Right to Information Law

In 2004, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka held that the freedom of speech and expression, including publication, guaranteed by Article 14 (a) of the Constitution, to be meaningful and effective, should carry within its scope an implicit right of a person to secure relevant information from a public authority in respect of a matter that should be in the public domain and that it should necessarily be so where the public interest in the matter outweighs the confidentiality that attaches to the affairs of State and official communications. The Court held that a bare denial of access to official information amounts to an infringement of the rights guaranteed by Article 14 (a).

For purposes of good governance and accountability, and to combat corruption, it is vital to have a specific law which provides the right to access official information. Such a law promotes transparency of public actions, will help to reduce the misuse of public funds, and make government more accountable. It will also make it much easier for socially responsible, proactive citizens and the media to help protect the people’s rights.

It may be noted that the government ratified the International Covenant on Political and Social Rights as far back as 1980 and, therefore, there is no legitimate excuse for not making whatever new laws or amendments to existing laws are required to implement the provisions of this covenant. In fact, the Law Reform Commission submitted a draft bill to the Ministry of Justice as far back as 2001 and this was forwarded to the Ministry of Information, where it seems to have been shelved indefinitely, allowing free rein to politicians and public servants to indulge in all kinds of irregularities and misuse in relation to the expenditure of public funds, including criminal misappropriations, fraudulent investments and a whole host of related abuses.

It is especially important that the media should have the right to secure whatever information they require to keep the public informed of important facts which may have been suppressed, as invariably happens, regarding those highly questionable enterprises which are promoted by politicians and their cronies for their personal gain, but under the guise of public demand. The need for timely access to information by the media is paramount when it comes to the critical study of project proposals and their viability, examination of intentionally skewed specifications and tender documents, evaluation of tenders, questioning of post-award modifications to tender conditions in favour of selected parties at the expense of the public, and so on.

This law should include a chapter to protect ‘whistle-blowers’, i.e. those persons who, by virtue of their official position have access to confidential information, and take the initiative in exposing acts of fraud or corruption. Whistle-blowers should be protected from being penalised by way of dismissal, transfer or any other revengeful disciplinary action by their superior officers, whose offences may have come to light by the relevant documents being exposed to the scrutiny of the appropriate authorities, the media or the public.

Information which threatens the security of the State would be exempted from being released to private applicants and the media but there should be select committees of parliament to monitor continuously at least the purchase of military goods because we have seen over the years that there is many a crooked deal being sanctioned under the guise of security secrecy requirements.

How will this law be put to use? In one Indian example taken at random, a private citizen applied for details of a project undertaken by a state government. Several malpractices were detected, including the payment of salaries to non-existent workers. The persons involved in the fraud were later prosecuted. In another example, a peanut seller observed that the official car of a government officer was always on the run. He (the peanut seller) applied for a copy of the car’s logbook, which indicated that several unauthorised trips had been made. On the evidence thus revealed, the officer had to reimburse to the government the cost of all his unauthorised trips.

We call upon the more responsible MPs to take the initiative to move rapidly to get the Right to Information Law finalised and passed by parliament.

- Dr. A. C. Visvalingam
   President, Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance


George Bush should stand trial

The execution of Saddam Hussein, the former president of the Republic of Iraq on December 31, created unbounded interest world wide. While some endorsed the execution, others disapproved it. The charges leveled at Saddam Hussein were that he had abused human rights of the citizens of Iraq, murdered thousands of his opponents, Shias, Sunnis and Kurds alike by sometimes even using poison gas and was responsible for the deaths of nearly a million in the wars declared on Iran and Kuwait. All charges were summarised as crimes against humanity.

The attention focused on the charges and the execution of Saddam Hussein itself makes one wonder whether similar charges cannot be framed on George Bush, the enigmatic president of the United States and compel him to stand trial in an authoritatively constructed International Court of Justice.

Saddam Hussein and George Bush appear to be two sides of the same coin. While Saddam Hussein is characterised by a sense of manifest brutality in his behaviour, George Bush is seen as more a manifestation of subtlety. He time and again justifies his policies which have created havoc in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine with innane and bland arguments. For instance, take the invasion of Iraq: Millions of people from countries spanning from Europe to Asia demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq. The UN did not sanction it, there were no weapons of mass destruction found there and as alleged, there was no connection with Al - Qaeda, because of this invasion. On a daily basis over 100 deaths occur in Iraq. Is not this in itself a horrendous crime perpetrated by George Bush and his poodle Tony Blair?

