Sagala wins praise for braving Meetotamulla appearance
Posted on April 22nd, 2017

Courtesy The Island

* Prominent yahapalana theoretician talks of ‘failed govt.’
* Protests over multiple issues to resume with a vengeance
* Derana TV subject to good cop – bad cop routine

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While the Meetotamulla tragedy drowned out all other news during and after the Sinhala and Tamil new year, one person who seemed to earn some credit even in the eyes of detractors during this period was Minister Sagala Ratnayake who went to the site of the tragedy at least three times braving all the hostility and hooting and jeering by enraged residents. In fact, he was the only government politician to be seen at the site until Ranil Wickremesinghe turned up after his visit to Vietnam. Sagala does not represent Colombo and neither did his Ministry have anything to do with land or garbage disposal. The only connection that he had with Meetotamulla was through the Sri Lanka Police which comes under his ministry and yet he became the only political representative of the government at the scene. The veritable ‘owners’ of Kolonnawa S.M.Marikkar, Hirunika Premachandra and Prasanna Solangaarachchi were conspicuous by their absence.

Neither for that matter was any Colombo district politician to be seen at the scene of the tragedy. The ministers in charge of the subjects of Urban Development (Champika Ranawaka) and Provincial Councils and Local Government (Faizer Mustapha) too were conspicuously absent even though one may have expected them to have been the principle figures representing the government at the scene of the tragedy instead of Sagala Ratnayake. By becoming the face of the government at the scene of the Meetotamulla tragedy Minister Ratnayake earned the praise of even those bitterly opposed to the government. The fact that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe turned up at the scene of the disaster has also earned the praise of certain quarters even though he appeared on the scene wearing a face mask and it is this image that is still being shared on facebook.

Yet face mask or no face mask, the fact is that Wickremesinghe was the only responsible individual in the government to have appeared at the scene of the tragedy other than Sagala Ratnayake.  In the meantime, the Meetotamulla garbage dump tragedy has become a kind of cluster bomb for the government with protests erupting not just at the site of the tragedy but in parts of the country far removed from Meetotamulla because of the decision to dump garbage from Colombo at several alternative sites until a proper solution can be found. People have been blocking roads, cutting trees, putting up obstacles and burning tyres to prevent garbage trucks from Colombo from dumping their loads in their areas. It appears to be a fully fledged civil disobedience campaign over garbage, of all things!

The fact that the government took steps to issue a gazette notification declaring garbage clearance to be an essential service and making it a punishable offence to obstruct the clearance or dumping of garbage does not appear to have helped. Even after the gazette notification was issued, the protests continued regardless. The government in the meantime has moved courts against activists of the JVP who obstructed the dumping of garbage in Piliyandala. Minister Champika Ranawaka was openly calling for the forcible suppression of the garbage protests and the government seems to be caught in a spiral where continuing protests leads to more repression which in turn gives rise to still more protests. This is a pitfall that the government should avoid. The handing over of flats to some of those who lost their houses last Friday has reduced the tension in Meetotamulla itself with the hope that those who have not accepted the flats would get reasonable compensation for their properties. If the government trips up on this and fails to deliver, it will be their turn to become victims of a (political) disaster.

Sunanda Deshapriya who had visited the scene of the tragedy on April 15, has written in his regular column about Meetotamulla and a ‘failed government’. He said that when he arrived at the scene of the disaster, there were no first aid centres for the injured, nor ambulances anywhere in sight. The bodies of victims were being dug up with the help of backhoe machines but there was no enclosure to place them for identification; they had been placed by the side of the road to be identified by their relatives. Volunteers from the village had been calling out the names of relatives to come and identify the bodies.

Deshapriya also drew attention to the fact that the only members of the government who were seen at the scene of the tragedy were Sagala Ratnayake and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe. He stated that the situation after the Meetotamulla tragedy was similar to the situation he had observed in Batticaloa in the wake of the 2004 tsunami – ie the complete absence of a governmental presence other than the armed forces.

He stated that the government took more than 24 hours to realize the extent of the disaster and that these are signs of a failed government. Deshapriya was also critical of the compensation of Rs. 100,000 offered to the next of kin of deceased victims which puts the value of all the lives lost in the tragedy at three million rupees in a situation where the President had ordered two cars worth Rs. 60 million and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka had ordered a car worth Rs. 60 million and over Rs. 20 million had been paid every month by the Agriculture Ministry for a building that has not been used for more than a year. To fix the compensation for deceased victims at Rs. 100,000 was ‘insensitive’ on the part of the government, Deshapriya said.

