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19th September 1999

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Charming political lady takes merchants for a ride

By Leon Berenger

Some 50 cases of alleged cheating amounting to millions of rupees where a close female relative of a top ruling party politician from the hills is the main suspect, are being probed by the Fraud Bureau.

The middle-aged woman, according to a detective, is currently in remand pending further investigations.

He told The Sunday Times that the woman who used her charm and high political influence to dupe her victims was arrested recently at a plush sea side hotel on the outskirts of the capital.

She had earlier given the slip to some of the most experienced investigators, always managing to escape as police closed in on her.

According to complaints against her, the woman was allegedly involved in various forms of serious fraud that ranged from food consignments and fabrics to expensive jewellery.

Her charm and extravagance duped most of her victims who included several millionaires, police said.

The suspect's modus operandi was simple. First she would patronize a shop or business targeted for a hit and make heavy purchases running into thousands of rupees.

Sometime later she would turn up at the same place and persuade the would-be victim to part with goods worth double her initial purchase, promising payment in a day or two. During such discussions with each of her victims she would always drop a top politician's name over her cellular phone, to make her claims more convincing to the unsuspecting merchant, it is said.

In addition the woman also promised her victims political favours that would enhance their business.

In one case the suspect is alleged to have persuaded a city merchant to part with several lorry loads of foodstuffs, saying it was meant to feed workers employed in a 600 acres tea estate which she claimed to own.

The food consignment never reached the estate or the workers but was instead sold at half the price to other unsuspecting businessmen in the outstations.

A former Army commander was also forced to see red after he rented out his private bungalow to the woman. She had allegedly vanished from the bungalow leaving unpaid about Rs. 80,000 in rent and utility arrears, the police said.

The woman is also under investigation for the alleged cheating of several students. She had taken large sums of money from them with the promise of securing visas to several western countries .

To avoid arrest the woman constantly moved from place to place often booking into five star hotels in the city and suburbs, according to police.

However shortly after the woman's arrest the police were once again called upon to investigate a similar pattern of cheating that was taking place in the city and outstations.

It did not take long for police to nab the suspect, who later turned out to be the woman's son. He was arrested while hiding in the toilet of his grandmother's home. He too is currently in remand pending further investigation.

When the files are finally closed on them the mother and son together, may have amassed close to Rs. 50 million through their illegal operations, one senior policeman said.

Apart from the Fraud Bureau, the CID is also investigating several cases involving the pair, sources said.

Fresh probe sought on elephant's death

By Udena R. Attygalle and Shane Seneviratne

One of the six elephants which entered the Matale town area on August 25, died shortly after being tranquilized by Wild Life officials.

The elephants are believed to have come from the Wasgamuwa National park.

Matale District Secretary Ramya Siriwansa had requested Wild Life Director A.P.A Gunesekera to conduct an inquiry into the incident as villagers in the area had complained that a proper inquiry was not held.

Deputy Minister Monty Gopallawa, too, has asked for an inquiry.

According to Wild Life Deputy Director Nanadana Atapattu, , the 10 foot tall 55 to 60 year old elephant had eight gunshot wounds and three large nails were stuck in its left hind leg.

The animal had been captured and tranquilized by Wild Life officers at Moragahamada on September10.

Dr. Atapattu said after examining the tranquilized animal he found a gunshot injury 1 1/2 feet above the tip of the trunk. He said a wire and gunpowder from a trap gun had penetrated the trunk. Pus had collected causing the trunk to get blocked making it impossible for the animal to breathe from its nose.

"When tranquilized the animal could apparently breathe only from its nose, so an antidote had been given to revive the elephant. But the animal had not survived," he said .

Dr. Atapattu said that a post-mortem had been conducted and it was video-taped

A decision to burn the carcass had been taken as it was on a hillock above a village. It was done with the help of the villagers to ensure that rotting remains did not slide down the hillside, Dr Attapattu said denying the allegation that it had been burnt to hide evidence of mishandling.

