The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 5

The Nation Sunday, June 29, 2014 Page 5
politics
From the Floor
Sandun Jayawardana
T
hose who are eagerly bashing Sinhala
Buddhists as ‘racist terrorists’ are con-
veniently ignoring the rise of Muslim
fundamentalismwithin the country, Minister
of TechnologyandResearchPatali Champika
Ranawaka said.
Speaking to
The Nation
in the aftermath of
the Aluthgama and Beruwala violence, the
minister, who is also the General Secretary
of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), said it
was unfortunate that the media, particularly
the English language media and citizen jour-
nalists on social media, had taken it upon
themselves to provide ‘fabricated stories’ to
the world regarding the violent incidents that
took place recently.
“The events that led up to the violence was
distorted by some Muslim politicians, reli-
gious leaders, NGOs andmedia institutions to
make it seemas if thiswas awell-coordinated
attack against the Muslim community, which
is nothing short of a blatant lie,” he said.
He claimed
The Nation
itself was guilty of
reporting ‘misinformation’ that made it seem
as if Sinhala Buddhists were the aggressors
and Muslims were innocent victims, when
the opposite was true.
However, the minister admitted the unoffi-
cial ‘news blackout’ the Government had al-
legedly attempted to impose on mainstream
media with regard to reporting the violence,
had backfired spectacularly, causing enor-
mous harm to the country’s image overseas.
“This is the age of social media, of citizen
journalism. Nearly everyone has a mobile
phone. Around 18 million people are on
Face-
book
. Information gets out fast. By withhold-
ing information, the Government opened the
door for so many rumors to float around and
the truth got suppressed,” he said.
Ranawaka claimed the sequence of events
began with the ‘assault’ on the Chief Incum-
bent of the Pathiragoda temple, Venerable
Ayagama Samitha Thera by three Muslim
youths on June 12 (Poson Poya Day).
“The Thera and his driver were assaulted
by theyouths. Thesemenwerestill at the loca-
tion when Police eventually arrived. Though
the Thera pointed out the youths to Police,
they were not arrested. Instead, officers took
the Thera to the Aluthgama Police Station.
This was at 3.00 pm. From then until 7.30 pm,
he was kept at the station without recording
a statement, taking him to hospital or arrest-
ing the suspects. At this point, the Thera had
stated he was prepared to let the matter rest
without going to court if the three youths
involved apologized for their behavior. How-
ever, instead of arresting the culprits, police
then started calling Muslim businessmen in
the area in attempt to convince them to ‘hand
over’ the suspects”.
Ranawaka said it was at this point that vil-
lagers, after hearing that the assaulted monk
was being kept at the police station while
the culprits were roaming free, assembled
and protested. “Sadly, in Aluthgama, the
law works one way for Muslims and another
for the rest, and it was this frustration that
boiled over.”
He claimed the situation was the same in
many Muslimmajority areas.
The monks at the Pathiragoda temple had
faced continued harassment at the hands of
Muslims for a long period, with some resort-
ing to dumping the heads and other discarded
parts of dead cattle on temple premises. Sa-
manera monks at the temple were often sub-
jected to verbal abuse on the roads as they
made their way through Dharga Town, he
alleged.
Relating to the incident that set off the
violence, the JHU Parliamentarian said the
local Sasanarakshaka Bala-Mandalaya had
organized a welcome for Ven. Samitha Thera
when he was released from hospital on June
15. The invitees at the event included mem-
bers from the Bodu Bala Sena, Sinhala Ra-
vaya and other organizations.
Ranawaka admitted there were ‘concerns’
regarding the statements made by certain
individuals during their speeches at this wel-
come. However, while everyone was talking
about this particular meeting, no one talks
about an illegalmeeting that was taking place
at the same time at amosque inDharga Town
where some 3,000 Muslims attended, he al-
leged. “The Muslims gathered there after ru-
mors were deliberately spread that Buddhists
were going to attack the area.”
Eventually, the participants at the Aluth-
gama rally went in procession to the temple
with the monk when they were attacked near
the Aluthgama Mosque and in Dharga Town,
he insisted.
