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Prez says he told AG perpetrators of Easter carnage and bond scams must be brought to justice

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‘No escape for wrongdoers’

Steps had been taken to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the Easter Sunday attacks, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, yesterday, addressing the nation on the Independence Day.

Rajapaksa said that he would also take into consideration the recommendations of the previous Parliament’s Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security, and action would be taken against all parties involved in the carnage.

“We will not allow those responsible for designing and enabling this tragedy to escape justice. We will never allow extremism to raise its head again in this country,” the President said.

President Rajapaksa also said that he had advised the Attorney General to take necessary action on the Treasury bond scams.

The President said that he had established a Presidential Deregulation Commission to change the outdated laws and regulations that negatively affected the general public as well as the domestic and foreign companies.

For a long time the importance of simplifying outdated laws and regulations had been discussed but nothing to address it. Implementing the recommendations of this Commission would provide significant impetus to the country’s future economic development, he said.

“Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” policy statement articulated the need for educational reforms to foster a knowledgeable and skilled future generation. Accordingly, a separate State Ministry had been created to undertake the reforms needed in the education sector.

Two task forces had been created to obtain specialist assistance for these reforms, and their recommendations were already being implemented, said President Rajapaksa.

“During the course of this year, the number of students gaining admission to universities will increase by 10,000, or 30 percent. Provisions have been made to double the number of students entering the state Technical Colleges from 100,000 to 200,000. Approval has been granted for the creation of a system of city universities catering to every district in order to increase the capacity of universities. We are acting quickly to implement recommendations for educational reforms. As a result, we anticipate that there will be an appreciable qualitative improvement in the education sector within the next few years,” he said.

President Rajapaksa said that he established a dedicated Ministry of Technology and brought it under his purview. Through that Ministry, steps would be taken to develop the policies and legal framework required to improve the technology sector, as well as to simplify the functioning of the state sector and markets through the use of information technology as a tool for broader digital governance. Action had already been taken to create five technology parks with all facilities in five identified districts in order to encourage entrepreneurs and start-ups in the technology sector.

Rajapaksa said that a number of groups supported him when he ran for presidency and that he believed that a vast majority of those people did so not in search of personal benefits but because they expected him to serve the nation diligently.

“I am always prepared to fulfill the genuine expectations of the public that supported me with honest intent. However, I will never take decisions that will damage the country and to please those who seek gains for themselves personally or for their businesses”, the President said.

Given below are excerpts of the speech:

I have always loved and respected the environment. In the past, whilst serving as the Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development, I strove to protect the environment when undertaking such activities as urban beautification, urban development, and the creation of walking paths and urban parks. Today, too, our Government has paid particular attention to preserving the environment for future generations. What the creation of urban forests, designing of green cities, promotion of green businesses, undertaking of nationwide tree planting programmes, reconstruction of irrigation tanks and canals, recultivating of fallow paddy fields, promoting the use of organic fertilizer, and limiting the use of plastics demonstrate is the implementation of this sustainable environmental management policy.

The foundation of our citizen centric economic policy is that the true potential of the economy cannot be unleashed without economic freedom. To achieve the Government’s aims of eliminating poverty, providing equal opportunity for improvement of all citizens, and developing domestic businesses, we require a clean and efficient public service.

The public service is a powerful, nationwide mechanism. This represents an opportunity that many countries in the world do not possess. Therefore, I expect this powerful mechanism to make a significant contribution to the national decision making process. However, I observe that weaknesses currently prevail in decision making at every level. Even on very simple institutional matters, I have observed that officials avoid making decisions and refer them to the Cabinet of Ministers. They expect advice from circulars for every activity. They avoid taking decisions even within the limits of their authority. If we do not change this situation, it will be extremely difficult for us to take this nation forward.

The legal reforms necessary to protect those in the public service who take correct decisions are currently being formulated. I therefore request all those in positions of authority to ease the limitations and practices that obstruct the general public through the state administration.

I personally participate in the ‘Conversation with the Village’ programme because rural development is one of my Government’s priorities. The public administration system at both the District and Divisional level is extremely important to achieving the citizen centric economic development articulated in my vision statement “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”. There is a clear responsibility incumbent on everyone involved in this development process, from the Governors, District Secretaries, Divisional Secretaries and Public Health Officials, to officials such as Grama Niladharis, Samurdhi Officials, Agriculture Research and Production Assistants, Family Health Service Officials and Development Officials at the village level. They have all provided tremendous support in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus and in providing other essential services. Similarly, I look forward to the unstinted support of all public servants in successfully overcoming the challenges that confront us in terms of our economic development.

