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Opposition, govt. exchange intense fire over Easter carnage probe

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*Cardinal not happy with the way investigation is progressing – Kiriella

*Govt. takes no action against suspects as they voted for 20A – Niroshan

*No one reponsible for the carnage will be spared – Namal

*I spoke my mind and met Cardinal; don’t drag me into this – Harin

*Govt. aware of well-known person with links to suspects – Minister SW

By Saman Indrajith

Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament, on Saturday, that many MPs had serious doubts and concerns about the direction in which the Easter Sunday carnage investigations were heading.

 “Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has raised concerns about the lack of progress of investigations into the Easter Sunday bomb attacks. There are MPs on both sides of the House, who are not happy with the progress in the probe.

 MP Kiriella said: There is an Easter Sunday Commission. We share the concerns of the Cardinal who is asking the government when it will bring the perpetrators of terror to justice. The Commission has summoned the former President and the former Prime Minister. The former IGP and the former Defence Secretary have also been summoned. Are these the people who exploded the bombs? The government should arrest those who organised and carried out the attacks. We also have no faith in the investigation. We demand a debate on the matter.” 

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando:

We are ready for a debate, but things transpired at the Commission cannot be debated because it is still on. It is not a matter that you should use for political gains. You can wait till it’s over and if the report does not help get at the truth, then you can bring a no-confidence motion against us. If there is a debate on the matter, what are we going to talk about? Can we give out the names? It would be similar to one of your ministers taking Makandure Madush on the Expressway and helping him leave the country.  

 SJB MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara: He is accusing us of aiding Madush to flee the country. Entire nation knows who supported Madush.

 Minister Fernando:

Madush fled with the support of one of the ministers from your side.

 SJB Puttalam District MP Niroshan Perera:

Today, the Easter Sunday investigation has been swept under the carpet. The Cardinal says this government is not conducting the probe the way it said it would do, before coming to power. It seems that since you got the votes of those MPs for the 20th Amendment you cannot arrest some of those accused of this crime. The Cardinal has stated that the probe on Easter Sunday bomb attacks has been politicised.

Minister Fernando:

The government has no intention to gain political mileage out of the investigation. We do not interfere with it, at all. The previous government meddled with probes; its members gave calls to investigators, judges, police and the CID. We do not do such things. We say that those responsible for the crime should be punished. That is the position of our government, our President and Prime Minister. Your government ministers threw mud at the Cardinal. MP Harin Fernando made disparaging remarks about the Cardinal. Ranjan Ramanayake insulted the Cardinal. Your party men accused the Cardinal of doing politics. Today, too you are doing the same. Can you condemn Harin Fernando’s blasphemous act?

MP Niroshan Perera:

I condemned it then and I condemn it today too.

Minister Fernando:

We did not betray people’s trust to get votes for the 20th Amendment. We have not released Rishad Bathiudeen or his brother to get their votes.

 State Minister for Rural Roads and Residual Infrastructure Nimal Lanza: It’s a Parliamentary Select Committee appointed by your government that released Rishad. Now, do not accuse us of releasing Rishad and his brother.

 Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa:

The government will not protect anyone responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks. Authorities responsible will ensure legal action is taken against those responsible, even if they happen to be a part of the government or the Opposition. You appointed a National List MP, a person who insulted the Cardinal.

 SJB Gampaha District MP Dr Kavinda Jayawardana: The Cardinal expressed his displeasure when I met him yesterday. He is not happy with the way the investigations are progressing.

SJB MP Harin Fernando:

If I have done anything wrong I am ready to go anywhere. I am a good Catholic. I do not lie. I appeared before the Commission and told them everything I knew. I showed them phone records to prove that my father had come to know about the terror attack around 8 pm the previous day. I have no problem with the Cardinal. I once spoke my mind and thereafter I met him and told him the truth. Do not drag me into this.

 Puttalam District SJB MP Hector Appuhamy:

You are accusing the yahapalana government for everything. Have you been able to arrest anyone other than those we took into custody over the Easter Sunday attack?

Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekera:

Yes, there are 271 persons in custody. Their cases have been finalised by the Attorney General’s Department. I will go there on Monday to meet the AG to make a request to expedite the matter.

 SJB MP Harin Fernando:

We have information that the Easter Sunday attackers had links to ISIS and there is a well-known personality connected to them. Is it true?

 Minister Weerasekara:

I am aware of it, but I cannot reveal it here in view of the ongoing investigations. You can see when the cases are filed; some persons who are in this House will be among them. 

