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Autopsies prove Minister, Prisons and Police wrong

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Clashes among Mahara prisoners caused deaths?

*SJB points out AG faulted IGP over Mahara riot
 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Investigations into the Mahara prison riot that claimed the lives of 11 inmates and wounded over 100 recently have taken a new turn with eight post mortems conducted so far revealing that all of them died of gunshot injuries.

In the run-up post-mortems conducted by a five-member team comprising four consultant judicial medical officers and a ballistic expert from the Government Analyst’s Department, both police headquarters and the Office of the Commissioner General of Prisons repeatedly alleged that the deaths were due to fierce clashes among remanded suspects and convicted prisoners.

Clashes erupted following protests launched by inmates demanding immediate measures to thwart the spread of the corona epidemic in the Mahara prison. So far, over 3,000 positive cases have been reported from prisons.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday (25) confirmed that autopsies revealed all eight bodies bore marks of gunshot injuries. Asked how many statements had been recorded by the police so far in connection with Mahara riots, DIG Rohana, who is also the senior officer in charge of the Police Legal Division, said wounded inmates were among 726 questioned by Thursday (24).

At the time of the Mahara prison riot, approximately 2,800 persons, including 600 convicted were held in the overcrowded facility.

Prisons Management and Prisons Rehabilitation Minister Lohan Ratwatte, having visited devastated Mahara prison told Parliament on Dec 3 that none of those killed during the riot had suffered gunshot injuries.

The Attorney General’s Department made an application at the Wattala Magistrate’s Court for the appointment of a panel of experts to conduct the post-mortem on Mahara victims when the family members and rights activists called upon the government not to cremate them without a post-mortem.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), too, intervened in the matter. The HRCSL instructed the Ragama Hospital to retain bodies till the autopsies were conducted. Three autopsies have yet to be conducted.

At the onset of the investigation, the focus was on claims by the Police headquarters and the Prisons Department that the rioters had been under the influence of drugs. Both Departments said the Prison Dispensary had stored over 21,000 tablets prescribed for mental disorders, and sleeping pills.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Colombo District MP Mujibur Rahman yesterday (25) told The Island that the government owed an explanation as to how all autopsies conducted so far had proved inmates died due to gunshot injuries.

At the time of the riots, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle was in charge of prisons. Soon after the Mahara violence, Kandy District lawmaker Ratwatte succeeded Dr. Fernandopulle.

MP Rahman said they were awaiting the autopsies of the remaining three bodies and that in spite of clear evidence of fatal shootings, both Police Headquarters and Prisons Department continued to insist that the deaths had been caused by clashes among remand prisoners.

MP Rahman pointed out that Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, had blamed IGP C. D. Wickremaratne for congestion in prisons while President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faulted the Government Analyst, the AG and the police for the prison crisis.

MP Rahman said that State Minister Ratwatte should reveal the person who assured him that none of the Mahara deaths had been caused by gunshots.

Magisterial inquiry in respect of Mahara killings resumes at the Wattala Magistrate court on Wednesday (Dec 30).

Lawmaker Rahman said that the government couldn’t turn a blind eye to the report submitted by a five-member committee headed by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena that justified the inmates’ grievances. The SJB spokesperson asked whether the government had made a deliberate bid to deceive Parliament and the people. Some government members went to the extent of complaining of a conspiracy to discredit President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government by engineering Mahara riot.

Rahman said that the ongoing investigation should clarify AG’s statement as regards the IGP’s culpability and added that he had never heard AG making such an allegation against a serving Police Chief.

The SJB MP noted that the accusation was made in the presence of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC and Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya.

Rahman asked the government who would accept responsibility for the Mahara killings.

The AG alleged that the Mahara incident could have been avoided if the IGP had carried out instructions the former had issued in April this year. MP Rahman said that the government couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for Mahara killings. He said all the victims had tested corona positive.



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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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