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9th August 1998

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We made capitalists, but here are your cronies

By Viruddha Paakshikaya

My unseen friend, Paakshikaya, has used much valuable space of The Sunday Times last week to talk to the UNP's "business friends" of the 1977-1994 period.

This seems to be Paakshikaya's only response to my challenge to name ten businessmen who would be favoured by the present UNP leadership. Alas, unable to name a "Top Ten" for Ranil Wickremesinghe - as I did for the PA - Paakshikaya relies on history to cast aspersions on the UNP.

But then, that's nothing new to the PA. Take, for instance, last week's no confidence motion against Minister Mangala Samaraweera. "A former UNP Minister has used 17 cars, our Minister uses only three", your Parliamentarians argued, according to the screaming headlines of the state-run Ceylon Daily News. So then, what's wrong in using official credit cards to buy personal clothes from the dress boutique of the Minister's friends? you ask!

What logic is this, Paakshikaya? The Trade Minister said that just because SAARC leaders supposedly said the economy was doing fine with a war on, Mangala Samaraweera could use official credit cards?

Remember, Paakshikaya, the story I told you recently about a US Senator visiting Russia and a Russian guide boasting about the marble statues and chandeliers in their underground railway station. When the Senator asked, "but where are the trains", the guide got angry and retorted, "what about the way you treat Blacks in America?"

Your Ministers defending their beleaguered colleague reminds me of that Russian guide. Or as we say in our pithy Sinhalese - "Koheda Yanne? Malle Pol" (Where are you going? There are coconuts in my bag!) arguments.

Mr. Samaraweera did a terrible thing and there is no question about it. When the claim that Sri Lanka Telecom had paid for his credit card became public, he first said, "So what? When I'm abroad I eat well and dress well because I represent the Sri Lankan Government". Then it was revealed that he also ate at the Flower Drum restaurant in Colombo. So is that truthful?, (in Parliamentary parlance, I think it is a terminological inexactitude).

Then, there is the question of impropriety. Should Hideki Kamitsuma CEO of Sri Lanka Telecom have paid from his personal account. Mangala himself says it is wrong but the generous Mr. Kamitsuma remains in office.

Is this the kind of example those in public life set? In my book, Mangala should either resign; be asked to resign with self respect or at the minimum, pay back the monies he spent on the private purchases.

He himself has admitted that when he makes a purchase from a Super Market he pays with his Telecom Credit Card which he later re-imburses. That is all wrong procedure for which lesser mortals in the public service have been sacked for. And Ministers are supposed to set examples, especially the ones who talk so much about bribery and corruption.

The fact that Minister like Ashraff had to be relied on to defend Mangala speaks volumes. That shows the bankruptay of the government members loyalty to each other, doesn't it, Paakshikaya?

But, to return to Paakshikaya's diatribe last week about the so-called business buddies of the UNP from 1977 to 1994, I presume that gives me the licence to at least afford a honorable mention to the SLFP's business buddies from 1960 to 1965 and 1970 to 1977, though it was not my first intention to hark back to events over thirty years ago!.

First, there was S.D. Gunadasa - Dasa Mudalali - who rose like a meteor from nowhere and was financing all types of SLFP activity. Because he had so much to hide by 1977, he joined us, thanks to persuasions of Cyril Mathew, then MP for Kelaniya and Minister of Industries. The "Dasa Samooha Viyaapara" was one of the few local industries to flourish in the early seventies at the expense of many others who ground to a halt. In 1977, Dasa, the story goes, came to see J.R. Jayewardene after he was elected Prime Minister and asked him how much he wanted as a contribution to the UNP. JRJ said "pay one rupee and become a UNP member first."

Then there was J.P.I. Piyadasa who became a multi-millionaire in this period. Any licence he wanted was granted as he was another great philanthropist to the SLFP cause and its leadership.

There was also party stalwart U.K. Edmund who built his brewery; expanded his bookshop and catered for Gaddaffi and Tito et al at the Non-Aligned Conference. Then, he bought the Mt. Lavinia Hotel which now caters for the BMICH.