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SL hopeful of getting first stock of Covid-19 jab within weeks

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by Suresh Perera

The first consignment of 200,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 is expected to reach Sri Lanka by the end of January or early February, a senior health official said.

The stock of the newly developed US vaccine, now being administered in many countries across the globe, will be channeled to Colombo through the World Health Organization (WHO), he noted.

The WHO has agreed to provide around 4.2 million qualified vaccines to Sri Lanka to inoculate about 20 percent of the population.

“We are optimistic that the vaccination pledged by Pfizer/BioNTech will be the first lot to arrive so that we will able to initiate the Covid-19 inoculation campaign at least by next month (February)”, the high-ranking official said.

Though March was initially looked at to kick-start the vaccination drive, the possibility of it happening earlier is on the cards with access to the jab now virtually in sight, he noted.

“The sooner the vaccinations are administered, the better”, the official remarked, referring to the surging pandemic, which has so far killed 247 patients and infected 50,901 in Sri Lanka.

Asked about the Chinese and Indian products, he opined that it will possibly take time as the accepted practice is that all drugs have to be registered with three different regulatory bodies and approved by at least five referral countries before they are used in Sri Lanka.

“We have to work according to WHO guidelines”, he commented.

“We are comfortable with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as it has already been approved by the US Food & Drugs Administration, TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) of Australia and regulators in Japan and Singapore among others”, he said.

The vaccine has been given the green light by regulators in the UK, US, EU and more than 40 other countries.

BioNTech said it had shipped almost 33m doses of the vaccine so far from six manufacturing sites in the US and Europe.

“We had originally pledged to make 1.3bn doses in 2021 but now intend to provide as many as 2bn”, BioNTech said in a statement.

The Sri Lankan government has informed the WHO that it has initiated the process of improving cold chain requirements for the storage of doses ahead of inoculation.

With the country laying the groundwork to receive the Covid-19 vaccines, infrastructure facilities are being improved to accommodate the stocks, which have to be stored at a temperature of 2-8 degrees Celsius.

At hospital level, they will have to stored at minus level temperature, if the need arises.

The WHO says that at present there are more than 50 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in trials.

“We are working in collaboration with scientists, business, and global health organizations through the ACT Accelerator to speed up the pandemic response. When a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries”, the world body said on its website.

“People most at risk will be prioritized. While we work towards rolling out a safe and effective vaccine fairly, we must continue the essential public health actions to suppress transmission and reduce mortality”, it stressed.

In a bid to stem the deadly Covid-19 surge, Sri Lanka is also exploring the possibility of importing the Oxford-AstraZeneca product from the United Kingdom or the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

The Sinovac vaccine manufactured in China and the Indian AztraZeneca are also being looked at, officials said.

Beijing has responded positively to a request by President Rajapaksa to Chinese President Xi Jinping for assistance in accessing the vaccine developed by China to curb the coronavirus threat.

International media reports spoke of nine million people in China already receiving the jabs. The vaccines were being used in 10 countries including Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.

According to Army Commander, Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Center for Prevention of Covid-19, all options on the table are being considered to procure a proven global vaccine to set in motion the inoculation initiative in Sri Lanka.

Lalith Weeratunga, senior Adviser to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who heads a committee on the procurement of the vaccines, will oversee the coordination process of importing the jabs to Sri Lanka. Medical expertise towards this end will come from Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, Secretary to the Health Ministry, Dr. Asela Gunawardena, Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Amal Harsha de Silva, Secretary to the State Ministry of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and COVID Disease Control and Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, President of the GMOA amongst others.

Meanwhile, a group of corporates headed by Brandix Lanka Limited has pledged Rs. 7 billion (US$ 50 million) to the government to procure vaccines against Covid-19.

Brandix Lanka Chairman Ashroff Omar has already discussed the modalities of the financial commitment with State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and senior health officials.

On an understanding reached, priority will be accorded to Brandix employees in administering the first doses of the vaccines procured with the funds provided by the corporate for this purpose.

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State Minister wants SD&CC to make profits and contribute towards the economy

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A discussion on streamlining the operations of the State Development and Constructions Corporation (SD&CC) and turn it around into a profit-making institution to contribute towards the country’s economy was held on Wednesday.

State Minister for Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure, Nimal Lanza, chaired the meeting at the institution in Ratmalana.

Under the President’s ‘Vision of Prosperity’ concept, the SD&CC will be entrusted with future development work. It will be tasked with the development of 100,000km of roadways and rural bridge projects aimed at replacing old bridges and vine bridges.