Even the people of the US in the mid - term elections on November 7, voiced their indictment on George Bush’s Republican party. Is not the evidence clear to bring George Bush to a court and try him for abuse of human rights and genocide of innocent people? So why double standards, one for George Bush and one for Saddam Hussein?

We are living in a world that is inundated with a grotesque sense of double standards. Unless victims of this unjust system see that this malaise is removed, they have no option but to struggle against this malevolent epidemic that is spreading all over the world. Sometimes the struggle unfortunately descends to terrorism and most times it is state terrorism that reigns, causing unbelievable spikes in suffering and misery as seen in countries invaded by the US and colonised by Israel, in Palestine.

George W. Bush (Jnr) is perhaps the worst president the US has ever had in its history. He is unwelcome in most parts of the world and greeted with derision by large demonstrations where people burn his effigy and demand for his death. To justify his invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and spread horrendous crimes against humanity in these countries he once even claimed that God spoke to him and ordered him to attack these countries, to wipe out the evil there. Only politicians obsessed with uncontrollable greed will invade other countries subjugate them, exploit their natural resources and then quote the sacred to gain their own selfish ends. The whole issue is blatant blasphemy, manifesting itself from the mind of Bush’s sanctimonious arrogance. Many of those who believe in God ask the rhetoric question, why did not God tell Mr. Bush that there were no mass weapons of destruction in Iraq? The factual reasons for the invasion were to get control of the oil in Iraq and to lay a pipeline from Central Asia across Afghanistan to ports in Southern Asia.

George W. Bush and his coterie of the neo - con cabal have committed enormous crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and Iraq which warrant them to stand trial in the International Court of Justice. Nobel prize winner for literature, Harold Pinter of England in his speech to the Swedish Academy and the world at large, called for the prosecution of George W. Bush and Tony Blair for the invasion of Iraq and bringing torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of murder, misery, degradation, abducting and holding prisoners by rendition and death to over 30,000 hapless Iraqi people. Pinter called the invasion “a bandit act and an act of blatant state Terrorism”.

Pinter (75) a playwright, in a 45-minute talk over television accused the US of massacring innocent people all over the world in the name of democracy. He asked the US president in forthright manner,

“How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand?”

For the mass murder of over 30,000 Iraqies, for the death of over 3000 US solders, for critical injuries to more than 25,000 US soldiers, for the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons, George W. Bush like Saddam Hussein, needs to face trial either in a court in the US or in the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Beyond any reasonable doubt, any court will find him guilty of crimes against humanity and sentence him to death.

- Saybhan Samat


The role of the executive President

The executive presidency that was created by our present constitution is in effect a marvellous kingpin that exerts a profound impact on the gamut of governance in our country.

The person who is declared as the winner at a presidential election assumes the office of president of our Democratic Socialist Republic upon his taking and subscribing the oath or making and subscribing the affirmation as stipulated in the constitution. It is from that moment he becomes the Head of the State, the Head of the Executive and of the Government, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

The Constitution has laid down wide powers, duties and functions which the president has to exercise, perform and discharge. While the person concerned holds office as president he is immune from being sued in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by him in his official or personal capacity. He is also entitled to a handsome salary, allowances, perks and a pension. While in service he has his residence in a palace and, on retirement, he has a right to live in a luxurious home of the State with personal staff and other facilities including security provisions at government expense.

The gravity of the tasks of the President is of such nature that he has to devote his undivided attention to them and that he should not engage himself in any extraneous office or place of profit whatsoever - vide paragraph (2) of Article 32 of the Constitution, which reads as follows:-

“(2) Upon such assumption of office the President shall cease to hold any other office created or recognised by the Constitution and if he is a Member of Parliament, shall vacate his seat in Parliament. The President shall not hold any other office or place of profit whatsoever.”

Accordingly it is quite clear that during the tenure of office the president is required to divest himself of loyalty to any extraneous office or place of benefit or advantage, including that of leadership or membership of any political party or alliance notwithstanding the fact that such leadership or membership has been the main factor which promoted his candidacy at the presidential election. However, this requirement or prohibition has not been heeded by those who were executive presidents up to date. It is apparently the innate craving for power that made the presidents cling to the best of both worlds.

In the result, their decisions on certain vital matters were tainted because they were subject to conflict of interests as between, on the one side, the citizenry and, on the other side, the political party or the alliance to which the president has obligations. In the process there occurred foul play in the administration of the first executive president and that play has been continued by successive executive presidents up to date. For instance, we have had a number of turncoats being accommodated at ministerial level. Some citizens say that it was bribery at the upper level:

In any case, all aberrations arising from conflict of interests as stated herein tantamount to sinning against not only the people but also against the Constitution. If the malfunctions at the top level right from the beginning of the executive presidency up to date did not occur this country would not have been landed in dire straits.

