Daily Archives: July 16, 2006
"Bilateral trade can be developed if both countries can showcase export items, giving people in Dhaka and Colombo an opportunity to get to know each other’s products in the process," the minister said.
By Silverine Shrikanthan and Imrul Hasan
PHOTO: SK Enamul Haq
Brightly decorated stalls inviting potential business partners highlighted the first-ever four-day long ‘Sri Lanka Trade Show 2006′, at the Bangladesh China Friendship Conference Centre. The show was inaugurated by Commerce Minister Hafizuddin Ahmad last Thursday.
"Bilateral trade can be developed if both countries can showcase export items, giving people in Dhaka and Colombo an opportunity to get to know each other’s products in the process," the minister said.
While visiting the stalls, the minister said that he hoped the bilateral relations between the two countries and the exchange of single country exhibitions, referring to the Bangladesh Trade Show 2006 held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in January this year, could help bring down import taxes gradually and assist in the promotion of further business.
The trade show, organised jointly by Sri Lanka’s the Export Development Board (EDB) and the Sri Lanka High Commission in Dhaka showcased items from 33 companies and services of two educational institutions.
Items ranged from the very famous Sri Lankan tea, to herbal/natural medicines, electrical and garment accessories, cables, food and beverages and canned food items, air ducts, fishing utensils trawlers, nets, rubber products tyres and tubes, cosmetics, telephone units, colour products, education and banking.
"We are looking forward to introducing our products to Bangladesh," said Amal Karunatilaka, director (production), Colour Products Ltd, producers of Homerun Pas pastels. "Our products are far better in quality than Indian and Chinese as the raw materials are balanced, non-toxic and we have been in the Sri Lankan market for over 40 years," he added.
But visitors to the fair who were keen on buying displayed products were disappointed as none of the items were for sale.
"What is the point in looking at the items, if we cannot have any one of them," asked Mustafa Kamal, a 55-year old government employee.
"I was impressed with the quality of the mosquito nets, raincoats and umbrellas and almost begged the person in charge of the Sri Lanka Umbrella Industries Rainco (Pvt) Ltd stall to sell a raincoat," said Amran Hossain, another visitor to the exhibition.
But Priyankara Aponsu, Asst Brand Manager, said that they were unable to bring many items, as import restrictions did not permit them to bring in large quantities of their products.
"We are looking for distributors, so that we would not disappoint Bangladeshi customers," he added.
Nilhan Ekanayake, export manager, Lanka Canneries Ltd said that their products were already available in India, but it is for the first time they were introducing their products in this country.
"As it is the first time, we are very keen in familiarising our products to the people of this country," said Fazal Mushin, director of Link Natural Products (Pvt) Ltd adding that as time goes by their products will flood the local market.
The banking sector had already been introduced when the Commercial Bank of Ceylon started operations in Dhaka. They now have almost five branches operating in the city.
Bio Extracts (Pvt) Ltd had many of their herbal products on display. The products ranged from vitamins, blood sugar and cholesterol regulators, and even hypertension reduction capsules.
Thimira Rajapakse, executive director, EDB at the inauguration said that Bangladesh is a country with vast potential for development of the Sri Lankan export that has been virtually untapped. He said that he had studied the opportunities available for business during his earlier visits, and "this unique exhibition will open new vistas for our manufacturers and traders in quality products".
Taking these facts into consideration he said that he had recommended the idea of this exclusive single country exhibition.
Thosapala Hewage, secretary to Sri Lanka’s ministry of enterprise development and investment promotion traced routes to the historical connections between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and that these connections should prevail through friendship and stronger trade ties.
Vadivel Krishnamoorthy, high commissioner of Sri Lanka to Dhaka, said that trade relations between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh was given a boost at the EDB sponsored 5th Saarc Trade fair held in Dhaka in 2003.
He also said that the "Sri Lanka Single Country Trade Exhibition 2006" has added its significance with the emergence of SAFTA from July 1, 2006, and hoped that both countries would reduce their tariffs to provide better opportunities to enhance trade volume and values.
