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PRESIDENT SAYS THE GOVERNMENT MUST AGREE WITH SANGAREE AND DOUGLAS

By Walter Jayawardhana

PRESIDENT TELLS THE INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS THAT GOVERNMENT MUST AGREE WITH SANGAREE AND DOUGLAS IN SHARING POWER WITH THE TAMILS

President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the 59th Independece day celebrations indicated that he was ready to share power with the Tamils by stating that the government must at the minimum be reasonable and honest enough to agree with two well known moderate Tamil politicians who have adopted the democratic path for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Naming the two by name the President said, “We are not ready to give into the blood-thirsty demands of the LTTE. However, at the minimum we should be reasonable and honest enough to agree with Mr. Anandasangaree or the Hon. Douglas Devananda.”

Ananda Sangaree is the President of the Tamil United Liberation Front, the major political party of the Tamils of the Northern and Eastern Province before many of their parliamentarians were coerced by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to toe their line. Douglas Devananda is the Leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) who is currently part of the Rajapaksa administration and who has given up his former militant politics of an armed struggle. Both prefer some kind of quasi federal system similar to that of India.

He also appealed to the Tamil National Alliance, the proxy party of the LTTE, who are also known as Tamil Tigers, to enter into a dialogue with the government. Many of those Members of Parliament are believed to have been coerced to toe the line of the LTTE. There is also a belief in the government that recent assassinations of two of their parliamentarians were done by the LTTE for exhibiting slightly independent stances like criticizing the Tiger leadership. The President said, “From this platform, I also wish to make this appeal to the Tamil National Alliance represented in Parliament, who have so far not entered into dialogue or understanding with us. It is only by joining with us that the innocent Tamil people of the North can be liberated from terrorist intimidation and the misdeeds of violence; and the North could be emancipated. If you are anguished in fear and anxiety; and lack in human freedom, however much democratic the political ideology you claim to follow, I must state in all honesty that none of you are free men.”

The following is the full text of the President’s speech: Read the rest of this entry

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A case of tail wagging the dog!

by Rex Clementine

Recent Sports Ministers, unfortunately, will be remembered for the wrong reasons. S. B. Dissanayake for the sexual harassment of the country’s leading female athlete, Lakshman Kiriella for opening a cricket stadium and two days later calling for an investigation on the expenses for the venue, Johnston Fernando for meddling with cricket team selections and denying players of promise their due rights. In short, they’ve been all jokers.

What Jeevan Kumaratunga will be remembered for, amidst other things, like the visa scandal, is the manner in which he made arrangements for a businessmen to run the most premier sport in the country. This Sunday in ‘Outrageous moments of Sri Lanka cricket’ we look back at Kumaratunga’s legacy.

There have been quite a few Interim Committees in the past appointed by the government to run cricket when the sport had been crippled by inadequacies, and rightly so. Rienzie Wijetilleke and Hemaka Amarasuriya, men of repute and integrity, were revered by those involved in the sport and greatly admired by the general public when they headed the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka.

In early 2005, if Kumaratunga thought that there were issues to be addressed in the sport, it was fair enough, but what startled many was his choice of persons to do the job.

Jayantha Dharmadasa is a hot tempered businessman who cannot restrain his anger and goes to the extent of calling people names in public when in the mood. Such persons can hardly be an ambassador for something as prestigious as cricket for the sport has given Sri Lanka an indelible identity in the world.

Cricket is a national treasure and must be run by men competent enough to do so. To add to that, Dharmadasa has no knowledge of the game whatsoever. On several occasions his efforts to get into cricket administration, by contesting and then by using influence, had proved futile, but Kumaratunga paved the way for him to get into that position – and then to remain there as long as he desires.

The rival faction to Dharmadasa was not going to take things lying down when it became clear that he was going to take charge. Instead, they sought legal opinion, sent the employees on annual leave and locked up the board offices. Eventually plain clothes policemen carrying firearms forcefully entered the board to install the new committee.

It all looked ugly. Very ugly for you and me. But not for some of these shameless politicians and administrators referred to above.

And Kumaratunga gave Dharmadasa free rein to do as he liked. As soon as he entered the portals of Sri Lanka Cricket, Dharmadasa got rid of all Thilanga Sumathipala loyalists and had his henchmen entrenched.

Here was the Messiah who was going to get rid of corruption in cricket, we were told, but soon Dharmadasa’s sycophants were having a ball. Anyone who knew Dharmadasa could get into the board – cricket expertise the least required qualification – and Sri Lanka Cricket was soon becoming Dharmadasa & Brothers Ltd.

Kumaratunga appointed his brother-in-law, Damian Fernando, to the cricket Interim Committee and this individual, under investigation for human smuggling to the United States, made it a point to be there at high profile events and put his two cents worth.

Fernando even represented Sri Lanka at the ICC meeting once. But the icing on the cake was when Dharmadasa approved his appointment as Manager of a Sri Lankan team that took part in the prestigious Hong Kong Sixes tournament recently.

Fernando travels to most places where Sri Lanka plays cricket. Apart from getting all perks that officials receive while on tour, Fernando was given an allowance of US $300 a day for doing precious nothing. If he had followed the team for 30 days, his allowance would have been close to Rs. 1 million for doing sweet bugger-all. Mind you, cricket tours are generally long ones. Now Fernando is expected to make a quiet exit with his brother-in-law, and both of them go out as wealthy men.

Fernando’s illegal ‘cricket earnings’, all approved by Dharmadasa, must be investigated.

That’s how wisely and responsibly Dharmadasa used the hard earned money of Sri Lanka’s cricketers.

Then there were others like K. M. Nelson, who often abused players, messing up team selections. The allegation that Dharmadasa instructed former chairman of selectors, Lalith Kaluperuma, and Nelson to leave veteran batsman Sanath Jayasuriya out of the Sri Lankan squad for the VB Series in Australia last year must be closely scrutinised.

