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Resumption of burials a high risk the country cannot afford to take – MP Muzammil

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‘We shouldn’t seek exclusive rights during a grave crisis’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) National List MP Mohammed Muzammil yesterday strongly urged the government not to resume burial of Muslim corona victims under any circumstances, though a section of the Muslim community is demanding that Muslim covid-19 victims be allowed to be buried.

Muzammil, who represents the National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent of the SLPP, said that the country was struggling to cope with the corona pandemic and no one should be allowed to play politics at a time of national health emergency.

The NFF has five elected MPs and one National List MP in the 145-member SLPP parliamentary group.

In a brief interview with The Island over the phone, the former JVP MP emphasised that whatever the religious dictates and sentiments, the Sri Lankan Muslim community should adhere to specific instructions issued by the government as regards the cremation of corona victims.

Pointing out that the ongoing corona second wave could lead to a an unprecedented catastrophe, Muzammil said the Muslim community had no option but to follow government guidelines. The national economy was already in tatters, as in many other countries, with all major revenue sources such as tourism, garment trade and foreign remittances badly affected, and, therefore any further deterioration of health situation could be disastrous, the MP said.

The government would have to take decisions for the benefit of all people, the MP said, adding that the burial of corona victims was against the health guidelines now in place. Commenting on other Muslim members of parliament pushing for the burial of Muslims dying of COVID-19, Muzammil said that they should be free to express their views. “There is nothing wrong in them taking a stand on this sensitive issue,” the MP said, emphasizing the responsibility on the part of the government to do the right thing.

Muzammil said that he deeply regretted the issue caused by the demand for Muslim burial rights. Responding to another query, the MP pointed out that the Catholic community accepted the government dictates in that regard without causing unnecessary issues.

The MP warned of dire consequences if decision-makers allowed burials at the expense of, what he called the overall health of the country. “Let me explain how burial of bodies could cause a catastrophe. Unlike Catholics, we do not cover a hole dug in the ground to receive the body with sand. Instead, we place some planks and then cover them with sand. This can pose quite a health hazard. Therefore burials shouldn’t be permitted under any circumstances,” Muzammil said.

The MP pointed out how the community could be affected if bodies were released to the families. There could be corona outbreaks all over the place, lawmaker Muzammil said, pointing out how the situation could go out of control.

Responding to another query, Muzammil said that he might earn the wrath of a section of the community for taking a stand contrary to that of their other members of parliament. The lawmaker said that he felt it was his duty to educate the Muslims of the need to follow the government guidelines and also strengthen the government initiatives to contain the rapidly spreading virus.

The MP urged that no one should play politics with the issue at the expense of the country. The country should be told in no uncertain terms that decisions were taken by the government, in consultation with the health authorities, and the military, and it would be the responsibility of all communities to follow specific instructions.

All communities, including the Muslims, should be prepared to give up traditions, and practices, until experts had finalized studies, he said.

“We are still in control of the situation. But, we are certainly not in a position to take a chance. Decisions must be followed to the letter. I also believe Muslims have to be buried. I support that position. But the extraordinary situation on the ground makes my personal stand, on this matter, irrelevant,” MP Muzammil said.

Whatever the politicians say, the vast majority of Lankans realized that the country should follow what was best for all, the NFF representative said.

Muzammil warned that burial of COVID-19 victims could, overnight, cause the rapid deterioration of the situation. Urging the government to be firm on the matter, the MP said: “Please don’t let a few illogical men jeopardize the health of all.”

Muslim burials were done in accordance with Arabian customs which the Sri Lankan Muslim community would have to give up or face the consequences. “We shouldn’t be part of the problem,” the lawmaker said.

Lawmaker Muzammil said that though he wanted to oppose resumption of burials and generally dealt with the issue, he couldn’t get an opportunity to address the parliament when the Corona threat was debated on Oct 23. “The government parliamentary group was allocated 162 minutes. There were 31 speakers, I wasn’t among them.”

