crisis to take Sri Lanka by storm
Politics is the art of
possible, they say. In Sri Lanka, nothing is impossible in
politics – today’s political enemy could be the best ally
tomorrow and vice versa and these are the characteristics of the
art of ‘possible’ politics.
In today’s context, many people believe that politics is a dirty
game which works hand in glove with corruption, murder,
abductions and various other criminal acts.
Tiran Alles’ story gives credence to the fact that politics is
the art of possible, while at the same time, it gives an insight
into political treachery, insider dealings and how politicians
manipulate and orchestrate things in their favour to grab power
Not so long ago Alles was one of the erstwhile buddies of
President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It would not be a political fib if
one were to say that Alles was a pawn in the hands of the
Rajapaksas who placed utmost faith in him and tasked him with
wooing the LTTE. When Rajapaksa was elected President by a very
slim majority, he hugged the man who accomplished the mission
for him with the LTTE.
At that time, Rajapaksa remarked, “It is because of you and the
LTTE that I am President today.”
The deal was to boycott the presidential election in the LTTE-controlled
areas in the north and the east, which was crucial for Rajapaksa
to be elected President. It was a forgone conclusion that if
there was a free and a fair election in the areas held by the
LTTE in the north and the east, the people would have
overwhelmingly voted for the UNP since it had in possession a
clear programme to work out a peace deal with the party.
Therefore, blocking the north east voters would mean a victory
for the Rajapaksas.
It is difficult to understand the mindset of LTTE supremo
Velupillai Prabhakaran, but what one could fathom is that the
UNP’s peace initiatives had confined him into a compartment
where the pressure exerted by the international community
virtually forced him to accept a federal solution which he did
with reluctance during the Oslo sponsored peace initiatives.
It was clear that Prabhakaran’s dream was to secede totally and
create a separate state within Sri Lanka. A far-fetched
decision, but the LTTE mindset worked accordingly to defeat the
UNP, because their dream could only come true if the UNP were
When Alles was assigned with the task of negotiating with the
LTTE he accepted it willingly, mainly because he had an axe to
grind with Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Alles was obsessed with the fact that Wickremesinghe as the
Education Minister of the then J.R. Jayewardene regime had given
a raw deal to his father, Ralph Alles, when the latter was the
Principal of D.S. Senanayake College. Wickremesinghe removed the
senior Alles from his substantive post and he had to seek
employment elsewhere and became the Principal of Zahira College,
Under these circumstances, defeating Wickremesinghe was Alles’
long-nurtured dream. He used the affinity he cultivated with the
LTTE as the Chairman of Airport Aviation. He handled them most
of the time during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s regime as the
President, soon after Wickremesinghe went out of office as the
Prime Minister in April 2004.
Alles accomplished duties to the utmost satisfaction of the
Rajapaksas until recently when they fell-out over the
publication of his newspaper, which was actually launched to
prop up the image of Mangala Samaraweera, with whom Alles worked
Be that as it may, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has seized
the opportunity which has come his way to mend fences with the
Alles’ in order to gain more political advantage.
Wickremesinghe does not want either Mangala Samaraweera or Tiran
Alles – or, for that matter, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi – to go
back to President Rajapaksa and hence made a politically
important visit to the Merchants Ward of the General Hospital to
talk with Tiran Alles.
Wickremesinghe was accompanied by UNP Colombo District Leader
Ravi Karunanayake and was later joined by the Western Province
Councillor representing DUA (Democratic Unity Alliance), A.J.M.
At the Merchant’s Ward, Alles related a part of the story as to
how he negotiated with the LTTE and gave the LTTE money.
Wickremesinghe remarked that Basil Rajapaksa should have been on
the other bed.
In a comment that justified Alles’ arrest, later at the UNP
parliamentary group meeting, Wickremesinghe called for the
arrest of few more people allegedly connected to the deal –
namely Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera, President’s
Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, and President Rajapaksa’s younger
brother, Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa, meaning that in a
future UNP administration he intends to take all of them into
custody to probe the matter, including Tiran Alles – or he could
be the crown witness at a future trial because he had indirectly
helped the UNP by exposing the alleged deal while putting the
government on the dock. It is a story of how people become
friends and foes from time to time in the political landscape of
President Rajapaksa made a definite blunder by arresting Alles.
His aim was different; the intention was to bring Mangala
Samaraweera back into his fold but the whole effort backfired
when Alles decided to withstand pressure and come out with the
story behind his arrest.
It is now time for the UNP to make hay while the sun shines. The
UNP, which was reeling with infighting and defections, has once
again come out strongly as an alternative government. The
question that is being posed is whether it could sustain the
momentum since the government is not keen to go for any election
at this juncture.
