi paper frontpaged a story on the government's ordering sleuths to unravel the nexus between the Marxist Leninist Peoples' War Group (PWG) and the LTTE. The PWG, also known as Naxalite, has been indulging in terror in the area between Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. The PWG's extensive use of land mines against police columns, had made the government suspect links with the LTTE.

The IPKF had had a harrowing time in Sri Lanka, mainly because of the Tiger's landmines, the improvised "Johnny mines".

On June 10, ten police and para military personnel were killed in a landmine blast in Motlagudem village in Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh. Intelligence reports say that there are about 10 to 12 "Naxalite" groups with a total cadre strength of 5,000. These are in touch with separatist militants in Kashmir, and the Indian north east, besides the LTTE.

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More News/Comments * After Suharto, chance for East Timor * "Lanka appears to be driven by pettiness" * The media's impact on the military * Corruption: fingers in the till

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