Thursday 15th July, 2021
The yahapalana government found itself on the rack for its failure to prevent the Easter Sunday carnage, which became its undoing. The SLPP, which came into power, promising to bring the perpetrators of the savage attacks to justice, is also in dire straits; it is drawing heavy flak for its failure to have the carnage properly investigated. It may have thought a presidential commission of inquiry would help put the matter to rest, but the issue refuses to go away. The Catholic Church has given the government one month to provide answers to the questions it has raised, all these months, about the tragedy. It has, in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, called for legal action against SLPP MP Maithripala Sirisena, who was the President at the time of the 2019 terror attacks; it wants the mastermind behind the attacks traced. It has also faulted the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), which probed the Easter Sunday attacks, for the absence of specific recommendations in its report as regards Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the Prime Minister at the time
It is only natural that the Church leaders’ patience has been wearing thin; they undertook to ensure that all perpetrators of the attacks would be brought to justice, and thereby helped prevent a backlash. If the government fails to do as the Catholic priests say, it will have another wave of protests to contend with, and all right-thinking Sri Lankans will stand shoulder to shoulder with the disappointed prelates demanding justice.
Ironically, the present-day rulers have had to protect the very person who threw them out of power about six years ago. They must have been dreaming of having Sirisena thrown behind bars while he was the President, but today political expediency has taken precedence over their urge to take revenge, and they stand accused of having prevented legal action being taken against him.
Meanwhile, the government has not been able to convince the public and the Catholic Church that Moulavi Naufer was the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday bombings. It is widely believed that there was a foreign hand in the attacks. Not even the then Attorney General Dappula de Livera bought into the government’s claim in question. He said there had been a ‘grand conspiracy’ behind the tragedy.
The PCoI report hardly provides fresh insights or any individuated reading that can help clear doubts in people’s minds about the real masterminds behind the terror strikes, as we have argued in a previous comment. The PCoI seems to have dealt with the alleged foreign involvement in the Easter Sunday carnage perfunctorily. It has devoted only an eight-page chapter in its bulky report to the alleged foreign involvement. This section, in our book, lacks clarity and proper analysis. The witnesses who expressly testified that there had been ‘an external hand or conspiracy behind the attacks’ are Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, former President Sirisena, former Minister Rauf Hakeem, former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, former Governor Azath Salley, SJB MP Mujibur Rahman, former SIS Director SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena, former STF Commandant M. R. Lateef, former Chief of Defence Staff Ravindra Wijegunaratne, former SDIG CID Ravi Seneviratne and former CID Director Shani Abeysekera. Dismissing their statements as mere ipse dixits (assertions made but not proven), the PCoI report says on page 472 that it did not find any such foreign link. It has, however, recommended that certain identified parties be further investigated.
The Church leaders have rightly pointed out that no serious effort has been made to trace Sarah, the widow of the Katuwapitiya bomber. She fled to India after the attacks and must be aware who the real masterminds behind the bombings are. One may recall that SDIG Jayawardena, who was the Director of SIS at the time of the attacks, told the PCoI that there could have been a foreign involvement. The PCoI report (page 218) quotes Jayawardena as having said that an Indian named Abu Hind ‘may have triggered the attacks’; it says, “He [Jayawardena] went on to imply that the intelligence agencies that provided him with the intelligence on 4th, 20th and 21st April 2019 may have had a hand in the attack.” According to the report, an ‘international expert on terrorism’, who testified in camera, said, “Abu Hind was a character created by a section of a provincial Indian intelligence apparatus, and the intelligence that the Director SIS received on the 4th, 20th and 21st April 2019 was from this operation, and the intelligence operative pretending to be one Abu Hind. Operatives of this outfit operate in social media pretending to be Islamic State figures. They are trained to run virtual persona.” (Emphasis added.) The report goes on to say, “The testimony was that Zahran believed Abu Hind was the Islamic State regional representative. Abu Hind was in touch with both Zahran and his brother, Rilwan, and had spoken to Naufer. This part of the evidence is confirmed by the testimony of Hadiya [wife of Zahran].” It is mentioned on page 220 of the report that according to the aforesaid international expert ‘the Indian Central Government was not aware of the intelligence obtained by the provincial outfit’.
