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22nd August 1999

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Inside story of human smuggling

Millions thrown as bribes and profits in travel scandal

By Frederica Jansz

Thousands of Sri Lankans yearning for a better life overseas are falling victim to international human smuggling rings which are making millions with the help of powerful local counterparts.

A Sunday Times investigation revealed that life in any world capital is within reach of a Sri Lankan but for lakhs of rupees. To travel to Canada illegally one million rupees is the asking price while to Britian, it is Rs. 800,000 and to Holland Rs. 500,000. To be smuggled into Nairobi, Morocco and Uganda, the human cargo peddlars charge Rs. 450,000 and to Australia, the fee is Rs. 500,000.

Many of those who fall prey to these unscrupulous human smugglers are from the north and east.

Not all of them, who have travelled this way, found living in those Western capitals to be what they had hoped for. Some end up doing menial jobs or something worse like prostitution. There are cases of harassments and even death threats for failing to pay the smuggling rings the full amount or for lodging complaints with the Fraud Bureau in Colombo.

Thavapalan was one of those who has been repeatedly deported from foreign capitals as he tried desperately to build a new life overseas. Originally from Jaffna, Thavapalan made his way to Colombo and was housed and fed by a former Tamil militant group. Convinced he would do better abroad, his parents sold their property to send him abroad. He tried almost every route available but was detected and deported. He has gone by air or ship and even been transported in a container lorry together with other Tamil youth.

Amazingly however Thavapalan will not give up. His eyes still hold hope as he awaits a fresh Sri Lankan passport which will take him to Madras and from there to Norway.

Sinnarasa Ranjani Pillai, was inwardly shaking when Immigration officials at the Colombo Airport went through her passport. Ranjani had travelled with her parents from Trincomalee to Colombo a week before and been given a new Sri Lankan passport together with a forged visa to enter Britain. Her parents had sold property and family jewellery to raise Rs. 800,000 for her trip. Ranjani's nervess however gave her away.

Sharp-eyed immigration officials in the U.A.E. soon noticed the forged sticker. Ranjani was arrested and deported.

Muhandiram (17) drew the attention of other passengers and cabin crew as he sat biting his fingernails and visibly shaking on a SriLankan Airlines flight from Colombo to Singapore. It soon became obvious that it was the first time Muhandiram had been on an aircraft as he fumbled with his dinner service and looked as if he would be airsick as the flight droned on.

Suspicious cabin crew questioned the youth. He stumbled and stuttered when asked who he would meet at Singapore. He managed to say his sister would be there. At Singapore he disappeared in the crowd but was not seen outside in the arrival lounge.

Officials estimate that the number who have learnt their mistakes the costly way is well over five thousand though only some 2500 have recorded complaints with the Fraud Bureau.

Police investigators say even drug trafficking now comes second only to human smuggling because of the profits to be made.

The net profit for an agent dealing in human smuggling per individual is Rs. 250,000. The Fraud Bureau has more than 2500 complaints of unscrupulous agents who take large sums of money from desperate asylum seekers and dump them at a point midway. Thavapalan says he is a witness to hundreds of Sri Lankans who todate are stuck in the Ukraine and elsewhere after having been duped.

Fraud Bureau Senior Superintendent V. Kandasamy said the normal route used by illegal immigrants was through Eastern Europe. Singapore, Hong Kong and Cyprus are the other most commonly used ports of departure, he said.

SSP Kandasamy said some 200 to 300 cases were reported each year of which arrests have been made and the suspects charged under the Foreign Employment Act or the Penal Code.

Confronting one of the ring leaders with some of these details he was at first hesitant to speak but later agreed on grounds of anonymity. Divulging details of routes commonly used by human traders, he also revealed details which implied that public servants, officials and even top level security personnel are involved in a smuggling ring that is too lucrative to initiate a genuine official investigation. Hundreds of Sri Lankans every year are smuggled into Britain, Canada and Australia via the Far East from where it is easier to get them on to planes with fake documents. 'Godfathers' who control this ring of crime are too close to top officials to be slammed behind bars, he said.

