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Ratwatte’s prison raids: Probes a farce, State Minister protected, TNA alleges

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‘Govt. actions make promises on domestic mechanisms a joke’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) yesterday (26) accused the government of having suppressed a proper investigation into death threats the then Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation State Minister Lohan Ratwatte issued to a group of ex-LTTE cadres held at the Anuradhapura prison on the late afternoon of 12 Sept.

Batticaloa District TNA lawmaker Shanakiyan Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam told The Island that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was yet to record the statements of those threatened by Ratwatte, who continued to be the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related industries.

Rasamanickam said so after meeting eight of those who had been threatened by the Kandy District MP. He accompanied TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran and Acting General Secretary of the party on Saturday (25) to Anuradhapura, where they spoke to eight out of the 10 ex-LTTE cadres threatened by MP Ratwatte.

Responding to another query, MP Rasamanickam said they had been able to meet only eight inmates. One of them informed the TNA delegation that he didn’t want to cause himself further trouble.

MP Rasamanickam said that the prisoner’s concerns were quite legitimate as the police proved incapable of handling the investigation.

Referring to a special statement made by Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera on Sept 17 regarding IGP C.D. Wickremaratne being instructed to initiate an inquiry into the complaint in respect of MP Ratwatte received by the CID on the previous day, MP Rasamanickam asked for the status of the inquiry.

The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on Sept 16 urging the immediate arrest of MP Ratwatte. CPRP President Attorney at Law Senaka Perera yesterday told The Island that in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code Section 109 (1) the police could have initiated an inquiry without receiving a complaint. Perera alleged that Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayake were guilty of dereliction of duty as public officers of the State by both aiding and abetting in Ratwatte’s actions. Perera also pointed out that the CID never contacted them in spite of issuance of the receipt for having recorded their statement.

MP Rasamanickam said that ex-LTTE cadres requested that they be moved to the Jaffna prison and cases against them heard as quickly as possible. The TNA spokesperson said that Anuradhapura incident on Sept. 12 wouldn’t have taken place if the Prisons administration took tangible measures following MP Ratwatte’s drunken raid on the Welikada prison on Sept 6. The government should explain its failure to respond to the Sept.6 raid, MP Rasamanickam said, pointing out the absurdity in underscoring the importance of domestic accountability mechanisms at a time those in judicial custody weren’t safe. The TNA would take up Ratwatte’s matter with the visiting EU delegation.

Asked whether the TNA would use Welikada and Anuradhapura drunken escapades by a Minister to push for required amendments for the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), MP Rasamanickam pointed out that they had been campaigning against the PTA for some time. “There is absolutely no connection between our representations to the EU and other members of the international community as regards the PTA and the death threats directed at ex-LTTE cadres,” MP Rasamanickam said.

The EU delegation is scheduled to meet the TNA tomorrow (28). MP Rasamanickam asserted that the EU delegation would primarily take up the apparel workers’ conditions at apparel factories and the PTA. Those who had received death threats from an intoxicated lawmaker brandishing a weapon at Anuradhapura prison couldn’t tell the TNA delegation the full story as two jail guards sat with the lawmakers throughout their interaction with the prisoners. MP Rasamanickam quoted prisoners as having told them they were ordered out and directed to sit down on ‘L’ shape. Later, the MP repeatedly demanded them to tell him the truth.

MP Rasamanickam alleged that the Prisons Department would have quietly hushed up the incidents if not for the print and electronic media coverage and the social media taking it up. Asked whether he appreciated the appointment of retired High Court judge Sarojini Kusala Weerawardena to inquire into the incidents, MP Rasamanickam said that no such investigation was required if the police moved against the wrongdoer in terms of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The MP pointed out the continuing controversy over the government failure to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. “What happened to the investigation undertaken by retired HC judge Weerawardene into the Mahara prison riots in late Nov. 2020,” MP Ramamanickam asked. That committee also included the Chief Legal Advisor to the Justice Ministry U.R. de Silva, PC, a former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, MP Rasamanickam said, urging the government not to suppress the investigation.

The TNA MP said that by the time they met Anuradhapura prisoners, their statements had been recorded by the Prisons Department and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Well informed sources said that the appointment of a retired HC judge to probe prison incidents had been made on the recommendation of the cabinet. MP Rasamanickam said that the incidents involving the State Minister has set a new record. “Now in addition to the promised police investigation, the Prisons, HRC and retired judge are inquiring into the Ratwatte affair,” MP Rasamanickam said, adding that the much touted pohottuwa slogan ‘One country, one law’ is nothing but a joke.

Ratwatte incidents in the run-up to the 48th Geneva sessions and 76th session of the UNGA ruined the country’s image, the lawmaker said. The TNA spokesman challenged the government to prove its sincerity by taking tangible measures pertaining to prison raids.

The SLPP’s response to the prison raids should be compared with its demand to Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila to resign over his announcement regarding fuel price increase in June. The SLPP found fault with Minister Gammanpila for making an announcement on behalf of the government. But, the same party had no issue over one of its members threatening prisoners in judicial custody.