The argument put forward by the government is that there are bad
patches in any administration and that they could overcome it in
time to come. The President is working overtime to put the
country back on the right track. However, at present, the
country is plagued with serious problems in relation to the
administration of its finances and civil liberties of the
President Rajapaksa is in a difficult position since
international pressure is being exerted on him and his
administration to restore the rule of law in the face of
increasing incidences of human rights abuses.
Be that as it may, the government is in hot water as far as the
deaths of the two Red Cross volunteer workers are concerned.
There is an enormous amount of pressure being exerted on the
government by the international community and several heads of
states, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, have written
to the President demanding a fair and an impartial inquiry into
The Resident Representative of the Red Cross in Sri Lanka along
with other officials, including Sri Lanka Red Cross Director
General Neville Nanayakkara, met with the President and his
Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga and Inspector General of Police,
Victor Perera in this regard.
The ICRC Representative said that the incident occurred in
Colombo and there were police officers within sight when the men
in plain clothes questioned and took the two volunteers away in
a white van.
Despite being present, the police had not intervened, complained
the ICRC Representative. He posed another very pertinent
question – as to how the abductors took the victims out of
Colombo despite the presence of several barriers and checkpoints
within the city.
In a nutshell, the ICRC delegation requested results and
guarantees to work in Sri Lanka. The President directed the IGP
to launch a full-scale investigation into the matter and set a
seven-day deadline for the culprits to be brought to book.
President Rajapaksa told the ICRC delegation that there was an
organised attempt to discredit him and his government. A group
hitherto unknown to them had been operating stealthily to create
chaos and bring the government to disrepute, he said
The President further said that a similar incident took place on
the eve of his departure to India some time back and it had
happened again when he was about to undertake a mission to
Geneva, the home of the ICRC and the Human Rights High
Commissioner of the United Nations.
It has now been revealed that the victims who were shot dead
have had a meal just 45 minutes before they were shot dead. At
the autopsy held to ascertain the cause of death it was found
that they had taken a meal before they were shot and dumped in a
tea estate in Kirielle in the Ratnapura District. Their stomach
contents bear testimony to this.
In Parliament on Wednesday UNP Parliamentarian Lakshman
Seneviratne revealed some names connected to abductions and
disappearances in Colombo. He said that a sacked Air Force
Squadron Leader by the name of Nishantha Gajanayake was
responsible for extortions and abductions in Colombo and for the
murder of TNA Parliamentarian Nadarajah Raviraj last year.
He further said that all these crimes were committed under the
patronage of Deputy Inspector General of Police Rohan
Abeywardene and all of them were given due protection by none
other than Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
Gajanayake, according to Seneviratne, was attached to the
security outfit of the former Air Force Commander, Donald Perera
and was sacked from the Sri Lanka Air Force.
Seneviratne revealed that he (Nishantha) had been occupying room
No. 706 at Holiday Inn, Colombo for quite some time now and his
bills were being paid by one Gajadheera, who is supposedly the
brother of a minister in the present government.
Seneviratne also came out strongly against the security staff of
Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and said that they were involved
in certain extortion cases and that his party, the UNP, has
received information to that effect.
The statement made by Seneviratne had a damning effect on the
government and the onus is now on the government to find out the
veracity of the story and reveal the truth.
The UNP in time to come would ask for a select committee to
probe the matter, but it is very important at this juncture to
agitate for a fair and an impartial inquiry into what
Seneviratne revealed to parliament. It is the right of the
people to know the truth since the allegations are of a very
Amidst this hullabaloo, the President is to undertake an
official visit to Geneva where he would address the
International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference and would
subsequently meet with the United Nations High Commissioner for
It is likely that the High Commissioner would press for a visit
to Sri Lanka in the face of the deteriorating human rights
situation in the country. At the same time, it is very likely
that the High Commissioner for Human Rights would suggest that a
regional office be set up in Colombo to monitor the human rights
situation in Sri Lanka and in the region.
The President has also taken some positive steps to monitor the
human rights situation in the country after he felt that the
situation was getting out of hand and having a snowball effect.
In this regard, he appointed a committee comprising Ministers
Dulles Alahapperuma and Rajitha Senaratne, Deputy Minister P.
Radhakrishnan, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and S. Baiz. The committee
is yet to sit and look into the grievances of the people whose
relatives have been either abducted or taken into custody
without a valid reason being adduced.
The President appointed this committee after Radhakrishnan
accompanied nearly 50 people whose relatives had been abducted
or had to face various inconveniences due to the ongoing war, to
meet with President Rajapaksa to relate their tale of woe in
order to obtain some kind of redress.
The President listened to them attentively while some of them
pleaded with him to find their kith and kin who had been
abducted by unknown goon squads. Many other ministers were also
present at the meeting including Douglas Devananda, A.H.M.
Fowzie, Mahinda Samarasinghe and Keheliya Rambukwella. Among the
senior officials present were IGP Victor Perera, the CID Deputy
IGP and the CID Director.
