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The Political Column

30th May 999

Tough action for cabinet leaks

By our Political Correspondent

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With Sri Lanka crashing out of the World Cup and crushing the hopes of millions of fans or fanatics who hero-worshipped them, a full-scale post-mortem is being called for on what went wrong and who did not do what.

In these times of war, turmoil and suffering, Sri Lanka’s spectacular success in one-day cricket gave the people something to believe in and hope for. For better or for worse, cricket virtually became part of our culture and was the main talking point from street corner to board rooms.

Most cricket fans and analysts are now of the view that it is time for the trouble-plagued Sri Lankan Cricket Board to overhaul itself and overhaul the team because cricket is a national treasure or asset and not the personal property of any individual, however good or powerful they may be.

The World Cup disaster for Sri Lanka came in the aftermath of a disastrous turn of events in the Cricket Board where the losing candidate for the top post has accused the winner of vote rigging and using thuggery. In this context, it would be interesting to recall a letter sent by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to Sports Minister S. B. Dissanayake in May last year. The letter states:

“Representations that have been made to me and your decision taken at the last minute in connection with the elections to the Board of Control for Cricket seemed directed at a particular person.

It is my feeling that the entire handling of elections to the Cricket Board is very unsatisfactory. I am afraid if this unsavory trend of handling sensitive matters is not arrested, Sri Lanka cricket is bound to be adversely affected.”

If this was what the President said about the 1998 elections to the cricket board, what indeed would she have felt about the March 1999 elections which have ended up in court?

Most fans believe that political interference and personal interests have brought the kings tumbling down from their thrones and it will take a lot of hard work, restructuring and commitment to get out of the mud hole.

Millions who turned away from uninspiring or dirty politics and focused on cricket will now have little option but to turn back to politics and especially the on-going southern election campaign.

The PA’s theme is human rights with speakers recalling the 1988/89 era of terror and comparing it with the freedom and democracy that prevails today.

The UNP has no specific election strategy for the south other than to criticize the government for its inaction. It is true that the southern province has been neglected for a long time by both the UNP and the SLFP regimes. The UNP, however started the Lunugamvehera project and the Gin Ganga flood protection scheme. Other than that there was no significant improvement in the south, not forgetting the Ruhuna University and the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital which served the people of the south.

The UNP regime during its 17 year rule had several ministers from the south — W. Dahanayake, M.S Amarasiri, Rupa Karunatillke, Ranjith Attapattu and several deputy ministers. For the PA the south has an equal number of ministers — Richard Pathirana, Mahinda Rajapakse, Amarasiri Dodandoga and Mangala Samaraweera. But despite having all these big shots, the south has seen little development though it is crucial for both the PA and the UNP in view of speculation that the presidential or general election might be held soon after the southern poll.

With almost every household in the south having lost someone during the reign of terror, this is likely to be a key issue. According to most analysts, a large part of the youth vote is still likely to go to the JVP. In the Hambantota district, the UNP is believed to be ahead while the PA is running strongly in Matara and Galle may be a close call. Thus the Southern Provincial Council, like the Western and many others is likely to be evenly balanced.

Provincial council elections held so far indicate that no party would get a working majority at the next parliamentary election. As for the presidential election, many analysts believe it will also be a close race with no candidate getting 50 percent plus one as required by the constitution.

In that event the commissioner of elections will have to count the second preference vote and if that too does not produce a winner, the candidate with the largest number of votes will be declared elected.

In such a situation, the smaller parties, especially the minorities are expected to play a crucial role in making or breaking governments and presidents.

The JVP also is likely to play a significant role, if it wins a few seats in parliament. So most observers believe, there would be a coalition or hung parliament after the next election, similar to what India had seen during the past two years.

So it appears that the PR system has put the major parties in a difficult situation with smaller parties playing a big role. One way out is a national government.

UNP’s A.C.S Hameed, who was involved with J. R Jayewardene in working out the PR system said it was meant to ensure that every party was represented in parliament according to the votes it polled unlike the first-past-the post- system where often the number of seats was out of proportion with the number of votes. PR was also meant to give smaller parties a say in the formation of a coalition government. There were drawbacks in both systems and the world has yet to discover a flawless one.

The PR system prevents any ruling party from pushing through major constitutional reforms without consulting or getting support from the opposition. This may be good for democracy, but there are serious questions about its validity for a developing country.

