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COPE says tourism bureaucracy moves at snail’s pace

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Tourism officials before the Committee on Public Enterprises (pic courtesy Parliament)

Proposal to develop five islands in Kalpitiya delayed for 10 years

Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) MP Prof. Charitha Herath has directed the Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Development Authority to expedite the preparation of a programme to utilise 12 islands under the Tourism Development Authority in the Kalpitiya area for the benefit of the industry. Instructions were issued at a recent COPE meeting.

It was revealed that although an investor had applied for five of the 12 islands totaling 2,055 acres, in 2011, it had been delayed due to the inability to identify a proper institution to obtain approval for his water bungalows project.

The COPE Chairman pointed out that the delay of such a project for 10 years as the investor who already own hotels of similar nature in the Maldives to obtain permission, was an impediment to the development of the tourism industry as well as the development of the country.

The COPE Chairman stressed the need to utilise the islands as tourist attractions. He directed S. Hettiarachchi and Chairperson of the Tourism Development Authority, Kimarli Fernando, to implement a special project within a strong legal framework since Cabinet approval had been granted for that and set up a steering committee with representatives from the Marine Environment Protection Authority, Central Environmental Authority, North Western Provincial Council, Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department.

The aforesaid issue was disclosed at the COPE meeting chaired by Prof. Charitha Herath held recently (26) to examine the Auditor General’s reports for the years 2018 and 2019 and the current performance of the Tourism Development Authority.

The COPE paid attention to the audit observation that Rs. 11 million out of 29 million had been paid for the renovation of the Kataragama Resort a few years back for but no work had been carried out.

It was also brought to the notice of the COPE that despite the appointment of a committee by the Ministry of Public Administration, which has made recommendations that the Attorney General conduct an investigation into the issue and punish the culprits, no action had been taken so far. The Auditor General has revealed that only a warning letter was served on the official involved in the said incident and the Committee expressed displeasure in this regard.

The COPE also made inquiries about the payment of an additional Rs. 10 million for the construction of the Kalpitiya Thoraiadi Jetty and the road near the Wannimundalama Lagoon. The Tourism Development Authority said that it had made inquiries from the Puttalam District Engineer and been informed that further action could not be taken as they did not have the relevant documents. The Auditor General has revealed that although the COPE had ordered an investigation into the mater in 2016, the investigation process had only began in 2018. The COPE Chairman expressed his displeasure at the delay, and said state institutions were bound to implement a recommendation made by Parliament, the highest body on financial control in the country, thus, an immediate inquiry should be conducted and a report submitted as soon as possible.

Although Rs. 1.2 billion was spent on tourism development in 2018-2019, only 1.9 million tourists had visited the country. Therefore, the existing institutions should be set up for the tourism industry under a more efficient mechanism, said the Chairperson of the Tourism Development Authority Kimarli Fernando. Accordingly, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, which are currently working separately for the betterment of the tourism industry, will form a single entity whilst the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management is intended to operate separately, the chairperson said.

The Secretary to the Ministry said that the Bill in this regard would be presented to Parliament by March-April as it has been approved by the Cabinet. The COPE Chairman instructed the Secretary to the Ministry to expedite the work in this regard if it is the need of the Ministry and the institutions for the purpose of a more efficient mechanism.

The Committee paid attention to the obstacles faced by Sri Lanka in comparison to the Maldives which has had made rapid progress in the tourism industry. Kimarli Fernando said that only the highest priced luxury hotels in the Maldivian tourism industry were active, promoting globally through active public relations, operating under a small team of 15 international level experts, and making a significant impact by bringing in leading international investors. The Chairperson also said that the institute had played a major role in uplifting the tourism industry in the face of the pandemic. She added that her institution had made great strides in training hoteliers amidst the COVID-19 crisis, having fully completed the online registration process.

COPE also stressed the need to make more effective use of the properties owned by the Tourism Development Authority including lands in many areas for the betterment of the industry.

State Minister Susil Premajayantha, Members of Parliament Rauff Hakeem, Jagath Pushpakumara, Nalin Bandara, S.M. Marikkar, Madhura Withanage, Premnath C. Dolawatte and officials of the Tourism Development Authority were present at the meeting.



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NGO to move SC against acquittal and discharge of first accused

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Welikada Prison killings

‘The BASL should make its position clear now’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners, Attorney-at-Law, Senaka Perera, says his outfit will soon move the Supreme Court against the acquittal and discharging of Inspector Neomal Moses Rangajiva, the first accused in the Welikada Prison killings.

The civil society activist, in a brief interview with The Island, over the weekend, said that the relatives of those who perished in the violence in the Welikada Prison compound on Nov 09 and 10, 2012, had requested him to pursue this matter.

Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar last Wednesday (12) sentenced to death ex-Welikada Prisons Chief Lamahewage Emil Ranjan over the Welikada killings. He was the second accused in the high-profile case, whereas Rangajiva, at that time attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), was acquitted and released from all charges.

Lawyer Perera said that as the verdict had been given by a Trial-at-Bar, the appeal would have to be made to the Supreme Court. The Trial-at-Bar bench comprising High Court judges Gihan Kulathunga (President), Pradeep Hettiarachchi and Manjula Thilakarathna was unanimous in its decisions.

The Trial-at-Bar said that the prosecution failed to prove its case against the PNB officer beyond reasonable doubt.