He further said that in this globalised world when there is no quota and preferential treatment in international trade, both countries could remain as competitors only if the markets are expanded through regional cooperation.
The exhibition ends today at 8 pm. Although entrance to the exhibition was free for the first two days, a sudden introduction of Tk 20 as entrance fee irritated some visitors.
George Pereira of the EDB and in-charge of all the stalls said that the loss of some valuable equipment from the stalls forced them to take this action. -The Daily Star
Outgoing World Bank Country Head Peter Harrold says that in the medium term, the government lacks a proper framework and proper details on how the Mahinda Chinthana would be translated into real action. He also noted that the climate for sustainable reduction of poverty is much worse when you have a conflict and added that the introduction of economic reforms was a must for future economic progress. "Almost no economy and certainly not this one can survive. An economy cannot progress without reforms," Harrold told
The Sunday Leader in an interview.Peter Harrold
Following are excerpts:
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Q: How do you see the country’s economy at present?
A: It’s showing a very sharp recovery driven by two factors — the tsunami reconstruction that is accelerating a lot and by the weather. People often forget how important good rain is for the performance. So we’ve seen this sharp recovery. On the growth side it looks very healthy and the main concern that anyone would have I think, that the government would have, is the fiscal side.
The deficit is still high and the revenue is not yet performing the way the government would like. It’s still below target and that needs to be paid attention. Fiscal performance affects many things ultimately — interest rates, the level of investments, savings and everything. In terms of economic management, that is the priority.
In the more medium term, I guess there is still some lack of clarity, and needs a broad framework, which many development partners have most often said and what’s being worked out is hugely important and the way that Mahinda Chinthana will be translated into actual action – a detailed programme of expenditure and politics. That is very important to chart the medium term growth of the economy.
Q: Do you think the country could achieve the growth targets set for the year given the unstable situation in the country?
A: There always has been and always will remain a clear relationship between economic performance and stability. That’s true everywhere. It is so in Sri Lanka. The government’s target assumes a certain degree of stability. They have done that and it is not myself interpreting them to have done so. That’s an explicit assumption of the government when they set the target. That is the only reasonable thing you can assume.
Let us assume that we will have a stable situation with regard to security which sort of means nothing worse than the status quo from the middle of last year – a no-war-no-peace situation where the ceasefire was essentially holding with not many incidents making the front page both domestically and internationally.
That’s the working assumption and if that assumption holds and if that is accompanied by other natural assumptions like political stability and no frequent recourse to elections, then the targets are reasonable. Sri Lanka should have a target of growth of that sort. It evidently has the potential to do so. If a country can grow 4 -5% in the face of a terrible conflict, then there’s absolutely no reason why during a ceasefire period and with an appropriate framework, you should not be able to raise that growth rate by 2 or 3% to levels that would have a much more serious impact on poverty.
Q: The World Bank had earlier stated that funds would be tied to the peace process. Given the current deadlock and the escalation of violence, would the bank alter its criteria?
A: No. The Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) lays it down. The World Bank is not exercising what is called a peace conditionality, it’s absolutely not what this is. The absence of conflict creates an environment in which development aid can be used more effectively and that’s our philosophy worldwide. We go where the need is, but we also go where the effectiveness is highest. That’s very explicit in the formulae we use to determine where we allocate resources in terms of which country gets most.
The absence of conflict makes aid more effective so Sri Lanka in such circumstances deserves more aid because it can use it better than somebody else. If conflict worsens it creates a framework in which medium term development aid like the World Bank provides, not humanitarian, is less effective. In an ultimate case, you invest in reconstruction and if the conflict returns and what you have reconstructed is destroyed again, in general, it is a climate where aid is less effective.