Even before the first meeting of the Presidential Human Rights
Committee, the police took drastic action on Thursday to evict
more than 500 Tamil people staying in the lodges in Colombo.
They were asked to leave lodges they were occupying within 24
hours. Most of them were bundled into CTB buses under the
protection of the armed forces and were taken to the north east.
Some buses headed towards Trincomalee while the others were
taken toVauniya. The first batch so taken was given shelter at
Gamini Maha Vidyalaya in Vauniya, while opposition political
parties protested and debated the matter in parliament.
It was the UNP’s T. Maheswaran who took up the issue and called
for an adjournment debate on the matter. In parliament he pulled
off his shirt and threw it towards the members in protest while
In this backdrop, the President also summoned a special meeting
of the cabinet to discuss the issues relating to cost of living
and the petroleum prices. They explored the possibility of
raising the prices of fuel but some argued that it would not be
the solution to the crisis the country is facing.
One suggestion was to reduce fuel consumption using various
methods. Rationing fuel is one way of reducing fuel consumption
and curtailing government expenditure but there was no decision
on the matter since the Petroleum Minister was not in favour of
such a decision.
He said that fuel should be freely available and refused to
contribute to the idea of bringing in a rationing system to
curtail the consumption of fuel.
There are few countries in the world where there is a rationing
system in operation and excess fuel has to be purchased at a
higher price. A similar system has been proposed to reduce
electricity consumption in the country. People who consume more
than 90 units will be called upon to buy the excess volume at a
Soon after the special cabinet meeting, the President summoned
all the Muslim parliamentarians to talk about the abductions of
Muslim nationals. The President said that none of the Muslim
ministers or parliamentarians told him about the alleged
abductions. He said that the Muslim ministers should have
informed him about the matter and found fault with them.
At this stage Minister Fowzie told Rajapaksa that he brought the
matter to the notice of the President on the eve of his
departure to Kuwait from Jordon. The President immediately
summoned the IGP and the senior officers of the CID to inquire
into the abductions. The President, who expressed his concern
over what was going on in the country, assured the Muslim
parliamentarians that he would take action to arrest the ongoing
At the weekly meeting of the ministers, the looming economic
crisis in the country was discussed at length.
The President told the ministers that he would be compelled to
prune their ministry votes and directed that all promotions and
recruitment be stopped forthwith. The government will also move
towards reducing the votes allocated for provincial councils by
50 percent to overcome the present crisis.
However, the government has not given up the military campaign
against the LTTE and would give the green light to recruit more
personnel to the Sri Lanka Army in order to continue with its
All-important SLT deal
Government ministers on Friday
were perturbed over certain questions raised by the opposition
in parliament over the granting of BOI status to Sri Lanka
UNP Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake while participating in the
debate on SLT queried as to how, and on what basis, SLT had been
granted BOI status and given a licence to operate TV channels.
He also said that in addition to these, a 3G licence and a
Direct to Home (DTH) licence had also been granted to the SLT.
The government was caught unawares when Karunanayake posed these
questions and asked as to why the JVP was silent over the
proposed sale of the SLT shares held by the NTT Japan to a
Malaysian investor, Global Telecommunications Holdings, known as
Karunanayake also queried as to why the government was not
willing to take over the management of the SLT when it holds
majority of the shares. “It is fashionable for the JVP to shout
but when it comes to the most crucial point they pay only lip
service,” Karunanayake said, accusing the JVP over its silence,
and charged the government was against privatisation.
Following this, Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and Treasury
Secretary P.B. Jayasundera met with the President and said that
it was difficult to meet the arguments of the opposition when
the government was ill-equipped with facts and said that they
were not aware under which provision such a concession had been
Both the Minister and the Secretary wanted to know how the SLT
was granted BOI status. The President immediately got in touch
with BOI Chairman Dhammika Perera and posed the same question
and gave the phone to Minister Bogollagama to clarify matters
with the BOI Chairman. Perera had told Bogollagama that
everything was done on the strength of a letter of approval
given by the Treasury Secretary.
Minister Bogollagama in turn gave the phone to Secretary
Jayasundera to whom BOI Chairman Dammika Perera said that BOI
status was granted to the SLT depending on the approval granted
by the Treasury. He however added that SLT could bring in their
equipment on a duty free basis subject to fulfilment of all the
legal requirements and said that a tax holiday has been granted
With Perera’s explanation, the matter ended there since it was
the Treasury that was responsible for granting BOI status to the
Akashi meets Somawansa
Visiting Japanese Special Peace
Envoy Yasushi Akashi visited the JVP Headquarters at Pelawatte
recently. He was accorded a warm welcome by JVP Leader Somawansa
During the meeting, Akashi said that he would be visiting the
Eastern Province. “Yes, it is fine. The situation in the area is
entirely different now and there aren’t any LTTE controlled
areas there,” said the JVP Leader.
