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Manipulation of Covid figures: SLPP ally provides ammunition to SJB

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Gen. Silva responds to allegations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) says the SLPP government owed an explanation regarding manipulation of Covid-19 figures, especially against the backdrop of one of its constituents alleging daily alteration of figures.

The National Freedom Front (NFF) spokesperson Mohammad Muzammil, MP, has accused a senior Army officer, holding the rank of Maj. Gen. and two specialists attached to the Epidemiology Unit, of revising figures.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office on Saturday (14) SJB MP Mujibur Rahman demanded the government to take the public into confidence. Pointing out the SJB had questioned the figures released by the government before the NFF, lawmaker Rahman accused the government of following a deadly policy.

Subsequent to the media briefing, MP Rahman told The Island that the whole process was questionable. Referring to the sharp discrepancy in respect of the Gampaha district Covid-19 cases as reported by some sections of the media, the former UNP MP said that those who manipulated the records obviously for political purposes should be punished, regardless of their standing in the society.

MP Rahman asked whether the military and top doctors assigned to the Epidemiology unit manipulated figures at the behest of the government.

However, the NFF spokesperson alleged that those who had manipulated the figures did so deliberately to cripple the government response. The former JVP MP pointed out how the entire government could collapse due to taking decisions on wrong figures.  According to MP Muzammil, by lowering the number of detections, the daily death rate received much public attention with the Opposition  proclaiming that it was the highest percentage of deaths in the world.

MP Rahman alleged that though the government announced that PCR tests would be done at local private hospitals at Rs 6,500 hereafter, the charges at hospitals in India and Bangladesh were much lower. The lawmaker asked whether the government wanted its friends and associates managing private hospitals to benefit at the expense of the hapless public struggling to make ends meet.

Rahman alleged that the government allowed private hospitals to fleece hapless for many months and finally regulated prices very much higher than those prevailing in other countries.

The Island yesterday raised the manipulation of Covid-19 figures with Army Commander General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as well as head of the Covid Task Force. General Silva explained that the alleged discrepancy was due to deficiency in the process of the issuance of Covid-19 figures. Strongly denying accusations regarding alteration of figures, the Army Chief said that the Epidemiology Unit released data to the public through him twice every day-around 6 pm and again around 8.30-9 pm. However, figures pertaining to tests conducted during the remaining hours on a particular day up to midnight had not been released through the normal system though they were available to the decision makers, Gen Silva said.

Gen Silva emphasized that there was absolutely no intention to suppress figures. The Army Chief said that the Covid Task Force represented by all stakeholders managed the Covid response under extremely difficult conditions.  Gen Silva urged the public to zealously follow health guidelines or face the consequences.  Responding to another query, the CDS said that regardless of various ongoing controversies the public couldn’t be unaware of the situation on the ground.

Gen. Silva said that the recent declaration that those unable to produce vaccine certification wouldn’t be allowed to visit public places with effect from Sept 15 should prompt the unvaccinated to rush to the nearest makeshift vaccination centre or hospital. The Army Chief said that various interested parties were trying to derail their Covid response.



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‘Ratwatte’s boorish actions unbecoming of a Minister’

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DEW alleges cover-up, warns of dire consequences

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Prisons Minister Dew Gunasekera yesterday (16) called for an immediate police investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s recent wild behaviour inside the Anuradhapura prison, where he issued death threats to two LTTEers incarcerated there.

Gunasekera pointed out that the minister had forcibly entered the Anuradhapura prison on 12 Sept. around 5.30 pm in the wake of the government turning a blind eye to his earlier drunken raid on Welikada prison on 06 Sept. Gunasekera served as the Prisons Minister after the end of the war in May 2009. The former minister stressed that on both occasions the State Minister in a state of inebriation had been armed with a pistol and was accompanied by several others. Law enforcement authorities couldn’t afford not to investigate the incident, the ex-minister said, referring to the presence of a woman among the crowd that entered Welikada and they went onto visit the gallows.

Prison sources said that Ratwatte had arrived at the Anuradhapura prison after being to week-long Sathi Pirith chanting ceremony at Anuradhapura sacred Mirisawetiya compound in order to invoke spiritual blessings for eradication of COVID-19 epidemic from Sri Lanka and the world. The pirith chanting culminated on the following day evening after conducting a special Buddha Pooja.

“Conduct a proper investigation or face the consequences,” the former General Secretary of the Communist Party told The Island, pointing out the responsibility on the part of the ruling SLPP to conduct its own inquiry.

SLPP General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam said that the matter could be taken up with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Chairman of the party on his return from an overseas visit. Lawmaker Kariyawasam said so when The Island asked him whether the party would initiate disciplinary action against Ratwatte.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, also a member of the SLPP, should brief the Parliament how he intended to address this issue, Gunasekera said. The outspoken political veteran said that the Police Headquarters should make a public statement on those incidents.

Gunasekera emphasiSed that the Anuradhapura incident could have been averted if the government took tangible measures in the wake of Ratwatte’s raid on Welikada prison several days before.

Alleging that the Prisons Department suppressed both Welikada and Anuradhapura incidents, Gunasekera questioned the rationale in Ratwatte being allowed to avoid a proper investigation by giving up Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation portfolio and also queried how Ratwatte could be allowed to continue as the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related Industries as if nothing had happened.

