The Political Column6th May 2000
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in the country has become rampant over the years and now it has come to
a situation where the government, too, stoops towards ignoring judicial
orders. One classic example is last week’s demolition of buildings in Pettah
by the Urban Development Authority.
Occupants of these buildings claimed that UDA officials went ahead with demolition even after it was told to them that the structures had been approved by the Municipal Council and a court order had been obtained to stop the UDA action. But the UDA officials who had come with armed police said they were carrying out ministerial orders.
Last week, Mayor Omar Kamil in letters sent to the UDA and the Police, said UDA had no authority to demolish buildings that came under the purview of the Council.
However, the UDA did pay little heed to the Mayor’s letter. The demolition went ahead despite protests from occupants. On Wednesday, the building and shop owners thronged the municipality to lodge complaints against what they saw as the UDA’s arbitrary action.
Some of these buildings and shops that were razed by UDA bulldozers were previously owned by municipal councillors. Those who bought these shops from the councillors are now asking them to return the money.
The issue at stake is not only the demolition of buildings and the sudden denial of livelihood to a group of people, but also the UDA’s disregard for an order from the judiciary. If a government institution itself violates law, how can we expect ordinary people to be law-abiding citizens?
Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, now galvanised into action-packed roles after a leadership crisis based on allegations of inaction, got the news of demolition around 9 p.m. on Wednesday when he was with a close friend. He immediately telephoned Mayor Kamil, a UNPer, and asked for details on the demolition operations. Mr. Kamil briefed the party leader and said more details could be obtained from Deputy Mayor Christie Perera as he would be leaving the country that night.
Mr. Wickremesinghe then telephoned the party’s legal expert Daya Pelpola to seek his advice on the UDA’s demolition offensive.
Mr. Pelpola told Mr. Wickremesinghe that he was at a meeting where Milinda Moragoda, Imtiaz Bakeer Markar and several others were discussing party reforms.
But Mr. Wickremesinghe’s immediate concern was the demolition that took place at Pettah. He then called Colombo Central parliamentarian Mohamed Mahroof and asked him why he was not informed of the UDA operations. After discussing the matter with Mr. Mahroof, Mr. Wickremesinghe thought of appointing a committee comprising MPs and provincial councillors to challenge the UDA’s arbitrary action. The UNP believes it has a good case in its hands to gain one-upmanship over the government. It is a case involving a government institution that comes under Minister Mangala Samaraweera, and a power in the PA administration. And it will be the UNP-run Colombo Municipality that will be taking the UDA to courts over the demolitions that took place in Pettah.
Pettah demolitions were not the only case where court orders had not been respected by a government institution or people connected to the government. Last Saturday Colombo District Parliamentarian Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra went ahead with a musical show at Mulleriyawa Mental Hospital premises showing no respect for a restraining order issued by the Colombo District Court. The director of the Mental Hospital obtained the court order after repeated appeals to Mr. Premachandra proved futile.
Hospital officials say politicians and their cronies had encroached on hospital land and built a playground, which has become a venue for musical shows and sports festivals. Hospital authorities had pointed out that loud music adversely affected patients who needed to be given injections or shock treatment to keep them calm, but the politicians had apparently shown no concern for the wellbeing of the patients.
But what causes deeper concern is that the government has taken no action against Mr. Premachandra for acting in violation of a court order and causing harm to mental patients. Whether the main opposition UNP will take up this matter as well is not yet known.
In the UNP, things are still not fully normal. The dissident group led by Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya, Assistant Leader Gamini Atukorale and Party Whip W. J. M. Lokubandara has set a two-month timeframe for the party to take democratic measures to topple the government. Mr. Wickremesinghe who is well aware of the situation is making certain adjustments in the party structure. For this, he gave the greenlight to Milinda Moragoda, Imtiaz Bakeer-Markar and several others to prepare a paper on how the reforms should be done. These members remained neutral during last week’s power crisis in the party.
