Friday, 18th April 2014

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Brats, brawls and books

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Lost presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka participating at a function held at the Dharmayathana Vihara at Narahenpita last week. He is flanked by  Southern Provincial Council (UNP) Member Maithri Gunaratne and a participant at the function. Lost presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka participating at a function held at the Dharmayathana Vihara at Narahenpita last week. He is flanked by Southern Provincial Council (UNP) Member Maithri Gunaratne and a participant at the function. Pic by Ravindra Dharmathilake

The whole country was expectantly waiting to see ‘what would happen at the UNHRC sessions’ and some western countries upped with arms to charge Sri Lanka. However, the week began with another story of a Minister’s son, and Minister Maithripala Sirisena’s dream of becoming the next Premier. He was very disappointed and lamented last week, that he sacrificed his opportunity of becoming the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka several years ago. The UNP leader was in Kandy attending the party’s membership drive while the Sri Lanka Freedom party was looking for new organizers for the North and East. Meanwhile, former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka was in new hope that his party will be officially accepted by the Department of Elections while the Tamil National Alliance MPs were attending some forums in London.

Five Rs at UNHRC
President’s Special envoy on Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe addressed the UN Human Rights Council sessions last Friday and explained to the Council that after the humanitarian operation the country has made all possible efforts to promote and protect human rights of all its citizens. Minister briefed the session on the Five ‘Rs: Reconstruction, Resettlement Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation; which is being implemented successfully paving the way for the country’s sustainable development, social progress and lasting peace thereby ushering in a new era.
Minister Samarasinghe was frank and strongly opposed any unjust, biased and unreasonable proposal that may be adopted at this session against the country in the guise of protecting and promoting human rights in Sri Lanka. Minister Samarasinghe pointed out the progress of all five topics he mentioned as Five ‘Rs and also added that the implementation of recommendations made by the LLRC is being carried out on a short-term, medium-term and long-term basis, giving consideration to priorities and within a set framework of time. He also divulged the government’s plan of holding an election for the Northern Province this year itself.

However, the western media has already begun to criticize Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe’s speech and one has even questioned the Minister’s lambasting of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay and their unreasonable accusations. It was obvious that some are trying to make a rift between the Sri Lankan delegation and the UN officials while the session is going on. ‘Sri Lanka so far has willingly cooperated with the UN process and there won’t be any change in the proceedings’ claimed by a high ranking official from the Ministry of External Affairs when questioned over the western media’s effort to draw a bad picture on Sri Lankan officials. 

Meanwhile, amidst the protests against the screening of No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka at the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva, the British government had allowed the screening of the controversial documentary produced by the UK media outfit Channel 4 News in the British Parliament. The screening took place in the Committee Room 14 of the British Parliament on Feb. 27 with the participation of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats and two cabinet ministers and several others. The conference coincided with the third anniversary of the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF). Sources from London revealed that British PM David Cameroon was not present, but the Conservative Party leader was represented by another senior party member MP Grant Shapps. TNA was represented by five senior members including TNA leader MR Sampanthan and MA Sumanthiran.

‘Boys will be boys’
Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa was appointed as the National Organizer of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) at the Central Committee meeting which was held last Wednesday. The unanimous decision had been taken at the central committee meeting held under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees and the post of National Organizer fell vacant following the death of former SLFP giant, Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte.
The new appointment came just two days after the clash between DIG Ravi Waidyalankara’s son Asela and Minister Maithripala Sirisena’s son, Daham. It was breaking news for all media as the two parties involved were known personalities. One is the son of a government minister and the other the son of a Deputy Inspector General of Police. Minister Sirisena who is also the General Secretary of the SLFP, at a suddenly arranged press briefing, blasted some media institutes naming them for blowing out the incident. Our sister newspaper ‘Rivira’ was also among his list, which expanded the story, according to him.
As a father, Minister Sirisena has a right to say, “That was an incident that had taken place between youths at the beach. Youth usually quarrel.” However, media personalities known to the Minister over the last two decades still wonder how the ruling party giant forgets the media’s role.

