Daily Archives: August 2, 2006
By Kumutu Amarasingham
It’s not that Otara Gunawardena, the queen of Lankan fashion, is soulless, one realises a few minutes into the inter-view. It’s being in a corporate world and being forced to portray a tough ‘corporate’ woman that has forced her to hold back a little – nevertheless always charmingly.
To have spoken at length to the ‘arty’ types: men and women who, revel, almost, in emotion and passion and simply living, it is hard at first to understand this gracious, though reserved and very ‘proper’ woman before me.
Cool and casual
In trendy three-quarters and a frilly, girly, white top, she appears very laid-back and casual. Perfectly mannered, perennially cool, exceedingly hospitable – that’s Otara – on the surface.
"I’m very patient, hardworking and determined," she says. It’s hard work and patience, she said, that got her to the top, and will no doubt take her further.
Born to a successful father, she described herself as a quiet and introverted child. Otara though shy excelled in sports at Ladies College, where she studied, and appears to have had an eventful, if not dazzling, school career.
She then proceeded to the United States for a degree in biology – worlds away from what she would later do. Both there and later in Sri Lanka, she began to model, and that’s how the fashion ‘thing’ started. Back during her college days she confessed to having been a wild party animal. Evidently though, a pretty responsible one.
From the boot
She began her business from the boot of her car, which she filled up with clothes, which she found soon disappeared amongst her friends. With a little help from her father she opened her first store down Dickman’s Road. "I don’t think my parents expected me to go this far," she said. Today, her brand, Odel, is synonymous with almost everything fashionable that is Sri Lankan.
Her fairytale life as a successful businesswoman, mother and wife was shattered earlier this year when she separated from her husband. A painful experience that nonetheless left her stronger and more enriched. Her two sons aged six and 12, her friends, and her business are now the main focus of her life, though she certainly has not forgotten how to kick back and have a good time!
Asked about falling in love, Otara said it was wonderful and painful at the same time, but she remained optimistic that she might find it again. "I’m not out looking for it – for one thing I’m way too busy! But my experience has not left me pessimistic or disillusioned," the 40-year-old beauty said.
Life begins at 40
Turning 40 last year was according to Otara, a momentous event, not to mention her most memorable birthday. And she definitely agrees that life begins at 40! Well it might, with her great looks and, in some ways, idealism – almost.
In business however, she is an uncompromising realist. She has no problems being a woman boss of a huge company. "I don’t judge people on gender, and I trust I don’t get judged likewise.
Her greatest passion is the environment. "I wanted to be a vet when I was little to work with animals, and in some ways that has carried through to what I do today – which is why Odel is so involved in environmental conservation," she said.
Despite having established herself as an extremely successful entrepreneur, with the grit to make it through where so many have failed, the vision to take big risks, and the will to triumph, there is no appearance of stress or pressure with Otara. She is almost enviably calm.
"I do yoga, which helps me retain my inner balance," she said. Her philosophy, very simply, is to ‘be happy.’ She describes herself as an uncomplicated, easy-going, though very private, person. She does not party as much now as she used to, mainly because of the time factor.
She has ‘very few’ close friends, whom she would trust with anything. She loves all types of food (you wouldn’t guess looking at her), and works out every day, does not read fiction, hates horror, and watches light-hearted movies that allow her to relax, when she can find the time.
Oh, yes, and she’s got big expansion plans for Odel in the near future, which have already begun.
So who is Otara? For all her amiability, it is almost impossible to get to the person, the real person. But her favourite quote, by her favourite designer, Georgio Armani, provides more insight than anything she said in a one-hour conversation.
"Style is not about being noticed, but about being remembered."
The Morning Leader
The National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) has warned of a public sector strike against the government’s delay to rectify the salary anomalies.
"The government has issued the circular 01/2006 for public sector salary increments for the this year. However, there were some lapses in the circular. When we met President Mahinda Rajapakse and explained the lapses, he cancelled the circular and replaced it with a new circular 06/2006. Six months have passed without the circular being implemented, Chairman of the NTUC and JVP Parliamentarian K. D. Lalkantha said.
Lalkantha said that they had several discussions with the government officials. "The NTUC held a workshop regarding the salary circular problem. The salary commission’s officers, Treasury officials and trade union members participated in the workshop. We presented lapses in the salary circular at the workshop. The officials accepted our proposals which have still not been implemented," he said.
"Another issue is the government has still not issued a circular on salary increments in government authorities, boards and corporations. The previous UNF government stopped the distress loans of the public servants in 2003. However, the UPFA government promised to reintroduce the scheme. Government servants can obtain a one year salary advance as a distress loan under this scheme," Lalkantha said.