Investigators have so far only scratched the surface of the alleged foreign involvement. There is a pressing need for this particular aspect of the attacks to be investigated throughly.
The government, which has boxed itself into a corner, is left with no alternative but to ensure that the PCoI recommendations are fully implemented and order a probe into the alleged foreign involvement in the carnage.
It is incumbent upon all aforementioned witnesses who have alleged a foreign hand to furnish more evidence to substantiate their claims. This, however, does not mean that the burden of proof lies entirely with them. The onus is on the government to get at the truth. After all, that is what it promised before the presidential and parliamentary elections. Unless the masterminds behind the terror strikes are identified and brought to justice, the country will not be safe despite the braggadocio of its leaders.
1990 – Suwa Seriya’s success story
That perhaps is the country’s best known telephone number. Punch those four digits on any telephone and an ambulance will be at your door in less than 15 minutes, the average time of response. This is what the Suwa Seriya Ambulance Service, launched against a myriad of obstacles five years ago, has given the sick and injured free, gratis and for nothing rushing nearly a million people for hospital care since its innauguration. For many of them, this has been a life saver thanks to something a country, long used to doing otherwise, got right. It was not all plain sailing though. There was very strong opposition to the project, funded by India on a grant basis. The powerful Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) opposed it. So did several other influential parties and groups fearing job losses for locals, misplaced nationalism and other reasons now proved wrong. At the initial stages, even parking the ambulances in government hospitals was not permitted. But it has all ended well and today it is acknowledged to be one of the finest public services available to Sri Lankans.
Last week, Suwa Seriya which means “a journey to health/wellness” celebrated its fifth anniversary. The project was launched at the initiative of Dr. Harsha de Silva, then a non-cabinet minister of the Yahapalana government and now an Opposition MP. He suffered a traumatic experience on a trip to the Eastern Province with a group of family and friends when one of their vehicles suffered an accident and a member of the party was seriously hurt. Getting an ambulance to rush the injured to hospital proved problematic. It was then that the germ of the project that has given this country so much during the last five years came to be. De Silva says in an article we publish in this issue of our newspaper that on July 28, 2026, what was called the 1990 Suwa Seriya Project was launched in the Western and Sabaragamuwa Provinces with 88 ambulances purchased from India with a grant of USD 7.6 million. Following the success of that pilot project, India granted a further USD 15.2 million to cover the whole island with the service.
Today as many as 297 ambulances are operated countrywide and they are a common sight even in remote areas. The service is managed entirely at the expense of the Government of Sri Lanka through the Suwa Seriya Foundation set up by an Act of Parliament. It is run by an eminent group working in an honorary capacity. There is no gainsaying the founder’s claim that the “last five years have been a period of healing for the country.” People who have benefited from the service and their near and dear are all too aware of its value as also a wider segment of the population who have seen and heard of the good that it has done and continues to do. All of us Lankans must be truly grateful to India for gifting us this invaluable service, her second biggest donation to an immediate neighbour. In value terms, it is only behind the ongoing 60,000 houses grant costing nearly USD 400 million. There was one condition attached to the gift – that after the initial phase, the Government of Sri Lanka must take over the service and run it. “We readily agreed,” de Silva says.
Making an outright grant to purchase the ambulances was not all that India did to get the service started and keep it running. Since the project was setup, New Delhi and Colombo organized training for Lankan ambulancemen and technicians to hone their skills at a specialized institution in Hyderabad. The well known newspaper, The Hindu, in a recent report marking the fifth anniversary of the ambulance service reported that so far, all 709 technicians working round the clock for Suwa Seriya have been trained in India. The report quoted Sohan de Silva, Suwa Seriya’s CEO, saying that this hands-on training has greatly helped our emergency technicians who also undergo refresher programmes periodically. The not-for-profit Foundation which runs the service has a staff of 1,400 and is a semi-government institution including medical technicians and drivers. It is under the purview of the Ministry of Health with State Minister Sudharshini Fernandopulle, a qualified doctor, in charge. While each ambulance carry a sticker saying it is a gift from the people of India to the people of Sri Lanka acknowledging the Indian connection, as Harsha de Silva told The Hindu, the service is Sri Lanka’s and run entirely by Sri Lankans.”
