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  • ‘250 m dollar bribe to derail damage suit’ claim by Justice Minister
In a pre-Avurudhu cracker, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe made a startling claim that 250 million dollars had been deposited in a London bank account of a Lankan national to be paid out as bribes to derail the nation’s 6 billion dollar damage suit for the Xpress Pearl’s marine disaster in Lankan waters on 20th May 2021.

He, however, did not take responsibility for the claim nor did he reveal the source of this information nor the date of the deposit. He asked the IGP to probe his bombshell allegation.

LANKA’S ENVIRONMENTAL INFERNO: Questions why a Singapore court was picked to file the plaint, instead of a Lankan court continue to burn

The shocking charge, made without proof and said without taking responsibility, nevertheless, served to validate the fears and concerns of those who had questioned the authorities’ inordinate delay in filing legal action to claim 6.2 billion dollars in damages before the two-year limitation period for filing suit runs out next month on the 19th.

What was puzzling was why, with the government pinning all its recovery hopes on IMF’s bailout loan of 2.9 billion dollars as if there would be no tomorrow if denied, those charged with the responsibility to actively pursue the claim, had shown but a tepid interest to expedite the legal process and obtain the expected legal award of 6 billion dollars in damages, a most welcome bumper bonus to add to the nation’s decimated foreign reserves.

Wijeyadasa’s charge, though without foundation, came in handy to be the long-lost missing piece in the jigsaw. His claim, received from an anonymous tipster and made public after disowning responsibility for its veracity, also condemned all those involved in decision-making and procrastination in filing suit for months on end, to the nation’s dock of suspicion; and there in that shameful dock they will remain, until the chosen court decides the 6 billion dollar claim in Sri Lanka’s favour.

The delay has largely been due to the conflict of views held by the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) and the Attorney General’s Department on the appropriate court of jurisdiction to hear the case.

While MEPA had pressed for the case to be tried in a Sri Lankan court, the new Attorney General, Sanjay Rajaratnam, who, following Dappula de Livera’s retirement, had been appointed by President Gotabaya to the office on 26th May 2021, urged that the legal claim be filed in a Singaporean court.

MEPA’s position was that it would be beneficial to Lankan interests if local judges heard the case with local courts having immediate jurisdiction since the disaster happened in Lankan waters. Those plugging the AG’s line asserted that, since the foreign party maintained a ‘presence’ in Singapore, the Singapore courts had the necessary jurisdiction; and that enforcement of the judgment will be less of a challenge than to one given in Lanka.

The Cabinet opted for the AG’s preference to file the action in a Singaporean court and let foreign judges rule on the merits of the case; and, if found in Lanka’s favour, decide on the quantum of damages to be awarded.

Strange. Not so long ago patriotic cabinets would have vehemently opposed, and branded as treacherous, any move to try a Lankan issue in a foreign court. Nay, they even opposed and rejected the compromise suggestion to set up hybrid courts, manned by both local and foreign judges to try Lankan nationals, with Lanka’s human rights record also on trial. Such suggestions were condemned as blatant attempts to breach Lanka’s inviolate sovereignty.

Now, without much ado, they reject Lankan courts, manned by Lankan judges, with Lankan lawyers presenting Lanka’s 6 billion dollar claim against a foreign party, as damages for the environmental Armageddon caused to Lanka’s marine life and coast.

Instead, they opt for a Singapore court with Singaporean judges, with Singaporean lawyers arguing Lanka’s claim for a ‘win or lose’ exorbitant legal fee, and, with sublime equanimity, wait for a Singapore court to deliver justice to the Lankan people.

This is no aspersion on a Singapore court’s integrity but merely a reflection on how local attitudes can dramatically change in so swift a time.

This Tuesday, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa informed Parliament that the legal action would be finally filed in a Singapore court that same day. Then, under the parliamentary cover of absolute privilege, he told the House: ‘I reveal in Parliament today a piece of information. I am not accepting any responsibility for it nor do I know whether it’s evidence or not. There’s a name given to me.’

He then proceeded to give the full name of one Chamara G, a bank’s sorting code and IB No and account number and said he had received information that 250 million dollars had been deposited in the account. He did not name his source nor the date on which the deposit had been made. He said he had asked the police to probe his claim.

If anyone else had made such a claim, without even a prima facie shred of proof to support his allegation, and without accepting responsibility for it, it would be dismissed out of hand, in the manner US Ambassador Chung on Tuesday, debunked Parliament’s old conspiracy theory buff Weerawansa’s latest western conspiracy volume, as a work of ‘fiction’ for its ‘baseless allegations’ and ‘outright lies’.

But when Justice Minister Wijeyadasa takes the full House into his confidence and tells MPs of a 250 million dollar bribe to sink Lanka’s 6 billion dollar claim deeper than Xpress Pearl’s sunken wreck, then woe betide those who do not take it seriously.

Only one snag. Who the devil is Chamara G? The hunt for the mystery Chamara G is now on. But so far, neither the police nor media nor netizens surfing the web have caught any Chamara G, not even a red herring.

What are the odds of the local police successfully lifting the veil of Britain’s bank secrecy laws and confirming whether a 250 million dollar deposit had indeed been made into the said account? Could such a huge amount be placed in a British High Street bank account with no questions asked? Would any international shipping or insurance company implicitly trust an unknown middleman with 250 million dollars?

These are some of the questions police sleuths, no doubt, will ask themselves while they fly to England’s summer sunshine where they will hope that, like the dancing buds of May, the right answers will bloom for them.

