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SJB, TNA, JVP insist they didn’t ask for vehicles: Speaker’s Office silent

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The controversy over the Finance Ministry submitting a Cabinet paper for purchasing 228 Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs for members of Parliament has taken a new turn with the SJB, the TNA and the JVP/JJB denying that they ever asked for SUVs or any other vehicles.

SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran and JJB National List MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya yesterday (16) told The Island that their parties, or individual members, had not requested vehicles from the Finance Ministry or the Office of the Speaker. The SJB parliamentary group consists of 54 MPs, including seven National List members; the TNA and the JJB comprise 10 and three lawmakers, respectively.

When The Island sought an explanation from the SJB, the TNA and the JJB yesterday, lawmakers, de Silva, Sumanthiran, PC, and Amarasuriya emphasized that their parties or individual members had never requested vehicles, in writing or verbally.

Sumanthiran said that they had not been aware that vehicles had been ordered for MPs until the media reported the issue.

Former JVP MP Sunil Handunetti in conversation with ‘Sirasa Pathikada Presenter Asoka Dias yesterday alleged that SUVs had been ordered for lawmakers, in appreciation for their vote for the controversial Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill (CPCECB) enacted in May. Altogether 149 members voted for the bill and 58 against.

One-time Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Handunetti said that the SLPP was the major beneficiary of the move. Among the beneficiaries are former Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, both elected members of the SLPP.

The SJB, the TNA and the JJB voted against the Bill though several SJM members representing the SJB, SLMC and ACMC voted with the government. The Island asked JVPer Handunetti for an explanation why SUVs had been ordered for those who voted against the bill. The former lawmaker said that the decision to place the order hadn’t been taken in parliament. The government ordered SUVs for all MPs as SLPP members alone couldn’t have been offered the perk, Handunetti said, pointing out that the Finance Ministry submitted the original cabinet paper for SUVs in the wake of the passage of the CPCECB. It was cancelled the following week, Handunetti said. Responding to another query, the former MP pointed out that the government owed an explanation if 225 vehicles had been ordered for MPs who were the intended recipients of the three remaining Toyota Land Cruisers.

The government felt the need to appease its 145 member parliamentary group regardless of rapidly deteriorating economic situation, Handunetti said.

Finance, Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal yesterday told The Island that proper protocols had been followed when the government placed the original order for vehicles. The former Governor of the Central Bank said so when we asked him whether the Finance Ministry had received requests from political parties or individual members for SUVs or Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena made a request on behalf of all political parties.

Handunetti emphasised that the real issue was not the circumstances under which the government put on hold or cancelled the SUV order but why Letters of Credit were opened for SUVs in the first place.

SJB MP Mujibur Rahman told The Island that foolish strategies adopted by the SLPP worthies should now be examined against Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s shocking declaration that the country lacked financial resources even to pay for its fuel. The SLPP has proved that it was not fit to govern the country under any circumstances, the former UNPer said, urging the government to take the public into confidence. “Tell people the truth. The rapidly developing crisis cannot be suppressed by the SLPP parliamentary group staging silly dramas,” MP Rahman said.

The Island

sought an explanation from Colombo District SLPP lawmaker Madhura Withanage yesterday how he ended up in the list of those entitled for SUVs as he had personally assured President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the run-up to the last general election in last August he wouldn’t take a duty free vehicle under any circumstances. MP Withanage said that he still remained committed to the assurance given publicly. The first time entrant to parliament said that he didn’t ask for a government vehicle. The MP recalled the funds received for a vehicle at the time he served as Kotte Mayor were utilized to acquire several vehicles for the health sector.

Civil society activist and attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku said that all political parties represented in parliament should take the responsibility for brazen abuse of parliamentary privileges. Former senior Customs officer Kodituwakku said that he hadn’t been successful in preventing massive concessions at the expense of the Treasury though he lodged a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) and subsequently moved the Supreme Court.

