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Editorial

First things first

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In the last paragraph of his usually trenchant and insightful presentation on this page today, our regular columnist Rajan Philips socks home a message about what the people of this country want from their leaders at this point in history. He forcefully makes the point that non-delivery of 20A, or even a new constitution, with which the government is now overly obsessed, will not be held against either the president or his government saying: “What the people will not forget, or electorally forgive, would be a failure to protect their health from the corona virus and protect their households from economic destitution. Anything less will not pass muster with the public.” That obviously is a given that needs no further emphasis.

There is not the slightest doubt that President Rajapaksa and, perhaps to a lesser extent, his government deserves full marks for what has been done up to now to contain the global Corona virus pandemic within this country as far as possible; and this despite our limited resources. Sri Lanka’s successes in this area in the early days has been internationally applauded. But, largely due to the negligence of the us all, the previous achievements are now being dissipated resulting in the breaking out of what we called a “second wave” in this space last week. It is not our intention to engage in an exercise of finger-pointing blaming anybody for what has happened, but there is no escaping the reality that far too many of our people had begun to behave as though normalcy had been restored. The whole country has now been jolted into the reality that this is not the case.

The easy way out, of course, is to revert to a total or near lock down to contain the spread of the disease. But this is not possible in the context of our battered economy and, more so, the hundreds of thousands of our people who keep body and soul together by earning a daily wage. A lock down would drive them to near starvation. The authorities are doing their best to strike a fine balance imposing necessary restrictions with minimum hardship to as many as possible. The grade five scholarship examination has been held and the ‘A’ level exam is ongoing. Covid twice compelled their postponement earlier and any interference now must be a very last resort under absolutely unavoidable conditions. Everything necessary to prevent such an eventuality is being done and it is to be hoped that the Gods will smile down on us and help avert such a calamity.

Given the situation the country is at present, the last thing we need is the ongoing political war over 20A. Given the notorious shortness of memory of this nation, most have forgotten that the much derided 19A which admittedly had many desirable provisions, as well as weaknesses targeting individuals not excluding the incumbent president, was passed near unanimously in the legislature with only a single dissenting vote. The landslide winners of both the presidential and parliamentary elections say they have the mandate to do what they are seeking to do with the constitution. There is no denying that both President Rajapaksa as well as the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna won overwhelming majorities. Yet they sought to incorporate provisions into 20A that that they themselves now admit were unconstitutional, compelling the Attorney General to assure the Supreme Court that these would be duly amended at the Committee Stage of the legislative process. Let us no forget that those who eloquently accused their opponents of “smuggling” unwanted provisions (as in the case of the Provincial Councils Election (Amendment) Act) into legislation during Committee Stage proceedings are also making such amendments. Admittedly, these were furnished during the court proceedings so no smuggling allegation can stand.

It has been widely reported that the Supreme Court has held that some of the provisions of the draft 20A needs to be passed by a two thirds majority and also obtain the consent of the people at a Referendum. It is clear that the government does not wish to test its mandate at a Referendum and it is a certainty that those sections that would require such reference to the people for their consent (if there are such sections) will be duly amended so that they could be adopted by the two thirds majority the government is confident of obtaining in parliament. The Supreme Court ruling is not in the public domain, with the judges having communicated it only to the president and the speaker. There was one report that the speaker had not even opened the envelope in which the determination had been conveyed to him. However that be, a purportedly leaked judgment has been widely disseminated. Many sections of the polity have correctly refrained from commenting on the judgment until it is formally communicated to parliament next week.

There is no doubt that the government will go ahead with its announced intention of enacting 20A. But the time for doing so is not propitious. The most important item in the public agenda is protecting the health of the people and ensuring that the most vulnerable segment of our population is not driven to destitution. Getting the battered economy into the best possible shape is also most important. The people will applaud the president and the government if “first things first” is made the national priority.



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Editorial

A tall tale told by cops

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Saturday 10th April, 2021

Thousands of military personnel who died in the line of duty to make this country safe would turn in their graves if they knew the way the state is treating their loved ones. Their widows and mothers were seen recently staging street protests in a bid to have some grievances redressed. On Thursday, while they were conducting a peaceful march from the Fort Railway station to the Presidential Secretariat, demanding that they be paid their spouses’ salaries instead of pensions until the time when their husbands would have reached the retirement age. Ven. Jamurewela Chandrarathana, described as the chief organiser of the event, and another person were arrested and subsequently granted police bail. The police claimed that the arrests had been made over a stone attack on two of their vehicles. This, we believe, is a tall tale.

