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3rd January 1999
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Missing children traced to children's home

By S.S.Selvanayagam
Following efforts by human rights groups and exposure in The Sunday Times, the two children who were reported missing after they were taken into police custody along with a woman, have now been traced to a Children's home in Pitakotte.

K.M.M. Sheriff, secretary of the Presidential Committee on Unlawful Arrests and Harassment, said the Police Headquarters had informed them that detectives acted on a Sunday Times report and found the children at the Pitakotte Vajira Lama Nivasa.

The two children aged 11 and 8 could not be found for the past four weeks despite attempts by human rights activists.

Human rights activist Velautham Maheswari said she saw the children at this home on Tuesday and said that the detainee's son wanted to see his mother who is in Welikada prison. The other child was a nephew of the detainee.She said that she also met the detainee N.Maheswari at the prison and told her the whereabouts of her children. She requested her not to leave the children at the home but to send them to her husband who is in the Wanni. Ms. Maheshwari and CWC MP R. Yogarajan expressed concern about the children being denied education in the Tamil medium. They claimed that only Sinhala and Buddhism are taught to the children at the Pitakotte home. Mr. Yogarajan said he visited the children's home to check on the veracity of the police claim but was not allowed to see the children.

He was told that as the children had been looked after in the home since April 7 under a court order, no one could see the children without court permission. 

8,000 state bank workers face dismissal

By Chamintha Thilakarathna
Some 8,000 lower grade state bank employees are face retrenchment in the new year if recommendations by an expert committee to enhance efficiency are implemented, union leaders said.

The committee which studied state bank salary structures and efficiency has recommended that state banks undertake a reassessment of their staff strengths with a view to rationalising and down-sizing their numbers. 

But union officials say they see the recommendations as a move towards privatisation of state banks.

A report by the committee says: "Grades such as security guards, watchers, peons, labourers, performing what are essentially service functions could be outsourced and discharged as this is the practice in other commercial banks."

The report says these measures would lead to more efficiency, cut costs, and thereby enable the payment of the restructured salary more affordable.

The report also states that salaries, allowances, fringe and terminal benefits to these grades need to be minimised and as an immediate measure, fresh recruitment to these grades should be stopped.

A survey of private sector banks conducted by the committee has revealed that fewer grades and a better structured salary schemes could bring about more efficiency and better administration. 

An official of the powerful Ceylon Bank Employees Union told The Sunday Times they would oppose the recommendations if they were implemented at the cost of lower grade employees.

"The committee has consulted us and we have objected to the proposed salary restructure and other proposals. We feel every clause in the report points to a privatisation of the state banks and cut down of staff," CBEU General Secretary M. R. Shah said.

Northern Muslims take case to UNP

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The main opposition UNP, has agreed to take up the case of displaced northern Muslims and ensure that any settlement of the ethnic conflict accommodates a just solution to their grievances too.

The assurance was given by UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe when he met a delegation from the Northern Muslim Rights Organisation (NMRO), an official said.

The group asked that the forcible expulsion of Muslims from the North in 1990 be recognised as mass expulsion of an ethnic community against their will, those expelled be recognised as a displaced community of a special category until they return to places of origin and this question be given its due place in all national level fora and efforts to resolve the ethnic conflict. 

A spokesman fo the group said the UNP accepted these three demands in principle though it has reservations about the wording.

The group also asked that when the displaced northern Muslims decide to return to their places of origin, proper minority rights protection and appropriate settlement be offered to them.

Mr. Wickremesinghe affirmed the party's committment to minority rights protection and said he would hold further discussion on the matter. 

The NMRO was represented by Prof. H.S. Hisbullah, A.C. Burhandeen, Moulavi Sufiyan, M.N. Ameen and others.

PA nod for YP's wife as MP

By Shelani de Silva
The ruling People's Alliance has agreed to a request by the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party to appoint Y.P.Silva's wife as a national list MP, but it has not given any assurance on the party's second request the appointment of its leader as a deputy minister.

Party leader Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra told The Sunday Times that the Government had assured them the appointment would be made in a few weeks.

"We were officially informed by the General Secretary that the Government has decided to make the appointment," he said.

He refuted rumours that the government was to appont a Tamil politician to fill the vacancy. However no finality has been reached regarding the SLMP's second request for appointing Mr. Premachandra as the Deputy Minister of Food, The Sunday Times learns.

