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Ex-Rehab & Prisons Reforms Minister:Crisis cannot be solved by releasing prisoners alone

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… compares Welisara corona eruption with that of Mahara

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms Minister D. E. W. Gunasekara yesterday (8) said that tangible remedial measures should be taken to address the explosive situation in prisons.

Referring to the recent bloody riots in the Mahara Prison complex, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party emphasised that the problems pertaining to the prison system couldn’t be resolved by releasing convicts and remand suspects.

Gunasekara served as Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms Minister during 2010-2011 before the Cabinet reshuffle during which several senior ministers were sidelined.

Responding to The Island queries, the former minister who recently quit active politics, said that instead of addressing the growing unrest in prisons, the government appeared to have responded to the crisis caused by the corona pandemic.

Gunasekara urged those responsible for prisons to identify the genuine grievances of the inmates.

Gunasekera said that the government should have taken adequate precautions to thwart the eruption of the corona epidemic in prisons, especially in the wake of the crisis faced by the Navy during the first eruption.

In spite of attempts to deceive the public, thanks to The Island what really caused the corona outbreak at the Welisara Navy base was in the public domain, the former minister said. “The truth is unprecedented congestion caused a corona crisis in that base. Finally, the Navy had no option but to move thousands of personnel stationed at Welisara to bases in the Northern and Eastern Provinces et al,” Gunasekera said.

Comparing Welisara crisis with that of Mahara that claimed the lives of 11 men, Gunasekera said that prisons authorities couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for the well-being of convicts and as well as remand suspects.

“They are the custodians of those who had been entrusted by the courts,” the former minister said. At the time of the Mahara eruption, there had been approximately 2,800 convicts and suspects, the vast majority being the latter.

Gunasekara questioned the rationale in releasing remand prisoners and convicts in response to the congestion. Asked what would be his recommendation, the former Prisons Reforms Minister pointed out that the problem couldn’t be resolved by releasing inmates. Gunasekara agreed with The Island assertion that if emptying the prisons was the solution, then law enforcement authorities and courts, too, would have to curtail ongoing operations especially directed at narcotics and remanding suspects pending investigations, respectively.

Gunasekara urged the government to undertake proper reappraisal of the prisons and expand where necessary to meet what he called public security requirements. The former minister also agreed that it would be a huge mistake on the government’s part to go slow on organized crime because it lacked infrastructure to hold suspects.

Referring to a joint press conference given by the Police and the Excise Department at the latter’s head office, former MP Gunasekara pointed out the Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana was on record as having revealed during 2019 Nov-2020 Nov period 72,000 persons were arrested in connection with heroin, ganja and synthetic drugs such as ICE offenses. If the country lacked the infrastructure to detain suspects it could cause a serious law and order situation, the former minister said, pointing out that the failure to address the issue at hand after the conclusion of the war over a decade ago.

Prisons Management and Prisoners Rehabilitation Minister Lohan Ratwatte told the inaugural meeting of the Justice Ministry Consultative Committee meeting recently the government was planning to release 8,000 prisoners to overcome the congestion.

Gunasekera said that the State should provide basic facilities to the prisoners. “On my first visit to Welikada having assumed duties as rehabilitation and prisons reforms minister over a decade ago, I saw a very long queue there. I was told such long queues were routine as Welikada lacked sufficient toilet facilities. In the absence of proper system to provide such facilities, I sought help from Sri Lanka Red Cross. They swiftly provided funds required to build several dozens of toilets and bathrooms,” Gunasekera said.

Responding to another query, the former minister said that different governments commissioned four reports on prisons reforms and he studied them all soon after receiving the relevant portfolio. Gunasekera said that he was deprived of an opportunity to implement the recommendations in a meaningful way.

The former minister said that appointing commissions after some disaster today was somewhat fashionable. The Mahara riot was a catastrophe which could have been avoided, the ex-MP said. Gunasekera urged the government to examine the complex situation and take remedial measures in consultation with all stakeholders. Gunasekera urged the Opposition not to play politics with the issue but make suitable suggestions.



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CEBEU guns for ex-Chairman Ferdinando

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by Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) Friday  said that they are in the process of collecting evidence against former Ceylon Electricity Board Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando over the recent statement he made on a proposed power project with India.

A senior engineer said that there is a high possibility that the seasoned civil servant dragged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to disrepute because he didn’t see eye to eye with the President.

