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30th August 1998

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Kala Korner - by DeeCee

Youth to the fore

Awards at the annual State Drama Festival always lead to a lot of discussion and debate every year. So from tomorrow the fun will begin after the awards are announced this evening.

One significant feature in recent years has been the active participation of young dramatists in the drama competition. The annual competition organised by the National Youth Services Council (NYSC) has helped youth to expose their talent. Winners at the NYSC festival naturally tend to take part in the big event and make a name for themselves. But not often do they win awards, which are generally carried away by the more seasoned dramatists.

Will it be a different story this time? One can never say. The awards - eight in all for Best Drama, Best Director, Best Actor & Best Actress - in two categories (short and long plays) will only be announced this evening. Out of the seven full-length dramas selected for the third and final round, five were by young dramatists. These seven were selected from 57 plays staged for the first round. Sixteen got selected for the second round.

The seven plays were: K B Herath's Deveni Mahinda, Visakesa Chandrasekeran's Thahanam Adaviya, Buddhika Dayantha's Palingurena (an adaptation of Tennessee Williams 'Glass Menagerie'), Saman Gamini's Bubula, Ajith Premakumara's Yushuru (adaptation of Miraish Tokyo's 'Twilight of a Crane'), Sunil Chandarasiri's Gini Dandu Hevana (adaptation of 'Shadow of a Gunman' by Shoan O'Kessey) and Tilak Nandana Hettiarachchi's Gabsava.

Hard work

Undoubtedly it's a tedious process and no easy task for the panel of judges who rarely get a good word for their hard work. Last year there were enough and more arguments among the panel members themselves after the awards presentation. A general complaint was that the chairman of the panel tended to act arbitrarily and rather than be one among equals, he thought he had extra powers and an additional vote.

The Sinhala Drama Panel of the Arts Council, which organises the Festival changed the format for the selection of the panel this year.

"The chairman used to be named by the Drama Panel when the other judges are named, but this year we first named the judges and asked them to elect the chairman" Drama Panel Chairman, E M G Edirisinghe told me.

This year' s panel of judges comprises Wimaladharma Diyasena (Chairman), E M G Edirisinghe, Dr W. G. Kularatne, Chandrasena Dassanayake, Wijeratne Pathiraja, R R Samarakoon, Dr Sarath Wijesuriya, Sunethra Sarachchandra and Hemasiri Premawardena. At least two of them - Dassanayake and Samarakoon - were in the forefront of Sinhala drama several years ago.

Now that they are not active on stage, it's good that they have been invited to contribute at least in this manner to the progress of Sinhala drama.

Their experience and knowledge gained over the years would have been of great assistance to the panel.

The Festival is once again sponsored by the National Insurance Corporation.

Short plays

The response for the short plays this year too was most encouraging. The total number of 89 scripts received for the competition were all from young dramatists. Unlike for the long length dramas, in the case of short plays the scripts are first screened and only those selected go in for production.

Fifty one scripts were accepted and 45 plays were staged for the first round out of which 16 were selected for the second round.Twelve were staged for the final round.

The competition for short plays was started three years ago with the objective of encouraging young people. The objective has been achieved since all participants are young men.


The Drama Festival dates back to the late fifties when the then Drama Panel led by the distinguished civil servant who has done much for the upliftment of the Sinhala arts, M. J. Perera organised the first one "to assist the growth of the Sinhala theatre which has now awakened from its dormant state". In a souvenir note, the Panel hoped that "the festival will surprise those who thought the Sinhala theatre was dead".

Most of the selected plays were ones which were staged in 1957 and 1958 and the Panel said that their aim in presenting these plays was to enable the public to assess the Sinhala theatre of the day and to encourage producers.

The plays staged at the first-ever festival in January 1959 were Gunasena Galappatti's Sandakinduru, W. J. Fernando's Rahas Komasaris, Ram Abeywardena & Malawita Mohottala's Sanasuma, Ediriweera Sarachchandra's Maname, Rattaran & Kadavalalu, Gamini Hattottuwegama's Magul Prastava, Henry Jayasena's Pavukarayo, Alfred Edirimanne's Handahana and Richard Thenabadu's Kapuva Kapoti. These were presented by well-known theatre groups at the time like Jana Ranga Sabha, Visva Natya Kala Mandalaya and University Sinhalese Drama Circles, Peradeniya & Colombo. The venue of the festival was the Government Junior School, Havelock Town which soon became the "Mecca' of Sinhala Theatre and came to be known as Lumbini Theatre. That was after the name of the school was changed to Lumbini Maha Vidyalaya.

The drama festival has come a long way since then. Let us hope that the revival now being noticed will gather momentum in the years to come.

Point of view

Ministers watch your conduct

by Tyronne Fernando, M.P, P.C

2000 years ago Plutarch said that Caesar's wife had to be beyond suspicion.

Modern Society too requires public office holders to be beyond reproach and even the appearance of reproach.

The conduct of Legislators comes under close scrutiny in many ways. One, is by Parliament itself.

