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Former State Minister Nalin Bandara among those asked for suspects’ release on police bail



Anti-Muslim violence in Hettipola

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former State Minister Nalin Bandara had urged police officers in Hettipola, on May 2019, to release six suspects arrested for allegedly attacking Muslim owned properties following the Easter Sunday attacks, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the Easter Sunday attacks was informed yesterday.

SSP Oshan Hewavitharana, who was in charge of the Kuliyapitiya Police Division at the time, told the PCoI that there had been indications of unrest in the area by early May.

“On May 12, I was informed that an unidentified group had asked several Muslim businessmen to close their shops. I went there with the Dummalasuriya OIC and took steps to reopen those places.”

The witness said that on the same day, around 5.30 pm, he had got a call from the Kuliyapitiya HQI that four Muslim owned shops in Hettipola Road, Karanthipola, Kuliyapitiya had been attacked. Acting on a tip-off, the HQI had later arrested four persons, Hewavitharana said.

The witness said around 200 people along with religious leaders had surrounded the police station, and he called in reinforcements and secured the police area.

“However, we decided to release the four suspects on police bail until investigations were complete,” he said.

Hewavitharana added that the next significant incident had occurred at Kinigama, Hettipola. A large number of people had gathered after a complaint that a stock of ammunition has been thrown into the Kinigama Tank by members of the local mosque, the witness said. The police with the assistance of Navy divers had searched the tank for two days, 10 and 11 May 2019.

“They failed to find anything but some individual found them on the 12th when he went to bathe. Then there was tension as people gathered near the mosque. Police and Army were sent to the location and although they managed to disperse the crowd several Muslim mosques had been attacked. Six people were later arrested by the Army and handed to Bingiriya police. They were then sent to Hettipola Police station.”

However, a large number of people had gathered near Hettipola Police station on 13 May 2019 demanding the release of the suspects. The people insisted that these men had been arrested without evidence, the witness said. To resolve the issue, a meeting was held at Weerapokuna School and this was attended by former State Minister Nalin Bandara, senior regional officers and religious leaders of all communities.

“Given that we had not conducted investigations into the incident and the sensitivity of the issue we asked those who had gathered for their opinions too. They also agreed that the suspects should be released on police bail until investigations were over. The State Minister also said that this was the best way to defuse the situation,” Hewavitharana said.

The SSP said that he had informed the decision to the Hettipola OIC. The suspects were to be sent to Bingiriya and given bail. However, those who had gathered there prevented the police from taking the suspects to Bingiriya.

“Did anyone else come to the station at this time?” Attorney General’s Department official leading the evidence asked the witness.

“MP Dayasiri Jayasekera came to the police and helped resolve the issue. He told the people that there was an agreement to give police bail to suspects. Jayasekera lives close to the Hettipola police station and was helpful,” Hewavitharana said.

“There was no evidence against the six suspects?” Chairman of the PCoI asked.

“No, they were picked up on the road,” the witness said.

Hewavitharana added that police had taken action to disperse the crowds that had gathered at the Hettipola town. However due to shortage of manpower, they were unable to prevent them from damaging shops, he said.

“That is why we didn’t arrest people but just dispersed them. We knew that we could get CCTV footage and arrested suspects later,” he said.

Minister Jayasekera is to appear before the PCoI today.

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About 232 out of 500 escapees from K’kadu Drug Rehab Centre arrested



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Two hundred and thirty two inmates out of the 500, who escaped from the Kandakadu Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, yesterday morning, following a clash with soldiers guarding the facility, had been arrested, Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General – Rehabilitation, said.

Hettiarachchi denied allegations from certain quarters that they had allowed inmates to escape to divert public attention away from the burning economic issues, and crippling fuel shortages.

He said an impartial inquiry would be conducted into the death of an inmate.

Hettiarachchi said that they were confident that other escapees too would be arrested soon.

Police Spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said a 36-year-old inmate had died under mysterious circumstances on Tuesday. The deceased was a resident of Mutwal. The death of the inmate had been reported to the Welikanda police, he said.

The Police Spokesman added that a team of policemen from Welikanda had visited the Rehabilitation Centre. However, a large number of inmates had surrounded the body and did not allow anyone near it and that had led to a clash between inmates and the military personnel at the centre.

At around 8 am yesterday, a large group of inmates had broken the two main gates and escaped, he added.

The Police Spokesman said that the police and Army had brought the situation under control, after several hours.

They have also launched a joint operation to arrest the inmates, who are still at large.

There are around 1,000 drug addicts being rehabilitated at the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Center at any given time.

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Women parliamentarians’ Caucus calls for greater accountability and transparency



International Day of Parliamentarism

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle says accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system have become vital issues as the country makrs the International Day of Parliamentarism today (30).

