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Discrepancy in compensation for terror victims highlighted

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Easter Sunday probe:

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was no uniform policy on compensating those killed or injured in terror attacks or riots and political influence had help those affected by riots in Digana and Beruwala receive higher compensation than the victims of Easter Sunday attacks, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks was informed yesterday.

Acting Director of the Office of Reparations S. M. Bathiudeen told the PCoI that one million rupees each had been paid for the persons killed during the Easter Sunday attacks.  However, two million rupees each had been paid for those killed during the anti-Muslim riots in Digana and Beruwala, he said.

“We have received 220 applications from families of those killed during the Easter Sunday attacks. Rs. 220 million was paid to these individuals. The Cabinet also decided to pay a maximum of Rs. 500,000 to those who were injured. Rs. 86 million was paid to 506 applicants. There was also a cap of Rs. 5 million for properties that were damaged.”

The families of those who died during the Digana and Beruwala riots were paid Rs. 2 million each and there was no cap as regards damages caused to properties.

Bathiudeen said: “There was a meeting at the Kandy Kachcheri after the Digana riots. The then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ministers Rauff Hakeem and Lakshman Kiriella and Kandy MPs were present. They decided on the amounts to be paid. Those who were injured at Digana were also compensated without medical reports.”

Bathiudeen said that people frequently asked him why they had been paid less than others who had been in a similar situation. The amount to be paid was not decided by the Office of Reparations, but by politicians. It was unfair that only Rs. 100,000 each was paid for those killed in the North.

“We don’t decide on the figures. We are not even asked. We are sent Cabinet papers and we implement them,” Bathiudeen said.

Bathiudeen was then cross-examined by Shamil Perera, PC, who represents the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

Shamil Perera: “How much was an injured person to be paid?”

Bathiudeen: “The Cabinet decided to put a cap of Rs. 500,000 as regards the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. But people were paid less based on medical reports. We judged the effect of these injuries would have on his or her earning capacity.”

Perera PC: “You said that 280 injured persons of the blast at Katuwapitiya Church were compensated. However only 32 victims have received Rs. 500,000. Meanwhile 147 people, the overwhelming majority, received only Rs. 50,000 each. At Kochchikade 102 were injured. Only 13 victims received Rs. 500,000 each. Meanwhile 40 people received only Rs. 50,000 each. Did you know that these people had serious injuries”

Bathiudeen: “Yes.”

Perera PC: “Many people had to undergo surgeries. Is Rs. 500,000 enough for a surgery?’

Bathiudeen: “It’s true. The Cabinet took this decision”.

Perera PC: “Do you know that the Catholic Church paid for the surgeries?”

Bathiudeen: “No.”

Perera PC: “You said that those who died at Digana and Beruwala received higher amounts due to political influence.”

Bathiudeen: “As I said the numbers were agreed upon during the meeting at the Kandy Kachcheri. The then Minister of Rehabilitation D. M. Swaminathan prepared the first draft. The Finance Ministry headed by then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe then amended the Cabinet paper.”

A Commissioner: “Politicians didn’t try to increase compensation for Easter Sunday attack victims?”

Bathiudeen: “Politicians on different occasions decide on various numbers.”

Perera, PC: “Do you agree that the compensation paid to Easter Sunday attack victims is not enough?”

Bathiudeen: “The amount is less than what was paid to the victims in Digana and Beruwala.”



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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premanath-c-Dolawatta

SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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