2nd September 2001
Interviewed by Ranjith Ananda JayasingheQ: You are a strong politician in the PA government and a person who worked closely with the President. However, you have suddenly distanced yourself from the leadership. What is the reason for this ?
A: Having been in the leftist parties, I joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in 1981 along with Vijaya Kumaratunga. Later Vijaya left the party and Anura Bandaranaike came into the party. In 1988 I became the SLFP leader in the Matara district.
Q: Was it Mangala Samaraweera's appointment as Matara district SLFP leader which led to your resentment?
A: In the early 90's there was a leadership struggle between Ms. Kumaratunga and Anura Bandaranaike. A section of the party suggested that Ms. Kumaratunga should be brought into the party. When she returned Anura Bandaranaike joined the UNP.
Q: How does this old story fit into today's situation ?
A: After Minister Mangala Samaraweera became Matara district leader, I obtained more votes than Mr. Samaraweera. But I was made only a deputy minister. Later I helpled the party to win Mahiyangane and Nattandiya electorates proving my efficiency and forcing them to give me a ministership.
Q: In the recent general election due to preferential votes between you and Minister Samaraweera, it is said, were involved in a major confrontation?
A: Mr. Samaraweera complained to the President that I was working to defeat him and created a rift between myself and President Kumaratunga.
Then the President asked me whether I was trying to defeat Mr. Samaraweera. Then all the top leaders in the electorates were ordered to support him.
Q : Are you unhappy with your portfolio?
A: I learned that I was to be given the Buddha Sasana ministry which I would not have accepted. I am not belittling Buddhism. But I was expecting the Port or Housing ministry.
Q: Did you ask for the Fisheries portfolio?
A: That is a lie. Even today I will not ask for that.
Q: Is it true that the government has asked the Bribery or Corruption Commission to probe your activities?
A: I read about it in the newspapers. But such charges will have to be proved. We have no reason to take bribes or stoop to corruption.
Q: What are you campaigning for while being in the PA?
A: We are asking the government to honour the promises. We said the war would be ended and the economic problems would be solved. But the war is continuing and the econmic problems are multiplying.
Q: What prompted you to remember the promises after spending seven years in the government?
A: We don't have a clear-cut program to be adopted after winning an election. This compels us to carry on a struggle within the party.
Q : Are you not rocking the boat?
A: No. If we can't deliver the goods we might have to join the UNP and solve the burning problems.
Q: The JVP has suggested a probationary government. Will it succeed?
A: If we agree to this, the government will collapse with a bang. I was in the JVP and I know a great deal about them. The JVP is either preparing for their third revolution or to seize power by some other means. They target weak governments as they have no people power.
Q: Will parliament be prorogued again on September 7?
A: The President can prorogue parliament but it is not the right thing to do. Therefore if the President is going to prorogue parliament again I cannot agree to that.
Q : Can you criticise the government without violating the collective responsibility of the Cabinet ?
A : The government has taken certain decisions wihout consulting the Cabinet. Therefore violation of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet does not arise.
Q: Minister Sarath Amunugama has said journalists can be bought over with a bottle of arrack. Do you agree with that statement?
A: Attacking the media in that manner is wrong and I don't agree with his views.
Q: Certain ministers and deputy ministers had given undated resignation letters to the President. What impact will they have on the PA govenment?
A: It is wrong to give undated resignation letters. Our loyalty to the party cannot be proved by such stupid acts.
Q: Do you have supporters in the rank and file?
A: There are 11 of us including S. B. Dissanayake, Prof. G. L. Peiris. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and Dallas Alahapperuma. We are not an anti-government group nor traitors.
Q:What is the future of the PA government?
A: The PA government's future will be good only if it works for
national interest. The PA has lost its magnetism. Our vote base has shrunk.
If we are disunited the PA government's future is doomed.
By Faraza FarookThe Food Advisory Committee (FAC) and the sub committee on genetically engineered organisms have expressed disappointment over a Health ministry decision to withhold the controversial ban on Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) from yesterday.
In a last minute decision the GMF ban that stirred much public debate, scientific discussion and media coverage was indefinitely withdrawn yesterday, a media briefing was told.
The Ministry of Health on Thursday decided to withdraw the ban due to intense pressure from the US government and some food importers who were lobbying against it.
"The ministry's decision will reflect badly on us because people will think that we have made wrong decisions," Prof. P.Kandasamy of the FAC said.
"The ministry's decision violates the Food Act under which the FAC is formed. The FAC should advise the minister on all matters relating to the Act," Mr. Kandasamy said.
He said the FAC in a statement in April last year had called for the GMF ban. Since then the FAC had been studying the problem before taking a decision to stop the import, sale and manufacture of GMF this year.
The scheduled May 1 ban was postponed when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) informed that they had not been consulted and that they should be given 60 days notice. However, in a sudden twist of events, the ban was withdrawn instead of being imposed on the re-scheduled date of September 1 reportedly due to increased pressure from the US government and food importers.
Health Ministry secretary Tilak Ranaviraja said the ban had been postponed awaiting a second opinion on the issue and it had not been withdrawn. He said the ministry found the FAC report and recommendations to be unsatisfactory and felt that a second opinion should be made. A committee headed by Colombo University's Professor of Genetics Rohan Jayasekera was appointed last month.
Meanwhile, Environmental Foundation's executive director Hemantha Withanage said a variety of ecological and health concerns had erupted with the new advances made possible by genetic modification. "Genetic Modification can cause risks to the environment and human health including allergic reactions to substances in the food," Mr. Withanage said.
Prof. Tissa Vitharana chairing the sub committee on GMF said many countries had stalled GMF due to health concerns. He said Sri Lanka should have imposed restriction until such time the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released their report.