The reason for the elephants moving to the Matale town is believed to be the water scarcity due to the severe drought and the lack of grass as cattle farmers had burnt many grasslands in the area.

The elephants are at present reported to be roaming in the Yatawatte area.

Meanwhile the Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust, has in a letter to the Wild Life Director said: "Upto now the Department of Wild Life Conservation has taken only adhoc measures to solve some of the problems that keep growing," referring to the man-beast conflict.

Cabinet column

'We are not bombing civilian targets'

Excerpts from Thursday's cabinet news conference held at the Department of Information.

Q: At Wednesday's Cabinet discussion was there a discussion as to the appointment of a new Chief Justice and was a decision taken?

A: The new Chief Justice has even at this moment taken oaths. He is Sarath Silva.

Q: While Supreme Court Justice Ameer Ismail has been asked to review a petition which queries why Mr.Silva's name should not be struck off the roll of attorneys-at-law, what is your comment on the appointment as Chief Justice of an individual on whom this is focused against?

A:Your question is not relevant. Mr. Sarath Silva has been appointed as Chief Justice of this country. There is nothing more that I need to say.

Q: The ICRC has confirmed that 21 civilians were killed by airforce bombing yesterday in Mullaitivu. Why is the government now bombing civilians? What details do you have on this?

A:We are not bombing any civilians. We have selected bombing targets, that is, LTTE targets which have been identified by several sources in the Wanni area. This was an operation that was conducted by the Sri Lanka Air Force, and the bombing was directed on particularly selected LTTE locations which the LTTE was occupying, which has been confirmed by several sources.

Q: But now it turns out that civilians were actually killed in the operation. They have given names and given the ages also.

A:Yes, but I can't comment on that because our selection of targets were very clear, and we do not select civilian targets for bombing.

Q:Could you have missed the LTTE targets and hit civilian targets by accident?

A: So far we have been very successful and I think this was also successful, but I don't know whether the LTTE has made any other allegations.

Q: But the ICRC confirmed this, so would you say that the ICRC is wrong then? Also the attack had taken place on a market place. Is that an LTTE target, or what?

A : No, the two locations identified were LTTE targets, as I said earlier. Positively identified LTTE targets.

Q :What were the targets?

A : LTTE camps.

Q : Now this is described in Tamil newspapers today as being a market place, that 22 were killed including women and children, 41 injured and 15 shops damaged. So that is obviously a market place then.

A : No, the targets were not the market place. The targets were the general camps in that area.

Q: Could you have made a mistake? Could it be that the air force had missed the target and then bombed the civilians?

A : No, I cannot comment on that.

Q : Will there be an investigation?

A : It is up to the Ministry of Defence and probably the Secretary of Defence will decide once he receives further information.

Q: Brigadier, what action is the Army taking about infiltration of the Army?

A:Infiltration in what sense?

Q:The Minister said there was infiltration of the Army.

A:(Minister Samaraweera ): We were not talking of infiltration into the Army in terms of personnel. What I mentioned was that certain ministers pointed out that there is a certain group within the United National Party which consists of retired police officers and retired Army officers who have been surfacing from time to time even during times of elections who have been assigned to use some of their contacts within the Army and the police. At the same time it was pointed out that the majority in the Army and the police are doing an excellent job today. In fact, Tamil friends of mine are telling me that they are very courteous and civil, and it is only the odd one who is not. In fact, the Brigadier says they receive a lot of letters of commendations and we have to appreciate the monotonous but great task they are doing.

Q: Getting back to the bombing, would you know how many bombing missions you had yesterday, and if they were successful?

A: (Brig Tennakoon) There were two missions.

Q: And were they successful?

A: Yes.

Q : Both the missions?

A: Yes.

Q: Which are the areas?

A: In general areas, Pudukudirippu .