The NTUC staged a protest opposite the Fort Railway Station on July 13 against the delay with the participation of over 100 public sector trade unions demanding immediate implementation of the 06/2006 circular. "We had several rounds of discussions with relevant government officials without finding solution. All these are primary trade union actions before a strike. But the government is apparently pushing us for an islandwide strike," he added. [Island Text & Cartoon]
My dear Mahinda Aiya,
Peace be with you.
Ayubowan, vanakkam, asalamu alaikkum and best wishes as we move into August with the situation in the country far from august.
With a potential boiling point at Mavilaru over the closing of the sluice gates and a regional LTTE leader declaring that the ceasefire is virtually dead, the dividing line between peace and full-scale war appears to be thinner than the thin red line. By way of hope even in a virtually hopeless situation, Norwegian special envoy Jon Hanssen Bauer is due here this week and Japan’s special peace envoy Yasushi Akashi is also coming soon for crucial talks with you and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The achcharu politics of the past few years – confusion within confusion, contradiction within contradiction, agendas within agendas and now virtually governments within governments – continues unabated with Sri Lanka emerging as a top NIC – Nation in Confusion. Different parties are telling different or distorted stories.
Different media groups are also telling different, distorted or disfigured stories. If the country is in a hell of a mess, with JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe reportedly saying he wonders whether the Mahinda Chintanaya still exists, it was seen with all its fire and brimstone in last week’s chaotic and crippling fuel crisis.
Some reports say you called an emergency Cabinet meeting on Monday to discus the possibility of enforcing emergency regulations and declaring fuel distribution an essential service.
The reports say several Ministers were openly and severely critical of the way you and some of your confidants including Basil Rajapaksa and advisor Sajin Vas Gunawardena are running the country and handling various issues. They were, in other words, expressing concern about the authoritarian or dictatorial manner in which Rajapaksa Incorporated is handling issues. One Minister reportedly alleged that you were a weak, wavering and vacillating President.
With fuel distribution virtually at a standstill for more than two days and the country paralyzed in a chaotic muddle, your advisor Baratha Lakshman Premachandra held talks with Ceylon Petroleum Corporation trade union leaders on Tuesday evening, after no breakthrough was reached in discussions or arguments they had with the tough-talking Petroleum Resources Minister Fowzie.
According to some reports Mr. Premachandra who is described as your advisor in trade union affairs reportedly gave the union leaders a written assurance from you that the controversy would be reviewed in their favour. The written assurance was that the controversial appointment of former Test Cricketer and now selection committee chairman Asantha de Mel as chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Ltd. was being reviewed and he would not assume duties till then. You also assured them that the CPSTL would be brought under the CPC. On that basis the strike was called off on Tuesday evening but while fuel supplies were trickling in, an angry Minister Fowzie let loose a fire-ball. Mr. Fowzie called a news conference to accuse Mr. Premachandra of lying to the unions and giving them a bogus assurance without approval from you. Mr. Fowzie claimed you had told him on the telephone that you had given no such written assurance or authority to Mr. Premachandra. Confusion within confusion, conflict within conflict and agendas within agendas with no one really sure as to who is doing what or what is happening.
At Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting a compromise was apparently reached to bring the CPSTL under the CPC with Asantha de Mel remaining as Chairman of the new company.
But the bigger problem and the largely untold story is the drastic repercussions this may have on the agreement signed four years ago between the government of Sri Lanka and the Indian Oil Company which is functioning here now as the Lanka Indian Oil Company and runs some 30% of the filling stations. Like most things in Sri Lanka that agreement also appears to be caught up in a crisis of contradiction within contradiction and conflict within conflict. Some reports indicate the LIOC is now seriously considering the possibility of pulling out, which would literally add more fuel to the fire and send us into a blazing crisis.
On the political front and mainly on issues related to the ethnic conflict and the peace process, the confusion and the uncertainty are intensifying. Recently a group from the Manel Mal Movement, including the JVP’s propaganda chief Wimal Weerawansa, visited troops in Jaffna. What Mr. Weerawansa reportedly said to the troops caused concern or angered even the Army Commander there. Mr. Weerawansa allegedly told the troops he was confident they could settle the conflict within a day by bombing the Demalu. When asked by Major General Sarath Karunaratne as to why he made such a hell-fire statement, the JVP’s Goebbels had reportedly said it was meant to boost morale. According to reports Mr. Weerawansa is alleged to be involved not only in lot of double talk or dangerous and destructive talk but also in a lot of double games. Amid contradictory and confusing reports regarding the JVP’s links with your government, Mr. Weerawansa is alleged to be playing a ‘katussa role’ with your powerful brother Basil from the background, providing scripts with hidden agendas or double meanings.
