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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Politics in the week - Lakbima News

Big district, small squabbles

At the UNP Working Committee meeting on Tuesday, former Hambantota District MP Ananada Kularatne spoke strongly about an old dispute that was threatening to be renewed. “Sir, the problem has started again,” he told Ranil Wickremasinghe. “Sajith (Premadasa) is using the pretext of the Jana Suvaya programme to work in electoral divisions that don’t belong to him. He is setting up branch societies throughout Hambantota.” “Jana Suvaya is a development programme,” responded Wickremasinghe. “You can take over the setting up of branch societies.” “Sir, Sajith brings busloads of people even from our areas to the govi samuluwa,” said Kularatne, fielding a separate charge. Sajith shot back: “Sir, they want people to attend the farmer conferences but they charge bus fare from them. These poor people from Mulgirigala can’t afford bus fare. I transport people free of charge. So they prefer to join up with me.” Wickremasinghe, after giving heed, advised the pair to work without squabbling.

Indigenous Food Products, Anyone?

Wondering what to do and how to produce indigenous food products amidst the turmoil of the cost of living, The National Campaign to Promote Indigenous Food Products was inaugurated by the President last week at the National Youth Services Council auditorium, Maharagama. The President is seen here with Maithripala Sirisena, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development and Hemakumara Nanayakkara, Minister of Agriculture, at the inauguration.

Finally, a low maintenance Minister

The other day, Transport Minister Dullas Alahapperuma was flying back on Economy Class from the SAARC Transport Ministers’ Summit which had been held in New Delhi. He was accompanied by Transport Secretary W A Nihal and National Transport Commission chief Amal Kumarage. The Maldivian Transport Minister was travelling Business Class on the same flight. Meeting Alahapperuma at the VIP entrance of Bandaranaike International Airport, the Maldivian minister asked: “Who has more recognition in Sri Lanka? A Minister or an Additional Secretary?” Puzzled, Alahapperuma asked why he was being asked this question. “Because the Sri Lankan passenger who was sitting beside me on the flight was an Additional Secretary to a Ministry,” responded the Maldivian Minister. Alahapperuma smiled and said, “No comment.” Chandima Rasaputra, Chairman of the Airport Authority, joined the conversation and explained that Alahapperuma was travelling Economy Class to save money for the Government. “Due to my travelling on a low cost ticket, I am left with money to buy 300 more logs for railway construction,” Alahapperuma said, earning praise from his Maldivian counterpart.

India-Sri Lanka buddies

The troika of powerful Government officials — Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga - went to India last week. The visit came hot on the heels of the military’s capture of Silavathura. The team wanted to brief India about the commencement of the Government’s Northern operation. Basil Rajapaksa had made a similar visit last year before the military started the Mavil Aru and Sampur operations. The troika held discussions with the Indian Foreign and Defence Secretaries as well as their Defence Advisor. Opening the meeting, Weeratunga emphasised that India was very important to Sri Lanka. Before he could finish his sentence, Defence Advisor M K Narayan spoke up: “Sri Lanka is important to us, too, because we value the stability of our south and the stability of entire India.” Narayan also heaped praise on Gotabhaya for keeping Colombo safe from one of the world’s worst terrorist organisations at a time when bombs were exploding everywhere else in the continent. Gotabhaya responded that his success was due to public support.