Any executive president is bound to look after the interests of not only those who voted for him but also, in the same measure, has to look after the concerns of those who voted against him, and those who were prevented by force from exercising their franchise as had happened on a large scale at the North in the elections held in November 2005.

The concepts of the national family and mother Sri Lanka, as sung in our national anthem should be cherished for coexistence in amity and dignity of all and sundry. This writer had previously indicated the necessity to sing the national anthem preparatory to the daily proceedings of parliament. The trouble is that our MPs are not repeatedly inspired by being called upon to sing the national anthem in the House of Parliament.

Let us look deep into our shortcomings. To guide properly the destinies of the nation it is recommended that the incumbent in the presidency should cut the Gordian knot that will keep him away from partisan politics. Otherwise there is no hope of getting out of the woods.

- D. Kuruneru


Brigadier Percy Douglas Ramanayake
An officer and gentleman par excellence

Brigadier Douggie Ramanayake, as he was popularly known, passed away at his home peacefully after a brief illness on January 7, 2007. He was born in March 1917 and therefore, was almost a nonagenarian. He was the oldest officer of the Ceylon Army at the time of his death.
He hailed from Panadura, so he was educated at St. John’s College, Panadura, under the tutelage of the then famous pedagogue, Cyril Jansz. He excelled in sports and studies, and entered the University of Ceylon, which at that time nurtured the best sports teams in Ceylon. He was selected to play in the cricket and hockey teams. He and a few of his contemporaries decided to answer a call for young men to join the Ceylon Defence Force to support the Imperial Forces in preparation for the Burma Campaign of World War 2. After training, he was commissioned in the Ceylon Engineers. He participated in the various projects of that unit including the construction of the Pallaly Airport in Jaffna, the Water Supply Scheme for Trincomalee at Monkey Bridge, the Anguruwatota Bridge across the Kalu Ganga and various other projects.
After demobilisation in 1946 he was selected as a staff officer in the Department of Industries, but on the formation of the Ceylon Army in October 1949, he was commissioned in the Regular Force of the Army and selected to be the Officer Commanding the Regular Field Squadron of Engineers which was to be raised in 1951 after he and the other officers selected underwent training at the Royal School of Military, Engineering in Chatham, U.K. He is, therefore, recognised as the ‘Father of the Sappers’ as army engineers are called because historically their tasks were sapping and mining the earth.
In 1951, I was commissioned at Sandhurst and posted to the Ceylon Engineers, which was not raised as yet. So I attended a Young Officers Engineer Course at R.S.M. E. Chatham, joined a British regiment in Germany and came back to Ceylon to join the newly formed Ceylon Engineer Unit in 1952, which had just been established in Diyatalawa. I travelled up to Diyatalawa by night mail, where the berths were comfortable and clean (unlike today’s disgraceful condition) and one got a good night’s sleep arriving at Diyatalawa at about 7 a.m. I was driven up to the Officers’ Mess where there was a well set man (in his sports kit after morning exercise) standing on the steps, sipping a cup of tea. He walked up to me and said, “I presume you are Denis Perera, I am Ramanayake”, and he gave me a warm handshake. He directed the mess staff to take my baggage to my room and said, “settle down and see me in my office at 9.30 a.m as I am your officer Commanding.” That was a warm welcome by a very genial man - my first boss.
In this office, he briefed me and said that there were himself and two captains (both in Colombo at the time attending to the logistics of the newly formed unit) and I was the junior most who had to train a batch of new recruits (80 in number). To assist me there were several NCOs of World War II vintage, who had just returned from Malaya after a training course with the British Far East Land Forces. The key man was the Sgt. Major, Andriesz by name-a fine disciplinarian who ensured that the unit worked like clockwork under his watchful eye and the supervision of the benevolent Ramanayake.
I learned much from both these old soldiers on ‘man management’ which stood me in good stead throughout my career. The unit kept growing in size and after various phases of training in different locations, it eventually settled down in the newly constructed Cantonment in Panagoda in 1953. The major task was to construct a new Firing Range at Panaluwa and this was done well in time under Major Ramanayake’s command. Thereafter, several projects were undertaken in preparing sites for state corporations such as Steel at Oruwela, Plywood Factory at Kosgama etc., road construction was also a task of the unit, which grew to be a regiment in 1957 and Major Ramanayake was promoted Lt. Colonel. Interspersed with all this productive work were several interruptions when the unit was deployed on security duties in aid of the civil power, hartals, strike breaking activities at the harbour, transport, Petroleum Corporation etc., the prevention of illicit timber felling and a miscellany of construction and non military duty, including the building of cadjan accommodation for troops deployed on anti- illicit immigration duties in the North and the East.
The Army at that time had its hands full maintaining law and order, conflict prevention and carrying out development projects. Some people (particularly young journalists) refer to the Army prior to the North-East conflict as a ceremonial Army which certainly is not correct.
The ceremonial aspect was perhaps evident with tattoos, again initiated by Colonel Ramanayake. These tattoos provided the public with entertainment and provided funds for the welfare of troops.
Colonel Ramanayake made a tremendous impact on sport in the Army. He recruited talented sportsmen, ensured systematic training of others and the Army dominated sport in that era providing Olympic participants too. He was a benevolent officer who gave of his best and demanded the best. I observed a large number of retired officers and troops whom he nurtured present at his funeral - he won their respect and affection by his humane ways and good management. The Ceylon Engineers (now Sri Lanka Engineers) which he raised with four officers and 100 soldiers has now (55 years later) grown to 250 officers and 6000 soldiers including two major generals and 20 brigadiers.
He retired in 1971 as a brigadier, before Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka and he was deprived of honours and awards which were introduced only in 1981 but he won the hearts and minds of all those who served under him as was evident at the large turnout at his funeral, though he retired 35 years ago.
Before concluding this tribute to this exemplary officer and gentleman, I must refer to the loving support and strength he was given by his family. His wife of 61 years of blissful marriage, Christobel, is a noble and gracious lady, an example to many Army wives. His only son Lalith, a Director at John Keells, is a keen sportsman himself. His daughters Indira, Nelum, Gita and Tara also participated in sport and he has two outstanding sportsmen as sons in law viz. Anura Tennekoon and Dr. Fred Perera.
May this worthy son of Sri Lanka who worked honestly and tirelessly for his unit, the Army and the country now rest in peace.
Lieutenant General
Desamanya Denis Perera