Minister Sirisena also revealed about a media conspiracy to destroy his image and credibility. “I must especially state that my son has never referred to himself as the son of the next prime minister of this country, as quoted by several newspapers. Such baseless statement is the key behind conspiratorial media reporting”. The minister also said that he did not interfere with the duty of the police and that he had waited at the Kalkudah Police station for eight hours until his son was released on bail.

He also reminded the media that he offered his opportunity of being the Prime Minister of this country to the current President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, suggesting his name to the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga. He also revealed about a telephone call which had threatened on his life. Meanwhile, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella also admitted that it was a boys’ case. “Even politicians’ sons will behave like boys; if someone hits them they will hit back. Boys will be boys,” Minister told the media justifying the Minister’s son’s release on police bail while the DIG’s son was under treatment.

Applications and pledges
Meanwhile, SLFP is also entertaining applications for the SLFP organizer posts in Northern and Eastern electorates. Accordingly, vacancies of the organizer posts in Chavakachcheri, Jaffna, Kankasanthurai (KKS), Kayts, Kilinochchi, Kopai, Manipay, Nallur, Pt.Pedro, Udippiddi and Vaddukkodai in the Jaffna electoral district and the Mannar and Kilinochchi electoral districts in Northern Province; Batticaloa electoral district and Kalkudah electoral district in the Eastern province will be filled soon. SLFP invites interested applicants to send their applications to the SLFP headquarters within two weeks time.
Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Friday from Kandy refreshed his pledge to the senior party members and regional organizers that the expulsion of the Rajapaksa regime in 2014. He also said that they would kick off a protest campaign in June targeting the overthrow of the present regime. However, 24 hours before his address, the Cabinet Spokesman categorically said that no presidential elections in 2014. What he implied was only “some local government elections will be held”.

The UNP has also planned to complete recruitment of new members and the setting up of committees (Bala Mandala) of the respective electorates by the end of May, paving the way for the planned protest campaign in three months time.He has also suggested having full time volunteers instead of part time workers to reach the party’s target.

New hope
Meanwhile, the Leader of the Democratic Party (DP) Sarath Fonseka met the Commissioner General of Elections Mahinda Deshapriya last Friday evening, with the second recommendation from the Human Rights Commission (HRC) for the registration of his party. The DP initially functioned as the Democratic National Alliance submitted an application to the Commissioner General of Elections on June 29, 2010 to revise the party name.  The Commissioner General of Elections has rejected the application on two grounds and exactly after one year, on June 30, 2011, DP made a complaint with the HRC. Last year June, HRC had informed the Commissioner of Elections that the rejection of the party registration had violated basic human rights of the parliamentarians of the party and its members.

Former Army Commander Fonseka speaking to The Nation said that the Commissioner of Elections wanted a clarification from the HRC and they had provided it once but did not get a positive feedback from the Department of Elections. “ HRC had again last Thursday informed the Commissioner that “it is a violation” and on Friday, I met the Commissioner Deshapriya to know his stance now”.
 
He also said the Commissioner promised to reply them within a seven day period. He further added that the party has already decided to contest the forthcoming provincial council elections for the Northwestern, Central and Western provinces and the non registration of the party officially has become an obstacle though they have other ways and means to contest the elections. He lamented that non registration of the DP as an approved political party is
a serious violation of human rights and if the Department is to further continue the same stance “it would be equal to contempt of court”.

Controversy and commemorations   
The Jathika Hela Urumaya which made a big noise over the ACJU’s Halal certification process had taken an unexpected move of publishing a book on the subject. The book which has been titled Halal Aettha Nattha (Halal: Truth and Untruth) was launched last Wednesday in Colombo at a function headed by the JHU leader Ven Dr Omalpe Sobhitha. The book edited by the party’s publicity unit has discussed the topics such as ‘What is ACJU, What is Halal and Haram, How it affects the local market’ and several other issues.

