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Tuesday 27 March 2001

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EDITORIAL, DAILY NEWS

Respond firmly to crime 
The chilling daylight slaying of Customs Assistant Superintendent Sujith Perera bloodily outlines the daunting challenges faced by those intent on working and living honestly in this country. Mr. Perera, we are told, was heading a number of probes into a plethora of rackets and smuggling operations involving some top-notch businessmen and even politicians. One such investigation centred on the import of luxury vehicles without valid Customs documents. 

It was with commendable courage that Mr. Perera persisted in these investigations, knowing fully well that his life would be on the firing-line. Yet, the call of duty seemed to have been valued over other considerations. However, it is this sense of righteousness, which proved the bete noire of dark underworld forces and crooked, unethical business interests who were acting in league. The tragedy underscores the imperilled nature of those who put duty above self-interest and personal safety. 

These are issues the Government should take note of. The crime wave has risen to such monstrous heights that straight, ethical living and dealing is being seriously undermined. The need couldn't be more urgent and insistent to strengthen the forces of law and order in the country. The least which politicians could do is steer clear of those who are keeping the banner of honesty and straight dealing aloft. 

However, we note with great satisfaction President Kumaratunga's decision to call on the BOI Chairman to resign in the wake of corruption allegations. This establishes a wish on the part of the political leadership to root out corruption from public life. It is our wish that persons of unimpeachable moral character and honesty would be appointed to top posts in the public sphere. We urge the Government to persist in its efforts to establish and sustain clean governance.

It shouldn't pass unnoticed that the Commission to Investigate Bribery and Corruption is now fully functional. It reflects well on the Government that this body is investigating charges against even top State functionaries. 

We call for the further strengthening of the crime and corruption fighting mechanisms. There are limitations in trying to contain social problems through a purely law and order approach but right now, the strengthening of the machinery established to fight crime and corruption is one of the most effective answers to the crises at hand. 

The killing of Customs official Sujith Perera was an unsettling reminder of the proportions the crime wave has assumed. A sense of helplessness at this juncture could prove fatal. A firm response to crime could prove an effective means of containment. 

 

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EDITORIAL, THE ISLAND

Government as a law breaker
It will be hard to find a country like ours where governments have flouted with impunity, their own laws. There are stringent laws enacted for the protection of our religious and moral values, our safety, health, environment etc. But more often than not it’s the government that violates laws in the statute book and also turns a blind eye to public violations. 

We shall not delve into details of Sri Lanka’s post-Independence sordid and hypocritical history on gambling but briefly touch on it. When the PA was in the Opposition, they were highly critical of the UNP permitting casinos and bookies. PA Marxist, Anil Moonesinghe, called it Casino Capitalism. But when the coalition government that included Mr. Moonesinghe’s party, the LSSP was in power his leader Dr. N. M. Perera attempted to legalise bookies. Contemporary history of gambling has swayed from the variety of bucket shop socialism to Casino capitalism. And the last budget presented to parliament, proposes once again to raise the levy of Rs. 100,000 (per annum) on betting centres to Rs. 1 million and the Rs. 1 million levied on gambling places (casinos) per annum to Rs. 25 million. The expected increased revenue is a Rs. 500 million. Prof. G. L. Peiris in presenting the proposal, spoke of a Betting and Gambling Levy Act. But is gambling legal in Sri Lanka? How did former President R. Premadasa, when he fell out with a Singaporean casino operator Joe Sim, in a rage, overnight close up all casinos?

Legal or not, casinos seem to be blessed with extra-legal powers today. At the prominent junctions of Kollupitiya and Bambalapitiya there are casinos with lettering in gold saying: Foreigners only? Under what law can Sri Lankans be treated as second-class citizens? And this ‘No Sri Lankan’ rule is mere fiction because quite a lot of Sri Lankans with enough money to burn holes in their pockets, are a part of the regular clientele. 

Even during the time of the Premadasa presidency, there were many questions being asked about the money collected in casinos. Who monitored bets and the day’s collections? Even more dangerous is that with the doubtful legal status, casino operators will have to cough up big money to politicians in power. There are open whispers in Colombo about the patronage extended to some operators by powerful politicians.

This ‘recognition of casinos’ - de facto recognition? - does not measure up to the high moral standards imposed on a wider section of the public such as the closure of all clubs, bars and liquor outlets on Poya days. There seems to be discrimination even on the Five Precepts of the Buddhists where liquor is banned but not gambling in bookies or consumption of meat-by tons at American fast food joints, on holy days.

Yesterday, we reported the Chairman of the Association of Disabled and Ex- service Personnel Mr. Asoka Dayaratne telling a press conference that there is a lack of proper administration and discipline in the forces. This had resulted in deterioration of the forces, which had affected the entire society, he had said. While the public and the media by and large tend to treat the armed services with respect and much indulgence because of the tremendous sacrifices those at the battle front are making, it is apparent that they with VIP politicians are flouting laws with impunity. Ministerial motorcades as well as those of lesser personages dash through roads scattering motorists helter- skelter all in the name of security. This has had a chain reaction because armed service drivers now drive their vehicles apparently on the assumption that the military has taken over the country. Even so-called gentlemen and officers of the armed forces - at least most of them – who travel in chauffeur driven vehicles with their families appear not to care about the rights of ordinary citizens. Motorists queue up for a long time at traffic lights but these service vehicles park right in front of the queue not caring two hoots about the law abiding motorists behind them or the traffic policeman before them.

