Political Column  

Being upto the minute for peace
By Our Political Editor
What's in a Cabinet minute? A lot, if we are to go by the spat that followed the President saying that she wants the July 9th Cabinet minutes re-done.

She wanted it noted in the said Cabinet minute that the Minister of Constitutional Affairs Professor G. L. Peiris did no want the Interim Administration proposals sent to the LTTE discussed.

The President's office say now: "It is now clear the Note tabled by the President at the Cabinet meeting on the 9th of July has not been correctly recorded by the Cabinet Secretary. In the Draft Minutes of that meeting it has merely been recorded that 'its contents were noted'' referring to the President's Note to Cabinet.

The President has now written to the Cabinet Secretary reminding him of the discussion that ensued after the said Note was tabled by her at the 9th July Cabinet Meeting. She has directed the Cabinet Secretary to record the relevant discussion as follows:

"In response to the recommendation made in this Note by Her Excellency the President, the Hon. Prime Minister and Hon. (Prof) G. L. Peiris, Minister of Constitutional Affairs, stated that the proposal on the interim administration will be only a general framework and that it was not possible to discuss this at the Cabinet. They were awaiting the LTTE response to the proposal after which, a detailed proposal will be worked out. At that point, they agreed to discuss this with the President and the Cabinet. Her Excellency requested that even the general framework be discussed at the Cabinet. Hon. Peiris said that this was not possible."

The President has directed the Cabinet Secretary to correct the relevant portion of the Minutes and submit it to her for signature."

What the President basically says now is that her suggestion made at the Cabinet meeting on the 9th of July that the General Framework of the Interim Administration proposals be discussed, was rejected by Professor Peiris saying it is "not possible.'' Now, on the 29th of July, she says that these Cabinet minutes must be re-written, for her to place her signature, and re-written to say specifically that Hon Peiris said it was "not possible'' to discuss the framework for the Interim Administration proposals.

But Minister Peiris says that the President agreed last week to a compromise to alter the minutes to say that Minister Peiris said (on the 9th of July) that "it will not be useful to discuss the Interim administration proposals.'' "It will not be useful' of course is different from saying ''I refuse to discuss the Interim administration proposals.''

The President's office at the time of going to press still says that the President wanted the minutes changed to say 'the Minister refused to discuss'' as in dark type above.

But Minister G. L. Peiris says there indeed was a softening of the President's attitude wherein she finally agreed to alter the minutes to say "the Minister said it will not be useful to discuss the Interim Administration proposals.'' How exactly the Cabinet Secretary will alter the minutes, of course, remains to be seen.

Of course there are some questions lingering, even ignoring the technicality of what is sought to be changed. Why did the President for instance procrastinate over a month to alter the minutes of July 9th?

It is the President's Cabinet Affairs Advisor former Cabinet Secretary Dharmasiri Wijesinghe who pointed out to the President that the Cabinet minutes should be changed, so that they should bear out the correct position regarding her stand at the July 9th Cabinet briefing. It is obvious that he made the new draft note asking for the change, because the President refers to herself as 'Her Excellency 'in this new directive to the Cabinet Secretary, Would she refer to herself as 'Her Excellency?' Not likely, unless somebody else drafted the letter and she put her signature to it.

Of course it doesn't matter who drafted it as long as she agreed with the content of it. Professor Peiris however thinks that the matter is not confrontational - - and that the President agreed to say (this week) that Professor Peiris has thought it 'not useful'' to discuss the Interim Administration matter. How the Cabinet Secretary finally alters the minutes is the million dollar question.

In the matter of Cabinet minutes, the President is almost in the nick of time, because there is time to change the Cabinet minutes even though its long since the date the minutes were recorded.

But all this according to Minister Peiris is not indicative of the new attitude, in Track 2 of the peace process.

Track 2
He says for example that athletes from all provinces including the North and the East participated when he gave away awards at a ceremony last week held after an event at which national athletes were to be picked to compete internationally. He says also for instance that the presence of PA Provincial Council Minister H. G. Sirisena at a ceremony in Galle to launch a cement company indicates that there is a new political rapprochement - a new politics that's not confrontational. He says H. G. Sirisena in his speech endorsed his sentiments, indicating that whatever happens in the peace process and the Track 1 negotiations, the Track 2 of forging cordial relations between all parties and stakeholders in the peace process is progressing well.

What is the picture, however for Track 1 itself?

European capital
The LTTE is considering the government proposals, and a team of lawyers that include Dr Sonrajah of the Singapore National University, Mr Ramaswamy of the Kuala Lampur University, Mr Rudrakumaran, Attorney at Law based in the US (who was part of the LTTE delegation for the talks) and Mr V. T. Thamilmaran of the Colombo University Law Faculty will meet in a European capital to discuss the legal aspects of the government's Interim (provisional) administration proposals made to the LTTE.