Mafia networks rake in millions out of refugees wanting a better life in Europe and Canada, while charging for false documentation and for instructions on how to claim asylum, which virtually guarantees welfare benefits and free housing abroad.

We were able to secure forged British and German visas which when compared with the original show little or no disparity or difference. To have these visas rubber stamped in Colombo also poses no problem.

Read on and we will tell you how this network operates and how easy it is to secure the necessary documentation that will get you out of Sri Lanka without having to prove your credentials to a foreign mission, provided you cough up the required cash.

To travel to Holland Rs. 500,000 is required. Half of the money is paid to an agent in Sri Lanka and if the illegal immigrant reaches safely the balance is paid to a counterpart in Holland.

To travel to Russia on a student visa, letters are arranged through private organizations in Moscow. Such an invitation can be bought in Moscow for USD 200.

Once the letter is received in Colombo, producing this document at the Russian Embassy, a student visa is easily secured. Arrangements are then made to travel to Moscow on Aeroflot. The immigrants are met at Moscow airport by a travel agent and taken to a safe house in Ukraine.

Thavapalan was kept at a safe house in Ukraine for two months until arrangements were finalized for him to travel hidden in a container carrying spare parts and machinery to Yugoslavia. Seven Tamil youth traveled in this manner in February 1997 but were arrested at the Yugoslavia border and deported back to Sri Lanka by August 1997.

There is a normal system in Sri Lanka whereby any deportees on arrival at Katunayake Airport are handed over to the CID. However at this point, a considerable amount of wheeler dealing takes place at Katunayake.

In Thavapalan's case he was met on arrival at KIA by a travel agent from Pettah who brought to the airport with him Rs. 30,000 in cash. Of this amount Rs. 20,000 was paid to security officials and Rs. 10,000 to government officials at the airport. As a result Thavapalan walked free.

Two others who were deported along with Thavapalan were not met at Katunayake and so were detained for 15 days by the CID airport officers at Negombo prison. When produced before the Negombo magistrate no bail was granted. However these two detainees were mysteriously released soon after.

Sources reveal that every week 15 to 20 Sri Lankans travel in this manner to Moscow, Ukraine, Czech Republic and Yugoslavia.

The Sunday Times investigation also found that on June 29, this year, Bavani Kumaraswami was detected at Colombo Airport with a forged UK visa sticker on her passport. Bavani was arrested by the airport CID, and produced before Negombo courts and remanded for 15 days.

Sources say that Bavani is still in remand at the Negombo prison as she has no associate in Colombo who can cough up the cash required for her release.

Checking with the airport CID officer in charge of such cases, The Sunday Times was told that Bavani is still being held together with nearly fifteen other Tamil and Sinhala youth detected trying to leave Sri Lanka illegally. The CID officer who asked to remain anonymous said that this offence is a non-bailable offence and such people are held until all charges against them are cleared. Every 15 days they are produced before the Negombo Magistrates Court and the remand period extended, he said.

Kamal Yogeswaran had sought entry to Canada but had been turned down by the Canadian High Commission. He soon learnt that for Rs. 10 lakhs he could reach Canada on a Canadian passport thus making him a citizen of that country overnight.

Plans were made and Kamal, certain it could not fail, sold his house and land to raise the cash. His bags packed, Kamal was advised to act casual. At Katunayake airport he passed easily enough through the necessary channels on his Sri Lankan passport holding a return ticket to Singapore.

At the final departure lounge at Katunayake, Kamal was surreptitiously handed a Canadian passport together with a one way ticket to New York. To merely hand over this passport and ticket the official concerned at the airport was paid Rs. 10,000. The airline office from which the ticket had been purchased was paid Rs. 5000 to issue a ticket without the person traveling being present.

Traveling on SriLankan Airlines to Singapore Kamal destroyed his passport on the flight and when getting off produced his Canadian passport. Kamal's illegal journey is not over. He could not travel direct to Canada as the Canadian authorities would check the authenticity of his passport on arrival. Instead he travelled to New York where he was met by an agent and taken by road to Canada without any documents.

