* Opposition calls for independent probe
* 61 among rioters COVID-19 positive
* Tense situation in Negombo Prison
By Saman Indrajith, Norman Palihawadana and Nishan S. Priyantha
Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana told The Island yesterday that the Police had identified a senior member of the Mahara Prison Hospital staff as the mastermind of Sunday’s prison riot.
Prisoners clashed with their guards, police anti-riot squads and the STF, on Sunday, for several hours and the clashes left eight inmates dead and more than 70 others injured. The injured were removed to the Ragama Teaching Hospital. Among them were two prison officers.
DIG Rohana said the Police believed the prison clashes were preplanned, and the prison record room had been set on fire. A new building under construction as part of the prison expansion project had also been destroyed by the rioters, DIG Rohana said.
The Mahara Prison had more than 2,700 inmates at the time of the clashes. Out of them, 183 had tested positive for COVID-19, he said. They had been removed to a special section of the Colombo Remand Prison, the Police Spokesman added.
Although the Police told the media that the situation had been brought under control in the prison, injured inmates being removed to hospital , shouted, through the windows of speeding ambulances, that inmates were still being beaten.
Our photographers stationed near the prison said they had sighted the same ambulance making several trips, within a matter of hours, between the Mahara Prison and the Ragama Teaching Hospital.
The COVID-19 patients among the prisoners were taken to treatment centres, while the family members and friends of inmates were waiting outside the prison, making inquiries from the police.
Four prisoners of the Negombo Prison, yesterday, staged a rooftop protest, demanding that cases against them be expedited and they be granted bail. The Negombo Police arrested the four men and another person who had assisted them.
Meanwhile, Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle told Parliament yesterday that there had been an invisible hand behind Sunday’s prison riots.
Minister Dr. Fernandopulle said the incident had occurred when prison officers, attempted to foil an escape attempt following a clash between the remandees and the convicts in the Mahara Prison. She said some inmates had set prison properties on fire.
The Prison officers had been able to prevent the escape attempt by opening fire, but to quell the riots they had called in the police anti-riot squads and the STF.
“It was so unfortunate that eight inmates were killed and around 50 others injured; the injured prisoners are receiving treatment at the Colombo North Teaching hospital,” Minister Dr Fernandopulle said.
She said that there had been a wave of protests and incidents of unrest in prisons all over the country during recent months. “First the agitations started at the Boossa Prison. There were similar incidents at the Welikada, Kalutara, Weerawila, and the Negombo prisons. A group of prisoners tried to escape from the Bogambara Prison recently but the jailers were able to prevent them by opening fire.” One escapee had been killed and several others injured, she said.
The Minister said that the government was convinced that there had been an invisible hand behind the Mahara Prison incident. She said so in response to a statement made by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who said that the Opposition was not happy with the incidents being investigated by a committee, headed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Prison Reforms and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation. “We do not think that the truth could be got at through such an investigation. We need an impartial investigation,” the Opposition Leader said.
Minister Fernandopulle: We, too, need to know the truth and how exactly this happened. We have decided to call in the CID to conduct investigations. There will be some other probes as well.
Opposition Leader: There was a COVID-19 cluster consisting of 183 infections in the Mahara Prison. How could such a cluster come up so suddenly there? What actions have you taken to prevent the spread of the virus in prisons?
The State Minister said that there were 1,099 COVID-19 infected inmates in prisons all over the country as of yesterday. “We have temporarily banned visitors. Court proceedings take place via Skype. Following recent anti-narcotic raids the number of inmates has increased. In prisons which can accommodate only 11,000 there are now 32,000 at present,” she said, adding that suspected COVID-19 cases were placed under quarantine for 14 days at the Bogambara Prison, in Kandy and Pallansena, Galella, and Kandakadu quarantine centres.
Measures had been taken to release on bail remand prisoners, a majority of whom were drug addicts arrested with less than two grams of narcotics each, and nearly 600 prisoners convicted of minor offences had been granted a presidential pardon, Dr. Fernandopulle said.
Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said that he had asked the government a month back not to hold COVID-19 infected inmates in the Bogambara Prison, but it had not listened to him.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena: You have raised that matter several times in the House. This cannot be allowed.
Kandy District SJB MP Velu Kumar: The Kandy town is in danger because the government has transferred inmates infected with COVID-19 to the Bogambara Prison.
There’s nothing prescribed as Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court — Sumanthiran
TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran, in an intervention in Parliament, said he was privileged to appear for Ranjan Ramanayake, a clean, honest politician in the Supreme Court and he was proud of that.
Nevertheless, Ranjan Ramanayake was convicted and sentenced. The sentence of four years’ rigorous imprisonment was unprecedented and exceptionally severe, and Parliament has a responsibility in this regard because we have not enacted a law for contempt of court, the MP noted.