As Sri Lanka struggles to stabilize itself and find a way out of the hellhole, the world watches helplessly as the Israeli government – openly backed by the United States – continues to unleash the worst form of terrorism on the innocent people of Lebanon.
On Sunday Israeli planes attacked a refugee camp in Qana killing up to 70 people mainly children. Horrible TV pictures of this massacre shocked the world. But the United States used all its power to buy time for Israel and dilute the United Nations Security Council resolution. Israel and the US would only go as far as to offer a 48-hour bombing stoppage.
They are insisting that a full ceasefire would come into effect only after a 20,000 international stabilizing force is put together and sent to southern Lebanon and prevent Hezbollah from attacking Israeli towns.
Ironically, in a strange spiritual twist, Israel which rejected Jesus Christ as its Messiah now appears to have accepted a new messiah in US President George Bush. Indeed some Christian fundamental groups are describing President Bush as the new messiah sent by God to fight terrorism. The devil has always been quoting scripture but perhaps never as much as the new devils are doing today, though they come as angels of light.
The government has refused to respond to the LTTE Trincomalee political wing leader S. Elilan’s statement to the foreign media that the LTTE has pulled out of the CFA. The LTTE headquarters has struck a different note. It has not withdrawn from the CFA, it says. The SLMM insists the CFA holds. Those who yearn for peace may want to believe that it was a slip of the tongue on the part of Elilan. But the LTTE is not known for lapsus linguae.
According to the CFA, the party that wishes to withdraw has to give two weeks’ notice. The LTTE has not just given two weeks notice: It has given several months’ notice. It was last November that Prabhakaran gave notice of a CFA pull out in his birthday speech, immediately after the election of President Mahinda Rajapakse. He, it should be recalled, promised war ‘next year’  without specifying the exact date. He honoured his promise a few months later by starting claymore mine attacks on the armed forces personnel and resuming high profile assassinations. The LTTE attempt on the Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka’s life marked the end of the outfit’s commitment to the CFA.
Elilan has only stated a fact. The LTTE has withdrawn from the CFA. That’s for sure. Paradoxically, the SLMM is also right in saying that the LTTE has not pulled out as it has not announced its withdrawal officially. The government is also right in not responding to an unofficial statement by an LTTE leader. The government and the SLMM are hoping against hope, clinging as they do, to a mere technicality.
The statement from the LTTE headquarters that it will abide by the CFA is a calculated attempt at obfuscation. The LTTE knows that an official announcement of a pull out will give a free hand to the government, which in such an eventuality will be able to resort to unbridled military action without pressure from the international community. The LTTE strategy has been to keep the government in the CFA straitjacket, while stepping up attacks on the military and carrying out assassinations as part of its ’ war.
The military capability of the LTTE shouldn’t be underestimated, but the fact remains that the losses it will have to suffer in a full blown war with the government going all out will be heavy. It is not for nothing that the former US Ambassador Lunstead warned the LTTE some time ago that if it reverted to war, it would have to face a better equipped and more determined Sri Lankan military.
The LTTE has invested heavily in Kilinochchi, since it lost the strategic Jaffna town in 1995. It claims to have graduated from a hit and run outfit to a quasi conventional army of sorts and it has to live up to that reputation. Unlike in the past when it had nothing to lose but everything to destroy on the other side, today it has to be mindful of a lot of things just like the government. The LTTE’s image is crumbling internationally with its arrogance earning it more and more enemies even in the Scandinavian countries that have had to pull out their truce monitors because of its veiled threats. The outfit has become too embarrassing to even its local allies, who are not in a position to defend it over the Mavil Aru dispute. (Else, there would have been protests opposite the Fort Railway Station condemning the government military action.) Atop those vicissitudes, a large scale war which will wreak havoc on what it has painstakingly put in place over the years by way of a self-styled state, is a dreadful proposition for the LTTE. Hence its wariness to acknowledge it is no longer a party to the CFA.
If the CFA is holding as the LTTE, the SLMM and the government claim, then the situation couldn’t be any worse without it. Besides the fierce battle raging at Mavil Aru, the Navy had come under heavy artillery fire from the LTTE at the time of writing. The LTTE targeted another troop carrier but the vessel managed to reach safety. Are such acts of hostility possible if a CFA is in force?
There are things in life that are difficult to come to terms with, such as the demise of a near and dear one. It is in human nature to try to wish away such unbearable losses. Our beloved CFA is brain dead; it is being tube fed. Let’s face it! Whether to keep it alive that way or not is a matter to be decided by American, European, Norwegian and Japanese doctors, under whose care we have placed the patient. -Island Editorial