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Implementing PCOI recommendations will be detrimental to judicial independence — Lawyers’ Forum for the People

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by Saman Indrajith

The implementation of the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into political victimization (PCOI) would have a huge effect on the independence of the judiciary and its function in search of justice, says the Lawyers’ Forum for the People.

“This is a real danger to democracy and the country’s democratic institutions and processes”, Co-Convener of the Forum, Attorney-at-Law Senaka Perera told a news conference at the Dr. NM Perera Center last week.

“The recommendations, if implemented, will inflict irrevocable damage on the judiciary and impact adversely on democracy. Politicians can come and go. They appoint commissions as a means to their political ends, but the judiciary is not so. The Judiciary is not there to serve the politicians to achieve their political goals but to serve all people alike”, he noted.

The present government recognized the PCoI and thereby what had been done during the former regime as political victimization. Who can give a guarantee that the next government would not do the same? And what would be the end of this if these recommendations are implemented,” Perera queried.

He said that there are reports that the PCoI had identified the anti-corruption committee of the former government as ‘an illegal outfit’ and recommended legal action against its members.

“Legal action has been recommended against a list of politicians including JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, former Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, TNA leader R. Sampanthan, MA Sumanthiran, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka etc. Why is the PCoI silent about former President Maithripala Sirisena who chaired the anti-corruption committee? Doesn’t this point to a targeted witch hunt?” Perera asked.

Attorney-at-Law Namal Rajapakshe said that implementing the recommendations of the PCoI would place Sri Lanka on par with Myanmar. The government has no regard to the rule of law. It is making use of the law for its political witch hunt. People should protest against this injustice, he said while urging the government not to implement the recommendations of the PCoI in the name of democracy,” he said.

Attorney-at-Law Achala Seneviratne said that the government has appointed another committee to give legitimacy to the PCoI’s plans to suppress the voices of the opposition. The PCoI’s parameters of identifying victims need to be clarified because the PCoI has recommended tough legal action against respondents in the complaints – including police officers, former commanders of the military, MPs, former ministers and deputy ministers and prosecutors attached to the Attorney General’s Department.

Attorney-at-Law Tambiah Jeyaratnaraja said that the recommendations of the PCoI amounted to contempt of court. “The recommendations exert undue influence on the judiciary. The PCoI recommends putting an end to hearing 79 cases pending before courts. What mandate does a PCoI have to make such recommendations?” he asked.

Attorney-at-Law Chula Adikari said that the PCoI has also recommended compensation for complainants facing trial for murder, kidnapping and extortion in High Courts, that includes, inter alia, back pay, promotions, foreign workshops and popular school or university enrollment for their children.

“One of the cases recommended to be dropped is against Yoshitha Rajapaksa investigating how he raised funds to start CSN TV channel. The other one is the Mig deal involving Udayanga Weeratunga. Then there is another case in the list against Thiru Nadesan who is the husband of Nirupama Rajapaksa. Another case recommended to be dropped is against Jaliya Wickramasuriya, brother of the Prime Minister’s wife. All these 79 cases have a common factor- they are against members of a single family and its friends and relatives. Those cases are against misappropriating of trillions of public funds,” he alleged.

“Who is a political victim? We have clear examples, Lasantha Wickramatunga, Keith Noyahr, Upali Tennakoon, Eknaligoda and other journalists whose limbs had been broken. They were political victims. Now according to the PCoI there is a list of political victims who had been charged of extortion, killing, abduction, assaulting journalists, defrauding public funds etc,” Adikari said.

Attorneys-at-Law Upali Ratnayake and Manju Sri Chandrasena also addressed the press.

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Massive revenue loss: Eyebrows raised over delay in responding to House query

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SLPP members say sugar deal black mark on govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the delay on the part of the Finance Ministry to respond to a Finance Committee (FC) request for a comprehensive report on an alleged fraud in the controversial sugar tax revision.

Chairman of the Finance Commission Anura Priyadarshana Yapa on January 5 issued instructions to the Finance Ministry in this regard when the FC considered several special gazette notifications pertaining to the Ministry of Finance issued since October 2020.

According to the Communication Department of Parliament, MP Yapa on Feb 25 told the FC that the report called by him hadn’t been received yet. Yapa said so when State Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka and SLPP MP Nalin Fernando alleged the revision of taxes pertaining to the import of sugar hadn’t benefitted the consumers at all and only caused loss of revenue to the State. Severe criticism of the revision of sugar taxes was nothing but a black mark on the government.