This kind of lawlessness, actively promoted by politicians, particularly during elections, is one cause for the deterioration of discipline in the armed forces.

In our previous editorial comments, we have cited many other instances of the government as a lawbreaker. The use of policemen as goons during elections; use of state owned vehicles for electioneering of government candidates - some vehicles not yet returned; use of official body guards as private armies for political thuggery; sons of politicians using these private armies to demonstrate their juvenile delinquencies and patronage extended to moonshine manufacturers are just a few examples. The moonshine or kassipu industry is estimated to be Sri Lanka’s biggest industry with a turnover of billions of rupees. They pay no tax except to local politicians and corrupt policemen and are powerful enough to emerge as politicians, opening the door to the criminalisation of politics.

Laws both civil and criminal are being violated by government. Even local government bodies do it such as by creating garbage dumps at public places violating their own sanitation laws. And the reward that Mr. Ravi Karunanayake, UNP MP for Jayewardenepura received for attempting to clear them was the burning of a garbage moving truck that he hired for the benefit of the public of Jayewardenepura! 

Is this governance or a government of lawbreakers?

 

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EDITORIAL, DAILY  MIRROR

Persecution of Journalists
Despite considerable advances that democracy and freedom of expression have made during recent times, journalists around the world who play a vital role in converting these concepts into practical realities, continue to be harassed and persecuted.

Although an improvement in the treatment of journalists is observable, the authoritarian thrust against media freedom and journalists continues. This is clear from the report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), for the year 2000. 24 journalists were killed because of their work and another 81 were in prison at year's end, says the 550-page report. The report documents more than 600 cases of media repression in 131 countries. These attacks on the Press include assassination, assault, imprisonment, censorship and bureaucratic harassment. The improvement observed is that the number killed last year is below the total of 34 killed a year earlier and down from the annual rates of journalists killed during the first half of the 1990s. The number imprisoned also marks a positive trend. The number of journalists imprisoned reached a record high of 185 in 1996.

The most disconcerting fact reported is that most of those responsible for killing and harassing journalists remain undetected and unpunished. Of the 24 journalists killed, at least 16 have been murders. But in most instances the culprits remain at large. The report says that assassinations of journalists are seldom vigorously investigated and that the pattern of impunity is particularly acute in several countries.

This trend is clearly evident in this country. While actions and legal proceedings against journalists are expeditiously conducted and punishments are meted out, investigations and court proceedings are either abandoned or allowed to move at a snail's pace. The report cites the Iqbal Athas case as an example. It says, "The government often cited the prosecution of Athas' case as evidence of its commitment to press freedom, but the Justice Department made no apparent effort to expedite the trial. At press time, the trial had been postponed until February 16, 2001, three years after the attack".

Some attacks on journalists have now joined the list of unresolved mysteries in this country.

Rare Combination

Truth and politicians are indeed a rare combination in this country as well as anywhere else in the world. What we often see is dextrous dodging and purposeful distortion of truth indulged-in by politicians. Some, of course, are victims of circumstances. They are often compelled to lie for promotion and protection of their political parties.

There are however, politicians who, at least occasionally strive to speak and act according to the dictates of their conscience. When they succeed, they come closer to the truth. And it is on such occasions; the people have the chance of knowing the true state of affairs in the country. Such an opportunity was created when Minister Ronnie de Mel spoke on the budget in parliament on Thursday where contrasting scenarios of the state of the economy were being painted by members on either side of the House.

In his customary outspoken manner Minister de Mel disclosed the gravity of the financial situation the country is confronted with. He said, "We are experiencing an extremely difficult financial crisis today. I do not wish to minimise the extent of this financial crisis. It is one of the worst financial crises faced by us since independence." He explained, "Our balance of payments is in deficit to the tune of 516 million dollars. Our foreign reserves have come down drastically. Our trade deficit is one billion US dollars. Given these factors we have to admit that we are in the midst of a severe financial crisis." Very importantly, he added that nobody should try to undermine our situation.

Who actually is trying to undermine this position? It is mainly the government politicians and their sycophants who attempt to hide the reality for partisan gain.

Minister De Mel gives four reasons for the present financial crisis. They are: the war which consumed Rs. 80 billion last year; the rise in the world oil prices which cost Rs. 20 billion; the bloated top heavy administrative service and debt servicing. But the list is not complete without the fifth reason, which is extravagance, profligacy, corruption, waste and inefficiency that run through all administrative activities in this country. So, let the government collectively see this reality and take appropriate action.