Eng. Isuru Kasthuriratne, a committee member of the CEBEU and Project Engineer – Mannar Wind Power Project of the Board said they would never allow former chairman to get away easily.

“There are always controversies about him. We would not let this case go. We are in touch with all bodies,” he said.

Kasthuriratne said that very relevant documents were authored and authorized by the former chairman and “he cannot simply say he is not aware of this and that.”

Ferdinando on June 11, tendered his resignation following the controversy he sparked over the planned 500 MW unsolicited wind power project here by India’s Adani group.

“The Adani group at first proposed to sell power to the CEB at 6.50 US cents per unit,” CEBEU President Anil Ranjith told journalists recently.

Despite numerous attempts, the former CEB chairman was not available for comment.

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Dilshan Wirasekara, new CSE Chairman

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The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) announced the appointment of Dilshan Wirasekara as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the CSE with effect from Friday (24).

Wirasekara has served on the Board of the CSE since 21st November 2017 and succeeds Dumith Fernando, who steps down as the Chairman after completing his two-year tenure.

Wirasekara is the Director/Chief Executive Officer of one of the leading investment banking firms, First Capital Holdings PLC, offering a diverse range of financial services in Government Securities, Corporate Finance and Advisory, Asset Management and Stock Brokering, which he has been part of since 2013.

He currently is the chairman of the Investment Subcommittee of the CSE and also serves on the Risk and Audit Committee of the CSE as well as the CSE/SEC joint committees on Digitalization and the Central Counter Party System (CCP).

An Investment banker by profession with a career spanning over 26 years, comprising diversified expertise in financial services, including banking, treasury and investment management, capital market strategy, and corporate finance advisory services.

Wirasekara specializes in Asset and Liability Risk Management, having secured the accolade of leading and representing two Sri Lankan companies in winning the International Bank Asset and Liability competition organized annually by the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), German Investment Corporation (DEG), and Proparco – a subsidiary of the Agence Française de Development (AFD).

Wirasekara is an alumnus of INSEAD, having completed his Executive Professional Education at INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau, France. He is also an alumnus of AOTS, Tokyo, Japan.

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NCE on Govt’s focus on directing public servants to private sector employment

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National Chamber of Exporters has given the a proposal to the Prime Minister and copied it to the Ministry of Public Administration, Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government on providing employment opportunities to government servants in the private sector companies for a specified period.

The Chamber said in a release: Through Media sources we got to know that The Ministry of Public Administration has appointed a committee to look into the possibility of granting five years of leave to government employees to work in the private sector.

Its states that a seven-member committee has been appointed for this purpose and that the said committee is to submit its report to the Cabinet of Ministers within two weeks.

Sri Lankan exporters are proposing to absorb public sector employees for employment in the sector to relieve the burden of wages and related costs on the Government.

The Export Sector has been able to sustain business and has also reached the pre pandemic level of an average of USD.01 billion export revenue during the period January to April 2022. Before the dawn of the pandemic, exporters were facing difficulties with lack of skilled workers. However, during the pandemic, many exporters were compelled to downsize operations and lay off employees which has created a vacuum in crucial areas of operations.

In current scenario, considering the financial burden and the reportedly excessive workforce attached to the public sector, NCE member exporters are proposing following options in reaching a win-win agreement for both government and the export sector. It is to be noted that labour requirements of exporters vary according to the relevant industry, yet in general all categories could be considered.

1. Any government employee in the permanent carder is eligible to apply for employment in the export sector, excluding from following institutions as they are involved in law enforcement in the country which may lead to conflict of interests.

a) Department of Police

b) Department of Inland Revenue

c) Department of Customs

d) Department of Excise

 2.Government to grant unpaid leave up to a maximum of 59 months.

 3.Employer will offer a “Temporary Labour Contract “to such selected individuals which include: –

 a) Period of contract for 59 months (because on completion of the 60th month, the employee will be eligible for Gratuity.)

b) Their employment will be in accordance with the laws and statutes under which the respective private sector company’s  employees of similar cadre is employed.

c) Leave entitlement as per employer’s policy on leave

d) Employment contract can be terminated with either party giving 30 days’ written notice.

e) In case of maternity leave, a number of stipulated days will be available as unpaid leave.

f)  At the end of 59 months, the government to absorb such individuals back to the public sector employment as per pertinent rules and regulations.

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