The US embassy here called for scientific evidence ruling out that GMF posed any serious health hazards and contravened speculative reports that the US was testing this "very risky" technology on the poor populations of developing nations.
Among the 21 products that were to be banned are soya beans, soya flour,
defatted soya flour, soya nuggets/Textured Vegetable Proteins (TVP), soya
milk, soya sauce, other products containing soya bean or its derivatives
as an ingredient, corn / maize, corn flour/ maize flour, other corn / maize
based products, tomato (fresh), tomato puree, tomato paste, tomato ketchup,
tomato sauce, other tomato based products, cheese, potatoes and products
containing potatoes, bakers yeast and brewers yeast, beet sugar and microbiological
starter cultures used in food.
Customs sources said that according to their investigations, the Mercedes Benz was imported by the cricketer for his wife and the colour of the car was also selected by her. They also said that the owners were evading Customs officials and the car had disappeared without a trace. The owners have not surrendered the vehicle despite requests from the Customs Department.
They claimed that four permits had been issued to a hotel down south which in turn had sold three to a finance company, which had paid the necessary fines. The other permit was sold to the cricketer for around Rs. 1.5 million, when duty alone on such a vehicle would be about Rs. 4 million.
Investigations carried out by Customs officials have revealed that the cricketer's wife has no involvement with the hotel and as such is not entitled to the use of this permit.
They allege that pressure has been exerted on them by the politico concerned
not to enforce the law.
By Nilika de SilvaA World Food Programme (WFP) team is expected in the country tomorrow to probe the extent of the drought prior to giving advice on the relief package.
The two member team comprising a nutritionist and vulnerability assessor would visit drought-stricken areas on Tuesday, Colombo's WFP chief Hildegard Tutteinghoff told The Sunday Times.
Foreign ministry sources said the WFP team would visit drought-stricken areas on Tuesday to assess the gravity of the situation. WFP sources said they had made inquiries whether the government could release funds for the purpose.
A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs ministry said many Sri Lankan missions abroad and foreign missions were willing to provide drought relief.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Red Cross this week began to distribute food parcels to the people in drought-stricken areas of Hambantota. With the first phase launched on Friday, 1297 families in the Hambantota district received supplementary food support in the form of a parcel containing 25 kgs. of rice, 20 kgs. of flour, 10 kgs. of dhal and 4 kgs. of sugar for consumption over 1 1/2 months for an average family of five members.
Another 5,500 families in Suriyawewa, Hambantota and Tissamaharama will
also receive the same supplementary food support during the second phase
beginning in the first week of this month. The drought-stricken families
in Hambantota will continue to receive relief assistance from the Red Cross
for the next six months, an official said.
By Shelani de SilvaWith the water levels in main reservoirs dwindling drastically the Ceylon Electricity Board would hire generators from the private sector, an official said.
He said the CEB would invite private companies capable of providing generators of 10 to 50 MGW to supply power to the main grid.
The Sunday Times learns that the CEB is ready to pay Rs. 8 a unit.
However, the CEB had no plans to increase the electricity charges, sources said.
They said the Randenigala reservoir had reached the minimum level where the plant could not be operated. Instead of generating power, the reservoir released water for irrigation purposes.
A CEB official said if there was no rain within the next few days the other reservoirs too would face a similar situation.
He said the gas turbines in the Kotmale reservoir were being used for shorter periods, fearing possible damage due to overuse.
CEB sources said Kotmale generated 2 Ghw of power from a total of 17 Ghw used in the country.
They said at present Kotmale reservoir was able to generate power only for two hours.
An official said most of the reservoirs had reached the minimum level for operating plants.
When the water level reached zero level, there was a likelihood of mud and other residue entering the plants.
He said although the Ambatale reservoir had reached zero level by Friday, it continued to generate power.
Meanwhile, CEB sources said the water levels in the reservoirs had reached below 20%. They said the duration of prevailing power cuts would have to be increased further if there was no rain in the catchment areas.
Meteorology chief N. A. Amaradasa told The Sunday Times one of the reasons for the current situation was the lack of rain from last October .
"We did not receive the expected rainfall from last October. The change in the wind pattern from May to September also contributed to the present condition," he said.
He also said the present weather would prevail till the end of September.
Mr. Amaradasa said the dry whether could lead to thunder storms in mid-September.
He said the country would experience inter-monsoon rains in October and
By Tania FernandoThe number of SriLankan Airlines passengers from Britain — the airlines second largest revenue source after Sri Lanka — has dropped by as much as 75%, and the top management has opted to remain mute on the issue.
UK-based travel agents have written to the airline's big-wigs in Colombo complaining that the sudden introduction of an 29 pound insurance surcharge for those travelling to Colombo has skyrocketed a return ticket by 58 pounds (Rs 7,540), making the price comparatively expensive.
A SriLankan Airlines return ticket costs 526 pounds compared to Gulf Air's 410 pounds and Kuwait Airways 360 pounds.
The agents have said that SriLankan Airlines is discriminating against those disembarking at Colombo, especially Sri Lankans nowadays, as foreigners travelling have dropped to a trickle and passengers transiting via Colombo's airport are exempt from the surcharge.
The airlines' chief executive officer Peter Hill, when contacted for the airlines' response, did not answer our queries but said he would reply only to written queries from journalists.
Nor has the airlines replied the agents' letter which asks for a reduction
of the surcharge pointing out that monthly sales out of UK has come down
from 700,000 pounds to less than 500,000 pounds.
By Shane SeneviratneTwo ministers and a chief minister apologised to Buddhist prelates for not conducting religious observances at the opening ceremony of the National Co-operative Development Institute, Polgolla.
Ministers H. B. Semasinghe and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Central Province Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake apologised to the Buddhist prelates present at the ceremony after one monk voiced his protest. He was supported by the other priests and laymen present.
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