“What is your opinion about the military situation in the
North?” queried Akashi. Replied Somawansa, “The LTTE is at war.
It will never come to the negotiating table. The LTTE should be
militarily defeated and democracy re-established.”
The JVP Leader did not fail to express his gratitude to the
Japanese Envoy for not withholding aid to Sri Lanka. “I must
thank you for not suspending aid to Sri Lanka despite undue
interference,” he said.
UNP’s never-ending woes
When the government is in
disarray, the opposition emerges strongly; this is the political
reality in any democracy. But in Sri Lanka things are quite
different; the progress of the opposition is often marred by
However much the UNP Leader attempts to take control of the
situation, he is inundated with problems arsing from various
differences among the senior members in the party. Chief among
these is the ongoing conflict between Party Chairman Rukman
Senanayake and General Secretary Tissa Attanayake.
Senanayake takes things for granted and takes his own decisions
as to what he should do with the party machinery. He works on
his own without even informing the General Secretary.
This bothers Attanayake, who holds the post of all important
Secretary General and wanted clarifications on several matters.
He confronted UNP Leader Wickremesinghe and told him bluntly
that the party would not have a future if they continued in this
fashion and appealed to the Leader not to reject the plan he
submitted some time back to rejuvenate the party.
Wickremesinghe, who wanted a rather lukewarm secretary, was not
too happy with Attanayake’s suggestion. He told Attanayake
bluntly that he was the Leader of the UNP and that it was his
prerogative to devise a plan which suits the party. Attanayake,
who was perturbed by the remarks made by the Leader, had
apparently told others that he had been reduced to the status of
Besides these, there are problems within the party in relation
to the appointment of party organisers. A meeting of the all
powerful Political Affairs Committee of the UNP which was
scheduled for Thursday became a wishy-washy affair and ended up
without appointing organisers as scheduled.
Colombo District Leader Ravi Karunanayake and Galle District
Leader Vajira Abeywardena met with the UNP Leader to protest
against the proposed appointments, which were finally put on
Karunanayake opposed the appointments of Duminda Silva, Sagara
Senaratne and Hashan Tillekeratne. He had attributed many
reasons for his objections for the appointments.
Abeywardene totally opposed the appointment of Bandula
Bandarigoda, Wijepala Hettiarachchi, Manusha Nanayakkara and
Abeywardene wanted Lionel Ittalawatte in place of Manusha
Nanayakkara and Sunil Senanayake who lost five elections in
Hiniduma. Abeywardene has also opposed moves by the party
leadership to devide the Hiniduma electorate into two.
One senior UNPer remarked that the Political Affairs Committee,
which was summoned to appoint some young faces as organisers,
ended up without any progress being made.
The Advisory Committee of the
Finance Ministry met at Temple Trees last Tuesday under the
chairmanship of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The JVP was
represented by Parliamentarians Sunil Handunnetti, and Ranaweera
“Some figures in the Central Bank report are incorrect,” said
Handunnetti. “How come? What are the errors?” asked the
“The figures pertaining to wholesales and retail prices of fish
are wrong,” the Parliamentarian replied. Upon inquiry by the
President, the officials admitted the errors.
Pathirana pointed out that waste of public funds and corrupt
acts by ministers was going on unchecked. “Which minister?
Please let me have the details,” said the President.
“Several ministers are using more than 10 to 15 vehicles. They
sometime even hire vehicles,” said Pathirana. “Then the hire
must be about Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000,” said the President.
“No, Your Excellency. One of the ministers pays Rs. 295,000 for
his vehicle and Rs. 195,000 for the private secretary’s
vehicle,” the Parliamentarian said. “I am not aware of it. Who
is that minister?” the President inquired of the JVP
Parliamentarian. “We must not reveal that here. It is better to
ask about that at the cabinet meeting,” Pathirana said.
Then the President turned to Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva
and said, “Nimal, who is that minister?” Replied De Silva, “He
is referring to Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and his private
Pathirana raised a similar issue at the Advisory Committee of
the Defence Ministry. “An unusual tax is levied at Medawachchiya
security checkpoint. Every vehicle should pay Rs. 100 to Rs. 180
to find passage through the checkpoint.”
“What for, and who is levying the tax?” inquired the President.
“The Medawachchiya PS Chairman’s brother,” said the
Parliamentarian. The President immediately ordered the IGP to
probe the matter.
During the tea party that followed, the President told the JVP
members “Your agitations, accusations and criticism are
reasonable. I will use them to take ministers to task.”
The JVP members – Vijitha Ranaweera, Ranaweera Pathirana, Achala
Jagoda and Laxman Nipuna Arachchi – were all smiles.