Minister protests at Daily Telegraph’s bias

[June 3, 2005 - 4.00 GMT]

Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera has responded strongly to the  UK Daily Telegraph referring to the two articles published in its issue on Saturday 25th May. The articles written by a Peter Foster accusing Sri Lankan authorities of inaction and bureaucracy were ‘grossly exaggerated and pathetically one-sided said the Minister.

In his letter to the Editor of the Telegraph Samaraweera expressed his disappointment at the style adopted by Peter Foster and said ‘it was extremely harmful to the country and our people who were affected by the disaster’.  

Full text of Minster Mangala Samaraweera’s letter to the Daily Telegraph; 

June 02, 2005

The Editor ,
The Daily Telegraph Online,
United Kingdom

Dear Mr.  Editor,

Articles on Sri Lanka by Peter Foster

We write with reference to the two articles on Sri Lanka in your journal published on the 25th of May. Your reporter Mr. Peter Foster has launched a scathing attack on the Sri Lankan Government accusing it of inaction and bureaucracy.

The two grossly exaggerated reports are skewed and pathetically one-sided. The style adopted by your reporter is extremely harmful to the country and our people who were affected by the disaster. They appear to have been written with malicious intent. Despite the fact that Sri Lanka never had to cope with a disaster of this magnitude ever in the long history of our country the Government managed to bring the situation well under control within 48 hours of the calamity. 

It is unfortunate that your reporter and the Daily Telegraph have obviously not understood the magnitude of the disaster and the duty of a responsible Government in protecting its people from future calamities of this nature. You have failed to mention that not a single person died of disease, epidemics or hunger, proving wrong the lofty western forecasts.  

Over 100 dignitaries and several world leaders, including the UN Secretary General, President of the World Bank and Presidents George Bush Senior and Bill Clinton who visited Sri Lanka  since the December 26th disaster have commended the Government for its well coordinated efforts to rebuild the lives of our people. 

On the day your article was published President Bill Clinton was in  Sri Lanka  on his second visit since the tsunami disaster. President Clinton reiterated his comments and commended the progress. 

We give below in brief the relief measures undertaken by the Government since the 26th of December. 

As per assessments the tsunami displaced 119,900 families. These families were provided with their basic needs. This will continue until they are relocated in permanent houses and their livelihoods restored.

The immediate measures taken to restore normalcy:

  • Food, drinking water and clothes and even a radio receiver 

  • Medicine and personnel for healthcare facilities 

  • Sanitary facilities

  • Final rites administered and the dead buried within one week. 

  • Monetary compensation to bereaved families (at Rs. 15,000 for each lost loved one) 

  • Initial resettlement allowance (Rs. 2,500 per family) 

  • Immediate issue of birth certificates, IDs & death certificates.  

  • Distribution of food was structured; a food ration card for each victim was issued. Every week ‘food baskets’ worth Rs. 375/- each are issued to each victim via the Government’s Co-operative shops. (programme supported by the WFP). 

  • Monthly allowance of Rs. 5,000/- per family is being paid from January, 2005 through two State-owned Banks. This can be verified directly from the World Bank. 

  • A bank account has been opened for one member of every affected family. A vast number of them have never possessed a bank account before. All grants due to the victims have been credited to these individual accounts. This arrangement is to ensure the victimized use the monies prudently as when they require them.  

  • Tariff concessions were afforded to the affected for electricity, water and telephones.  

  • Books and clothing were issued to school children 

Government grants of Rs 250,000/= and 100,000/= were given for completely damaged and partially damaged houses out side the buffer zone. This programme is being implemented under World Bank agreed guidelines.

All grants issued through banks to nearly 200,000 people. Those living outside the buffer zone will be given a housing unit free. 

Each unit will be a minimum of 500 sq feet with water supply, electricity and sewerage estimated cost is US$ 5,000/= per unit. 

The Government provides the land free of charge, undertakes the engineering and architectural work and survey plans. 

30,000 transitionary housing units have already been built. 

Of the total requirement of 49,218 houses, 40,096 houses have been assigned to donors for building. Agreements for 35,901 houses have been signed and land has been allocated.

1,659 houses are now under construction. 16,246 to be completed by end of June, 2005. 23,846 will be completed by mid July, 2005. 

All these houses are built by the Government and the private sector using local and international donor assistance.

These details would have been available to your Mr. Peter Foster had he contacted the Ministries of Social Services or Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. He could have also contacted officials of the Special Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation [TAFREN]. 

We are surprised a newspaper of your standing did not think it appropriate to obtain the views of any responsible State official. We hope a newspaper of your reputation will in future follow the basic tenets of journalism and report both sides of a story. 

I trust you will publish this response in full in your esteemed journal giving it the prominence you gave the two articles in question.

Thank you,

Mangala Samaraweera
Minister of Media and Information    















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Last Updated Date: June 3, 2005 - 4.00 GMT


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