8th April 2001
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Go-ahead for Stassens case

A variation on the stay order which had restricted the conducting of a Customs Department inquiry into the alleged multi-million rupee import fraud of the Stassens group was granted by the Court of Appeal last week, enabling the evidence of three more witnesses to be led. 

Justice Upali de Z Gunewardene granted a variation on the original stay order of July 17, 1998. In terms of the variation the prosecution will be entitled to lead the evidence of Assistant Superintendent of Customs R.M.R.D. Ratnayake, Assistant Director of Customs J.H. Kodikara and Assistant Preventive Officer S.P. Perera. 

However it was ordered that the prosecution will not be entitled to lead fresh evidence obtained after the date of commencement of the inquiry, being held before the inquiring officer and Director of Customs P.D.K. Fernando.

The Customs Department is inquiring into an alleged under invoicing of foodstuffs including cooking chocolate, sausages and cheese, imported by the Stassen group of companies. 

Customs officials seized more than 40 files allegedly containing incriminating evidence when in September 1997 it raided Stassen House, a conglomerate headed by Harry Stassen Jayawardene. 

In July 1998 Stassen filed a writ application and obtained a stay order bringing the Customs probe to a halt. The stay order was varied from time to time enabling the Customs to lead the evidence of three witnesses involved in the raid. The case initiated by Harry Jayawardene, V.P. Vittachi, C.R. Jansz, K. Ramanathan, J.V.M. Dabrera and Raja Mendis has been fixed for argument on July 16, until which date the varied stay order has been extended. 

Right of reply

In response to The Sunday Times story headlined 'Auditor General's report on shocking losses of CEB' (March 25, 2001), the CEB's Deputy General Manager W. J. L. S. Fernando says:

"Feasibility studies are an integral part of any major project. Feasibility studies are conducted to minimise project cost and identify strengths and weaknesses of the project. All projects require a feasibility study to obtain approval for implementation and to obtain funds for implementation.

"In the case of the Upper Kotmale Hydropower Project, the CEB was duly granted approval by the Ministry of Irrigation and Power - the then Project Approving Agency in 1993. However, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) did not concur with this decision on the grounds that the alternatives were not studied sufficiently. 

In 1995, the CEA made an appeal to the Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, Environment and Women's Affairs, which advised the CEB to conduct more studies on the alternatives to the UKHP project.

"As a result the CEB conducted further studies of the alternatives including the proposed Oxford Option and amended the 1993 study to include the new data in 1996. 

However, the CEA purported to consider the new study and thereafter made an order adverse to the CEB.

"The CEB made an appeal to the Secretary to the Ministry of Forestry and Environment, which granted approval to the project after considering the new study.

"At present, the project has obtained all relevant approval and is awaiting implementation. The UKHP project will add 150 MW of electricity to the national grid once completed. It is one of the last major projects undertaken to develop the country's indigenous power sources."

Reporter's Note.

The news item was based on the Auditor General's observation. Therefore, the question arises as to why this explanation was not given to the Auditor General when the CEB 1997 accounts were being audited. Mr. Fernando's reply indicates that there has been a delay in the project getting off the ground.

The CEB in its reply has responded only to one particular issue and completely ignored a series of other observations made by the Auditor General. 

Tiger, tiger: alarms for Ranil

The UNP is checking whether reports of an alleged plot to kill party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe were a false alarm planted by some interested elements, party sources said.

Mr. Wickremesinghe was to visit Anuradhapura over the weekend for public rallies and meetings with farmers but this was cancelled following the media reports and a vague reference made by Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte in parliament. 

The reports said the head of the Terrorism Investigation Division had told the National Security Council about the threat to Mr. Wickremesinghe's life. But TID chief Sirisena Herath told The Sunday Times he had made no such statement to the NSC.

Minister Ratwatte, responding to questions on the media reports, said a woman LTTE cadre arrested in Trincomalee had spoken of a plot to kill 'Ranil'. 

According to highly-placed security sources, the 'Ranil' has been positively identified as the leader of the opposition (please see Situation Report on Page 9). 