In a statement issued to the media by the Caucus, Dr Fernandopulle said: International Day of Parliamentarism, which recognises the role of parliaments in national plans and strategies and in ensuring greater transparency and accountability at national and global levels. This Day was first established by the UN General Assembly through a resolution adopted in 2018 which also marked the 129th anniversary of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU, which was first established on the same day in the year 1889, is a global organization that works to promote ‘democratic governance, human representation, democratic values, and the civil aspirations of a society’.

This Day further solidifies the unique and enduring system of parliamentary democracy as the standard for political representation. Last year, in 2021, the Day focused on “Youth Empowerment” in Parliament whereas the theme for the International Day of Parliamentarism 2022 is “Public Engagement”. Conspicuously, the word ‘parliament’ originates from the French word ‘parler,’ which means ‘to talk.’ Thus, public discourse and engagement lay the very foundation of the parliamentary system of governance.

At a juncture where public engagement in the democratic process is at an all-time high, the theme for International Day of Parliamentarism aptly suits the current democratic and economic discourse taking place in society.

The Parliament is a cornerstone of any democracy as it must fulfill its fundamental role of providing a voice to the voiceless. The main responsibilities of a Parliament include the formulation, enactment and overseeing of the implementation of laws and policies that are sustainable and crucial for the progression and stability of the country. The Parliament also has a duty to hold the Executive or Government of the country accountable. Accordingly, representing the interests of the public, it must also fulfill the role of acting as a “check” to “balance” the power that the executive holds.

The Parliament must also perform “checks” and “balances” on Government expenditure as it has the responsibility of approving budgets for Government expenditure. Thus, during this economic crisis, the Parliament of Sri Lanka has a crucial role to play and effectively realize such roles and responsibilities. To do so meaningfully, public engagement is a necessity.

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said: “I believe we should make this Day an occasion to remember the importance of accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system. The Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus recognizes that it has a role to play in initiating a conversation towards realizing a process by which the Parliament can conduct self-evaluation utilising the feedback received by the public discourse. This would be vital in order to gauge the progress the Parliament has made and identify challenges and devise strategies and mechanisms to overcome such challenges to be more representative of the voices of people.”

MP Thalatha Atukorale said: “In the face of crisis, if our parliamentary system fails to realize its purpose, then we must re-evaluate the practices of our Parliament. Therefore, I believe that this Day should be used as an opportunity to formulate an effective strategy to improve transparency and accountability of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.”

MP Diana Gamage said: “On this Day, I pledge to be a voice to the people of Sri Lanka, particularly the more vulnerable, and play my role in initiating mechanisms and formulating laws that reflect the current needs of the people of Sri Lanka whom we are representing in Parliament”.

Parliament is the bedrock of a functioning democracy. In Sri Lanka, let us realise this goal for all Sri Lankans, leaving no stone unturned to ensure quality of political representation, which means gender equality and social inclusion too.

MP Manjula Dissanayake said: “To be effective and successful, the Parliamentary system must encourage public engagement and must also be based on principles of equality and inclusivity in order to better comprehend and prioritise the needs of the public”.

Vice-Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, MP Rohini Kumari Wijeratne said: “The parliamentary system is founded upon the sovereignty of people. Therefore, the success of the parliamentary system depends on public engagement in the democratic process and how well the parliamentary system responds to such public engagement.”

MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said: “We as Parliamentarians must not be oblivious to the fact that the public has lost confidence in the Sri Lankan Parliament and by extension, the Parliamentarians. A strong contention can be and is being made that the Parliament of Sri Lanka falls short of effectively realizing one of its main purposes: to formulate and implement policies and laws that benefits ALL people, particularly the more vulnerable. To meet that end, we must harness public discourse and engagement.”

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Proposals to revive agriculture sector unveiled



By Ifham Nizam

The Department of Agriculture has handed over proposals with an action plan for the revival of the agriculture sector to the Minister of Agriculture, Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation, Mahinda Amaraweera.

Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture Rohana Pushpakumara, Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Ajantha de Silva, and its Directors, representing respective divisions, were also present.

The focus of the proposals is on the importation of chemical fertilisers and organic farming, increasing rice production in the country, promoting the cultivation of indigenous crops for export, taking measures to meet the national vegetable and fruit demand, prioritizing agricultural research and development, and other agricultural Inputs.

The proposals also deal with a number of other issues such as the misuse of pesticides and fertilisers.

The proposals consist of 11 short-term plans to uplift agriculture.

Speaking at the event, the Minister of Agriculture, Mahinda Amaraweera, requested that the proposals, aimed at increasing the income of the farming community, be implemented without delay and that everyone be committed to make the Yala season, and the forthcoming Maha season, a success. “We must make the current Yala and the next Maha season a success. The country’s economy depends on the stability of the agriculture sector.

The Director General of the Department of Agriculture handed over the relevant proposal to the Minister.

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