Going by the speeches made by President Kumaratunga in the south these days, it is likely that some important steps would be taken to solve the ethnic crisis. She has assured that what she is saying was not rhetoric but would be a reality though opposition analysts and critics are wondering how she could achieve this without support from the main opposition.

Besides the President’s efforts, religious prelates and business leaders are also redoubling their peace efforts.

Reports indicate, the business community’s peace drive will reach a new stage after the June 10 polls when it hopes to bring PA and UNP delegations together for talks on a bipartisan approach to the conflict.

Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L Peiris has assured the government will be flexible and ready to accommodate the UNP proposals if they meet the basic aspirations of the Tamil people. According to Mr. Hameed, the UNP wants to satisfy the aspirations of all concerned but the immediate problem is to allay the fears or doubts of those who think that devolution is separatism.

The business community has worked out a document outlining some principal areas of differences between the PA and the UNP.

After the June 10 elections, the UNP is to study this document closely and decide whether it would meet the PA and discuss how to narrow the differences.

The business community’s co-ordinator Lalith Kotelawala is then likely to present it to the LTTE with some analysts asking whether the business leaders have established some channel for dialogue with the LTTE. Mr. Kotelawala had agreed to a suggestion by Mr. Hameed to show the final proposals to the LTTE.

In another development, the President and the ministers have taken a drastic step to prosecute newspapers that publish classified news of the cabinet proceedings.

The president feels media freedom granted by the PA government has been misused to carry out a campaign against the government and tarnish its image.

She asked Justice Minister Peiris whether there is a law to prevent newspapers from publishing cabinet proceeding. Minister Peiris said there was a 1953 Official Secrets Act under which newspapers editors, publishers and even reporters could be charged in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The President said she would be appointing a committee headed by Attorney General Sarath Silva to look into the matter. The committee will include the secretaries to the Justice and Media ministries.

It may be recalled, that on June 2, 1992, at a meeting organised by the Free Media Movement at the New Town Hall, both Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mangala Samaraweera supported a resolution calling for the scrapping of the Official Secrets Act.

But now as President Ms. Kumaratunga is doing an about-turn and wants to haul up journalists in terms of this act which she once considered repressive.

In another significant move, the President told the central committee of the SLFP that Lakshman Kadiragamar and Ratnasiri Wickremanayake were being appointed as vice presidents of the party in place of Maithripala Senanayake and Yasaratne Tennekoon who died recently.

She said she had discussed the matter with Prime Minister and party leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the move had her blessings.

The President also reiterated the need to reorganise the party, especially the trade union wing which she felt was weak.

She also wants a strengthening of the party in the estates and believes Ratnasiri Wickremanyake is the man for it. She wants him to set up SLFP branches in all estate groups with the added purpose of bringing more minority members into the party.

Minister Maithripala Sirisena will be in charge of minority affairs, Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle will approach the business and legal profession while Minister Alavi Maulana will be in charge of revitalising the trade unions. Putting Mr. Sirisena in charge of party headquarters, the President said it should be reorganized to build bridges between the party and the common man.

She lamented that the present headquarters was inactive and had little co-ordination with branch offices. To restructure the party organization and to link the party branches with the headquarters, she appointed a committee headed by Anuruddha Ratwatta, and comprising Kingsley Wickremaratne, D.M. Jayaratne, Dharmasiri Senanayake and Nimal Siripala de Silva.

There was a rumpus when one member at this meeting alleged that Minster Wickremaratne as a treasurer of the party had not done much to fill the coffers. An angry Mr. Wickremaratne reportedly threatened to resign but he was pacified.

In another development, political circles are discussing the alleged land transaction between the Colombo Port and Tokyo Cement. It is reported that the Colombo port has allocated a land in extent of 2.2 acres for a cement packaging plant to be set up by the Tokyo Cement owned by well know businessman Gnanam. It has come through as a BOI approved project. The question now is whether this kind of operation would create security problems for the Port of Colombo.

The UNP is likely to take this matter up as a slogan in the southern political campaign.

While the port is in the process of perusing these documents as a BOI project, the chairman of the Ports Authority has advertised in the papers that the Port is looking for land in the vicinity of the Colombo Port.

This has created some sort of controversy in the ministry since it has not been approved by the minister. Business circles now say that the port is facing problems over the land deals since the matter has not been approved by the cabinet of ministers.