Established in 1971, the SD&CC has contributed towards many government development projects, including building roads, bridges, irrigation, water supply, precast concrete products, road signs and other construction activities.

The State Minister said the physical and human resources of the institution should be properly managed and action taken to make it a profitable institution by minimizing the cost of the projects implemented.

He said the company should work towards achieving high efficiency by submitting new plans based on the recommendations of its officials.

Lanza instructed the officials to pay more attention to the high priority and profitable sectors in the implementation of various projects and to submit new plans and proposals for the development of the institution and the implementation of new projects expeditiously.

R. W. R. Pemasiri, Secretary to the Ministry of Highways and D. P. M. Chandana, Chairman, State Development and Construction Corporation, were also present.

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Senior ASG Sarath Jayamanne retires after 32 years as a top prosecutor

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Senior Additional Solicitor General Sarath Jayamanne, PC, retires from service on January 16 after 32 years as a prosecutor with the Attorney General’s Department.

As a counsel, he figured in the prosecution of many landmark cases including the Hokandara murder, Katuneriya double murder, Tony Martin case, Kobeigane beauty queen case, Murder of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya and Mirusivil massacre.

Jayamanne also served as the Director-General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) at one time.

He is a lecturer in Evidence and Criminal Procedure at the Sri Lanka Law College, Faculty of Law University of Colombo and the Open University of Sri Lanka. The many top positions he has held in the public service reflects his versatility as a legal luminary.

Jayamanne has a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Oxford, as well as a Bachelors in Science from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He was also the recipient of the prestigious Chevening and the Fulbright scholarships.

Many people are familiar with evidence relating to DNA, telephone and voice recordings in criminal trials. However, what remains largely unknown is that it was Jayamanne who was instrumental in introducing them to Sri Lanka, and making them a part of evidence led at trials.

With his background in both maths and science as well as law, he is known to look at every case from every angle. He has therefore been able to conclusively establish how a crime was committed, and why an accused is guilty by recreating the crime in the mind of the Trial Judge.

He has thus earned the reputation of being the master of cases involving circumstantial evidence, i.e. cases where there are no eyewitnesses. He shared his experience and expertise in this regard in his well-received maiden book, “Yali Mawena Aparadayak” (Crime Recreated) in 2015. The book launch was unique as it was done in Jayamanne’s signature style of combining law, arts and science.

Asked how he was at the forefront of conducting controversial and complicated trials, which ended up as landmark cases in Sri Lanka’s legal history, Jayamanne’s humble reply was that it was not because of any influence he had, but simply because he never says ‘no’ to an opportunity. This attitude was put to the test when he was asked to take on the role of Director-General of CIABOC, which he accepted with an open mind.

Within his three-year tenure there, he was able to launch Sri Lanka’s first ever National Action Plan for Combating Bribery and Corruption, which was a result of intense research and dialogue with public servants and the general public across Sri Lanka. This is not only a ‘must-have’ for any nation that wishes to eradicate bribery and corruption, but was also influential in Sri Lanka regaining the GSP+ concession.

This Plan was accompanied by four handbooks on the topics of Integrity, Gift Rules, Conflict of Interest, and Law Reforms (the Plan and the handbooks can be downloaded from the CIABOC website: www.ciaboc.gov.lk).

Jayamanne was the focal point for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which is the body tasked with implementing the UN Convention Against Corruption. This period was also used to foster and develop relationships with anti-corruption agencies in nations which have made great strides in the field, as well as create new posts in CIABOC for much-needed investigating officers and prevention officers.

He was also able to spearhead the drafting of a new law to govern Asset Declaration, and a Composite Law covering all areas of bribery and corruption; these are now with the Legal Draftsman’s Department.

Despite having so much on his plate, Jayamanne is an individual who is always willing to teach and impart all he can to society at large. His teaching was not limited to his time as a lecturer, where he taught thousands of students who are now lawyers, and he continues to do even now.

He has conducted numerous lectures for the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and Provincial Bar Associations, as well as the Police, and is a sought-after presenter of online lectures and media interviews.

One can be certain that he will be as much as a catalyst for legal development as he was while in the public service, or even more so.

Jayamanne’s last case before retirement was when he appeared for the Attorney General in the contempt of the Supreme Court case against SJB parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court sentenced Ramanayake to four years of rigorous imprisonment after he was found guilty of contempt of Court under 105/3 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

Asked about his plans after retirement, Jayamanne said that he will continue to be involved in the criminal justice system.

“There are many options”, he added, without elaborating.

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