The political leadership has a grave responsibility not only on matters at the national level but also in rural development. We have instituted mechanisms to ensure the active participation of Cabinet and State Ministers, Members of Parliament, and Members of Urban and Municipal Councils in the development activities at District and Divisional levels.

Corruption and waste are significant obstacles to a nation’s development. We are setting an example to eradicate corruption and waste in the public administration. We will not be lenient on anyone who is found guilty of corruption or waste. However, one of the difficulties we face in preventing corruption is the indirect support given willingly or unwillingly by the public to such activities. I request the general public not to encourage corruption either directly or indirectly. If anyone is found to be engaging in corrupt practices, please inform the relevant authorities.

I invite everyone to join in a national effort to mobilize public opinion against corruption and waste. Our future generations too must be educated in this regard. I appreciate the support that is being extended by the media for this initiative.”



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Parliament rejected two anti-corruption proposals

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Ex-COPE Chairman makes another revelation:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Parliament has blocked two specific proposals made by MP Prof. Charitha Herath in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to enable the Parliamentary Watchdog Committee to engage the Attorney General in high profile corruption cases, directly.

SLPP National List MP Herath lost the COPE Chairmanship with the prorogation of the Parliament on 28 July by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The prorogation results in suspension of all business before the House and quashed all proceedings pending at the time, except impeachments.

Prof. Herath told The Island yesterday (25) that in consultation with Auditor General W. P. C. Wickremaratne, he had requested for the modification of Standing Orders 120, several months back, to permit the COPE to call for Attorney General’s interventions as and when necessary. If that was not acceptable, Parliament should approve specific requests made by him on behalf of the COPE, he suggested.

Prof. Herath said that the alternative, too, has been rejected. Responding to another query, he said that he had submitted the proposals to the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders. The Committee consists of nine members, including the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders, Prof. Herath also suggested that if proposals submitted in writing weren’t acceptable then at least a representative of the Attorney General should be allowed to participate in the COPE proceedings. That proposal too was turned down.

Prof. Herath said that the rejection of specific measures to address corruption accusations should be examined against the backdrop of the economic fallout of waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement of the national economy as well as the unprecedented recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.

Prof. Herath alleged that the Parliament should be seriously concerned over the Geneva intervention especially because the country was seeking immediate assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Asserting that the situation was so grave that even USD 2.9 bn loan facility spread over a period of four years couldn’t revive the national economy, Prof. Herath emphasised that streamlining of public sector enterprises was a prerequisite for the economic recovery process. Therefore, corruption had to be curtailed by taking tangible measures, he said.

Prof. Herath said that though the particular Standing Order had been amended it didn’t meet their aspirations. What has been approved by the Parliament was inadequate to meet the growing threat posed by influential racketeers, the outspoken MP said. Prof. Herath has closed ranks with the dissident SLPP group, led by Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, and Dullas Alahapperuma. Other members of the group are Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dilan Perera, Dr. Upali Galappatti, Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, Lalith Ellawala, K.P. S. Kumarasiri, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Gunapala Ratnasekera and Udayana Kiridigoda.

Prof. Herath said that as the SLPP declined to allocate time for members of the rebel group, he was compelled to obtain five minutes from the Opposition to take up the issue in Parliament.Appreciating Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella for giving him the opportunity, Prof. Herath pointed out how a carefully prepared set of proposals to strengthen the COPE had been rejected.

Prof. Herath stressed that the intervention of the COPE was required as the Secretaries to the Ministries often failed to proceed with the instructions issued to them. The MP found fault with section 3 and 4 of Standing Orders 120. Declaring that though the Parliament was routinely blamed for its failure to arrest corruption, MP Herath said that Members of Parliament weren’t aware of what was going on. He also called for the strengthening of Standing Orders 119, 120 and 121 that dealt with the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), COPE and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF), respectively.

MP Herath declared in Parliament that the crux of the matter was that those appointed members of the Cabinet represented the interests of the Executive and thereby undermined the very basis of the responsibilities of the House. The undeniable truth was that the Cabinet ministers didn’t represent the interests of the Parliament. “In other words, they worked against the collective responsibility as members of Parliament to ensure financial discipline,” MP Herath said, pointing out that in some countries the lawmakers were not entrusted with the task of decision-making.