No one in his proper senses dares to hurl stones at a police vehicle in full view of heavily armed cops, and run the risk of having to keep staring at the ceiling of an orthopaedic ward for weeks, if not months. There have been instances where even protesting students had their limbs broken and skulls cracked at the hands of the police riot squads. So, only agents provocateurs working for the government will carry out a stone attack on the police.

Two stone throwers, caught by some members of the public and handed over to the police, on Thursday, vanished while in police custody, only Chandrarathana Thera and another person were taken to a nearby police station, according to the organisers of the protest. This is a very serious allegation, which must not go uninvestigated. One of the attackers is seen in the CCTV footage of the incident, and the bold manner in which he threw stones in a place swarming with police personnel in uniform and civvies suggests that he was confident he would not have to face the consequences of his action. If the police cannot do their job properly, they must, at least, learn how to lie convincingly!

The government says it has sorted out the issue over which the widows of the slain military personnel took to the streets, and a gazette to that effect has been put out. If it is telling the truth, then the protesters had not been informed of what it had done. Why didn’t the defence top brass invite the protesters to a discussion and inform them that their problems had been solved? In fact, the government should have solved the salary issue much earlier.

The leaders of the incumbent dispensation never miss an opportunity to boast of having ended the country’s war on terror. They, no doubt, provided unwavering political leadership for the war effort, but the fact remains that it is the military, the police including the STF, and the Civil Defence Force that made the defeat of terrorism possible. One of the main election pledges of the present government was to look after the interests of the armed forces and police personnel. Its leaders, during their Opposition days, shed copious tears for the military and the police, the slain armed forces personnel and their families and gained a lot of political mileage. They, therefore, must not wait until the family members of the late military personnel stage protests, to act, and, most of all, ensure that the latter are treated with respect.

The government claims its political opponents were behind Thursday’s protest. This claim may be true. There is hardly any issue that does not get politicised in this country. Didn’t the SLPP politicise and exploit the Easter Sunday attacks to win elections? The problem of a bunch of bankrupt politicians and publicity-crazy elements including some priests exploiting the grievances of the family members of the slain warriors to compass their selfish ends would not have arisen if the government had cared to give the protesters a patient hearing instead of unleashing the police on them.

Damaging police vehicles is a serious offence, and the duo responsible for Thursday’s stone-throwing incident can be charged under the Offences against Public Property Act and denied bail. An investigation is called for to find out why the police allowed them to escape, as alleged by the protesters.

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Editorial

Dogs, donkeys, fools and lunatics

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Friday 9th April, 2021

A heated argument between SJB MP Sarath Fonseka and Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, yesterday, plunged Parliament into turmoil with the government and Opposition MPs freely trading insults and threats across the well of the house.

All hell broke loose while the SJB was staging a protest against the unseating of its MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who is currently serving a jail term. Protests will not be of any help to Ramanayake, who is languishing in prison. Only a presidential pardon could save him. Not that everybody has welcomed his sentence, but that is the way the cookie crumbles in courts. His colleagues should have asked him to act with restraint. He kept on tearing into the judiciary unnecessarily and asked for trouble. If the SJB actually believes that Ramanayake has not ceased to be an MP, can it allow anyone else from its Gampaha list to fill the vacancy created by his removal?

The MPs of both sides, yesterday, indulged in insulting some animals as well. They were heard calling each other dog, donkey, fool and lunatic, etc. Politicians may be called fools and lunatics, but why should poor animals be insulted in this manner? Animal lovers must be at a loss to understand why some MPs flew into a rage on being called dogs and donkeys, and even threatened their rivals.

Dogs and donkeys are far superior to politicians, in many respects, so much so that one cannot but wish all people’s representatives in this country behaved in such a way as to deserve to be called dogs and donkeys.

The dog is a wonderful creature. It is known for its courage, intelligence, faithfulness, gratitude and readiness to protect its master even risking its own life. What a nice place this country would be if our representatives also had these canine traits. Blessed is a country that has courageous, faithful and grateful politicians who fiercely protect the citizenry like guard dogs. If our MPs were as faithful as canines, they would never switch their allegiance for pecuniary benefits; the problem of crossovers would cease to be.