"We did receive a letter from the president but it was an acknowledgment of our request," Mr. Premachandra said acknowledging it was the President's prerogative to appoint deputy ministers.

Private hospitals seek remedy for bitter bill

By Faraza Farook
The Association of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes (APHNH) has appealed to the government that the proposed bill to regulate private medical institutions be amended to include their suggestions.

The proposed bill which seeks to authorise the Health Ministry to regulate, monitor and supervise the private medical institutions, is seen by many private hospitals as harsh and they want the government to review the bill which is to be presented in parliament next month.

The APHNH Secretary Wijeya Ransi said one of their suggestions was to appoint more representatives to a government supervisory council comprising medical officials.

Dr. Ananda Samarasekera, president of the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) said the bill, among other things, was aimed at regulating hospital charges, doctors' fees and the recruitment of pharmacists, nurses and labourers. 

Dr. Samarasekera said some private hopitals recruit unqualified people for these posts without even registering them with the Medical Council.

A Presidential Task Force on health sector reforms in a report said that 50 percent of the outpatient services and five percent of in-patient care were provided by the private sector. "The rising charges for certain services have placed them effectively beyond the reach of the poor," it said.

It noted that lack of regulations and poor supervision has resulted in the mushrooming of several institutions that provide poor quality care.

Cadet pilots allege irregular recruitment procedure

By M.Ismeth
AirLanka cadet pilots have alleged that there have been irregularities in recruitment to their post.

In a letter to the Aviation Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake, they have alleged that the flight operations manager has entertained applications of candidates who did not have the basic requirements as set out in newspaper advertisements and called them for a written interview.

The cadets also charge that at the preliminary interview held on December 23, those who did not hold a Sri Lanka commercial pilots licence with Instrument Rating and those who held the licence but did not hold a valid Instrument Rating were given time till January 31 to obtain the necessary qualifications.

The letter also alleges that the flight operations manager readvertised vacancies to accomodate those of his choice who were expected to obtain the Sri Lanka licence by the end of last year, which invariably would be after the closing date.

The cadets have appealed to the Minster to stop the written examination and request AirLanka to have all applications rescrutinised to ascertain if all those called for the written test posssessed the basic requirements.

They have also urged the Minister to remove the Manager, Flight Operations from the recruitment panel.

The cadets allege that the last advertisement contained a clause which was included to accomodate blue eyed boys of some VIPs who had close to 1000 hours flying and who had gained experience in Australia and the US, whereas cadets trained here have the option of joining the Air Force to accumulate flying hours, and that the Air Force could accommodate only a set number due to lack of transport aircraft.

If no action is taken by the Ministry, cadets say they would seek legal advice and go to courts.

A doctor's prescription for faulty drug problem

By Hussain Saibo
A leading doctor in the country has expressed concern over the indiscriminate manner in which drugs were dispensed to patients both at licensed pharmacies and at unauthorized outlets.

The doctor, who requested he be not named, told The Sunday Times, there were at least 70,000 deaths each year in the United States due to faulty dispensation of drugs and said he believed there could be similar risks to patients in this country.

He said there were several instances of which he knew where pharmacists substituted at their own discretion drugs which did not conform to the doctor's prescriptions. 

This could be dangerous he said and can have serious consequences for patients who gullibly accepted what the pharmacy recommended as being a drug that was as effective as the one prescribed by the doctor. 

But there could be incompatibilities with other drugs on the prescription, or allergic reactions of which even a trained pharmacist may not be better aware, let alone qualified doctors with years of practice.

The doctor said pharmacies had in recent years become profitable businesses. In addition to licenced pharmacies there were several unauthorised outlets taking advantage of the boom in the drugs market. Many of them were thought to be operating, displaying photocopies of licences obtained from authorised licence holders.

The doctor suggested that patients maintain a file of their case histories, including the names of drugs administered by doctors or prescribed for them and receipts obtained from pharmacies at which they had purchased the drugs. 

"It would be safer for patients to make their purchases of drugs from a single registered pharmacist so that monitoring of any irregularity would become easy," he said. 

Media family stamped out in Trichy

A senior Sri Lankan journalist, his wife, son, daughter-in-law and his three year old grandson, were given immediate deportation orders by Immigration authorities at Trichy Airport, on Christmas Eve, to return to Sri Lanka on an AirLanka flight, because the baby's visa had not been 'stamped' properly by the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

The journalist said that the indifference, lethargy and arrogant attitude of the Indian guards at the High Commission entrance and the negligence of the officer in the visa office had led to the deportation order on his daughter-in-law and grandson.

