A smiling Sabry holds his mother after addressing the media at the Justice Ministry (pic by Shamindra Ferdinando)
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, yesterday (17) said that four state institutions––the Police, Prisons, Government Analyst’s Department and the Registrars of Courts––were so corrupt that the country faced a daunting challenge to rectify the situation.
Addressing a gathering immediately after assuming duties at the Justice Ministry, Sabry explained how those responsible violated the rule of law.
Referring to recent explosive reportage of the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) dealing in heroin, Minister Sabry briefly discussed how law enforcement authorities, Prisons, the Government Analyst’s Department and the Registrar of Courts contributed to unprecedented deterioration of law and order.
Among those present on the occasion were President’s Counsels Romesh de Silva, Gamini Marapana, Kalinga Indatissa and U.R. de Silva.
Separate Registrars are assigned to Magistrate courts, High Courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Minister Sabry said that according to a survey, Registrars of Courts were among the most corrupt in the country and he would examine the situation before announcing a plan on how to tackle the situation. He sought the support of all stakeholders, including the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to address contentious issues.
The minister said he knew how the people suffered untold hardships due to law’s delays. Continuing system failures ruined lives, the minister said, pointing out how child abuse affected the community.
At the onset of his brief address, Minister Sabry apologised profusely for having the meeting in a small room which could hardly accommodate those present. In spite of display of notices restricting the gathering of people due to continuing threat posed by covid-19 epidemic, over 100 were allowed in with most of those present not wearing face masks. Minister Sabry had to fight his way to the podium to address the gathering with Ministerial Security Division (MSD) being helpless.
Pleading that he wouldn’t do anything inimical to the Constitution and the people, Minister Sabry thanked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for giving him the challenging responsibility. The new minister vowed to overcome what he called daunting challenges.
The Minister quoted the Rajapaksa brothers as having told him to do the needful as he knew what the shortcomings and problems were.
Minister Sabry emphasised that his responsibility would be to implement policy decisions of the government and the cabinet of ministers.
Delivering an anusasana at the onset of yesterday’s programme, scholar Ven Medagoda Abeytissa Thera said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa accommodated Sabry in the cabinet of ministers, in spite of serious protests as he had confidence in him. It would be Minister Sabry’s duty and responsibility to maintain President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s faith in him.
The Ven. Thera said that there was no point in hiding the fact that opposition political elements instigated protests against the top the justice portfolio being assigned to Sabry.
The Ven. Thera appreciated the role played by Sabry as a civil society activist in helping the then Opposition movement led by the Joint Opposition to turn the tables on the then government.
Referring to a recent statement attributed to Minister Sabry that the 19th Amendment enacted in early 2015 would be amended to suit the new government’s requirements, Ven. Abeytissa stressed that President Rajapaksa and the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) had received mandates in 2019 and 2020 to introduce a new Constitution. The scholar monk emphasized that there should be one law for everyone. Therefore, now in his capacity as the Justice Minister, it would be his responsibility to fulfill the aspirations of the public.
Referring to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, Ven Abeytissa said that it would be the Justice Minister’s obligation to take measures to prevent the birth of more Zahran Hashims.
Commenting on the enactment of the 19th Amendment by the previous government, Ven. Abeytissa advised the Justice Minister to follow a policy of transparency in that regard.
Ven. Kamburugamuwe Vajira Thera warned of dire consequences unless the required far-reaching constitutional changes were introduced within a month or two. The Thera said that if the government failed to use its two-thirds majority immediately, it would have to regret its failure.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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