JO/SLPP accused of foiling previous bid to amend PTA
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The government has briefed the EU on action taken to address the latter’s concerns about a range of matters, including the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The EU has, in a recently adopted resolution, expressed its serious concerns over the PTA and related human rights issues in Sri Lanka.
The EU has emphasised that the GSP+ status is linked to the implementation by Sri Lanka of 27 international conventions.
Sri Lanka was faced with the prospect of losing the GSP+ concessions, the EU mission in Colombo told The Island in response to a query.
“The GSP+ monitoring process is conducted on a regular basis by the European Commission and the European External Action Service,” the mission said.
SJB Spokesperson Mujibur Rahman recalled how the then Joint Opposition (now the SLPP) had sabotaged previous government’s efforts to address EU’s concerns. The SLPP should be ashamed of its response to the recent EU warning, MP Rahman said, alleging that the Foreign Ministry declaration that the government was revisiting the provisions of the PTA was nothing but a joke.
Rahman urged the government to examine the work done by the previous administration in that regard. “When we sought to amend the PTA taking into consideration concerns expressed by the EU and several members of the international community, our efforts were sabotaged,” MP Rahman said, pointing out that the Rajapaksa government simply dismissed stepped up international calls to amend the PTA following the successful conclusion of the war in 2009.
Attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, who had served as the spokesperson for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during the previous administration yesterday told The Island that the JO found fault with the then government’s efforts to amend the PTA. Referring to a series of talks they had with the participation of various stakeholders, including senior representatives of the Attorney General’s Department, civil society activist Gunawardena alleged the JO/SLPP played politics with the issue.
Obviously, the government fearing punitive EU measures in the wake of adoption of a resolution in respect of Sri Lanka, recently declared its intention to appoint two committees to review the PTA and submit reports within three months, lawyer Gunawardena said.
He said there wouldn’t have been a need for an EU resolution if the previous government was not deprived of an opportunity to enact the PTA.
The JO/SLPP justified the blocking of amendments in the wake of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, one-time Director General of the Information Department said. Gunawardena ridiculed the declaration that the government was ready to study what the Foreign Ministry called international best practices. “When the previous government stressed the need for us to adopt and amend anti-terrorism laws in line with laws in place in other countries, we were accused of betraying the country.”
Both MP Rahman and lawyer Gunawardena alleged that the government took up the PTA in parliament recently because the possibility of losing GSP plus amidst rapidly deteriorating financial situation frightened the incumbent administration
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry yesterday issued the following statement regarding ongoing deliberations with the EU: “The Government of Sri Lanka has apprised the European Union (EU) of progress in specific areas of reconciliation, as part of its regular engagement and dialogue with the organization. Accordingly, the Foreign Ministry on 25 June, informed the EU of action underway to revisit provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, No 48 of 1979, with the study of existing legislation, past practice, and international best practices.
The EU was informed of the decision made by the Cabinet of Ministers on 21 June to appoint a Cabinet Sub-committee and an Officials Committee to assist the Cabinet Sub-Committee, to review the PTA, and to submit a report to the Cabinet within three months. Toward this end, the Officials Committee was appointed on 24 June, with senior representation from the Ministries of Justice, Defence, Foreign Affairs, Public Security; and the Attorney General’s Department, the Legal Draftsman’s Department, the Sri Lanka Police, and the Office of Chief of National Intelligence.
The EU was further informed of the granting of pardon by the President, exercising his powers in terms of Article 34 of the Constitution, to sixteen (16) former LTTE cadres convicted and serving sentence under the PTA, on 24 June. The organization was also appraised of the process that has been set in motion to release detainees who have been in judicial custody for a prolonged period, under the PTA.
With reference to progress in ongoing reconciliation mechanisms, the Government has informed the EU of the release of SL Rs 79 million to the Office of Reparations in June to settle 1,230 processed claims for reparation. An additional SL Rs 80 million was released on 29 June to settle a further 1,451 processed claims, out of a total 3,389 processed claims.
The Government of Sri Lanka maintains a regular, cordial and multifaceted dialogue with the EU. This includes the constructive cooperation existing between Sri Lanka and the European Commission on the review of the country’s EU GSP+ compliance with the 27 core International Conventions.