The minister, it is reported, has called for explanation from the chairman of the Ports Authority over the advertisement in the Sunday Observer. But the Ports Authority chairman has maintained that the port could lease those lands instead of buying. But insiders asked as to why the Port is trying to lease land after giving away what is in its hands.

At the same time, they say that the rental would be very high and the port is likely to lose on this land transaction.

As far as the Tokyo Cement is concerned, some believe that the port should have called for open tenders if it wanted to give away the land for a cement-silos operation.

Besides this, the dispute between the CWC and the Sinhala Weeravidana erupted again when some residents of Nuwara-Eliya protested against the transfer of the Senior Superintendent of police.

This transfer was made on a demand by CWC leader S. Thondaman who alleged that the police had not taken action against those who tried to disrupt the CWC’s May Day rally in Nuwara Eliya..

This has prompted parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake to fire a letter to the President, protesting against the transfer of this police officer. In the meantime, the Sinhala Weeravidana has organised a protest campaign opposite the police headquarters in Colombo this week. Mr. Karunanayake in his letter states:

“I am astounded to learn of the transfer of SSP Pujitha Jayasundara which is the epitome of a well orchestrated political move.

“This letter is addressed to you not only as the President of Sri Lanka but also as the Commander in Chief of the Police and the Armed Forces who has the power to contain the situation and arrest the demotiviation which has set in owing to demoralising political inference.

“Reliably informed by DIGs and senior officers, I understand that the Police in Nuwara Eliya carried out their duties in a non-partisan, non-confrontational manner and despite conforming to all of this, they have been subjected to much harassment by being transferred out of Nuwara Eliya.

“I am sure you would agree that there is a total breakdown in law and order in the country. How can we expect the Police to,

* Raid illicit liquor dens,

* Arrest underworld kingpins,

* Arrest the increasing rate of crime and corruption,

* Free the country form terror and intimidation,

if the police are not allowed to act impartially and independently for fear of reprisals from a handful of opportunistic politicians? “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves”.

“Nuwara Eliya is racially composed of, Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, Moors, Malays just like any other city in Sri Lanka. We as Sri Lankans must protect the minority as much as we protect the majority but not at the expense of social justice. Nuwara Eliya is not the Mecca for Indian Tamils. So how can Mr.. Thondaman request or demand Police personnel to be transferred as if they are his personal army?

1. Has Mr. Thondaman made a formal complaint about the incident of 1st May, 1999?

2. Is there a Police entry made on this complaint?

3. Is there a request by him to look into this matter?

4. Have complaints and statements been received from the alleged party? If not why?

“You will recall that Minister Thondaman has on may occasions acted within the framework of his personal agenda and not in the national interest.

“If I may recount,

a. The transfer of DIG Kotakadeniya who was transferred when he was doing a good job in Colombo.

b. The strike which crippled the plantations1 1/2 years ago.

c. The no-confidence motion he launched on Ratnasiri Wickremanayake two years ago.

d. Instructing the Ministry Secretary in December 1998 to allow his party member to act for him as opposed to the Deputy Minister.

e. Mr. Thondaman who is a Cabinet Minister is supposed to be attending an LTTE Conference in Thailand using Government funds.

Unfortunately the Cabinet of Ministers have Chosen to remain silent on this matter. No Government MP has spoken about it either. The time has come to look beyond 142,000 votes of such political malaprops.

“National minded Sri Lankans, be they Sinhala, Tamil of Muslim, are not wrong to say justice in the People’s Alliance is only for political survival per se and not to mete out justice.

Our political survival hinges on the bulwark of honesty, discipline and patriotism which are the cornerstones of building a country without fear. To achieve this we need to create a nucleus of overall protection for all instead of acceding to the whims of a few.

“When you were elected to govern this country, you so eloquently expressed the following.:

‘We will run the administration of the country on the basis of national consensus. We will heal the wounds and not create new ones and unite the nation and not divide.’

Reminding you (as you know we regularly do, as in the case of the abolition of the Executive Presidency) of these beautiful words, let us see this transformation taking place from Nuwara Eliya.

“I write this with malice to none and justice for all. My sincere request is for you to impartially look into this matter and kindly cancel the police transfer that has even made or is going to be made until a full inquiry is carried out to ascertain the veracity of these allegations.

“As members of Parliament, we are the defenders and protectors of the Constitution and as such are prepared to bring in a no-confidence motion if such high-handed acts and political interference continue to be committed.

I am confident that you will initiate decisive measures on this submission and that it would not go unheeded as in the past.”

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