In Canada Kamal has claimed refugee status and is housed, clothed and fed while his case is being heard.

Sri Lankans travelling on forged Canadian documents rarely risk traveling direct to Canada since if they are detected, deportation is immediate and it is impossible in those circumstances to claim political asylum. Therefore the safer route of traveling to New York and then by road to Canada is used so asylum can be claimed on grounds of political persecution in Sri Lanka.

Murugesupillai is already a resident in Canada together with his wife and three children. Early last year he traveled to Sri Lanka alone without his family. He however had in his bags valuable documents. He carried four Canadian passports. These passports belonged to his wife, and three children.

Murugesupillai had bought return tickets from Singapore Airlines for his family to travel from Toronto via Singapore to Colombo. According to these tickets Mr. Murugesupillai and his family on their return to Toronto would stay five to six days in Singapore before catching a return flight to Toronto.

Having purchased these tickets Murugesupillai traveled alone to Colombo with the passports and necessary documentation of his family. Canadian passports are not rubber-stamped on departure. In Colombo and Singapore the passports are rubber stamped.

For Rs. 7,500 for a departure and arrival rubber stamp Murugesupillai authenticated the passports he was carrying in Colombo. On March 22, this year, the four Tamil passengers ready to accompany Murugesupillai left Katunayake on their Sri Lankan passports for Singapore. On the flight they destroyed their passports and got off in Singapore carrying the Canadian passports handed out by Murugesupillai. They all then got off in Singapore as one unit.

At Singapore a suspicious customs officer began questioning Murugaspillai's new family (sic), as their English was poor and it seemed unlikely they had lived for a long period in Canada.Murugesupillai however did not panic. Fully versed with the procedure he pulled USD 300 and handed it over to the customs officer who let the bogus family go.

The Sunday Times found that the forged visa stickers are used and can be bought at anything ranging between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 12,000.

In this instance Rs. 50,000 is given to government officials at the airport, Rs. 10,000 to airport security, while the ticket fare is increased by an additional Rs. 10,000. (For example if a ticket costs Rs. 42,000 it will be increased to Rs. 52,000 due to the risk involved).

Travelling in this manner to Britain poses hardly any problem as once through the necessary entry channels these asylum seekers waste no time in claiming political refuge in London.

Our investigation reveal that another fool-proof method used by the LTTE which has perfected its mode of sea transport using 250 horsepower high-speed motor boats with four motors. This way it takes the LTTE only 40 minutes to travel from the Vanni to India and under four hours to travel to Jakarta. From Jakarta off an island coast people are transported in this manner to Malaysia and Mauritius.

Even when Anton Balasingham left the Vanni for London he was transported by boat from Mullaitivu to an LTTE ship on the high seas. This ship took him and his wife to Singapore from where he flew to London. Yet another method for those wishing to travel bypassing the normal channels is to secure a letter from the Grama Sevaka or Government Agent of the area which is basically a certificate stating the applicant is unmarried. This certificate needs to be authenticated by the Consular Office in Colombo. For Rs. 2000 or Rs. 3000 within the space of two hours this document will be certified with no questions asked. Once this step is accomplished the applicant is sponsored by a 'suitor' in Canada and taken up in that manner allegedly for marriage.

Global access by Sri Lankans to other countries does not stop here.

To travel to Nairobi, Morocco and Uganda Sri Lankan passports are sent via courier to India to secure entry visas. This method costs Rs. 450,000. Once the visas are secured the refugees travel to Nairobi and are kept in a 'safe house' until they can move to greener pastures in Europe.

At present more than 200 youth are at 'safe houses' in Nairobi while 14 have been arrested and are being held in a jail in Uganda. Over 300 Sri Lankans and Indians today are stuck in Ugandan safe houses, due to dubious travel agents having failed to deliver.

South America, Chile and Brazil are not left out of this ring. Backed by an underworld and Mafia rings, these routes are also accessible to any who are willing to sell their souls and pay the exorbitant sums of money.