Another was Lloyd Wettasinghe who is now dead. He did various business deals with the 1970 to 77 regime and was also Chairman of the Ceylon Hotels Corporation. He was one of those who imported many items for the 1976 Non Aligned Conference and was a protege of P.B.G. Kalugalle, then Minister of Tourism.

D. W. Wanigasekera was Dr. N. M. Perera's protege who was appointed a Director of the Bank of Ceylon. In addition, it is very well known that he had close links with Thomas de la Rue who printed Sir Lanka's currency. Surely this was a conflict of interest and when it was pointed out Dr. N. M. Perera ignored it because Wanigasekera was LSSP's largest financier.

Then, there was one Sunderan, Director of a well-known hardware and motor spares firm. From the early days - the mid-1960's he used to organise Mrs. B's poojas at the Munneswaram Temple in Chilaw. (He still does so). When permits to transport rice were never given to anyone, he had all the permits that he wanted. His son now continues the good work and is now Director of a local phone company and was also the agent for Tata petrol bowsers which were to be supplied to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation in 1996 when the tender was cancelled by the Cabinet.

These were a few other examples, Paakshikaya, of how business buddies flourished during 'your' days. But we must not forget that those were the days of state ventures. Everything was state owned. We of the older generation know the joke of that time.

T.B. Illangaratne was Minister of Trade at that time and was nationalising petroleum, insurance, the banks and all the big private institutions that were available. When J.R. Jayewardene one day went to the Parliament toilet to ease himself, he found "TB" already there. JR went a little distance away from him. When Illangaratne asked JR why he was moving away JR said"I'm afraid because you nationalise everything big and private that you see".

That joke aptly describes the economic climate of the time. But the irony, Paakshikaya, is that Illangaratne formed the SLMP with your leader and Vijaya Kumaratunga but your leader is now privatising everything big that she sees having learnt the hard way that state ventures do not work in Sri Lanka. And how your Troskyite and Communist allies cheer from the sidelines is equally amazing.

The possibility now, Paakshikaya, is that we may revert to the economic state of the early and mid-seventies given your government's economic management. The dollar is at Rs. 66 and the sterling pound at Rs. 107. History, they say, repeats itself. Beware!

But here I must digress, Paakshikaya, to reply to you about your allegations last week about Rajahs and crooks who you say made it good in the 1977 to 1994 period when we governed the country.

And Paakshikaya you saved the worst for the last in your column last week. Do I detect the tiniest sliver of malice in your dissection of the Rajahs a wee spot of venom in those shafts you cast so adroitly?

The main thrust of your argument, as I remember, was that the Rajahs used their friendship and influence with Gamini Dissanayake and Premadasa to a amass great wealth and build a vast empire.

You write (rather condescendingly) of a Company with 40 Agencies including one for Parker pens, which, from the time the UNP came to power, leapt from relative obscurity to become an organisation so vast and powerful that it could even cock a snook at President Premadasa.

But let us look at the facts Paakshikaya. After years of claustrophobic isolation JRJ ushers in a market economy. The Rajahs are up and running, while our other compatriots are still hitching up their cloths! Two young people with little training or experience in business, with no colonial name tag or tradition in political affinity, work to bring their company to the front line of Sri Lanka - business. To my mind Paakshikaya this is what democracy and an open economy is all about.

They may have been able to fix that little tea party at Parliament and perhaps other ousted politicians whom they had befriended may have been duly grateful when they returned to power. But not all their kindnesses were based on a cold calculation.

Let me tell you a little story of the Rajahs, Paakshikaya. A long time ago on the day following a general election thousands of politically activated thugs attacked and caused wanton destruction to an institution. Curious passers-by stopped to watch the Directors sweeping up the debris. The Rajahs saw it too, and the next day a message arrived offering any assistance they could give. They had nothing to gain, in fact something to lose, to be associated with political pariahs whose fate had already been sealed by then.And Paakshikaya how easily you forget that hand of friendship. Long before Dingiri Banda was even several heartbeats away from being President of Sri Lanka your own Vijaya Kumaratunga no less, was befriended by the Rajahs and so indeed was Gamini Fonseka. Should the Rajahs not have actor friends? Or will you say that they were being lined up to liven up MTV?

