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Govt. denies prorogation of Parliament aimed at dissolving watchdog committees

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SJB says move indicates further deterioration of SLPP

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has denied accusations that the sudden prorogation of Parliament was meant to terminate investigations undertaken by parliamentary watchdog committees, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF).

The media raised the issue at the regular weekly cabinet briefing at the SLPP office at Battaramulla.

The media asked whether President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to prorogue Parliament had been influenced by high profile inquiries conducted particularly by COPE chaired by SLPP National List MP Prof. Charitha Herath.

Asked whether Prof. Herath would be dropped from the COPE when the new session commenced on January 18, 2022, Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP said that the composition of the outfit could be changed. Prof. Peiris said that the Parliament would decide the Chairperson of the watchdog committee.

In addition to the COPE, the COPA and COPF were headed by SLPP National List member Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Kurunegala District SLPP lawmaker Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

Following the damning COPE disclosure of the fraudulent handing over of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) situated at Malabe to a group of individuals, SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa, PC, moved the Supreme Court for the government to regain the institution. The COPE tackled a spate of high profile cases, including the Board of Investment, ICTA, Sri Lanka Cricket as well as Litro Gas and Litro Terminal. The COPE pulled up top Litro management over them blocking government audits for a period of two years.

Pressed for an explanation regarding the abolition of the three committees, Prof. Peiris emphasised that the decision hadn’t been taken in a hurry. Dismissing the notion that the prorogation was a unique situation, the former distinguished Law Professor explained all previous presidents exercised the power bestowed on them by the Constitution to prorogue Parliament.

Pointing out that the President acted in terms of Article 70 (Sub Section 01) of the Constitution, Prof. Peiris said that move was subjected to Article 70 (Sub Section 03) that the Parliament should be summoned within two months.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has set January 18 for the next sittings, thereby delaying the proceedings by just one week, Prof. Peiris said. The SLPP Chairman pointed out that at the conclusion of the vote on the 2022 Budget, the Parliament announced the House would meet on January 11.

Prof. Peiris stressed that there was no rule that the three committees should function without any changes during the entire five-year parliamentary term.

Former COPE Chief Prof. Herath declined to comment on the ongoing controversy at the moment. The Island sought his response Monday night and yesterday.

Asked whether the government decision had been influenced by JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake tabling the agreement between the government and New Fortress Energy Sri Lanka Power Holding LLC for the ‘sale and purchase agreement for the purchase of 40 % of the issued share capital of West Coast Power (Private) Limited, Prof. Peiris said that the issue at hand could be raised again in Parliament. The new session wouldn’t deprive those interested in the transaction from raising it again after January 18, Minister Peiris said.

Asked whether the Parliament had been prorogued especially to do away with the three watchdog committees as speculated by the Opposition and other interested parties, ex-COPF Chairman lawmaker Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said he too was aware of such speculation but couldn’t comment on the issue at hand at the moment.

Former COPA Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana said that his outfit made a genuine effort to enhance the government revenue by streamlining the Customs, the Inland Revenue and the Excise. Instead of taking tangible measures to rectify serious irregularities in the revenue collection setup, Parliament had been prorogued, thereby terminating quite important work undertaken not only by COPA but two other committees as well. The former minister said that he really didn’t know why the President prorogued Parliament.

Responding to another query, National List MP Prof. Vitharana said that watchdog committees could only point out waste, corruption and irregularities and it would be the responsibility of the relevant ministers to take remedial measures.

Prof. Vitharana said that they were quite surprised by the sudden prorogation.

SJB lawmaker Rohini Kaviratne said that the SLPP government was in such a bad situation it couldn’t be saved by proroguing Parliament for two months. The national economy had deteriorated to such an extent, they wouldn’t even be able to comprehend the situation when the new session opened, the Matale District MP said, urging the government to admit that all its efforts had failed. The truth couldn’t be suppressed by proroguing Parliament and silencing watchdog committees headed by their members, the former UNPer said.

She said that the government owed an explanation as to why Parliament was prorogued amidst deepening turmoil over ruination of the Maha season, continuing gas cylinder explosions, debt crisis and disruption of much required fertiliser and other essentials.



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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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