25th July 1999
Filming a burning issue: Burning effigies is now a common
feature in demonstrations. Picture shows a TV cameraman filming
a close-up of charred effigies of Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera
and ASP Nihal Karunaratne of the PSD at the demonstration
organised by the Free Media Movement last Wednesday,
while policemen watch with some amusement.
Pic. by J. Weerasekera.
JVP declares war on Presidency
By Shelani de Silva
In a new political manoeuvre, the JVP will move resolutions in provincial councils where it holds a balance of power to abolish the executive presidential system.
JVP spokesperson Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times that the resolutions would be moved in the Western and Southern provincial counicls where the party held the balance of power and also in Wayamba.
He said the party was confident that the resolution would be approved in the Western and Southern provinces with the support of other parties, including the UNP and the MEP.
The PA though being the ruling party in these provinces does not have an absolute majority on its own.
The resolution to abolish the executive presidency has also been introduced in Wayamba but the PA has an overall majority there and the motion is not likely to be approved.
A defeat for the PA on this issue would be a major embarrassment for the government, though it would not necessarily mean the councils have to be dissolved.
Mr. Weerawansa said the JVP would never again accept promises from the PA as it did regarding the promise to abolish the executive presidency by July 15, 1995. The party would now insist on concrete action and continue its campaign until the system was abolished.
Mr. Weerawansa said the the JVP would also oppose holding of a fresh presidential election, describing it as a colossal waste of public money and time.
AI slams Eppawela phosphate buyer
By Chamintha Thilakarathna
The London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has joined the environmental and civic action groups opposing the sale of Eppawela phosphate mines to a foreign firm known for its alleged disregard for environment and labour laws.
Lord Avebury of AI has drawn the attention of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London to the credibility of the company to which Eppawela phosphate is to be sold.
In a letter to High Commissioner Lal Jayawardena, Lord Avebury, who hit the headlines with his human rights campaign here in the 1970s, has stated that he has come to know that this mining company, Freeport McMoran, has been involved in alleged human rights violations in Papua New Guinea. "There were environmental concerns over their mining operations," he has said.
He has explained that there is a need to consult people affected by this large project and a need to abide by World Bank guidelines requiring the operators of projects to consult local people.
The letter from Lord Avebury came after he met Ceylon Mercantile Union leader Bala Tampoe in London recently to discuss violation of human rights in the Eppawela mining project.
Lord Avebury has requested the High Commissioner to inform the Amnesty International of the methodology that has been adopted for consultation with the residents of Eppawela, and whether any report has been published on the results.
According to Mr. Tampoe, twelve thousand residents of Eppawela will lose their land if the project is implemented.
Mr. Tampoe says Freeport McMoran has an infamous international record particularly in regard to its mining operations in Indonesia, and has been condemned in the United States as the "world's worst polluter."
"In this regard, we are convinced that the American trans-national company will stop at nothing to get a mining licence from the government to plunder the valuable national asset of the Eppawela deposit wholesale for its short term commercial gain, estimated at over five billion American dollars," he said.
Package deal to pacify PA partners
President Chandrika Kumaratunga averted an impending split in the fragile Peoples' Alliance coalition by promising her two leftist partners, the LSSP and the CP, that the devolution package, which includes the abolition of the executive presidency would be presented in Parliament before August 19.
The LSSP and the CP have tacitly accepted this offer. They had earlier threatened to quit the PA coalition unless the President abolished the executive Presidency and returned to the Westminster model of government by August 15.
LSSP's Deputy General Secretary Wimalasiri de Mel claimed credit for his party for having pressurised the government to make this move.
Both the LSSP and the CP say they accept the abolition of the Executive Presidency being part of the constitutional reforms (devolution proposals) without being a separate issue.
However, the UNP and the JVP have lashed out at the PA coalition for not de-linking the abolition of the Executive Presidency with the remaining constitutional reforms.
UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale said the PA leadership was pulling the wool over the eyes of not only the people, but also its own constituent partners.
The UNP is unlikely to support the constitutional reforms package that would be debated in the House. Without its support the package will not be endorsed by Parliament, and the executive presidency will remain.
Political analysts say the devolution package which was meant to appease minority clamour for self-rule in the North and East is now being used to glue the PA coalition together instead.
The PA in its election manifesto referred to the executive presidency as the "bane of our country" and promised to abolish the system as one of its highest priorities.
Later the PA leadership fixed July 15, 1995 as the date on which it will be abolished. Last week on the fourth anniversary of not fulfilling this promise, an opposition rally was broken up by men of the Presidential Security Division with ten journalists and several UNP members being injured.
The UNP and the JVP are planning to continue with their campaigns for the abolition of the executive presidency without linking it to the devolution package.
Several non-party groups such as the National Movement Against Terrorism and the Sinhala Veera Vidhahana are agitating against both the executive presidency and the devolution package.
They described the LSSP and the CP as being "opportunist parties clinging to office" by threatening to quit the government.
Are ministers avoiding us?
By Shelani de Silva
Local and foreign media personnel have urged the government to resume the weekly Cabinet news briefing which has not been held for about six months.
The last cabinet news briefing was held before the widely criticised Wayamba provincial election where large scale rigging and other malpractices were alleged.
Most journalists believed that an apparent unwillingness to face the media in the aftermath of the Wayamba had led to postponements and virtually a cancellation of the news briefing. Information Chief Ariya Rubesinghe told The Sunday Times the Government was planning to resume the news briefing next week but added a note of doubt by saying he felt it was not compulsory or necessary to have it every week.
He said the briefings would be held in the parliamentary complex whenever parliament was in session — twice a month. This he believed would enable ministers to address the media while attending parliament.
But former Media Minister Tyronne Fernando said the news briefings were not held because the government was afraid to face the media over the allegations of corruption and malpractices.
He said the media briefings involved a matter of fundamental rights — the people's right to know and it should not be based on what the government thought was important or unimportant.
CBK blasts Mahinda again
By Dirukshi Handunnetti
Fisheries Minister Mahinda Rajapakse was summoned by President Kumaratunga last Wednesday and reprimanded after his outburst in Parliament and in the lobby, political sources said.
An angry President had reportedly shown Mr. Rajapakse two Sinhala newspapers and questioned him on what he and Minister A.H. M. Fowzie were reported to have said regarding some bribery charges against them.
Mr. Rajapakse had spoken out in parliament last Tuesday after the Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe prodded him on bribery allegations against ministers. After the outburst in the chamber, Mr. Rajapakse had also reportedly let off steam in the lobby, regarding the Channel 9 pay TV deal which also involves presidential media advisor Sanath Gunathillake.
"Our names are unnecessarily tainted due to the folly and corrupt activities of some officials," Mr. Rajapakse reportedly charged. But within minutes, he was summoned by the President to Temple Trees and severely rebuked for not toeing the party line and allegedly seeking personal glory.
In a sideline twist to this episode, a senior Rupavahini official, known to be close to Mr. Gunathillake, is reported to have telephoned newspapers and leaked the news about the President's rebuke to Mr. Rajapakse.
The big question was how the Rupavahini official came to know of what transpired at a meeting where only the President and Mr. Rajapakse were present.
In a final line to the drama, Mr. Rajapakse is reported to have telephoned the Rupavahini official and blasted him.
When contacted by The Sunday Times, Minister Rajapakse declined to give details of any discussion claiming that everything was not meant for the newspapers.
The Channel 9 deal has in recent days drawn more players into a mysterious gambit. Among those facing allegations are the presidential media advisor, at least two leading businessmen, Ministers Rajapakse and Fowzie with the President known to be staunchly defending Mr. Gunathillake.
See page 8 for statement by Mr. Gunathillake.
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