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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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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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