UNP sources said the party was now checking on where the report came from and why it was publicised.

People awake to temple rubble

By Nilika de Silva
It was pre dawn on Wednesday. The backhoe moved in menacingly with a backup of about 500 policemen who fired shots into the air forcing residents to stay indoors. The demolition of the Bodhi-rajaramaya in Punchi Borella had begun.

"First the temple bell was dismantled, to prevent the people being alerted to the destr-uction," Padmini Wije-ratne a resident of the area said.

"Some people wept when they saw the destruction," another resident said. The foundation stone to the Bodhirajaramaya in Punchi Borella had been laid in 1922 when the Prince of Wales came to Sri Lanka. 

The Bo sapling had been planted prior to this by Ven. Migett-uwatte Gunananda as a symbol of protest against the British rule.

Many people including Buddhist monks flocked to the scene from dawn onwards.

Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera who charged that the Prime Minister appeared to be more concerned with buying the rubble of what was once the Bhamiyan statues said,"Me thiyenne keli," pointing out to the debris of what was once the shrine room.

The Mahanayake of the Amarapura Nikaya, Ven. Madihe Pannas-eeha was also present to calm the people. The Buddha statue, the temple bell, the karanduwa and the dolosmahe pahana had been taken to the Urban Development Authority. "This move was taken as a precaution, otherwise the enraged people might have damaged it and put the blame on us," Mrs. W.D.S. Indrasiri Director Development Regulations of the Urban Development Authority said. 

Meanwhile, politicians of all hues including Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, UNP MP Ravi Karun-anayake, JVP MP Wimal Weerawansa, Ministers Dinesh Gunawardene and Mahinda Rajapakse were also present.

Posters that had come up in the vicinity read," "Maliga Thanai, Pansal Kadai" (They build palaces and destroy temples).

Meanwhile the MP for the area Bharatha Lakshman Premach-andra who said he regretted that none had informed him of the planned demolition said reconstruction work would be completed within a month.

I only defended the temple

Piyadasa Samarawickrema the man who has been accused of carrying on a forged passport racket within the temple precincts by Minister Mangala Samaraweera, says he received death threats warning him not to interfere in the affairs of the Punchi Borella temple. He said the charges against him were unfounded. A Birth and Marriage Registrar, Mr. Samarawickrema who had been taken in on September 2,1998 on suspicion of his involvement with a man who possessed a forged passport had been released on bail, and later cleared of the charges on July 25, last year. "I spoke up against the demolition of the temple, so now they are targeting me," Mr. Samarawickrema charged. Explaining that he has no close connection with the Bodhirajaram-aya Mr. Samarawickrema said, "I am not a member of the Bodhi arakshaka mandalaya, or an official". On Friday the allegations against Mr. Samarawickrema were brought up in parliament, and MP M.H. Mohamad tabled a document exonerating him of having committed forgery. 

Rape or not: CID seeks new medical report

The CID has obtained permission from the Mannar Magistrate's courts to take two women who were allegedly raped by security forces personnel to Colombo for a thorough medical examination after earlier reports showed several contradictions. Magistrate M. H. M. Ameen granted permission to remove the two women suspects from the Anuradhapura prison to Colombo after the CID told him that the medical reports submitted by Mannar's District Medical Officer contained contradictory details, though they pointed to rape. 

Naval personnel arrested the two women who were staying at a lodge in Mannar on March 19. One woman was allegedly raped by a group of Navy personnel inside a van, before being handed over to the Police while the other woman had been allegedly raped by a group of policemen inside the Police Special Investigative Unit in Mannar.

However, Navy spokesman A. R. Amarasinghe denied the allegation that Navy personnel were involved in the alleged crime. 

The issue came to light after family members of the women had complained to Human Rights Commission (HRC)through the Red Cross and Mannar's Bishop Rayappu Joseph. The HRC's Mannar branch sent a report to Colombo on the initial investigations.

HRC Chairman Faiz Musthapha told The Sunday Times that President Chandrika Kumaratunga had ordered them to carry out a full investigation.

