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Easter Sunday probe: Zuhair warns of Western powers using opportunity to step up pressure in Geneva

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Former People’s Alliance lawmaker M. M. Zuhair, PC has said that Western powers will exploit an invitation to probe 2019 Easter Sunday attacks to delve into wartime accountability issues. The following is the text of the statement issued by one-time State Counsel close on the heels of the conclusion of the 51 session of the Geneva-based UNHRC: “State Minister of Defence Premitha Bandara Tennekoon on Oct 03 told parliament that another investigation on the 21/4/2019 Easter Sunday attacks will begin soon.

This time it appears investigators from pro-Western countries such as the US FBI, UK’s Scotland Yard, Australian Federal Police and Maldivian National Police are due to be roped in to do what Sri Lankan Police perhaps could not do.The question that will therefore arise is, why not similarly approve the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC), subject to negotiated conditions to investigate the alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka. With 22 million people excluding the tax waived super rich, enduring the haunting consequences of bankruptcy suffocating the country, we need to avoid confronting the UN! If the position of the Sri Lankan State is that there are no serious human rights violations in the country, why resist an external probe, similar to the new proposed foreign probe? If it is the policy of the State not to allow investigations by foreign police, why on earth do we need another Easter investigation by foreign investigators from countries hostile to Sri Lanka at the UNHCR?

Nothing prevents the FBI of US and M16 of UK, if and when re-probing the Easter attacks, to investigate the large number of embedded human rights violations including alleged forced confessions under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. With over 2000 mostly poor persons from a single minority community having undergone State detention, enough and more material of rights violations may get officially presented to the powerful governments which are at the forefront of confronting Sri Lanka at the UN HRC! These can explode at the UN HRC!

There are legal obstacles of course for allowing foreigners from individual countries to investigate the Easter attacks but there are no constitutional obstacles for cooperating with the UN in investigating the ever increasing number of alleged human rights violations in the country. Cooperation with the UN system with which we have signed many obligatory treaties will help overcome some of the accusations and also the serious food insecurity and economic plight facing its 22 million people. Conversely by confronting the UN system, we will as a country face multiple acts of marginalization by the community of nations, that could extend to real sanctions on Sri Lankans accountable for the economic crimes, the members of the Cabinet, public servants, prosecutors and even judges who fail to uphold human rights!

The signs are very clear. Support for Sri Lanka when it cooperated in 2009 was 29 countries out of 47 member nations in the UN HRC, which when the agents of the Sri Lankan State refused to cooperate dropped further from 15 in 2012 to 7 in 2022! Leading Muslim majority nations which supported Sri Lanka earlier abstained from supporting this time, notwithstanding a Muslim Minister leading the Sri Lanka delegation. Obviously something serious is going on.

Next time Muslim majority nations will very likely vote against Sri Lanka. Probably know very well what is going on in Sri Lanka! This country had been receiving by way of worker remittances from the Middle East, US $ 7 billion every year until 2020, when we hung on to a fixed dollar conversion rate and pushed Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earner into the black market, ruining unforgivably our dollar income! Meanwhile fuel rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar had found their feet trampled here without any legitimate reason! That is what a former President said to the media recently. Strategic blunders have been made without any excuse or apology.

Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith adverting to the proposed international probe said at Udugampola last week that the rulers can no longer fool the people with false promises about the Easter Sunday investigations. “By politicising the law enforcement agencies and the Attorney General’s Department and not allowing them to function independently and thereafter seeking the assistance of international bodies was just another government ruse.”—‘Island’ 10/10/2022.

In any event the Archbishop can never agree to any Western outfit investigating 21/4 fearing the real possibility of some of those accused by the Presidential Commission on the Easter attacks getting laundered out! But more so, against the background of the Archbishop’s widely publicized speech at Katuwapitiya on 21st July 2019 where he said “Easter Sunday mayhem was an international conspiracy and not merely the work of Muslim extremists.” He also referred to a then report alleging ISIS leader Al Baghdadi being in a military camp run by the “most powerful nation in the world”. We are now asking the alleged conspirators to investigate! (For more on the subject; Island 21/06/2021 “Perpetrators as preachers and now as illegal investigators!”; Daily Mirror 22/06/2021 titled “What will the US FBI and Australian Federal Police investigate in Sri Lanka? Daily FT 13 /06/2020 “21/4 attacks relate to foreign invasions of Muslim countries & persistent anti-minority violence here”.)

We have already had a multiplicity of investigations and inquiries by the CID and TID in addition to the local police and with the change of government fresh investigations were once again launched by the CID and CTID, weakening the prosecution case. We have also had a Parliamentary Select Committee and a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, whose recommendations were partially implemented discriminatingly, causing meanwhile widely damaging publicity to national reconciliation, tourism and foreign investments. Do we need another Easter Sunday investigation? Why now, when over a hundred suspects are still languishing in State custody for over 3 ½ years without bail in violation of the presumption of innocence?”



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Trains on northern railway line will end at Mahawa for five months from 15th January 2023

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Minister of Transport and Highways Dr Bandula Gunawardena told Parliament today (28) that trains on the Northern railway line will end at Mahawa for a period of five months commencing 15th January 2023.

The Minister said that repairs to the railway line between Mahawa and Jaffna will commence on 15th January and will be completed within a period of five months.