Sanity finally prevailed and despite Dharmadasa’s strong remonstrations, Nelson was unceremoniously booted out of the selection panel last year. That’s how staunchly Dharmadasa backed a man, who once threatened to take his pants off if one of Sri Lanka’s popular cricketers scored more than 10 runs in a Test match.

Some associates of Dharmadasa, within the Interim Committee, didn’t do him any favours either. Adel Hasim had a theory for everything, and in the capacity of Secretary of the Interim Committee insisted that every trivial thing got his approval. There were instances when the board didn’t release a selected Sri Lankan team as it didn’t get clearance from Adel although the Minister of Sports had approved it.

Apparently, once Adel went up to Tom Moody in middle of an international game and ‘strongly advised’ him to change the batting order.

Subsequently whenever the players came across Adel, they cynically asked him whether there were anymore ‘sensible advice’ for them or the coach.

And more recently, Adel’s boss at Janashakthi, Prakash Schaffter, purposely snubbed the country’s leading run scorer at the airport when the team returned home from New Zealand.

Dharmadasa simply has no control over his co-administrators.

Last year when former cricketers met the President of the country and explained the catastrophe in cricket administration, there was assurance from ‘the common man’ that the cricket elections will be called off and players will have a say in administration.

Jeevan Kumaratunga rushed to Temple Trees when he came to know that the players were going to take up their grievances with the President. Understandably, the cricketers were irked when they found the Minister present at the meeting without invitation. After the players left, Kumaratunga pleaded with President Rajapakse that Dharmadasa had to remain at the helm of the cricket board as the World Cup is fast approaching. And, thereby, Rajapakse could not fulfil his promise to the cricketers.

In the background of such a scenario, which is public knowledge, one question that we have constantly asked is: Why is Kumaratunga backing Dharmadasa so ardently?

Surely, there are enough and more competent men with unsullied personal records to run the cricket administration in Sri Lanka than Dharmadasa, if it were our intention to build up a World Cup winning team. Anyway, Kumaratunga being a plebeian politician, with no intrinsic knowledge or love for the game, wouldn’t give a rap for the betterment of the sport.

Another point that you got to note is that the Interim Committees on previous occasions were appointed for a period of one year. But Dharmadasa did more time under Kumaratunga and if he had remained the Sports Minister, Dharmadasa would have gone on for ever. What exactly does the word ‘Interim’ mean? In Jeevan’s lexicon it amounts to being ‘permanent’. -Sunday Island

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Fifty nine years of independence: some reflections

By Rajan Philips

At 59 Sri Lanka is both old and young. It has a much longer history than its years of independence would suggest. Indeed, the island has too much history for too little geography, and therefore too many unnecessary problems. It is also a young country, much younger in terms of demographics than the working of the human biological clock that at fifty nine would already be winding down. A full quarter of Lanka’s 20 million people are under thirteen years of age, nearly one half under 25 years, and close to two thirds are below 35 years. A young country with young life expectations and attendant challenges, but paradoxically sacrificing a disproportionate number of its youth to the all consuming political fratricide that has been on a roll since 1983, perhaps since 1971.

After independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has neither been able to shake off the shackles of history nor to effectively meet the expectations of its young population. Calling Sri Lanka a failed state would be more emotional than analytical, but one has to strive hard to compose a convincing success story about the country based on its political and economic performances after independence. The pathetic failure to properly manage the tsunami reconstruction works and the rehabilitation of the tsunami victims is the latest symptom of our continuing malaise.

Even our generally remarkable achievements in social welfare are being vitiated by the pressures of globalization and the never ending ethnic conflict. Sri Lanka has high rates of life expectancy, comparable to developed countries, for both men (71 years) and women (77 years), but faces enormous challenges in youth unemployment, social and physical infrastructure deficits, regional disparity and rural poverty.

Yet, many sections of the population have experienced socially mobility and cultural contentment. Although the opportunities and outlets for their talents and creativity have been limited, Sri Lankans have done well whenever they were able to find such opportunities and outlets. One such opportunity and outlet where all Sri Lankans have been united in appreciating the accomplishments of their compatriots is in the game of cricket, the most positive legacy of colonialism to South Asia. But cricket itself has not been spared the ordeals of political interference and mismanagement, and kudos to our merry band of cricketers who have surpassed everyone’s expectations despite the roadblocks and distractions they have had to encounter.

The inability of the country to absorb and employ its own qualified and employable population has led to massive exodus of its professional classes since the 1960s, and the current export of young women and men as domestics and workers to Malaysia and the Middle East. Sri Lanka probably has the highest per capita rate in the world for losing high calibre academics, doctors and engineers to other countries.

When Sri Lanka became independent, I.D.S. Weerawardena, the political scientist, pointed to the then prevailing high rate of employment of domestic servants as a disturbing sign of social and economic backwardness. Now sixty years later, and thirty years of them under the much vaunted open economy, the country is exporting maids to the world. Sri Lankan women workers carry the proverbial double burden, not only as homemakers but also as wage workers. Women are the principal workforce in the three main sources of national income: the tea plantations, the garment industry, and foreign employment remittances. Women, mostly poor women in the hinterland, also carry the material and emotional burdens of sacrificing their husbands, fathers and brothers to the war.

The South Asian Family

In the South Asian family, Sri Lanka is bigger than Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives, may be performing better than Pakistan and Bangladesh, but cannot claim to have progressed to the same qualitative extent as India in regard to (a) consolidation as a nation-state, (b) the establishment of a consistently liberal democratic and constitutional polity, and (c) the foundation and takeoff of the national economy.

