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5th September 1999

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Double action on polio day

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

Polio drops and birth certificates are what the Registrar General's Office and UNICEF are planning for Saturday, September 11 the first of two National Immunization Days.

Deputy Registrar-General Mihindu Ratnayake told The Sunday Times that earlier around 95% of the births in the country had been registered, but now there were fears that those displaced due to the war might not be registering the births of their children. Therefore, the Registrar-General's Office was in the process of identifying these children.

After discussions with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), they had decided that the National Immunization Days (NIDs) would be ideal to identify these children, as parents would bring them to the 10,000 centres throughout the country, including the north and the east, he said.

Mr. Ratnayake said that on the first day of immunization, September 11, posters would be put up at all the centres, requesting parents to bring their children's birth certificates, on the day the second polio dose is due, October 16. In the case of children who did not have birth certificates, the parents would be asked to bring any one of three documents

* the registration card issued by the hospital if the child was born in a hospital

* the grama niladhari report if the child was born at home or

* the growth development chart maintained by village-level health workers for the child.

"These documents will help us to find out where and when these children were born. On October 16, the Registrar General's office will place a grama niladhari or Samurdhi niyamaka in each centre to take down the details and also issue a letter addressed to the relevant Divisional Secretary to those parents whose children don't have birth certificates.

"Then they will be able to submit these letters to the Divisional Secretary and get the issue of birth certificates expedited. If certain areas are found to have a large percentage of children sans birth certificates, a mobile kachcheri would be sent there," he said.

A UNICEF spokesman said they felt there was a "captive audience" at these immunization centres. It was the right of a child to have a name and nationality under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The only way this right could be ensured would be for the child's birth to be registered and a birth certificate issued.

Compared to other countries in the region, Sri Lanka was far ahead in the registration of births of the 1.5 million under-five children.

Silent tribute to a success story

The guns in the north and the east are likely to fall silent on September 11 and October 16, when Sri Lankan children under five years of age flock to immunization centres all over the country to get their two doses of polio drops.

Both doses are essential, stressed UNICEF, which along with WHO and the Rotarians is assisting the Health Ministry in this effort.

National Immunization Days (NIDs) have been implemented since 1995 as a national programme each year. This is part of a larger programme of the government, in consultation with UNICEF, to tackle and eliminate the six dreaded childhood diseases: tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, neonatal tetanus, polio and measles.

With the overall immunization coverage rate at over 90% for these diseases, the number of children afflicted was brought down to less than 10 during the early 1990s by this programme.

According to UNICEF as the incidence of polio has been reduced to a single digit since 1990 and no cases have been reported since 1994, the government along with UNICEF, identified polio as the first target disease for eradication by the year 2000. The strategy was National Immunization Days to immunize every child under five against polio, during specified days in a year, for a number of consecutive years. The epidemiological explanation was that by immunizing every child, including those fully or partially immunized already, on a single day, the environment would be flooded with dead polio virus, so that the wild polio virus could be flushed from the environment.

The NIDs were originally meant for three consecutive years from 1995, but because of the close proximity to India and the cross-border traffic the authorities decided to continue them for a further two years, with 1999 being the last.

The immunization cover has been over 95% and no cases of polio have been reported since 1994 from any part of the country, UNICEF said.

Tough laws urged to stop e-mail hacking

By Shelani de Silva

The internet company which was at the centre of controversy over the e-mail issue has called for upgrading of the existing laws pertaining to e-mail hacking.

Hemantha Jayawardena, Chief Executive Officer, Lanka Internet Services said Sri Lanka was still in the primitive stage and it was essential to upgrade the IT laws."We have to introduce modern laws, like in the USA where there are stringent laws to punish e-mail hackers. In South Asia the laws are very primitive. Law experts are in the process of bringing in laws," he said.

The controversy erupted after Minister Batty Weerakoon read out an e-mail addressed to Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at a Cabinet meeting.

After an investigation it was revealed that the sender had used the wrong e-mail address thus sending it to another person.

Mr. Jayawardena said the Company could not penalise the e-mail sender for the mistake since the contract states that they could not take action until the proper law enforcement authority steps in.

