‘PM ruled out lockdowns in talks with Chinese Defence Minister’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) parliamentarian Mujibur Rahman yesterday (13) alleged that the country was paying a huge price for the government’s refusal to heed medical experts’ advice to impose stringent measures to curb movements.
Had the government acted at least six weeks ago, the ground situation wouldn’t have deteriorated to such an extent, the Colombo District MP told The Island.
Wednesday’s sudden declaration that countrywide travel restrictions would be imposed on Thursday (13), at 11 pm till Monday (17) 4 am pending further measures depending on the requirement revealed the crisis the country was facing, the MP said.
Lawmaker Rahman pointed out that no less a person than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as late as April 28 assured the visiting Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe that in spite of the increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, the government wouldn’t declare countrywide lockdowns due to the impact such lockdowns would have on the economy and society.
Rahman said that the Premier Rajapaksa’s assurance to Minister Fenghe couldn’t be taken lightly.
Responding to another query from The Island , lawmaker Rahman alleged that the government pursued a political agenda brazenly at the expense of overall safety and security of the people. The government obviously felt the need to act at last after the country reported over 2000 new cases on a daily basis over the past ten days with alarming increase in the number of deaths.
Referring to a spate of statements issued by the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) over the past couple of months, the former UNPer said that the crisis the country was experiencing could have been certainly avoided, if the powers that be acted responsibly. Instead, the government undermined Covid-19 health guidelines by encouraging public gatherings, MP Rahman said. The MP said that the April Covid-19 cluster was nothing but a creation of the SLPP government now blaming the public for the crisis.
Rahman said that though the government referred to a countrywide lockdown it was actually a curfew. Asked whether the SJB as the main Opposition party that backed such measures regardless of difficulties caused to the public, the Colombo District MP said that when it came to the country’s interest there couldn’t be a dispute over the required harsher strategy. However, arrogant SLPP leadership should learn, at least now to seek a national consensus on not only a strategy to meet both the daunting Covid-19 challenge as well as post-pandemic scenario.
The national economy that had been in severe difficulty due to waste, corruption, irregularities, mismanagement and shortcomings was now in such a critical situation due to Covid-19 fallout, the country needed a common agenda, MP Rahman said. Unfortunately, the SLPP, had never followed expert advice much to the discomfort of those who believed in a sensible approach, he said. Asked to comment on a shortfall of 600,000 covishield doses for those who needed the second jab, MP Rahman emphasized the government owed an explanation why 927,000 were given the first dose when the country received only 1,264,000 in three separate consignments from India.
Who decided to continue the first covishield round till April 6th, thereby created a wholly unnecessary problem? MP Rahman asked.
The SJB spokesperson said that the government struggled to cover up its failure. Referring to various statements attributed to different government spokespersons and those who serve the interests of the SLPP, in this regard, MP Rahman said the bottom line is that uncertainty gripped over 600,000 people.
MP Rahman appreciated GMOA and GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) quite rightly pointing out those who received covishield couldn’t receive second jab by way of Sputnik V or the Chinese vaccine in the absence of proper study into such ‘mix-match’. But, that didn’t prevent Co Cabinet spokesman Udaya Gammanpila declaring the possibility of vaccine ‘mix-match.’
Rahman reminded that the second jab would have to be administered between 12-16 weeks after the first. The SJB MP asked the government to issue an official statement in that regard without further delay.
The UNPer said that the SLPP, in spite of winning 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary elections with a commanding majority in parliament was struggling to cope up with a spate of issues. The crisis caused due to the mismanagement of the rampaging pandemic was one issue at hand but definitely not the only problem, the MP said.
Asked whether the SJB was trying to exploit the situation regardless of the consequences, Rahman said that the SLPP should accept the responsibility for the situation.
Having won two national elections, the SLPP, instead of seeking a consensus on a national agenda, enacted the 20th Amendment at the expense of the 19th brought in with the backing of over 200 lawmakers, MP Rahman said. Enactment of a new law meant to suppress democratic opposition through vile means and fighting an epidemic two different things, the MP asserted, urging the government to review the overall strategy.
Let the government strategy depend on nothing but sound medical advice backed by political will, Rahman said.
Commenting on accusation directed at Transport Minister and SLPP heavyweight Gamini Lokuge regarding his May Day intervention in lifting of ‘Piliyandala lockdown,’ lawmaker Rahman said that the government explained how a specific directive issued by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr Asela Gunawardena was countermanded. Who took responsibility for the subsequent deterioration of the situation in Piliyandala area? the MP asked. The situation therein should be examined against the backdrop of the government deploying police to carryaway those who walked about with improperly clad facemasks on the basis they undermined public health. The government conveniently ignored its much touted “One Country, One Law’ slogan, the former UNPer said.
People to get fuel price shock soon
The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes would be revealed soon.
The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.
“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.
Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.
The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.
The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)
HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody
Report called by June 13
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.
In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.
HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.
Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.
Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.
Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.
Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.
Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.
In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.
President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.
The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.
Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.
Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.
“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.
College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.
“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.
Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.
“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said
President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.
Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.
“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.
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