‘We still do not know what had happened to Sarah’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Director General, Legal Affairs at the Presidential Secretariat, Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera Monday night (30) revealed that former Director of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena would be a key witness in the State’s 2019 Easter Sunday case against former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando as well as then IGP Pujith Jayasundera.
Rohanadeera also made reference to another case also in the High Court, in which Jayawardena would be a major witness. The top Presidential Secretariat official said so appearing on Salakuna live TV programme, a nearly two-hour interview telecast on Hiru.
Rohanadeera explained how a person against whom accusations had been made become a State witness. The panel of journalists comprised Chamuditha Samarawickrema, Madushan de Silva and Kalindu Vidanage. The explanation was provided when the panel of journalists pointed out the failure on the part of the then government to thwart the suicide bombings in spite of specific intelligence received from India, regarding impending attacks.
Eight separate blasts, including three targeting churches at Katuwapitiya, Colombo Kochchikade and Batticaloa claimed the lives of 270 and wounded over 400.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) Final Report, Vol. 1-p 287-288 handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Feb 2021 recommended to the Attorney General criminal proceedings against SDIG Jayawardena “under any suitable provision in the Penal Code”
At the onset of the interview, Rohanadeera acknowledged that he was the first DG, Legal Affairs, at the Presidential Secretariat and his responsibilities included examination of international agreements.
Responding to growing criticism that the incumbent government had reneged on repeated assurances of punitive action against all responsible regardless of their status, Rohanadeera emphasised that action couldn’t be taken only on the basis of PCoI recommendations. The panel of journalists asked why the government justified the inordinate delay in taking tangible action against former President Maithripala Sirisena, who also held the Defence portfolio as well as the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The panel of journalists pointed out that the PCoI had clearly commented that then Premier Wickremesinghe’s soft approach towards extremism facilitated the Easter attacks.
The panel of journalists also sought Rohanadeera’s response to Church’s accusation that the government sought to protect Sirisena, now a member of the ruling SLPP representing the Polonnaruwa district.
Pointing out that lawmaker Sirisena in terms of 35.1 of the Constitution enjoyed immunity to a certain extent, Rohanadeera stressed that it would be the prerogative of the Attorney General to move court against those who had been named by the P CoI. Rohanadeera repeatedly explained how findings made by the P CoI may not be sufficient in a criminal case.
Commenting on the continuing controversy over the fate of Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah Jesmine, the wife of Katuwapitiya bomber Hastun, Rohanadeera insisted the government wasn’t aware of what really happened to her though aware of her presence at Sainthamaruthu at the time the military surrounded their hideout about a week after the April 21, 2019 blasts. The panel of journalists pressed Rohanadeera over claims by Opposition lawmakers based on statements made by law enforcement officers regarding Sarah Jasmine managing to secure refuge in India having fled the country in a boat.
Responding to former Attorney General Dappula de Livera’s claim that the Easter Sunday carnage was a grand conspiracy, Rohanadeera questioned the rationale in that particular statement as he could have dealt with the so-called grand conspiracy during his tenure as the AG. Rohanadeera pointed out that the former AG made the claim just two days before his retirement in May this year. Rohanadeera asserted that the former AG could give a statement to the CID in that regard and, the police too could seek clarification from the former Chief Legal Officer of the government.
Rohanadeera dealt with the deterioration of national security in the wake of Maithripala Sirisena’s triumph at the 2015 presidential election. Having described the yahapalana administration an abnormality, Rohanadeera asserted that handing over the government to the UNP with just 40 odd members of parliament was constitutionally flawed. Rohanadeera recalled how the then CJ was unceremoniously sent home by PM Wickremesinghe who just commanded 40 odd lawmakers. Reference was also made to the power struggle between the yahapalana President and the Prime Minister, Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016 and the failure on the part of the AG’s Department to advice the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) as regards Zahran Hashim in the run-up to the Easter blasts. Rohanadeera declined to comment on the conduct of the officers of the AG’s Department.
The panel of journalists raised the negligence on the part of State Counsel Malik Azeez and Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi on the basis of the recommendations made by the PCoI. The P CoI recommended the Public Service Commission (PSC) consider disciplinary action against both.
Samarawickrema reminded how the then government arrested DIG Nalaka Silva who sought the AG’s advice regarding Zahran Hashim over unsubstantiated accusations made by Namal Kumara regarding an alleged plot to assassinate President Sirisena and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Rohanadeera also explained how the government addressed contentious issues on the basis of the P CoI recommendations that largely dealt with two areas and the Sectoral Oversight Committee chaired by MP Malith Jayatilleke during the previous administration. Responding to a spate of questions regarding the suspicious conduct of the SIS and Directorate of Military Intelligence and direct links between Zahran Hashim and some of his followers with the intelligence services before the change of government in 2015, Rohanadeera emphasised those who propagated various theories and gave credence to unsubstantiated accusations were not aware of the whole picture. Rohanadeera explained intelligence services followed various strategies therefore it wouldn’t be fair to judge them on wrongful assumptions and misinterpretations of events.
