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The Angoda mental hospital case

President Sirisena in bid to outdo Judas Iscariot
JVP gets head start over Joint Opposition



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It was perhaps supremely fitting that we ended 2016 with a scandal involving a key cabinet minister and the Angoda mental hospital. This scandal became public for the first time due to a video posted on SlVlog.com by journalist Darshana Handungoda who explained the whole sordid episode in great detail with a powerful cabinet minister, his valet who got involved with a beautiful Korean woman, ending up with six electric shocks administered to the unfortunate valet’s head in the Angoda mental hospital.  This video can be viewed on the following link - https://youtu.be/RLC7YGJb1Oo. We watched it and then forgot about it because the story was too Hollywood-like to believe. Such things can’t happen in real life was what we thought. Then last Thursday, the aggrieved valet appeared in person at a press conference with an affidavit attested by Commissioner of Oaths Mahanama Dissanayake dated 15 December 2016.


What the valet said at that press conference can be viewed on the following link https://youtu.be/Bzzjyw9KHrM. According to the contents of his affidavit, the name of this aggrieved valet is Harshsa Bandara Thilakasiri. He claimed to be an executive chef by profession who had got involved with the Anti-terrorism movement in the 1990s, and worked with Minister Champika Ranawaka for the past 16 years. He had been on Ranawaka’s ministerial personal staff for the past ten years in all the ministries that he had held from 2007 up to now. He had also been the executive chef of Water’s Edge hotel (no less) and the menial work he did for Ranawaka was obviously due to his allegiance to the cause. His task had been that of a personal valet, cooking for Ranawaka, washing and iroing his clothes and even massaging the Hon. Minister!


The long and short of the story is that this executive chef turned valet who also apparently speaks Korean got involved with an attractive Korean lady and a certain ministerial one had wanted to have fun with this lady which request the valet had refused and this led to a whole chain of events resulting in the valet falling out with the minister, leaving his service and then being literally abducted by the minister’s security guards and henchmen and taken to the Angoda mental hospital where he had been given electric shock treatment.


The fact that a minister and his valet fell out over a woman is not unusual – men do quarrel over women and even if a minister in heat tried to pressurize his employee to yield up his girlfriend to him and actually came to blows over the lady, that too is not unusual. But what is unusual is what is said to have gone on at the Angoda mental hospital. This Harshsa Bandara Thilakasiri in his affidavit claims to have been taken to the Angoda mental hospital on 10 September 2016 by a group comprising of a police officer called SI Herath, two other police officers, one Chandana Ranasinghe who is supposed to be a working director of the UDA and one Pradeep Alwis described as a driver of Champika Ranawaka.   Tilakasiri says that he was kept in Ward No: 5 bearing Ticket No 5521/16 and that on the day he was warded, no patient in his ward had been permitted to receive visitors.


The next day, when his brother Lankendra Tilakasiri and a journalist by the name of Shantha Wijesuriya had arrived at the hospital they had not been allowed to see him. From the third day onwards, Tilakasiri claims to have been given electric shocks as treatment. The consultant psychiatrist treating him has been named in the affidavit as Dr Jayan Mendis. Tilakasiri claims that when he had asked this doctor to allow him to go home, the latter had refused to allow him to leave as he was not yet ‘cured’. Tilaksiri says that though the patient profile states that he had a history of mental disturbance twenty years ago and once again in 2013, that is false.  If there is any truth at all in what Tilakasiri claims to have gone on at the Angoda mental hospital, this is the worst medical scandal to ever to come to light in this country.


Tilakasiri’s affidavit reads like a Hollywood film script with evil doctors waiting to do the bidding of conspiratorial politicians and declare perfectly same people to be insane. We have read of perfectly sane people being confined to lunatic asylums by the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union. Hollywood has also produced some blockbusters including a fairly recent one starring Leonardo di Caprio where you have evil mental hospital administrators who seem only too willing to keep sane people in captivity and treat them for mental illnesses they don’t have. After this story hit the fan last week members of the medical profession were reeling in shock that such a thing could take place in real life in this country. Of course we have to be careful in this because just because someone says something even in a sworn affidavit it does not mean the story is true. We have a long history of false affidavits especially in relation to people in politics.