One of the areas they focused on was the structure of the party’s decision-making working committee. To democratise the structure of this apex body, they suggested that the membership should not exceed 60 of which 40 should be elected by the party membership and district organizations. The party leader will have the discretion of appointing only 20 members.
Most of the UNPers think that the authoritative nature of the UNP constitution which vests power in the leadership should be diluted if the party is to progress. According to the necessities of modern times, more democracy and opportunities should be made available for the rank and file to participate in the decision-making process.
Another move by Mr. Wickremesinghe to get the heat off the move to oust him is to back the UNP’s motion to impeach the Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva. There is a clamour for this by some of the UNP members but UNP lawyers have opposed the move. None of the UNP lawyers except for W. J. M. Lokubandara had agreed to sit in a committee which is studying the motion, Last week, Kurunegala district MP Rohitha Bogollagama whose name was mentioned by the party leader as a possible nominee to sit in the committee declined citing personal reasons. Mr. Bogollagama said since Sarath Silva was known to him for a long time when he was a law student, he could not serve on the committee. The reasons were personal to him, he said.
The decision of UNP lawyers not to sit on the committee shows that all’s not well in the Grand Old Party. Though some people argue that the party lawyers took this decision as they have to go before the Chief Justice, others say some allegations contained in the motion are unfounded.
This is the first time in the political history of Sri Lanka that an impeachment motion is to be brought against the Chief Justice. On an earlier occasion during the presidency of J. R. Jayewardene, Chief Justice N. D. M. Samarakoon was taken to task by the UNP government for making certain utterances against the Executive President at a tutory prize giving ceremony. Chief Justice Samarakoon was hauled up before a Select Committee headed by Lalith Athulathmudali, but later the matter was settled. Though Mr. Samarakoon was handpicked by Mr. Jayewardene from the unofficial bar to be the Chief Justice, he maintained dignity and integrity of the judiciary when some of the leftwing newspapers cast aspersions on his credibility.
Today, a similar situation has arisen with regard to Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva. Mr. Silva’s role as the Attorney-General and subsequently as Chief Justice became the subject of discussion by a section of the media. Today, the issue has taken a new dimension with the UNP taking it up as a first step towards defeating the government.
Party politics to sports politics
Central Provincial Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake arranged a meeting of some cricket clubs known to be sympathetic to the Sumathipala camp.
The meeting was held at the Colombo Cricket Club and two cabinet ministers participated while two other ministers excused themselves.
At the meeting, many, including Minister Nandimithra Ekanayake reportedly criticised the interim administration. Mr. Ekanayake, and his ministerial colleague Maithripala Sirisena called for elections to the board. So while Sports Minister Lakshman Kiriella is hitting out on one side, other ministers appear to be bowling googlies from the other.
The two Ministers who did not turn up are also known to be against the dissolution of the board. So we have another situation where the cabinet is divided on cricket.
Meanwhile, it is alleged that the letter delivery register of the Sports Ministry had been altered to indicate that two letters had been sent to the Cricket Board on February 28, instead of one.
The Cricket Board was dissolved on February 28. It is alleged that a Ministry official had asked the private secretary of the Cricket Board official to sign a document in the presence of a JP, stating she had received two letters on February 28.
The private secretary, Shyamala de Silva, signed this document. But she later signed another document withdrawing her earlier statement.
The second document signed by Ms. de Silva in the form of an affidavit states:
1. Shayamala de Silva of No. 6/2, De Mel Lane, Moratuwa, being a Christian do hereby make oath and state as follows:
1. I am the deponent above named.
2. On 1st October 2000, I was appointed secretary to Mr. Mohan de Silva Hony. Secretary of Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka.
3. From April 2001 I am attached to assist, Mrs. Damayanthi Rajapakse, the Finance Director of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka.
4. On 28th March 2001, around 2.35 p.m. a messenger brought a letter from the Ministry of Sports.
5. I signed the delivery book and accepted the letter.
6. On 2nd May 2001 at around 9.20 a.m. the Chief Executive of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, Mr. Anura Tennekoon came to my office and showed me a photocopy of a page off a delivery book and questioned whether the signature in the delivery book was mine.
