15 August 2012

Political Round-up Aug 5-12, 2012

Gota fires aces in Colombo, Karunanidhi eats humble pie

With elections for the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial Councils less than a month away, the main political parties have stepped up their respective campaigns.  While the ruling party holds an obvious edge by dint of incumbency, a flurry of activity by contenders was apparent during the week, less on the ground than in word and froth designed as media-bait, naturally. 

The week also saw more twists and turns in education crisis pertaining to Z-scores, errors in the A/L Combined Mathematics paper, trade union action by academics, contentions about budgetary allocations, university admissions, threats of boycotting A/L paper marking, FUTA-JVP tie ups and non-academic staff cashing in on the confusion by threatening action of its own.  

Drought and issues of fuel quality brought the CEB and CPC into focus during the week, again with CEB workers discerning opportunity to exploit and win demands. 

Most of these issues have spilled over from the previous week.  What was different was the three-day ‘Defence Seminar 2012’ on the theme ‘Towards Lasting Peace and Stability’ focusing on reconstruction, resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and reconciliation’ held at the Galadari Hotel, Colombo and attended by more than 300 delegated os academics, administrators and military personnel from 43 countries. 

Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa briefed the participants on all that has taken place subsequent to the routing of the LTTE, pointing out that the defence establishment had effectively been transformed into a protecting entity.  He said that a planned phasing out of military presence from the former combat areas is in effect and said that while some troops will remain in strategic locations, their presence will be non-intrusive. 

Rajapaksa also took opportunity to correct misconceptions held by the General of the much-maligned Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), General (Rtd) Ashok K. Mehta who  quoted unnamed sources to counter the government’s position on de-militarization.  General Mehta also asked if the Government was ready to pardon the 383 ex-LTTE combatants.  Rajapaksa had to detail the process of screening and the pains taken by the Government to rehabilitate, empower with skill and reintegrate ex-terrorists whose fate would have been far from happy had the war continued, and who may very well have participated in numerous crimes against humanity at the bidding of the terrorist leadership.  Earlier, the intelligence chief of the IPKF, Col. Hariharan had acknowledged that the Indian military had suffered from a woeful lack of understanding on ground realities, blaming ‘civilian intelligence operatives’. 

The Government’s efforts both during the conflict and afterwards came in for high praise from President of India’s Janata Party, Subramanian Swamy.  He condemned the many moves to impose from abroad a solution and insisted that proposals must emerge indigenously after full democratic consultationnn with all stakeholders, none of whom will have veto power and adopted by the Sri Lankan Parliament. Swamy also met with President  Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss issues of reconciliation. 

After returning to India, Swamy asked Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa to visit Sri Lanka to ‘help foster Sinhala-Tamil’ reconciliation while taking jibes at DMK chief M. Karunanidhi for going ‘bankrupt’ on ideas on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue. 

A visit by Jayalalithaa to Sri Lanka at this juncture will promote reconciliation and foster India-Sri Lanka bonding, he added.

He warned Karunanidhi against any talk of ‘Eelam’, saying it would attract action under Indian Penal Code including abatement of secessionist forces against Sri Lanka, which ‘is a friendly country (to India)’.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris, in his presentation, blamed ‘external interference’  for the deal in reaching a political settlement.  He urged those who are currently working with various Tamil groups abroad should revisit what they did during the time the LTTE was a formidable militarily presence in the island.  He also noted that had there been no concern for civilian lives, the LTTE could have been defeated much earlier.

Karunanidhi and Eelam-backers in Tamil Nadu stumped
Meanwhile efforts by Tamil Nadu politician Karunanidhi to whip up Tamil nationalism to serve narrow political objectives by hosting a pro-Eelam meeting ran into trouble following a ban imposed by the police. The Indian Home Ministry had also urged the front organization used by Karunanidhi, Tamil Eelam Support Organization (TESO) to remove the word ‘Eelam’ from their activities.  Chief Minister Jayalalitha put her professed Eelam-need on hold, refusing to give permission for the meeting ‘in the common interest of Chennai residents.  Moreover, Karunanidhi was effectively snubbed by the TNA, among whose movers and shakers are those involved in feeding the worst elements of Tamil communalism and pushing them to the point of taking arms in order to carve a separate state.  The constituent parties of the TNA have declined invitation to attend with only the left firebrand Wickramabahu Karunaratne, dependent on fringes of the main opposition for political relevancy, expressing willingness to take part. 

The UNP’s many headaches
The main opposition party, the UNP, embroiled in internal tug-and-pull, has found the going touch, trying to deal with disunity even as it fires salvos at the Government on a range of issues.    The party’s 66th anniversary celebrations have been scheduled strategically for September 6th, two days before the elections.

Speculation has been rife that two prominent UNPers were set to jump ship and it was whispered that disciplinary action would be taken against both who were planning, according to unnamed sources, to sit as independents in Parliament following relevant statements.  Outspoken critique of both the government and the party leadership, Dayasiri Jayasekera who was widely rumored to be on the verge of defecting has quashed speculation on the subject, however. He told The Nation yesterday that the story of his defection is a fiction spun by Ranil Wickremesinghe’s media mafia.  He said that a meeting in Kegalle that he was scheduled to addressed had been cancelled.  He added that the organizers of the Anuradhapura meeting had defied the party leader, saying that even if he (Ranil) didn’t attend, they wanted Dayasiri present.  The rebel MP also pointed out that he has cordial relations with President Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as UPFA MP Namal Rajapaksa, pointing out that they always speak with him when they meet him unlike the UNP leader who sometimes looks the other way.

Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, addressing party faithful in Kandy alleged that the Cabinet is the biggest mafia.  He has also gone on record to state that the Government is destroying the education system in much the same way that it wiped out the LTTE.  The UNP leader also proposed Parliamentary oversight committees to curb corruption.  Meanwhile, one-time Deputy Leader, Karu Jayasuriya who has been hoofed out of the party’s working committee, batting alone has accused the government of wasting the nation’s money, alleging that 14 more MI171 helicopters are due to be purchased. 

Meanwhile the allegation leveled by Minister of Heath Maithripala Sirisena that Wickremesinghe ‘spied for Chandrika Kumaratunga during the 1994 Presidential Election’ has caused ripples in the UNP with Wickremesinghe loyalist and General Secretary Tissa Attanayake demanding that Sirisena substantiate the claim.  Sirisena has stated that he is able and willing.  A public debate on the issue is now on the cards.

That however seems to be the least of Wickremesinghe’s problems for the Mt. Lavinia Court has ruled to suspend the amendment to the party constitution extending leadership to 6 years, following a petition by UNP Southern Provincial Councillor Maithri Gunaratne.  A notice has been duly issued on Wickremesinghe and 85 others in the Working Committee to appear in court.

Hakeem remorseful about ‘yellow-robe’ statement
Rauff Hakeem, the leader of the SLMC, a constituent of the ruling coalition but is contesting separately in the Eastern Province, has issued an apology to the Maha Sangha and especially the JHU for unsavory comments about ‘yellow robe terrorism’.  He confessed, ‘We have enjoyed the patronage and benevolence of the Sinhala people from the time of the Sinhala kings’.  Meanwhile the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama requested Muslim politicos to avoid making statements that could cause disharmony among communities. 

From rata-perata to ratha-perahera
The JVP, in reduced circumstances following a second major split in the party and several resounding defeats, launched an atypical bourgeois-drive, literally, by organizing a vehicle-procession from South to North.   The party is due to kick off its official election campaign from Ratnapura. 

CaFFE the victor in fund-seeking war for monitoring?
As parties and candidates enter the last few weeks of the campaign, the Elections Commissioner has issued an ‘Election Code’ for them.   The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) has welcomed this move even as it has reported that there had been over 100 violations by Tuesday alone.  The self-appointed monitoring industry, meanwhile, appears to be monopolized by CaFFE with fellow seekers of monitoring funds, PAFFREL and CMEV (Centre for Monitoring Election Violence) being conspicuously silent. 

Z-Scores, Univ Admission, FUTA and the HR crisis
The contentious issue of Z-scores and university admissions, coupled with union action by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) continues to plague the education system and especially the universities.   FUTA has held meeting with Minister of Economic Affairs, Basil Rajapaksa and has expressed hope that outstanding issues will be resolved soon.  However, FUTA has found an ally largely blamed for violence and unrest in the universities, the JVP.  How this helps or detracts from FUTA’s profile is yet to be seen.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court has reprimanded the UGC for not implementing the judgment on Z-scores.  The UGC has offered that the university admissions process will be kept on hold until the Z-score dispute is settled.  Students who feel cheated on account of the revised Z-scores have sought redress in the courts.  The President himself has held talks with the Vice Chancellors on admissions in order to settle the issue once and for all.  However, the fact that a conclusive solution has evaded all parties has generated concerns that the problem will resurface next year.  Ranil Wickremesinghe has demanded that the Z-score model be abandoned, a suggestion which JHU leader, Patali Champika Ranawaka has likened to throwing the baby with the bath water, considering regional and disciplinary anomalies. 

The fact that errors have been detected in the combined math papers with the Examinations Department calling for explanations from the Mathematics Professor who set the paper and the strike threat by the non-academic staff in universities have cast shadows over speedy resolution.  Spokespersons for FUTA have also issued veiled threats about boycotting A/L paper marking. 

The silver lining to all this remains a cabinet paper that seeks to overhaul the human resources policy of the government.  If approved by cabinet and implemented would offer long term solutions to most of these issues and put a stop to ad hoc measures designed only to tide over difficulties which can very well exacerbate problems in the long run. 
Power cuts, CEB workers’ agitation and contaminated diesel
Politics is not only about political parties. Crises make for politicking as well as righteous agitation.  The power and energy sectors seem to plagued by mismanagement, unrest and irresponsibility.  CEB workers, reputedly among the better looked-after of the state workers, have through their unions threatened to strike if grievances are not addressed.  Minister of Power and Energy has talked tough in return, saying that no one has the right to use electricity as a bargaining tool.  These moves come in the wake of impending power cuts due to reduced water levels in the hydropower producing reservoirs and another albeit relatively minor breakdown at the Norochcholai coal power facility.

Meanwhile the issue of substandard fuel continues to inspire the exchange of barbs and deflecting of responsibility.  The subject minister Susil Premjayanth has stated that CPC standards are outdated.  Transport Minister, Kumara Welgama has lamented that SLTB could rightfully claim the Rs. 6.6 million estimated to have been lost courtesy of substandard fuel.  The CPC has vowed to take action against the guilty while Premjayanth contends that oil imports need to be probed by the Attorney General.  Former Chairman, CPC, business tycoon Harry Jayawardena meanwhile has exchanged words in the media with the minister about such probes.  The upshot of all this, sadly, is that the general public are in the dark about what really happened and what can be expected to happen.  The long term impact on the economy is something few talk about.  

[Published in 'The Nation', August 12, 2012]



Shaik Ahamath said...

I think the main objective for the introduction of Z-Scores is to ensure a fairer distribution of university admissions. This is to be welcomed but I believe the design of it is seriously flawed. The simple option would be to leave it to the universities themselves to use their expertise to devise a fairer distribution ensuring a quota of the different categories of students set by the government.