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‘Banning extremist organisations will not solve problems’

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Why did Easter PCoI report say ‘Buddhist’ extremists and ‘Islamic’ terrorists?

A group of Muslim civil society activists, led by former PA National List Parliamentarian M. M. Zuhair has questioned the rationale in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that probed the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage in naming those who resorted to violence as ‘Buddhist’ extremists and ‘Islamic’ terrorists.

The following is the text of the statement issued by M. M. Zuhair PC, former MP, Latheef Farook, Journalist and Author, Mass L Usuf, Attorney-at-Law and Advocacy Columnist and Mansoor Dahlan, Theology Scholar: “The Presidential Commission on Easter Sunday attacks has referred in its report (page 464) to the ‘rise of Buddhist extremism’ in Sri Lanka “from 2012, due to the actions of the BBS”. It has also referred to Sihala Rawaya, Mahasohon Balakaya, Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa and Sinhale Jathika Sanvidanaya among others as “anti-social Sinhala Buddhist movements”. We are deeply concerned as to why these organisations should be called “Buddhist”, when some of the actions attributed to these entities, as detailed in the report are clearly outside the teachings, philosophy, ethics and lifestyle laid down in the 2500 year old respected religion, Buddhism.

“The report has also referred to the Siva Sena Movement in Batticaloa as a Tamil Hindu organisation as well as National Thowheed Jamaat of the key suicide bomber Zahran Hashim as Islamic entities. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity have throughout the past several centuries governed the lifestyle of virtually the entire humanity of ordinary beings, though Kings and rulers have often hijacked religions for their political purposes. Why discredit Buddhism or the other religions for the ultra-nationalist, racist or communal actions of the majoritarian or minoritarian groups or persons? Why did the Easter Commission report name the extremists as ‘Buddhist’ extremists and terrorists as ‘Islamic’ terrorists?

“When it came to the LTTE, we never called them Hindu terrorists or Christian terrorists! We called them LTTE terrorists even though they massacred Buddhist monks at Arantalawa and Muslims at worship in four Mosques in Kattankudy? Why not call them as majoritarian extremists or BBS extremists or Sri Lankan Jihadists or NTJ terrorists?

“Bringing the religion to the forefront is part of the agenda of the West and NATO countries at war, from the 1950s against communism and since 1990 against Islam. West was at peace with Islam until the so called collapse of communism in the late 1980s! Why bring these ethno-religious wars into our country and open the flood gates for Western R2P interventions in our internal affairs? That is exactly what the Commission report will unwittingly achieve!

“We find it unacceptable to give parochial extremists, criminals or terrorists any form of refuge in any religion as was damagingly done some-time ago by Time magazine displaying to the world in its front cover titled the “Buddhist Face of Terror”. We believe that it is a part of Wester’s long term agenda to set up platforms for conflict creation in third world countries for the benefit of their powerful arms industries even while their governments argue and demand compliance with human rights and humanitarian norms.

“The report is Western inspired. That too at a time when the West is seeking to slit Sri Lanka’s throat at the UNHCR if not this March, at least in September. The report overlooks the dangerous reality that Western interests are in direct conflict with Sri Lanka’s interests of establishing unity, peace and harmony amongst the Sri Lankan people. Peace is essential for the country’s economic advancement.

“There are sufficient laws and institutions in Sri Lanka to deal with violent extremism and terrorism. Some of our laws are excessive or draconian. The Commission has rightly recommended a revision of the controversial Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1979 the abuse of which made the LTTE a more dangerous organization. As pointed out but not duly highlighted in the report, the failure of the state to take effective action to deal with anti-minority hate campaigns which commenced in 2012 and the lenience shown by the police and the courts in dealing with majoritarian extremists involved in anti-minority hate campaigns led to racist attacks on minority Muslims in Aluthgama in 2014, Galle 2017, Ampara (February) 2018 and Digana (March) 2018.

“Banning BBS or other organisations as recommended in the report is not the solution. It will only send them underground. They may mutate into more dangerous forms. Proscribing NTJ is understandable. Its leader Zahran Hashim led a gang of terrorists.

“It happened to the pre-1989 JVP! Former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, though he reduced the electoral cut-off point from 12½% to 5% at the request of M.H.M. Ashraff, Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, President Premadasa did say at a late night meeting with Ashraff attended by (one of) the undersigned M.M. Zuhair, that he wanted JVP to give up violence and enter Parliament. Today the JVP is an active, mature and non-violent political party.

Firm action to eradicate hate speeches and violence without discrimination coupled with promoting reconciliation and national integration while respecting diversity is the way forward in the Sri Lankan context. Getting guidance from Western arms industry agents in the country will only help in radicalising all sectors of the country’s population. The Commission is on the wrong track.”



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Amendments to be incorporated into Colombo Port City Bill – GL

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris says amendments proposed by government lawyers in respect of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill submitted to the Supreme Court, through the Attorney General’s Department, would be incorporated into the Bill along with the amendments proposed by the Supreme Court.

Education Minister Peiris, one of the intervening parties in support of the Bill, says the government is confident of the passage of it in Parliament this week.

Prof. Peiris discussed the upcoming two-day debate on May 19 and 20 at the regular SLPP media briefing at their Nelum Mawatha Office in Battaramulla.