Referring to Executive Sub-Committees to be established, Prof. Herath emphasized the pivotal importance of recognizing their responsibilities. If they were answerable to the Executive there would be serious consequences pertaining to the parliamentary system. Executive Sub-Committees shouldn’t be at the expense of the Parliament, the MP said, underscoring the responsibility of the part of all political parties represented in Parliament to take immediate remedial measures.

The rejection of the COPE proposals meant that the Parliament,as an institution hadn’t been sensitive to the recent public upheaval that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a staggering 6.9 mn votes to give up the presidency and literally flee for his life.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been elected by Parliament to complete the remainder of the five-year term secured by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the SLPP, hadn’t realised the need to introduce urgent reforms, the MP alleged.Prof. Herath also questioned the rationale behind setting up of the National Council when the powers that be deprived the existing mechanisms required power to achieve their objectives.

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AHP asks President RW to be wise gazette-wise

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The Academy of Health Professionals (AHP) has called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and refrain from issuing gazettes, one after the other, and then reverse them in order to prevent worsening of the crisis situation prevailing in the country’s health sector.

AHP President Ravi Kumudesh, has, in a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, said that the country’s health sector is in the present situation as the former President and the Health Minister allowed themselves to be manipulated by a coterie of officials. “We call on the President not to become another ruler who reverses gazettes and to assess the practicality of the proposals put forward by his advisors before gazzetting them. One such cause for the downfall of the health sector was former Health Ministers playing with the retirement age. As a result, there are many senior officials holding top offices of the health sector despite the fact that all of them are above the age of 60 years. If any official is given a service extension for an office in a health sector position, then it should be given only for a six-month period with the specific objective of training one of his qualified subordinates for that particular position.

 During that period, the official who is given the service extension should not be sent abroad for training or further education. Many officials, who are over 60 years of age, had been given service extensions and were found given foreign trips for capacity building. The irresponsible human resource management in the public sector is one of the main concerns that has been raised by the International Monetary Fund when assisting this country,” Kumudesh has said in his letter.

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BASL contemplates legal action against HSZ gazette

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has threatened legal action against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reintroduction of war-time high security zones (HSZs).

“The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured,” the BASL has said in a statement.

The BASL has said it is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act.

Full text of the statement: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is deeply concerned at the declaration of certain areas in Colombo as High Security Zones under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 by President and Minister of Defence Ranil Wickremesinghe.The said order appears to cover several areas in the Colombo District including the areas in Colombo ordinarily used by the members of the public. It also covers several areas in Hulftsdorp in the vicinity of the Court premises.

The said order by the President purports to prohibit public gatherings or processions whatsoever on a road, ground, shore, or other open area situated within such High Security Zones without the permission of the Inspector General of Police or a Senior Deputy Inspector General. It also prohibits the parking of vehicles within the zone unless reserved for parking by the Competent Authority or under a permit issued by him, such Competent Authority being the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.The scope of the Official Secrets Act is clearly set out in Section 2 of the said Act which can be read at: https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/official-secrets.4/

What Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act enables the Minister, is to declare any land, building, ship, or aircraft as a prohibited place. The Act does not empower the Minister to declare large areas as High Security Zones.The objective of making an order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is to better safeguard information relating to the defences of Sri Lanka and to the equipment, establishments, organisations, and institutions intended to be or capable of being used for the purposes of defence. Orders under Section 2 cannot be made for any other purpose.

The BASL is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act. It is also of utmost concern that the purported order imposes stringent provisions in respect of bail by stating that a person taken into custody in connection with an offence under the said orders shall not be granted bail except by a High Court. The Official Secrets Act contains no such provisions, and in fact Section 22 of the Act empowers a Magistrate to release a suspect on Bail. As such the purported order seeks to significantly curtail the liberty of the citizen, without any reasonable or legal basis.

The BASL is deeply concerned that under the cover of the purported order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act that there is the imposition of draconian provisions for the detention of persons who violate such orders thus violating the freedom of expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of movement all of which are important aspects of the right of the people to dissent in Sri Lanka

The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said Order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured.We continue to remind the authorities including the President of the wisdom found in the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the ‘Jana Ghosha’ case of Amaratunge v Sirimal and others (1993) 1 SLR 264 which states as follows:

“Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day.”

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