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Sajith accused of fishing in troubled waters



by Saman Indrajith

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa was told in Parliament yesterday not to play the race card with the sensitive issue of cremating Muslim COVID-19 victims to score political points by rousing communal disharmony.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry said that the issue had been very sensitive to Muslims as cremation was in violation of Islamic burial rights, and asked the Opposition Leader not to play politics with such issues.

Minister Sabry said so after Opposition Leader Premadasa raised the issue of cremating Muslims, during the debate on two new regulations under the Medical Ordinance.

Opposition Leader Premadasa: “While other countries united in their battle against COVID-19, we got divided. The World Health Organisation permitted both cremation and burial of COVID-19 victims. The Health Minister has repeatedly stated that she followed WHO guidelines. Muslims were cremated here. That is a sin. Not only that there was a rumour being circulated that COVID-19 was spread by the Muslims,”

Health Minister Pavithra Wannirachchi:

That is a technical term in health science. We are ready to change some practices within the guidelines.

 Opposition Leader Premadasa:

Minister Ali Sabry should know that there was a committee of three experts Profs Vajira Dissanayake, N. Sherif and Ravindra Fernando. They were asked to give an impartial decision on the matter. It is not there yet. The issue had been used to create a communal and racist wave. That is the truth.

 NFF MP Mohamed Muzammil:

You should not raise communal issues. There is no such statement by any.

 SLPP Kurunegala District MP Shantha Bandara:

People have faith in this Parliament. You should not raise communal issues here. That is ugly.

 Minister Ali Sabry: COVID-19 is a challenge not only to this country but to the entire world. We are facing the challenge. There is anguish among the Muslims about cremations. Yet, it is not good to politicise the issue.  A group of very senior doctors was sent by the government to the WHO and made a request to amend their guideline on cremations. That was six months back. They did not go there for political reasons and the WHO pointed out that there was nothing political but they viewed the issue from scientific perspective only. They identified it as ‘fear of unknown’ and told our delegation that the matters related to COVID-19 were actually an evolving science. They promised us to consider the amending of guidelines in six months. We are working towards that purpose. Please look at this issue in a humanitarian perspective and have patience.

 SJB Colombo District MP Mujubur Rahman: Six months have lapsed since the call to appoint that committee. It is not appointed yet. Please appoint that committee and allow the Muslims to bury their kith and kin. Already nine Muslims have been cremated. This number will increase in the coming days. This is a sin. Minister Sabry if you die from COVID-19 you would be cremated; if I died of COVID-19, I would be cremated. This is a serious issue. We should change this without further delay.

Minister Wanniarachchi:

We conducted several rounds of discussions with experts. As Minister Sabry pointed out we were asked to wait for six months. That waiting time is now over. The committee is scheduled to meet this week again. We adhered to scientific guidelines and gave priority to them over cultural norms. But as soon as there is no danger we are ready to amend those guidelines if the experts tell us so.



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Sajith blames ‘Viyathmaga doc’



Cause of Mahara Prison riot:

By Saman Indrajith

The recent Mahara Prison riot erupted as 120 inmates afflicted with COVID-19 had been taken there from the Welikada prison at the behest of a Director in charge of prisoners’ health, who was a Viyathmaga member, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday.

“Many explanations have been given by ministers about the riot at Mahara Prison. The number of deaths is not yet known and around 120 are wounded. One minister said that there was an invisible hand behind the clashes. Another said the motive was to bring the government into disrepute internationally. A theory was concocted that prisoners had taken some narcotic tablets called Reverse and they and fought because they wanted to see blood. But the truth is otherwise. The real cause is that 120 inmates infected with coronavirus were transferred to Mahara from the Welikada prison at the behest of a director in charge of prisoners’ health. That director is a member of the Viyathmaga. Those who were transferred to Mahara prison caused a cluster of 183 persons. As the infection spread fast there was unrest and tension. That was the reason for Mahara riots.”

He said that ministers had their own theories, but one day the truth would surface. “I hope that the ministerial committee appointed to probe the riots will conduct an impartial investigation and they will reveal the truth.”

“Prisoners have rights. I do not wish that this country would permit the perpetuation of the killing culture and state terrorism. The government members should keep in mind that there is a concept called rule of law and we all are expected to uphold it. So, we should dump those theories of Reverse tablets and strive to find the truth.”

Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera: The health officer in charge of Mahara Prison is not a member of Viyathmaga.

Opposition Leader Premadasa: I did not say so. What I said was that 120 inmates were transferred from Welikada prison to the Mahara prison violating COVID-19 protocols. That order to transfer those had been given by a doctor who is a member of Viyathmaga. I do not mention his name. You can easily find it.

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said that the Opposition leader talked of lofty ideals of prisoners’ welfare but the yahapalana government had failed to construct at least a single prison to ease the congestion in the prisons. “When I was incarcerated by your government, I was in a cell with 51 other inmates. There was no place to sleep. In the Kegalle prison, they put 225 in a hall enough for 50 inmates. The former government pre-occupied with the task of constructing new courts to imprison its political enemies but did not build a single prison for the benefit of inmates.”

Opposition Leader Premadasa: We did not want to build prisons, we built schools. Mahatma Gandhi has once said that when you open a single school, thousand prisons could be closed. We followed that.

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‘It will take four years to ensure quality of drinking water from small projects’



By Saman Indrajith

The safety of drinking water from small scale community drinking water projects could guaranteed only after the implementation of a project to check the quality of water and that would take four years, Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara told Parliament yesterday.

The Minister said so, when Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana pointed out that although the safety of drinking water from the National Water Supply and Drainage Board was guaranteed the same could not be said of water from small scale projects.

“There are many harmful elements in water such as lead, cadmium and mercury. We know that Water Board supplied water is purified, but water from small scale project could be contaminated with them. It is said that mercury in a CFL bulb has the potential to pollute around 6,000 litres of ground water and causing kidney diseases. This is a dangerous situation. One trillion rupees have been allocated for the Water Supply ministry. Apart from the COVID-19 threat, the biggest threat to the lives of people in this country is from non-communicable diseases. Can the ministry introduce a mechanism to provide each district with at least a single testing unit to ensure the safety of drinking water supplied by the small scale community drinking water projects.”

Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara said that safety of water from the Water Board was guaranteed owing to sophisticated purification methods employed by treatment plants. He said that it would take at least four years to provide testing units to ensure drinking water from the small scale community drinking water projects countrywide too is safe from harmful elements.

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Teachers’ Union boss Stalin accuses govt of attempting Akila’s failed stunt



By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was an attempt to create a new post, Director General – Sports, at the Ministry of Education and to appoint a political henchman, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) General Secretary, Joseph Stalin told The Island yesterday.

“According to the Education Administrative Service minute, any appointment has to be made through a competitive exam. However, this post has been created through a Cabinet paper and an SLPP henchman is to be appointed to it.”

The CTU General Secretary said that during the yahapalanaya administration, then Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam had tried to appoint a UNP henchman to the post of Director – Sports at the Ministry. Kariyawasam had been compelled to back off due to the stiff opposition of the education sector unions, Stalin said.

“The court has also ruled that people should be appointed in keeping with the Education Administrative Service Minute. The President came into power promising to uphold the rule of law, but this government, too, is attempting to undermine the education system by appointing unqualified people to high posts.”

The post of Director General – Sports would have the same perks of an Assistant Secretary and the person to be appointed was a person representing a government affiliated union, Stalin said.

“95% of unions of the education sector will oppose if the government creates this post for the benefit of a henchman. We will resort to trade union and legal action.”

Minister of Education, Prof. G. L. Peiris was not immediately available for comment.

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