It is a matter of satisfaction that despite the political orientation of those who initially opposed the project, the new government is wholeheartedly supporting what its predecessor began. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently went of record saying that the ambulance fleet will be augmented with 112 new vehicles. The situation caused by the current explosion of the Covid pandemic has demonstrated anew the value of this service which has over the past few months redoubled its efforts attending not only to medical and accident related emergencies but also in helping the transfer of Covid-infected patients to hospitals. The country certainly owes a debt of gratitude to India, whose Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a personal interest in the project when Dr. Harsha de Silva first made the request to him while he was here on an official visit some years ago. Equally so to de Silva for all the hard work he has put in to make the project the success it is. Thanks are also due to all those others, who in an honorary capacity, helped move it along and continues to help manage it.
Saving poor children
Saturday 31st July, 2021
The police have had to go into overdrive to investigate Ishalini’s tragic end. The victim’s body was exhumed yesterday for a second postmortem by a team of forensic medical experts, and the public is eagerly awaiting their report. Investigators must pull out all the stops and get to the bottom of what actually happened to the girl.
A separate investigation is called for to find out why the police did not launch a thorough investigation immediately after Ishalini’s admission to hospital. They dragged their feet until the media reported her death, triggering public outrage. Stern action should be taken against the police personnel responsible for this serious lapse. It must also be ascertained whether there was a political hand behind the initial delay in investigations. Although MP Rishad Bathiudeen, at whose residence Ishalini suffered serious burn injuries, is in the Opposition, some of his MPs are supporting the government.
It has been revealed that as many as 17,500 videos of Sri Lankan children being sexually abused are found on the Internet. This shows how established and widespread the child abuse racket in this country is. There is reason to believe that the police are scratching the surface of the problem in that the Internet is not the only medium through which children are exploited sexually or otherwise. But for the use of a website to attract sickos as clients, the predicament of an underage girl from Mount Lavinia sold into prostitution would not have come to light. There must be hundreds of such underage children forced to work as sex slaves. They must be liberated from the clutches of organised procurers.
The question is what the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) and other state institutions responsible for protecting children have been doing about the videos at issue. These video clips would not have gone unnoticed if the state outfits concerned had carried out their duties and functions properly. They must be made to explain their lapse.
Perhaps, the plight of poor children reduced to semi-slavery as domestic workers would not have shaken the nation’s conscience to the extent of people taking to the streets, demanding justice, unless Ishalini had come to harm at an Opposition MP’s residence. Had her employer been a ruling party MP, the incident would probably have been covered up; the police would have concocted a story to mislead the public, the way they did following Thajudeen’s killing.
The police are shown on television visiting houses and asking whether there are underage domestic workers. Their naivety beggars belief, and their modus operandi reminds us of the visa applications that ask the applicants whether they have been involved in any criminal activities!
The best way to trace child workers is to enlist the help of the Grama Niladaris, and encourage the public to provide information about the underage workers in their neighbourhoods to the police or the NCPA so that raids could be conducted. Given Sri Lankans’ penchant for sneaking on their neighbours, this method is sure to work.
While everything possible is done to trace child workers and ensure their freedom, the factors that have led to the estate sector being the main source of child labour have to be obviated if the problem is to be tackled effectively. Yesterday, this newspaper revealed the appalling conditions in which plantation workers are living. A family has to shoehorn all its members into a small house with a floor area of less than 180 sq. ft. They also have to skip meals due to poverty. No wonder the children who grow up amidst such deprivations drop out of school and opt for work at tender ages. Our report also pointed out that some housing units constructed for the plantation workers cannot be handed over to the beneficiaries as there are no funds for water and electricity connections.
If the scourge of child labour is to be removed from our midst, poverty in the rural and estate sectors has to be reduced significantly as a national priority while steps are taken to ensure that the police and the child protection authorities enforce the law strictly and bring the culprits to justice.