As for the person with a rhyming name whoever he may be, and Lingam who is after, if your government had a few more of those around it would not be sinking in a quagmire of contrary decisions based on the advice of an apathetic public service.

Companies whether they belong to your top ten or to our hits of yesteryear, have trouble shooters whether free lancers or not, and it is their business to do business for their employers. In the bad old days of the early seventies, your favoured companies had public servants freelancing for them! Powerful or not, the Rajahs stood up for their employee and in any book that should earn their marks. They went global after the trauma of 1983. At least there is an open investment, so why accuse them of siphoning?

The trouble with your lot Paakshikaya is that all this Pan Communal brotherhood sits ill on you. As you will know all true blue hearts don't go pit a pat but run to the strain of Dutugemunu - Dutugemunu .. or is there a more mundane explanation? Are you simply envious of not having a Raja turbo charger to wind up your sputtering engine of growth?

Then, Paakshikaya, I also think you have overstepped the mark last week by mentioning some of the finest captains of industry whose integrity has never been questioned this far Chanaka de Silva, who was Insurance Corporation Chairman under Lalith Athulathmudali. As for the Tyre Corporation purchase, this was resolutely opposed by President Premadasa because of the misconceived perception that you too, Paakshikaya, has fallen to, that he was a financial backer of Lalith Athulathmudali and therefore of the DUNF. And knowledgeable people will tell you, that all obstacles were placed against this purchase. His personal wealth, anyone will agree, did not come from sordid deals. Yes, he was a fast bowler for Royal but he bowled no bouncers, no balls or under arm deliveries then or now!

Now, Paakshikaya, look at the number of people who made money under the UNP. Compare it with the number I could come up with from 1970 to 1977 and the present PA 'Top Ten' Which is more appalling, Paakshikaya? Will you take up that challenge? Yes, Paakshikaya, we made a lot of capitalists in our time. The country was rich. What have you done? You have swallowed up the capital through state ventures or sold it to foreigners.

And, just for the record, Paakshikaya, there were some important names you omitted from the list of those who made money from 1977 to 1994.You have given 'JR's list", 'Premadasa's list. 'Gamini Dissanayake's' 'Lalith Athulathmudali's, list and Ronnie de Mel's list. (You haven't come up with Ranil Wickremesinghe's list) but what about the 'Bandaranaike list?'

Yes, what about Harry Stassen Jayawardena who became a millionaire under the UNP? Well, he did contribute to some donation lists floated by President Premadasa but those were not "under the table" donations. He was more a personal friend of the Bandaranaike family; mother, son and daughter.

The monies he gave us were published in the newspapers. Not so, the monies given to you, Paakshikaya. That is why he has been rewarded with the Chairman's post of AirLanka despite having some Customs cases against him. Imagine, a Customs 'target' is the Chairman of the country's national carrier! And, it was under our open economy that he became a millionaire!

I rest my case Paakshikaya.

When they all placed their cards on the table

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

No cooling of heels in post SAARC summit chaos was possible for the government as it plunged itself to an avant garde battle in Parliament on Tuesday with Posts, Telecommunication and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera playing the role of the accused and Rajitha Senaratne the prosecutor.

The Minister trooped in with the rest of the PA benchers. The galleries were filled to capacity with people ranging from officials and monks to Sudu Nelum stalwarts. And then the stage was set for UNP's Rajitha Senaratne to move the no-confidence motion.

His spicy speech tackled issues ranging from Happy Jewels to porn web sites. He said nobody would be issued two credit cards, specially when the first card ran into arrears, and true to style, Mangala was in arrears.

"It was funny when the Telecom Chief Executive's cheque bounced and funnier when he admitted that he had no intention of getting the Telecom to settle the dues on a later date. The Minister claims that all his expenses were for 'official entertainment', stubbornly refusing to admit his misdemeanor in utilising the money he should only spend while abroad."

The member well-versed in the game of thrust and parry accused the minister of willful violation of finance regulations and uttering newly fabricated defences when his lapses became obvious.