During the subsequent unrest in front of
the Mosque, a Buddhist monk, Ven. Magal-
kande Sudamma was hit on the head with
a pole by some Muslims, resulting in him
falling unconscious on the road. Eventually,
some men were able to remove the injured
Thera fromthe scenewhilehewas still uncon-
scious. “Thereafter, a rumor spread that the
Thera was killed. Buddhists attackedMuslim
owned shops and looted them. Houses were
also attacked. Muslims also did the same to
Buddhist owned shops and houses.”
Ranawaka said evenhewasmade to believe
a monk had been killed until he visited Kalu-
tara and saw the monk for himself. “Thereaf-
ter, we immediately held a press conference to
assure everyone that no monk was killed.”
However, in the ensuing aftermath, most
chose not to speak about the devastation in-
flicted on Buddhists in the area. “I went to
Welipenna and saw with my own eyes the
damage”.
Despite the situation being brought under
control, Muslims then chose to hold a Hartal
not on one, but two days around the country
over the incident, which Ranawaka termed a
‘grave provocation’ designed to enrage Bud-
dhists. “This was clearly a trap to provoke
Buddhists. It was what Hakeem, Bathiudeen
and others wanted. They wanted the entire
country to burn, but it didn’t happen”.
When questioned whether Muslims did
not have a right to hold Hartals the minister
said while they had the right to hold peace-
ful protests, Muslims had no right to force a
Hartal on the country. “They forced people
to shut down shops. They even tried to force
Tamil-owned businesses to join. They cannot
do that”.
Ranawaka also termed Muslim religious
organizations such as the All Ceylon Jami-
yathul Ulema (ACJU) and the Shoora Coun-
cil ‘shadowy organizations’ whose motives
remained suspect. “Can even Muslims name
five high-ranking members of the ACJU?
The rest of the country didn’t even know
such an organization existed until the Halal
issue surfaced.”
He said it was unfortunate that Muslim
leaders had forgotten that it was the Sinhala
Buddhists who fought for the rights of Mus-
lims and protected them for centuries.
“In 1627, when the Portuguese were try-
ing to evict Muslims from the country, it was
the Sinhalese who protected them. When the
LTTE evicted Muslims from the North, they
came to places like Puttalam and Kantale.
Did the Sinhalese tell them to get lost? It was
Buddhist monks who fought for the rights of
Muslim women to get the vote and for Mus-
lim girls to be educated. Have they forgotten
all this?”
Ranawaka also asked people to imagine if
the situation was reversed, and the country’s
population was 70 percent Muslim and 9 per-
cent SinhalaBuddhists. “WouldBuddhists be
given the same freedom of religion that Mus-
lims enjoy now?”
He claimed Muslims need to be more con-
cerned about the ‘enemy within’. There are
Muslim extremists who were trying to en-
force ‘social separatism’ on the Muslims and
alienate them from the rest of the country, he
alleged. There is a legitimate fear that Mus-
lims, while doing so, were taking over towns
and cities. “This fear is not limited to Sri
Lanka. It’s present in Russia, China, Europe
and the United States. People here are mostly
afraid to talk about it, but it’s there”.
Ranawaka pointed out the recent arrest of
Sri Lankan-born Zakir Hussain for terror-
ism charges in India. “Hussain has ties to the
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and even Al Qaeda.
Intelligence agencies have revealed that both
these organizations and even the Taliban are
active in Sri Lanka. He is one among many
such extremists here”.
The Nation
queried whether the minister
was endorsing comments made by Ven. Ga-
lagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera in Aluth-
gama, where among other things, he called
on monks to exercise ‘jungle law’.
“We do not condone any hateful state-
ments or ones calling on people to take
the law onto their own hands. This applies
whether it is coming fromGnanasaraThera,
or even one of our own JHU members. But
people need to understand that the public
tends to take the law onto their own hands
when the law either chooses to standby or is
lethargic in taking action”.