These and sustainable poverty reduction are always the yardstick to us. Is there a framework leading to sustainable poverty reduction? In a conflict, the poor gets poorer. Some get richer, but the poor do not. The poor are the ones who die, who lose their homes and can’t grow their crops and can’t do any work. The climate for sustainable reduction of poverty is much worse when you have a conflict and that is why we provide less resources at such a time.
Q: In general terms, would such an environment have an impact on funding disbursements?
A: I think it does, but I don’t think it is terribly important. Donor aid helps at the margin but is not the determining factor. There are countries where aid provides most of the country’s GDP, Sri Lanka is not like that. We could all leave tomorrow, we are not the make or break factor of the country’s economy. It is a few percent of the economy, useful but not the make or break factor. But donors do react to a country’s situation and the World Bank’s specific argument is aid effectiveness while others do wish to recognise achievements in other places.
Q: The Finance Ministry recently declared a sum of US$ 4.3 billion as committed and yet undisbursed foreign aid as at end April. What is the reason for the delay in disbursement?
A: They are commitments and have not been spent. In an extreme case, commitments can be withdrawn. Quite a lot of the tsunami commitments were never fulfilled. When things don’t happen, people eventually withdraw their commitments. From support for electricity reforms to how long the projects actually take up to start and eventually people get tired and take the money elsewhere. In general, a commitment is a commitment and provided the on the ground necessary conditions are met then the commitments would generally be successful.
Q: Has the violence in the northeast affected the bank’s development projects in the area?
A: Somewhat. In two or three ways. At times there has been a severe shortage of material and in some places we can’t do anything, but in some places the prices are so high the people can’t go for the resources available. Couple of weeks ago, the price of cement in Mullaitivu, which is a difficult area to access at the present time was more than three times the price in Colombo. That makes it impossible for people to build houses for the money won’t stretch that far. If you take the housing project, which the World Bank is funding in the north-east, the way it works is that the funds are released in stages to the households.
In order to ensure the proper use of resources, every house is inspected before the next stage is released and to make sure everything is OK, the inspectors are inspected. You need to have spot checks to make sure inspectors are doing their job properly. In some areas access for those inspectors have been very weak.
The other matter of concern is that a lot of families have been leaving the area. We do see some slow down, a necessary slow down. You have to continue, but you have to exercise some caution. For other partners, certainly in the first few months we saw the rate of progress fall by 50%. In today’s circumstances, could you have successful international competitive bidding for a major road project in an area very heavily affected by violence? I don’t think so. Large contractors would be very nervous about going into such areas and that’s a serious constraint.
Q: The bank has been a promoter of privatisation of public enterprises. With the government denouncing it as a policy, what other way would it have to address the issues faced by public enterprises?
A: We’ve said before and will always say, eliminating privatisation as an alternative to be considered as a solution to the problems of any public enterprise we don’t think is a sensible policy and we hope that it could be looked at in the right circumstances. That Sri Lanka could pragmatically look at various forms of privatisation as a solution. Afterall, it is the PA government that oversaw what many people would say was among Asia’s most successful privatisation experience.
It wasn’t the UNP that privatised the plantations or SriLankan Airlines or Sri Lanka Telecom. These were managed by the current government and in one particular case, managed brilliantly by the current Foreign Minister. He brilliantly handled the Sri Lanka Telecom privatisation, the absolute model. What the Foreign Minister did in managing that is a textbook example on how to successfully manage a privatisation.
So they actually know how to do it very well. We think there still is the possibility to bring benefits, but it’s a political decision, it is not an economic decision and certainly not the World Bank’s decision and we are not going to say to a country that we would not support if you do not privatise. People think we do that, but we don’t. The government decides they don’t want to privatise, that is entirely up to the government.
If they ask us to help make the public enterprises more effective within a public ownership framework, we will agree. We are ready to provide services if that is what they want. If there is a way to increase performance, efficiency, reduce fiscal burden, improve the level of service delivery, and to make those efficiency improvements would be good to all, then we would help.