The Sri Lanka Medical Council should look into this matter very seriously and ascertain 1) whether an individual called Harsha Bandara Tilakasiri was admitted to the Angoda mental hospital, 2) who had brought this individual to be admitted 3) if those accompanying him were not his next of kin, who had accepted the patient 4) the psychiatrist who had first examined the supposed patient and decided that he was indeed mentally ill 5) whether the hospital inquired from the patient or tried to get the police to trace his next of kin before administering advanced treatment like electric shocks etc etc.  


 


Insanity outside Angoda


In the meantime, things were not much different inside or outside the Angoda mental hospital. The exchanges between the the UNP and the SLFP (Sirisena faction) became shriller as the year came to a close. Usually, the run up to Christmas and the following days up to the dawn of the New Year and about two weeks into the New Year is a lean period for the media with most politicians out of the country and everybody taking a long break from work and infighting. But this year, we have reached the end of the year with no diminution in the sound and fury of the political give and take. Even the ministers who have gone abroad continued to make noises even in their absence.  The almost daily exchange of recriminations and insults between the UNP and the SLFP continued last week as well with the UNP going on the offensive and responding more forcefully to the jibes and brickbats of their SLFP colleagues.


Last week Ministers Mano Ganesan and P.Digambaram holding a joint press conference told the SLFP group to leave the government if they are not happy. Then three UNP backbenchers including parliamentarian Nalin Bandara held a press conference at Sirikotha and said much the same thing. UNP parliamentarian Mujibur Rahaman wrote a letter to the President saying that the Presidential Media Unit has been carrying out chauvinistic propaganda.  What he meant by this was that the statements that had been made about the Muslim people and Islam by Galagodaatte Gananasara during a meeting with President Sirisena had been circulated to the media by the Presidential media division. Rahaman had taken exception to the allegation made by Gnanasara to the effect that Islam teaches Muslims to destroy places of historical value. Last week, Dilan Perera, the official spokesman of the SLFP once again lashed out at the UNP on the Sirasa Newsline programme.


All this took place in the backdrop of resounding and embarrassing defeats for the UNP’s Development Special Provisions Bill in all the SLFP controlled provincial councils with the Joint Opposition and the SLFP government group as well as the JVP joining hands to defeat it. Unless the president had specifically instructed the chief ministers to oppose the Bill they would not have thrown their weight behind the Joint Opposition and the JVP. Yet this Bill had been approved by cabinet which is headed by the President. In fact after helping to defeat this Bill in the Western Provincial Council, Chief Minister Isura Devapriya told the media that it was the SLFP that was the decisive group in the government and not the UNP.


He crowed that since the Development Special Provisions Bill had been defeated in the Provincial Councils the only way to get it passed would be with a two thirds majority in Parliament and that too was not possible because the SLFP held the balance in parliament as well. This showed the President’s ability to throw the spanner in the works using the SLFP rump that supports him. There is a very thinly disguised attempt on the part of the SLFP group in parliament to masquerade as the opposition to the UNP because that is the only way they have any prospects of being able to survive the local government elections. Because of the SLFP (Sirisena Group’s), attempt to outdo the Joint Opposition in opposing the UNP, the UNP has been left holding the short end of the stick which is doing them untold damage among the floating voters. They were left with egg on their faces on the bond issue, and now again with the repeated defeat of the Development Special Provisions Bill in the SLFP controlled PCs.


It is just as well that the UNP has begun hitting back. This has been having some effect because every time the UNP reminds the public that it is they who made Sirisena President, the SLFP group in the government loses face. It can be seen that despite President Sirisena’s encouragement of the attacks on the UNP, only a handful of SLFP members like Dilan Perera and Chief Minister Isura Devapriya have been condemning the UNP, while the majority of the SLFP ministers serving in the government have kept quiet.  Even S.B.Dissanayake has not really been attacking the UNP though he did make some offhand comments saying that the SLFP cannot continue for ever in partnership with the UNP and that there are difficulties in running a government in this manner. He is just telling the truth, without any undue criticism of the UNP.