While Track 1 and Track 2 are seen to be undergoing this period of resolving itself, the government seems to have resolved to attend to some other matters in the process.

The Prime Minister for instance hosted two dinners for his parliamentary group, and for his Ministers (of Cabinet and non cabinet rank) at Temple Trees last week.

These gatherings were with a view to resolving any intra party differences, and ironing out any rough edges in relationships between his parliamentary flock. He attended to some pressing issues that are distinctly non-peace process issues. For instance he told Ministers Rajitha Senaratne to expedite the issuing of deeds for land grants, and this, according to the speculation, is in view of a possible election for which the party needs to be in readiness.

But also, Finance Minister Choksy said at this dinner that the "Treasury is a problem'', and that the Treasury cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the government's best intentioned economic efforts.

This came in for instant applause from the likes of Rajitha Senratne and Ravi Karunanayake - - the latter saying that for a Minister who didn't have a direct financial background to acknowledge this reality 'was a sign of real encouragement.''

Treasury issues also came up for discussion at a meeting which followed the Cabinet meeting which was held at Minister Ravi Karunanayake's Kotte residence. Ministers S B Dissanayake, Ravi Karunanayake of course, and Rajitha Senaratne were present along with UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickreme, and it was decided, after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe joined this pow-wow that progress needs to be made on the Treasury issue, with a view to ensuring that the Treasury is an asset to government policy and not a hindrance.

Consensual politics
In the light of all this the issue to be considered is perhaps whether there is some kind of real and genuine political softening of positions (rapprochement or détente) between the two major political formations in the South, the UNF and the PA?

Cabinet minutes issues and the fact that the Cabinet rejected the President's call for a repeal of contemplated Tax legislation and Intellectual Property Legislation does not indicate that the UNF is not trying for consensual politics, according to insiders. A political analyst with his ears to the ground says that it is upto the ruling party (the ruling class he said ) to try and to try again and again to bring about this kind of political cooperation. "The Sri Lankan ruling class had been unable to do so,'' he says, and adds that this inability of the ruling class to grasp these realities has always stood in the way of a solution to the national question.But rhetoric apart, the UNF has made according to the best of information at hand, at least some attempt to secure the cooperation of the President and her party. Despite the Cabinet flap and the so called 'refusal to discuss the Interim Administration initiatives'' the Prime Minister for instance suggested at this Cabinet meeting that the President should suggest her alternatives to the Interim Administration proposals which will then be included in the officials draft of proposals.

On acting the goat
Do actors have to act and act the goat too, and do television people have to act out their fantasies?

In this country, there is a thin line between acting and politics, and politicking and hogging the screen - whether it is the large screen or the small.

This writer was present at a reception hosted last week by the President when Sri Lankan cinema icon Lester James Peiris was feted by the President for winning the Fredrico Fellini UNESCO gold medal for his contribution to the Arts. It was all cosy, though rather star-studded, and the President was circulating about, talking to the Leader of the Opposition and other potentates.

While sipping some wine and listening to the music provided by the excellent band made available for the occasion, this writer heard a mini commotion, and some ladies saying ''minissu ketha weda karanawa.'' ("People do the dirty on others, no?'')

The cause of the commotion, it was later learnt, was when the President asked Jayantha Dharmadasa, the current Chairman of the Film corporation about arrangements for a certain cinema occasion to be held in April. Sanath Gunatilleke former Presidential Media Advisor, and movie star with a vengeance, butted in to say that 'by April the film Corporation will not exist.''

Thereafter the exchange between Gunatilleke and Dharmadasa escalated into a shouting match, and almost came to an exchange of blows before Gunatilleke said he is ordering Dharmadasa "to get out.'' Not being the host, he must have been entertaining fantasies that he is in fact the President.

But other government potentates are also doing their number in the small screen. Rupavahini aired a programme in which persons dressed-up to look like the President and the JVP leader Tilvin Silva sat together for a ''peduru party.''

This 'peduru party'' is to the accompaniment of various racy Sinhala numbers of a suggestive nature.

This is a sequel to the Rupavahini episode which made LTTE leader Prabhakaran look like a folk hero.

Television should not be averse to satire or to a suggestive skit, but when it could be construed to canonise Prabhakaran, or for purposes of placing the leader of one party in a poor light, (while sparing leaders of the government party) it shows the sort of cockiness that actors and others display. The President's office has decided to ask Rupavahini for the tapes of the programme.


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