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Cardinal’s counsel questions Sirisena on numerous calls with SIS head

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by Rathindra Kuruwita

A 159-second telephone conversation took place between former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena from 7.59 a.m. on April 21, 2019, prior to the Easter Sunday bombings, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks was informed on Saturday.

It was also revealed that another telephone conversation on April 20, 2019 at 6.16 pm had also taken place between the two. Earlier it was revealed that around 20 telephone conversations had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena from April 4 to 21, 2019.

April 04, 2019 was the day when Jayawardena received a warning of a possible terror attack from a foreign counterpart.

The details of the calls were revealed when the former President was cross-examined by President’s Counsel Shamil Perera, appearing for the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

Perera asked the witness whether he had been in constant contact with Jayawardena over the phone. In response Sirisena said that he would not agree that there had been frequent telephone conversations between him and Jayawardena.

Perera then showed the former president a list of calls that had been place between Jayewardena and the former President from January 01 to March 31, 2019. The list contained over 200 calls. Sirisena, after referring to the document, said he did not remember such a large number of conversations with the former SIS Director.

“I do not even use a mobile phone. So, this document should be examined further,” Sirisena said.

When asked if the document contained details of calls from six telephone numbers at the former President’s official residence on Paget Road, Sirisena answered in the affirmative.

The document showed that a total of 221 telephone calls had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena from January to April 2019. Sirisena said he probably had not received all those phone calls.

“These are records of calls to and from my official residence or to the Presidential Secretariat. But I don’t think I answered all these calls. I would not have answered these calls if I had been at Cabinet meetings and other events and I was attending such meetings,” Sirisena said.

“Do you, as a practice, consult the former SIS Director on your security and the threats you had to face?” the counsel asked. Sirisena said that there were occasions when such consultations were made.

Perera then asked Sirisena whether Jayewardena had given him a call around 6.16pm on 20 April. Sirisena said he had been receiving treatment in a Singaporean hospital at that time and not even his personal security officers had access to him on that day.

Perera then said that the telephone records clearly stated that Sirisena had called the former SIS Director around 7.59am on 21 April, 2019 before the Easter Sunday attacks. Sirisena had earlier said that he first contacted Jayewardena only after the bombings.

The President’s Counsel told the Commission that despite Sirisena’s statement the phone records showed that Sirisena had made a large number of telephone calls on April 21 morning.

“I don’t know what is mentioned in this report but I was in hospital on the morning of April 21. It was not possible for me to make phone calls while undergoing treatment. I came back to the hotel and then heard about the attacks.”

Perera also said about seven telephone calls had been exchanged between Sirisena and the SIS Director after the bombings. The counsel said that a 133- second telephone call had taken place between Sirisena and Jayawardena on 21 April at 8.58 am, a 184-second telephone call at 9.13 a.m., and a 688-second telephone call at 1.10 p.m.

Perera also asked Sirisena how he had made these calls if he was feeling extremely sick.

“I was still weak but this was a serious development. I made a series of calls and advised all including the Prime Minister, the Inspector General of Police and the Tri- forces Commanders, to take necessary action,” Sirisena said.

Perera also asked how Sirisena had returned to Sri Lanka on the same night if his medical condition had been so serious. In response, the former President said that the relevant medical reports could be submitted to the Commission.

Perera also questioned Sirisena on a statement made by the former Director of the SIS, before the Commission, that between 10,000 and 15,000 people knew about the foreign report that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) had received on April 04, 2019 about a possible terrorist attack. Jayawardena said that by April 09, former IGP Pujith Jayasundara had informed the STF and the STF had about 5,000 personnel. The officers that provide security to VIPs too were informed. There were about 800 such officers.

The police in the Western Province too had been informed and there were about 8,000 such personnel, he said. Jayawardena said he had conveyed information about the possible attack to a number of senior officials, including former Defence Secretary, Hemasiri Fernando and CNI Sisira Mendis. Jayasundara had also forwarded the report to SDIG of Western Province, Nandana Munasinghe, SDIG crimes and STF M.R. Latif, DIG special protection range Priyalal Dassanayake and Director of the Terrorism Investigation Division, Waruna Jayasundara.

Sirisena said that although it might be true, his Chief Security Officer, DIG Rohan Silva had been unaware of it.

President’s Counsel: You were the President and Minister of Defence, none of the 15, 000 security personnel and other senior officials told you about the attack?”

Witness- “No one informed me.”

When Sirisena took over as President and Defence Minister he had been entrusted with the responsibility for protecting the people of the country by providing them security. However the attack showed that he had clearly failed in his duties, Counsel Perera said.

“I do not accept that. Terrorist attacks took place when other Presidents were running the country. No one asked this question from them,” Sirisena said.

Perera then asked Sirisena if he accepted that he had endangered the Catholic people by neglecting his responsibilities and that he had been trying to evade responsibility by blaming others.

Earlier former IGP Pujith Jayasundara told the PCoI that President Maithripala Sirisena on April, 24, 2019, had told him that if he took the blame for the Easter Sunday bombings, Jayasundara would be given a pension and an ambassador’s post to a country of his choice.

“I am deeply shocked about what happened but I am not finding any scapegoats,” Sirisena said, adding that he not believe that the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee which investigated the bombings on Easter Sunday was independent or accurate. “When I was asked to appear before the PSC, I did not go and instead, I informed them to come to the Presidential Secretariat and asked them to meet me if necessary. They came and recorded a statement from me. Former Army Commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka a member of the PSC harbours animosity towards me. The same can be said about some other members of the PSC. I, therefore, did not accept the proceedings of that PSC,” Sirisena added.



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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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