 


Sirisena to serve hoppers to RW?


The reason why Dilan Perera’s voice tends to get amplified is because he is the official spokesman of the SLFP and he can’t possibly be saying all these nasty things about the UNP without a direct go ahead from his party leader. The awareness that Sirisena may be trying to do to Ranil Wickremesinghe what he earlier did not Mahinda Rajapaksa is poisoning the air. This would be like Judas Iscariot first betraying Jesus to the Romans and then betraying the Romans to the Huns – or any other barbarians who would happen to be clamoring at the gate! Everybody refers to Sirisena’s departure from the Rajapaksa camp as the ‘hopper theory’ of politics where you break bread with a man in the night and then stab him in the back in the morning.  The possibility that he may be now trying to do the same thing to the UNP is certainly not going to endear him to the public.


In the meantime, 2017 promises to be an year of confrontations. Mahinda Rajapaksa put out a New Year message which was actually a call to arms. He had said that "2017 will be the year in which the future of Sri Lanka will be decided. The government’s devolution package to divide the country into what they call ‘distinct spheres of authority’, the ETCA with India to open up Sri Lanka to Indian service providers and workers, the privatization of the Hambantota harbour and other government owned assets, are just some of the unwelcome changes that the government has planned in the New Year. All this will come on top of the gross economic mismanagement,  declining growth rate, declining foreign reserves, the deteriorating exchange rate, increased taxation, increased interest rates, increasing inflation and a phenomenal increase in the national debt that we have seen over the past two years."


 


MR’s call to arms


Rajapaksa made overtures to the SLFP group serving in the government by saying: "The SLFP members in the government who were elected to parliament on an anti-UNP, anti-government platform, but have since joined the UNP led government, now appear to be engaged in a struggle with their conscience. Uncertain of the correct path to take, they keep vacillating. While condemning Arjuna Mahendran over the bond scam they defend the Prime Minister. They criticize the UNP in public but vote with them on the VAT Bill, the Office of Missing Persons Bill and the Budget. They cooperate with the Joint Opposition to defeat the ‘super minister’ Bill, but at the same time they cooperate with the UNP on the devolution proposals. At this decisive moment, they should be mindful of the future of the country above everything else."


"Those who hold portfolios and vote with the government on important matters, are members of the government despite any criticism they may make in public about other political parties and ministers in the government. There are many Ministers and MPs in the SLFP group as well as the UNP who are genuinely perturbed by what the government has been doing.  When the leaders of the Joint Opposition so decide, the doors of the anti-government coalition of forces will be thrown open to all such individuals. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of our motherland and the fate of future generations will hang in the balance in 2017 under this increasingly dysfunctional government. May all citizens of Sri Lanka have the courage and strength to meet the challenges that lie ahead from the first week of January onwards."


Within hours of MR’s message appearing on the websites on Friday, the news went around that Priyankara Jayaratne, the State Minsiter of Provincial Councils and Local Government had resigned. Some saw this as a sooner than expected response to MR’s call while others thought it could be another ruse by the SLFP group in government to delay the acceptance of the local government delimitation report. In any case, a minister would not have to resign just to avoid accepting a delimitation report – he could simply make himself unavailable like Minister Faizer Mustapha. In any case, those likeliest to resign from the government are the SLFP (and even UNP) members holding State Minister and deputy ministerial positions in the government. These are the people who have the least to lose.