He called on Muslims to not be misled by
rumors and said despite statements made
by some individuals, there was no ‘Bud-
dhist terrorism’ being directed at their com-
munity.
As one could not and should not negotiate
with extremists who want to take the coun-
try and the world back to the 7th century,
Ranawaka appealed to moderates among
the Muslim community to hold ‘sincere dis-
cussions’ on how to resolve problems.
When asked if the Government was now
moving in the right direction in attempting
to solve these issues post-Aluthgama, Ran-
awaka said much more needed to be done.
“The President has promised an inquiry.
We urge him to expedite it. Investigations
into other related incidents, such as the
Panadura Nolimit fire and the one involv-
ing Ven. Watareka Vijitha Thera also need to
be expedited as delays will only give rise to
wild speculations. However, the best way for
any issue to be solved is through face-to-face
discussions. If Muslims were able to meet
Buddhists and discuss issues face-to-face and
apologize for any wrongdoing on their part,
and if Buddhists did the same, these matters
can always be solved. We need tomove in that
direction,” he added.
Would you agree if somebody tells
you that our Parliamentarians (yes, they
are ours for we elected them in the last
election. Didn’t we?) are a bunch of free-
wheeling, freeloading fraudsters? I don’t,
because our MPs are not freewheeling
although they may take us for a ride in the
guise of making law. And they are certainly
not freeloading though they may get their
snouts in the trough. The most recent ex-
ample for this is the attempt by the MPs to
get their fuel allowance increased. Though
this had not been discussed openly yet, the
matter had come up intermittently at the
Party Leaders’ meetings held during the
past two months.
The issue was first brought up by Leader
of the House, Irrigation Minister Nimal Sirip-
ala de Silva during the party leaders’ meet-
ing held at the Chamber of the Speaker on
May 7. Minister De Silva stated that the
fuel allowance currently paid to MPs was
inadequate and proposed that it should be
revised considering the difficulties faced
in today’s context in performing their du-
ties as Members of Parliament. Currently
each member is paid a monthly allowance
based on distance from Colombo to the
electoral district represented, for example,
an MP from the Gampaha district would
be entitled to Rs 25,000 fuel allowance for
a month. The MPs coming from the East-
ern and Northern Provinces would get the
highest fuel allowances. For the deputy
ministers and ministers, in addition to this
fuel allowance, there are ministry vehicles
at their service. This allowance has been
deemed insufficient when it is taken out of
the list titled ‘Indemnities, facilities and ser-
vices.’ The full list is as follows: Diplomatic
passport, Basic salary: Rs. 265,000 per an-
num (Minister: 357,780, Speaker 381,600,
Deputy Speaker: 345,000), Additional al-
lowance: Rs. 500 per sitting, Entertainment
allowance: Rs. 1000 per month, Cell phone
allowance: Rs. 2000 per month, Driver’s
allowance: Rs. 3,500 per month, Total ex-
emption from tax for emoluments drawn as
a Member of Parliament, Pension scheme,
Group Insurance Scheme, and Other facili-
ties: (a) Secretariat (see also Art. 65 of the
Constitution), (b) Assistants, (c) Stationery,
(d) Official housing, (e) Security guards,
(f) Postal and telephone services, and (g)
Travel and transport.
When it comes to pensions, all our mem-
bers who pass five years in Parliament are
entitled to a pension. It is not a contributory
pension scheme. The pension plan also
provides ongoing benefits for Members’ de-
pendents.
