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8,000 prisoners to get early release as a solution to prison congestion

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By Saman Indrajith

Prison Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte says the government is planning to release about 8,000 prisoners as a solution to the problem of congestion in the prisons.

Ratwatte made the announcement at the inaugural meeting of the Justice Ministry Consultative Committee in the parliamentary complex on Saturday.

Minister Ratwatte said that there were 28,951 inmates in 28 prisons across the country. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had issued a directive to release inmates eligible for a pardon, given the COVID situation. A Cabinet paper had been submitted by the Justice Ministry to re-introduce a four-year pardon scheme which had not been in practice for nearly 20 years. The paper also proposed that all death row prisoners who had served more than 20 years be released, Minister Ratwatte said, adding that the Ministry intended to pay the minor fines on behalf of prisoners who were in prison due to their inability to pay them.

Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said that there were around 10,500 inmates related to drug related offences. Of them, 8,500 were in the prisons for heroin-related offences.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry said those convicted of drug offences should be rehabilitated instead of being incarcerated. In most cases, it was not the drug dealer who was convicted, but those who had fallen prey to them.

As regards laws delays, Minister emphasised that Sri Lanka ranked in the 165th position out of the 189 countries of the world. Adding to it the Minister said it had come to his attention that more than 5,000 civil cases were pending in the Sri Lankan District Courts which had not been resolved for over 25 years.

Minister Sabry said that the number of the Supreme Court judges had been increased from 11 to 17 and the number of Court of Appeal judges from 12 to 20 and such action had not been taken for 42 years.

The Minister said that the Cabinet approval had been granted to shift the Ministry located in Hulftsdorp from its present location make more space available to the judiciary.

State Minister Ratwatte and 14 MPs including Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Charles Nirmalanathan, Diana Gamage, M. S. Thowfeek, Udayana Kirindigoda, Madhura Vithanage, S. Kajendran, Sudath Manjula, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Sagara Kariyawasam were present at the Ministerial Consultative Committee on Justice chaired by Minister Sabry.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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