The members of the SLFP holding ministerial portfolios have been very silent not committing themselves either way. The fact is that if you have a cabinet portfolio, whether you serve in a UNP led government or SLFP led government makes no difference – you will still end up with the same powers. The cabinet ministers would be more interested in safeguarding what they have at present for as long as possible without taking any unnecessary risks. The State Ministers and Deputy Ministers on the other hand have little to lose given the fact that their cabinet ministers are hogging all the power without anything trickling down to them.  By any reckoning, 2017 promises to be an eventful year. Anura Kumara Dissanayake has already said that the New Year will be an year of agitation. The JVP did start following through with their thereat and organized demonstrations in Hambantota against the privatization of the port and the alienation of 15,000 acres of land to foreign companies. Nihal Galappatti was seen leading the demonstrations in Hambantota.


 Even more eye catching than the well attended demonstrations of the JVP in Hambantota was the Michael Moore style ‘raid’ carried out by JVP activist Namal Karunaratne on the Paddy Marketing Board along with a group of cultivators and small scale rice mill owners. With the drought in the main paddy growing districts and a decline in the area planted, a rice shortage in 2017 is widely predicted. The JVP agitators accused the PMB of selling the paddy in the government stores to intermediaries who did not even own rice mills and they were making a killing without the paddy even leaving the stores of the PMB by selling what they had bought at higher prices to mill owners resulting in the price of rice going up in the market. Significantly, the same accusation was made by Dudley Sirisena, the President’s brother at a press conference. All fingers are now pointed at at Minister P. Harrison who is now called ‘Vee’ Harrison. The fact that Dudley Sirisena got involved in the whole debate means that there is a deepening of the rift between the SLFP President and the UNP government.


In Minister Harrison’s absence, Deputy Minister Ajith P.Perera came to Harrison’s defence saying that Harrison was trying to sell government stocks of rice according to a ‘transparent procedure’ and that it was really the ‘rice mafia’ made up of a few large scale mill owners who are responsible for the increase in the price of rice. It was not just the JVP, Dudley Sirisena and the Joint Opposition that was complaining about Harrison’s and the government’s handling of this issue. Even the generally pro-UNP website Lanka e News made critical observations concerning the rice shortage which can be summarised as follows.  


 


* On the claim that there was a surplus of paddy in the country, Minister Harrison tried to sell 200,000 metric tonnes of paddy from the government stores as animal feed. But due to protests from various quarters, he was able to dispose of only 90,000 tonnes of paddy which is the equivalent of 60,000 tonnes of rice. The government is now trying to import 10,000 tonnes of rice to tide over the shortage created by the decision to sell off the existing stocks.


* Though the government has decided to retain one week’s supply of rice amounting to 50,000 tonnes from the buffer stock of 300,000 tonnes maintained by the Paddy Marketing Board, and release the rest into the market, under Harrison’s patronage these stocks were flowing into the chicken feed mills of the main poultry producers in this country. 


* Due to the erratic water management during the past two years, farmers had not got water in time resulting in large tracts of paddy land lying uncultivated. Furthermore the Minister of Agriculture was actively discouraging farmers saying there was a surplus of paddy and that it was best that they cultivated some other crop instead. The fertilizer subsidy was now being given as a cash grant and as a result the fields were not being fertilized properly.


* The Prima Company had been given a subsidy for wheat flour by the government resulting in an increase of the consumption of wheat flour from 750,000 tonnes in 2014 to 1.4 million tonnes in 2016.  Thus rice consumption decreased and the outflow of foreign exchange increased.


* Now that rice has to be imported, racketeers are having a field day with rice that is available for 350 USD per tonne in Bangaladesh being bought for 450 USD.


 


In addition to the privatization of the Hambantota Port, and the debate on the constitution which will come to a head in the first two weeks of the New Year, there are many other equally contentious matters that may turn the next year into a year of protests and demonstrations. One of them is the contributory pension scheme that Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara plans to unveil in the New Year. A contributory pension scheme for all new recruits to the government service is certainly a good idea and there have been similar schemes that have been working well for years as for example the contributory pension scheme for university academic staff which has been operated successfully by the UGC. There is no reason why such a scheme will not work well with regard to other government employees as well. However, government servants tend to believe that their pension should come straight out of the government budget and woe be unto anyone who tries to say otherwise.


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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