"The latest tactic was to heap blame on Telecom officers who surfed porn web sites to discredit the minister. He should probe that and find out who had gained illegal access to his equipment."

Lambasting the minister who patiently suffered the battering, he said the minister had earned a reputation for his extravagant life style. One of his Telecom tamashas cost Telecom millions with the pirith ceremony alone costing Rs.100,000.

Leading the defence team, the PA cabinet's computer expert and Trade Minister, Kingsley Wickremeratne, compared the 'sordid' motion to Monica Lewinsky's charges against President Clinton.

To strengthen the defence of his colleague Samaraweera, he read out several circulars issued by the previous government and said a mere 270,000 rupees comparatively was a nonevent.

"The ceiling for a Minister's official expenditure during foreign tours was a colossal Rs.500,000 during the UNP rule, and in that light, a Rs.270,000 was a trifle.You got a professional to scan 32 web cites and fabricated this charge a malicious act stemming from absolute hatred for the outspoken minister with exemplary dress sense and progressive views," Mr. Wickremeratne charged but his words were greeted with an uproar of laughter from the UNP benches.

But Mr. Samaraweera defenders were aplenty with Tamil party MPs making a significant contribution all appreciative of his efforts to rebuild Jaffna.

The silver haired TULF General Secretary R. Sampanthan paid Mr. Samaraweera glowing tributes and opposed what he saw as the UNP's foiled attempts to cling at political straws.

"The TULF appreciated cleanliness in public life to retain public confidence, but the UNP lacked other ammunition against the minister except the solitary credit card issue. He obviously had no skeletons in the cupboards, hence the UNP's venomous zeal and vigorous attacks became futile." Mr. Sampanthan said.

Mr. Samaraweera's supportive lieutenant and Deputy Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, said the PA's response to the charges was a resounding "no". The money appropriated was in accordance with regulations unlike the UNP which contravened regulations and common decency at will.

"The Minister has often returned the balance money after foreign travel, unlike his predecessor. The former minister's wife, though an NCP Minister, accompanied him on all foreign tours posing off as his secretary, while his 13 year old daughter also drew a salary as his secretary. He even used a fleet of 17 vehicles," Mr. Yapa said to the delight of government members who chorused an Always Breakdown 'kethai honde' in unison.

The UNP's Karunasena Kodituwakku laboured to explain that ministers were able to get allocations on a split basis, combined rate and then actuals for extras incurred. Since 1992, ministers were paid Rs.500,000 for vehicle maintenance and foreign travel, something minister Samaraweera was not satisfied with, he said.

PLOTE's D. Siddharthan disagreed and vouched for the honesty of the minister.

He claimed that a minister who signed contracts worth Rs.8,235 million could have become instantly rich, if he so desired. This was the man spearheading the Jaffna rebuilding process and gave Tamils a sense of pride again.

"He is incorruptible, or else why are we speaking about this paltry sum. He is hated by chauvinists for discarding the communal Sinhala Commission Report," he said..

Fisheries Minister Mahinda Rajapakse asked why there should be a debate when the minister's debts were still not settled by anyone.This country has seen worse, had proper sharks. Where were the invaluable paintings, presidential cutlery and precious gems," he asked wryly.

So it seemed the UNP-sponsored no-faith motion had misfired with fiery attacks from government benches. But more fiery was PA General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne who decided to have a go at the UNP, lambasting the opposition ranks including the solitary SLPF member, Nihal Galappathy.

Displaying queer logic, Mr. Jayaratne sought to trivialize the issue by saying a credit card was no use unless it could be used to buy clothing and food. "Or why was it issued anyway?"

UNP's R. A. D. Sirisena was next. He made a passionate appeal to reactivate the bribery commission to probe this matter.

"It is blasphemous to turn a blind eye. The high and mighty could commit all the crimes yet were free to roam the earth, but poorer sections were penalized rather severely. How could Minister Samaraweera go on a shopping spree here and spend on trivialities if the card was issued for spending abroad?"