What we are trying to do is help them to be better service providers to the people. In some cases we have already started to help some of these enterprises even within public ownership.
Q: The Marxist JVP has specifically targeted you claiming that you push for privatisation. Can a developing economy exist without the introduction of reforms?
A: Almost no economy and certainly not this one can survive. An economy cannot progress without reforms. You cannot maintain the status quo. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t stay the same. Whether some people like it or not, Sri Lanka is part of the world because it doesn’t have any oil, but it wants oil. Much of Sri Lanka’s GDP is derived from exports, so you are part of the world. We’ve had the oil price more than doubling and we had the multi fibre agreement disappearing.
These are external changes that have an impact on Sri Lanka and it does not have control over it. When outside circumstances change, reforms are critical to respond to the new environment. In addition if you look at success stories, they are generally associated with reforms. Take China and India for example. Nobody dictated to them how reforms had to be. It was not the World Bank, ADB or IMF that told them what needs to be done, they advised, but the reforms were home grown.
They were well designed domestically and put in place with determination by governments that absolutely believed in them. There are people who think that the word reform means conditionalities from the World Bank or IMF, so reform means doing what they want to do. The Mahinda Chinthana is a reform document. It’s a manifesto about changing Sri Lankan society.
That is what it is. Reform means change. Every country must change and correct the things that are going wrong inside and adapt to what is going on outside. It would help the material reduction of poverty. Reforms are crucially necessary in any economy. There are forces that resist those changes because there is transitional pain for some, but those changes cannot be resisted in an open economy. The country then comes out strong.
Q: The JVP at one point also claimed that oil prices should not be pegged to the world market prices. Do you see any other alternative?
A: The problem is somebody has to pay for it. The consumption of oil is in inverse proportion to income. The richer you are, the more you consume and the poorer you are you hardly use any. The very poor use none at all. The poorest don’t use any of it. The problem with subsidies on oil is that it goes disproportionately to the rich. They come from taxes and they do not come disproportionately from the rich. They come from everybody. You have a VAT system. The richer you are the more you pay.
The distribution of taxation is less progressive than the consumption of oil. You pay more; you spend proportionately more on oil when you are rich than you do on taxes proportionately to the poor. Subsidising oil is a transfer of resources from the poor to the rich. That’s why we always advocate that you pass on the prices. When you pass on the prices, you can do things to protect the poor, you don’t have to hurt the poor if you want to pass on the fuel costs to the rich. If you subsidise the whole thing, yes you protect the poor, but you transfer benefits in even greater amounts to the rich. We fully support the idea of doing things to help the poor even while you pass on the full costs to the others.
Perhaps you could pass on the costs even more so you can transfer it to the poor. Subsidise kerosene. Only the poor use it. You can have some scheme to help public transport. You can and which Sri Lanka has and should retain is the system of providing the first few electricity units at low prices. The rich consume so much that the prices are caught up. Don’t transfer income from the poor to the rich.
Q: You have had a controversial tenure in Sri Lanka. Are you relieved to end your term here?
A: Well, at times I felt a great sense of injustice. The most visible attack last March was hugely unfair because it was a demonstration against a misquote. It was enormously frustrating. If people want to complain or demonstrate against what I’ve actually said that’s fine. That’s democracy and bringing issues out in the open. The government of Sri Lanka is a significant shareholder of the World Bank and therefore we have a certain degree of access to the public microphone and it is appropriate for a World Bank director to responsibly raise questions and make observations in order to contribute to the public debate about policy, it is not interference as such.
I think it is our duty given the responsibility our institution has, to raise questions and to make commentary on policy issues even though the consequence of making those comments would be that some people would like to say unpleasant things about the country director, I think it just goes with the job. Some people would say that if the director is not generating adverse comments from anybody, they are really not doing their job.
You can do many easy jobs by serving a quiet period of three years, but Sri Lanka deserves to have advicse from wherever it can come, then take it or leave it. There are some people who think Sri Lanka does not need any advice, that is not right, every country must learn from others’ experiences. The criticism goes with the territory and if you are doing your job it is going to happen from time to time. If it happens too much then you have to be careful.
Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapakse and The letter from Director, Sri Lanka Police Special Branch, Bernard de Silva to IGP Chandra Fernando caling for protection of Kumaratunga are in the picture
While President Mahinda Rajapakse grappled with the cabinet reshuffle last week in the face of mounting internal opposition, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga planned her return to Sri Lanka despite security threats following calls by disgruntled party members.
The President believes the only way out of the political stalemate his government has got into both on the peace as well as economic fronts was to strengthen itself in parliament with a workable majority and towards that end has wooed members from the UNP, SLMC and CWC.
That move he knows will stymie efforts to build a consensus through the All Party Conference (APC) on the ethnic issue but the President’s first priority now is the stability of his government, particularly in the face of the JVP’s refusal to come on board and has thus decided to make a bid for opposition MPs.
The President in fact decided on this course of action after coming to terms with the reality a general election at this stage would be suicidal for his government, whilst on the other weakening the opposition will slow down the anti-government momentum building up in the country.
At the same time the President realises he has to keep the JVP on board as well if the stability of the government is to be maintained on the floor of the House, and this he has moved to do by projecting a solution based on a Sri Lankan model for the ethnic problems whilst also cracking the whip on the NGO community.
And the whip cracking he has sought to do by getting an advisory panel appointed to the parliamentary select committee on NGOs and the names speak for themselves. The advisory panel comprises S.L. Gunesekera, Gomin Dayasri, R.S. Wanasundara, Susantha Gunatilleka, Sitha Rajapakse and Chandra Wijesekera.
That he is only interested in catering to the Sinhala-Buddhist constituency, Rajapakse has made no secret of and went so far as to explain his thinking on the matter to SLMC’s M.L.M. Hizbullah recently during a one-to-one meeting.
On that occasion, the President told Hizbullah, 90 percent of his vote bank came from the Sinhala-Buddhist constituency and politically therefore he has to work to their agenda. It is for this same reason he believes the PA can never win an election without the JVP, hence the need to keep them too going.
But the one problem President Rajapakse had to deal with in pushing this agenda of course is the international community, whose support was needed not only to pressure the LTTE but also for the much needed funds to keep the economy afloat.
And the international community has in no uncertain terms called for dramatic political changes to address the legitimate grievances of the minorities in addition to addressing issues of human rights violations, both of which the President knew he had to deliver on sooner than later. But he could not satisfy the international community as well as keep the JVP on board and hence looked for an alternate strategy.
Furthermore, India too entered the fray with the visit of External Affairs Secretary Shyam Saran the previous week, and it is to overcome this overall pressure, Rajapakse decided on a political offensive whilst playing for time on the more important issues confronting his administration.
And his priority was to ease the international pressure on him from the Co-Chairs in general and India in particular to work with the UNP on a federal solution and it is towards achieving that objective he planned the swearing-in of UNP’s Susantha Punchinilame the very day he was to meet with Ranil Wickremesinghe at the request of India.
Rajapakse knew, given the UNP’s earlier threat, the party will be forced to withdraw support following this slight and withdraw it did, thereby buying him time on India’s call to work with the UNP towards arriving at a solution based on the Indian model of federalism. (See Pot Shots on pages 8 and 9)
With that problem temporarily overcome, the President next focussed on keeping the rest of the international community at bay and decided to shift the focus from a political solution to human rights and called on Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe to deliver the goods. At the same time the APC initiative was projected as a means of addressing the political issues.
The approach of the government was to show the international community urgent steps were taken not only to investigate human rights abuses of civilians in the north east but action taken to prosecute the offenders as well and Samarasinghe was asked to do the honours.
Accordingly, the suave Minister convened a meeting of the diplomatic community on Wednesday, July 12, where representatives of the three services, police and the Attorney General’s Department were also in attendance.
