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Long lines of vehicles on congested roads worry Johnson

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando hoisting the national flag to commence the work for the new year at his ministry yesterday.

‘People sent me pictures of traffic jams at entry and exit points on highways’

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday vowed to make radical changes in his Ministry and the Road Development Authority to streamline their services to the general public.

Speaking at a ceremony held at his Ministry to commence operations for the New Year, the Minister said: “Today, I witnessed perhaps the longest lines of vehicles on our roads. Many have sent me pictures of traffic congestion this morning at expressways. Many towns have become chock-a-block. People suffering in traffic jams blame none but the government. There is no point in us being here if we cannot alleviate the sufferings of people. I have made a decision not to hesitate to make radical changes so that our Ministry and RDA could provide the services expected from them by people to their satisfaction.”

The Minister said that he would effect changes where necessary to increase efficiency and effectiveness of the services rendered to the public by the Ministry. “What I want is an expedited progress in our work this year. I want all my officials to cooperate with me for that goal. I am thankful to those who had dedicated themselves to serve continuously during lockdowns to prevent the spread of the pandemic. We all must strive to realise the goals set before us by the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” the Minister said.

Responding to questions by journalists at the end of the ceremony, the Minister said that President Rajapaksa could effect any changes to the Cabinet whenever he wanted. “It is his prerogative and he has the power to do so. People have given the powers to appoint the ministers and secretaries to the ministries. He will decide when to use those powers and to effect changes. He could do so at the beginning of the year or middle of the year or at midnight today,” the Minister said.

Asked whether a Cabinet reshuffle could bring about solutions for crises caused by the shortages of gas and dollars, the minister said: “Gas shortage is a crisis caused by officials including the Chairman of Litro gas. It is because of their inefficiency and dereliction of duties, a shortage of gas was created during the festive season. The officials should do their job, if not they should resign without letting the people and the government to be in difficulty.”

Asked whether the government would go to the IMF seeking a loan to find solutions for the forex reserve crisis, the minister said: “I am not the one who is to go to the IMF. That decision should be made by the Minister of Finance. If he thinks it is a necessity, then he will go there. It is not my place to comment on that issue.”

Responding to a journalist who said that Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa had equaled the government to a Maranadara Samithiya (death donation society) in Siyambalanduwa, the Minister said that Sajith Premadasa was the ideal Opposition leader for a government that expected no pressure from the Opposition. “He will go all around the country uttering whatever that comes to his mouth. He goes to Hambantota and Siyambalanduwa and laments about the plight of people in those areas and then comes home to drink wine and spends millions of rupees to host balls with his wife to his friends in Colombo. The one who weeps buckets in the morning for the cause of people suffering drinks and dances in the evening. It is good that we have an Opposition leader like him,” the minister said.

Asked for his comments on the possibility of joining of the SLFP teaming up with the JVP, the Minister said that the SLFP could do so. “Currently, the SLFP is with us. They can leave us anytime they want. They can even join Sajith Premadasa. Yet I still believe that the senior and capable lot in the SLFP are with us and won’t leave us.”

Among those present were Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure State Minister Nimal Lanza, Secretary to the Ministry of Highways R.W.R. Pemasiri, Secretary to the State Ministry of Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure, Prof Ranjith Dissanayake, Chairman of RDA Chaminda Athaluwage and RDA Director General Sardha Weerakoon.



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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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