The recent Australian mishap which claimed the lives of some 14 Sri Lankans is unusual, agents say.

This route has been used for some time and over 800 Sri Lankans have 'safely' reached Australia in this manner. The fourteen boatload of Sri Lankans who drowned last month near Christmas Island in Australia initially traveled from Colombo to Singapore and caught a connecting flight from Singapore to Jakarta on their original Sri Lankan passports. At Jakarta they were housed at a 'safe house' by the travel agent responsible, for nearly two months before boarding a boat which would take them by sea to Australia.

Speaking to family members of two of the boys who went missing off Christmas Island, The Sunday Times was told that nearly 200 Sri Lankans were waiting in Jakarta to travel to Australia. The family who asked to remain anonymous say their sons paid Rs. five lakhs each to travel this route.

The Australian government meanwhile has remained curiously tightlipped over the identity of the five Sri Lankans rescued off Christmas Island. Whether these five Sri Lankans will be granted asylum in Australia remains to be seen. Either way human smugglers say they will continue to use this route which last year alone successfully transported as many as 800 Sri Lankans illegally into Australia.

A powerful machinery, the human smuggling racket has spread its tentacles in all directions defying the laws of the land as huge sums of money pass hands.

Our investigation also tracked down a case where a Tamil youth from Kotahena gave a travel agent a down payment of Rs. 200,000 to smuggle him out of the country but shortly afterwards he suspected foul play and reported the agency to the Fraud Bureau. He was suddenly picked up by the Kotahena police on suspicion of being associated with the LTTE.

His frantic parents approached the same travel agent who secured the boy's release telling the family that he paid Rs. 50,000 to do so and returned Rs. One lakh of the Rs. 200,000 originally paid. The money was returned on the basis that the family would withdraw their complaint made to the Fraud Bureau. A request the family agreed to after their son had been detained by the Kotahena police. The youth finally left Sri Lanka for Madras from where he hopes to leave for Europe.

Further probing found that passports at the Immigration & Emigration Department can be bought for Rs. 20,000. This includes the normal regulatory fee of Rs. 3000 for passports granted on 'the same day basis' and Rs. 1,750 for passports granted in three weeks.

The Sunday Times was privy to a passport being secured in this manner by a Tamil family for their son who is now in Madras. Early last week for Rs. 20,000 a third party submitting the necessary documents was granted a passport in this boy's name.

The passport was not given that same day but within a week after the application had been handed over. The normal fee of Rs. 3000 was handed over initially together with the passport application form. Later Rs. 17,000 was handed over to the passport officer concerned.

Our investigation showed that as many as three to four passports a day are secured in this manner. The allocation for those who are too ill or too old to be personally present is also used by bogus travel agents to secure passports in this manner.

Speaking to a top official at Immigration & Emigration I was told that he could not be named under any circumstances for fear of reprisal. The money involved in this racket is so big that "I cannot take any chances," he said.

This officer however confirmed that "so-called travel agents" and touts are working in cahoots with some officers at the department who are paid private money to issue passports on false documentation. The corruption is so great that senior passpport officers are trying to implement a policy decision that will transfer lower rank officials out of the passport section every five years.

Money can do anything, says Passport chief

Passports Chief Lakshman Perera says that since the M-series passport came into effect in September 1996, whereby passports are photo scanned, it is increasingly difficult to forge.

Unlike before where photographs could easily be removed and replaced with another, Mr. Perera said now the scanning of a picture onto the passport prevents excessive forgeries of the same document.

However, Mr. Perera said that there still were a few cases where using forged birth certificates some elements sought to secure passports. Another precaution the department has taken is that all applications for passports must be accompanied by the individual in person and not represented by a third party. Proper identification is also a must, he said. However a concession has been allowed for those who are too ill or too old to be present in person to be represented by a known party.

This method has been effective in countering the human smuggling racket, Mr. Perera said, claiming that many job agencies have complained that it was now difficult to obtain a passport for those seeking employment abroad. "This system has worked a long way," he said.