Last week Mr. Weerakoon in a letter to Lanka Internet apologised for embarrassing the company in Parliament.

Meanwhile Lanka Internet states that the controversy has turned out to be somewhat positive since many people will be more careful of the password and the address when sending mail.

"We will start educating the people on the issue because in most cases the e-mail address or the pass word is wrong. The e-mail issue did come as a shock to our clients and we had to explain the problem," he said.

Business leaders to meet JVP

The Business Leaders delegation is scheduled to meet the JVP to discuss the political package after its meetings with the PA and the UNP last week.

JVP Spokesperson Wimal Weerawansa told The Sunday Times that the party will not change its stand on the devolution package.

"We have always opposed it and it will be the same. We decided to meet the business leaders to get their views but we will not change our stand," he said.

Meanwhile the business leaders who met the PA and the UNP delegations on Wednesday decided that discussions would be held to bring about peace through a political solution.

UNP representative A C S Hameed, for whom the meeting with the business delegation turned out to be one of the last public engagement before his sudden death on Friday night, had requested two weeks time to consult the minority parties on the seven major areas of conflict.

Saudi horror leaves Rohini on wheel-chair

By Faraza Farook

Poverty has played a vicious role in young Rohini's life, permanently damaging her future and pushing her to further hardships in life.

Thirty one year old Sujatha Rohini Amarasinghe was punished for no fault of hers. Just five months after employment, her employers in Saudi Arabia allegedly pushed her from the third floor of their four storeyed house because Rohini asked for her due payments.

Now receiving treatment at the National Hospital, Rohini suffers from a spinal fracture, multiple fractures in her legs and pelvis.

"She is permanently paralysed and will be confined to a wheel chair all her life," orthopedic surgeon Dr. N. Pinto told The Sunday Times. He confirmed that Rohini's injuries were due to a fall from a height.

After a month's treatment in a Saudi hospital, Rohini was brought to Sri Lanka with the help of the Police in Saudi Arabia and admitted to the National Hospital by the Foreign Ministry's welfare branch.

She has appealed to the authorities to look into her case and do justice to her.

Foreign Employment Bureau Deputy General Manager L.K. Ruhunage said the FEB would certainly help her if she had registered herself at the bureau. "We can also assist her for medical purposes if someone is able to give us details about her."

Necessary action against the job agent and the employer will also be taken, Mr. Ruhunage assured. Relating the horror story to The Sunday Times Rohini said, poverty forced her to take up a job as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia in February this year. Little did she realise that she would go through so many hardships within such a short period.

She had gone to Saudi Arabia as she had no other means to provide for her mother. She also had a dream to build her own house. Initially, everything was fine for her at the Saudi house but when she asked for her salary, things started to turn sour.

"Madam treated me well but she went abroad two months after I joined. I was illtreated after that," she said. Rohini had no escape from their torture as she was imprisoned behind high walls and iron doors.

"I was given food that was left over after they finished eating. I had a lot of problems with the men in the house. They tried to molest me. Sometimes they tried to entice me to oblige them by giving jewellery, clothes and other valuables. But I was adamant not to give into their dirty tricks. They got angry and beat me," Rohini said.

"Every time I asked for my salalry, various excuses were given. Having not given into their dirty demands and my frequent reminders to pay my salary annoyed them. So they pushed me out," she said.

Rohini is unaware as to who took her to the hospital because she had been unconscious for a week. Even after this incident her employers had threatened Rohini that they would kill her by removing oxygen tube, if she told the Police what had taken place. They forced her to lie. And Rohini did lie, in fear that she might be killed.

Rohini's thumbprints had been taken on several documents while she was hospitalised. Yet, all that Rohini asked for when the police inquired, was her compensation and her due salary. Rohini had not received a cent to date. Her pleas for her payments were of no avail. Today, Rohini lies in a hospital bed unaware that her life will be confined to a wheel chair.

Controversial tender cancelled

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

A controversial tender for the construction of two fuel storage tanks for the Kelanitissa Power Station has been cancelled by the Ceylon Electricity Board with companies complaining they have lost large amounts of money in the process.