Responding to questions, Senaka Perera said that if it hadn’t been a Trial-at-Bar, his group would have moved the Court of Appeal. Senaka Perera explained: “We intend to write to Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, in this regard. We are of the view the AG should appeal against the acquittal and discharging of Rangajiva. However, if the AG refrained from doing so,  the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners will accept the responsibility.”

In terms of the Trial-at-Bar proceedings, the eight prison inmates who were killed in the incident are Kankanmalage Malinda Nilendra Pelpola alias Malan, Attapattu Sangakkara Nirmala Atapattu, Mohammed Wijaya Rohana alias Gundu, Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara, Asarappulige Jothipala alias Ponna Kapila, Harshan Sri Manakeerthi Perera alias Manju Sri, Raigamage Susantha Perera alias Mala Susantha, Devamullage Malith Sameera Perera alias Konda Amila.

However, lawyer Senaka Perera said that altogether 27 inmates had been killed after the deployment of the Special Task Force (STF) and the Army inside the Welikada Prison. According to official records, in addition to 27 deaths, at least 43 other inmates received injuries. The then Prisons Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera informed Parliament of the deaths of 27 inmates.

The then Police Spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakoday said that inmates had triggered violence as the STF was looking for drugs and hand phones inside the prison.

The Attorney General filed indictments against IP Rangajeewa, Lamahewage Emil Ranjan and Indika Sampath, an officer attached to the Prisons intelligence unit under 33 counts, including committing murder, conspiring to commit murder after being members of an unlawful assembly.

The Court proceeded in spite of the third accused Indika Sampath who managed to evade the police so far.

The human rights activist recalled how Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, named a Trial-at-Bar to hear the Welikada case on a request made by Rajaratnam’s predecessor, Dappula de Livera, PC. The latter made the request in late June 2019. Rajaratnam succeeded de Livera in late May 2021.

The Prisons Department and the Justice Ministry couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for ensuring safety and security of those in their care, lawyer Senaka Perera said. Those who had been remanded and sentenced could be serious offenders and some may even deserve a death sentence but the State shouldn’t under any circumstances resort to extra judicial measures, the public litigation activist said.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that he believed the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) should examine the Welikada case and make its position known to the public. “Perhaps, the BASL, too, should consider moving the SC against the acquittal and discharging of the first accused,” the lawyer said.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that before the former AG made an intervention the progress in investigations had been slow. In fact, real progress was made since 2017, two years after the change of government following the 2015 presidential election, the lawyer said, alleging that the powers that be continuously hindered the investigations.

According to lawyer Perera and other sources, there had been four separate investigations at different levels beginning with the one launched by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) immediately after the Welikada killings. Subsequently the then Prisons Minister the late Chandrasiri Gajadeera named a three-member team to inquire into the Welikada killings. The committee comprising retired High Court judge Bandula Atapattu, retired DIG Gunasena Thenabadu and Prisons Ministry Legal Officer Lalith Andrahannadi produced two reports in Feb 2013 and Nov 2013. There had been two other investigations ordered by the then Prisons Chief P.W. Kodipillai and the Human Rights Commission.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that the four investigations undertaken during the Rajapaksa administration should be examined. The lawyer emphasized the importance of appraisal of the investigations as the Trial-at-Bar declared that the progress had been made only since 2017.

In addition to those four investigations, there had been another report prepared by the three-member committee comprising retired High Court judge Wimal Nambuwasam, retired Senior DIG Asoka Wijeyatilleke and senior public servant S.K. Liyanage. Appointed on January 22, 2015, less than two weeks after the presidential election, the committee handed over its report to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, on June 09, 2015 as the latter appointed it.

Lawyer Perera said that the former Prisons Chief claimed that the inmates after having broken into the Prisons armoury seized weapons, including machine guns.

The activist pointed out that the 2012 incidents were the worst since the 1983 massacre of Tamil terrorist suspects. The public have lost faith in law enforcement authorities and the political leadership regardless of the party that held power, the lawyer said. There couldn’t be better example than how the current dispensation handled the then State Minister for Prisons Lohan Ratwatte’s ‘raids’ on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons in September last year.

The report prepared by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena into the incidents involving Ratwatte should be made public as the police were yet to at least record the State Minister’s statement, lawyer Perera said.

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China donates shipment of rice to Sri Lanka

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By Anura Balasuriya

China will soon send a shipment of rice to Sri Lanka as a donation, a Ministry of Trade spokesman said.

The donation comes in the wake of the 70 year anniversary of the Sri Lanka – China Rubber Rice pact on 1952.

Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardane had discussed the matter recently with a senior Chinese Embassy officia, the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.

“The Chinese Embassy in Colombo is already doing the needful. The Trade Ministry has informed China of the varieties of rice that Sri Lankan consumers like,” the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.

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Rating downgrades discourage investors – JVP

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JVP MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, on Friday (14) day, said investors were discouraged by the continuous downgrading of the country’s credit ratings.

Speaking at an event in Colombo, MP Amarasuriya said import costs had increased as the country was going through a forex crisis. The President’s agricultural policy had been a disaster and that in the coming months, the government would have to import large volumes of food.

Amarasuriya added that Sri Lanka’s relations with other nations had deteriorated and that too would have an adverse impact on the country.

Dr. Amarasuriya said that international rating agencies were independent and that their ratings were very important for investors to make decisions.

“Investors don’t consult Ajith Nivard Cabraal before investing. Besides, in other countries, it is economic experts, not politicians, who become Central Bank Governors,” she added.

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