7. I examined the signature shown to me and affairmed that it was my signature.
8. The Chief Executive went back to his office and a few minutes later, called me to his office.
9. At the time there was another gentleman in the Chief Executive’s office who was introduced to me as Dr. Ramanujam, Secretary, Ministry of Sports.
10. Dr. Ramanujam requested me to give a letter to the effect that on 28.3.2001 I had received two letters from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
11. Dr. Ramanujam informed me that I will have to sign the letter in the presence of a Justice of Peace in the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka. Dr. Ramanujam gave me instructions on the preparation of the letter.
12. I was shown a photocopy of an entry in the delivery book of the ministry, which showed in the entry against my signature that two letters had been delivered. It had the figure 2 and the words ‘two letters’.
I believe the entry in the said photocopy to be genuine and agreed to give the letter as directed by Dr. Ramunujam. I later found that the reference to ‘two letters’ in the said photocopy appeared to have been interpolated.
13. This letter was submitted for the attention of Mr. M. de Silva on his return.
14. The contents of the letter were relating to the non compliance with the Sports Law.
15. Thereafter on the same day (2nd May 2001), having realized that I had in fact not received two letters on 28th March 2001, I contacted Dr. Ramanujam on his mobile telephone No: 077-303916 and requested clarification as to the contents of the second letter, having informed him that I did not receive and accept two letters.
16. He informed me that both letters were concerning the Annual General Meeting of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka.
17. He further informed me that the second letter was copy of a letter addressed to him by the Hon. Minister of Tourism and Sports.
18. At that stage since I was definite that I had not received any such letter, I informed him that I wished to re-draft the letter signed by me.
19. Dr. Ramanujam informed me that he was at the Attorney General’s Office and that he would not forward my letter and he would await for my re-drafted letter.
20. He also informed me that he would send back the letter signed by me in the morning through the Justice of Peace who was at the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka at the time I signed the letter.
21. I awaited the return of the letter but since I did not receive same, I contacted Dr. Ramanujam again, on his mobile phone.
22. Dr. Ramanujam assured me that he will not submit my letter but requested me to contact Mr. Dickie Dunuwila at the Sports Ministry.
23. I contacted Mr. Dunuwila who informed me that he was aware off the fact that a letter had to be returned to me but the Justice of Peace concerned was not in the office.
24. At around 4.30 p.m., the Secretary to the Chief Executive informed me that the Justice of Peace will come in the morning on 3rd May 2001.
25. Thereafter, Dr. Ramanujam called me and informed me to come to the Attorney General’s Office at 9.00 a.m. on 3rd May 2001 for him to collect the letter and hand over same to me.
26. I informed my husband Priyalal de Silva about the letter and I am aware that my husband had called Dr. Ramanujam who had informed him to come to the Attorney General’s Office at 9.00 a.m. on 3rd May to collect the letter.
27. The purpose of this affidavit is that I wish to bring to the notice of the Hon. Attorney General that I was misled and rushed into signing the letter dated 2nd May 2001 stating that I received two letters from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, when as a matter of fact I received only one letter.
Officials of the dissolved board believe that the Ministry wanted to fabricate a case against them on the pretext that they had delivered the order dissolving the BCCSL.
Dr. Ramanujam who was contacted by the Press on Thursday however denied that he obtained the letter from Ms. de Silva by force. He said the letter was read out to her in the presence of a Justice of the Peace and the Chief Executive of the BCCSL Anura Tennakoon. The affidavit was obtained on the instructions of the Attorney General. However, Dr. Ramanujam said the secretary called him later and said she did not want to submit that affidavit. He immediately held back the document and did not submit it to the Attorney-General after the Secretary’s request. “Why should I need to get an affidavit against her wishes. I have it with me and I can return it anytime to her when she wants it”.
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