The bids for the tender were called for by newspaper advertisements in May this year, for the construction of two 5000 metric tonnes fixed roof tanks for the storage of fuel oil at the Kelanitissa Power Station.

Sources say there were more than 20 bidders from Europe, Australia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka for the tender which was estimated to cost between Rs. 150 to 200 million.

In mid-July the closing date for the tender was extended by one month, and then in mid-August, the tender was cancelled with no reasons given, and negotiations are now allegedly going on between the CEB and an allegedly pre-determined foreign company.

Companies in Sri Lanka are complaining they had spent a substantial amount of money for the bidding only to have the tender suddenly cancelled.

Sources allege the tender was cancelled due to the actions of interested parties within the CEB. They say that while the soil investigation for the project was carried out in 1987 the tenders were called for only in 1997 because parties within the CEB were trying to hand over the project to the allegedly pre-determined foreign company.

The Cabinet Approved Tender Board (ACTB) had however not agreed to this and the tender was publicly advertised. Sources say that at this point too some senior members within the CEB had written to the Minister of Power and Energy saying there would be a further three month evaluation delay after the tender was awarded and this would hinder other CEB projects. They had then said if the tender was awarded to the foreign company in question, this delay could be avoided. A new CATB was reportedly then appointed which approved awarding the tender to the foreign company. Sources say the closing date for the tender had been extended also at the request of the foreign company.

The project although alleged to have been estimated to cost Rs. 60 million has been quoted as costing Rs. 110 million, Rs. 50 million more than the reported actual cost. The company will also reportedly be bringing down foreign labour instead of utilising local labour.

Additional General Manager of the Generation Department of the CEB said while construction of the tanks had still not begun, negotiations were currently going on with a certain company. political package

Hameed I knew

From Foreign Minister to Foreign Minister

By Lakshman Kadirgamar, Minister of Foreign Affairs

It was in 1960 that I met A.C.S. Hameed for the first time. He was then a newly elected Member of Parliament. I had just returned to Sri Lanka and was starting my practice at the Bar. Mr. Hameed was guide, philosopher and friend to a wealthy land owner in Matale who was engaged in a great deal of litigation. Lakshman Kadirgamar

Since the land owner did not know English, Mr. Hameed accompanied him for consultation with me over some complicated cases. As our professional work proceeded and many consultations were held I came to admire greatly the lucidity and capacity for absorbing detail that this young Member of Parliament displayed. After the consultations were over and the clients had departed, Mr. Hameed would stay behind for conversation of a much wider and more interesting nature.

I was fascinated by his unorthodox theories on the politics of Sri Lanka. He had very liberal, if not radical, views on all the major political, economic and social questions of the day. What astonished me was the fact that he was a UNP MP. I thought he should have belonged to a more left wing party.

But he made it clear that in his perception, the UNP was a party with a mass base that could, and should, be liberalized from within, while the Left parties of the day would never, in his view, acquire a comparable popular following. I had the feeling that he saw himself as one of those reformers who would try to take the party along a path that was more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.

I used to tease him with the suggestion that he was a communist sympathizer masquerading as a Liberal. He took no offence at that at all but treated my remark as a compliment to the breadth of his thinking.

Mr. HameedMr. Hameed seemed to have, for a novice in politics, a canny understanding of the mentality of the Sinhala voter. I used to say to my legal friends that I knew a young Muslim MP from the hill country who among the new crop of MPs was one who would stay the political course. That indeed he did. Had he lived a few months longer he would have been an MP for an unbroken period of 40 years.

After the cases were over, I did not see Hameed again for many years but having come to know him I followed his political career with keen interest from a distance checking every now and then against the unfolding events of our times, the validity of the theories he had expounded in those early days in the sixties.

As the years went by I found that he was right on many matters. It was not till the 80's that I caught up with Hameed again. By then he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I was working in the United Nations system. Our paths crossed many times in various parts of the world at international meetings and we would always converse for as long as there was time available.

By now his interests had widened greatly and he was eagerly absorbing the wide world around him.

Again he had begun to develop fascinating theories about developments in international politics, and soon Hameed showed the same intuitive grasp of the complexities and nuances of international politics that he had displayed of domestic politics when I had first met him as a young MP.