Asked whether the Easter Sunday carnage was meant to facilitate SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory at the 2019 presidential poll, Rohanadeera dismissed such claims declaring that it was a blatant lie. Referring to the SLPP’s unprecedented victory at the Feb 2018 Local Government polls, Rohanadeera declared that the then administration was so unpopular as a result of Treasury bond scams and political turmoil the presidential poll victory was already a foregone conclusion.
Self-Employed Traders petition SC over govt. favouring liquor dealers
By A.J.A Abeynayake
The Supreme Court has decided take up, on 04 Oct. for hearing a petition filed by the Association of Self-Employed Traders against the opening of liquor stores during the current lockdown.
The traders have requested the apex court to order the government to allow members of their union to engage in business activities since the liquor stores had been allowed to reopen during the lockdown.
The petition was taken up before a three-judge bench comprising justices L. T. B. Dehideniya, Shiran Gooneratne and Janak de Silva, yesterday.
The State Counsel appearing for the respondents said he had received the relevant documents pertaining to the case only last Friday evening. Therefore, the State Counsel requested the court to give him time to seek advice from the respondents who were many.
Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva, appearing for the petitioner at the time, said about 7,000 members of his client union had lost their livelihoods due to the decision by the respondents.
Therefore, Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva requested the court to give an early date for considering the petition.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court decided to take up the petition for consideration on 04 Oct and directed the lawyers of the petitioners to take steps to send notice to the respondents before that date.
The petition was filed by the President of the United National Self-Employed Trade Association G.I. Charles, its Vice President P.G.B. Nissanka, and Secretary Krishan Marambage.
The petition names 47 respondents, including the Director General of Health Services, the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of Excise.
The petitioners allege that under the quarantine law, the Director General of Health Services, who is the competent authority, issued a notice on Aug 20 prohibiting the opening of liquor stores.
The petitioners point out that steps were taken to open liquor stores countrywide contrary to the regulations of the Health Authority.
The Director General of Health Services, the Commissioner General of Excise and the Inspector General of Police have stated that they have not allowed the reopening of liquor stores.
The petitioners have also requested the Supreme Court to issue an order to the respondents to allow the members of their association to engage in business activities as the liquor stores are allowed to remain open.
Lankan born newly elected Norwegian MP Gunaratnam calls for investments here
Newly elected Norwegian Labour Party MP, Lankan born Kamzy Gunaratnam says she will ask the new Norwegian government to continue engagement with the country of her birth.
Speaking at a virtual media conference on Sunday night, Gunaratnam said that she does not believe that boycotting Sri Lanka is the way forward.
“I don’t believe in boycott. There needs to be investments. Only that will ensure employment,” she said.
Gunaratnam said that she is also prepared to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if invited, for talks.
She said that Norway must continue to assist Sri Lanka through trade, education and in other ways.
Gunaratnam said that she will also discuss with her party and the new Norwegian Foreign Minister, as well as the Norwegian Ambassador in Sri Lanka and see how best Norway can assist the country.
Gunaratnam said that Sri Lankans must also decide the best solution for Sri Lanka and not any foreign country. She said that Sri Lanka must not wait for foreign pressure to work on a solution.
The newly elected Norwegian MP also said that minority rights in Sri Lanka must be protected.
As a Norwegian MP she said that her main focus in the Norwegian Parliament will be to push for equality in Norway.
Going to IMF best solution, says Ranil
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insists that a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is necessary to mitigate impact of the growing debt repayment crisis; homegrown solutions are not effective.
“Unlike in the past, Sri Lanka’s debt problem has increased at a time when there is a global debt problem. This makes the situation more challenging and complex. Sri Lanka is a highly import-dependent economy,” Wickremesinghe said during a panel discussion, organised by the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka on Saturday.
The UNP leader said that the government shouldn’t sell state assets to ease off the shortage of foreign exchange to have breakfast but reinvest those proceeds back in the economy. “Going to the IMF is the best solution,” Wickremesinghe said.
With reference to homegrown solutions, he referred to the mess caused by the government in promoting Dhammika peniya as one of the failed measures earlier on to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The former Prime Minister said that Sri Lanka should use the current situation to forge ahead with structural and public sector reforms which were postponed due to political considerations in the past.
The former PM suggested that the re-opening of the country be delayed till mid-October.
In responding to the issue of debt management in Sri Lanka, the UNP leader said that the most pressing concern is addressing the dwindling foreign exchange reserves of the country.
He explained that the regional foreign exchange reserves were projected to increase over the course of the year, however, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves were on a downward trend.
He also said that economic recovery based on a resurgence of the tourism industry would be uncertain, and until airline ticket prices were reduced it was unlikely that tourist arrivals would increase significantly.
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