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22nd November 1998

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You did this, we did that battle

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

William Randolph Hearst, US media expert harboured a low opinion about politics and had no qualms when he said a politician would do anything to keep his job, even become a patriot.

Good thing that Hearst did not live to suffer the acquaintance of some of our legislators who shame the onerous duty given to them and continuously insult public intelligence.

imageInsults and theatrics apart, the final day of the second reading of the budget became the arena for hurling abuse, and the Speaker's repeated appeals to stick to allotted times and to be relevant, 'as the big guns were all firing' fell on deaf ears. And the absentee MP Nihal Galappatty who staged a dramatic sickness on Tuesday eve became the target of government wrath in addition to the commotion created by MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara who refused to toe the party line and vote with the Government.

Firing a round of salvo earlier in the day was Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who made the comparison between President Kumaratunga's rule to a death trap and a debt trap-a government which had failed to deliver in four years and was incompetent to run a village council let alone be entrusted with the task of looking after 18 million people.

Likening the Government to a train sans a driver travelling at high speed on slippery slopes, he sniped that courting disaster was much in keeping with PA style of governance, and government benches responded that they were auto piloted- and the Opposition broke in to appreciative applause at that.

"The heavy defence budget with a 7% increase, weighed down the people who found it difficult to make ends meet. But the PA was on a saline drip," he quipped and burly Trade Minister Kingsley Wickremeratne was quick to counter that the lethargic Opposition was in dire need of saline. And Mr. Wickremesinghe shot back fast "No way, thanks to you who destroyed agriculture", and an amused Opposition thumped on their desks with glee.

The budget for which the President took credit for, he sniped,was nothing much. The entire country was nearing starvation as farmers were denied irrigation, students- schools and universities, patients-hospitals, people- housing, water and electricity and youth employment .

Referring to the infamous GST as the 'Gona Saha Thanakola' tax, he noted that the tax was originally meant to replace other sales taxes and levies and not to be imposed along with excise duty and defence levy.

When Trade Minister Kingsley Wickremeratne - the butt end of recent verbal attacks stood up next, Opposition ranks commenced booing with gusto. Predictably, he launched into an attack on the UNP which he claimed was the destroyer of everything and left the PA with a horrible legacy.

"Did I hear Mussolini or Satan speak? How short is Ranil's memory that he was now promoting the Indo- Lanka trade links. It was the UNP who had an anti_India stance for which the country had to pay in terms of international relations," he thundered, his voice hoarse inside a house in turmoil.

UNP finance whiz Ronnie de Mel speaking next, chose to lambast the Government on an unpardonable 'economic faux pas', an awful performance and a policy of taxing people from the womb to the tomb.

In a one and a half hour long delivery, the senior parliamentarian from Devinuwara claimed the budget was by the blue chips for the blue chips, their cronies and supporters. Mr. de Mel who had enjoyed the privilege of participating in 27 budget debates, said this budget was only words and no substance.

He exhaustively explained his achievements during his tenure as finance minister and how he liberalized the economy amidst stiff resistance. The PA had no major development projects to show at the end of the tenure unlike the UNP which had introduced sweeping economic reforms, he said.Amused Government members queried whether he could at least make a passing reference to the present budget instead of praising his own achievements.

But Minister G.L. Peiris having weathered tumultuous attacks from the Opposition spoke, more or less repeating his budget speech. He reiterated the government had not delegated its duties and functions to the private sector to win the economic war- and moved zealously to defend his budget.

Meanwhile the committee stage budget debate on Thursday had more fire and sparkle with insults galore and the liberal use of unparliamentary language. The emphasis was on the President's vote with MPs heaping scorn with gay abandon and the UNPers quite content to forget their architectural role in introducing the executive presidency.

Lambasting the Presidency with fiery vehemence was arch rival and former confidante Dr. Rajitha Senaratne who claimed the allocation for presidential consumption had shot up by 6 %.

" What happened to the Mangala Samaraweeras of the PA ranks whose past time was to make thundering speeches accusing the Premadasas of unforgivable sins. Those extravagances are nothing compared to all this, and the critical minister now dines and wines with Premadasas and calls them his friends."