MP Rasamanickam said that among those held at Anuradhapura prison were ex-LTTE cadres from Batticaloa. However, State Minister Ratwatte was seen in Batticaloa on Saturday, MP Rasamanickam said. How can there be a proper investigation when the prisoners and prison department personnel realize the possibility of Ratwatte returning to the Prisons Management and Prisoner’s Rehabilitation Ministry MP Rasamanickam asked.

The first-time entrant to national politics said the TNA would pursue this issue both in and outside parliament.



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Keheliya turns down request for abolishing price control on medicine

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Industry leader has sought court intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) said that in spite of difficulties caused by the foreign currency crisis price control on imported medicines couldn’t be done away with.

Abolition of price control on drugs would heap an enormous burden on the vast majority of people, Minister Rambukwella said.

Lawmaker Rambukwella said so when The Island sought his response to the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) requesting the government to do away with price control. Claiming that the grouping imported over 80 percent of medicines into the country, the SLCPI recently warned of possible collapse of the industry unless remedial measures were taken swiftly.

Minister Rambukwella said that recently he met an SLCPI delegation at their request to discuss issues at hand. “Of course, I understand the difficulties experienced by all sectors, including the pharmaceutical trade. However, price control as regards medicine cannot be done away with,” Minister Rambukwella said.

The SLCPI has pointed out to the Minister that at the moment medicines were the only commodity under price control in the local market. The Health Minister asserted that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the medicine with other commodities.

Minister Rambukwella said that regardless of constrains, the government was trying to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicine and it wouldn’t be fair to do at this juncture.

In a statement sent to the media SLCPI asserted: “There is no solution to this dilemma than removing the price control of medicines and implement a fair and equitable pricing mechanism which will link the price of medicines to the dollar, inflation and direct costs such as raw material, fuel and freight charges, which will then make importing and marketing of medicines viable. As difficult as it may sound, the authorities will have to choose between having medicines at a cost and not having medicines at all.”

The SLCPI has already sought the intervention of the courts to establish what the grouping called a transparent pricing mechanism outside government price control.

Recently, Minister Rambukwella, at a meeting also attended by State Minister Dr. Channa Jayasumana called for a report on the requirement of medicines over the next six months. The Health Ministry declared that there was no shortage of drugs whereas SLCPI claimed some drugs were in short supply and the situation could get worse.

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Central Expressway: Rs 3 mn raked in within 12 hours

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said yesterday that about three million rupees had been earned by way of toll within the first 12 hours of the opening of the second phase of the Central Expressway.

Rs 2,805,100.00 had been paid by the expressway users during the first 12 hours from 12 noon to midnight Sunday (16) after its opening by the President and the Prime Minister on Saturday (15).

The Minister said that during the first 12 hours of the period of toll collection, a total of 13,583 vehicles had traversed the most  scenic road stretch in the country between Mirigama and Kurunegala. No traffic accidents had been reported during the 12 hour period.

Minister Fernando said that the newly opened road had been allowed to be used by the public free of charge for 12 hours from midnight Saturday (15) to Sunday (16) noon.

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President to inaugurate second session of Ninth Parliament today

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by Saman Indrajith

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to commence the second session of the Ninth Parliament today at 10 am with his third Presidential policy statement (formerly Throne Speech).

He made his first ‘Throne Speech’ on Jan 3, 2020, opening the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament and the second on Aug 20, 2020 to open the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.

Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake said that MPs have been requested to arrive at the parliamentary complex at 9.25 am the latest.

The MPs, if accompanied by their spouses will alight from their vehicles at the Staff Entrance of the parliamentary building, while all other MPs are requested to drive up to the Members’ Entrance.

To facilitate orderly arrival, the MPs are requested that the Car Label provided them with be pasted on the inside top left-hand corner of the windscreen of their vehicles. On arrival at Parliament, Members’ vehicles would be directed by the Police to the appropriate Car Park.

Thereafter the MPs are requested to enter the lobbies of Parliament and to remain there until the Quorum Bells are rung.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive at the Main Steps of the Parliament Building at 9.40 a.m. and he would be received by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

The President will be escorted by them to the Parliament Building. Thereafter, the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament will escort the President to his Chambers.

At 9.55 a.m. the Quorum Bells will be rung for five minutes and all Members will take their seats in the Chamber of Parliament.

The President’s procession will leave for the Chamber of Parliament and will enter the Chamber at 10.00 am. On entering the Chamber the President’s arrival will be announced whereupon all Members will stand in their places until the President reaches the Chair and requests the Members to be seated.

Thereafter, the Proclamation proroguing the Parliament and Summoning the Meeting of Parliament will be read by the Secretary General of Parliament. Then, the President will address Parliament.

After his policy statement the President will adjourn the House until 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday (19).

Thereafter, the President will leave the Chamber escorted by the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

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