Plaguey jab hesitancy
Friday 30th July, 2021
Sri Lanka’s national vaccination drive has gained considerable momentum with more vaccine doses arriving, and the administration thereof continuing apace. The only way to reopen the country fully, and revive the economy soon is to accelerate the vaccination programme further, and ensure the public compliance with the health regulations to beat the Delta variant, decisively. Sadly, it has been reported that some people are not keen to have themselves vaccinated. This kind of vaccine hesitancy or wariness is bound to stand in the way of the country’s reopening plans. How could this issue be tackled? It is however not limited to Sri Lanka. The US and Australia are among the countries affected by the vexatious jab wariness, which is a threat to public health.
It may not be possible to make vaccination mandatory. But everything possible has to be done to persuade the unvaccinated to get the jab for their own sake as well as that of others. In this country, various factors have been adduced to explain vaccine hesitancy. Some people have an unfounded fear of vaccines. Others have been misled by misinformation campaigns carried out by some elements promoting certain brands of vaccines; they are waiting for the jabs of their choice, and this has been the result of the ongoing international trade war over vaccines. There are still others who are planning to travel overseas and want to receive the shots specified by the countries they will be visiting.
The concerns of those who avoid the jab have to be addressed and remedial measures adopted if we are to achieve the much-needed herd immunity through vaccination. The World Health Organization (WHO) has exploded many a myth about vaccines, and approved several jabs after testing them scientifically, and its messages and recommendations have not apparently reached some sections of the Sri Lankan public, who must be made aware that all WHO-recommended vaccines are safe and effective against coronavirus.
Vaccine is science, which has benefited humans tremendously, and there is no reason why one should not repose one’s trust therein. It is the opinion of respected medical professionals that one should heed as regards the pandemic and the vaccines, and not the much-publicised views of profit-seeking multinationals that are notorious for questionable business practices and have even been fined for resorting to corruption to promote their products.
There has been a mixed public reaction to a proposal by the Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) to limit interprovincial travel to the vaccinated. It has struck a responsive chord with some people, but the opponents thereof have pointed out that such a move will be tantamount to discrimination and a violation of people’s rights. Many people have not yet received the jab, and they will be at a disadvantage if the unvaccinated are denied permission to travel across the provinces, the critics of the LPBOA proposal have argued, maintaining that in a democratic society, nobody should be forced to undergo vaccination. This argument is not without some merits. Prior to the commencement of the national vaccination programme, the government announced that nobody would be forced to take the jab. But one may ask how fair it is to respect the rights of some people who refuse to be vaccinated at the expense of others’ right to safety. As for the pandemic, nobody will be safe until everybody is safe, as health experts have warned.
Even the advanced democracies have had to pressure their citizens to take the jab, and devise ways and means of achieving that end. In the US, President Joe Biden, who deserves the credit for having saved millions of American lives by believing in science and expediting the vaccination programme, is expected to announce that all civilian federal employees must be inoculated against coronavirus or be forced to submit to regular testing, physical distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel, according to The New York Times. Fair enough! If one wants one’s right to remain unvaccinated respected, one has to respect others’ right to remain safe, and, therefore agree to enjoy one’s rights under certain conditions for the greater good.
The US vaccine persuasion model is worthy of emulation.
Govt. has already spent US$ 60-65mn to procure Covid-19 vaccines – Lalith Weeratunga
Keeping an Even Keel
Swiss team of experts due today to study SL’s agricultural landscape
7-billion-rupee diamond heist; Madush splls the beans before being shot
The Burghers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka- Reminiscences and Anecdotes
Unfit, unprofessional, fat Sri Lankans
news3 days ago
Private sector funding for Japan visit: State Minister contradicts govt. spokesman
news2 days ago
Private buses to insist that inter-provincial commuters carry proof of vaccination?
Sports6 days ago
Killi Rajamahendran, Kerry Packer of Sri Lankan cricket
news6 days ago
Ishalini’s death: 35 arrested, more arrests likely
news3 days ago
Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital overflowing with Covid-19 cases
Sports5 days ago
Arjuna on his mentor
news2 days ago
Shocking 17,500 video clips of Lankan children being sexually abused
news6 days ago
Maharaja Group Chairman dead