In the meantime a pro-yahapalana NGO ‘Decent Lanka’ has put out a statement signed by media activist Kusal Perera and trade unionist Marcus Fernando among several others calling for among other things for the resignation of the Minister for Environment (Maithripala Sirisena) immediately for his inability to find a workable, environmentally friendly solution to the garbage problem for over two years, the resignation of  the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development for irresponsibility, total neglect of the issue and inefficiency, and the immediate removal of the two Secretaries of the ministries mentioned above and the Commissioner of the Colombo Municipal Council, who held direct responsibility to the tragedy.

Ferment over Trinco oil tank farm

Last week the Collective of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Trade Unions held a press conference to warn the government not to lease the Trinco oil tank farm to India. They stated that in 2003, when three tanks of the Trinco oil tank farm had been leased to India, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga had also opposed the cabinet paper that approved the lease. They stated that due to the fact that a formal lease agreement had never been entered into between the CPC and LIOC for the lease of these oil tanks, the ownership and right to use these tanks still lay with the CPC. They stated that once again the present cabinet has approved the lease of the entire tank farm to India and if Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe gives in to Indian demands and decides to lease it to them, the unions will take action.

The union representative stated that they had heard that on April 28 an MOU is to be signed in this regard and that if any such thing takes place, CPC workers will occupy their workplaces. He stated that if this does not put a stop to it there will be a work stoppage and they will for a few days ensure that there is no disruption of hospitals and air travel. The refinery will also be kept going for a couple of days, but if PM Wickremesinghe still gives in to Indian pressure, they will stop work at the refinery and disrupt fuel supplies to aircraft as well. He said that their struggle is not for any benefit of themselves, but for the country.

Last week, Minister Susil Premajayantha was an enthusiastic participant at the Second Session of the oral submissions to the People’s Commission to Formulate a Policy Framework for International Trade and Treaties. At the end of his presentation Minister Premajayantha was asked why the government is not taking the views of professionals into account with regard to ETCA. His immediate reply was that the government was not consulting even cabinet ministers about it let alone professionals. He then took the example of the Indian Oil Company’s operations here and went on to explain that in 2003, the then UNP government had divided up the operations of the CPC into three segments and had sold one to the Indian Oil Company and kept another with the treasury to be sold to some other party in the future. The CPC was left with the remaining one third.

 

Premajayantha stated that after the government changed in April 2004, the CPC came under him and he had objected to the sale of the other one third and had succeeded in getting that one third back to the CPC. During the UNP government of 2001-2004  a company called Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Ltd (CPSTL) was formed with LIOC owning one third of this company while the CPC owns the remaining two thirds.  This company was formed for the distribution of fuel. The oil brought by LIOC as well as the CPC was distributed by this company. Thereafter, the LIOC leased out three tanks in Trincomalee and began to store fuel in those tanks. Minister Premajayantha said that the LIOC sells only 15% of the fuel sold in Sri Lanka and that the CPC handles the other 85%. LIOC does not have enough sales in Sri Lanka to justify leasing out all the 102 oil tanks in Trincomalee and what they were after was not really the oil tanks but the land on which the oil tanks stand, he said.

He urged that the oil tank farm should be used by Sri Lanka to build up buffer stocks of fuel when prices are low without leasing it out. At present only 42 days supply of fuel could be stored in the existing facilities but if the Trinco oil tank farm is fully utilized, a buffer stock of four months supply could be built up. In the meantime, the Indian press has been speculating that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to offer the Trincomalee oil tank farm to India in order to balance the Chinese involvement in Hambantota. If the government tries to go against the public opinion that is building up against the lease of the tank farm to India, this will be the next great upheaval that the government will face after Meetotamulla.

 Derana TV faces bad cop-good cop routine

The running battle between Derana TV and the Secretary of the Media Ministry has taken a new turn after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. We wrote last week that on April 5, 1917, the Secretary to the Media Ministry had written to Derana TV declaring that they had been found guilty of several offences which included a) distorting and broadcasting a speech made by the President and b) misusing the frequencies which are public property for this purpose. This was by a by a three member committee of inquiry appointed by the ministry. The Media Ministry Secretay’s letter has asked Derana TV whether they have anything to say before ‘action’ is taken against them. After receiving this letter, the Directors of Derana TV had a meeting with President Sirisena and Media Minister Gayantha Karunatilleke and following this meeting, Derana TV wrote to the Media Ministry Secretary on April 11, 2017 stating that they had held a meeting with the President and the Media Minister at the invitation of the latter and that both of them had agreed that it was not necessary to proceed any further with this matter. The Media Minister had undertaken to inform his Secretary of the decision taken by the President and himself.

