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SLPP ally questions order to pay back wages of Dr. Shafi



(L-R) Dr Shahabdeen, Jayantha

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Freedom Front (NFF) says the ongoing investigations into Dr. Shafi Shahabdeen’s alleged involvement in Easter Sunday attackers and nonconseual sterilisation of women in Kurunegala had been seriously weakened by the government’s controversial decision to pay him back wages.

The Constituent party of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday (20) called a special media conference at its Pitakotte party office to explain how the government had undermined multiple investigations, including one handled by the CID much to the dismay of the Easter Sunday victims and those sterilised against their wishes.

State Minister Jayantha Samaraweera flayed the Public Service Commission and the Health Ministry over the payment of back wages and reinstatement of Dr. Shahabdeen. However, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s Office in a statement issued on Dec 17, at the onset of the controversy, stressed that Dr. Shahabdeen hadn’t been reinstated though the Director, Kurunegala Hospital was  instructed to pay his back wages.

Lawmaker Samaraweera, who represents the six-member NFF parliamentary group, said that they were quite surprised the way attempts were being made to undermine the investigations taking place at a snail’s pace. The Kalutara District MP alleged that under the current dispensation, too, investigations were being handled in a shoddy manner. According to him, the then Health Secretary Wasantha Perera following an investigation conducted by the Director, Kurunegala Hospital had sent Dr. Shahabdeen on compulsory leave, instead of initiating a proper inquiry under the PSC. MP Samaraweera claimed that Dr. Shahabdeen had been sent on compulsory leave with a view to saving him and that had happened now.

Dr. Shahabdeen was granted bail in July 2019.

State Minister Samaraweera sought an explanation from law enforcement authorities regarding Dr. Shahabdeen’s alleged involvement with Easter Sunday terror attacks mastermind Zahran Hashim. The lawmaker claimed that Dr. Shahabdeen had been investigated for giving access to an associate of Zahran Hashim Rs 440 mn. The alleged connection came to light following an arrest made after the 2019 Easter Sunday blasts, the State Minister said.

Lawmaker Samaraweera said that the CID recorded statements from 601 Kurunegala women whereas 8,000 were believed to have been sterilized over a period of time.

Responding to allegations, the Health Ministry said that the Health Services Committee of the PSC on June 11, 2019 approved that Dr. Shahabdeen be sent on compulsory leave. This was in line with recommendations made by a six-member expert committee that inquired into sterilization of Sinhala women during Dr. Shahabdeen’s tenure at the Kurunegala hospital, the health ministry spokesperson said.

The expert committee, in an interim report dated January 20, 2020 that had been submitted to the PSC recommended he be placed further on compulsory leave to enable the continuation of the investigations, the ministry spokesperson said.

In spite of Dr. Shahabdeen being granted bail and repeated requests to relevant authorities to reinstate him the Health Services Committee of the PSC on Oct 12, 2020 recommended that he be continued to be placed on compulsory leave, the spokesperson said, adding that on Oct 27, 2020, Dr. Shahabdeen requested the PSC and the Health Secretary again that he be reinstated and paid back wages, the ministry official said.

Subsequent to that intervention, the Director of the Kurunegala Hospital had been directed to pay Dr. Shahabdeen’s back wages and also sought an explanation as to why the payment was not made earlier in terms of the relevant sections of the Establishment Code. Accordingly, the Health Ministry has issued necessary instructions for the payment of back wages though Dr. Shahabdeen hadn’t been reinstated.

State Minister Samaraweera attacked the decision on the part of the health ministry to call for an explanation from Director Kurunegala Hospital in that regard. The former JVPer accused the government of illegally influencing in Dr. Shahabeen’s case at a time the administration was under fire from the Catholic Church over the ham-fisted handling of the Easter Sunday case.



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MPs urged to defeat move to conduct Law College exams only in English medium



Ali Sabry responds to accusations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Opposition MP Gevindu Cumaratunga yesterday (19) alleged that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government was going ahead with a project launched by former Justice Minister Ali Sabry with the backing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to conduct Law College examinations only in the English medium, much to the disadvantage of Sinhala and Tamil students.

Addressing the media at Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya at Thunmulla, the leader of civil society group Yuthukama urged all political parties, regardless of whatever differences, to vote against extraordinary gazette notification of 2020 Dec 30 No 22018/13 to be submitted to Parliament by Sabry’s successor, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, tomorrow (21).

The SLPP National List MP said that those who represented the interests of the South, the North as well as the Upcountry could reach a consensus on the issue at hand quite easily.