There is an office called Members’ Ser-
vice Office in our Parliament. This office is
to provide certain essential amenities such
as telephones, postal facilities, stationary;
accommodation facilities, medical facilities
etc. The Members’ Services Office is geared
to attend to these aspects of the legislators
in general. In addition, this office maintains
a nineteen-roomed Holiday Bungalow
– “General’s House” in Nuwara Eliya exclu-
sively for MPs and their families. In the list of
functions handled by the Members’ Services
office is providing advice and administrative
services in relation to Members’ entitle-
ments, facilities and co-ordinate various
other activities as and when necessary. It
provides official residential telephones to
MPs, stationary on monthly basis, postal
facilities, security lamps and hospital facil-
ities. The other functions are allocation of
houses for MPs from the Madiwela Hous-
ing Scheme, reservation of rooms for MPs
from the General’s House, Nuwara- Eliya,
settlement of official telephone bills of
MPs, settlement of telephone, water, elec-
tricity bills of Madiwela Housing Units, Of-
ficial residence of the Speaker and Gen-
eral’s House, Nuwara-Eliya, co-ordination
of repairs/maintenance work in respect of
Madiwela Housing Units and General’s
House, Nuwara-Eliya with the Co-ordinat-
ing Engineer’s Department, co-ordination
of medical insurance coverage for MPs
with the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs,
co-ordination of supply of office equipment
to MPs through the Ministry of Parliamen-
tary Affairs, settlement of assessments,
taxes pertaining to Madiwela Housing
Scheme, General’s House Nuwara-Eliya,
and the official residence of the Speaker,
and attending to the secretarial duties of
the House Committee (Covering, Ser-
vicing, Keeping minutes and records of
files).
The Madiwela Housing Complex con-
sisting of 120 housing units, each with
a floor area of 900 sq ft. consisting of 3
bedrooms, a pantry, living/dining area,
servant’s toilet and a parking space has
also been available for occupation for MPs
on rent basis and the maintenance of such
house units becomes an important duty of
the Members’ Services Office.
It was recently reported in media that
MPs had complained that the houses
provided to them at the Madiwela Hous-
ing complex were not comfortable enough
and the government was hurrying up build-
ing a super luxury condominium for them
at Thalapathpitiya. To be constructed at a
cost of Rs 6 billion, what is now referred to
as Parliamentary ComCondo, is slated to
include gyms, swimming pools, healthcare
centres, restaurants, playgrounds and en-
tertainment facilities such as a Cineplex
– encompassing multiple facilities to en-
able legislators to serve the country with
vigour and commitment.
The complex is to be constructed at the
speed of lightening to reach completion by
2015.
Getting back to the main issue of the
fuel allowance, we may read the minutes
of party leaders’ meeting held on May 21.
It says that Secretary General of Parlia-
ment Dhammika Dasanayake informed
that a meeting of the House committee
would be convened during the first sitting
week of June to consider the revision of
the fuel allowance paid at present to the
MPs.
The issue of fuel allowance once again
had come up in the party leaders’ meeting
held on June 04. Chief Opposition Whip
John Amaratunga wanted to know the
progress of the plans to increase the fuel
allowance for MPs. Minister Nimal Siripala
de Silva replied that the matter could be
proceeded only if the Opposition agrees to
government’s plan to enhance the insur-
ance benefits for the MPs. He said that
there had been some criticism by certain
MPs regarding the enhancement of in-
surance benefits for the MPs. Proposals
to increase the fuel allowance would not
proceed if there was no agreement on
these issues by both sides of the House.
Both Amaratunga and Kalutara District
UNP MP Ajith P Perera said that the Op-
position was in agreement with these
proposals.
Economic Development Minister Basil
Rajapaksa pointed out that Rs 20 million
has been provided by the Government to
an insurance company to provide an in-
surance cover for the MPs and the value
of the benefits that have actually accrued
to the MPs is only Rs 15 million. He fur-
ther stated that 130 MPs have not utilized
this facility. After this revelation the party
leaders had agreed that these matters be
discussed with the insurance company
concerned and enhanced facilities be ob-
tained for the benefit of the MPs.
MPs demand more ‘fuel’ to serve efficiently
Looking for the truth from
under the rubble
Minister of Technology and Research Patali Champika Ranawaka slams English language media
and ‘citizen’ journalists on social media for fabricating stories about the incidents in Aluthgama
Sri Lankan police officers look on amid shutteredMuslim-owned shops, closed in protest following deadly communal violence, in Colombo
on June 19, 2014. Several hundred Muslim-owned businesses shut down in the Sri Lankan capital on June 19 to protest deadly riots by
extremist Buddhists
(AFP)
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