Mr. Perera admitted however that there are yet a certain number that are deported and those who are detected at Katunayake Airport trying to leave the country on forged visas. "The numbers however are not great," he insisted.

Asked if his own officials were open to being bribed in issuing passports on an illegal basis, Mr. Perera admitted there were those who were liable to be influenced by money. "Its not often you can say no to things like that," he said asserting that there was a time when passport applications were brought in indirectly and passports were issued for a certain sum of money. Right down the line money was passed, he said.

Asserting that this way there may be cases where a few bogus applications were slipped in and passports obtained after supplying bogus documentation, Mr. Perera claimed, adding the practice had been curbed to a large extent.

Hot words, hot tempers and House gone Batty

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Our Lobby Correspondent

The vagaries of politics are such that often it is the gullible populace that has to stomach political abuse laced with heavy insult to public intelligence. This was so when the 'felling of trees bill' ultimately felled Agricultural Minister D.M. Jayaratne on Tuesday culminating in the suspension of sessions on Thursday. This happened when a beleagured Batty Weerakoon used a crude Sinhala phrase to quieten an opposition member.

In a week plagued by intrigue and scandal with e-mail tapping and felling of trees stealing the show, Thursday saw UNP attempts to tear minister Batty Weerakoon to shreds, now knee deep in a raging e-mail tapping controversy.

The minister facing an allegation of downloading an e-mail directed at Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is facing not only the wrath of the UNP but also of the business community. Amidst the jeering, he stood upright to reply a question by MP Ravi Karunanayke. His very presence in the House had a disastrous effect with opposition benchers launching into a frenzied chorus of "e-mail hora, hora, hora" with the usual accompaniment of book thumping, jeering and cat calls.

"He is a dishonourable man, order him out," thundered Mervyn Silva, reputed for vituperative outbursts.But his outburst was eclipsed by Mr. Weerakoon who later in the day used a crude Sinhala word on him.

While the National Development Bank Bill which was to be taken up for debate was pushed aside amidst the raging battle, Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, while enjoying every minute of the trading of insults is reported to have asked, "Mervyn, what's an e-mail?".

And the oral questions were a long drawn out affair with a despairing Speaker almost tearing his hair in exasperation."I will die at this rate," said the Speaker unable to control the situation.

After questions were tackled, the floor was open for minister Weerakoon to bare his soul about the alleged e-mail racket.The UNPers from the very onset were ready like a pack of panthers waiting to pounce on him.

"E-mail hour" they shouted in unison while the minister straightening his tie haughtily said- " Don't you want to hear it, if so I can sit down." But for a strange reason, he chose to compliment Ranil Wickremesinghe who sat quietly,exuding serenity in a house gone wild.

" You fools don't understand these things, so let that gentleman, your leader listen to my clarification," he said while the House reverberated with 'Sanathta keeyada, Oyata keeyada?" . Amidst the chanting of these slogans Mr. Weerakoon lost his cool.

"They are like buffaloes, how can you expect them to sit and listen," shot back the minister who despite heavy provocation from UNP members defended his conduct.

"I received the e-mail for an LSSP publication and the government has not tapped anything," he said piling the blame on the newspapers for making a mountain out of a mole hill.

Aggressively defending his stance, the stocky minister gave graphic details of the e-mail contents -the purchase of lapel mikes to prevent throat infection and super digital cameras to superimpose bodies. He said he felt these purchases would be dangerous that's why he submitted the e-mail before the Cabinet.

Whether the minister was giving free rein to his fertile imagination or speaking the truth would perhaps never be known. Although these cameras, are being used by media personnel the world, over including Sri Lanka he felt they were being purchased with dubious motives.

Minister Weerakoon's fears were real when he explained that these cameras could create virtual realities though they aren't real. The mike from a distance could be used to bug any powerful system, opined the Science and Technology minister, displaying his grandiose knowledge of the field.