Q: Brigadier, you are using old Kfir planes for this kind of bombing, and even with the advanced planes the Americans are using they are having a problem with accuracy. So what is the secret of the Sri Lankan Air Force's success?

A: No, there is no secret. As you know, we have been launching missions for the last couple of years, and we have been successful.

Q :But even the best airforce in the world is not able to accurately bomb, but you seem to think that...

A: I can only comment on our air force.

Q: Minister, about the appointment of a person as the Chief Justice, the highest judicial office in this country, can you tell me why I can't talk anymore about this with someone on behalf of the government? Why, don't we have a right to ask? The person who is appointed to one of the highest posts in this country is someone involved in immorality.

A: You have a right to ask, but not a right to conduct talks here. There are a lot of questions to answer. That ís all. I also have a right to answer.

Q:But you are not answering.

A. Yes, the right to answer and not answer is both mine.

Q:I am asking a very clear question. How did the government decide to appoint someone who is under investigation and may have his name struck off the attorney-at-law roll as the Chief Justice of this country?

(Minister): Next question.

Journalist: Minister, are you not duty-bound to answer questions on behalf of the government?

A: No, this did not come up during Cabinet discussions, and for another thing, apart from what I told you I don't have any more information.

Q: No, that was not my question, minister. When journalists ask questions regarding high officials appointed by the government, are you taking the stand that the government won't answer those questions?

A: No, I didn't say I wouldn't answer questions. I said very clearly this instance that you have a right to ask, and I too have a right to not reply, especially in this instance since I don't have the facts to reply with. We also can talk for the sake of talking, we don't do that, unlike some people. We can also write for the sake of writing. We don't do that.

Q:Minister, this question about security for Tamils and minorities. What is the special context this is done under?

A: In fact this was discussed in great detail, because the President herself brought this subject up in relation to the Equal Opportunities Bill and other problems, which are faced by the minorities. There was no special reason.

Q:In keeping with the Official Languages Act, do you expect all police stations in the country to have at least one Tamil or Tamil speaking constable and a Tamil typewriter?

A:The spirit of the Official Languages Act is to have them not only in police stations but in every government office.

Q: How did the government realise so late, that too at the fag end of its term the importance of introducing two languages?

A: No, this is not something we have realised now. In fact, this is part of the educational reforms, the first ever educational reforms undertaken by any government for over two decades in this country, and this has been suggested as part of the reforms which were initiated by the President and executed excellently by Mr. Richard Pathirana. These are part of the reforms, and we discussed this language problem as a part of the problem which the Tamil community is facing today. The President again insisted as usual with great passion, that these laws should be implemented as soon as possible.

Mixed reactions for modification move

By Shelani de Silva

A government move to modify rather than abolish the executive presidency has run into a mixed reaction.

PA General Secretary D M Jayaratne announcing the move said the powers of the President would be reduced and some constitutional reforms introduced as part of the modification but the executive presidency would not be abolished.

However the Government's move is being strongly opposed, especially by PA constituent parties which have been carrying out a campaign calling on the Government to keep its election promise by abolishing the executive presidency.

While the Communist Party and the LSSP have reiterated their stand that it should be abolished The United Lalith Front and the SLMC are keeping an open mind.

CP Leader Raja Collure told The Sunday Times the government would not get the required majority in parliament to present a new constitution.

"The CP has always stated that the government has to abolish the executive presidency. The party is not thinking in terms of any changes to the presidency. We are concerned about the draft constitution and have asked the government to present it to parliament. We have not been officially informed of the government's plan to modify the executive presidency instead of abolishing it," he said.

Mr. Collure said the CP and the LSSP would continue to carry out the protest against the executive presidency.

However United Lalith Front Leader Srimani Athulathmudali said the party would first look into the changes but no person should be above the law.

"We first have to see what these changes are, it is very important that there has to be a person answerable to parliament. Such changes cannot be discussed at party level. Instead a Select Committee should be appointed so that other parties too can give their views and the public will also have a say," she said.