Initially the three services and police made presentations on what steps were taken to educate service personnel on human rights.
Briefing the diplomats
And thereafter the diplomats were given a briefing on specific cases under investigation with assurances, the offenders will be brought to justice shortly.
In this respect, CID DIG Asoka Wijetilleke said there was a breakthrough in the murder of TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham and assured the diplomats that the perpetrators of the crime would be arrested within three to four days.
The alleged assassins are two men from the army, who when stopped at a checkpoint in Batticaloa soon after the murder had reportedly said they were deserters but allowed to go.
It is these two army men the CID now plan to arrest in connection with the murder of the TNA MP, though the diplomats were not given specifics of the case by DIG Wijetilleke except to say results will be shown within three to four days.
Likewise, with regard to the attack on the Pesalai Church, Gen. Kulatunga representing the military told the diplomats a tri-services inquiry was underway and that the evidence points to navy involvement in the incident going by testimony of the people.
A separate CID investigation is also underway, the diplomats were told.
And with regard to the murder of the Trincomalee students, the diplomats were told the CID was working on the basis of the Jaffna University Teachers Human Rights Report where details of the massacre were given and hoped to make progress soon.
Interestingly, even on this issue, Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabayson himself had earlier drawn the attention of both IGP Chandra Fernando and DIG Wijetilleke to the lack of progress made and queried why investigations were not carried out on the basis of details which had transpired in the media.
On Friday in fact the Attorney General’s Department was on the verge of delivering a strongly-worded letter to IGP Chandra Fernando on this very issue when the Department was informed a CID team was sent to Trincomalee that very morning.
Results called for
Be that as it may, at the end of the presentation, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Colombo, James Entwistle commended Minister Samarasinghe for the progress made and the transparency shown but reiterated the need for results.
He said the US understands the limitations faced in carrying out investigations whilst battling terrorism but that it was important to show results to build public confidence.
Similar sentiments were also expressed by other diplomats including, Indian High Commissioner, Nirupama Rao, Australian High Commissioner Greg French and British High Commissioner Dominick Chilcott.
And for the government it was progress made with the focus shifted to human rights, giving the President some breathing space on the political front, though of course the briefing only helped establish the LTTE’s claims that the military was involved in the killings of civilians in the north east.
Just 24 hours earlier, the President set the pace for the all party representative committee meeting, once again having invited the diplomatic community and giving a broad overview of what is planned through the APC.
Without going into specifics, the President spoke about the rights of the people to manage their own affairs with references to an Indian model and the importance of developing Sri Lanka’s own model was also thrown in.
That reference to a Sri Lankan model of course was to keep the JVP on board, the importance of which Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapakse adverted to when he met SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem the previous week.
The President’s insistence on a Sri Lankan model is also aimed at avoiding adopting a federal model and that is clearly evident when Justice Parinda Ranasinghe’s judgement is looked at on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
It is Justice Ranasinghe’s judgement that is considered a benchmark for the Sri Lankan model which eventually swung the 4-4 deadlock in the nine member Supreme Court Bench in 1987 in favour of the constitutionality of the 13th Amendment and which order President Rajapakse closely studied with confidants before delving into the subject.
In this context, the historic legal background becomes relevant in looking at the approach the President’s experts will adopt in formulating its proposals for devolution.
From the second decade of the 20th Century, the leaders of the Ceylon National Congress, mainly Sinhalese, equated the freedom struggle with a demand for a parliament in which the first step was a parliament elected by limited franchise having legislative power for all internal affairs.
The second step was to remove the power of the British parliament’s right to legislate for Sri Lanka and entrust it to the Sri Lankan parliament elected on universal franchise. A fully sovereign parliament elected by universal franchise.
The Tamil leaders accepted this same approach with one exception. They wanted communal electorates with weighted representation for the minorities.
However, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the Kandyan leaders wanted a federal model based on Canada and Australia where the legislative power was divided between the central and three regional parliaments. But the Donoughmore Commission on Constitutional Reforms rejected the proposal for communal electorates and for federalism. Nevertheless they also granted universal franchise immediately.
In 1943, the board of ministers headed by D.S. Senanayake prepared a draft constitution for the country based on a sovereign parliament elected by universal franchise. The 1945 Soulbury Constitution for Constitutional Reforms accepted the ministers’ proposal with additional amendments to safeguard the rights of the minorities. Once the new parliament was elected under this constitution, the British parliament passed the Ceylon Independence Act and removed the power of the British parliament to legislate for Sri Lanka.
And the 1972 republic was established by the members of parliament who having obtained a mandate met as a constituent assembly and vested legislative power in the national state assembly, reaffirming the principle espoused by the leaders of the Ceylon National Congress.
The 1978 constitution likewise is also based on this Sri Lankan model. The 1978 constitution also added the requirement of a referendum.
Justice Ranasinghe’s judgment read together with the judgement of Sharvananda CJ was in fact based on the Sri Lankan model. It clearly defines the limits of devolution within a Sri Lankan model.
Under this model while legislative power is vested in parliament, ordinary lawmaking power may be devolved to provincial/regional assemblies. But the power to amend the constitution is exercised exclusively by parliament and the people. This cannot be shared.
Thus, unlike the federal system, in the Sri Lankan model the parliament has the sole right to amend the constitution. In this manner, the Sri Lankan model is similar to the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom.
This judgement has now become the benchmark for the Sri Lankan model. It is in this context the draft constitution of 2000 was viewed as violating the Sri Lankan model enshrined in Justice Ranasinghe’s judgement.
The legislative power under the 2000 draft was to be shared between parliament and the regional assemblies. This also extended to the power to amend the constitution. Sharing of legislative power in this way made Sri Lanka a union similar to the Indian federal model which is a union of state. This was not what was sought by the leaders who fought for independence.
It is this thinking that is guiding Rajapakse which is in complete contrast to what the international community and India have called for in stating there must be radical changes to the country’s political structure.
Thus, on the one hand whilst keeping the JVP happy by sticking to a Sri Lankan model which will avoid any federal format, the President has on the other moved to ease the international pressure on him through a human rights initiative using Mahinda Samarasinghe as the point man and at the same time moved to weaken the UNP through defections.
Interestingly, the LTTE has understood the President’s strategy to be just that as articulated in the London based Tamil Guardian editorial of July 13, widely believed to be written by LTTE Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham.
"President Rajapakse is simply going through the motions to appease the international community, particularly India. But his main objective, like his predecessor, is to consolidate his presidency and prepare to secure another six years when the present term ends. Therefore his immediate priority is not to come up with a serious proposal to offer the Tamils, but, as the splintering UNP is vehemently protesting, to destroy his ruling party’s main rival and consolidate his grip in parliament, which is why we are certain nothing will come of the elaborate exercise which President Rajapakse began this week," the editorial said.
Taken together with similar sentiments expressed by LTTE Political Wing leader S.P. Tamilselvan in the Wanni, the APC initiative is an exercise in futility but it does serve a political purpose for Rajapakse in the immediate future to consolidate his power.
It is in furtherance of this objective the President moved to reshuffle his cabinet last week with a view to accommodating defectors only to run into a storm of protest from the likes of Mangala Samaraweera and Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. (See Pot Shots on pages 8 and 9)
And to show his displeasure Fernandopulle skipped last week’s cabinet meeting but came for the party leaders meeting which followed.
But the President plans to go ahead with the reshuffle with or without the support of his ministers and continued to lobby UNP, CWC and SLMC MPs over the week with offers of portfolios.
By Friday, the President believed he can get the CWC and at least four UNP MPs on board and hinted the reshuffle will take place this week.
It was Minister Fernandopulle however who was to tell the President in Kandy last weekend that no amount of reshuffles will help solve the problems confronting the country unless he had a proper agenda.