While the temperature rose steadily with each of his claims being greeted with catcalls and 'e-mail hora' chants, the despairing minister lost his cool and shouted out Paraya without batting an eye lid while an enraged Mervyn Silva who was at the receiving end walked towards the front-line menacingly. His enraged colleagues jumped to their feet demanding the immediate withdrawal of the so-called unparliamentary word though it is very much a part of the parliamentary parlance,

While minister Weerakoon, happy to have let off steam with just one word kept his calm all hell broke loose.

"Ask him to withdraw the word" thundered UNPers now standing shoulder to shoulder while an amused UNP leader quietly watched the drama, while furiously taking down notes and marking newspapers reports on the infamous e-mail scandal.

As usual, it was the cheeky minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle who zealously defended minister Weerakoon demanding that 'hora' allegations by the UNP be withdrawn first.

While the House got engulfed in utter chaos, a flabbergasted Speaker in sheer desperation suspended sittings for 15 minutes giving members an opportunity to cool it off.

The old LSSP guard would have shuddered if it had witnessed the fiasco - brought about by a member of a party that had produced many illustrious men in the past.

Perhaps that's what was on the mind of Vasudeva when he walked out of the House with disgust written all over his face.

Even after the break Mr. Weerakoon persisted in accusing the UNP of having dubious motives in purchasing this equipment.

"These are dangerous equipment in the wrong hands" he insisted. Although he repeatedly pledged not to read the entire e-mail message he did so.

"The public has a right to know and so did the Cabinet because this was serious, hence my decision to present it. If you don't like my explanation, move a no confidence motion on me, and I shall face it," he challenged an enraged opposition.

Anura Bandaranaike who had earlier locked horns with the minister said in disgust "You really are Batty".

Making an impromptu statement in Parliament in the aftermath of the furore was Ranil Wickremsinghe, who charged that there was a stark breach of confidentiality and the possible violation of Section 60 of the Sri Lanka Telecom Act.

His anger evident Mr. Wickremesinghe said the contents of the letter were clear, and there was no need to place it before a Cabinet already spying on the Opposition.

"These mikes are commonly used abroad to avoid throat infection, and my intention was to get used to the system before starting the election campaigns. This small lapel mike cannot bug your systems," he scoffed.

"Willful interception of electronic communications was a serious offence, or don't you even care about the legalities" he charged.

He also said this was not the first ever camera of such a nature.

"There are enough media personnel already using them, and one such was severely damaged during the onslaught on the media and UNP on July 15," thundered Mr. Wickremesinghe adding that it was a similar bugging scandal which led to the resignation of US president Richard Nixon.

You certainly did in 5 years, what we couldn't in 17!

At the outset of this week's discussion let me wish my unseen friend Paakshikaya and his government good luck on the completion of a much publicized fifth anniversary in office.

Your leader, President Chandrika Kumaratunga is on record saying that her Peoples' Alliance government has done in five years what the UNP could not do in 17 and I cannot but help agree with her on that, my friend.

Even if I have to concede that the UNP government was quite unpopular towards the end of its rule in 1994, the President's pronouncement is necessarily justified: the PA has reached a new low in its popularity in just five years, unmatched even by the UNP after 17 years in power.

There can be no better analysis of this than what was done in this same newspaper last Sunday- a promise-by-promise review of the PA election manifesto- and those who read that analysis would have needed no further convincing about the efficacy and sincerity of the PA government.

But, what struck me was that this analysis was judiciously placed by the good editor on the page opposite Paakshikaya's writings and I suspect that was more design than accident! Of 24 election promises reviewed in that analysis, the solitary promise which has been fulfilled was in foreign relations where your Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar succeeded in having the LTTE banned in the United States and India.

But even that good man has a lot of work to do, Paakshikaya because it was recently reported that when LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham wanted to leave the jungles of Wanni for the cooler climes of England he was able to obtain the co-operation of the governments of both Britain and Australia! Now, it is not that your government is unaware of your shortcomings.

You know that you have failed, which is why you organized that show of strength yesterday in Colombo.

That was merely a propaganda exercise just to tell the people that a government exists, lest they forget!