SLMC Vice President M. L. M Hisbullah said his party would consider the changes but there had to be a person answerable to parliament.

UNP Spokesperson Karunasena Kodithuwakku told The Sunday Times the constitution needed modification but added that there had to be a stronger parliament.

"The UNP itself said the constitution needed modification and it was in our manifesto but the PA in its manifesto willingly or unwillingly misled the people by saying it would abolish the executive presidency," he said.

Dr. Kodituwakku said the UNP was willing to study the modifications.

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna Leader Dinesh Gunerwadene said the party had always called for the abolition however the government had gone against the policy, thus putting forward the dictatorial leadership of the Government.

"The Government made a pledge at the last elections and the people voted for this. But it has gone back on its word. The MEP will not even consider the changes. We are calling for their abolition," he said.

The JVP too pointed out that it would not settle for any thing short of abolition.

The Sunday Times spoke to eminent figures who have in the past had played a prominent role where the constitution reforms are concerned.

Former Presidential Secretary K H A Wijedasa said the executive presidency should remain until the war was settled but in the long term the country should change into the Westminster system.

"At present the president is the head of the Defence and Cabinet. This should be so until the war is settled but later it should change. I believe that once the country reverts to the Westminster system no tinkering should be done to the constitution. All these years this is what has happened. Our present constitution is one which has been borrowed from several countries. It has to evolve, we cannot borrow," he said.

Political scientist Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda said the country needed to reform the constitution but the inability of the PA and the UNP to reach a consensus would not help reach the goal.

"I don't see the country changing the system mainly due to the two parties not reaching a consensus. Going back to the Westminster system will not have any significance because we have seen the negatives of it. If we do change we have to rethink of structuring, democracy, ethnic resolution, human rights and such vital issues," he said.

New CJ points out drawbacks in system

By Ayesha R. Rafiq

At the ceremonial sitting of Supreme Court on Friday, newly appointed Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva expressed concern over the alarming trend towards lawlessness, the increase in crime and the disregard for others' rights, while calling upon all judicial officers to act collectively and honestly.

In a step towards increasing the efficiency of courts and minimising laws delays, the new chief justice said a lack of facilities, inadequacy of programmes to enhance the skills of personnel in the system, bribery and corruption and drawbacks in the procedure were areas that needed attention. The Chief Justice called for sufficient incentives to be made available to the package of lawfully receivable remuneration of judicial officers, and to increase the level of supervision while calling for effective deterrence in instances that are successfully detected.

A Rs. 550 million programme has been planned to renovate and equip court houses adequately.

The Public Enterprise Reform Commission and the Ministry of Finance have been engaged to prepare a scheme to entrust the maintenance of these facilities to private sector firms.

A fully equipped Judges Training Institute will also be constructed in Homagama, and until construction is complete the training programme will be established at the Chief Justice's official residence which will be given for this purpose by the new incumbent.

Special court to deal with plunders

By M. Ismeth

The recent spate of robberies of Buddhist statues and priceless antiquities has prompted three UNP MPs to call for a severe and drastic penalties on politicians found guilty of such offences.

Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Susil Moonesinghe and Rukman Senanayake have submitted the motion which calls for the setting up of a special court to mete out punishment to such politicians involved in looting antiquities, and other public treasures from temples, museums, art galleries, public buildings, forest reserves and mining sites.

Most of the statues have been robbed on the belief that treasures were embedded in them.

Four raja maha vihares built during the Walagamba period were mercilessly plundered by treasure hunters last year with alleged political patronage.

The most recent incident occurred in Mawanella where 32 gold plated Buddha statues were robbed and later found by the police.

900 claw for 35 textile quotas

By Ayesha R. Rafiq and Faraza Farook

Small-time garment exporters began joining a queue outside the Industrial Development Textile Division from Friday afternoon to grab textile quotas which is to be distributed tomorrow on a first-come-first serve basis.