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SLPP dissidents ask govt. to bring back USD 35 bn ‘parked’ overseas

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underscore need to amend Exchange Control Act

By Shamindra Ferdinando

MP Gevindu Cumaratunga, who represents the SLPP dissidents, yesterday (27) alleged that the incumbent government was yet to bring enough pressure to bear on those who had parked as much as USD 36 billion overseas to bring the money back.Cumaratunga said the government’s failure to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017 should be examined against the backdrop of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Budget proposal to draw more loans in 2023.

The leader of the civil society group Yuthukama, Cumaratunga, who represents the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, one of the breakaway factions of the ruling SLPP, said that two of his colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa, had, during the ongoing Budget debate, had raised the issue of forex stashed away overseas.

Cumaratunga said that he couldn’t comprehend why the government delayed making it mandatory for exporters to bring back much required foreign exchange.Responding to The Island queries, lawmaker Cumaratunga emphasised that though the vote on the Second Reading of the Budget was approved on Nov. 22, with a majority of 37 votes, it failed to address even the basic issues. Cumaratunga was among 84 MPs who voted against the Budget whereas it received the backing of 121 lawmakers.

The other Yuthukama MP in Parliament Anupa Pasqual, now a State Minister, voted for the Budget.The parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for taking immediate measures to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017, the MP said, pointing out in terms of Article 148 that dealt with public finance this issue should have been addressed long ago.

Cumaratunga was not an MP at the time the Yahapalana administration introduced that controversial legislation.The first-time entrant to Parliament said that the government was on its knees before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for USD 2.9 bn spread over a period of four years, whereas exporters deliberately denied the country more than 10 times that amount in much needed forex.

Addressing the Parliament during the debate on the Budget, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the role played by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in introducing the questionable piece of legislation.  Cumaratunga slammed Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, who previously held the Finance portfolio for ignoring the contentious issue of massive amount of money ‘parked’ overseas by exporters.

Declaring that Sabry hadn’t been involved with the then Joint Opposition following the 2015 change of government, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the circumstances under which the prominent President’s Counsel entered politics. The activist asked whether it was fair to accommodate Sabry on the SLPP National List in return for his role as leading lawyer for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his current role.

During two speeches in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga dealt with several contentious issues, including an alleged move to deprive farmers of their land. The outspoken MP warned the government of dire consequences of a decision regarding state land that was to be taken soon, while appealing for Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s intervention.

Referring to a steep increase in the allocation made to the President at the 2023 Budget, MP Cumaratunga said that the President received Rs 2,467 bn last year, Rs 3,044 bn this year and a staggering Rs 7,888 bn next year.

Appreciating a significant drop in the allocation made for the Premier, MP Cumaratunga said that the ministerial staff received Rs 132 bn last year, Rs 217 bn this year and Rs 263 bn next year. Such allocations should be studied taking into consideration the state of the national economy, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, alleging that the Budget didn’t reflect the actual situation.

The MP said that having received the executive presidency, through a vote in Parliament on July 20, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, the UNP leader was pursuing an agenda contrary to what he preached as Premier (May 12-July 13, 2022).

Referring to statements made by Wickremesinghe during that period pertaining to the then proposed 21st Amendment to the Constitution, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in the President holding onto the Finance portfolio. The MP said as Premier Wickremesinghe continuously expressed the view that the President shouldn’t hold any Cabinet portfolio. The MP said that they were of the view that the President should hold the Defence portfolio. Having vowed to strengthen Parliament, President Wickremesinghe could justify his role as the Finance Minister. The President holds several other ministerial portfolios for want of an agreement with the SLPP pertaining to sharing of portfolios.

Referring to the Budget declaration that the government intended to procure Rs 1,000 bn in loans and settle loans amounting to Rs 440 bn, MP Cumaratunga said that the bottom line is the increase in debt. “Aren’t we getting further embroiled in a debt trap?” he asked.

MP Cumaratunga strongly criticized the government for planning to open Mahaweli lands to outsiders. The declaration that profit-making Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance would be privatized, on the pretext of restructuring, came under fire by the MP, who also expressed serious concerns over the proposed privatization of Hilton as well as profit-making sections of SriLankan Airlines.

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Security stickers on bottles of liquor: The corrupt make a killing – Buddhika

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More than 100,000 bottles of liquor with fake security stickers are currently in the market, says SJB Matara District MP Buddhika Pathirana. Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo, recently, Pathirana said the security sticker racket has deprived the state coffers of billions of rupees in taxes.

“Leading liquor manufacturers are carrying out this racket with the help of some corrupt Excise officials. The business of counterfeit security stickers is far more lucrative than producing dud notes.  The QR codes printed on the so-called security stickers cannot be read by QR reader apps in mobile phones. Now, a lot of people know how to use mobile phones to scan QR codes to access information contained therein. Many software companies as well as open sources offer QR reader apps free of charge to be downloaded to the mobile phones.

“We have been warning of this security sticker project since inception. We have also warned that the company selected for printing QR code stickers for liquor is under a cloud.”

Pathirana said that State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya too had admitted that artificial toddy is for manufacturing arrack. “Minister Siyambalapitiya has stated that the country’s liquor industry needs at least 150,000 liters of toddy a day but only 45,000 litres can be produced from the coconut palms in the country, and the shortfall is met with artificial toddy. I know that he too is now in a position where he cannot fight against the racketeers because the Finance Ministry officials do not support him,” Pathirana said.

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