The partition of British India was a huge betrayal of the subcontinent’s freedom struggle and fatally wounded the newly created West and East wings of Pakistan, with the latter separating almost in a preordained manner into Bangladesh within twenty five years of British departure. For India, as it turned out, the partition proved to be a blessing in disguise, particularly in consolidating the residual but still massive nation-state. While immeasurably weakening the cause of the Muslims, the partition increased the "specific weight" of the Southern States, as Hector Abhayavardhana used to put it, and prevented a north-south schism of the Indian nation-state.

The Congress Party became the sole inheritor of the mantle of the independence struggle and party of government of independent India. It acquired a near unanimous support in the country in setting up and delivering on the agenda of national unity, constitutional government and planned economic development. Rather triumphantly, Jawaharlal Nehru declared that "India is the Congress, and the Congress is India", and the equation held until his death in 1964, quite productively for India. More important, the builders who came later, despite the not infrequent deviations and malpractices, have by and large kept faith with the hopes expectations of the founding fathers.

The Indian political and constitutional system has not only survived but remarkably matured in the face many challenges: the reorganization of state boundaries, the disintegration of the Congress and the emergence of regional political parties, the egotistical and centralizing spell of Indira Gandhi, the crises in Punjab and Assam, as well as the more recent asecular, Hinduthva madness of the BJP. The Indian economy is growing from strength to strength as the two Asian giants, China and India, are fundamentally changing the balance of forces in the world economy.

Reversals and Reciprocals

In contrast, Sri Lanka’s problems are the result of what the country did not have and what its political leaders failed to do or did wrongfully. The task of national unification at the time of independence was not a serious challenge in Sri Lanka and therefore did not necessitate a substantial political response unlike in India. All that was done was elitist patching up in Colombo and national unity was taken too much for granted. The celebration of national identities and symbols was systematically discouraged during the first years of independence by the superficially westernized elites and the stage was set for the eruption of conflicting ethnic identities from 1956 onward.

Neither did Sri Lanka have a vehicle like the Indian Congress to manage its transition from colonial rule to home rule. The Ceylon National Congress a mendicant apology in the best of times was long gone and the United National Party that formed the first government had been hurriedly cobbled together primarily to contest the 1947 election. It was not a mass or broad based party, like the Indian Congress, but a collection of notables around the core of a father figure (D.S. Senanayake), his son, and his cousins and nephews.

However, as the island’s first Prime Minister, Mr. D.S. Senanayake did grow in stature in office and would have left a more durable founding legacy but for his machinations to ensure that he would be succeeded by his son, Dudley Senanayake. This led to the breakaway of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike from the government, and the deceased father was succeeded first by his son and then by his blundering nephew, Sir John Kotelawela. The Senanayake-Bandaranaike schism would plague the country for decades to come, feudalizing its politics and maligning its constitutional development.

Both D.S. Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had a more inclusive concept of a Sri Lankan nation than what had been deduced from their rather aberrational acts, namely, the disenfranchisement of the Indian Tamils under the former in 1949, and the latterSinhala Only Act in 1956. They both tried to compensate for these aberrations; to wit, Senanayake’s rapprochement with G.G. Ponnambalam and his inflexible support for the use of both Sinhala and Tamil as official languages, as well as Bandaranaike’s formal agreement with S.J.V. Chelvanayakam in regard to regional autonomy and Tamil language rights.

Tragically, these inclusive positions of the two leaders were recklessly jettisoned by their successors, John Kotelawela (1953-1956) and Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1960-1965 and 1970-1977) who succeeded her slain husband as his residual heir. The former clownishly turned the language question into political hara-kiri, while the latter could not understand the need for structural solutions to minority claims that her late, lamented husband had the capacity to envision. She simplistically thought that having Tamil and Muslim friends and co-opting them for concessions was all that was needed to address the political concerns of the minorities. These reversals in the South have been duly reciprocated in the North over time by the rise of separatism and the abandonment of the ideal of a united but restructured Lanka that Ponnambalam, Chelvanayakam and practically every Tamil born before 1956 genuinely believed in. via … The Sunday Island

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Legal tussle next stage of defection drama

The UNP defections into the government variously styled as "Elephant Walk" and "Elephant Circus" have raised a number of political and legal questions on whether the defectors, elected under the Proportional Representation (PR) system can retain their parliamentary seats.

"We remain members of the UNP and our identity is important for our strategy," one of the leaders of the defecting group said yesterday. "Any attempt to interfere with that will be legally challenged."

This was his response to the question on how he and his colleagues who have now joined the government could explain how they as members of the UNP working committee supported the move to expel early defectors like Rohitha Bogollagama from the party.

"That was before the MOU," he said. "The MOU makes a difference – a crucial difference."

He said that when the MOU was being finalized, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was anxious to have an anti-defection clause written in. But President Mahinda Rajapakse did not agree saying that if defections were not permitted there would have been no Sri Lanka Freedom Party today as both Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and his own father crossed over from the UNP to form the SLFP.

Well informed political circles said that some of the UNP seniors who have taken office were not happy with the ministries they had got with a newspaper column with which Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Minister Sarath Amunugama is connected saying that "Sports and Recreation Minister Gamini Lokuge who owns the Welcombe Hotel in Trincomalee was angling for the Tourism Ministry.

"That office had gone to Milinda Moragoda who always wanted an `economic’ ministry,” this column said.

Milinda intimates said that he would have been quite happy to have not been given a portfolio and would have preferred to play a trouble shooting role as an ordinary MP. However the president was keen that he should take cabinet office.

The Amunugama column noted that many crossover leaders "were oldies like Karu (now in is middle sixties), Mohamed (nearly 90-years old) and Dharmadasa Banda (into his seventies), who are obviously enjoying that last fling at holding public office."