Responding to The Island query, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, consisting of a section of rebel SLPP MPs, backed the campaign to protect the language rights of Sinhala and Tamil communities. The first-time entrant to Parliament said that MPs with a conscience couldn’t back this move, under any circumstances, whichever the party they represented.

At the onset of the media briefing, MP Cumaratunga said that the denial of language rights of current and future students was a grave violation of the Constitution-Article 12 and Article 18. In terms of Article 12, no one should be discriminated against on the basis of language whereas Article 18 recognized Sinhala and Tamil as National Languages with English being the linking language.

Alleging that the previous Gotabaya Rajapaksa goverenment planned to implement the controversial law even without securing parliamentary approval, lawmaker Cumaratunga appreciated Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s decision to place it before parliament.

The civil society activist said that this despicable move should be examined against the backdrop of growing external interventions as the country struggled to cope up with the developing political-economic-social crisis. The passage of the new law could cause further deterioration of parliament, MP Cumaratunga said, adding that the House faced a serious credibility issue.

“How could elected MPs whichever party they represented back a move that directly affected the concerned communities,”? Lawmaker Cumaratunga asked.

Referring to a recent call by the Justice Minister to discuss the issue at hand, MP Cumaratunga said that among those present on the occasion were Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, and Dr. Athula Pathinayake, Principal of Law College. “Those who opposed this move asked Dr. Athula Pathinayake what he really intended to achieve by conducting Law College examinations in English, only. However, the Law College Principal failed to provide a plausible response,” the MP said.

Responding to strong criticism of their stand, MP Cumaratunga stressed that the importance of English as a language couldn’t be underestimated. But, ongoing efforts to promote English shouldn’t be at the expense of Sinhala and Tamil, MP Cumaratunga said, questioning lawmakers’ right to deprive Sinhala and Tamil communities of basic rights.

Ratnapura District SLPP MP Gamini Waleboda said that an influential section of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) was behind this move. In a note dated March 17, addressed to all members of parliament urged them to defeat the contemptible move.

Lawmaker Waleboda said that there was no prohibition for those who wanted to sit law examinations in English. There was absolutely no issue over that but the bid to deny the language rights of those who wanted to sit examinations in Sinhala and Tamil was not acceptable under any circumstances. According to him, the BASL hadn’t consulted its membership regarding this move.

MP Cumaratunga also questioned the failure on the part of the apex court to make available to Parliament its interpretations in Sinhala. The Supreme Court continues to provide such clarifications in English only.

Responding to MP Cumaratunga’s allegation that he with the backing of the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resorted to action to make English compulsory for those studying at the Law College, incumbent Foreign Minister Sabry said: “That’s not correct. It is the council of legal education which formulates regulations.  The council consists of CJ, two senior SC judges, AG, SG, Secretary Justice and six senior lawyers of vast knowledge and experience.

 In terms of the constitution all higher education institutions can decide the language of studies and education. That’s how medical faculty, engineering faculty, IT faculty and management faculty conduct studies in English. Already Peradeniya and Jaffna universities do legal studies in English. It is good to do it, that’s how they become competitive. Even in India all legal faculties are in English. “

The President’s Counsel alleged that the kith and kin of certain people articulating this position received their education in English. The minister questioned why politicians get involved in this issue if the council of legal education made the relevant suggestion.

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No power cuts due to N’cholai unit failure – Minister



By Ifham Nizam

The breakdown of the Unit Three of the First Coal Fired Power Plant Complex in Norochcholai 270 MW intake of the 300MW will cost an additional Rs. 20 a unit due to thermal power generation, says the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).  “It will cost the CEB Rs. 96 million extra a day while the Norochcholai machine is out of order,” a senior Electrical Engineer told The Island.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday said Unit 3 of the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant had failed. He said the CEB had informed him of the breakdown, but he said there would be no power cuts.

“The Unit 3 was due to undergo major overhaul maintenance in April. To ensure an uninterrupted power supply, the CEB-owned Diesel and Fuel Oil Power plants will be used,” the minister said.

The Norochcholai Power Plant has experienced breakdowns several times on previous occasions as well.The first generator at the power plant was shut down on December 23, last year to manage the coal stocks and for maintenance purposes.

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CBSL chief expresses optimism



Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe told the media, on Sunday, that the country’s dollar crisis could be managed as the IMF was set to approve a 2.9 billion-dollar bailout package on Monday. He said that Sri Lanka now had adequate foreign reserves for imports for essential sectors.

Dr. Weerasinghe added that the IMF package would boost investor confidence and enhance the country’s access to more foreign funds and investments.

The IMF package would include budgetary support, which was a new element in IMF lending, he said. Sri Lanka started negotiations with the IMF, in 2022, following the onset of the current economic crisis.

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