10th October 1999

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Political cops going over the top


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Model village of half houses

By Faraza Farook and Nilika de Silva

A housing development project in the Dighavapi area in Ampara launched by the Ministry of Ports and Rehabilitation is yet to be completed two years after the project got underway, villagers complain.

As a result the villagers have been forced to live in cadjan huts put up beside the half constructed houses.

A survey done by a team from 'The Sunday Times' revealed that many recipients of houses in Dighavapi Model Village who have put in a considerable amount of labour are complaining that their houses are half-built even after they have slaved putting in more than the equivalent labour for the Rs. 25,000 worth of materials they received.

A plaque stating that Ports, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Minister M.H.M. Ashraff had declared open the Digavapi Model Village on June 20, 1997, defies the roofless houses scattered around the village.

The villagers who say the minister is unaware of the situation, ask why they are prevented by village representatives from speaking to him when he comes to Dighavapi. Minister Ashraff is under the impression that more than ninety percent of the villagers have fully built houses.

The Minister states Rs. 25,000 was given to each villager, in a three phased operation. However, many villagers say they were given bricks and cement while they themselves had to provide the labour and meals for the builders. The discrepancy in the versions is however, unexplained.

These Sinhalese villagers, recipients of Minister Ashraff's houses are living in their huts beside their half-built houses.

Meanwhile, Minister Ashraff told The Sunday Times that upon the request of some six hundred Sinhalese families a model village was opened. "We spent about sixty million rupees for the construction of the model village," he said.

The model village is said to have a school, bus stand, library, playground, co-operative store, electricity and water supply.

The villagers however are still drawing water from wells, even though the Minister speaks of having provided water supply.

In response to the question why some houses remain incomplete, Minister Ashraff retorted, "That is not my problem."

"When you give about a hundred people money, you must always provide for about ten percent of the people not utilising it properly. This is not the first case. I have built more than 10,000 houses," he said.

Inspite of the fact that the houses were not habitable due to being open to the elements the organizers were insisting the villagers leave their huts and occupy them.

Meanwhile, certain villagers with means of income such as West Asian returnees have been able to complete building their houses.

Credit card fraud busted

By Leon Berenger

A major credit card scam with international links was busted by police this week following the arrest of two top businessmen in the metropolis, a senior policeman said yesterday.

The two suspects were picked up after interpol informed Colombo about the racket that is believed to have surfaced in a British city with a connection in Sri Lanka, Director of the Colombo Fraud Investigation Bureau Senior Superintendent (SSP) V. Kanthasamy told The Sunday Times.

Investigations so far have found out that the suspects had copied the Visa and Master cards belonging to wealthy persons in the United Kingdom and later produced duplicates turned out with the aid of a highly sophisticated machine located either in the country or overseas.

With this machine the suspects were able to infiltrate the real owner's secret details such as the pin number which could be used to withdraw cash from banks and other ATM outlets anywhere in the country.

One leading bank in Colombo has already been ripped off for Rs 700,000, and this figure is bound to increase once investigations are completed, SSP Kanthasamy said.

Investigators have also found out that the pair had made extensive use of the fake cards in at least seven leading hotels in the city and outstations. They had also made large purchases of jewellery and other expensive equipment. Five fake cards were also recovered by police.

Police yesterday cautioned local card owners to be extremely watchful when handing over the card for payment irrespective of the outlet, since this machine is yet to be found and could possibly be in circulation.

The operation on this machine is simple explains Kanthasamy. All the suspect has to do is swipe the genuine card on the machine which will then electronically copy all the details which is later transferred cleverly to the fake card, he added. "This could even be done by a hotel waiter or even a cashier at a super market", Kanthasamy added.

In addition police do not know if there is just a single machine or many more doing the rounds.

Several more suspects are likely to be arrested shortly.

Meanwhile a spokesman for a local bank in the city said that in such a situation the customers will be cautioned to take extra-precautions especially when handing their cards over for payment.