Muzammil said that the Muslim community should speak in one voice on this matter.



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Herath: COPE dissolution must not hinder probe into economic crisis

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Prof. Charitha Herath yesterday (07) said that though the prorogation of the Parliament led to the dissolution of the watchdog committee it shouldn’t hinder a planned inquiry to identify those responsible for the current economic chaos.

Prof. Herath said that the COPE was about to initiate the probe when the prorogation of the Parliament took place. President Ranil Wickremesinghe prorogued the House at midnight on July 28, just a week after the Parliament overwhelmingly elected him to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, won at the Nov 2019 presidential poll.

In a brief interview with The Island, Prof. Herath said as a result of the prorogation, he no longer functioned as the COPE Chairman. All committees, except the High Post Committee, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Sectoral Oversight Committees and Select Committees of Parliament, stand dissolved, lawmaker Herath said, urging the powers that be to ensure the continuation of the inquiry.

The proposed inquiry would be largely based on a report received by the Parliament from Auditor General W.P.C. Wickremeratne several weeks ago, Prof. Herath said.

Prof. Herath said that the parliamentary watchdog, he headed, had planned daily sittings over a period of two weeks to inquire into the entire gamut of issues that finally led to the declaration made by incumbent Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, on 19 May, that the country was no longer in a position to service its foreign debt. This was a week after UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted the premiership, Prof. Herath said, while stressing the responsibility on the part of the Parliament to conduct a no holds barred investigation into the whole affair.

According to the first-time entrant to the Parliament, the inquiry was to be launched on July 19, but couldn’t due to the political upheaval, caused by the forced resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Among those asked to appear before the parliamentary committee were the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, and his predecessors, Prof. W.D. Lakshman (Dec 2019-Sept 2021) and Ajith Nivard Cabraal (Sept 2021-March 2022), former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera (Nov 2019-Dec 2021), Finance Secretary Mahinda Sirisiwardana and his predecessors, S.R. Attygalle and Dr. S.R. Samarasinghe, who now functions as an advisor to President Ranil Wickremesinghe.The COPE also planned to summon former members of the Monetary Board, Sanjiva Jayawardena, PC, and Dr. Ranee Jayamaha and others. Governor, CBSL and Secretary to the Treasury are ex-officio members of the Monetary Board.

Asked whether he would like to be re-appointed as COPE Chairman, Prof. Herath said that as his outfit inquired into the issues at hand pertaining to overall financial crisis that caused massive protest campaign, leading to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster without fear or favour those interested in serving the watchdog again should be accommodated. Prof. Herath said that he was ready to give the required leadership to it, especially against the backdrop of President Wickremesinghe’s assurance to the Parliament, regarding a high profile anti-corruption campaign.

Herath quoted President Wickremesinghe as having told the Parliament that: “It is essential to completely eliminate bribery, corruption and fraud from our society. I will implement a national policy to combat bribery and corruption. New rules and regulations and orders in this regard are being prepared by the Ministry of Justice. A consensus will be reached with the International Monetary Fund regarding combating corruption.”

Prof. Herath emphasized that regardless of consensus on political matters, the current crisis couldn’t be addressed unless tangible measures were taken to discipline the public sector and also thwart corrupt practices involving the public and private sectors.

Prof. Herath said that those who could provide information, relating to the inquiry, would be given an opportunity to do so.When The Island pointed out he may not be even considered for re-appointment as COPE Chief due to him joining the rebel group, that backed Dullas Alahapperuma, at the presidential contest, Prof. Herath stressed that he was confident his political stand shouldn’t be a disqualification. Should it be the case, would there be any purpose in even talking about an all-party arrangement to address issues at hand.Prof. Herath said that the country couldn’t move forward without establishing who brought on this catastrophe in our country.

Declaring old political strategies would be irrelevant in the current context, Prof. Herath said that no one could challenge the process adopted in the election of President Wickremesinghe as the 8th President.