In this regard, the Third Cycle of Review of Sri Lanka in the GSP+ Monitoring Process for 2020-2021 is ongoing. As part of this process, the Foreign Ministry has provided to the European Commission through diplomatic channels, the comprehensive Response of the Government of Sri Lanka to the List of Follow-up Questions on the current GSP+ monitoring cycle, in adherence to the agreed timeline. The Response was compiled by the Foreign Ministry in consultation with 26 line ministries / state ministries / agencies and commissions. A GSP+ Monitoring Mission for the Third Cycle is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on mutually convenient dates in September/ October 2021.
As per the regular engagement between Sri Lanka and the EU, plans are underway to convene the Working Group on Governance, Democracy, Human Rights and Rule of Law on mutually agreed dates in the fourth quarter of this year. The Foreign Ministry looks forward to convening, in consultation with the EU, the 24th session of the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission in the first quarter of 2022, to review all aspects of bilateral cooperation.
The Government of Sri Lanka will continue its close and cordial dialogue with the EU with regard to commitments, while demonstrating the country’s substantial progress in areas of reconciliation and development.
Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage have met senior representatives of the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) Sri Lanka, the Seafood Exporters’ Association of Sri Lanka (SEASL) and trade unions, and reassured them of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the EU GSP+ would continue to remain beneficial to the country. Meetings with the relevant Chambers of Commerce are scheduled, with a view to updating them on the Government’s engagement with the EU.”
Police detain Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect over domestic aide’s death
Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect have been detained for interrogation in connection with the death of the 16-year old domestic aide.
“They are being held for 72 hours for further questioning”, police said.
The suspects taken into custody were identified by police as that 46-year old Sheyabdeen Ayesha, her father 70-year-old Mohammed Sheyabdeen and the broker who brought the girl to work as a domestic aide in Bathiudeen’s house.
The victim, a resident of Dayagama Estate off Talawakelle, was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital on July 3 with severe burn injuries. She died on July 15.
Police have already recorded the statements of more than 20 persons in connection with the girl’s death.
Police have also questioned two women aged 22 and 32 from the Dayagama area, who earlier served as domestic workers at the former Minister’s house.
One of the women had claimed she was sexually harassed by Bathiudeen’s brother-in-law from 2015 to 2019 at the former Minister’s residence in Colombo.
Subsequently, police also arrested the 44-year old Sheyabdeen Ismadeen, brother-in-law of the former Minister.
Contamination fears propel Lanka Sathosa to recall Chinese-made canned fish stocks
After procurement from Colombo port for Rs. 50mn
by Suresh Perera
A substantial stock of “confiscated” canned fish Lanka Sathosa procured from the Colombo port at a cost of around Rs. 50 million has been recalled from the market following public complaints that the Chinese-manufactured products were unfit for human consumption.
The five 20-foot container loads of 425g ‘Kitchen King’ Mackerel canned fish of the Scomber japonicus species, which were lying in the Colombo port as “abandoned cargo” after forfeiture by the Customs in October last year, was purchased by Lanka Sathosa recently to be sold at a concessionary price through its chain of supermarkets.
“We have now withdrawn the whole stock from our supermarket shelves as there were customer complaints that the canned fish was not fit for consumption”, says Lanka Sathosa Chairman, Rear Admiral (Retd) Ananda Peiris.
The products were injected into the market after clearance by the Food Control Unit of the Health Ministry following quality testing by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), he said.
“As there’s a shortage of canned fish in the marketplace, we promptly distributed the stocks to our supermarkets island-wide to be sold at Rs. 290 each. We have now asked the outlets not to sell them to customers because of the quality issue that has emerged”, the Chairman noted.
“We have no option now other than to return the consignment and seek a refund from the Ports Authority”, he said.
Onions, potatoes, lentils and other food commodities, which are either confiscated by the Customs or remain uncleared by importers, are generally procured by Lanka Sathosa to be sold at concessionary prices to customers, Peiris explained.
“In terms of a Cabinet decision, the consignments are auctioned only if we don’t procure them”.
The stock of canned fish had been forfeited as the owner had not cleared it for three months, he said.
“Lanka Sathosa appears to have opened a can of worms as the 9,200 packs of canned fish had arrived aboard a vessel, which sailed into Colombo on October 29 last year, a source knowledgeable of the operation, said.