"Apart from this there is very little that can be done. It is the bank that has to be more worried since it will have to cough up once the genuine owner proves that he or she had not made any transactions", S. Mutateesa, an official of Seylan Bank, Dehiwala said.

Although banks in Europe are faced with such a problem, the situation in Sri Lanka has yet to reach that stage, Mr. Mutateesa said.

Police investigations were carried out by Inspector Jayaratne Chief Inspector Stanislaus together with a team of Fraud Bureau officials under the instructions of Superintendent Azmi Sheriffdeen and SSP V Kanthasamy.

Sinhala Com. proposes consensus politics

The Sinhala Commission in its proposals for a new constituion calls for an independant election commission which will be appointed by the president in consultation with the prime minister.

The Sinhala Commission's constitutional proposals were discussed yeasterday at a seminar organised by the National Joint Committee.

The president of the Sanga Saba, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, appealed to the people to create a public opinion on these proposals and to bring about a change in the present constitution.

'I believe that these constitutional proposals can bring the change we are in need. This is the best time to present this and that is why we have to get the public involved and let them know about it,' he said.

Ven. Sobitha Thera added that it was important to create a change in the economic and social system void of politics.

The proposals emphasise the division of power, calls for the abolition of the Provincial Council System, which the commission claims is a burden on the country, adding more bureaucasy to the system.

The commission proposes parliamentry elections as they are now. Once the election is concluded the leader of the party with the largest number of seats will be appointed by the President to be the prime minister and the leader of the party with the second largest number of seats to be deputy prime minister. The prime minister will act in consultaion with the deputy prime minister and ensure that all interests are adequately represented in the cabinet .

Such a cabinet will be possible to ensure consensual politics and put an end to the present system where the two major parties oppose each other.

Deadly quacks from Beruwela arrested

Two quacks who allegedly administered a fake anti-virus vaccine to hundreds of unsuspecting gem traders were arrested by police this week following the death of one victim.

The merchants who frequently visit Madagascar to ply their trade are required under immigration laws of that country to inject themselves with this vaccine, since the gem mining province is a medically high-risk area, according to police investigators.

The two doctors from Beruwala are alleged to have vaccinated hundreds of persons charging each of them a fee of Rs 300, over a period of two years.

The scam came to light after one trader died of yellow fever on his return to the country a few months ago, police said. He had contracted the deadly disease in Madagascar and the vaccine apparently had not helped, police said.

"The quacks had not only cheated these merchants but had also placed the entire country at risk of contracting some deadly virus", one senior policeman with the Fraud Bureau said.

More and more local gem merchants are leaving for foreign countries in search of lucrative gem mines since the precious reserves are on a decline in traditional areas of this country.

Police added that in some cases the merchants had sold foreign gems under the Sri Lankan label in a bid to fetch a better price. In addition a large number of such gems are also sold at leading hotels, they said.

Defence ministry probe on air attack

By Shelani de Silva

The Defence Ministry is conducting an inquiry into last month's Air attack in Mullaittivu where 22 Tamil civilians were killed.

'The Sunday Times' learns that the inquiry is being conducted by the Defence Ministry to ascertain whether the bombing was an accident or otherwise.

The attack was initially denied by defence authorities, but Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar later admitted that it was an accidental bombing.

The attack was condemned by the UN which called on the Government to take precautions when bombing targets.

Air Force Commander, Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody told The Sunday Times that he has completed an inquiry on the incident and handed over the findings to the Defence Ministry.

An inquiry was carried out and 'I gave my observations. Until the Ministry completes the inquiry it is not possible to rule out anything. We cannot arrive at any conclusion on statements.He added that the damage to the surroundings too has to be verified before making any statements.

'The ICRC did give details. Not that I am doubting the ICRC, but we have to wait for the full report. It is true that three bombs were dropped, each of them weighing some 250 kg in comparison to the Central Bank bomb which weighed 50 kg. The bombs dropped at Mullaitivu would have erased the area from the map' he said.



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