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Prez in powwow with civil society: post-war national reconciliation priority 

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A group of civil society members under the umbrella of the Sri Lankan Collective for Consensus has discussed a range of issues, including the repealing or amending of the PTA with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, President’s Secretary Dr. P B Jayasundara and Foreign Secretary, Admiral Professor Jayanath Colombage had been present at the Presidential Secretariat discussion on August 3, 2021.

 The civil society group presented a memorandum that set out their hopes and concerns and welcomed the opportunity to engage with members of the government on topics of post-war reconciliation, minority rights, civil society space, and governance. The group consisted of Ven. Kalupahana Piyaratana, Prof. T. Jayasingam Rev. Bishop Asiri Perera, Prof. Tudor Silva, Rev. Fr. C.G. Jeyakumar, Hilmy Ahamed, Rohana Hettiarachchi, Varnakulasingham  Kamaladhas, Dr. Joe William, Sanjeewa Wimalagunarathna, Dr. Dayani Panagoda, Visaka Dharmadasa and Dr. Jehan Perera

 At the outset, the civil society members expressed their support for the ideas and spirit of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tweet message “We are committed to work with the @UN to ensure accountability & human dev. to achieve lasting peace & reconciliation. We are dedicated to resolving the issues within the democratic & legal frame to ensure justice & reconciliation by implementing necessary institutional reforms.” -Tweet by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa July 21, 2021

 The civil society members expressed their readiness to support the President and his government’s efforts on the basis of his tweet above and called on him to bring together all political parties so that a consensual national policy on national unity and reconciliation will be framed which will be implemented by successor governments.  They expressed concern with regard to civil space which they wanted the government to protect.  They expressed their conviction that development will succeed best if it is accompanied by peace building and reconciliation that is successful and unites all the people through education and constructive actions.

 After listening to all comments made by the civil society delegation, who had the opportunity to speak without interruption, President Rajapaksa responded to the comments made and to the contents of the memorandum. He said civil society could assist the government to take the reconciliation process forward. He said that he also wanted civil society to work in protecting the rights of children and women and that his government was committed to protecting the rights of all the people.  With regard to the PTA, he said that the government was formulating a reasonable law. He said that 16 prisoners held under the PTA were released recently and the government was working on the cases involving a number of other prisoners and release would be considered in line with the legal process.  He said that those in detention following the Easter Sunday attack, who were marginally involved will be released after they were rehabilitated just as 12,000 LTTE cadre had been earlier.

 The President affirmed to the civil society members that he intended to make his twitter post a reality and he would be willing to work with them on reconciliation.  He spoke of the need to find practical solutions to resolve conflicts such as on the takeover of land in the north and elsewhere and to facilitate improvement of the living standards of communities to make them feel as being part of Sri Lanka.  He said that he was ready to address issues affecting people despite political differences.  This included the release of all possible lands immediately within this year, permitting farmers to cultivate the lands within military camps and where necessary to retain lands for military purposes to pay commercial rates and acquire the lands.  He also spoke of the need to enhance the people’s livelihood opportunities and improve living standards by promoting entrepreneurship.

 In addressing issues of devolution of power, the President said that he had discussion with the Election Commission on conducting Provincial Council Elections and there was agreement to ensure that they had elected representatives.  He said that the ruling party, the SLPP, was keen to and committed to provincial council elections as local party supporters were also keen to take part in the electoral process.  In a democratic system of governance, majority consensus prevails but he said he was ready to protect the rights of all people by working through negotiations and reaching consensus.

 Members of the delegation felt that they were able to freely express themselves at the meeting without a single interference or attempt to regulate their side of inputs. The meeting had the features of democratic conduct and ended with goodwill and satisfaction with the President stating he would meet other civil society organisations as many did good work although there were varied opinions about them.  Throughout the meeting there was cordiality and mutual respect.  The meeting concluded after an hour and twenty minutes with the prospect of future dialogue and engagement and expectation by the undersigned of concrete actions in response to the memorandum submitted to the President

 MEMORANDUM TO HIS EXCELLENCY PRESIDENT GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSA ON REVIVING THE NATIONAL RECONCILIATION PROCESS, SAFEGUARD CIVIL SOCIETY SPACE AND IMPROVE GOVERNANCE

 Reconciliation-related measures:

1.      Repeal or amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act to ensure that any legislation on combating terrorism complies fully with the State’s international human rights and humanitarian law obligations.  In the meantime, stop all arrests and detentions under this law. Put those detained under the PTA on trial speedily or release them on bail or discharge them entirely.  E.g. LTTE detainees, post- Easter attack detainees and all others under the PTA.