Lawmaker Herath told a recent media briefing, chaired by SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, at the Madiwela residence of SLPP MP Wasantha Yapa Bandara, that not only legality of a process but legitimacy, too, was of pivotal importance.

Prof. Peiris emphasized that unless political actions that had been constitutionally correct, received legitimacy, those responsible would always be at a conflict with the public. There couldn’t be a better example than the referendum ordered by the then President J.R.J, in 1982, meant to extend the life of his government by six years, Prof. Herath said.

“No one could find fault with J.R.J for exercising his powers in terms of the Constitution. Therefore, there was no issue with regard to the referendum that allowed the first Executive President to extend the life of the Parliament. The action, in spite of being controversial, is in line with the Constitution. But, J.R.J’s action never received legitimacy. It never will,” Prof. Herath said.

The catastrophic consequences of J.R.J’s actions should be examined, taking into consideration the eruption of separatist Tamil terrorism in the early 80s and the launch of the second JVP-led insurgency, in the wake of the proscription of that party on political grounds, the MP argued.

Prof. Herath urged all political parties, particularly those in power, to secure the legitimacy by taking into consideration concerns raised by various stakeholders. Responding to another query, Prof. Herath recalled how the then COPE Chairman, DEW Gunasekera, was deprived of an opportunity to hand over his report on the Treasury bond scams by the hasty dissolution of Parliament by President Sirisena, in late June 2015. “We shouldn’t repeat past mistakes. People have suffered enough. Therefore, let there be a clear stand on creating an administration responsible and acceptable to all.”

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JVP: Both President and ruling party MPs must be sent home

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BY Saman Indrajith

The Aragalaya protest must unite all its forces to pressure the Executive and the legislature, and the protesters should not shy away from that task, JVP trade union wing leader, KD Lalkantha, said, addressing a rally at the Ananda Samarakoon Open Air Theatre, in Nugegoda, on Saturday.

Lalkantha said that the Aragalaya had to topple both the President and the government. “There is no point in attacking any other power centre. Actually, there are no other power centres in this country today. Parliament is the place where the President derives his power. He is just a constitutional President. He has no mandate. Nor do the SLPP MPs have any mandate. The government MPs cannot even attend a funeral today. They all are hiding from the people. So we no longer need them. We must get rid of them and their constitutionally appointed President.”

Lalkantha said Wickremesinghe had unleashed two types of terror. “On one front, he uses the police and security forces to arrest, detain and prosecute the leaders of the Aragalaya protests. On the other front, he tries to promote his interests, ideologically. Dozens of university students are made to praise him on television. People should not fall for these ruses.”

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Stakeholders’ proposals to be made available

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Bid to form all-party govt.:

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said the proposals presented by all stakeholders, during talks on the formation of an all-party government, will be made available to them.President Wickremesinghe stated so during Friday’s (05) discussions with leaders of the 11 independent parties in the Parliament and the 43 Brigade on the formation of an all-party government. The discussions were held at the President’s Office.

President Wickremesinghe pointed out that only the JVP, the National People’s Power, and a few other Tamil political parties, had not come for talks. He thanked the parties that had met him for their willingness to sink their political differences for the sake of the public. Leader of the 43 Brigade MP Champika Ranawaka said his outfit was hopeful that it would be possible to restore the 19 Amendment to the Constitution. He also said that there was a need to appoint professionals as Heads of State Institutions.

Ranawaka further said that a country could not be developed by political reforms alone, and the contribution of professionals should be a key factor. He said educational reforms had to be introduced in keeping with global trends.Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Members of Parliament Professor Tissa Vitharana, Wimal Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Udaya Gammanpila, Asanga Navaratne, Premanath C. Dolawatta, Karu Paranawithana, Secretary to the President Saman Ekanayake, and President’s Additional Secretary Attorney-at-Law, Chaminda Kularatne, were present in this discussion.

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