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Civil society intervenes on behalf of Muslim Covid-19 victims

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Karu: Extremists may exploit govt. stand

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two civil society groups -NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice) and Purawesi Balaya yesterday (21) urged the government to allow the burial of Muslim victims of Covid-19 in keeping with the WHO guidelines.

Former Speaker and one-time UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and Gamini Viyangoda, on behalf of the NMSJ and Purawesi Balaya respectively, threw their weight behind the ongoing campaign to have the controversial ban on burials lifted.

They pointed out that the UN, too, backed Sri Lankan Muslim community’s demand for burial rights.

These civil society groups took up a stand on burial issue in the wake of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa attacking the government for not adhering with specific UN and WHO instructions in this regard.

Alleging that the government was acting contrary to international norms in respect of final rights of Covid-19 victims, Jayasuriya pointed out that internationally acclaimed virologist Prof. Malik Peiris recently set the record straight. He suggested that burials should be allowed with bodies wrapped in impermeable material.

Responding to another query raised by The Island, the former lawmaker emphasized that continuing prohibition on burials couldn’t be justified under any circumstances as the entire world allowed burials.

Pointing out that there had been a series of discussions among various stakeholders in that regard over the past couple of months and the issue at hand also figured during parliamentary proceedings, the former Speaker drew the government’s attention to a recent court directive that a body should be kept in cold storage until expert committee decided on the matter.

Jayasuriya urged the government to take a decision without further delay. The former Speaker warned that the failure on the part of the government to respond positively to reasonable request could be exploited by extremist elements. The NMSJ Chief said that the government should not turn a blind eye to public protests in various parts of the world demanding the Muslims given burial rights.

Muslims protested both in and outside parliament with Thowheed Jamaat displaying placards at Galle Face against the government.

Purawesi Balaya spokesperson Viyangoda said that the government bid to bury Sri Lankan Muslim dead (corona victims) in the Maldives revealed the bankruptcy of the SLPP lot. Viyangoda said that the Maldives turned down Sri Lanka’s request on the basis it could cause unrest there.

Regardless of UN and WHO assertions that burial of those who died of Covid-19 didn’t pose health risk, Sri Lanka prohibited burials but allowed unrestricted import of foreign garbage, including hazardous materials during the last regime, Viyangoda said.

The civil society activist asked whether anyone of those who had been responsible for importing container loads of British garbage were hauled up before courts.

Having imported garbage from Europe, Sri Lanka now wanted to export bodies to Maldives because it was a Muslim country, Viyangoda said.

Viyangoda said that the government decision was certainly not fair by both Muslims and Catholics as both communities buried their dead.

Referring to a plethora of recent claims that burial of Covid-19 victims posed a grave danger as the groundwater could get contaminated, Viyangoda said that no less a person than Prof. Malik Peiris recently declared scientific opinion on the issue at hand. Once Prof. Peiris stated his opinion there couldn’t be an issue over resumption of burials, Viyangoda said.

Viyangoda said that only China and Sri Lanka carried out compulsory cremations contrary to the stand taken by the UN and WHO.

Both Jayasuriya and Viyangoda pointed out that UN Resident Representative in Colombo Hanaa Singer in early last month made representations to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in this regard.

Viyangoda said that Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, recently explained why burials should be allowed as the practice didn’t pose a health risk. Appreciating the stand taken by Minister Sabry on this particular issue, Viyangoda said that the National List MP looked at the issue at hand as a member of the community affected by an extremely unfair government stance. However, Minister Sabry took a very different stand on other issues, Viyangoda said. A case in point, he said was the President’s Counsel’s stand on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Viyangoda said that Minister Sabry’s 50 minute video on social media should be watched by both those for and against burials.

Viyangoda said that lawmaker Prof. Tissa Vitharana, too, expressed a view contrary to that of the SLPP as he was no longer a member of the cabinet. The civil society activist said that Prof. Vitharana wouldn’t have uttered a word contrary to the government stand if he was accommodated in the cabinet.



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About 232 out of 500 escapees from K’kadu Drug Rehab Centre arrested

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Two hundred and thirty two inmates out of the 500, who escaped from the Kandakadu Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, yesterday morning, following a clash with soldiers guarding the facility, had been arrested, Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General – Rehabilitation, said.

Hettiarachchi denied allegations from certain quarters that they had allowed inmates to escape to divert public attention away from the burning economic issues, and crippling fuel shortages.

He said an impartial inquiry would be conducted into the death of an inmate.

Hettiarachchi said that they were confident that other escapees too would be arrested soon.

Police Spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said a 36-year-old inmate had died under mysterious circumstances on Tuesday. The deceased was a resident of Mutwal. The death of the inmate had been reported to the Welikanda police, he said.

The Police Spokesman added that a team of policemen from Welikanda had visited the Rehabilitation Centre. However, a large number of inmates had surrounded the body and did not allow anyone near it and that had led to a clash between inmates and the military personnel at the centre.

At around 8 am yesterday, a large group of inmates had broken the two main gates and escaped, he added.

The Police Spokesman said that the police and Army had brought the situation under control, after several hours.

They have also launched a joint operation to arrest the inmates, who are still at large.

