Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) and former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya yesterday appealed to all Sri Lankans to unite as one and move away from engaging in politics, based on hatred and revenge, as the entire country has been pushed into a major crisis, amidst a surging pandemic.
Addressing the media in Colombo he said: “Today the country is facing a severe crisis. All forces that hope for a prosperous future for the country must come forward together in order to overcome this crisis. All political parties and civil society organisations in this country have a huge responsibility in this regard.
“We have seen some positive signals that showed we still have some hope left during the past week. We saw many parties publicly express their support for the Government’s commitment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Leaders of a number of political parties, as well as a number of civil society organisations, have publicly affirmed their support. All religious leaders, including the Maha Sangha, had intimated that they would extend their blessings to such a noble cause. These developments are very positive and creates optimism for the country. The people of this country also have high expectations.
“Such an environment is rarely created in the country. In such a situation, the President should have extended the hand of friendship to all. Uniting as one, they should create a plan to save the country that has been engulfed by the pandemic. It is still not too late for that.
“If such a sincere effort is to be made, it must be carried out according to a specific plan and programme. We are confident that we can overcome this crisis through such a strategy. There are a number of goals that needs to be fulfilled to realise such an endeavour.
“The first step will be to inoculate every citizen over the age of 10 in this country before December 31, 2021. The country’s inoculation drive should target around 15 million people.
“What is needed is proper planning coupled with sound management. We should try to utilise foreign grants and assistance as well as through foreign loans. In addition, we can get the support of the people of the entire country. In particular, the country’s business community can also be involved in this process.
“As far as we are aware, a good portion of leading companies including banks, insurance and communications companies, recorded some of the largest profit margins ever during this year. At a time when the country is facing such a national catastrophe, such institutions will be motivated to carry out their civic duties and responsibilities. Accordingly, we can partner with them to find around USD 500 million that is required to attain our goals.
“There are other avenues that we could take to realise our targets. The proposal to manufactures vaccines in Sri Lanka is one such method. Providing vaccines through private hospitals is another option. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to provide Russia’s Sputnik vaccine to private hospitals in India through a private company known as ‘Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories.’
“As such decisions have national implications, it is imperative that we do it with the full consent of Parliament. All political and civil forces must contribute to towards this end.
“First of all, we would like to emphasise that the National Movement for Social Justice fully endorses such an endeavour. That is our fervent hope. Irrespective of the power the ruling party may command in executing such a national responsibility, it would be difficult to take action without the support of the Opposition political forces and the people of the country.
“Many sections have inquired whether they could expect such actions from a government that already boasts a two-thirds majority in Parliament. It is clear that such reservations are justified in the wake of a statement made by one of top leaders of the Government where he called on the Opposition to inform them in writing regarding the need for an all-party agreement.
“As the former Speaker, our proposal to conduct an all-party conference was realised when two such conferences were held in March and April under the patronage of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The absence of the President at these meetings made it difficult to reach consensus and as a result it became a failure. Further, the Government’s sole objective at that time was to curb the spread of the coronavirus and failed to come up with a long term plan to deal with the pandemic. Today, we propose a complete vaccination programme. Everyone must understand that in order to face such a pandemic successfully, all forces in the country must give their consent and participate in this. That is why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited the Opposition to help the Indian government’s efforts to cope with the Covid crisis. As a country, we too must understand that responsibility.
“Therefore, the President and the government must clarify their stance to the general public. There are three main points that we as an organisation would like to inquire.
1. Does the government expect the support of the Opposition and civil society organisations to defeat the deadly pandemic engulfing the country?
“If the answer is yes where the Government is ready to overcome this challenge through collaboration, then the Government must be honest about changing the narrow political strategies that could hinder such a joint mechanism. Entire process must be democratic in nature. Accordingly, the answer given by the Government to the second and third questions that we have is very important.
2. Will the Prime Minister’s recent resolution based on the so-called recommendations and proposals of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Political Victimisation be tabled in Parliament? Will the Government continue to pursue a policy that could wreak havoc on democracy and the rule of law in this country?
3. Will the Government release political prisoners who have been taken into custody on various charges simply to further their narrow political agendas but are yet to be formally charged in Court? Will they release these political prisoners including politicians, government officials and police officers who have been languishing in prisons for a long period of time now in the name of humanity and justice? The Government must also understand that the death of suspects in police custody will tarnish the image of Sri Lanka.
“The President must address these allegations directly as soon as possible. In order to mobilise all forces on a nationally important issue, it is necessary to move away from narrow political objectives. Therefore, the Government must pay close attention to this and take measures to rectify these shortcomings immediately.
Port City Bill
We also urge the government to avoid arbitrary decision-making at a time when the country is facing a serious pandemic. The Government’s refusal to heed the request for a parliamentary debate on the Port City at this moment cannot be accepted. We also acknowledge that the Opposition parties’ request was extremely justified. The government should have listened to that request if it had acted in accordance with the traditions of democratic governance.
“It is in the best interest of the country to develop the Port City. However, the laws and special provisions imposed for this purpose should not harm the sovereignty of the country. All Opposition political forces in the country have stated in Parliament that the Government’s aspirations and actions require clarifications. It is a very reasonable and justifiable request. As a civil society organisation, we too hold a similar position. For those of us who have experience working in the private sector, we understand the value of foreign investment coming into the country through the Port City project.
“As we all know, large investors in China as well as in Europe, Japan and the United States have expressed their interest in investing in the Port City.
“However, their interest seems to have faded due to the anti-democratic policies practised by the Government with regard to the passage of this Bill. In a country where democracy is abused or where there is no rule of law, reputable investors will not come forward to invest in businesses.
“We also believed that with had we proceeded with a proper plan, we could have created a successful investment zone as seen in Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore through the Port City.
“In addition to all these facts, there is one more thing that has caught our attention.
“We struggle to understand the abrupt departure of former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is the head of a number of task forces including the task forces responsible for controlling the Covid pandemic and economic revival.
“When close family members have publicly stated that he had no illness that warranted medical treatment abroad, it seems that there is a great deal of resentment among the public about his sudden departure in this manner.
“It is an insult to the people of the country as the person who had been entrusted with a special and decisive role with regard to governance in the country could act in this way, especially at a time when the country is at a critical juncture in the midst of a pandemic.
“Considering the responsibilities assigned to him, it is clear that a large number of Cabinet Ministers, State Ministers as well as the Commanders of the Armed Forces, the IGP and senior government officials are working in institutions and task forces under his purview. Although we are not surprised that this is happening in Sri Lanka today, we have never heard of such an administrative unit functioning in any democratic state in the world. It is the duty of the Government to explain how a person who has been entrusted with such a special responsibility could leave the country during a crisis.
“However, as an organisation that loves the country and stands for its prosperity, we present these suggestions with noble intentions. It is the responsibility of the Government to focus on these proposals and work for the benefit of the people. In order for these proposals to be successful, the programme should be operated under the supervision of the President.”
People to get fuel price shock soon
The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes would be revealed soon.
The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.
“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.
Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.
The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.
The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)
HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody
Report called by June 13
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.
In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.
HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.
Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.
Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.
Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.
Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.
Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.
In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.
President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.
The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.
Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.
Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.
“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.
College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.
“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.
Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.
“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said
President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.
Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.
“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.
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