Noting that "Mohamed could hardly walk up to take his oaths,” this column made the point that Mahinda Samarasinghe “was seen glaring at the camera since he was stuck with his old portfolio while the Foreign Ministry which he would love dearly to hold eluded his grasp.”

Karu Jayasuriya had told intimates that unless he was given a ministry in which he can demonstrate some results, he would prefer not to accept any cabinet portfolio. There are questions on whether the Public Administration and Home Affairs Ministry he took from Amunugama meets these criteria.

UNP dissident sources said that there are also legal questions on whether not accepting a ministry might have endangered the membership of parliament of those who crossed over.

One of the new ministers said yesterday on condition of anonymity that "we’re settling in" adding that "it’s unfortunate that all these happened."

He said that given the way the drama unfolded “there weren’t any options left to many of us.” He expressed regret that Wickremesinghe was not able to reach the necessary compromises and concluded that "all is not lost."

"The people will be the final judges of all this when we go back to them," he said.

Source

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Mahinda Rajapakse Rides High

By Saturday last week, it became clear that the crossover which had been discussed for months, was finally going to take place. Early on Sunday morning, the UNP high command excluding Ranil Wickremesinghe who was out of the country, comprising of Rukman Senanyake, Tissa Attanayake, Tilak Karunaratne and Malik Samarawickrema met at the Cambridge place office to decide on a course of action if the crossovers take place that morning. At the time they met, they had no idea as to how many will be crossing over or whether the crossover will actually take place.

The number crossing over would have given the Mahinda Rajapakse government only a majority of one, in parliament. The previous night, a Ranil loyalist MP had gone to the Polonnaruwa MP Suriyaarchchi’s apartment at Summit Flats in the company of some individuals and tried to get him to come for a meeting with Samarawickrema. Suriyarachchi had refused to accompany, them other occupants of the flat had raised cries of ‘horu’ ‘horu’ at which point the MP from the south had gone away with his companions.

‘Ussanna giya manthrithuma’

The reformist group says that this was an attempt to abduct Suriyaarchchi so that the government would not have a clear majority in Parliament even after the crossover – a fact which would have been touted as a victory for the Ranil faction. They allege that the five ‘companions’ who came with the MP from the south were thugs. Whether this was simply an innocent attempt to do some last minute negotiating or whether it was actually an attempt to abduct Suriyaarchchi will be known only to the two MPs involved. But his incident has turned Suriyaarchchi into a Fransisco type figure. Even those who can’t remember his name will always remember him as the MP who was nearly abducted on the eve of the crossover.

This columnist was having a conversation with a newly appointed UNP minister the other day, and while talking to me, the minister was dictating a list of invitees for a function. Having given his secretary the names of 15 of those who crossed over, he was trying to recall whom he had missed. At which point, his secretary said, "Sir, ara ussanna giya manthreethuma metena ne." (Sir the parliamentarian who nearly got abducted is not in the list.) Most people now remember Suriyaarchchi of Polonnaruwa as the ‘ussanna giya manthrithuma’!

When Rukman, Attanayake and Tilak K and Malik met on Sunday morning at Cambride Place having exhausted all avenues to stop what was happening, they decided on a strategy to handle the aftermath of what was going to happen. What was decided was, that they would call a press conference immediately after the cabinet reshuffle to explain the UNP position on the crossover. Attanayake called Ranil Wickremesinghe in India to tell him what was going to happen and Wickremesinghe promised to send him a statement on the crossover.

After the swearing in, the UNP held their press conference at the Opposition Leader’s office at Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha which was attended by Johnston Fernando and party spokesman Gayantha Karunatilleke in addition to Rukman and Tissa Attanayake. No one remembers what they said at the conference, but what people do remember was the tearing up of a copy of the UNP-SLFP MOU by Rukman Senanyake in front of the assembled cameras and crowd of media people. This symbolic act captured the imagination of the public more than anything the Ranil faction did in the weeks prior to the crossover.

One political commentator wondered whether this tearing up of the UNP-SLFP MOU by Senanayake would have the same implications for the country as the tearing up of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact by S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike. Even though the tearing up of the MOU was a media coup for Rukman, people pointed out that the MOU had been signed to co-operate on national issues and they wondered why the MOU was to blame for the crossover.

Part of the reason could be that the reformists had mentioned the UNP-SLFP MOU as the reason for their crossing over. They argued that the MOU had been signed over two months ago, and that the government had derived some benefit from it but that the UNP had gained nothing. So the reformists argued, that they should give teeth to the MOU by joining the government and accepting portfolios. This MOU which was signed by Malik Samarawickrema on behalf of the UNP was thus to blame for the crossover, they urge.

The UNP ministers hold that they accepted portfolios in accordance with the MOU and that they continue to remain UNP MPs. They have already stated publicly that they will be attending all meetings of the working committee and other party functions as UNP MPs. It was Malik Samarawickrema who signed MOUs with the SLMC and the CWC. Every MOU signed by Samarawickrema has either come a cropper or worked to the detriment of the UNP.

The Reformists celebrate

On Sunday evening, all UNP MPs of the Ranil faction who happened to be in Colombo on that day met at Cambridge Place to discuss the events of the day. Tissa Attanayake, Rukman Senanayake, Lakshman Seneviratne, Joseph Michael Perera and Palitha Range Bandara, Vajira Abeywardene, Kabir Hashim and others were present. At this meeting, they discussed how the electorates being vacated by the 18 MPs who crossed over would be handled.

It was decided that the Provincial Concillors, and local government representatives of the UNP in the 18 electorates affected would be summoned for a meeting at Sirikotha to discuss organizational matters in those electorates. At this meeting Tissa Attanayake informed those present that the leader will be returning to the island on Friday and that he should be met by all UNP MPs at the airport in a show of support. It was decided that all the remaining MPs would be instructed to meet the leader at the airport. They decided against trying to bring people to the airport as during the 2003 drama when Chandrika Kumaratunga took over the three ministries from the UNP government. Instead, what was expected was for the MPs to come in person to see the leader.