 

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EDITORIAL, LANKADEEPA (Sinhala Daily)

Highest punishment for defrauding public funds
The recently opened Palindunuwara Divisional Secretariat building is reportedly breaking up even before the lapse of one month since being commissioned.

Its floor has cracked and the walls have started to collapse, the report further said.  This is just one instance of contractors defrauding public funds by doing sub standard constructions.  This building had cost Rs. 7.4 million.  It should be examined whether the correct tender procedure had been observed in giving this contract.  If any engineer had certified that this building was constructed according to set specifications, he must have been out of his mind.  Stern action should be taken against contractors who play out public funds through shoddy work.

 

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EDITORIAL, DIVAINA (Sinhala Daily)

Farmers oppressed from both sides
Sri Lankan farmers who made it the granary of the East in ancient times are now an oppressed lot. 15,000 acres of paddy land of the Lunugamwehera project and a further 2,000 acres of Handapangala are reportedly lying fallow due to lack of water.

Meanwhile, farmers in Polonnaruwa are said to be in difficulty due to their inability to sell their last Yala harvest.  They say this is due to the government sector not making proper arrangements to purchase their stocks.  The rulers of the country are unable to solve these burning problems faced by our paddy farmers on either side.

It is a grave crime to destroy their labour by allowing their produce to perish in go-downs as reported in Polonnaruwa. Relevant authorities should act promptly to help these hapless farmers without waiting for them to stage protests.

 

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EDITORIAL, DINAMINA (Sinhala Daily)

The Parasites 
The 'Silumina' recently reported how certain corrupt officials of bus companies under the CTB are colluding with private bus owners to deprive the government of millions of rupees of daily revenue.  It is also only a public secret that drivers and conductors of peoplised buses are paid to delay their service during rush hours.  The golden era when the CTB performed a valuable service to commuters was gradually ruined by UNP regimes at different times.

The CTB was overloaded with excess staff to the extent that it became a sick giant.  We trust Minister Dinesh Gunawardena would realize the damage done by 'parasites' in these peoplised bus companies and external enemies as well, and act fearlessly to create a healthy bus service.

 

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EDITORIAL, LAKBIMA (Sinhala Daily)

A Diabolical Connection 
The brutal slaying of a dutiful and conscientious public official at Vedamulla in Kelaniya last Saturday is a most dangerous trend in the spiralling crime wave of the country.  It is a deliberate and diabolical attempt to criminalize society to the extent of not allowing justice and honesty to reign unhindered.  Smugglers and racketeers are hell bent on using hired criminals to silence honest officials and encourage corrupt ones who could be bought over to perpetrate their frauds.  This cannot be prevented so long as criminals and racketeers are hand in glove with powerful politicians and responsible officers are in their pockets.

The vicious circle of unholy alliances between racketeers and politicians should be busted without delay, if the complex smuggling network threatening to engulf the whole country is to be destroyed.

 

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EDITORIAL VIRAKESARI (Tamil Daily) 

President's wish for peace 
It is very difficult to establish peace, with those who do not believe in peace and those who have made the war a trade to make money, President Chandrika Kumaratunga has said. Earlier, Justice Minister Batty Weerakoon said in Parliament that high-ranking state officials were involved in bribery while handling arms deals. He also said that an independent inquiry was going on in this connection.

In the circumstances, the President's commitment to peace and the wish to end the war has brought hope for the people.  But, she is up against people who are against peace within the government.  However, the President has proclaimed this year as the 'Year of Peace'.  It is the hope of all the people that this turns to be true.

 

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EDITORIAL THINAKARAN (Tamil Daily) 

A welcome assurance 
President Chandrika Kumaratunga assured the people of this country that permanent peace would be established at any cost.  All attempts will be made to bring the LTTE, which is waging war against the security forces for the past 18 years,  to the conference table, she said.  Meanwhile, the Norwegian Special Envoy Erik Solheim is making diplomatic efforts to bring the two sides together for talks.

The International Community has wholeheartedly supported the President's stance that a political solution is vital to end the ethnic problem in this country.  The President has also said that peace will be established during this year.  It has given a ray of hope to the people of this country.

 

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EDITORIAL THINAKKURAL (Tamil Daily) 

Economic blockade and anti-terrorism 
Pressure is being exerted on the warring parties in Sri Lanka to work towards peace, both at international level and in local circles.  However, a ceasefire is a must, before talks could start.  Though the Tigers have declared a ceasefire, for the past few months, no one has insisted that the government too, should follow suit.

Dissension appears to exist within the ranks of the government about the current peace efforts.  Such dissension can push back peace efforts considerably.  No decision has so far been taken about the basis for the proposed talks between the government and the Tigers.  With the UNP and the Tamil parties not being effective in championing their respective stands on the issue, the government is proceeding on a line which it believes to be the correct one.  But, the tendency to place one foot in economic development and the other in anti-terrorism activities, is not going to help the government.

It is up to the International Community to increase its pressure to see that talks are held very early.   The current visit to France by the President and her recent visit to other European countries, apparently to generate pressure for an urgent resolution of the issue is welcome.

 

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