At the outset, he said, “I want to flag one or two issues concerning the responsibility of the Parliament in this regard. But before I do that I am bound by law and tradition to disclose my interest in the matter. I am the counsel who appeared for Hon. Ranjan Ramanayake in the Supreme Court”.
This has an implication to the article in the constitution that the Hon. Leader of the Opposition just mentioned because it says for an offense for which the prescribed punishment is two years or more. But there’s nothing prescribed, nothing prescribed in the law because for long Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court, the TNA MP said.
Although there had been in the public as well, a lot of instances where drafts have been made, we have not done that – that is one. And by failing to do that, it has been like the freedom of the wild ass; anything can be given as a sentence and that is not a good thing. I don’t want to go into the merits of the case or anything like that, but in this case Parliament has to take steps, to enact a law, he further said.
English law is supposed to be the substantive law because we don’t have a statute law now, and in English law itself scandalizing the court is no longer an offence of contempt of court. But unfortunately the court disregarded that, and has misdirected itself – that’s my position, Sumanthiran continued.
“But I want to bring to your notice a serious lacuna in the law with regard to a statue for contempt of court that has resulted in this unprecedented injustice to an honest Member of Parliament”, he added.
Colombo share market gallops to all time highs
The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) galloped last week with the benchmark All Share Price Index (ASPI) hitting an all time high on Monday and improving on that performance on subsequent trading days to close the week at 8,463 points on Friday. The more liquid S&P Index that normally trails the ASPI also gained sharply though less so than the benchmark index.
Brokers and analysts attributed the surge to prevailing low interest rates and said that people holding funds in fixed interest instruments have seen greater potential in the stock market and have so far not been proved wrong.
“Take the case of vehicle importers,” said one businessman. “With imports disallowed, cash that would have been once used to replenish inventory becomes available for investment elsewhere. The stock market is a magnet for such funds.”
Also, many companies have resorted to a share split strategy to make their shares both more liquid and more affordable on the market.
“Take the example of a fifty-rupee share split into two. Theoretically, it should then trade at Rs. 25 a share after the split. But often it does better than that at no cost to the company that had split the share because its stated capital remains what it was,” explained and analyst.
“It’s different in the case of bonus shares or scrip issues as they are called where reserves are capitalized to pay for the new shares priced at realistic values.”
Last week the Hayleys conglomerate announced share splits in over a dozen group companies. These ranged from each share being split into ten in the parent company (Hayleys) and thriving subsidiaries like Haycarb and Dipped Products while other companies like Kingsbury split a share into two.
Brokers and analysts said that the current market surge was largely driven by the Dhammika Perera controlled Hayleys and the Ishara Nanayakkara controlled LOLC groups.
Last week Hayleys announced over a dozen share splits including in its recently acquired Singer Group companies. The majority of these involved dividing each share into two though at Singer Sri Lanka each share will be split into three.
The biggest share split ever proposed is one that is pending at EB Creasy (EBC) where each share is to be split into 100. The seldom traded EBC share is quoted at the top end of the CSE sharelist. Analysts said the massive split is intended to pump liquidity into the share and make it more affordable.
“There’s a lot of retail play in the market right now with new investors who recently took some risk doing very nicely in this bull run,” a broker said.
The CSE hit rock bottom after a seven-week closure in March last year.
Covid-19 has now spread geographically across SL
In small numbers to an extensive region
Pandemic situation in Western Province improves
by Suresh Perera
Though there are no big Covid-19 clusters at present, the dreaded virus has spread geographically across the country due to the unrestricted movement of people, a senior medical official said.
“The transmission of the contagion in small numbers to an extensive region was inevitable in a society which remains ‘open’ with inter-provincial travel happening on a daily basis”, says Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director of Public Health Services.
He said the spillover from the Western province was expected as there was an outflow of people to other districts particularly during the festive season.
“I am not blaming anybody, but a lockdown was not viable when taking into account the economic consequences and the livelihoods of the people. We could have imposed a curfew to restrict travel during the New Year, but we have to consider the fallout of such a measure”, he noted.
It true that geographically numbers have increased within a wide area, but the numbers are small and there are no big clusters as seen at Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda, the senior medical official explained.
Asked whether the pandemic has translated into a community spread as considerable positive cases continue to emerge on a daily basis, Dr. Herath replied, “no, that has not happened. If the Covid-19 situation was beyond control, we would have made a social and community transmission declaration”.
He said the pandemic situation in the Western province has improved with a dip in positive cases. However, the spillover is evident by the jump in figures at provincial level.
“We knew there was a risk, but we had to take it as locking down the country was not the solution
For example, if a Covid-19 patient infects two persons per day, there will be 200 positive cases within 100 days and one can imagine the critical situation that will emerge if the trend is allowed to continue, Dr. Herath continued.
“We are now managing under 1,000 cases per day”, he said, while assuring that the right mechanism is in place to identify positive cases through PCR and rapid antigen screening and place them under medical treatment, isolate and quarantine first contacts of patients”, he further said.
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