The Opposition’s SJB also raised some questions on the prudence of filing the action in a Singapore court when local courts would have been the better option. But now that the lawsuit has been finally filed in Singapore, the answers can await the Singapore outcome.

If the judgement and the quantum of damages do not fall short of Lanka’s great expectations, all questions of a bribery scandal will instantly vanish in the ensuing riotous celebrations. If not, there will be no redemption for those souls, damned under the shadow of suspicion, from Purgatory’s Chasm.

Susil says no money for school kids’ free brunch

With much fanfare, Education Minister Susil Premajayantha kicked off in January the World Food Programme and USAID supported free midday meals for school children.

This was greatly welcomed by poverty-stricken parents and by nutritionists who had warned of rising malnutrition among Lankan children mainly due to the country’s bankruptcy.  The widespread popularity of the free meal programme led the minister to even announce on March 13th that the 1.2 million presently receiving the midday meal would be increased to 2 million from April’s new school term.

But when the kids went back to school after their holidays, they found to their dismay no free meals on their class tables. The parents were told the programme had been halted.

PREMAJAYANTHA: April crunch after March promise

Why? Why had a programme, which had been on the planning board since September last year to provide over a million children in 8000 rural schools free midday meals, and implemented in January this year, abruptly stopped after just three months?

It needed a question from JVP leader Dissanayake in Parliament on Wednesday to make Education Minister Susil Premajayantha admit that the programme had been halted temporarily for lack of funds. That can be hardly an excuse.

A ministry press release, issued on March 18th, stated, ‘The ministry has also instructed the doubling of the number of children who receive lunch from the next school term. The World Food Programme and American aid have provided rice, lentils, salmon, and cooking oil for the meals given to children five days a week’.

When a long-term welfare programme is planned, isn’t it vital to be first assured that the necessary funding will be available to support implementation? And before talking big of doubling the amount, to be doubly sure? Or was the minister content to bask in a blaze of publicity at the initial launch and feed the children for three months and to let them live off the fat for the rest of the year?

With the menu of rice, lentils, salmon — and even the cooking oil — funded by WFP and American aid, what was the local spanner in the works that halted the programme?

Premajayantha’s convoluted reply in the House was that the programme had been halted due to a delay in payments to suppliers in February and March.  He said: ‘Steps are now being taken to make the outstanding payments of Rs. 875 million to all provinces for February and March using the World Bank funds within the next two to three weeks.’

Is that an answer worthy of the Education Minister to give for his and his ministry officials’ seeming apathy towards ensuring suppliers are paid on time in a 7 million dollar project funded by WFP and USAID?

The Daily Mirror also reported on April 26 that Premajayantha had said, ‘Rs. 16 billion had been allocated for this programme in last November’s budget for this year but it had been delayed due to the economic crisis.’

If so, what is he waiting for? Does he expect it to be given unasked? Ministries must fight tooth and nail to wrest their share from the miserly Finance Ministry. Premajayantha should put the President’s ‘first the children’ policy and demand from the Finance Ministry the necessary funds to pay the suppliers and ensure the children receive their free midday diet without a break. It is because of the economic crisis that the children must be fed through welfare schemes.

Only the day before, President Ranil Wickremesinghe had stressed his commitment to transforming the children of Lanka into an educated force, well-geared to meet the challenges of the future.

As Chief Guest at the centenary celebration of Rahula College in Matara, he had said: ‘We must provide our children with an education that meets the demands of the time. My government is working towards 2048 and beyond. As part of our plan, we have committed to creating a good education system in the country by 2030.’

But an educated force cannot be built on empty stomachs. And when the world has lent a helping hand by financially supporting the midday meal programme, it’s outrageous to see its benefit not flowing to nourish school children.

Pity, that some of the President’s ministers and their ministry bureaucrats, enjoying their ride on the gravy train, seem unable to walk his talk.

Even for the sake of Lanka’s seed and blossom.


 

The Saree runs 26 mile British marathon to win style stakesThe versatile saree, Asia’s singular fashion statement that has remained unchanged for centuries, showed this week it’s still the best style for all seasons, for all reasons.Indian-born Madushmita Jena flung the laws of aerodynamics to the winds and dared to run in Britain’s second premier endurance race, the gruelling 26-mile Adidas Manchester Marathon last Sunday, wearing the most air-resistant outfit: a colourful red Sambalpuri  Saree, a traditional six-yard creation of her Odisha home town.The 41-year-old school teacher, who now lives in Britain, successfully completed the 26-and-a-half mile course with a creditable timing of 4 hours and 50 minutes for women. That is just below 5.5 miles per hour.

“Imagine how fast she would run with normal marathon clothes. Well done,” said a Twitter user.

But Madushmita didn’t run to lift the cup but only to win the praise of her Odisha community for showcasing Odisha’s traditional creations.

Sambalpuri sarees are famed for incorporating Odisha’s traditional motifs the shell, the wheel and the flower in the design and presenting it in Odisha’s native red, black and white hues.  The saree is also created using the tie-dye technique.

Madushmita also struck a blow for Asia’s six-yard-wrap around when she completed the race. She said: “People have this pre-conceived notion that women cannot run in a saree. I have proved them wrong,”

She certainly has. “She always inspires us with new    MADU’S FEAT: 26 miles in a six yard silk wrap feats but this time she went an extra mile by running in a saree. The entire Odisha community of the UK is proud of her achievements,” said the former secretary of Odisha Society of UK Sukant Kumar Sahu.

 

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