But, when it comes to such propaganda exercises, Paakshikaya you seem to be experts at manipulating the law. When we stage a protest it is a security risk because LTTE cadres are roaming the city and planning suicide attacks. Why, even last Wednesday your Police force, no doubt with instructions from its political masters tried to prevent a protest which had the blessings of our youth league, resulting in some UNPers being assaulted when they tried to hand over a petition at the Presidential Secretariat.

But when the PA wants to stage a massive show to celebrate five years in office, presumably all those suicide bombers go into hiding and you and your supporters are free to run amok in the city creating chaos in the traffic and disrupting daily life!

But then, discipline was never your forte, was it, Paakshikaya? Take a look around you and you will see the indiscipline among your cabinet ministers, no less!

A week ago, it was reported that perhaps the only other efficient minister in your government- apart from Mr. Kadirgamar- Mahinda Rajapakse had a heated argument with the President at the cabinet meeting. In fact, a near verbatim report of the proceedings were reported in the media.

Now, instead of adding fuel to the fire, what did the Presidential Secretariat do? It issues what it thinks is a denial and by that stupid act, merely confirms the story! For all we know, that smart idea of issuing a 'denial' may have been on the advice of a media advisor!

Then, last Tuesday, your senior minister, D. M. Jayaratne, who is also the General Secretary of the PA is suspended from Parliament for one day for disobeying orders from the Chair, in that instance from Deputy Chairman of Committees Rauf Hakeem.

Now, if memory serves me right, this is unprecedented in parliamentary history in this country Paakshikaya, because ministers generally behave decently and adhere to the norms of conduct in the House without causing embarrassment to the Chair. But then, didn't Her Excellency say the PA has done in five years what the UNP could not do in 17 years and how right she was!

Then, Paakshikaya I note that you have accused UNPers like Rajitha Senaratne of less than decent behaviour on public platforms. But didn't we all see the kind of behaviour that the PA indulged in during that farcical 'Aththa Neththa' programme on Rupavahini this week?

When Rajitha Senaratne himself left the studio we were treated to the kind of oratory that must be the hallmark of the PA election campaign next year. Tell me, Paakshikaya, does that type of conduct set an example for others to follow. But then, who can blame the likes of Mahinda Wijesekera and Dilan Perera for they must be following the example of D. M. Jayaratne!

And in the midst of such indiscipline is it a surprise, Paakshikaya, that your government is being inundated with queries and controversies regarding this 'Channel Nine' scandal?

I do have a feeling that this will snowball into a bigger crisis for your government in its last year of office but what amazes me is the absolute lack of finesse in your handling of the issue. When the issue was first raised, there were no responsible ministers rushing to the defence of those accused. Then, there was a deafening silence.

But when the matter refused to be swept under the carpet and forgotten- largely due to the vigilance of the media- you have now launched an all-out assault on sections of the Fourth Estate, seeing a conspiracy theory in the entire issue.

I do not claim to know the truth about this 'Channel Nine' controversy, my friend, but from my experience in politics over several decades I do know one thing: when a government alleges a conspiracy theory in a scandal instead of trying to address the scandal itself, it is more often than not trying to hide something. And, believe me, some ministers in your government also privately express the same sentiments!

That may or may not be the case in this particular issue but all that I see is that you in the PA are committing collective political suicide over this controversy and we in the UNP are now faced with the happy prospect of waiting till you self destruct!

But, before I conclude I thought I must include an interesting footnote that I picked up from the latest issue of 'Asiaweek' where space guru Vidya Jothi Sir Arthur C. Clarke has been asked for his predictions for the new Millennium.

One of his predictions is that President Kumaratunga will win the Nobel Prize for Peace in the year 2007 for resolving the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka.

Now I have the greatest respect for Sir Arthur but according to the present constitution- unless there is some skullduggery and tinkering- Chandrika Kumaratunga, even if she wins a second term of office, will not be President in 2007.

Of course, Sir Arthur might argue and say that Chandrika Kumaratunga is always late but then he himself says that his 'predictions' must be taken with a pinch of salt- after all he writes fiction, doesn't he, Paakshikaya?

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