When exporters do not produce enough items to meet their quota requirement, the surplus quota goes into a pool and it is then redistributed among other exporters on a first-come-first serve basis, an official said.

If Sri Lanka's quota is not fully used up, it may be given to other countries, resulting in an unnecessary loss to the country, Textile Quota Board Director Nadarasa said.

He said there was such a big demand for these quotas this time because the category being given is for jackets, an item that is in great demand.

With some 900 competitive garment factories in the running for some reportedly 35 quotas, by Saturday morning, representatives of over 50 companies had queued up outside Vilasitha Nivasa and will remain there until Monday morning when the quotas will be distributed.

One of the garment factories opened a book where those joining the queue were asked to enter their names so that they could rejoin the queue in that order on Monday morning. But soon the book went missing. Problems cropped up when a second book was introduced with some claiming their places had been changed.

Many of the applicants complained that a first come first serve basis was not the correct method to dispense of surplus quota. They said that the authorities should formulate a system where for example, companies which had a high production rate should be given the quotas to ensure that the surplus does not go waste.

Hospital chief challenges health reforms

With the Government taking steps to implement health reforms amidst opposition, National Hospital Director Dr. Terrence de Silva called for its reconsideration as it could be unsuccessful.

The proposed reforms have been opposed by the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) who fear it might result in a decline of the health sector. Many are of the view that the impact of the Presidential Task Force proposals have not been properly studied.

Dr. de Silva told The Sunday Times the country could face disadvantages as a result of implementing the reforms.

There are four systems that could be implemented, he said. The Public Financing and Public Provision system, which is currently in operation in Sri Lanka, the Market System or Privatisation of Health Services, the Insurance system and the User fees system.

"The market system which means privatisation of the health sector, though it can be an efficient service, can also result in cost escalation and other problems. It may not prove to be an efficient system for our country," he said.

However, with protests from the GMOA, the government has assured it will not privatise the health sector.

Dr. de Silva said there were deficiencies in private health insurance.

"Health insurance could be beneficial to individual persons but when the health system is taken as a whole, there are several problems associated with it.

"Though insurance can be considered an effective method for issues such as vehicle accidents, it doesn't work the same way in the health sector. During major epidemics, the possibility of others getting infected is there.

"The probability of loss has to be small. If the probability is very high, the item has to be insured for an amount higher than its real value," he said.

On the other hand, insurance companies usually try to avoid high probabilities. Private insurance usually does not cover the existing diseases. The probability of falling sick for the older age group is very high and therefore the insurance companies place a high premium on them, resulting in a lower participation of such people in health insurance.

Another factor is that low risk people might not be interested in being insured which will lead to an insignificant number of individuals being insured.

Dr. de Silva said there would also be gaps in insurance coverage. "Poor coverage for chronic and congenital diseases (pre-existing conditions are not covered), poor coverage for old people (high premium) and poor or no coverages for pregnancy and elective surgery such as cosmetic surgery.

Distant education for public servants

Nearly 170,000 public servants performing administrative functions will be eligible to follow a distant education service course sponsored by the Ministry of Public Administration from next month.

The target group will include ministry secretaries, chief secretaries and secretaries of provincial councils, additional secretaries, heads of departments, district secretaries, divisional secretaries, municipal commissioners and urban council secretaries, clerical and allied grades and office assistants.

The ministry is planning to conduct the course by holding workshops, group discussions and individual meetings involving senior public servants, retired officials, academics, trade union leaders and multi media experts. Printed material, audio and video tapes will also be used.

A multiple choice test using computer scanners would be held every six months to assess the progress of the participants.

Three different curricula to suit the three batches the executive grade, clerical and allied grades and the minor employees have also been prepared. The course period for the executive grade will be from October 1, 1999 - September 30, 2000. Clerical and allied grades have a one year course period beginning July 1,2000 - June 30, 2001 and the course for the minor employees will be conducted from January 1- December 31, 2001.

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