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Gas explosions: ‘Criminal negligence on the part of ministers, CAA’

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‘Govt. sat on repeated warnings over propane and butane composition ratio’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Thushan Gunawardena says a thorough investigation has to be conducted into the state-owned Litro Gas and Litro Terminals.

Gunawardena, who quit his post on 22 Sept. over a dispute with Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena and Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna following the exposure of the garlic scam at Lak Sathosa said that months before his resignation he brought to the ministers’ notice Litro suppressing the change of composition ratio of Butane and Propane in domestic LPG. The change of composition ratio posed a grave danger, Gunawardena said, pointing out that his repeated warnings were discarded.

In a brief interview with, The Island Gunawardena explained how both ministers as well as the CAA Chairman retired Maj. Gen. Shantha Dissanayake ignored his concerns as regards the grave danger posed by increasing the propane ratio in the composition. Gunawardena made available to The Island the entire set of e-mails exchanged among officials in this regard in the wake of Litro introducing what it called a new premium hybrid 18 litre LPG (9.18 kg) cylinder priced at Rs 1,395 in April this year. Litro withdrew the new product several weeks later in the wake of media outcry over Litro actually over charging hapless consumer Rs. 151.96 per kilo whereas the regular 12.5 kg gas cylinder at that time cost Rs.1, 493. In Oct the price of a 12.5 kg domestic gas cylinder has been increased by Rs. 1,257 and the major domestic cylinder sold at Rs. 2,750.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena said that when the CAA raised the composition of domestic gas cylinder, Litro deliberately deceived the regulator. Declaring that tests proved the Litro had lied to the regulator regarding the relatively sharp increase in the propane ratio in the composition at the expense of safety and security of the consumer, Gunawardena emphasized the failure on their part to take tangible measures.

In addition to the Cabinet minister and the State Minister, the unprecedented threat posed by change in Propane and Bhutane composition was also brought to the notice of the President’s Office, the Attorney General’s Department, Board members of the CAA, Trade Secretary and Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection State Secretary, Gunawardena said.

Had those responsible acted swiftly and decisively, the embarrassing spate of explosions over the past several days could have been averted, Gunawardena said, urging the relevant parliamentary watchdog committees and the Auditor General to subject both Litro Gas and Litro Terminals to comprehensive examination.

Noting that the government replaced the then Chairman and CEO of Litro enterprises Anil Koswatte with Viyathmaga activist Theshara Jayasinghe in July, Gunawardena questioned the rationale in Litro blocking mandatory government audit in spite of strong objections by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

According to a statement issued by the Communications Division of the Parliament following a particular COPE meeting, Litro even ignored the Attorney General’s recommendation as regards mandatory government audit, Gunawardena said. Instead, Litro hired expensive lawyers to block the Auditor General, Gunwardena said, the government should at least now act on the matter.

Gunawardena said that he pushed for formulation of proper standards without delay as the Litro and privately-owned Laugfs couldn’t be allowed to dictate terms to the government. But, unfortunately, the CAA had been deprived of the much required political leadership.

In a letter dated June 17, 2021 addressed to CAA Chairman Maj. Gen. Dissanayake, Gunawardena reminded the Attorney General’s stand in that regard. Gunawardena quoted the Attorney General as having said the CAA as an independent government organization should stand up for the values of the organization. Gunawardena said that the Attorney General offered his assistance promptly and the CAA shouldn’t hesitate to seek his intervention.

Gunawardena said that the CAA and the Consumer Affairs Ministry owed an explanation regarding the action taken by them since the matter was raised in April. The Parliament should inquire into operations of both Litro and Laughfs, Gunawardena said, adding that the Propane and Bhutane composition had been re-arranged to 50:50 whereas from the time Shell ran the gas business it was 30 percent Propane and 70 percent Bhutane.

Gunawardena said that the Sri Lanka Standards (SLS) should be consulted and the regulatory measures taken to protect the consumers.

He asked whether the Treasury initiated an inquiry into a spate of serious allegations directed at the previous administration led by Koswatte. The former official noted that Koswatte, too, has asked for an investigation into claims made by his successor, Theshara Jayasinghe.

Gunawardena said that spate of gas explosions caused anxiety among the population. Referring to the import of contaminated coconut oil, garlic scam, and a number of other rackets, including the import of liquid fertilizer from India and allegedly contaminated carbonic fertilizer from China that had been exposed by the media, Gunawardena alleged that the government instead of going after the crooks targeted him and the media. Gunawardena said that the Parliament couldn’t turn a blind eye to what was going on in the country as waste, corruption and irregularities harmed the national economy.

Gunawardena said that the very existence of the CAA was questionable now as the government did away with price control on essential food items, including rice and sugar.



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NGO to move SC against acquittal and discharge of first accused

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Welikada Prison killings

‘The BASL should make its position clear now’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners, Attorney-at-Law, Senaka Perera, says his outfit will soon move the Supreme Court against the acquittal and discharging of Inspector Neomal Moses Rangajiva, the first accused in the Welikada Prison killings.

The civil society activist, in a brief interview with The Island, over the weekend, said that the relatives of those who perished in the violence in the Welikada Prison compound on Nov 09 and 10, 2012, had requested him to pursue this matter.

Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar last Wednesday (12) sentenced to death ex-Welikada Prisons Chief Lamahewage Emil Ranjan over the Welikada killings. He was the second accused in the high-profile case, whereas Rangajiva, at that time attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), was acquitted and released from all charges.

Lawyer Perera said that as the verdict had been given by a Trial-at-Bar, the appeal would have to be made to the Supreme Court. The Trial-at-Bar bench comprising High Court judges Gihan Kulathunga (President), Pradeep Hettiarachchi and Manjula Thilakarathna was unanimous in its decisions.