However on April 18, 2017, the Media Ministry Secretary wrote back to Derana TV again saying that he does not accept what was said in their letter of April 11 and that the President and the Media Minister had not informed him of any such decision taken by them. He averred that if what Derana TV said in their letter about the decision arrived at the meeting with the President and Media Minister turns out to be false, that will lead to an additional charge being brought against them! The Media Ministry Secretary had further stated that on April 12, 2017, Derana TV had criticized the Media Ministry Secretary in an unacceptable manner for which purposes the broadcasting frequencies which are public property had once again been misused. He had asked for a recording of the programme broadcast from 6.30 am onwards on April 12, 2017, to  initiate an inquiry into the matter.

It is a well known fact that the mild mannered Media Minsiter has little or no control over his Secretary who was appointed by the President. On previous occasions as well, the Media Ministry Secretary has publicly worked at cross purposes with his Minister but he has not worked at cross purposes with the President. Now even after meeting the President and obtaining from him the assurance that the Media Ministry Secretary’s letters should be ignored, the latter has once again written to Derana TV saying that he does not accept what they had said about the decisions arrived at, at the meeting they had with the Preisident and the Media Minister. What seems to be happening here is that the President is playing good cop while his appointee the Media Ministry Secretary is playing bad cop. The purpose seems to be to keep Derana TV in a perpetual state of suspense and also to make an example of them to intimidate other media organizations as well.

 Resumption of non-stop agitation

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year was expected to provide the people of Sri Lanka with some badly needed respite from the non-stop agitation we have been experiencing in the past several months with the government, the public, the media and probably the agitators themselves losing track of who demonstrated demanding what. However the Meetotamulla tragedy ensured that what the New Year holidays brought was not a winding down, but a ratcheting up of the agitation and angst. Now with the Meetotamulla affair being slowly resolved, other matters which were left hanging before the onset of the New Year holidays, are coming to the fore once more. The SAITM controversy is at the top of the list along with the Trinco oil tank farm matter. The solutions offered by the government just before the New Year holidays in the form of a governmental acquisition of the Neville Fernando hospital,  compulsory clinical training for graduates of SAITM in government hospitals and making SAITM a public quoted company has not satisfied those who want SAITM abolished altogether.

Apart from the Trinco oil tank farm matter which has come to the fore due to the Prime Minister’s impending visit to India and Modi’s scheduled visit to Sri Lanka for Vesak celebrations in May, the lease of the Hambantota harbour is also due to come up for discussion once more with an amended agreement being presented to cabinet during the last week of April. So the agitators will hit the ground running once normal life resumes after the New Year holidays. There is a consensus building up among political parties, trade unions and even the general public against the alienation of national assets to foreign parties. The present operation of the LIOC is the example that everyone is taken as their point of reference. For a paltry amount of money the Lanka Indian Oil Company was given the right to import and distribute fuel in Sri Lanka and repatriate the substantial profits accruing therefrom. There was absolutely nothing in terms of technology transfer or employment generation that Sri Lanka got from this ‘foreign investment’. All that has happened is that profit that would otherwise have accrued to the CPC is now going to the LIOC instead.

2 Responses to “Sagala wins praise for braving Meetotamulla appearance”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    How about politicians who failed to show up in Meethotamulla? I don’t think Champika, Mahinda, Basil and Dinesh showed up. Strange they rushed to Koslanda in 2014 when a landslide killed 16 mostly Tamils. Despite 30 victims, mostly Sinhalese, these politicians have failed to show up. Is it because of guilt, busy schedule or for the fact that they give priority to Tamils since 2010? They also disappear from parliament when the budget vote comes up or when the Finance Minister’s impeachment vote comes up. Either way, they have lost an opportunity to gain people’s confidence at a time of their need. A leader in need is a leader indeed.

  2. Christie Says:

    කොලොඹ කුනු එකතු කිරීමත් ඉවත් කිරීමත් කරන්නේ අබාන්ස් නැමති සමූහ වියාපාරිකයන්ය. මුන් ඉන්දියානු පරපෝසිතයන්ය. .
    Abans Enviromental Services Pte Ltd is the contractor responsible for this tragedy. Owned and operated my well known Indian Colonial Parasites

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