As PA's A.E. Samarasinghe rose to speak arrived the news-making 'pink files' which were quickly distributed among the PA ranks who were billed to speak. But Mr. Samarasinghe did not require 'file assistance'. Instead, he extensively quoted from an anthropological work based on President Jayewardene's rule, claiming that unlawful enrichment was then an established practice.

The book claimed that the luxurious lifestyle led by the UNP cabinet members was an impossibility if all their ancestral properties, savings and earnings were all pooled together.

Speaking about the Interpol investigation into the alleged surfing of web cites was Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte who claimed that Interpol had confirmed that offences such as this were frequently committed.

"You may have bills, but you must prove that he surfed the sites. All credit card holders must be aware of possible criminality. John Amaratunge, you must take precautions," said a smiling Minister.

Doing a quid pro quo or returning a favour Mr. Samaraweera extended during the Susanthika Jayasinghe episode was Sports Minister S. B. Dissananyake.

The cherubic minister asked whether a sane man would use a credit card soon after its number was published in newspapers, let alone surfing porn web sites.

"I think you got your wires crossed when moving this malicious motion to discredit him. It is not possible for others to know who actually surfed a particular web site, but the UNPers are so certain that they appear to know who actually did. It was done by parties known to the UNP ranks, hence their special knowledge on the matter," Mr. Dissanayake thundered.

He said if the UNP resorted to conspiracies, the PA could do likewise and bring a series of no-confidence motions against each UNP MP, starting from Ranil Wickremesinghe a comment which had the UNPers firing verbal ammunition in a frenzy.

Responding to Mr. Dissanayake's high-pitched delivery on a fierce note was UNP's John Amaratunge, who reiterated the UNP claim that impropriety was manifest in the entire deal.

"It was immaterial whether Mr. Kamitsuma's cheque bounced or otherwise, for the significant thing was that Mr. Kamitsuma wished to settle the bills from his personal funds. Here was a minister settling local bills from a card issued to settle his overseas expenses, and as there was no CID report to the contrary, the presumption that Mangala himself viewed those obscene films stood. Your credit card has discredited you badly," said the MP.

Sudu Nelum stalwart and PA's Badulla district MP Dilan Perera was at his virulent best next, heaping scorn on Rajitha Senaratne.

In his customary bashful manner, he claimed that a member who had entered a valid contract with the government as a medical supplier had no right to sit in Parliament, let alone move a motion of this nature.

"No law was superior to that of a country's Constitution and all of us have pledged to uphold it. As an MP playing dual role as supplier and MP, he has no right to sit here and should be fined Rs. 500 for each sitting he attended," argued Mr. Perera.

What the house did not deserve was the vituperative attack bordering on the minister's privacy, launched by UNP turned SLFPer Mervyn de Silva. In a heavily expunged speech, the older member tainted the minister and his late father as corrupt.

"Look at these pictures," he said, waving some blurry pictures. "When you see them you know who viewed the films because they are much in accordance with his preference," said Mr. de Silva, exclaiming that 'kama sutra' porn was not confined to Tourist Board promotions.

Mr. Samaraweera after a heated trading of insults, rose to speak amidst thunderous applause from the government side. Unusually composed, the youthful minister likened a no-faith motion to a visit to a dentist- for one wished to have it over and done with.

"All these malicious fabrications were the brainchild of a newspaper which has no respect for ethics and was a disgrace to the onerous duty reposed on journalists.

In an awful attempt at 'journalistic engineering', my credit card number was revealed and I became the victim, accused and villain in one go," he said.As the protesting voices on both sides of the divide rose to a crescendo, the minister painstakingly explained the case interspersed with repeated requests to give him a hearing.

A visibly moved minister said he did not wish to remain a minute if the charge that he surfed porn web cites was proved.

"This is a credit card fraud and we have activated the authorities to investigate. Meanwhile I shall file action against the newspaper and the bank which violated confidentiality. None could establish who actually surfed these sites, unless they themselves did it on my account," he said.

Not missing an opportunity to pull a few punches, he added that great politicians of yore died poorer owing to politics. Such men were rare and the present UNP did not have any".

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