To hell with the Mahinda Chinthanaya

The Consultative Committee of the Finance Ministry convened at Temple Trees on Wednesday, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was notable that only the JVP participated, with the UNP and other Opposition parties staging a boycott. This meant that the two JVP MPs who attended - Piyasiri Wijenayake and Ajith Kumara - had to play the role of the entire Opposition. They raised their voice against many of the Ministry’s actions. First, they protested against irregular recruitment procedures at the Bank of Ceylon. “Officers are haphazardly recruited to the Bank of Ceylon from the Government’s lists, with no competitive tests and just interviews. This is happening despite circular 90/15, issued during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s time, which said that all recruitments must follow competitive exams.” The President and Government MPs said nothing. The JVP MPs then protested about the slashing of the kerosene subsidy and the proposed tax on mobile phones (which was approved on Thursday). “I will impose a tax on mobiles and use that money to give the kerosene subsidy,” the President replied. “It is during your term that the kerosene subsidy was first given,” the JVP MPs pointed out. “It is also during your term that it was taken away. When a litre cost Rs 60, the Government absorbed Rs 16 and sold kerosene at Rs 44. This was stopped by your Government.” The Government MPs remained silent.
After the meeting, President Rajapaksa had a cordial chat with the two JVP MPs and the problem of the Bank appointments cropped up. “Piyasiri, there is no point in protesting against this,” President Rajapaksa said. “We must help those who helped our party by giving them appointments. If both of you also have lists, give them to me and I will see that they are appointed.” But the two JVPers declined the offer, “Mr President, we protested against the appointments not because we wanted a share. We only want to see that the right people get their due place. If you have this attitude, what will happen to the Mahinda Chintanaya? Aren’t the same old practices being followed?” the JVP MPs said.

JHU samagama

The JHU Working Committee met last week with Ven Ellawala Medhananda Thera as chair. Kicking off deliberations, Ven Medhananda asked Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka: “Minister, what is the Noise Pollution Bill everyone is talking about? What is the truth?” Ranawaka responded: “Hamuduruwane, there is a general misunderstanding about this. The JHU has nothing to do with this Bill. The Supreme Court has held that laws to deal with noise pollution were inadequate and directed us to create new laws. This is what we are doing now. The UNP is making this an opportunity to sling mud at us via certain Buddhist organisations affiliated to them. Ranil Wickremasinghe has also labelled us as a company now, in addition to the Rajapaksa Samagama. He called us the Devadatta Samagama. Before that, we were called the Dusheela Samagama. Now, we are the Dusheela Devadatta Samagama.”
“Ranil Wickremasinghe has suddenly become a Buddha putra,” Ranawaka huffed. “This sort of thing is common nowadays.” He then took permission to leave the discussion saying he needed to learn at least a few Japanese words. The reason? He was due to take part in a Japanese language environment seminar in Japan. He revealed that he would meet Japanese Envoy Yasushi Akashi while there.

Jeyaraj gets fried

Cabinet took up the cost of living issue last week. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle told the Ministers that he had nearly got fried by the public after talking about the price of potatoes (which he knew nothing about). “I participated in a television programme and said that a kilo of potatoes was Rs 55 while onions were selling at Rs 48,” he said. “People started calling in and arguing that the prices were much higher! Returning home from the programme, I saw on a board at a grocery shop near the Rajagiriya Sathosa that potatoes were selling at Rs 102 a kilo!” Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena piped up with his two cents worth. He said that potatoes would have to be imported in order to reduce the price. Then, the local potato farmers would kill themselves. President Mahinda Rajapaksa joined the discussion. “A lawyer I know always sends me letters about the country’s problems,” he said. “He starts every letter by asking me not to misunderstand what he says. He’s not the class of person who would consider the price of an item before purchasing it. But his latest letter says that he had for the first time inquired about the prices of goods before purchasing them. He says the prices are far too high. We will have to find at least a global solution to this problem.”

Parliament erupts

When the Government’s five tax bills came up for approval last week, the electronic voting system was implemented for the first time in Parliamentary history. The bills were passed with 106 for and 81 against. Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe objected to the use of electronic voting citing Standing Orders. The Speaker overruled his objection saying Party Leaders had approved the use of the technology at their last meeting. Due to continued protests by the UNP, JVP and TNA, the House decided to fall back on the earlier system. When voting was about to begin, the UNP and JVP started shooting down the tax bills. During the fracas that erupted near the Speaker’s chair, UNP MP Mahinda Ratnatilaka snatched the Bills from the Speaker. This was followed by a scuffle that deteriorated into an exchange of blows between Parliamentarians. It took a while to restore normalcy. Ratnatilaka was seen with a torn short and a few buttons unfastened. During the violence and mayhem, Speaker W J M Lokubandara calmly proceeded with approving the Bills without even referring them to the Committee stage.

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