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Gathering momentum in anti-Covid drive



The vaccination program against Covid-19 in this country has begun gathering momentum and, predictably, many questions and controversies have also began surfacing. Several opposition MPs from the Samagi Jana Balavegaya and the JVP proclaimed that they will not jump the queue and avail themselves of the special vaccination privilege granted to MPs. They have received some left handed compliments for this gesture with some commentators lauding what they have done in this regard but adding that they are not averse to enjoying the many other privileges lavished on our legislators. These are too many to recount and in any case well known to the electors who sent them to parliament. Vaccinating 225 parliamentarians will obviously not disrupt a roll out involving the administering of millions of doses to a sizable proportion of our population. But a wrong signal has gone out that some are more equal than others in this country.

We’ve been treated to telecasts of some MPs driving to the Army Hospital to get their jabs. Others have gone on the airwaves to say why they will not utilize the privilege. The JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said the other day that the Danish premier has said he was on the bottom of the priority list in his country. A handful of our MPs, including the health minister – who incidentally took the Dammika peniya – got infected with the virus and all, thankfully, have recovered. But former Speaker WJM Loku Bandara died on Covid, reportedly having declined to be put on a ventilator. MPs have not decided on party lines whether they will or will not get themselves vaccinated on a priority basis. There was even one report of reluctance of some Tamil MPs to get vaccinated at the Army Hospital. This earned them a well deserved rap on the knuckles from the army commander.

We run in this issue of our newspaper some articles discussing the vaccination program. One contributor has confessed delight at the aggressive questioning of the deputy health minister of Viyathmaga fame on a national television program. This worthy, trying to justify preferential treatment for MPs , looked like a “deer caught in the headlights” and did not even seem to himself believe what he was saying, this writer has said. The Island reported yesterday that Venerable Athureliya Ratana, who fought his way to a national list seat in the legislature was taking an Indian jab to go to China. The venerable priest who’s had many avatars in his political career, entered parliament this time round with the Ape Janabala Party livery. He’d previously been elected on the tickets of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, United People’s Freedom Alliance and the UNP. Having been vocal on the quality of the Indian vaccine and virtues of ayurvedic protection against the virus, he said he took the jab to avoid long quarantine in China he would shortly visit. He clearly did not wish to scuttle his trip to live up to previously stated positions.

We are also running an informative update on the Covid-19 vaccine written by a senior consultant paediatrician who is president of the Vaccine and Serum Forum of Sri Lanka. He has given a great deal of useful information and said that “the majority of the vaccines used so far may not provide the expected picture-perfect immunity and the world may continue to have Covid-19 infection.” But based on evidence, there has been speculation claiming that the vaccination could provide almost 100% protection from death which “is what we all want.”

The government has planned to buy many million doses of the Covishield vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, and the State Pharmaceutical Corporation is reported to have placed an order for 18 million doses already. There is no word yet of when this supply is expected to arrive. But vaccination is proceeding according to plan and hopefully the inoculation of front line workers fighting the pandemic can be soon completed. The half a million doses gifted by India was landed at Katunayake at the end of last month and vaccinations commenced the very next day. Despite all the negative recent commentary about India in the local media, Sri Lankans must be grateful for India’s contribution to fight the virus. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who received the first consignment at the Bandaranaike International Airport thanked the people of India for their generosity.

In addition to the Indian vaccine, 300,000 doses donated by China is also due in the short term. The World Health Organization (WHO) will provide 20 percent of our requirements as a grant. As two doses are needed for each person inoculated, half as many people as the number of doses purchased or obtained as gifts/grants will get the needed cover. But it has been stressed that total immunity is not possible and various success rates for the different vaccines have been published. Funds for the procurement have been accorded the highest priority; yet we must guard against the delays too often encountered in government purchases. While nobody must be allowed to make a fast buck on procuring the vaccine – let us not forget the recent ruckus over PCR testing machines – there has to be a consciousness that too much red tape can work against us in a buyers’ market.

The private sector has been granted some space to help fight the pandemic and PCR testing is available in some private hospitals. It may be worth exploring whether they should also be permitted to procure the vaccine and offer inoculation to those who can afford to pay. In one of the articles we run today, the writer has said that countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are moving in the direction of permitting retail sale of the vaccine. He has expressed the opinion that this is a sensible move that will help take some pressure off state facilities. This has already happened in the case of ordinary healthcare and also in education. Private hospitals have already begun providing Covid treatment in spaces obtained in hotels without guests. So allowing them to also offer vaccination should be considered.

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A tall tale told by cops



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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Dogs, donkeys, fools and lunatics



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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The strange case of Naufer



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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