2.      Conduct provincial council elections immediately. Elected Tamil representatives who are currently marginalized in terms of power at the central government level, will be empowered at the provincial level to be decision makers.

3.      Ensure an environment in which the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations can operate effectively and independently. Provide both Offices with sufficient resources and technical means to effectively fulfil their mandate. Ensure appointments are appropriate to the mission of each of the institutions.

4.      Ensure the investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of longstanding emblematic cases involving alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law. Establish a truth and reconciliation commission to give a definitive account of the war, and end the speculations and divisive interpretations. The possibility of granting amnesty as in the South African TRC and in the proposed British TRC for Northern Ireland can be explored.

 5.      Permit the memorialization of those who died in the war without blocking them. Places of religious worship can be built in areas of battles or where large-scale loss of life occurred.

 6.      Reconstitute the Task Force on Historical Monuments in the Eastern Province, to include a fair representation of religious and ethnic minorities and to ensure that decisions taken do not violate the rights of people resident in those areas. Ensure that land settlement policy and take-over of traditional grazing lands does not become an excuse to re-engineer the demographics in those areas.

Civil Society-related measures:

7.      Protect civil society actors, including human rights defenders, ensure a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance, surveillance, insecurity and threat of reprisals.

8.      Place the National NGO Secretariat and NGOs under a civilian ministry. Currently they have been placed under the Defence Ministry which can create an erroneous impression that the government considers CSOs to be a national security threat and not a useful partner for social development and relief and humanitarian services which should receive high priority particularly during the pandemic.

Governance-related measures:

9.      Repeal the 20th Amendment and replace it with a new constitutional provision that strengthens the independence of state institutions. This will include a Constitutional Council which includes members of civil society.   In particular the judiciary, the police, the public service, the Bribery and Corruption commission and the Human Rights Commission need to be strengthened.

10.  All elections will be on a mixed member proportional system. To ensure that there will be a minimum of 1/3 representation for women from constituencies and there will be a closed (appointed) national list where every other candidate will be a woman.

11.  The Provincial Council system will be strengthened. Non-executive Governors will be appointed by the Constitutional Council.  The Governors will assent to Provincial Council legislation. Taxes and revenues shall be shared between the Central Government and Provincial Councils on a rational and just basis that make the regions more attractive for investment and provincial development.

Resolving these root causes requires bold leadership, dialogue with the representatives of the ethnic and religious minorities and their political parties and the involvement of all sections of society inclusive of the opposition political parties and civil society.



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Explanation sought over Monetary Board Secy.’s sudden transfer

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Rohini calls for social media campaign against govt. move

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has sought an explanation from the government over the sudden removal of the Secretary to the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, K.M.A.N. Daulagala on16 Sept.

Matale District lawmaker Rohini Kaviratne yesterday (19) questioned the rationale behind Assistant Governor Daulagala’s removal. The former UNP MP emphasised that Daulagala had played a critically important role in the Central Bank’s response in the wake of Treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016. Therefore, her removal was quite suspicious and might facilitate efforts to suppress those scams as well as future frauds as well.

MP Kaviratne represented the UNP during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Prime Minister (2015-2019).

Declaring that Daulagaha had been at the forefront of the efforts to create a clean administration, Kaviratne stressed that she was second only to Rohini Nanayakkara of the Bank of Ceylon (BOC) and earned the respect of all for courageously taking a stand against fraudulent practices.

The SJB spokesperson said that Daulagala, in her capacity as the head of the non-banking sector financial institutions, handled the ETI investigation at the onset (2010-2012) of the probe. In the wake of her recommendations pertaining to the ETI being rejected by the Central Bank, she received a transfer to another section, MP Kaviratne said.

The Monetary Board is responsible for making all policy decisions related to the management, operation and administration of the Central Bank. It comprises Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Finance Secretary S.R. Attygalle, Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, Dr (Mrs) Ranee Jaymaha and Samantha Kumarasinghe.