This chaotic style of governance was evident last week in fact when the media was invited for the swearing-in of would-be UNP crossers-over, only to be told after a three hour wait at Temple Trees that it was not to be.
It will be next Tuesday, Rajapakse’s press officer told the media and when Tuesday came and inquiries were made, the embarrassed response was that the reshuffle will take place the following week and with it the crossovers would take place.
Chandrika’s imminent return
In the midst of these developments of course is the imminent return of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to the country. She has in fact been in regular touch with a sizeable number of MPs who are disgruntled due to what they call the "Basilkaranaya" of the government.
These MPs have urged Kumaratunga to provide them some sort of leadership at least from behind the scenes but security concerns had prevented the former President from returning to Sri Lanka, especially in the backdrop of her security being slashed after relinquishing office.
It is this development which led to her leaving the country and staying put overseas, which time period the President used to oust Kumaratunga from the SLFP leadership.
Now, however, she is preparing to return to Sri Lanka notwithstanding the threat to her life and cast the burden on President Rajapakse to provide her adequate security in light of the latest intelligence reports which clearly state she is a LTTE target.
In fact, Kumaratunga had a strong exchange of letters with the President on the issue of her security and even informed the party’s central committee of the treatment meted out to her by Rajapakse, to no avail.
Threat to Kumaratunga
But now comes a confidential seven page report by the Sri Lanka Police Special Branch and the State Intelligence Service (SIS) under the Defence Ministry detailing the security threat faced by Kumaratunga.
In the ‘Threat Assessment’ Intelligence report forwarded to IGP Chandra Fernando by SIS Director Keerthi Gajanayake, it is stated, "The most fierce threat both physically and by causing mental embarrassment to the former President is from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam."
At the ‘conclusion’ of the detailed report by Gajanayake, it is stated thus: "Intelligence revealed that from 1995 to 1998, the LTTE had reconnoitered the movements of HE the President on 18 occasions (the detected cases).
"It should not be forgotten that the LTTE is still observing the activities of former President and the LTTE identifies the former President as a great enemy of the Tamil people.
"In the circumstances, it is recommended that the former President be afforded with maximum security," the report states.
Following this report, the Director, Sri Lanka Police Special Branch, Bernard de Silva forwarded another letter to IGP Fernando calling for the protection of Kumaratunga and now the ball is in Rajapakse’s court to deliver on this security when she returns to the country.
Failure to do so would result in any attack on Kumaratunga falling fairly and squarely at Rajapakse’s door, moreso when he has on humanitarian grounds provided hospital facilities to a leading member of the LTTE.
Following is the full text of that letter signed by Bernard de Silva:
Inspector General of Police.
Threat Assessment on former President Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
This has reference to your letter number Staff DIG/IG/04/4652/06 dated March 30, 2006
The special branch conducted confidential inquiries to ascertain whether there is any specific or imminent threat on former HE the President.
Information pertaining to any specific threat was not received. However , the LTTE threat on her remains undiminished. The LTTE strategy in the past had been to demoralise the people in the south through political assassinations and to bring pressure on the government.
Targeting political leaders had been one of the strategies of the LTTE. Further, when targets are earmarked, the LTTE goes all out to achieve its objective. This is the past experience. Though the LTTE related violence has decreased, the LTTE attitude has not changed.
There is no guarantee that the LTTE would abide by the norms and respect the CFA and the MoU. The assassination of late Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar is a clear example. There had been many instances where the former HE the President has come under the wrath of the LTTE. Hence it would be prudent to take precautions to protect the former HE the President.
Bernard de Silva
Police Special Branch
In this overall context, President Rajapakse’s move to consolidate his power by attracting UNP defectors may well see a repeat of 2001 when a group of PA members defected to the UNP and toppled the administration.
And given the political animal she is, who knows what’s up Kumaratunga’s sleeve?
[Lanka Page Editors Pick Inside Politics with SURANIMALA The Sunday Leader]