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13th September 1998

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From the Blue Corner

'Jayawewa' to you too!

By Paakshikaya

Viruddha Paakshikaya, in his column last week, called me a 'passionate man'. Though I must remind him that flattery would get him nowhere, I must say at least last week Viruddha Paakshikaya has made some sense in what he wrote.

At the outset, though, he has made a somewhat feeble attempt to defend the UNP's ''Ambassador Extra-Ordinary without Plenipotentiary'' in the United States during the previous regime.

He has said that this ''Ambassador'' who is dabbling in local politics was not appointed as the UNP's organiser for Colombo East. Instead, Karu Jayasuriya got that job, he says.

I don't contest my friend but my friends in the UNP - the few I trust - tell me I had something to do with that. If so, you may consider that as a favour I have done to the UNP, and maybe you can return that favour some day, Viruddha Paakshikaya!

Now, my friend, you just cannot deny the fact that our ''Ambassador'' was canvassing for the post of UNP organiser for Colombo East, but was 'dumped' from that post because of his friendship with our good Professor G.L. Peiris, the SLFP's new organiser for Colombo East. This, by the way, Viruddha Paakshikaya, is not simple bipartisan politics but an unofficial no-contest pact!

I am sure, Viruddha Paakshikaya, if you are really the UNP insider you profess to be, and not just a green horn in a green corner, you will know that there were subtle last minute moves to get Karu Jayasuriya on the UNP's National List and leave him out of Colombo East, or for that matter, Colombo West, to which he was also appointed.

Of course, others in your party - those with their feet more on the ground, than in the air, travelling all over the world - know that Karu J is a more attractive vote-puller for the UNP in Colombo than many others including most of the old-timers who will be throwing their hats into the ring again.

After all this, Viruddha Paakshikaya, I would have thought it may just be possible that your leader is having second thoughts about this ''Ambassador''. But what I hear now is that the young man is accompanying his beloved leader to the United States of America later this month.

After all, this is Ranil Wickremesinghe's first visit to California, the sun and fun state of the United States and perhaps he needs a chaperone to show him around. Ranil, my UNP friends tell me, has never visited California though visits to Washington DC and New York have been all in a day's work.

Now, Viruddha Paakshikaya, contrast that with our mutual friend, Anura Bandaranaike. He has been to California 38 times! I wonder if he has been to Attanagalla so many times.

But of course, I digress. That is beside the point. The more interesting issue here is the relationship between your beloved leader and Anura Bandaranaike. These two former classmates at Royal are now hardly on talking terms.

My UNP friend says that Anura feels Ranil has unleashed the likes of Rajitha Senaratne, Mervyn Silva and now Tyronne Fernando on him. Anura didn't even attend the UNP's Parliamentary Group or Working Committee meetings this week. But then, he joins the Great Leader to go to America!

I know that Anura dislikes our ''Ambassador Extra-Ordinary'' but that is because the latter left the SLFP in the lurch after the 1989 defeat of his mother, Ms. Bandaranaike. But, Viruddha Paakshikaya, Anura can hardly afford to be so sanctimonious about it because he himself left the SLFP in 1994, didn't he?

Anyway, my Sri Lankan friends in California who are being cajoled to cough up US $ 100 per plate for the UNP's fund-raising dinners in Los Angeles will sure have some questions to ask your leadership, Viruddha Paakshikaya.

Anura's gang of buddies (some of them are my buddies too) that he has acquired over 38 trips to California are waiting to give Ranil Wickremesinghe a very ''warm'' reception, I'm told. And our ''Ambassador Extra-Ordinary' is no 'Southerner' in American terms, being only a Washington Wallah, and is unlikely to be able to save the day for Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The very fact that Ranil Wickremesinghe is being taken on this unusual trip to America - to raise funds for the UNP - amply illustrates how Ranil Wickremesinghe is being 'Americanised' in his approach to campaigning. I'm sure, Viruddha Paakshikaya, J.R. Jayewardene, had he been the leader would have opted to hold 'Satyagraha's in Laggala or Siyambalanduwa rather than go for plush dinners at Los Angeles or San Fransisco. As I see it Ranil Wickremesinghe is being taken for a ride in more ways than one. But then, that is his business, isn't it? We in the SLFP can only be beneficiaries of this ''Campaign Strategy''!

I have already written about the early signs of the ''American Syndrome'' during the March 1994 Provincial Council elections in the Southern Province where Ranil Wickremesinghe was taken in a luxury bus (American style) but the crowds were kept a grenade's throw away (not quite American style!)

The same continues these days with slick group, slide and video presentations to Ambassadors based in Sri Lanka (who are not voters, anyway) and to party loyalists (who will anyway vote UNP) at Star-class hotels with sumptious buffet spreads and in air-conditioned rooms.

It appears as if everything is being done to impress the Beloved Leader and Americanise him further. We are sure these tactics will not translate into votes. But why should I complain about that, Viruddha Paakshikaya? That is surely Ranil Wickremesinghe's business and also the business of businessmen close to him.

As you probably know, Viruddha Paakshikaya, these are businessmen who have had the benefit of having their family companies bailed out when they went bankrupt. The Central Bank took over the company pumping in 500 million or more.