At 3.30 p.m. on Monday, the management Committee met with Rukman Senanayake, Tissa Attanayake, Daya Pelpola and others in attendance. Pelpola was instructed to look into the disciplinary measures that should be taken against those who have crossed over.

While the Ranil faction was thus making preparations to take counter measures against the MPs who had crossed over, the reformists were celebrating their induction into the team of ministers. Immediately after the swearing in of the new team of ministers, Karu Jayasuriya had open house at his Amarasekera Mawatha residence where everybody was treated to the traditional kiribath, katta sambol and konda kevun Part of the road was blocked off, as people were standing on the road to get a glimpse of the newly sworn ministers. The atmosphere among the crowd was as if the UNP had won an election. The house itself was full of people, many of them from Gampaha.. Among those who had come to congratulate Karu Jayasuriya were old UNPers like Omar Kamil, former Mayor of Colombo, Henry Jayamaha, K.H.J.Wijedasa Anura Bastian and others. When Karu Jayasuriya assumed duties at the Ministry of Public Administration, there was a similar crowd, with the corridors packed with people.

The assumption of duties by Neomal Perera as the Deputy Minister of Fisheries was also well attended with a large crowd standing outside the building to listen to the speeches being made on the occasion. The impression one gets from these gatherings that the UNP reformists had after crossing over is that their move is being welcomed by their constituents.

Mahinda Wijesekera, in characteristic fashion, had a triumphant entry into Matara as the new Minister for Special Projects. He started from Galle in a procession of of around 150 vehicles and made a noisy entry into Matara district via his Weligama electorate. A meeting was held at a the Matara Bodhi which was attended by a crowd of a round 4,000. For something that was organized with barely 48 hours notice, it was an impressive show. UNP elected officials were conspicuously absent, but the crowd was definitely UNP, according to a former Matara district UNP organizer who witnessed the event.

Thieves everywhere!

Mano Wijeratne had a very simple private assumption of duties at the Ministry of Enterprise Development on the 12th floor of the World Trade Centre building, with only family members, close political supporters and ministry officials present. The cost of the religious ceremony and the refreshments were borne by the minister’s family and not a cent of taxpayers money was spent on it. Another new Minister who made do with the minimum was Dulles Alahapperuma who commenced work on the very day he took oaths, without any fanfare or observance of auspicious times and the chanting of pirith or the eating of kiribath etcetera which usually attends such occasions. He had summoned the Secretary to the ministry by telephone and commenced work at the Ministry on D.R.Wijewardene Mawatha. He had spent several hours with his secretary, until 9.00 o’clock in the night getting to know the ins and out of his new ministry.

The very next day, Minister Alahapperuma had visited the Ratmalana Railway workshop. When he asked the workers present for their help in combating waste, theft and corruption, the chief security officer present had told the new minister that the security division is understaffed and that they could not protect such a large facility with so few men. Thieves climb over the walls of the compound and remove the wheels of train carriages he said. The minister had asked, how can anybody take train carriage wheels over a seven foot wall without help from inside. Those present were highly amused at this exchange between the new minister and the security guard. But it gave the minister a taste of what he was up against in his job as Minister of Transport.

In the meantime, Mano Wijeratne, whose wife Bharati is the Turkish Consul General in Colombo, received the following warmly worded letter from the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister/ Foreign Minister.

"Excellency, I would like to extend my sincere congratulations on the occasion of your appointment as the Minister of Enterprise Development of Sri Lanka. It was indeed a great pleasure for me hearing about your new posting in a short time after our meeting in Turkey. As I have emphasized during your visit to Turkey, we have the political will and desire to develop bilateral co-operation in every possible way. I would like to take this opportunity to extend to Your Excellency my best wishes for your personal health and happiness as well as for the continued progress and prosperity of the friendly people of Sri Lanka."

The Turkish government recently completed the single largest tsunami rehabilitation project in the country in Weligama where they constructed an entire town of 450 houses with 22 shops, playgrounds, community centers etc. This was recently declared open by President Mahinda Rajapakse and Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Rumblings in the SLFP

Following the swearing in ceremony, several SLFP MPs who were disappointed with the portfolios they got, assembled at Mangala Samaraweera’s house. Among the disgruntled ministers present, were Anura Bandaranaika who was removed from the tourism portfolio and given national heritage. Sripathy Suriyarachchi and Arumugam Thondaman.. Those present discussed the slights they had to face in the cabinet reshuffle. A minister present said he was going to resign rather than take this humiliation lying down.

On a previous occasion Thondaman had threatened to resign if his portfolio was not upgraded. But the resignation was averted with the President promising him an upgrade at the reshuffle. However, when the reshuffle actually took place, there was no redress given. It was Mangala Samaraweera who soothed the tempers of those present telling them that no one should resign but that they should continue within the government and watch the situation.

After the crossover took place and the new ministers were settling down to their new roles, the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe returned to the island on Friday. He was met by a crowd of parliamentarians led by Rukman Senanayake and Tissa Attanayake at the airport. They had greeted Wickremasinghe and then dispersed. Some had followed Wickremesinghe to Colombo. The only good news that the UNP leader got on his return was that Tissa Attanayake had already started receiving applications for electoral organiserships from the electorates of the 18 MPs who crossed over.

Rahul Gandhi’s political debut

The Mahatma Gandhi Satyagraha centenary celebrations organized by the Congress party, was held on January 29 and 30 in New Delhi. Among the Sri Lankan participants was the Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, and Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, the opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, MPs Sajith Premadasa, Lakshman Kiriella and Ravi Karunanayake. In addition to politicians, three NGO leaders, A.T.Ariyaratne of Sarvodaya, (Who was unable to attend.) Kumar Rupesinghe of the Foundation for Co-Existence and Harsha Kumara Navaratne of Seva Lanka had also been invited.