The dentist- politician thundered that from an allocation of Rs. 194 million in 1994, it had increased to a mammoth Rs. 3338 million. Other allocations have reduced considerably and inflation had only affected the President".

Replying to the spicy speech in gentle demeanor was Cultural and Religious Affairs Minister Lakshman Jayakody who at the outset declared he could neither wash dishes nor dirty linen in public and the Opposition benches screamed hoarse that he could not defend a presidency gone sour.

The task of leading the defence team was entrusted to burly Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva who noted the UNP's willingness to abolish executive presidency was inadequate when taking into account all the present realities. But Dr. Senaratne, he noted, spoke with customary vicious edge as he harboured a grudge against the President.

Following suit was Minister Mangala Samaraweera displaying the usual fire in defending the government. The PA's blue -eyed boy from the outset listed a series of questionable activities of the UNP relating to the utilisation of the President's Fund.

Claiming that millions have been spent sans accountability, he said the library at the Jayawardene Centre had received money from the Fund, but those who were in actual need were not provided for.

Targeting the Opposition Leader next, he said Ranil Wickremesinghe who is also the son of a millionaire had obtained Rs. 43,000 as medical expenses from the Fund, and Opposition benches rose up in rebellion calling 'balla booruwa and gona'. But the Minister persisted he had his facts correct and those differing could charge him in court. But the atmosphere grew so volatile and the Opposition protest louder than ever, that Deputy Chairman of Committees Rauff Hakeem was compelled to suspend the House in despair as trading insults rose to a peak.

Speaking soon afterwards was Opposition Leader's trusted Lieutenant and party general secretary Gamini Atukorale who charged Minister Samraweera of tarnishing others' images as he did not possess anything to defend.

He explained that the UNP leader had a fall while on official duty in 1993 and as the treatment was insufficient he was sent abroad, and his travelling expenses were independently obtained.

"He did not purchase clothes, liquor or watch blue films as in the infamous credit card episode. This Minister was obviously motivated by a desire to sling mud" he accused.

In a sensible winding up speech, Leader of the House Ratnasiri Wickremenayake appealed for better sense to prevail among members and the preservation of parliamentary democracy. In a passionate appeal, he said: " Speaker Sir, the appalling levels of behaviour and the vitriolic speech had caused people to lose faith in this august assembly. Having represented many parliaments before, I know that this could be the arena of healthy verbal sparring, intelligent debate but not a boxing ring to punch each others' ears" he noted.

Countering the many charges that allocations have been reduced for various heads, he urged that certain standards be maintained instead of resorting to quote wrong figures and misguide the entire nation- the fervent hope of the voting public of this banana republic.

Take rebels to task, South Africa urged

By Peter Fabricius

The South African Government has run into problems with two foreign governments Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo which are concerned that it is not doing enough to clamp down on rebel groups operating against them.

SA's strictly constitutional policy of tolerating all shades of opinion is creating some problems with these governments.

Earlier this week visiting DRC Foreign Minister, Jean-Charles Okoto Lolakombe, openly accused South Africa of harbouring rebel groups which are now fighting to topple his government a charge strongly rejected by South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo.

And according to some observers, differences are emerging between the SA Government and the Sri Lankan government over how to deal with the LTTE

movement the notorious Tamil Tigers who are fighting a war of secession.

Lakshman KadirgamarSri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar met Nzo in Pretoria this week to seek assurances that SA would not allow the LTTE to open an office in SA.

He said Sri Lanka believed the LTTE was planning to move its headquarters from Britain to SA, because of new anti-terrorist legislation being introduced in Britain.

He also accused the Durban-based Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) in SA of being a fund-raising front for the LTTE.

The Sri Lankan High Commission in Pretoria raised a few eyebrows in diplomatic circles when it issued a statement after the meeting saying that President Mandela had given Sri Lanka the assurance that "the LTTE will never be allowed to open an office in South Africa".