Examination of court proceedings would reveal how the Treasury had been deprived of billions of rupees by way of duty free concessions to MPs over the years, the lawyer said, emphasizing that every government installed after 1977 should accept responsibility for the situation. The Treasury lost billions of rupees as members were allowed to sell duty free vehicles to those who could have afforded to pay duties/taxes, Kodituwakku, who gave up his British nationality to contest the last presidential election, said. However, he couldn’t join the fray as he couldn’t meet the stipulated condition to receive the backing of a registered political party.

The Island didn’t receive answers from the Speaker’s Office to the following questions submitted yesterday morning:

(i) Did Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene, in writing request Finance Ministry to place an order for SUVs for all MPs

(ii) Did he receive requests for the same from political parties and individual members and (iii)Did Speaker on his own requested Finance Ministry to order SUVs for all MPs.

In addition to the SLPP, the SJB, the TNA and the JJB, the parliament is represented by 11 other political parties. Of them, the Ahila Illangai Tamil Congress (AITC) and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) have two members each in parliament. Other parties have one seat each.



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MP’s wife, father-in-law among three detained

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Rishad held under PTA to be questioned

16-year-old girl’s death:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Police investigating the death of 16-year-old Ishalini, the domestic servant at All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen’s Baudhaloka Mawatha residence have arrested Ayesha Shiabdeen, 46, the wife of the former minister.

Police also took into custody Rishad’s father-in-law Mohammed Shiabdeen, 70, and Ponnaiah Pandaram alias Shankar, 64, a resident of Dayagama.

Police Spokesman Senior DIG Ajith Rohana said that Shankar had brought Ilashini from Dayagama to the Baudhaloka Mawatha residence of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Vanni District lawmaker late last year.

Having studied the post postmortem report, they were taken into custody in terms of Section 360 C and Section 308 B of the Penal Code that dealt with human trafficking and cruelty to children, the top police officer said. According to him, so far 20 statements had been recorded.

Asked whether MP Bathiudeen, too, had been among the questioned, Senior DIG Rohana said the parliamentarian detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) over 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, too, would be interrogated in that regard.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. It switched its allegiance to the SJB ahead of 2020 general election after having represented the cabinet in UNP led yahapalana administration. Rishad has also served President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet during his second term.

Having suffered serious burn injuries on July 3 at the MP’s residence and admitted to the National Hospital, Illashini succumbed to her injuries on July 15th. Medical examination revealed that she had been raped over a period of time.

The police spokesman said that they intended to secure court approval to detain the suspects for 72 hours. A Superintendent of Police could obtain such approval on the strength of a B report submitted to the court in respect of offenses on children.

Although, the police indicated earlier in the day they would be produced in Colombo Magistrate court they weren’t brought in.

Meanwhile, the SJB said that interested parties were making a despicable attempt to politicize the incident. The police should be allowed to conduct the investigation without interference, a spokesman for the main Opposition party said.

 

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Women’s organisations in North conduct protests demanding justice for Ilashini

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A section of those engaged in Jaffna protests

 

By Dinasena Ratugamage

Women’s organisations in the North yesterday held a number of demonstrations in Vavuniya, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna against the death of J. Ilashini, the 16 -year-old girl who died while working at SJB MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s residence.

The protesters urged authorities to ensure that investigations into the death are conducted in a transparent manner. The family of the victim should be compensated and those guilty punished, they said.

Representatives of the organisations said that if justice was not done, they would hold a massive demonstration in Tarapuram, Mannar, which Bathiudeen represents in Parliament.

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Dancer lodges complaint with police over FB post 

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Police headquarters yesterday (23) said that dancer Anusha Damayanthi had lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) over a Facebook post alleging that she was running a brothel.

Police headquarters said that Damayanthi, while denying the accusation, had also brought to the CID’s notice that a minister was being accused of lambasting the Walana anti-crime strike force for carrying out the raid. Police said that an investigation was underway.

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