Hameed the trouble-shooter remembered

The 74th Birth Anniversary of former Minister A.C.S. Hameed, falls on April 10. 

Mr. Hameed, who entered national politics in March 1960, held the longest unbroken parliamentary record of any member in Sri Lankan politics, representing the Akurana/Harispattuwa for 40 years winning the seat in eight consecutive elections.

He was made Sri Lanka's first Foreign Minister in 1977, a post he held for 12 years. Later he held the portfolios Justice and Higher Education in 1989 and again Foreign Affairs in 1993.

Having played an active role in the formation of the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC), he also served on the United Nations Advisory Board on Disarmament studies for ten years. 

At home, he was engaged in negotiations with the LTTE for 14 months and is the only Sri Lankan politician who had the opportunity of meeting LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran twice. 

A key player in peace negotiations, Mr. Hameed's published works include The Pursuit of Peace, Disarmament; A Multilateral Approach, Foreign Policy Perspectives of Sri Lanka; The Owl and The Lotus and The Spring of Love and Mercy. 


From snail pace to e-mail
Minister of Public Affairs Richard Pathirana last week admitted that work in the ministry is carried out at snail pace. The Minister claims that it takes close to two weeks for a letter to reach the seventh floor from the second floor. Thus in order to get things moving, E -mail facilities are to be introduced to each department.
Happy b'day P.M.
So the PM turns 68 on April 11, which coincides with the last day of Parliament before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. The PM will definitely have a long holiday which will no doubt add to his B'day celebrations.
Boo, hoo, is this the Parliament?
Two weeks back some school children on a trip to the Dehiwela zoo, were brought to Parliament since the zoo was closed. After a heated argument between the MP's the kids were heard saying,"It would have been better if we went to see the animals in the Zoo." Last Thursday another group of school kids from the south who were brought on a trip to specially view parliament proceedings really thought they were inside the zoo. An argument between MP Abdul Cader and Deputy Minister Mahindananda Alutgamage which went beyond the exchange of 'normal' words saw several kids running out of the gallery shouting out "Yammu, yammu". This created pandemonium with the police unit attached to the gallery trying to calm the kids. But there was no way to stop the kids who were weeping in fear and shock.
Coal for Poland; why not here?
The Deputy Minister of Power Felix Perera used a shallow example last week in Parliament during his speech on the power and energy ministry Vote, to show the importance of constructing the Coal Power plant in Norochcholai. When the objection of the Catholic church was brought up during the debate the deputy minister asked if Poland , the birth place of the Pope could use Coal power why shouldn't Sri Lanka?
Oh, la, la, the House goes French
Sinhala, Tamil and English are not the only languages that are used in Parliament these days, Oh la! la! a French touch too has crept into the House. Last week Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Harendra Corea gave a two minute speech in French, which left the members baffled and tapping their fingers on the table. The Deputy Minister may have thought he was addressing the French Parliament. The Deputy Minister read out the compliments and praises the French education minister had apparently showered on President Kumaratunga during a banquet.
What about Punchi Borella rubble?
Even after the UDA demolished the historical Buddhu Geya at Punchi Borella, the Government was still harping on the Bamiyan Buddha statues which were destroyed by the Taleban regime. The Prime Minister oblivious to the Punchi Borella demolition keeps saying, " We want to know what is left of the ruins, and also what has happened to the artefacts in the museum. So that we can buy them." Maybe the PM did not hear what Ven. Maduluaawe Sobitha Thera said on Wednesday after the demolition, 'Me thiyanne keli' referring to the destroyed wall of the Buddhu Geya.

CPJ seeks Presidential focus on Nimalarajan probe

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists has written to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, expressing concern over lack of progress in the investigation into the killing of Jaffna journalist Mylv-aganam Nimalarajan.

Ann Cooper, Executive Director of CPJ, said in the letter that the committee had information that the attack might have come in reprisal for his reporting on vote-rigging and intimidation in Jaffna during the recent parliamentary elections. 'As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ is deeply disturbed by the apparent lack of progress in the investigation into the assassination of an esteemed colleague," the letter said.


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