There were around 300 delegates at this commemoration which was held under the theme of "Peace, Non-Violence and Empowerment". The celebration was a brainchild of Sonia Gandhi it was said by those who participated, with the twin objectives of giving the Congress Party a new direction which would emphasize material prosperity with spiritual values and also to introduce Rahul Gandhi to the world.

The celebrations were attended by such international figures as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, and former President of Poland Lech Walesa, in addition to a sprinkling of prime ministers from the SAARC region. Delegates were impressed by the simplicity and humility of the Gandhi family. Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent in the Gandhi political dynasty, was declared to be a sharp young man with a good grasp of the goings on in Sri Lanka and in Kashmir. Delegates had the opportunity to meet with Congress Party heavyweights including Party leader Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The President scores heavily at the Aid group meeting

The most important event after the cabinet reshuffle was the Sri Lanka Aid Group Meeting which was held in Galle at the Lighthouse Hotel on Monday. Two days earlier, the president had called a special meeting to discuss the aid group meeting which was attended by P.B.Jayasundara and several other high officials of the finance ministry. Dr Sarath Amunugama was the only minister present. Rajapakse had told those present that this time he was not going to lie to the international community.

Past practice had been to tell the donor countries what they liked to hear, with the hope of getting more aid. This time, the president resolved to call a spade a spade and to call the Tiger a tiger and a terrorist a terrorist. Moreover, in the past, Sri Lankan governments would make dishonest claims that they were going for peace talks and a political solution. "But I am going to openly say how terrorism should be dealt with. I am going to tell them that we have liberated the eastern province from the clutches of the LTTE. And I am going to tell them what kind of a solution that we are going to have. When I say that we are going to defeat the terrorists, if some countries are going to withhold aid, then so be it!" The President had said.

The president’s speech to the Aid Group meeting was very well received.The US Ambassador had been lavish in his praise of President Rajapakse. Saying that there were three people who stand out in the present government, the Ambassador had named them as the president, Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

On Tuesday, the Aid Group meeting approved over 4.5 billion USD in aid over the next three years with a further 4.5 billion to come after that, the government claimed. But diplomats said the picture was not that rosy.

The Aid Group meeting took a back seat with all the excitement and drama accompanying the biggest crossover in parliamentary history in this country and the following cabinet reshuffle. But the way the aid meeting went surprised many people. The implications are yet to sink into the minds of the public. The international community had not branded Rajapakse a Sinhala chauvinist and a war monger. They made the point that if the war is ended, the development picture would be immensely better and gave credit to what had been achieved despite the conflict.

Commenting on this turn of events, one political commentator said that the reason why the international community endorsed the Mahinda Rajapakse government’s development plan despite complaints of war, and human rights violations was because the international community was sick of seeing dishonest Sri Lankan politicians. "These white people are not fools" the commentator said. "They are well aware that we are programmed by half a millennium of colonialism to always tell the white man what we think he would like to hear."

All politicians in the past have followed a policy of telling the white men what they like to hear so as to get more aid. Over a period of time the donors have become wise to what is going on. The reason why there has been no progress on the peace front in all these years is because of the dishonesty and insincerity in Sri Lankan politics. In Mahinda Rajapakse the international community has found for the first time in two decades, a leader who will speak his mind and is not afraid of the consequences. "The international community probably thinks it’s easier to work with such a man.", said the political commentator. Source

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PRESIDENT FLIES TO VAKARAI TO THANK TROOPS AND INVITE TIGERS FOR TALKS

By Walter Jayawardhana

DAY BEFORE THE COUNTRY’S INDEPENDENCE PRESIDENT FLIES TO VAKARAI, THANKS TROOPS AND INVITE TAMIL TIGERS FOR TALKS

Sri lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew to the newly captured Vakarai in the Eastern province of Sri Lanka one day before the country’s 59th independence day celebrations and told the Tamil Tigers who lost the area after ten years domination that it was time they lay down their arms and sit down for talks for a political solution.

"This is a big opportunity for the Tigers to return to the negotiating table.  I will offer them a political solution and they should come for talks," he told reporters who accompanied him on the trip.

When reporters asked him what he would do if the Tamil Tigers refused to come to talks he said in that case he will have to tame them.

President Rajapaksa said he would offer a political package but he asked the Tigers to decommission their arms. "They must begin surrendering weapons and come for talks," he said.

Rajapaksa said that he flew to Vakarai specially to thank the security forces for liberating the Tamil people from the LTTE dictatorship without harming the civilians. "What we have done is to liberate the people from terrorists," Rajapakse said. "I am here to thank the troops for their action without causing a single civilian casualty."  The Tamil rebels ruled from Vakarai a stretch of a beautiful coastal land 330 kilometers long for over a decade before the security forces defeated them few weeks ago. The President visited the new police station just opened and mingled with the soldiers and elite special troops who first entered the town.

The President said after 2004 Tsunami, that did a huge damage to the lives and property of the area, the people received a large amount of aid but very little is seen here. He said he would like foreign ambassadors to come and see how much aid they pumped in to the area had actually benefited the people.

Troops said they were clearing thousands of mines laid by the Tamil Tigers and the place will be ready for resettlement in few weeks. The top army commander in the area Brigadier Day Ratnayaka said some people have already come back and examined their homes and gone. Many houses have been damaged by long range artillery fire.

"First we must remove the mines," Rajapakse said. "Then we have to get equipment in and start a full programme (of development). As soon as that is done, we want to get on and build houses."