Parliamentary privilege i.e. the right of a Member of Parliament to say anything in the House and not be liable to any civil or criminal proceedings, serves this vital purpose.

Take for example the case in 1963 of John Profumo, British Secretary for State for War, who was allegedly sharing a girl Christine Keeler with Ivanov the naval attache at the Soviet Embassy in London. Labour M.P. George Wigg used his Parliamentary privilege and immunity to question and expose the whole episode when the Media hung back in fear of libel action. On March 22nd, 1963, George Wigg spoke in the House of Commons: "I rightly use the privilege of the House of Commons - that is what it is given to me for - to ask the Home Secretary to deny the truth of these rumours or else to set up a Select Committee". (Wayland Young "The Profumo Affair 1963").

A possible breach of British Security was feared.

Profumo - thought of at the time as a possible future Prime Minister - ultimately resigned.

Nearly 30 years later in 1992 it was the Media which took the principal role in exposing the case of David Mellor, Secretary of State for National Heritage (also overlooking the Media). He had accepted gifts of free air tickets and the use of a villa. It was reiterated that " it is a well established and recognized rule that no Minister should accept gifts, hospitality or services from anyone which would, or might appear to place him or her under an obligation". (Questions of Procedure for Ministers London Cabinet Office 1992). Despite support from Prime Minister John Major, back bench pressure made Mellor resign.

It has also been well established by Courts everywhere that the media is not liable for damage for invasion of "privacy" in matters of public interest.

In 1995 in the U.K. a Code of Ministerial Conduct was adopted based on the Nolan Committee Report. They added another principle: Ministerial and Constituency Member roles must be kept separate.

Here in Sri Lanka too there is a Code of Conduct for Ministers. This was formulated when R. Premadasa was President in 1990. They are called "Guidelines" and one states: "A Minister shall avoid all situations in which the impression may be created that any person or body through the provision of hospitality or benefits of any kind is attempting to secure the influence or favour of the Minister". Another states: "No Minister shall accept any benefit whatsoever from any person who has entered into or to his knowledge intends to enter into any contractual, proprietary, financial or such other similar relation with the Government."

In both UK and Sri Lanka it is however left to the "Good Sense" of the Minister concerned to resign. (from his post not necessarily from Parliament).

But the Government of Ontario, Canada has gone much further. It has created a Conflict of Interests Commissioner to advise Members of Parliament about ethical duties spelt out in the Act and to recommend to Parliament the imposition of specified penalties against Members who contravene the Act. (members' Conflict of Interests Act of 1987).

In Zambia, Section 5 of the Parliamentary and Ministerial Code of Conduct of 1994 states: "A member shall not speak in the National Assembly or in a committee thereof on a matter in which he has a direct pecuniary interest unless he has disclosed the nature of that interest to the Assembly or Committee". It also lays down other do's and dont's.

The Zambia Constitution of 1991 has gone to the extent of laying down that a Member shall vacate his seat in the Assembly if he acts contrary to a Code of Conduct prescribed by an Act of Parliament. (N.M. Chibesakunda, Clerk of Zambian National Assembly in CPA journal "Parliamentarian" of July 1997).

Clearly, the value of the gift or benefit is immaterial.

In the recent No Confidence debate on Media Minister Samaraweera, it was argued that the value was "Miniscule", about Rs. 270,000/-

However, in the UK in 1994, Jonathan Aitken Chief Secretary to the Treasury (who served with me on the Oxford Union Committee in the early Sixties) had to go because he had accepted hospitality of a Paris Hotel room valued at £1000. (about Rs. 70,000/- then). A grandson of Lord Beaverbrooke of Fleet Street fame and another possible future Prime Minister of UK Aitken had his future blasted for as little a benefit as Rs. 70,000/-.

Matthew Parris a British MP himself the subject of scandal has written a book on "Parliamentary Scandals" where he surmises:

"If we are found out, the world will say, Why? He had everything going for him. He must have known he risked ruin. Why? But the World misunderstands. The secrecy and danger are not a regrettable side-effect of the folly; they are the reason for the folly. They are the spice, the drug."

The fact is that when "found out", a Minister or any person holding high office cannot function effectively.

In 1973, President Nixon of USA tried to weather the Watergate storm. But as Henry Kissinger in his book "Diplomacy" (1995) says: "Nixon's capacity to lead collapsed as the result of Watergate. Watergate deprived Nixon of his moral authority."

In 1989 the Bofors Scandal tainted Rajiv Gandhi and contributed to his downfall.

In 1998 can President Clinton weather the storm of the Lewinsky affair despite a confession? It remains to be seen.

Here in Sri Lanka, towards greater accountability, The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law of 1975 was amended by Act No. 74 of 1988 to allow access to citizens to these declarations on payment of a fee.

A more exhaustive Code of Conduct for Ministers is also needed. Such practices as payment for consultancies and employment after holding Ministerial office need to be covered. And the code must be practical, effective and enforceable.

Setting up a Bribery and Corruption Commission which can investigate Parliamentarians without the Speaker's sanction, and then strangling it, is an act of cynicism which must not be repeated in this exercise.

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