Cabraal, who served as the Governor (2006-2014) recently replaced W.D. Lakshman on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request.

Kaviratne asked who had benefited from the removal of the Secretary to the Monetary Board?

MP Kaviratne said that Daulagala had been involved in the internal process following the first Treasury bond scam and the subsequent developments, including the coordination between the Central Bank and the Attorney General’s Department pertaining to the Treasury bond scams. Urging women’s organsations, civil society and law abiding citizens to take up Daulagala’s removal through social media, lawmaker Kaviratne said that the issue at hand should receive attention of the parliament.

“The Parliament is responsible for public finance. The Parliament cannot turn a blind eye to what is going on in the Central Bank. The national economy is in such a perilous state every effort should be made to investigate past frauds and thwart future adventures,” the MP said.

MP Kaviratne also recalled the role played by Deepa Seneviratne, Superintendent of Public Debt at the time of the first Treasury bond scam in exposing the then Governor’s culpability. “Unfortunately, we seem to be unable to change the direction regardless of exposure of past misdeeds,” she said.

Declaring that she had no intention of protecting any wrongdoer under any circumstances, MP Kaviratne said that the incumbent government should ensure transparency and accountability in public finance.

Examination of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) proceedings revealed a frightening picture, lawmaker Kaviratne said. Shocking revelations made by the watchdog committee should be examined against the backdrop of overall deterioration of the national economy over the past several years, the MP said.

She said that it would be a grave mistake on the government’s part to blame the current crisis on the raging Covid-19 epidemic. Acknowledging the difficulties caused by the economic downturn, MP Kaviratne said that the country was paying a huge price for unbridled waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence.

The MP asserted that the citizenry could play a bigger role in a political campaign on social media. The vast majority of those who use social media strengthened democratic opposition, she said. Removal of Daulagala could be a rallying point, she said, urging public onslaught on the SLPP government.

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Those responsible for Easter carnage will be haunted eternally – Bishop Galle

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Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA

The Chief Celebrant of the 114th annual feast of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Matara, Bishop of the Diocese of Galle, Rev. Dr. Raymond Wickremasinghe told a virtual congregation that the conscience of those responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage would never be at peace and it would haunt them eternally.

 The celebrations of the 114th annual Feast of the National shrine of Our Lady of Matara commenced on 05 September with the raising of the flagstaff and ended on Sunday 12 September. This year’s feast was held in keeping with strict health guidelines sans public participation.

 Rev Dr. Wickremasinghe reiterated that it was the wish of the general public, especially all Christians that those who carried out and those masterminded and those who knew but did not prevent the Easter Sunday carnage would be exposed and Justice served. “It is our prayer that the divine father guides the authorities in their endeavours” the Bishop added

 Rev. Wickremesinghe also called upon every person including decision-makers to heed the advice of the experts and act intelligently to overcome the pandemic.

 The Marian procession carrying the miraculous statue of our lady of Matara. accompanied by clergy and security personnel paraded the town, concluding this year’s festivities.

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Wild jumbos destroy houses in search of newly harvested paddy

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BY CYRIL WIMALASURENDRE

KANDY— Herds of wild elephants raid Ududumbara and Minipe area sdestroying houses in search of newly harvested paddy.

Farmers of Minipe, Hasalaka and Udadumbara keep paddy in their houses as they are without proper storage facilities.

Kandy District Secretary Chandana Tennakoon visited the house of a farmer destroyed by elepheants in Kongahaela, Hasalaka.

The victim informed the District Secretary Tennakoon that a herd of elephants including young ones were roaming had attacked his house.

Similar complaints were made to the District Secretary by farmers at Minipe, Hasalaka, Welgala, Ulpathagama and Udunuwara.

The farmers said at least they should be provided with an adequate number of elephant crackers to scare the elephants away. The farmers had to travel about 30 km to the Randenigala Wildlife Office office to receive one cracker each, they said, adding that they needed many more.

District secretary Tennakoon told the farmers that steps would be taken to resolve the issue this year by putting up an elephant  fence around the affected villages of Ududumbara, Medsadumbara, Minipe and Hasalaka sector.

The project would cost about Rs. 100 million. The length of the fence would be about 43 km, he said.

Divisional Secretary of Minipe Nuwan Hemachandra and Deputy Director of Plan Implementation Palitha Rajapakse were present.

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