Throughout his long and unparalleled stint of some 15 years as the country's Foreign Minister he remained a deeply committed student of all aspects of foreign policy as a subject for study and reflection, and he continued to talk interminably on all manner of subjects with a vast array of friends and acquaintances from every nationality across the world.

When a man has held the highest post in the foreign policy establishment of a country for as long as Mr. Hameed did, the impact of his work in that field requires to be analyzed and assessed and I hope very much that may be done in due time. This is not the occasion to speak of his mistakes. The Hameed that I knew was basically still the bright and committed young MP of the sixties.

I feel quite sure that it was those long conversations that we had 35 years before I became the Foreign Minister of the country that paved the way for a smooth transition from his long regime to the start of mine.

In the past five years the constraints of work and travel have precluded the long conversations of the past. Politics never stood between us. Hameed understood very well that in the sphere of foreign policy there is no room for division. The country's interests are paramount.

With a little effort large areas of common ground can be found. It is not difficult to relate the policies and principles of the major parties to an agreed concept of the national interest.

Mr. Hameed's contribution to foreign policy thinking in Opposition was always constructive. I appreciated that.

Budget on Nov. 1

By Geethani Perera

The fifth budget of the People's Alliance government will be presented on November 1.

The Second Reading would be from November 3 to 10 and the Committee stage debate from November 15 to December 10.

The Sunday Times learns that the government is proposing to impose the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on more consumer items.

The tax is being imposed on goods as the government has failed to net the expected revenue from the GST this year, Finance Ministry sources said.

Now, wild life gets privatised

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

A special loan scheme to be financed by the Asian Development Bank for the conservation and management of Sri Lanka's wildlife resources has earned the ire of environmentalists.

They alleged that the scheme was an attempt to buy off the country's wildlife resources through the privatization of the Minneriya National Park and handing over of all wildlife bungalows to the private sector.

According to the conditions imposed, the ADB seeks the transfer of all bungalows currently coming under the administration of the Wild Life Department to the private sector or suitable NGOs on the basis of concession agreements.

Further, 70% of all revenues from protected areas in the Mahaweli and Central mountain clusters and at least 25% of all revenues from all other protected areas should be remitted to the Wildlife Preservation Fund, once it is established as recommended by the ADB.

According to conditions and specific assurances circulated among the inner circle, the ADB has advised the government to complete the transfer of all such bungalows within one year of loan effectiveness.

In addition, the government has to adopt a revised wildlife policy acceptable to the Bank, within the same year, sources said..

The restructuring of the Wild Life Dept., meaning the conversion into an authority, has also been given the same deadline by the ADB.

But the environmentalists are up in arms against clauses 96 (30) and (31) which requires the government to allow the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to undertake independent wildlife monitoring and to tender the transfer of the management of the Minneriya National Park, one of the national treasures, to the private sector on the basis of an 'ecologically and financially sound concession agreement.'

Environmentalists have strongly objected to the acceptance of a loan with alleged 'draconian conditions to plunder national resources' and for opening the flood gates for the exploitation of wildlife resources.

They point out that these are attempts to plunder resources as well as politicise a department which should essentially remain with the state. The protests have been renewed with moves being underway to present a Bill in Parliament this year.

Meanwhile, the Bill has drawn much criticism for alleged attempts to politicize the new Authority which will have a 11-member board of management with six members being appointed by the Minister.

Conservationists warn that the introduction of the Bill would be the death knell of the country's fauna alleging that this was only a stepping stone to sell off country's vast natural resources to the private sector and a devious attempt by the government to delegate duties which should essentially rest with it.

Conservationist and environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardena told The Sunday Times that even countries like Britain and the United States had retained this vital sector under state control and there was no necessity for Sri Lanka to rush where others have feared to tread.

"This is a diabolical attempt, similar to selling the family silver. The duty to conserve and develop a country's wildlife resources are exclusively vested in the state, an inalienable duty. A politicized authority which works according to the whims and fancies of foreign organizations with vested interest and individuals with political intentions would destroy whatever that is left of the unique flora and fauna," he said.

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