“I’m really disappointed and disgusted with the way the government handled Anuradhapura and Welikada affairs,” Gunasekera said.

Responding to queries, Gunasekera pointed out that the incidents placed Sri Lanka at an extremely embarrassing position at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) ongoing 48th sessions.

Pointing out that UN Resident Representative in Colombo Hanaa Singer as well as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) roundly condemned Ratwatte’s actions; Gunasekera said the government would have to face grave consequences unless a proper investigation was conducted. The government should inquire into those incidents taking into consideration the ongoing Geneva confab and the forthcoming UNGA.

The former minister pointed out that the Prisons Media Spokesman and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayaka denied any knowledge of the incident.

Gunasekera welcomed the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) launching an investigation into the incidents. Nihal Chandrasiri, HRCSL’s Acting Director – Research & Monitoring told The Island that the outfit initiated an inquiry on its own into the incidents that had taken place in Prisons. “Three Regional Coordinating Officers of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka visited Anuradhapura Prison on 15th September 2021 to investigate the incidents that took place on 12th September 2021. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka will summon all the responsible parties connected to these incidents as early as possible.”

The CP heavyweight recalled how thousands of LTTE cadres and suspects brought under the military and the Prisons system at the conclusion of the war in May 2009 were protected. Those who had been campaigning against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC and the UN would exploit Ratwatte’s actions, the former lawmaker said, adding that the ruling party seemed bent on causing its own destruction.

Gunasekera said that recently Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and IGP C.D. Wickremaratne explained measures taken by the government to eradicate the underworld especially those directing the narcotics trade from within prisons. They assured the public of safety and security. However, Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons underscored the reality, Gunasekera said and called on the Prisons Chief to explain his failure to address the Welikada incident.

Police headquarters hasn’t so far issued an official statement on incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura.

Ratwatte was sworn in as the Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Minister in the wake of the Mahara Prison riot in late Nov 2020. Ratwatte succeeded Dr. Sudarshini Fernandoplle.

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CTU: ‘Grant demands of principals and teachers before school reopening’

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The demands of principals and teachers should be granted before the government re-opens the schools, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) says.

CTU General Secretary Joseph Stalin told The Island yesterday that the Secretary to the Ministry of Education had said the ministry would use alternative methods to collect GCE AL applications. Usually, it was the principals who sent applications to the Ministry of Education, but principals had refused to be involved until their salary anomalies were rectified. “The answer to this problem is simple. Just solve our issues. The government can easily do it.”

Stalin said that principals and teachers unions had held several discussions with ministers but without success.

On Wednesday (15) the Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said that Grades one to six would reopen after two weeks.

Rambukwella said the government had decided to reopen the schools with fewer than 200 students first. There were around 5,000 such schools he said.

The Minister said so during a meeting with Health Ministry Secretary Major General Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, Education Ministry Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera, Director-General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena, high-level officials of the two ministries and several representatives of the GMOA including its President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya.

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SL – India economic and democratic cooperation extensive – Speaker

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday said that the economic and democratic cooperation between Sri Lanka and India, both now and in the past, was significant.

Addressing the All India Presiding Officers Conference (AIPOC), organised by the Indian Lok Sabha through video technology, the Speaker said: “Parliament of Sri Lanka is the oldest parliament elected by universal adult franchise in Asia. As the largest democracy in the world how India’s legislature functions in a multi- religious, multi-ethnic society offers many valuable lessons for not only us as neighbours, but even to the scholars of democratic governance”.

The conference was held under the theme “The Role of Legislature in Fostering Effective and Meaningful Democracy” to mark the Centennial year of the AIPOC as well as the International Day of Democracy which is celebrated on Sept 15 every year.

The conference chaired by the Hon Speaker of the Indian Lok Sabha Shri Om Birla was attended by the President of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Duarte Pacheco. Hon. Speakers from national legislatures including Austria, Guyana, Maldives, Zimbabwe, Mongolia and Namibia also addressed the virtual conference. Presiding officers of state legislatures in India joined via video technology. The Secretary General of Parliament of Sri Lanka Dhammika Dassanayake was also in attendance at the conference.

Addressing the conference, the Speaker said that Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India addressed the Parliament of Sri Lanka in 2015 during his historical visit, which strengthened the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

The Speaker said that the Parliament of Sri Lanka has adopted a policy of open parliament with the intention of enhancing citizen participation and engagement in the parliamentary process.

He said that Parliament has taken steps recently to reach the public through the newly established Department of Communications. “It is expected to expand the knowledge on Parliamentary process and uphold democracy amongst the population particularly targeting the school children who are the future flag bearers of democracy,” he said.

The speaker said: “After the enactment of the Right to Information Bill, the Parliament of Sri Lanka took a decision to open the sessions of the committees to the media and this was a significant step towards strengthening the parliamentary democratic system that will pave the way for greater transparency and accountability. The Parliament of Sri Lanka has a vibrant committee system which plays a key role in creating a forum for the Parliamentarians and the Ministers of the Cabinet to interact directly in addressing many relevant issues which fall within their respective portfolios”.

He said despite the Covid -19 challenge Parliament has continued with its usual sittings even though the number of sittings days were curtailed to minimize the risk.

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