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PSC finally responds to AG’s recommendation to take action

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The Public Service Commission (PSC) has responded to the Attorney General’s recommendation that disciplinary action be taken against Deputy Solicitor General Azard Navavi and State Counsel Malik Azeez, who were entrusted with the file on National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim, for lapses in handling the case, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating Easter Sunday attacks was informed yesterday.

This was revealed when Attorney General (AG) Dappula de Livera’s Coordinating Officer, State Counsel, Nishara Jayaratne appeared before the PCoI.

The commission prevented the counsel disclosing the PSC decision.

A request by Shavindra Fernando, PC, who appeared for Navavi, to declare Jayaratne guilty of contempt of PCoI was rejected by a majority of the Commissioners.

AG Dappula de Livera’s Coordinating Officer, State Counsel, Nishara Jayaratne was ordered to appear before the PCoI considering a request made by Shavindra Fernando, PC, on 15 December 2020.

On that day, it was revealed that the Attorney General had recommended disciplinary action against Deputy Solicitor General Azard Navavi and State Counsel Malik Azeez, who were given the file on National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim as far back as 2017. A preliminary inquiry on the duo by a three member committee had also been concluded and the investigators recommendations together with charge sheets had been sent to the Public Service Commission (PSC), Additional Solicitor General, Sumathi Dharmawardena told the PCoI, yesterday.

On 05 December Deputy Solicitor General Navavi said that the Attorney General’s Department had paid attention to the file on NTJ leader Zahran Hashim, sent by Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) seeking their advice, only three weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks. Chairman of the PCoI asked Navavi what the AG’s Department did about the file on Zahran, sent by the TID for legal advice. Navavi said that he received the file on 07 June 2017 and that he designated State Counsel Malik Azeez, who was under him, to handle the file. Both men insisted that the TID had not furnished the information it had in its possession about NTJ and Zahran until 2019.

Additional Solicitor General, Sumathi Dharmawardena was called before the PCoI to shed more light on the matter. Dharmawardena is also in charge of administration at the AG’s Department. Dharmawardena said that in 2019, he testified before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the Easter Sunday attacks on the file TID had sent.

Dharmawardena added that he had drawn Attorney General Dappula de Livera’s attention to the final report of the PSC on or around 24 February 2020. The following day, Livera had recommended that an inquiry be conducted on Navavi and Azeez. Initially, the investigation was to be conducted by Deputy Solicitor General, Susantha Balapatabendi.

However on 13 March 2020, a three-member committee consisting of Senior Additional Solicitor General, Sarath Jayamanne, Balapatabendi and Senior Deputy Solicitor General, Mayadunne Corea was appointed. Jayamanne resigned from the committee on 29 May 2020 and on 01 June 2020, Additional Solicitor General, Priyantha Nawana was made the head of the Committee, Dharmawardena said.

The committee completed the investigation in July 2020 and the report had been sent to him, Dharmawardena said. The document contained draft charge sheets. It was given to Acting Solicitor General Sanjay Rajaratnam for further recommendations. On 27 July 2020, Rajaratnam had recommended disciplinary action, Dharmawardena said.

Shavindra Fernando, PC, who appeared for Navavi then brought Dharmawardena’s attention to a letter the AG sent to acting IGP on 18 June 2020. In the letter Livera has said law officers of the AG’s Department had done nothing wrong.

Fernando: “On 10 June 2019, the coordinating officer to the AG repeated the claim in a press release. It is obvious that AG didn’t think Navavi and Azeez had done anything wrong.” Fernando then asked the PCoI to summon State Counsel, Nishara Jayaratne as she was responsible for issuing press releases.

Jayaratne arrived at PCoI last Friday and soon got into a heated argument with Fernando, who accused her of contempt of PCoI. Jayaratne, who had appeared without a lawyer, sought legal advice and PCoI granted her time till yesterday.

Jayaratne yesterday appeared with another counsel from the AG’s Department and Fernando objected to it. However, Senior Deputy Solicitor General Vikum de Abrew said the counsel could appear on behalf of Jayaratne.

De Abrew also said that PSC had responded, on 15 December 2020, to the report the AG’s Department sent on Navavi and Azeez.

Chairman of the PCoI: “If you want to say something about what the PSC said about your recommendation, please let us know through the Department.”

Then the cross examination of Jayaratne began.

Shavindra Fernando PC: “The letter the AG sent to the acting IGP on 18 June 2020 states that the law officers of the AG’s Department had done nothing wrong. Isn’t this his opinion on the matter?”

Senior Deputy Solicitor General Vikum de Abrew said: “My learned friend has asked this question 18 times before. The witness has already responded.”

Fernando: “I am repeating myself because I didn’t get a straight answer. The letter to the acting IGP reflected the AG’s opinion. Isn’t that so?”

Jayaratne: “This letter doesn’t contain the AG’s opinion. It contains instructions to the then acting IGP. Twice the AG said, “I advise.” There are two sides to a coin. The AG advises the acting IGP to conduct further investigations because the file is incomplete. On the other hand, we don’t need to inform the acting IGP if our law officers have made lapses.”

Fernando then told PCoI that Jayaratne was not giving straight forward answers just like she had done the previous day. He again urged the PCoI to consider Jayaratne guilty of contempt of PCoI.

Jayaratne said that it was unfair to make the allegation and that it was an attempt to tarnish her image. She said: “I never insulted the commission. I answered all the questions. They are trying to tarnish my reputation and the post I hold.”

The Chairman of the PCoI said that she was guilty of contempt, but the other commissioners were of the view that she was not.



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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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