Listing out the relevant reference and batch numbers of the consignments, the source said the Chinese products were manufactured on 09/10/2020 with a 09/10/2023 ‘expiry date’.
This means the stocks had been in the Colombo port for the past nine months, and had turned rancid despite a 2023 ‘expiry date’, the source asserted.
Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) officers had raided the Lanka Sathosa outlet at Moneragala following complaints that canned fish was being hoarded.
“We found stocks in storage, but was told by officers there that instructions were received to withhold the sale of the ‘Kitchen King’ products until they were re-labeled”, CAA’s Executive Director, Thushan Gunawardena said.
As the importer was not in favor of Lanka Sathosa marketing the products under its original brand name, a sticker was affixed to obscure it, Peiris clarified.
Under Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act, re-labeling a product constitutes an offence, Gunawardena pointed out.
Acting on a complaint, public health inspectors have taken a sample of the canned fish from the Mawanella outlet for testing, the Lanka Sathosa chief further said.
Responding to questions raised by the CAA, the SLSI said its officers had collected samples from the five containers following requests by the Ports Authority and Lanka Sathosa.
As the original importer had not submitted any documents to the SLSI so far, the need for sample collection didn’t arise, it said.
The CAA has further queried whether the SLSI was aware of the purpose the test results were required at the time samples were received.
The SLSI has clamped down on the import of substandard canned fish with an intolerable level of arsenic, particularly from manufacturers in China.
In a news report headlined “SLSI cracks the whip on substandard Chinese canned fish imports”, The Sunday Island of March 21, 2021 quoted the institution’s Director-General, Dr. Siddhika Senaratne as saying that fish harvested for canning has a high arsenic content as the sea in China is heavily polluted and dirty due to lax environmental laws.
“It is true that there is a scarcity of canned fish in the market because supply cannot meet the demand. However, this does not mean we should allow our people to be poisoned through arsenic-laden imports”, she was quoted saying in the news report.
With the SLSI stipulating a maximum arsenic tolerance standard of 1.0 milligram per kilogram of fish, a filtering mechanism is now in place to shut out substandard imports, she assured at the time.
Asked whether the consignment of Chinese canned fish procured by Lanka Sathosa was earlier detained due to its high arsenic content, Dr. Senaratne declined comment saying she’s “not allowed to talk to the media”.
“The DG wouldn’t want to be dragged into another controversy”, an official remarked, referring to the furore over her claim of toxins in foodstuffs, which she, however, declined to identify at the time.
At a time canned fish imports from China have been off the shelves since SLSI’s rigid monitoring of tolerable arsenic levels began, industry players expressed consternation on how a stock, which had been lying in the Colombo port for months, was suddenly given the nod for procurement by Lanka Sathosa.
With the scarcity of canned fish products in the market pushing up demand, will an importer abandon his consignments unless there was something rotten somewhere?, they asked.
“It is too far-fetched to imagine that they got the documentation wrong as these importers are seasoned campaigners in the game”.
It is apparent that Lanka Sathosa had not done its homework before jumping at the idea of procuring the consignment because Chinese-made canned fish had remained virtually out of bounds for many months because of fears of contamination, they said.
Importers didn’t want to risk their investments as a high arsenic level meant the consignments were either destroyed or ordered to be re-exported, they added.
“That’s why local products now dominate the market with a brand from Thailand also no longer available”.
United States gives Sri Lanka 500,000 coronavirus rapid tests
The United States had donated 500,000 Rapid diagnostic tests to Sri Lanka worth Rs. 300 million to help the country fight Coronavirus, the US Agency for International Development said.
“By enabling rapid detection of the virus, these tests donated by the American people will save lives and protect public health in Sri Lanka,” USAID Mission Director to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Reed Aeschliman said in a statement.
“This donation builds on previous U.S. support to the Sri Lankan government’s pandemic response and reflects our strong, long-standing partnership.”
US has also given 1.5 million moderna vaccines to Sri Lanka.
The tests are simple to use and enable fast, decentralized access to direct testing. They do not require additional equipment or specialized laboratory access, which helps achieve high testing coverage.
The United States has also given of 200 ventilators to Sri Lanka’s health system.
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