The Trial-at-Bar said that the prosecution failed to prove its case against the PNB officer beyond reasonable doubt.

Responding to questions, Senaka Perera said that if it hadn’t been a Trial-at-Bar, his group would have moved the Court of Appeal. Senaka Perera explained: “We intend to write to Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, in this regard. We are of the view the AG should appeal against the acquittal and discharging of Rangajiva. However, if the AG refrained from doing so,  the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners will accept the responsibility.”

In terms of the Trial-at-Bar proceedings, the eight prison inmates who were killed in the incident are Kankanmalage Malinda Nilendra Pelpola alias Malan, Attapattu Sangakkara Nirmala Atapattu, Mohammed Wijaya Rohana alias Gundu, Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara, Asarappulige Jothipala alias Ponna Kapila, Harshan Sri Manakeerthi Perera alias Manju Sri, Raigamage Susantha Perera alias Mala Susantha, Devamullage Malith Sameera Perera alias Konda Amila.

However, lawyer Senaka Perera said that altogether 27 inmates had been killed after the deployment of the Special Task Force (STF) and the Army inside the Welikada Prison. According to official records, in addition to 27 deaths, at least 43 other inmates received injuries. The then Prisons Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera informed Parliament of the deaths of 27 inmates.

The then Police Spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakoday said that inmates had triggered violence as the STF was looking for drugs and hand phones inside the prison.

The Attorney General filed indictments against IP Rangajeewa, Lamahewage Emil Ranjan and Indika Sampath, an officer attached to the Prisons intelligence unit under 33 counts, including committing murder, conspiring to commit murder after being members of an unlawful assembly.

The Court proceeded in spite of the third accused Indika Sampath who managed to evade the police so far.

The human rights activist recalled how Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, named a Trial-at-Bar to hear the Welikada case on a request made by Rajaratnam’s predecessor, Dappula de Livera, PC. The latter made the request in late June 2019. Rajaratnam succeeded de Livera in late May 2021.

The Prisons Department and the Justice Ministry couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for ensuring safety and security of those in their care, lawyer Senaka Perera said. Those who had been remanded and sentenced could be serious offenders and some may even deserve a death sentence but the State shouldn’t under any circumstances resort to extra judicial measures, the public litigation activist said.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that he believed the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) should examine the Welikada case and make its position known to the public. “Perhaps, the BASL, too, should consider moving the SC against the acquittal and discharging of the first accused,” the lawyer said.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that before the former AG made an intervention the progress in investigations had been slow. In fact, real progress was made since 2017, two years after the change of government following the 2015 presidential election, the lawyer said, alleging that the powers that be continuously hindered the investigations.

According to lawyer Perera and other sources, there had been four separate investigations at different levels beginning with the one launched by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) immediately after the Welikada killings. Subsequently the then Prisons Minister the late Chandrasiri Gajadeera named a three-member team to inquire into the Welikada killings. The committee comprising retired High Court judge Bandula Atapattu, retired DIG Gunasena Thenabadu and Prisons Ministry Legal Officer Lalith Andrahannadi produced two reports in Feb 2013 and Nov 2013. There had been two other investigations ordered by the then Prisons Chief P.W. Kodipillai and the Human Rights Commission.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that the four investigations undertaken during the Rajapaksa administration should be examined. The lawyer emphasized the importance of appraisal of the investigations as the Trial-at-Bar declared that the progress had been made only since 2017.

In addition to those four investigations, there had been another report prepared by the three-member committee comprising retired High Court judge Wimal Nambuwasam, retired Senior DIG Asoka Wijeyatilleke and senior public servant S.K. Liyanage. Appointed on January 22, 2015, less than two weeks after the presidential election, the committee handed over its report to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, on June 09, 2015 as the latter appointed it.

Lawyer Perera said that the former Prisons Chief claimed that the inmates after having broken into the Prisons armoury seized weapons, including machine guns.

The activist pointed out that the 2012 incidents were the worst since the 1983 massacre of Tamil terrorist suspects. The public have lost faith in law enforcement authorities and the political leadership regardless of the party that held power, the lawyer said. There couldn’t be better example than how the current dispensation handled the then State Minister for Prisons Lohan Ratwatte’s ‘raids’ on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons in September last year.

The report prepared by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena into the incidents involving Ratwatte should be made public as the police were yet to at least record the State Minister’s statement, lawyer Perera said.

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China donates shipment of rice to Sri Lanka

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By Anura Balasuriya

China will soon send a shipment of rice to Sri Lanka as a donation, a Ministry of Trade spokesman said.

The donation comes in the wake of the 70 year anniversary of the Sri Lanka – China Rubber Rice pact on 1952.

Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardane had discussed the matter recently with a senior Chinese Embassy officia, the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.

“The Chinese Embassy in Colombo is already doing the needful. The Trade Ministry has informed China of the varieties of rice that Sri Lankan consumers like,” the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.

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Rating downgrades discourage investors – JVP

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JVP MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, on Friday (14) day, said investors were discouraged by the continuous downgrading of the country’s credit ratings.

Speaking at an event in Colombo, MP Amarasuriya said import costs had increased as the country was going through a forex crisis. The President’s agricultural policy had been a disaster and that in the coming months, the government would have to import large volumes of food.

Amarasuriya added that Sri Lanka’s relations with other nations had deteriorated and that too would have an adverse impact on the country.

Dr. Amarasuriya said that international rating agencies were independent and that their ratings were very important for investors to make decisions.

“Investors don’t consult Ajith Nivard Cabraal before investing. Besides, in other countries, it is economic experts, not politicians, who become Central Bank Governors,” she added.

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