21st February 1999
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Opposite the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, a worker helps
a foreign woman wear a sarong to cover up for the short
dress of course. This sartorial service carries a fee too. Some
tourists pay as much as Rs. 1000 to be "properly attired"
before entering the hallowed precincts.
Pic by Shane Seneviratne
New propaganda unit formed, Information Department taken over
By Anthony DavidPresident Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has taken control of the Government's public propaganda campaign by setting up a Policy Research and Information Unit (PRIU) directly under her.
She has named her Additional Secretary Cyril Gunapala as secretary general of the unit that will bring under its umbrella a number of state agencies including the Department of Information. It will also carry out opinion surveys periodically on subjects of importance.
President Kumaratunga told ministers recently that public confidence "in information being disseminated by government agencies has now been eroded to a great extent as the type of information presented is, at times, both divergent and biased."
As a result, she observed, "people tend to view with suspicion whatever they are told regardless of the source from which information originated."
"In order to ensure the accuracy, completeness, clarity and timeliness of information, dissemination of information by Ministries will have to receive prior approval of the proposed unit.," she has added.
Early this month, the cabinet gave approval for the setting up of the PRIU and voted Rs 15 million for immediate expenditure. It is being located at No: 177, R.A. de Mel Mawatha, Colombo 3 and will come under the administrative control of the Presidential Secretariat.
A foreigner has been appointed as consultant on strategy development and creative planning to the unit.
President Kumaratunga's new move comes in the backdrop of elections to five provincial councils on April 1. In addition, both Parliamentary and Presidential elections are scheduled next year.
In the aftermath of the Wayamba provincial elections, President Kumaratunga severely criticised the role of the state media. At a Cabinet meeting, she observed that they had not been effective and did not project adequately the government policies and achievements.
Government sources said though the Department of Information had been brought under the PRIU, other state media agencies coming under the Ministry of Media would remain as they were. "However, there are grey areas between the PRIU and the Media Ministry that have to be clarified as we continue," an official of the unit who did not wish to be identified said.
President Kumaratunga has said all secretaries to the ministries and heads of state agencies would be required to ensure that information units of their respective ministries were "properly organised to gather correct data and provide PRIU with accurate information."
Information and data from foreign sources, President Kumaratunga has said, should be made available "from our missions abroad or collected from foreign diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka should be made available to PRIU by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
Among the various ways "dissemination of information will be undertaken", President Kumaratunga has listed are:
(a) All such information deemed essential for the smooth functioning of the government will be reported to the President, and thereafter to ministers.
(b) A weekly news release will be issued relating to development strategy, government programmes and all other matters of national importance.
(c) Initially, a monthly and subsequently a fortnightly statement (about eight pages) will be issued on selected topics.
(d) The information will be suitably arranged both for the print media, as well as for the electronic media.
UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe told The Sunday Times last night that they were considering the request made by the President.
The President had suggested three dates for the proposed meeting.
This came as the UNP said it would move a resolution in parliament calling for a more independent elections commissioner who is not bound by emergency regulations.
The UNP resolution will propose the commissioner be appointed by the President in consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, and that emergency regulations should not apply to rules governing elections. It has requested that the commissioner be vested with the power to give directions to the police and public officers.
By Shelani de SilvaA Muslim parliamentarian has called on the Commissioner of Elections to make arrangements to send ballot boxes to Mecca to enable Haj pilgrims to cast their votes at the upcoming elections.
I M Ilyas, Jaffna district SLMC MP, told The Sunday Times if the Commissioner was not willing to change the April 1 election date which coincided with the Haj pilgrimage and if the voters could not come to the ballot box then the ballot box must be sent to the voters.
In case any one thought his suggestion was unworkable or funny, he pointed out that Iran had sent ballot boxes to Mecca for its citizens to vote when the presidential election coincided with the Haj pilgrimage.
Asked whether the Commissioner will have to send election staff to Mecca, Mr. Ilyas said it would not be necessary because Mecca was a holy place and no one would cheat.
More than 5,000 Sri Lankan Muslims are expected to go on the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca this year.
By Chamintha ThilakarathnaApparently ashamed and angry over what happened at Wayamba, the SLMC yesterday unanimously decided not to contest with the ruling party at future elections or to give into pressure by the President, even at the cost of losing ministerial posts held by senior members.
Since nominations have already been filed, the party decided to continue with the PA campaign at the forthcoming provincial elections, except in the Kalutara district, where it has filed nominations independently.
But it will not campaign with the PA at any election in future.
"Our voters would be informed that this would by the last campaign the party will hold with the PA." SLMC General Secretary, Rauff Hakeem told The Sunday Times last night.
He said nothing the PA did could change their decision and that they are not giving into any pressure. "We are not afraid of losing the ministerships out members hold. We never asked for them and don't care if they take them back, but we would not change out minds." he said.
By Ayesha R. RafiqA PA candidate at the Wayamba elections has told the Supreme Court that he saw hundreds of votes marked for the PA being stuffed into ballot boxes in several booths.
PA candidate Lakshman Welivitiya, who is also the president of the Kurunegala Lawyers Association said the goons who stuffed the ballot boxes were armed while polls and police officers looked on helpless and frightened.
In a dramatic twist of events, Mr. Welivitiya has filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that his fundamental rights were violated by the actions of his own PA supporters at the Wayamba elections.
He said he had seen ballot boxes in the Kurunegala district being stuffed with hundreds of ballot papers marked for the PA, for preference number 8 as well as other numbers.
Mr. Welivitiya said when he arrived at one of the polling stations in the Kurunegala District a crowd of about hundred had rushed into the polling station.
He had told them he was a PA candidate and asked them to leave. They had however, laughed at him and grabbed a number of ballot papers from the election staff and marked them with the PA symbol. They had then stuffed them in the ballot boxes and left, he alleged.
He said that during the incident the election staff and police personnel present had not made any attempt to stop the rigging, and appeared to be frightened.
Mr. Welivitiya said he visited seven polling stations and in all of them he had either witnessed or been told by the election staff that similar incidents had occurred.
At the Mawathagama polling division in the Kurunegala district, he said he saw about 50 men, some armed with clubs and sticks, standing outside the booth having ballot papers, some of which were marked for the PA symbol.
The election staff had told him that they were the remnants of a crowd which had earlier stormed the polling station, chased out the polling agents, forcibly snatched ballot papers and cast votes. At one polling station, the election staff told him a similar incident had occurred and that they had closed the station as there was no purpose in continuing with the voting.
At the Angangalla Temple polling station the petitioner said he saw persons with guns threatening and chasing away the polling agents.
Mr. Welivitiya has pointed out that while the Elections Commissioner reported that there were almost 39,116 fraudulent and forcibly introduced votes in Kurunegala and 8,714 in Puttalam, the reports of independent election monitoring groups indicated much higher numbers.
He said the number of polling stations severely affected by incidents of violence and intimidation was much greater than stated by the Elections Commissioner.
The petitioner has thus submitted that the Wayamba election was not free and fair, and his sovereign right to vote as well as that of other voters in the province was denied.
He asked that the elections be declared null and void and for an order directing the Commissioner of Elections to hold a due and proper election according to the provisions of the constitution and the Elections Act.