There are around 1,000 drug addicts being rehabilitated at the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Center at any given time.

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Women parliamentarians’ Caucus calls for greater accountability and transparency

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International Day of Parliamentarism

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle says accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system have become vital issues as the country makrs the International Day of Parliamentarism today (30).

In a statement issued to the media by the Caucus, Dr Fernandopulle said: International Day of Parliamentarism, which recognises the role of parliaments in national plans and strategies and in ensuring greater transparency and accountability at national and global levels. This Day was first established by the UN General Assembly through a resolution adopted in 2018 which also marked the 129th anniversary of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU, which was first established on the same day in the year 1889, is a global organization that works to promote ‘democratic governance, human representation, democratic values, and the civil aspirations of a society’.

This Day further solidifies the unique and enduring system of parliamentary democracy as the standard for political representation. Last year, in 2021, the Day focused on “Youth Empowerment” in Parliament whereas the theme for the International Day of Parliamentarism 2022 is “Public Engagement”. Conspicuously, the word ‘parliament’ originates from the French word ‘parler,’ which means ‘to talk.’ Thus, public discourse and engagement lay the very foundation of the parliamentary system of governance.

At a juncture where public engagement in the democratic process is at an all-time high, the theme for International Day of Parliamentarism aptly suits the current democratic and economic discourse taking place in society.

The Parliament is a cornerstone of any democracy as it must fulfill its fundamental role of providing a voice to the voiceless. The main responsibilities of a Parliament include the formulation, enactment and overseeing of the implementation of laws and policies that are sustainable and crucial for the progression and stability of the country. The Parliament also has a duty to hold the Executive or Government of the country accountable. Accordingly, representing the interests of the public, it must also fulfill the role of acting as a “check” to “balance” the power that the executive holds.

The Parliament must also perform “checks” and “balances” on Government expenditure as it has the responsibility of approving budgets for Government expenditure. Thus, during this economic crisis, the Parliament of Sri Lanka has a crucial role to play and effectively realize such roles and responsibilities. To do so meaningfully, public engagement is a necessity.

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said: “I believe we should make this Day an occasion to remember the importance of accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system. The Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus recognizes that it has a role to play in initiating a conversation towards realizing a process by which the Parliament can conduct self-evaluation utilising the feedback received by the public discourse. This would be vital in order to gauge the progress the Parliament has made and identify challenges and devise strategies and mechanisms to overcome such challenges to be more representative of the voices of people.”

MP Thalatha Atukorale said: “In the face of crisis, if our parliamentary system fails to realize its purpose, then we must re-evaluate the practices of our Parliament. Therefore, I believe that this Day should be used as an opportunity to formulate an effective strategy to improve transparency and accountability of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.”

MP Diana Gamage said: “On this Day, I pledge to be a voice to the people of Sri Lanka, particularly the more vulnerable, and play my role in initiating mechanisms and formulating laws that reflect the current needs of the people of Sri Lanka whom we are representing in Parliament”.

Parliament is the bedrock of a functioning democracy. In Sri Lanka, let us realise this goal for all Sri Lankans, leaving no stone unturned to ensure quality of political representation, which means gender equality and social inclusion too.

MP Manjula Dissanayake said: “To be effective and successful, the Parliamentary system must encourage public engagement and must also be based on principles of equality and inclusivity in order to better comprehend and prioritise the needs of the public”.

Vice-Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, MP Rohini Kumari Wijeratne said: “The parliamentary system is founded upon the sovereignty of people. Therefore, the success of the parliamentary system depends on public engagement in the democratic process and how well the parliamentary system responds to such public engagement.”

MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said: “We as Parliamentarians must not be oblivious to the fact that the public has lost confidence in the Sri Lankan Parliament and by extension, the Parliamentarians. A strong contention can be and is being made that the Parliament of Sri Lanka falls short of effectively realizing one of its main purposes: to formulate and implement policies and laws that benefits ALL people, particularly the more vulnerable. To meet that end, we must harness public discourse and engagement.”

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Proposals to revive agriculture sector unveiled

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By Ifham Nizam

The Department of Agriculture has handed over proposals with an action plan for the revival of the agriculture sector to the Minister of Agriculture, Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation, Mahinda Amaraweera.

Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture Rohana Pushpakumara, Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Ajantha de Silva, and its Directors, representing respective divisions, were also present.

The focus of the proposals is on the importation of chemical fertilisers and organic farming, increasing rice production in the country, promoting the cultivation of indigenous crops for export, taking measures to meet the national vegetable and fruit demand, prioritizing agricultural research and development, and other agricultural Inputs.

The proposals also deal with a number of other issues such as the misuse of pesticides and fertilisers.

The proposals consist of 11 short-term plans to uplift agriculture.

Speaking at the event, the Minister of Agriculture, Mahinda Amaraweera, requested that the proposals, aimed at increasing the income of the farming community, be implemented without delay and that everyone be committed to make the Yala season, and the forthcoming Maha season, a success. “We must make the current Yala and the next Maha season a success. The country’s economy depends on the stability of the agriculture sector.

The Director General of the Department of Agriculture handed over the relevant proposal to the Minister.

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