Irene Wanigaratne
She taught us the art of perfection

I pen these lines with a tinge of sadness and a deep sense of gratitude to one of my favourite teachers since my tender age of six.
Aunty Irene was loved by all of us and known to be kind but persuasive and taught us the art of perfection, without having to be dictatorial about it.
My mind goes back to 1953 when Aunty Irene directed the ‘X’mas Magic’ which was the second play to be staged at the Lionel Wendt Theatre while introducing drama and the theatre into my veins. At the impressionable age of six along with Shanta and Priya David, Trudy and Jean Dixon, Graham and Anne Koch and my sister Sherrene we were made to enjoy theatre. We were all part of the Junior Thespians Drama Club, which was founded a few years before. There we were playing on the sandpit at the Lionel Wendt while the rear was still under construction in between rehearsals and relishing every moment of it.
Aunty Irene has been an integral part of Drama in this country and has guided scores of Bishopians, amongst others into the ‘Spirit’ of English theatre. The Kindergarten at Bishop’s College was Aunty Irene’s breeding ground for fresh talent. She was always on the look out for talent and scouted around the school in search of it.
The confidence Aunty Irene gave me at a young age held me in good stead as I embarked on my drama and dancing career. It gave me all what I needed when I performed at venues such as the Carnegie Hall, New York in front of distinguished audiences.
I encountered Aunty Irene later in life as the wife of Maurice Wanigaratne, a Sri Lankan diplomat who served in several overseas missions.
I would also like to pay special mention of those who assisted her in running her school of drama, Irene’s daughter Mala, Loretta Ohlmus, Clare De Silva and Nafeesa Esufally come to mind. They were responsible in helping her churn out scores of award winning dramatists.
I will always have fond memories of Aunty Irene. I know that she is ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus’ entertaining the heavenly hosts with her poise, charm and enunciation.

I close with the following words:-

I really appreciate you,
You’re helpful, giving ways
And how your generous heart
Your unselfishness displays.

I thank you for your kindness
I will not soon forget
You’re one of the nicest people
I have ever met.
May God Bless her soul!
Sicille P. C. Kotelawala


Rohan Hapugalle
Greatly loved by all

I had known ‘Uncle Rohan’ for many years. He had many great qualities. Despite the high positions he held in Rotary, Jaycees, and the Corporate World of Industry and Commerce, he never lost his common touch. This was the greatest quality he possessed and I admired him for that. He left an indelible mark in the corporate and social fraternity of Mother Lanka and was greatly loved by all and sundry.