The journalist, had travelled to India with his family to fulfil a vow for his once cancer-ridden daughter-in-law at the Holy Shrine of Our Lady at Vailakkanni Church on the outskirts of Nagarpatnam, a five hour journey from Trichy airport.

The visa officer of the Indian High Commission in Colombo who had scanned the relevant papers admitted to the journalist that someone had made a serious blunder in not stamping his grandson's visa.

He had apologised to the journalist and said he would grant the daughter-in-law a free visa to India at any time she wished. 

However, two-way tickets from Colombo to Trichy had to be paid for by the journalist. 

Bumper racket in hamper

By Chris Kamalendran 
A seasonal hamper racket to the tune of lakhs of rupees by two supermarkets in Colombo and Nugegoda has been busted by the Excise officials.

City Excise Chief T. Mahendran said that on a tip off they raided the supermarket and seized duty free liquor valued at more than Rs. 650,000, which the shops were selling without license with the bottles packed in seasonal hampers containing food stuffs and cordials.

He said an Excise Department decoy had visited the supermarket and bought a hamper for Rs. 7550. 

Among the items was Duty free liquor for which the shop had no license.

In the second case another supermarket was raided and found to be selling 'hamper liquor' without license, thus making a huge profit while denying the government of excise duty. This supermarket had a license for a sale of wine and beer only. But Excise officials found foreign liquor to the value of Rs. 150,000. "On the pretext of selling hampers they are involved in a thriving liquor business. They not only undercut the authorised liquor dealers by selling liquor at little above duty free prices, but also deprive the government of revenue', Mr. Mahendran said.

He said any shop wanting to sell hampers containing foreign liquor would have to obtain a temporary license for Rs. 250,000. And this would be valid only for the festive season. To sell local liquor the license would cost Rs. 150,000.

Farmers to get guns again

By Chamintha Thilakarathna
Despite warnings from defence experts against the abuse of firearms licences and the setting up of a gun factory in Sri Lanka, distribution of application forms for such licences has already begun.

Those who surrendered their weapons in 1988 have received application forms to obtain firearms to safeguard their crops, weeks after Minister D. M. Jayaratna proposed the setting up of a gun factory.

All applicants have been asked to obtain approval from the grama niladhari, police, divisional secretariat and the government agent. Once the approval is given the applications are to be sent to the Additional Secretary of the Defence Ministry and then to the Defence Secretary before the licence for possessing a firearms could be obtained. 

Mr. Jayaratna earlier told The Sunday Times that a gun factory would help reduce the defence cost and would be able to turn out shotguns, knives and other items necessary for agricultural activities. 

He said, "the guns would be provided on a selective basis and the ministries concerned would take every possible step to ensure that they don't fall into the wrong hands." 

Defence experts warned that providing these weapons could create a Chicago in Sri Lanka, already saddled with the ongoing war and political violence.

Backbenchers fight poll violence

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
With a view to discussing a common campaign and an agenda of action to curb violence during the Wayamba polls, an all-party backbenchers front for the elimination of violence will meet on Thursday.

Mulberry Group General Secretary and Kurunegala district MP T.B. Ekanayake said that in addition to manning each electorate, the MPs were likely to decide on a common campaign as well

"We are discussing how these ideas could be translated in to action. The ideal situation would be for two MPs representing the PA and the UNP to conduct house-to-house campaigns and address people together, spell out party strategies and achievements and to jointly appeal for non-violence."

Incidents of violence in the NWP rose to 60 reported events, and the UNP held a protest on December 31 at Ridheegama when UNP parliamentarian J.C. Alawathuwawala's office was allegedly attacked.

UNP MP Imthiaz Bakeer Markar, a member of the joint committee of MPs, claimed that despite a pioneering effort by peace loving backbenchers, the government top rung was trying to scuttle their good work by unleashing violence in the province. Another MP Kesarlal Gunesekara denying the charge that it was heartening to note that MPs had finally crossed the great divide to uproot violence.

"During the previous regime only the Opposition lodged complaints as the then government went on a violence spree. 

But now both UNP and PA members were making complaints, which indicates a general consensus that violence should be aborted. Our am is to create a violence free atmosphere for free and fair polls in year 2000," he said.

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