Southern ministers at loggerheads

by Shamindra Ferdinando
Southern Region Development Minister Ananda Kularatne wants premier Ranil Wickremesinghe to discipline Sajith Premadasa, deputy minister of health, nutrition and welfare. The minister wants the premier to pressurise Premadasa to stop what he described as "high handed actions."

Kularatne took advantage of a recent Temple Trees meeting to censure Premadasa. During the meeting, a series of allegations were made against him, political sources said. Premadasa was accused of carrying an article defamatory of him and his father in a magazine printed at the government press. The printing had been done on Premadasa’s request, the sources said. The premier has directed Mass Communication Minister Imthiaz Bakeer Markar to probe Kularatne’s claim.

The meeting was held to discuss ways and means of countering the ongoing wave of opposition protests, the sources said. UNP chairman Malik Samarawickrema, S. B. Dissanayake and Markar were among those present.

Hambantota district leader Kularatne and Premadasa who obtained the highest voter percentage at the October 2000 and December 2001 parliamentary elections have repeatedly clashed publicly over a range of issues.

"Yes. The government press printed it for me," Premadasa acknowledged yesterday. "I don’t see anything wrong with that. The magazine is not for sale and is purely for the public benefit," he told the Sunday Island. "We have to keep the public informed of our development work," he said, pointing out the government leaders have repeatedly stressed the need to keep the public briefed.

Replying to questions, he pointed out that he ‘is not the only politician who benefits from the government press.’

Accusing Kularatne of being jealous of his popularity, Premadasa dismissed Kularatne’s allegations. "He is scared of me as I continue with my development programmes in the districts. I am not confining myself to any particular electorate. Instead, my work covers the entire district," Premadasa said. He accused Kularatne of conspiring with PA/SLFP and JVP local leaders to silence him. On a complaint lodged by Premadasa, the CID is probing a conspiracy involving Kularatne, southern provincial councillor Ajith Jayasekera and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse to assassinate him, a charge vehemently denied by them.

Premadasa also accused his opponents of trying to cripple a project to improve educational and health facilities in the district. "With the help of the private sector, I have completed almost 80 school buildings and 40 health centres. We are in the process of building more facilities," he said. The premier, he said, is fully aware of his work in the south. "I want to make him a two-term president," he said, adding that would be possible only if the entire parliamentary group works as one.