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Ranil on arrival says there is no crisis at all in his party

By Walter Jayawardhana

RANIL WICKREMESINGHE ON ARRIVAL AT KATUNAYAKA SAYS THERE IS NO CRISIS IN HIS PARTY AT ALL

The Leader of the United National Party (UNP) who personally preferred to stay away in Nepal rather than in Sri Lanka when history’s biggest exodus of his party parliamentarians occurred said at the Katunayaka International Airport on arrival there is no crisis in his party.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sinhala language Service the beleaguered party leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe said referring to the cross over of 18 UNP parliamentarians and his political ally the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress that it was no crisis at all.

The United National Party has faced bigger crisis in the past, said Wickremesinghe obviously underestimating the crisis since in the past only lesser number of parliamentarians have crossed over to the other side of the aisle in the parliament from his party. Even the late S. W. R.D. Bandaranaike who gave birth to the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and crossed over from the UNP could not take that many Members of parliament.

Like Bandaranaike, who was the deputy leader of the UNP then, Karu Jayasuriya who was the deputy leader under Ranil Wickremesinghe led the exodus this time. The handful of Ranil Wickremesinghe supporters who went to Katunayaka to push the spirits up of their leader carried placards personally attacking Karu Jayasuriya that depicted slogans with the word Karu rhyming with the word Horu (thieves). Although UNP Secretary General Tissa Attanayaka advertised a huge demonstration to greet the leader the outcome was very poor.

Still Ranil Wickremesinghe refused to answer whether the MOU signed by the UNP and the ruling SLFP was over. Reliable sources said Ranil sent UNP Chairman Rukman Senanayaka to request President Rajapaksa not to accept the UNP dissidents asking him to take the UNP as a whole into the government. But the President apparently refused the request. Thereafter Ruman Senanayaka who held a press conference tore the MOU in a public exhibition but fell short of telling it was over. Now Ranil Wickremesinghe himself has not said that it was over. He said he would make a statement after further discussions with his party.

The UNP leader said there was no crisis in the party since all party members are remaining although 18 parliamentarians have left. He did not tell the media how he came to the conclusion that all party members were still remaining.  But no opinion poll has been conducted since the departure of the 18 parliamentarians from his party including some of the most senior parliamentarians. But karu Jayasuriya has said the majority of his supporters favored a departure before they crossed over.

Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived at katunayaka international Airport on Friday and said he was thankful that party chairman Rukman Senanayaka and party General Secretary Tissa Attanayaka did not leave.

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India to step up its naval surveilance across common waters between India and Sri Lanka

By Walter Jayawardhana

SRI LANKA SAYS INDIA HAS AGREED TO STEP UP ITS NAVAL SURVEILANCE IN COMMON WATERS BETWEEN INDIA AND SRILANKA

Sri Lanka government’s media center for national security quoting the country’s Foreign minister said India has agreed to step up its naval surveillance in the common waters between the two countries.

Sri lanka’s foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama soon after he accepted the new ministry in President Rajapaksa’s reshuffled cabined met in his first official foreign trip to new Delhi Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukerjee.

The media center for national security in its website said, "India has agreed to step up its naval surveillance of common waters with Sri Lanka to check activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), newly appointed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said"

Before the meeting many sensational stories were headlined in the Indian press as to how the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) has started to smuggle from the very porous South Indian coast large quantities of explosives and other material like steel ball bearings to Sri Lanka in preparation for a long drawn out  war in the country. One report said LTTE agents on one occasion purchased six metric tons of steel balls in Mumbai  to be used in Improvised Explosive Devices the terrorist group extensively manufactures for attacks against civilians and military personnel.

The website quoting Indian agency reports said, "Bogollagama, who held talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday, said his government was ready to give the LTTE a stake in the governmental processes if it shunned violence, but asserted that terrorism by the rebel group will be met with force."

"There is need for greater supervision and surveillance of the waters around Sri Lanka. India is our immediate neighbor and shares waters with us. It is imperative that we have cooperation on the naval front," said Bogollagama, who undertook a day-long visit here within 72 hours of becoming foreign minister.

"That (cooperation in naval surveillance) is getting further enhanced," he told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the situation in the island nation.

Highlighting the fact that he had chosen India as the first country he visited after getting the new assignment, he said it reflected the importance accorded to this country by his government.

He said he had come here to convey a message of "clarity" regarding Sri Lanka’s standpoint and looked forward to greater cooperation between the two countries in the months to come.

Bogollagama said Sri Lanka looked forward to enhanced cooperation with India in various fields, including trade, commerce, railways and power, while underlining the need for a time-bound and "business-like" approach to their partnership.

He said he had discussed the issue of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Singh and talks on it were expected to be launched by the middle of this year.

The NTPC has been hauled in to set up a coal-based power plant in Sri Lanka and cooperation in the field of railways was also being looked upon, he said. Turning to Sunday’s reshuffle, he said that in view of the development "LTTE will get signals to be part of the (peace) process rather than be out of it."

The Sri Lankan minister also rejected allegations of human rights violations, saying there was a lot of misrepresentation of facts.

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Political foxes and ministerial grapes

A common ruse employed by a pickpocket in trying to escape a mob giving him the chase, calling for others’ help to catch him, is to deceive the onlookers by repeating the pursuers’ cry, ‘Pickpocket! Pickpocket!’, and run for dear life, holding on to the stolen wallet. Some government ministers seem to have taken a leaf out of pickpockets’ book in a bid to escape the public wrath over the jumbo cabinet.

On Tuesday, Minister and General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Maithripala Sirisena said he was ashamed of the over-sized cabinet of President Mahinda Rajapakse. In our editorial on Wednesday, Masses aren’t asses, Mr. Sirisena!, we dwelt on his hypocrisy and asked him to resign from the cabinet, if he was really ashamed of being a member thereof.

