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NMSJ Chief urges Prez to take decisions through consensus

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Former Speaker and Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Karu Jayasuriya has urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to take tangible measures to bring all political parties together as the country faces the Covid-19 challenge.

The NMSJ, in a statement issued, attributed the following comments to its leader Karu Jayasuriya: “Different political ideologies or aspirations for power should not be prioritized. First and foremost, we must save the country and its people from this catastrophe before us.

The whole country must unite for that. We made an appeal towards this for the first time in Kandy recently. I called on the Most Venerable Mahanayake Theras to discuss these matters. It was then that we realised that we also had the blessings of the chief prelates towards our endeavours. Accordingly, we call on the President and the people of this country to come forward. We make this appeal with the utmost sincerity. If you have love for the country, all political forces and all communities must join hands and face this challenge without delay and the President should extend an invitation to all to join hands in this regard. This is also the opinion of the majority of the people in the country. Otherwise, this country will suffer dire consequences.

In fact, this endeavour should not be limited to the efforts taken to control the Covid-19 pandemic. As a country, we have to make decisions by consensus, even on matters of national importance, such as the government’s decision to ban chemical fertilizers at once as well as the Colombo Port City Project. This is also the position of the National Movement for Social Justice.

We are conducting this press briefing today to reaffirm our position. We hope that all political leaders as well as the civil society will pay attention to this.

If we are to take such an approach, there are a number of factors to consider. The legislature has been weakened due to the transfer of power to the executive by the 20th amendment. There is no discussion in Parliament today on matters of national importance. There is no participation of the people’s representatives.

In countries like the United States, the UK, and Europe where democracy reigns, all important political decisions are made taking into account the advice and guidance of experts. There are special committees and procedures for this purpose. In Sri Lanka, such matters are taken up through sectoral oversight committees. This is a very strong democratic process that is accepted throughout the world.

Our Honorable President is an experienced person after having lived in the United States for a long time. We are of the view that we do not need to explain in detail the importance of such committees to the US Congress with regard to the crucial decisions such committees make. We believe that perhaps he has a better understanding of it than many others.

If so, we propose to activate public representation through parliamentary sectoral oversight committees. Despite not being able to achieve accepted results from all sectoral oversight committees that were initiated in 2015 mainly due to the lack of interest of committee members, we must acknowledge that the sectoral oversight committees on education, justice and national security have been very active. It was through these committees that proposals to increase the number of attorneys in the Attorney General’s Department from 118 to 218, increase the number of High Court Judges from 70 to 108 and to establish two special courts to hear cases of corruption and bribery came to fruition. In addition the wages of judges and officials of the Attorney General’s Department were significantly increased on the proposals made by those committees.

Further, the University of Batticaloa was taken over and the long standing salary anomalies were rectified while the SAITM and Kotelawala faculties of education were merged according to the recommendations made by the parliamentary sectoral committee on education. We should also understand that a great deal was done to bring about unity among the Sinhala and Muslim communities after the Easter Sunday attacks.

Therefore, a sectoral oversight committee on health can be established to find solutions to the pandemic. It would be prudent to explore the possibility of allowing foreign and local experts to submit their views in addition to Opposition members as this is a national endeavour. We see this as a very timely step and can be set up in a few weeks.

A similar approach to the Port City Project would be the most appropriate course of action for the President and the Government. A peaceful solution to the present problem is to set up an All-Party Oversight Committee and seek expert local and foreign opinions and advice in order to finalise this project. No one has objected to the creation of special trade zones. The question arises with regard to the powers that are vested in it, and whether or not the institutions that govern them are in accordance with the constitution of the country. It is important to listen to the views of eminent legal academics such as Prof. Suri Ratnapala as well as institutions such as the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

President J.R. Jayewardene launched the Public Private Partnership (PPP) concept for the first time in Asia under the Greater Colombo Economic Commission. A state-owned corporation dealing with leather products collaborated with two well-known Korean companies and established the largest export oriented footwear factory in Asia. Despite some difficulties at the inception, it later became a successful business venture.

The then Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad and his wife visited Sri Lanka to study this. Deng Xiaoping, the then leader of China sent the Mayor of Shanghai to Singapore and Sri Lanka as his special envoy. They wanted to study how we operated.

Also, former President J.R. Jayewardene gave special powers and facilities to the factories of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission. These institutions also enjoyed administrative and commercial independence. The functions of the Customs Department were also streamlined while providing special facilities for selected imports. I responsibly state these facts based on the experience gained as the chairperson of those companies and a member of the Presidential Commission on Privatization.

We opine that the decision taken by the Government to completely stop the use of chemical fertilizers should be referred to a sectoral oversight committee. Important decisions like these should be made only after having extensive discussions with all relevant stakeholders. The safety of the environment, the safety of the people, the food security of the country, and the living standards of the farmers as well as the overall consumer needs of the country should be taken into consideration.

No one has objected to the promotion of compost or organic fertilizer. At an online forum with over 1200 participants, I listened to the various observations made by them. Everyone at the forum was of the view that the proposal to stop the importation of chemical fertilizer was correct but it would be difficult to implement for at least another few years. It is clear that all stakeholders of the agriculture industry have the same views. The protests carried out by members of the farming community in many parts of the country today illustrate this reality.

As such, these issues can be resolved amicably by subjecting these proposals to a lengthy study through oversight committees over a period of several months. Instead of criticizing one another in and out of Parliament, we strongly believe that the burning issues of the country can be resolved through such a cordial approach.

We present these proposals with the noble intention of resolving the issues affecting our country. I hope that these matters will be brought to the attention of the authorities and the public.”



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People to get fuel price shock soon

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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)

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HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody

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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.

 

 

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Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success

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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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