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Top AG’s Dept. official compelled to retire in spite of court order for her reinstatement



Tribunal: Senadhipathy trapped SG Wickramasinghe with the help of UNP Minister

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Despite being cleared by the Administrative Appeals Division (AAD), the interdicted Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe hadn’t been allowed to return to the Attorney General’s Department regardless of specific instructions issued in that regard.

The AAD gave the ruling in respect of a case filed by Wickramasinghe against the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The then Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, interdicted SG Wickramasinghe on 25 Sept. 2019 following a leaked telephone conversation she had with Avant Garde proprietor Nissanka Senadhipathi, formerly of the Army Commando Regiment. The conversation was leaked to the media on 20 Sept., immediately after the recording of the discussion.

Wickramasinghe retired on July 30th after reaching the compulsory retirement age. The unprecedented ruling was given by a three-member AAD comprising Justice N.E. Dissanayake, A Gnanathasan, PC and G.P. Abeykeerthi. Justice Dissanayake functions as the Chairman of the highest tribunal empowered to inquire into such appeals.

Wickramasinghe appealed to teh AAD on Oct 5, 2020. The issue at hand before the AAD had been the disciplinary authority exercised by the Public Service Commission (PSC) in respect of the Solicitor General.

The original ruling given on July 14 was amended on July 22 subsequent to the PSC seeking clarification of some matters which the AAD considered important. The AAD acknowledged that the issues raised by the PSC hadn’t been taken into consideration at the time of the issuance of the July 14 ruling.

Attorney-at-law Riad Ameen and Assistant Secretary PSC Srinath Rubasinghe, appeared for Wickramasinghe and the PSC respectively.

The leaked telephone conversation in question was over the controversial case of the Avant Garde floating armoury that divided the previous government with Law and Order Minister Tilak Marapana, PC and Justice Minister Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapakse, PC, striking discordant notes.

Dappula de Livera’s successor, Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, hadn’t, however, allowed SG Wickramasinghe to resume work in spite of the original order nor the amendment ruling given on July 14 and July 22, respectively. A copy of the original order was delivered to the AG’s Office on the evening of July 14.

Rajaratnam succeeded de Livera on May 26 this year.

The AAD ordered (1) Immediate cancellation of PSC directive dated April 06, 2021 that placed SG on compulsory leave pending the completion of a formal inquiry (2) Rescinding of the PSC directive dated October 19, 2020 that sent the SG on compulsory leave to pave the way for her to resume duties (3) Retiring her on July 30, 2021 on her reaching the compulsory retirement age and (4) finalising the much-delayed formal inquiry into the SG’s conduct in terms of Public Administration Circular 30/2019 dated September 30, 2019, expeditiously.

However, the above-mentioned directives were not carried out and SG Wickramasinghe had to retire on reaching the retirement age.

Acknowledging that Wickramasinghe had found fault with the present PSC for the undue delay in finalising the preliminary inquiry and reinstate her, the AAD declared that the PSC failed to ‘exercise its discretion in a justifiable, reasonable and an objective manner.

One-time Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) Wickramasinghe declined to comment on the AAD ruling.

The AAD in its observations in the order pointed out that Senadhipathy had trapped SG Wickramasinghe with the help of the then UNP Minister Vajira Abeywardena, who gave his phone to SG Wickramasinghe, stating that Senadhipathy was on line. According to the proceedings, Abeywardena had received the call at a Colombo hotel while he was having dinner with SG Wickramasinghe and her husband.

Abeywadena is the current Chairman of the UNP. He was not immediately available for comment.

The AAD expressed astonishment at the failure on the part of those who conducted the preliminary inquiry to record Abeywardena’s statement or examine his phone. The AAD noted that Senadhipathy had got to SG Wickramasinghe through the Abeywardena’s phone after Wickramasinghe strongly opposed the minister inviting Avant Garde Chairman to have dinner with them at the Abeywardena’s residence.

The AAD stated that it had the power to take remedial measures in respect of decisions ‘tainted with error in law and fact’ taken by the PSC.