Now we hear that another minister—a state minister, to be exact—has adopted the pickpockets’ ruse. Minister Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi has said the jumbo cabinet is disgraceful. We couldn’t agree with him more on what he has said. But, many a pair of shoes is worn out between what a politician says and what he really does—the distance between them being so great. He is obviously trying to run with the people and hunt with the government. Had he been offered a cabinet post, would he have refused it? We don’t think so. For, he who has accepted a state minister post would definitely have grabbed a cabinet portfolio, if offered. He, we believe, is being like the proverbial fox that found a bunch of grapes too sour, as it was not within its reach.

Mr. Sooriaarachchi must go the whole hog in his protest against the jumbo cabinet, which he says he is ashamed of. He must register his protest with the President himself by resigning from his post and calling on the cabinet ministers to follow suit.

President Rajapakse has done two wrongs. Firstly, he has burdened the public with a huge cabinet to fortify his political future. There are only a few non-ministers in the government group and they, too, might have to be appointed ministers, if they threaten to cross over to the Opposition. Secondly, he has put some of his party men to shame by appointing them ministers. He must be fair by Messrs Sirisena and Sooriaarachchi. Our hearts are bleeding for those two honourable men who are greatly embarrassed by the President’s arbitrary act.

Poor Sooriaarachchi must be thinking that the President has deliberately subjected him to ridicule by appointing him a minister, as he has ruffled the presidential feathers by siding with the dissident group of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party which is said to have the blessings of former President Kumaratunga. The President must be magnanimous enough to relieve Mr. Sooriaarachchi of the burden of being a minister.

Come on, Mr. Sooriaarachchi, you have made the same mistake as Minister Sirisena! You have taken the masses for asses or a herd of water buffaloes. Those who returned you and Minister Sirisena to Parliament may fall into that category but the people are, by and large, not foolish enough to believe your protestations! "Much of what men paint themselves," said Edwin A. Robinson, "would blister in the light of what they are." How true!

The elephantine cabinet, no doubt, cannot be justified on any grounds. Its sheer size is a monument to the greed of politicians who want to aggrandise themselves and feather their nests, to hell with the people. The late President Premadasa, who found himself in the impeachment soup, sought a way out by making every Tom, Dick and Harry a minister. President Kumaratunga made every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sirisena a minister and President Rajapakse has gone a step further and appointed every Tom, Dick, Harry, Sirisena and Sooriaarchchi a minister. A future President with a fragile government might have to appoint a Parliament of ministers. However, it is unbecoming of any leader to seek solutions to his or her political problems at public expense.

It is not only the size of the cabinet that has become a problem. The size of Parliament and the number of all elected representatives in the country—over 4,000 of them in Parliament, the Provincial Councils and the Local Government bodies—are also a massive burden on a mendicant state like this. The country can well afford to shed a lot of political waste fat. If the fact that the House is frequently without quorum is any indication, then most Parliamentarians are doing nothing but helping themselves to heavily subsidised food and pocketing the sitting allowance. Why should the people suffer to maintain such a large number of them? Messrs Sirisena and Sooriaarachchi, the knights in shining armour fighting for the people, ought to advocate that Parliament be downsized.

The duo should also demand that the pay hikes for MPs, ministers and the President (165 per cent, 110 per cent and 300 per cent respectively) be scrapped with immediate effect. Since they are ashamed of the jumbo cabinet, they must also be ashamed of jumbo pay hikes, if we are to take them seriously.

Hannah Arendt (German-born American Political Philosopher) may have had the people like Sirisena and Sooriarachchi in mind, when he said four decades ago:

What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core. via … The Island

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Jaffna MPCS president killed by suspected Tamil Tiger gunmen

By Walter Jayawardhana

SUSPECTED TIGER GUNMEN KILL PRESIDENT OF THE JAFFNA MPCS AS THEY DID NOT LIKE HIS ENTHUSIASTIC FOOD DISTRIBUTION, SAY RESIDENTS

Tamil political sources in Jaffna said the Tamil Tigers are strong suspects for the murder of 64 year old S.T. Ganananthanathan, a retired Engineer and the President of the Jaffna Multi Purpose Cooperative Society who was killed on Thursday February 1, near a well, close to his house.

They said they believe this a revenge killing since Gananathanathan was enthusiastically engaged in the distribution of food among the Jaffna people while the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) wanted to thrive on artificial food shortages created in the Jaffna peninsula.

LTTE news website, The Tamil Net, headlined with the story of the murder and gave it a twist to convey the idea that it has been done by the security forces. Jaffna sources said the security forces did not have a motive of killing him since he was greatly instrumental in the efficient distribution of food in which the security forces were also engaged.

The Tamil Net said he was murdered by "two unidentified armed men", phraseology usually used by the website to cover up the shooting deaths of their enemies.

The LTTE has been actively engaged in the sabotaging of food distribution in the peninsula by issuing threats through its front organization called "Makkal Padai" and attacking freight ships that bring food to Jaffna. Food shortages help them to win public sympathy and launch international condemnations through their sympathizers in the church and supportive Tamil Nadu politicians who work with them for the division of Sri Lanka.

Tamil sources in Jaffna who do not want to identify themselves said many social workers engaged in the distribution of food have been threatened by the LTTE front organization.  In August 2006 the former President of the MPCS Thellipalai, Sivamagaraja was shot dead by suspected LTTE gunmen. Informed sources said even Gananathanathan had been threatened but he never thought that he would be killed.

Suspected Tamil Tiger gunmen had studied his movements since he used to go to a well close to his house every morning to fetch a bucketful of water,  in Punkunkulam.

Jaffna sources said, even the former President of the Jaffna MPCS left the area under threats in December 2005 when the deceased was elected to the post.

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