Asked whether the report had been received since the issue at hand was taken up on Feb 25, the former Minister said that the FC answered in the negative.

Yapa told the last FC meeting that the Department of Import Control should be able to submit analytical comments with data on the relevant gazette amendments. Having approved the regulations issued on that day in respect of the issuance of licenses for the import of brown sugar, the FC recommended that a full explanation be given on March 09 with the participation of all relevant Ministries and Institutions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 9.

Yapa is on record as having told the FC on January 5 though the tax on imported sugar was revised downwards to 25 cents from Rs. 50.00 per kilogram through the Gazette Notification No. 2197/12 issued by the Ministry of Finance on 13th October 2020, the move did not benefit the consumers at all.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake lambasted the government over what he called a massive sugar scam that caused losses amounting to Rs 10 bn. In addition to the JVP, the SJB and UNP flayed the government over the corrupt deal. Dissanayake questioned the rationale in increasing the tax on sugar from Rs 33 to Rs 50 on May 23, 2020 and then bringing it down steeply to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. Dissanayake said that at that time the tax was brought down to 25 cents, there had been 90,000 metric tonnes of imported sugar in the country. Having reduced the sugar tax to 25 cents, the government directed that a kilo of sugar be sold at Rs 85, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer alleged that subsequently, when the government wanted to increase the sugar tax by Rs 40, Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that once imposed tax couldn’t be altered for a month, hence the decision to continue with 25 cents tax till Nov 13, 2020.

MP Dissanayake on Dec 12, 2020 named all those involved in the sugar scam.

Lawmaker Dissanayake said that the country suffered massive losses due to corrupt sugar deals. Those who suspended imports claiming the country faced severe foreign exchange crisis allowed massive corruption at the expense of the national economy.

Dissanayake said that last year alone at least 73,000 metric tonnes were imported at 25 cents tax.

He pointed out that the Treasury was responsible for facilitating sweet deals at the expense of the national economy. The revenue which should have been received by the government ended up with racketeers, Dissanayake lambasted the government for allowing its cronies to flourish.

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JVP expresses solidarity with Black Sunday campaign

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The JVP-led NPP yesterday expressed solidarity with the Black Sunday campaign seeking justice for the Easter Sunday carnage victims.

A statement issued by the party said that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage had released its report but the general consensus was that the inquiry had failed to bring justice. The PCoI report had only made the matter complex by creating some more puzzles instead of identifying the masterminds of the terror strikes.

The JVP has said Sri Lankans will never forget the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019 where nearly 300 perished and more than 500 others were wounded and became disabled for the rest of their lives. It is no secret that it was the failure on the part of the previous government to prevent the attacks that led to the destruction of lives and properties. The appointment of the commissions to investigate the incident was the only response of the former and incumbent governments. It is now clear that the commission has failed to identify the masterminds, owing to political reasons. Demanding justice is a human right. The Catholic Church has called on people to mark the coming Sunday as a day of agitation, demanding justice. We, of the NPP, extend our fullest support for the campaign and urge the law enforcing agencies to take action without further delay to bring about the masterminds and offenders of the crime, the statement has said.

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Iranaitivu islanders protest against burying of coronavirus victims there

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Residents of Iranaitivu Island yesterday forcibly filled up the burial sites prepared for those who had died from COVID-19 and held a demonstration against burying coronavirus victims on the island.

The protesters claimed that the media had reported those who died from COVID-19 would be buried on the island and that some group had already prepared a burial site. However, the residents of the island had not been consulted, they said.

They claimed that even during the war they had fought for the right to live on the island and they were opposed to the decision taken by the government to bury COVID-19 victims on the island.

 The protesters claimed that it was a cunning plan by the government to drive in a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the area. The government should have earmarked a deserted island for that purpose, they said. The protest was led by Christian religious leaders and local politicians. 

Iranaitivu is situated 10 km from Mannar and can only be accessed by boat. Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said that it was not a political decision and that health experts had taken it after careful consideration. He added that a vehicle especially made for this would be used to transport bodies to the island. This vehicle would include a freezer and the driver would be isolated from the bodies. Two family members would also be allowed to attend the funeral.

 

 

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