January 3, 2007, marks the fifth death anniversary of a genial personality and a humane person. Friends, I refer to none other than the late Rohan Hapugalle, who was indeed a gifted and noble son of Mother Lanka.
I had known ‘Uncle Rohan’ for many years. He had many great qualities. Despite the high positions he held in Rotary, Jaycees, and the Corporate World of Industry and Commerce, he never lost his common touch. This was the greatest quality he possessed and I admired him for that. He left an indelible mark in the corporate and social fraternity of Mother Lanka and was greatly loved by all and sundry. The scores of people, from all walks of life, who came for his funeral, bear ample testimony to my admiration for him. A few of his multi- faceted activities that come to my mind are; he became the chairman of the Sri Lanka Jaycees Senate, district governor of the Rotary Club of Colombo, vice chairman of the National Chamber of Commerce and president of the Sri Lanka India Society. Even now, in these organisations and other institutions, Uncle Rohan is still remembered with the greatest amount of reverence and compassion.
An example of his humane qualities which I remember very vividly, and is still etched in my memory, was when I attended the funeral of a fellow Jaycee friend of mine who died under tragic circumstances. I was
surprised to see, among many friends. Uncle Rohan attending the funeral. Being such a senior Jaycee, attending the funeral of a junior colleague, I asked him as to
what made him come for the funeral. He immediately replied, “It was my duty to come and pay my respects to a fellow colleague, although I didn’t know him personally.” Friends, this alone, speaks for his true, humane and humble qualities- his ‘trademark’, amongst the friends who knew him personally.
Another noble quality he possessed was that it went against his grain to speak evil and ill against anyone. It was anathema for him to utter any evil or hurt anyone’s feelings. If a person spoke evil about someone he would smile and say “let’s forgive and forget.” Even his wildest detractors would readily accept this great and noble feature in him. This speaks volumes for his unblemished character and integrity which was indeed an exemplary act. It is my earnest hope and prayer that Uncle Rohan’s acts of nobility, and sincerity and his humane and humble qualities be a living example for the future younger generations to follow.
My only regret is that I was unable to attend the funeral of Unele Rohan as I was away overseas. But on my return, one of my first deeds was to pay my respects to Aunty Neelakanthi and the family, which I did reverently with my parents.
May Uncle Rohan’s soul rest in eternal peace and may he attain the supreme bliss of eternal happiness, peace, and the blessings of the Triple Gem, in the world beyond.
Amyn Chatoor


Ajith Samaranayake
A writer for all seasons and epochs

“The moving finger writes:
And, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your
Piety not wit
Shall lure it back to cancels
Half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out
A word of it” – The Rubaiyat

These beautiful words of Omar Khayyam comes to mind as I think of Ajith. He belonged to a breed of a bon Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!) and like an angel writing in a book of gold; ‘Exceeding peace had made Ben Adham bold, with his encounter with the Angel. Answered, “I pray then, write me as one that loves his fellow-men’ and lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest’. So did Ajith’s.
Ajith was a remarkable man. For, in a moment he would grasp the ethos of a people and its milieu. He was a genius. A writer for all seasons and epochs: Brought up in the salubrious climes of Trinity College, Kandy, and its pastoral atmosphere, he portrayed nature’s secrets in his corporeal frame, carrying his crosses with grace and docility in the junk – heap of journalism in the city with all is political throat – cutting. Ajith alienated himself with a synthesis of a spiritual aura.
He was the catalyst, a watershed world of political dogma. People read his word every Sunday as a sermon from the pulpit, although this was not his creed.
One could say that Ajith was born with ink in his veins. He loved the old ways, writing with hand and his one finger symphony on the typewriter.
Without he did not wear religion on his sleeve, he carried a message for all times with his adaptability and understanding of lesser mortals, ‘the strife’. He preferred to have one for the road!
The brightest star in the galaxy of the island’s journalism has eclipsed. But Ajith would say no one is indispensable in his humble, inimitable way.
Let’s look up to the galaxies hopefully.
Respice finem.
Ian Jayasinha


W. A. N. Perera
A kind-hearted person

Mr. W. A. N. Perera of Hokandara Road, Pannipitiya, passed away recently. He was a retired Station Master of the Railway Department. He was born in Homagama and later lived in Pannipitiya. He was a religious person and a social worker. He educated children who served as teachers. He led a simple life. I met him sometime in 1972 as I came to my residence at Pannipitiya.
Since that day, he became a close friend of mine. I have never seen him in an angry mood. He was such a kind hearted person.

Mr. Perera’s no more with us
Anyhow I cannot forget him easily
We have faced this situation in sansara
May he attain the supreme bliss of nibbana.
M. G. Asoka Karunaratne





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