The former internationally distinguished law professor and Colombo University Vice Chancellor said that the government was determined to go ahead with the mega project as part of their overall efforts to attract investment. The Minister explained the need to go ahead with planned projects, regardless of difficulties caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic.

The Minister briefly described the procedures adopted in the passage of the Bill.

Petitioners that challenged the Bill included the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera represented by SLPP Colombo District lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC. Petitioners asked for the Bill to be approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and at a referendum.

The only MP other than former Justice Minister Rajapakse to express concern over some provisions in the Bill was Yuthukama leader and SLPP National List parliamentarian Gevindu Cumaratunga.

At the onset of the briefing Prof. Peiris said the government was continuing with a vaccination drive to bring the Covid-19 situation under control. The minister acknowledged the difficulty in procuring the required number of covishield doses for those who required the second dose. The SLPP Chairman said that the government was discussing the issue at hand with both governments and the private sector in a bid to obtain the required stock.

Prof. Peiris placed the shortage of covishield vaccines at over 400,000 whereas the health ministry earlier estimated the shortfall at over 600,000.

Minister Peiris acknowledged that a daily count of approximately 2,500 new Covid-19 cases was quite a challenge though the government sustained efforts to keep the situation under control.

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Covid patients to be treated at centres close to homes

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Those diagnosed with COVID-19 would be sent to treatment centres and Intermediate Care Centres closest to their homes, the Health Ministry said yesterday

The decision was taken at a meeting held yesterday at the Health Ministry. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and Ministry officials took part in the meeting.

 A Health Minister’s spokesman said the decision had been taken to lessen the psychological trauma on the patient and the family.  

 The Ministry will also supply necessary medical equipment and medical staff to treatment centres that are being built by the government and non- governmental organizations.

 State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) has been instructed to procure AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses required for the second jab as soon as possible. (RK)

 

 

 

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Digitalization way forward for Lanka – World Bank

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Healthcare workers in Sri Lanka enter data into the DHIS2 COVID-19 surveillance system(Pic courtesy World Bank)

Digitalization is the way forward for Sri Lanka to transform into a technology-based society, says the World Bank.

The WB report said that the Government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to accelerate digital transformation. In order to reap the benefits of digital technologies, the country now needs to ensure that access to high-speed and affordable Internet is available to all citizens including in remote areas of the country and across income groups and gender. It also needs to ensure that the right policies, laws, and regulatory frameworks are in place to protect the security, data and rights of all especially the vulnerable.

In early 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown began, Sri Lanka’s food supply chain was significantly disrupted leaving farmers and consumers to face the adverse effects of the pandemic. Wholesale and retail markets were closed and traders were encouraged to deliver food items directly to doorsteps following strict health guidelines.

However, to sell and deliver food items and agricultural products, small traders were required to register at the Divisional Secretariats (DS), local-level administrative units which serve as the primary citizen delivery points.

But government office closures significantly affected this process. Meanwhile, there was no means to submit and process permit requests electronically.

Now, the Government of Sri Lanka, led by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) in collaboration with various stakeholders, has embarked on a highly anticipated digital transformation journey to address such issues.

With support from the World Bank’s Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC), ICTA is planning to bring services online to 10 selected Divisional Secretariats through piloting the ‘form.gov.lk’ initiative, a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) platform.

The platform will leverage existing infrastructure such as the Lanka Government Cloud (LGC 2.0), the government’s cloud computing infrastructure, and the Lanka Government Network, the government’s private network which connects 860 government offices across the country.

The proposed solution will offer the general public and businesses the capability to fill and submit relevant information and documents digitally without having to visit government offices.

These pilot services will range from civil registrations (births/deaths) and small business registrations to allowing farmers to process police permits for transporting crops.

Once the system is successfully piloted in selected DS offices, the platform can be scaled to other government organizations, reducing travel and building efficiency in service delivery including in areas outside of urban centres and contributing to Sri Lanka’s green recovery.

“Our biggest objective is to build the digital foundation for the government to continue serving all Sri Lankans during a crisis like this. This is just the beginning of our digital transformation journey” says Mehinda Herath, Chief Executive officer of ICTA.

The CERC will also build resilience in public service delivery by enabling government officials to work remotely.

This will be done through the implementation of a government-wide email and collaboration solution and video conferencing facilities; and by enhancing the capacity of the government cloud infrastructure (LGC 2.0) to support more services.

A disaster recovery site will also be established for LGC 2.0 so that critical data is not lost in times of exogenous shocks, including natural disasters such as flooding and cyclones.

“The vision of ICTA is to improve living conditions and livelihoods across Sri Lanka irrespective of geographical locations and other disparities. This will be done through effectively adopting digital technologies and developing the required enabling environment, including the legal framework, basic infrastructure such as unique digital ID and government wide digital connectivity as well as various other aspects that are required to develop the digital economy,” says Prof. Lilith Gamage, Chairman of ICTA.

Transforming Sri Lanka into a technology-based society is one of the key national policy objectives of the country, as highlighted in the President’s manifesto, Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor. This includes the implementation of a “whole-of-government approach” to digital government to improve the delivery of public services to all Sri Lankans; developing the technology industry for jobs and growth; and supporting digital entrepreneurship and growth of a digitally savvy workforce and population.

The government is developing a foundational digital ID system that is backed by biometrics. ICTA together with the Ministry of Justice has also commenced an initiative to establish a country-wide court management system with the aim of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system.

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