Nelson MandelaThe high commission said Nzo had conveyed this "categorical assurance" from Mandela to Kadirgamar. But it is understood that Nzo's assurances were not quite that strong and that he actually told Kadirgamar that SA would prevent any terrorist activity from being planned from SA and would also strongly discourage anyone from associating with the LTTE in SA.

This was not quite the same thing as promising that the LTTE would never be allowed to open an office in SA, commentators noted, adding that SA's constitution enshrines freedom of expression, which prevents it from banning an organisation purely on what it says.

If the LTTE opened an office in SA without conducting terrorist activities from this country, it would be difficult to justify banning it, they suggested.

Asked if his government had not put the SA Government's assurances too strongly, Kadirgamar said he thought not, because it was generally understood that the LTTE was a terrorist organisation.

He was speaking in a briefing at the SA Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg.

In an interview afterwards, he said he had merely issued a "friendly warning" to Nzo about the dangers of allowing the LTTE to operate in SA.

Kadirgamar said in the Sri Lankan High Commission statement that Sri Lanka was very concerned about the role being played by the TRO in Durban,"which was known to be a front for LTTE fund-raising".

He noted that "a similar thing happened to the Indian government when this body was given free rein in the mid-80s.

It ended up in the murder of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and India has now banned the movement and the leader of the LTTE, Prabhakaran, has been convicted of the murder of Gandhi".

Johannesburg Star

South Africa unleashes sleuths to probe LTTE

By Our Diplomatic Correspondent

South Africa has unleashed its intelligence sleuths to probe suspected LTTE bases within it's territory, The Sunday Times learns.

The probe began after the Durban-based Sunday Times highlighted suspected LTTE camps in South Africa and Sri Lanka's concern that the LTTE was preparing to shift its international base to that country as Britain was preparing to tighten the screws on foreign terrorist groups.

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who got a firm commitment from Pretoria on Monday that the LTTE will not be permitted to use South Africa as a base held several briefing sessions with leaders of that country among whom was Deputy Intelligence Services Minister J. M. Nhla Nhla.

Mr. Nhla is reported to have told Mr. Kadirgamar that the Southern African region was a confused area with several mercenaries and groups at work, especially around Lesotho and Namibia. "We certainly do not want an outlawed outfit here," he said.

The thrust of Mr. Kadirga-mar's mission had been to win Pretoria's support to prevent LTTE from setting up a base there and to convince leaders that support for the LTTE would be fatal as happened to Indian leaders not too long ago.

Three pro-LTTE groups in S. Africa identified

Three pro-LTTE organisations in South Africa have been identified as President Nelson Mandela assured Sri Lanka that the LTTE would not be allowed to set up a political base there.

Consistent with the fragmented nature of organisations of the Indian Diaspora everywhere in the world, in South Africa too, there are several organisations espousing or claiming to espouse the Tamil separatist cause in Sri Lanka, the Madras-based Hindu newspaper reported.

Three of these organisations have been in the forefront the People Against Sri Lankan Oppression (PASLO) with branches all over South Africa, Dravidians for Peace and Justice (DPJ) and Tamil Eelam Support Movement (TESM).

The first two groups recently formed the Peace for Sri Lanka Support Movement, with a cultural and humanitarian programme.

The TESM is the most explicitly pro-LTTE organisation in South Africa, reports said.

They also say support for the LTTE and for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause in general has included fund-raising ostensibly for the Sri Lankan Tamils affected by the conflict.There have also been reports of contacts with a well-known South African security 'outfit, 'Executive Outcomes', principally with a view to buying arms.

According to informed sources the LTTE has considered West Asia as well as South Africa as possible areas for relocation. At least two senior LTTE leaders are believed to have made scouting visits to South Africa in the past few months.

South Africa with more than a million citizens of South Asian origin, nearly half of them claiming or being credited with a 'Tamil' origin, would be an excellent place for the LTTE to relocate, especially in view of its strong official emphasis on a Culture of human rights,' a card which every side in every murderous civil strife has cynically exploited, the Hindu said.

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