The AAD noted that SG Wickramasinghe hadn’t initiated the call and from the outset she insisted that the recording was ‘doctored, edited and distorted.’ Proceedings have revealed that AG de Livera had first listened to a tape recording that was edited at ten places and Senadhipathy himself admitted having edited the recording but he never submitted the original to the Preliminary Investigation Committee. The AAD pointed out that the AG de Livera at the time he made a statement at the preliminary investigations based his assessment on what the AAD called an edited, distorted and unauthentic version of the recording. In spite of this, the AG subsequently acknowledged that the audio tape he had listened to was distorted. However, a second statement hadn’t been recorded from him. But the PSC deciding to issue a charge sheet dated March 23, 2021 although the Preliminary Investigation team said the audio tape had been tampered with.



SC: Anti-Terrorism Bill needs approval at referendum and 2/3 majority to become law



Certain sections inconsistent with Constitution

By Saman Indrajith

Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa informed Parliament yesterday that the Supreme Court (SC) has determined that some sections of the Anti-Terrorism Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and, therefore, the Bill had to be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum.

Rajapaksa said that the Supreme Court had determined that the Sections 3, 4, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 72 (2), 75 (3) and 83 (7) of the draft Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution.

The SC has determined that sections 3, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 75 (3) should be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum if they are to become law.

Sections 4 and 72 (2) of the Bill have to be amended as per the SC determination.

Section 83 (7) requires passage by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

However, the SC had stated that it could be passed by a simple majority if the recommended amendments are accommodated, Rajapaksa said.

Opposition MPs say the Anti-Terrorism Bill is being introduced in an election year to repress Opposition parties.They said the proposed law is a threat to democracy itself.

“This Bill is being presented not at a time of terrorism prevailing in the country but during an election period. The Bill has not defined nor analysed what a terrorist is. Anyone can be arrested,” SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said.

The MP said both the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the controversial Online Safety law were meant to quell democracy.

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Harin’s claim that SL is part of India: Govt. says it is his personal opinion



Manusha accuses Wimal of having taken parts of Fernando’s speech out of context

By Saman Indrajith

Labour and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara told NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa in Parliament to refrain from taking chunks of others’ speeches out of context and misinterpreting them for political mileage.

The Minister said so following concerns raised by Weerawansa over a recent statement by Tourism Minister Harin Fernando on India-Sri Lanka relationships.

Weerawansa said that Minister Fernando had recently stated that Sri Lanka was a part of India. “Was it Minister Fernando’s personal opinion or the government’s official standpoint? Was it the opinion of the Cabinet?”

Chief Government Whip Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said what Minister Fernando had stated was the latter’s personal opinion.

Minister Nanayakkara: “If anyone has read the entire statement made by Minister Fernando this type of question would not have arisen. The Tourism Minister was referring to historical relationships between India and Sri Lanka to ask Indians to visit Sri Lanka.

A distorted version of the speech by Minister Fernando is being circulated on social media. Certain parts have been removed while some words have been introduced to this edited version. Ones should read the statement in its entirety to understand it. We have not discussed this in the Cabinet meeting” Minister Nanayakkara said.

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US backs Lankan journalists vis-a-vis Online Safety law



Kumar Nadesan, Chairman Board of Directors of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (left) Elizabeth Allen ( Centre) and US Ambassador Chung (pic courtesy US embassy)

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Elizabeth Allen on Monday (19) declared US support for journalists here against the backdrop of enactment of ‘Online Safety Bill’

She spokes about press freedom and related issues at the Sri Lanka Press Institute Press Club.

A statement issued by the US Embassy quoted Allen as having said the U.S. Embassy is all in on supporting your incredible work. Sure, we might bump heads over a story now and then, but above all, we’re your biggest fans. We’re all in on programmes that hone your skills because we believe in your right to pursue journalism freely and fearlessly.

