May 31

 

According to media reports, it appears that Mr Lakshman Hulugalle and Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa have some differences of opinion as to whether the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (popularly referred to as A Lake House) is government property or not, and whether its employees are bound by the rules which apply to state employees.  The particulars given below should help the public to ascertain where the truth lies.     

 

As far back as 12 September 2005, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) issued a Press Release which set out the essential details of the Lake House takeover under the heading ALake House Take-over and Broadbasing its Ownership.   The facts given there are summarised briefly below.  The original text may be accessed at www.cimogg-srilanka.org.

 

It was in the early 1970s that the United Left Front government led by Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike decided to take over Lake House and initiated steps to pass the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited Special Provisions Law No 28 of 1973 (ALaw No 28″).  The ULF government said that the purpose of Law No 28 was not to run Lake House as a state enterprise but to break the media monopoly held by one family.  It was argued that the law would provide for only a temporary vesting of the shares in the Public Trustee and that, as soon as the law was passed, steps would be taken forthwith to broadbase the ownership. 

 

Law No 28 provided for 75% of the shares to be taken over by the Public Trustee and the remaining 25% to be left with the original shareholders providing, however, that no single shareholder could hold more than 2%.  Article 5 provided for the subsequent speedy divesting to the public of those shares which had been vested in the Public Trustee.  However, thirty-five years have elapsed since the take-over and no government, whatever its hue, has carried out the divestiture required to be effected in terms of this law.  All Parliamentarians belonging to successive governments as well as the opposition parties have contributed to this betrayal of the pledge given to the People.  This blatant and deliberate deceit has been compounded further by the issuing of Lake House shares to state corporations instead of to the public.  In such devious manner has Lake House has been kept under the rigid control of the government in order to enable the party in power for the time being to prostitute Lake House for its election purposes, and to disseminate propaganda and disinformation on a variety of subjects.  The flagrant misuse of Lake House resources for party political advantage represents corruption of a high degree.

 

In 1995, the PA government appointed the Sidat Sri Nandalochana Committee to recommend a scheme to broadbase the ownership of Lake House.  This Committee proposed that 20% of the shares be given to the employees, 15% to a trust to be drawn from the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), universities and similar institutions, and the balance shares to be sold on the stock market.  However, no effort has been made to implement these proposals.

 

CIMOGG unreservedly condemns the continued flouting of Law No 28.  It, therefore, calls upon all political parties to state unequivocally even at this late stage that they will press the government, whether from within or from the opposition, to implement the provisions of Law No 28, especially the sale of all state-held shares to the public, without any further delay. 

 

As a corollary, we also urge the public to consider the stand of the political parties regarding the extent of their commitment to freedom of the press and other media, which are under rapidly increasingly grave threat as evidenced by the number of journalists who have been frightened into semi-silence or forced to leave the country or have been abducted or assaulted severely or even killed.  Mr Keith Noyahr is the latest in a long line of victims, which has brought us to the position of being considered the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

 

May 21

We Sri Lankans complain interminably that everything is going to the dogs. Many even go so far as to say that there is no hope of this country ever returning to the Rule of Law and good governance. CIMOGG does not contribute to this defeatist attitude. Whilst we have, over the past several years, highlighted several of the uncounted shortcomings in our body politic, we have always endeavoured to offer constructive suggestions to overcome them. It is true that most of our ideas have been ignored by both the authorities and the public but the dark clouds which cover Sri Lanka, nevertheless, have their silver linings.