All this happened when Ranil Wicremesinghe was either the Minister of Industries or Prime Minister. It was done through the Super Secretary who my readers will know by now - the same Super Secretary who made the "Ambassador Extra-Ordinary" appointment.

The then Governor of the Central Bank refused to bail out this company, though I must admit there were irreconcilable differences between the then Governor and the head of this credit company in the mercantile sector, the latter being himself a one-time VIP of the Central Bank.

Then, to recall again, Viruddha Paakshikaya's efforts last week, I find he has referred to Access deals. Here, I must say I am not contesting him. For, I know to differentiate, the wood from the trees, the wheat from the chaff and the right from the wrong. For what is wrong is wrong, irrespective of politics, and I too agree there is a prima facie case for our government to inquire into what Viruddha Paakshikaya has highlighted.

For those who may not have read last week's article in The Sunday Times by Viruddha Paakshikaya (and there must be many!) he has shown how a company called ''Access'' has tendered for Explosive Detection Equipment for the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Defence's Tender Notice suggests that they conform almost word-for-word with what is contained in the advertising brochure of the tenderer represented by ''Access''.

I do agree with Viruddha Paakshikaya that Defence Ministry Secretary Chandrananda de Silva who has signed calling for these tenders must inquire into this.

Viruddha Paakshikaya himself has referred to President Kumaratunga calling corrupt arms dealers ''Komis kaakkaas'' and in her own inimitable style, asked if they were fish, flesh or fowl - of course in pithy Sinhala, the language of most of the people.

Why I say the government must inquire into these is not just to see how much money is being made through commissions - which is their entitlement - but to see whether they are purchasing some dud equipment for the security forces.

I, even for a moment, cannot defend such actions, Viruddha Paakshikaya, which is why I said at the outset that you had made some sense in your writings last week.

Nevertheless, there are two issues I must raise about Viruddha Paakshikaya's otherwise erudite essay last week: first, some of his facts are not accurate, second, the charge that Access began reaching great heights only after the PA's memorable election victory in 1994.

First about the facts, Viruddha Paakshikaya says that Access recently opened a building ''Access Towers'' costing Rs. 650 million and that the building was constructed without a loan.

I will not hold Viruddha Paakshikaya responsible for this inaccuracy for it seems that people at Access themselves are just bragging about their newfound wealth. This, we know, the nouveau riche have a tendency to do. They shoot their mouth off and brag about their wealth - and get into trouble, too.

Now, anybody in the commercial world knows that the autonomous lending agency, Development Finance Credit Corporation pumped in half of the money used for the project.

There is no doubt that some confusion was thrown in when our own Minister of Housing and Construction, in welcoming this new office complex in the city refers to a major share of the Rs. 650 million being ''foreign capital''.

Now, according to Viruddha Paakshikaya's arithmetic, Access made a Rs. 30 million profit in 1997. All the money is from Access which is Rs. 650 million, which works out to approximately 22 years for Access to get that kind of money and Access is not that old either! Then, something is obviously wrong.

According to my arithmetic, Viruddha Paakshikaya (and this is not New Maths!) the DFCC invested Rs. 350 million in the project, which is more than half of Rs. 650 million and therefore the major share. But our Housing Minister, Indika Gunawardena says the ''major share'' is ''foreign capital''. Then, the question remains, how much did Access put in?

BOI Chairman Tilan Wijesinghe, of course, further complicates the issue, by calling it a ''Singapore- Sri Lanka'' joint venture. Which is what? What is which? I'm not sure myself, Viruddha Paakshikaya. In all probability, there's more to it than meets the eye!

But I'm indeed sure about the second issue I want to raise with you Viruddha Paakshikaya - that Access reached, great heights only after August 1994. Maybe, but let me tell you, Viruddha Paakshikaya, Access is not one of ours - they do have friends in the UNP!

They had good friends in the UNP but the latter have now lost their places in the 'nava' UNP under Ranil Wickremesinghe. One of the first major projects Access won was a tender for lighting at the Khettarama (Premadasa) Stadium.

Viruddha Paakshikaya, you could check that with those who have been ousted from your party and are now organising side-shows of solidarity calling for the return of some people from Australia and reinstatement as organisers in Colombo Central - which has been anyway given to one of the ''golayaa''s who is also in the cement business.

Access has in his large pocket at least one UNP MP and I know that your leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, knows his name. This MP is not a big gun today, but he is very interested in the subject of Defence. He is a keen participant when the UNP's Defence experts meet. Isn't that time, Viruddha Paakshikaya? Check and challenge me if you can!

This is how they operate, Viruddha Paakshikaya. At least both of us can agree that after all is said and done, the business of business is business. But, as I have shown you politics and business mix well, be they PA politics or UNP politics.

So, let me conclude, wishing your leader ''Bon-Voyage''. May he canvass the $ 100 dinners only with people who have no vote in Sri Lanka. May he soak in the sun, sea and sand of California while our leader tours the Sri Lankan countryside rallying the voters of this country behind the PA government!

And, by the way, do ask him to try and make-up with Anura Bandaranaike for if he doesn't, Anura might want to re-join us and we don't want that, do we, Viruddha Paakshikaya! No, we in the SLFP don't want that, most certainly.

But then, I can't put it past the nephew of the Twentieth Century Fox, on the eve of the Twenty First Century, to do a thing like that!

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