The 25th death anniversary of Vijaya Kumaratunga was commemorated last Wednesday February 27 with the participation of an ‘invitees only’ crowd. Kumaratunga was the founder member and General Secretary, Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP). A book titled Wijaya compiled by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, his loving wife was also launched on this occasion and a short documentary film on Wijaya, his life and work was screened. The participants later said that most of the items of the function were not to the satisfaction of the former President. The event had been organized by the Vijaya Kumaratunga Commemorative Foundation and the untold allegation of the former President was “the organizers have forgotten that he was married to me”.
Chandrika Kumaratunga, who stepped into the crest of her political career, handed over her book at the function to the Opposition and the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. A participant at the event said that his memory went back to late Kumaratunga’s final address at Campbell Park on January 28, 1988 where he lashed out at the UNP, SLFP and the JVP for failing to address the very visible social issues. Further, he had also once mentioned that he never wish to die while acting with an actress in a movie, but by a gun shot of a thug backed by the UNP or the JVP.

However, in her book about Wijaya, she sketches all her memories and a handful of facts about her loving husband. “His exceptional good looks, remarkable humaneness, his sharp intelligence together with his oratorical skills and deep, mellifluous voice, as well as his warm generous personality gave him a charisma, unparalleled by any other political leader or actor in Sri Lanka,” she has gone through the memory line. She also reminds of Wijaya’s vision for a United Lanka in which equality and justice would reign supreme.

She also speaks on politics just before releasing her autobiography which she announced a few weeks ago. She says that Wijaya’s time was one of the most shameful periods of the country with introduction of executive presidency with dictatorial powers. She also just reminds of victimization of democratic political opponents and the racial violence that took place in 1983. She had also left us a question “Was Wijaya attempting to swim against the current?”

Gone with the wind
Former National Savings Bank (NSB), Chairman Pradeepa Kariyawasam, who is the husband of impeached chief justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake was granted bail by the Colombo Chief Magistrate Rashmi Singappuli  and released on two personal bails of Rupees 10 million each. Kariyawasam was charged over acquiring over 7.86 million shares of The Finance Company for over Rupees 391million. The NSB had purchased 13.02 percent stake of The Finance Company at Rupees 49.74 a share when the market price was around Rs.30-31 a share.

The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption filed legal action against him for alleged corruption in the above transaction and causing loses to the bank. Meanwhile, the courts also permitted the Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) Suhada Gamlath to amend the charge sheet against the former NSB Chairman, while the DSG informed the courts that the Commission had found some additional offences alleged to have been committed by the suspect.
However, the courts by allowing to amend the charge sheet against Kariyawasam, had shown the red light to the former Army Commander Fonseka lead Democratic Party (DP). They expected a  positive turnout of the case and had plans to have  steady discussions with Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake to get her direct assistance to the party at an election in the near future.  The courts also ordered Kariyawasam to surrender his passport postponing the case till April 26.

Halal ‘Not a big issue’    
Bodu Bala Sena, a recently formed Buddhist organization has given an ultimatum to remove the Halal symbol from the products in the market until March 31 and the organization has also pledged to completely remove Halal certification by the end of year. The issue shook the whole country and it was discussed even at the Cabinet meeting of the ministers lead by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa recently. Ministers Champika Ranawaka and Dinesh Gunawardene stood with the idea of streamlining the Halal certification process and the President had to cool down the meeting saying that “they had to look for a feasible way to sort out the issue instead of going for communal or religious conflict in the country”.

All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU),the Muslim clerics’ organization which issues the certificate initially kept silent and later tried to show the process has no ‘any big issue’ to worry other religions as it is only a matter with the Muslims. Their suggestion was having it two ways as Halal and non-Halal products and limiting the sale of Halal products to only Muslim consumers. However, Bodu Bala Sena and several others began to question the legitimacy of the ACJU to issue such certificates. ACJU last week, announced that they are ready to withdraw from issuing of Halal certificates if the government takes the responsibility.
The ACJU Head M.I.M. Rizvi Mufti requested the government to create a methodology to issue the Halal certificate as done by governments of countries like Singapore and Thailand asserting that they will be overseeing the process behind. They also added they would continue issuing the Halal certificate until such mechanism is created by the government.

However, Media Minister Rambukwella speaking on behalf of the government refused to take over the responsibility of the Halal certificate. He categorically mentioned “no way”. ACJU commenting on that said the government still needs to intervene to provide a solution to the issue preventing any tense situation between the Sinhalese and Muslims. Any report or a proposal from the ministerial committee by the President to look into the growing religious tensions is yet to be released.
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