Recent reports highlighted the cruel manner in which a patient in a hospital in Panadura was unceremoniously dumped on the pavement outside. Subsequently, we learnt of the death of six patients at the Ratnapura Hospital following a strike occasioned by the trivial isue of the transfer of an attendant who had assaulted a doctor. These are just two of the many publicised acts of heartlessness that occur from time to time in our health sector. Lamentably, whilst these bad examples get a lot of media exposure, the good work done by this sector has rarely been found to be newsworthy. There is little recognition for the hundreds of thousands of hours of qualified medical attention which are given to the majority of our poorer citizens who are unable to afford the cost of private medical care. For example, not many weeks ago, an old retainer of one of our members suffered a stroke and was taken to the Kalubowila Hospital. As the case was rather complex, he was transferred to Ward 64 of the National Hospital. Here it was found that he needed intensive medical care and was, therefore, transferred to Ward 44. Our member, who was able to visit the patient shortly after the move to this ward, saw the number of medical personnel attending on the patient grow from one doctor and one nurse initially to three doctors, four nurses and four technicians over a period of one hour. This large team tried everything in the book and spared no equipment or drugs in trying to save this 84-year old mans life. It was learnt later that these lifesaving efforts had continued for eight hours until there was no fight left in the patient. We doubt that there are many countries in the world where a poor man in such a hopeless situation would have received such intensive care, at no cost to him or his family. Cases of this type – and there must be hundreds every year throughout the country – do not make it to the media. The commitment of the vast majority of conscientious doctors, nurses and other staff are taken for granted and we forget to be thankful for our Health Service, which every government has responsibly supported within the narrow limits of our national income.

An altogether different type of silver lining was the recent initiative taken by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to reduce noise pollution from loudspeakers. Here, a bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice took strong measures to have the existing provisions of the law followed. On the whole, there has been a significant improvement of the environment in this respect, for which we are most grateful. We look forward to further initiatives by the Ministry to minimise the assault to which our ears continue to be subjected by various other sources.

The superb decision given by the Supreme Court to get rid of time-wasting and ineffective road barriers would have already saved this country billions of rupees by minimising wear and tear of vehicle mechanisms, fuel consumption, loss of productive work time, blood pressure build-up, atmospheric pollution, and the suffering of young children and the desperately ill who would otherwise have been stuck for hours in the resulting traffic jams. There is no doubt that the random checking that is being done now is superior in all respects to the earlier method.

The construction of the Fernadopulle Flyover exemplifies how big projects can be completed within specified time schedules, if there is the requisite will on the part of the Ministry concerned. The secret of success here was the evolution of a suitable design and the selection of a competent contractor. The price may have been high but, if the work had not been completed so quickly, the collateral losses would have been larger than the hypothetical cost savings that would have effected by choosing a poorer design and a less skilled contractor.

For more than thirty years, the efforts of those engineers who tried to get coal-powered electricity for Sri Lanka were frustrated by political cowardice, opportunism and corruption. Crises situations were encouraged so that the most expensive option of going for quickly-implementable gas and diesel based power sources became unavoidable. In the light of this background, the decisions taken by President Rajapakse and the Cabinet over the past two and a half years to get on with several long-delayed coal and hydro power projects – Norochcholai, Upper Kotmale and Trincomalee – should be highly commended.

Whilst what is wrong in the country continues to exceed greatly what is right, there is no doubt that some good things do happen. These deserve approbation by the public so that the government will be encouraged, in the public interest, to take more and more rational economic, social and political decisions than in the past.

May 21

Mr A. Denis N. Fernando has, in a recent newspaper article, made an appeal to the authorities to take urgent action to carry out surveys of the Continental Shelf outside Sri Lankas 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, particularly over the area south of the Equator, so that Sri Lanka, under the UN Law of the Sea, may claim its rights to the mineral and other resources in this vast expanse of sea, the extent of which is many times the area of Sri Lanka. He states that what needs to be ascertained first are the boundaries of the area where the depth of sedimentation exceeds 1000m and that this has to be done by the 2009 deadline. He mentions Mr Dulip Jayawardene, Professor C.B.Dissanayaka, Dr Hiran Jayawardene and the members of the Sri Lankan team that was instrumental in helping formulate the UN Law of the Sea as persons who possess the specialist knowledge required and whose services the government should secure for this purpose.

Should the authorities fail to take timely action in this connection, it would represent irresponsibility of the highest order and a total lack of accountability. We, therefore, call upon President Rajapakse to order that all necessary steps are taken immediately to safeguard the enormous wealth in this spread of ocean for the welfare of Sri Lanka for generations to come.

If, in fact, action has already been initiated, it would reassure the citizens of the country to know something of the progress that has been made so far.