In this country, there have been several unfortunate incidents, where some wicked humans threw their aged parents into kennels and other such places, and sniffer dogs in their twilight years, needing special care, were thrown out of the police kennels, where they were auctioned instead of being looked after in appreciation of their outstanding contribution to crimebusting. Such shocking incidents come about as humans lack canine qualities; dogs never desert those who look after them.

Sri Lankan politics is characterised by a huge trust deficit. The trustworthiness of canines has never been in question. This must have been the reason why King Matthias of Hungary (1443-1490), trusted his dogs more than his palace guards. Historians tell us that the wise monarch, troubled by intrigue and treachery in his court, which was full of greedy, unfaithful noblemen, surrounded himself with some guard dogs.

The donkey is intelligent and has an incredible memory despite popular misconceptions, according to scientists. They are also known for their ability to carry heavy loads. They coexist with other creatures. So, why should politicians with shallow minds and deep pockets and are averse to shouldering the burden of serving the taxpaying public, who maintains them, be called donkeys that carry heavy loads, expecting nothing in return?

Will our honourable representatives be so considerate as to desist from insulting dogs, donkeys and other such critters?

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Editorial

The strange case of Naufer

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Thursday 8th April, 2021

Public Security Minister, Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera, would have the public believe that the Easter Sunday terror mastermind has been identified. He has said ‘Naufer Moulavi’, who masterminded the attacks, is in custody. Interestingly, not even the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), which probed the Easter Sunday carnage, for months on end, was able to find the mastermind behind the savage terror attacks!

How can the government say with certainty that Naufer masterminded the terror attacks? True, he was the theoretician of the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) led by Zahran Hashim, and played a key role in indoctrinating the NTJ cadres. He also wielded some influence on Zahran, but there were occasions when they had disagreements. Naufer was only the second in command of the NTJ, according to Chapter 16 (Profiles of Key Individuals) in the PCoI report. It is doubtful whether the NTJ theoretician would have been able to carry out a serious task like planning terror attacks. One may recall that Anton Balasingham was the theoretician of the LTTE, but Prabhakaran did not allow him to get involved in planning any terror strikes. Is it that Naufer has sought to put investigators off the scent by claiming to be the mastermind so that the real mastermind/s will be safe?

Even if it is true that Naufer masterminded the Easter Sunday attacks, it needs to be found out whether he, too, had a handler, local or foreign.

Naufer was not the only source of inspiration for Zahran, who had foreign connections. The PCoI report (page 218) quotes the then State Intelligence Service Director SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena as having said that an Indian named Abu Hind may have triggered the attacks. It says, “He [Jayawardena] went on to imply that the intelligence agencies that provided him with the intelligence on 4th, 20th and 21st April 2019 may have had a hand in the attack.” It then quotes an international expert on terrorism: “According to his [the expert’s] testimony, Abu Hind was a character created by a section of a provincial Indian intelligence apparatus. The intelligence that the Director SIS received on 4th, 20th and 21st April 2019 was from this operation, and the intelligence operative pretending to be one Abu Hind. Operatives of this outfit operate in social media pretending to be Islamic State figures. They are trained to run virtual persona …. Zahran believed Abu Hind was the Islamic State regional representative. Abu Hind was in touch with both Zahran and his brother Rilwan and had spoken to Naufer. This part of evidence is confirmed by Hadiya [Zahran’s wife].” The PCoI, however, says in its report that it has not found any foreign link as regards the Easter Sunday attacks; it has, however, recommended that ‘certain identified parties’ be further investigated. Has any such investigation been conducted?

The PCoI has sought to justify its conclusion that there was no foreign involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks in the light of the fact that none of the key witnesses who said they suspected a foreign link failed to furnish credible evidence to support their claims. The PCoI, therefore, has dismissed their assertions as mere ipse dixits. For reasons best known to itself, it chose to stop at that.

According to the PCoI report, the witnesses who either expressly or impliedly said there had been a foreign link were Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, former President Maithripala Sirisena, former Minister Rauff Hakeem, former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, MP Mujibur Rahuman, former Governor Asath Salley, former Director SIS SDIG Nilantha Jayawardena, former STF Commandant SDIG (retd.) M. R. Latiff, former Chief of Defence Staff Admiral (retd.) Ravindra Wijegunaratne, DIG/CID (retd.) Ravi Seneviratne and former CID Director Shani Abeysekera. They may not have made irresponsible statements before the PCoI. So, the need for a thorough probe into the NTJ’s foreign links to find out whether there was an external hand in the Easter Sunday attacks cannot be overemphasied.

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