I want to thank you for protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists here in Sri Lanka and around the world, ensuring all citizens enjoy the right to express their ideas and opinions openly and freely. Even in difficult times, you continue to press forward and ask difficult questions. Your commitment to seeking out the truth and shouting it from the rooftops remains a democratic staple, and I truly appreciate what you do.

It’s only fitting that I begin my remarks this afternoon by telling a story that I think is relevant in light of today’s topic about the media’s role in a democracy.

Over a century ago, American media coined the term “muckraker” for journalists who delved into societal issues, exposing corruption.

Although the term carried a somewhat negative connotation, labeling these journalists as mere “gossip mongers,” today, we honor them as the pioneers of investigative journalism.

These muckrakers played a pivotal role in ushering in the Progressive Era, a time of significant social and political reform in American history.

Even President Theodore Roosevelt referred to them as “muckrakers,” criticizing their focus on society’s flaws through figures like Lincoln Steffens, whose work shed light on corruption and spurred a nationwide call for accountability and reform.

Steffens’ book ‘The Shame of the Cities,’ published in 1904, made him renowned for uncovering corruption within American cities, highlighting the nefarious links between political leaders, businesses, and organized crime.

His fearless journalism raised critical awareness about the urgent need for governmental and corporate accountability. Steffens wasn’t acting as a public relations officer for the government; his role was to uncover the truth; however unpleasant it might be.

Faced with the stark realities Steffens presented, American officials and the public were compelled to confront a pivotal question: ‘Is this the kind of country we aspire to be?’ The resounding answer was no.

Steffens’ work didn’t just expose wrongdoing; it sparked a nationwide demand for reform and played a crucial role in fostering a dialogue about the essential role of investigative journalism in ensuring power remains accountable.

This story showcases how freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not just fundamental human rights, they are also vital contributors to a country’s development and growth.

This brings me to my main point: how the global media space supports democracy and fosters peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

In my mind, the correlation is obvious: When a government constricts the rights and freedoms of its citizens, the future and the development of the country will naturally suffer.

Globally, we’re witnessing serious and escalating challenges to media freedom. The United States stands firmly for the freedom of expression, advocating for press freedom both online and offline, and ensuring the safety of journalists and media workers worldwide. Unfortunately, these essential freedoms are under threat globally, including concerns raised here in Sri Lanka.

When governments intensify efforts to withhold information from the public by restricting internet access and censoring content, we must speak up. Notably, when Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill in January, the United States voiced concerns over its potential effects on freedom of expression, innovation, and privacy.

It’s common to hear arguments against unfettered freedom of expression. Critics claim the media is biased, aiming to embarrass governments and undermine public trust. Others worry that without checks, freedom of expression may fuel the spread of misinformation. Some argue that an unchecked press can incite tension and compromise security. And there’s concern that continuous reports on corruption, violence, and political strife can tarnish a nation’s image, deterring investment and hampering development.

However, the media’s bias should lean towards the public’s interest, acting as a guardian to ensure that leaders fulfill their duties. This principle holds in Sri Lanka, the United States, and globally.

The challenge of negative press, often labeled as “fake news” or “biased journalism,” is not new. For generations, governments and the media have navigated a complex, sometimes adversarial relationship. This dynamic isn’t unique to any one nation; in the United States, for instance, presidents from both major political parties have experienced their share of friction with the press. This tension, a hallmark of democratic societies, plays a crucial role in fostering transparency and encouraging effective governance. It’s a familiar scene: politicians and journalists engage in heated exchanges, especially when leaders feel their actions are misrepresented, leading to accusations of inaccuracies and biased reporting.

The press’s duty is to deliver facts as they stand, shedding light on the government’s achievements as well as spotlighting areas where policies or programs fall short. This transparency not only informs the public but also strengthens the nation as it encourages constructive action and improvement.

And suppressing voices only complicates matters further. Attempting to conceal issues rather than addressing them is akin to hiding a broken tool rather than fixing it. True progress comes from collaborative dialogue, even if it means embracing the messiness of public discourse.”

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