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Chief whips of govt and opposition go at each other over central expressway

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Whips of government and Opposition locked horns in Parliament yesterday, trading accusations of corruption, waste and impotence.

A heated argument ensused after Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella asked the government to open the Mirigama-Kurunegala stretch of the Central Expressway as vehicles could not move via Pahala Kadugannwa area, due to a road closure.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: After the closure of Colombo-Kandy Road near Pahala Kadugannwa I made inquiries with engineers working at the Central Expressway. They told me that Mirigama-Kurunegala Section of the expressway could be opened. I urge the government to open it so that people inconvenienced by the closure of Colombo-Kandy road could use it. I asked a question from the Prime Minister January 2020 about this expressway. I table the response given by the Prime Minister. In it he said that this section would be opened in August 2020. It has not been done yet.

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando: I am very happy because you spoke to engineers and inquired about the progress. We intend to open this section of the expressway within this month. This could have been opened last year if it was not for the sabotage by some contractors who had been given the contract by your government. That company belongs to one of the ministers in the yahapalana government. Now, you and others in the opposition make various statements that you had almost completed the construction of the expressway except for two kilometers and we cannot even construct those two kilometers. You could not even repair and develop the roads in Kandy district. It is after I assumed duties that work has been started.

This expressway was started by laying the foundation stone when Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President. The yahapalana government of yours canceled the contract and gave it to a new contractor with additional one billion rupees. You gave the contract at a new rate of additional Rs 110,000 per km. So, do not ask us now of the progress. We have acted in a fair and transparent manner always. You should be in jail for what you did during that time. Your government did nothing but sling mud at us and lodged false complaints and cooked up evidence to put us in jails. That was what you did instead of developing the country. The roads you built did not have a starting point and an ending point. Remember that we will complete all the work we started. We will complete the expressway from Colombo to Kandy within two years. We will open this section.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: We are ready to debate what you said. The COPE conducted an investigation on this expressway and reported that there had been no corruption. When we came to power in 2015 not a single inch of the expressway had been measured at least. While I was the minister of highways we surveyed and measured 20,000 plots of lands. We gave the contracts to local contractors. They had completed 90 percent of the work at the time we handed over the government. That is the truth. Even the Prime Minister has admitted to that. You mentioned that the contract had been given to a company belonging to a cabinet minister of our government. My question is whether you have not given contracts to the same company under your government?

Chief Government Whip Minister Fernando: I will reveal the way you gave contracts if you come for a debate. I will explain how you paid additional Rs 110,000 per kilometers. You should be ashamed. I do not know how you come to parliament without shame. Tell me what you did for five years in constructing the section from Kadawatha to Mirigama.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: I am not a person who distill liquor or moonshine. We are ready to debate. We did not hurl Bibles and chairs in this House. You resort to derogate others when you cannot face an argument. I asked only for the opening of the road. Is it a problem for you to open the road?

Chief Government Whip Minister Fernando: I am a good Catholic. I am a person who have utmost respect for Buddhism too. Do not denigrate Catholicism. What you are referring to is not a Bible but another book. This House does not have Bibles here. You are a cheap politician.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: None of those allegations you levelled in the report of the COPE that investigated this expressway project. Your allegations are baseless. I repeat that we do not distill liquor or moonshine. This government lost 800 million rupees in its first budget. That is the origin of all problems in the economy. You lost 800 million rupees by giving a VAT concession. When we took over as the Yahapalana government the government revenue was only one thousand million rupees.



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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence

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Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks

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Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty

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Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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