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Zahran et al exploited yahapalana chaos to advance sinister political strategy – SLPP MP

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‘Those who practised Wahhabism almost succeeded in achieving their dreadful objectives’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga says if the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe parted ways in the wake of the heavy defeat suffered by the yahapalana partners, the SLFP and the UNP, at the Feb 10, 2018 Local Government election, Easter Sunday carnage could have been avoided.

Continuation of the sharply divided political marriage, regardless of the consequences, created an environment conducive for those who followed Wahhabism to plan terror attacks as part of their overall strategy, MP Cumaratunga said in response to a query by The Island. The lawmaker, who also heads the Yuthukama civil society organization, said that he discussed the issue at hand during the recent debate on the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) on the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nearly 270 people perished in suicide attacks whereas 500 received injuries. Lawmaker Cumaratunga explained that the PCoI dealt quite comprehensively with the deterioration of national security in the wake of the 2015 change of government. The PCoI highlighted how alarming and rapid the spread of Wahhabism coincided with unprecedented irresponsible conduct on the part of the political leadership as well as the security apparatus. The country couldn’t bear such treacherous behaviour, the MP stressed, pointing out how even two years after the heinous crime the public struggled to cope up with the situation.

Yuthukama is represented in Parliament by two members, with Anupa Pasquel, who successfully contested the Kalutara district at the August 2020 general election being the other member.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga asked whether those who had brought about the 2015 change of government that paved the way for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution facilitated the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) terror project. Calling the 19th Amendment enacted in 2015 with the backing of over 200 members, a constitutional-religious bomb, the MP alleged that the much-touted political exercise was meant to weaken the Sri Lankan State. In the aftermath of the 2015 presidential election, the appointment of a minority UNP government that didn’t have at least 50 MPs in Parliament and the resultant 19th Amendment rapidly eroded political stability achieved at the previous general election, the MP said.

The Joint Opposition (now SLPP in power) too voted for the 19th Amendment with the blessings of the defeated presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa. Only retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, the current Public Security Minister, refused to back the 19th Amendment in spite of the then President and the SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena pushing for the JO’s undivided support.

Cumaratunga said that Local Government polls in Feb 2018 signalled the failure of the yahapalana political arrangement. Therefore, the UNP and the SLFP should have parted ways to bring political deterioration to a halt and the restoration of political stability, expeditiously.

Responding to another query, he explained how the TNA and the JVP worked overtime to save UNP leader Wickremesinghe after President Sirisena sacked the Cabinet in the last week of Oct 2018. The civil society activist recalled the TNA and the JVP throwing their combined weight behind the UNP, in Parliament, and outside, and then successfully moving court to thwart President Sirisena’s move. Had President Sirisena succeeded, the NTJ terror project could have been averted, MP Cumaratunga said. However, those who had external backing prevailed over President Sirisena’s political project thereby ensuring the continuing deterioration of national security under the yahapalana leadership until it was too late. The Yuthukama Chief said that external forces revealed their hand by sending their diplomatic representatives for high profile visits to Parliament during the conflict in the run-up to a court verdict in favour of the UNP-led grouping. How could those who had unreservedly backed the restoration of the UNP administration at the expense of much needed political stability absolve themselves of the responsibility for subsequent developments, Cumaratunga asked. The UNP-led fight back compelled President Sirisena to roll back the move to conduct a general election on Jan 5, 2019.

MP Cumaratunga, during his brief address to Parliament, last week, rapped the TNA’s stand on the Easter Sunday carnage. Having contributed to the deterioration of security, by way of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, that allowed the NTJ followers to cause mayhem, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, PC recently called Sri Lanka a failed state on the basis of its alleged failure to protect its own citizens, the MP pointed out.

 The TNA spokesperson had conveniently forgotten how he justified the the Easter Sunday massacre at an event organized at the BMICH within a week after the carnage, MP Cumaratunga said. The TNA had no qualms in speaking on behalf of Easter Sunday attackers in the presence of the then HRCSL Chairperson Dr. Deepika Udagama and among the audience were Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.

Acknowledging the parliamentary Opposition, namely the SJB, TNA and JVP, hadn’t been happy with the PCoI report, lawmaker Cumaratunga decried alleged attempts to propagate the new lie that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a possible hand in the Easter Sunday carnage. Alleging that politics had deteriorated to a new low, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in them rejecting the PCoI on the basis it failed to expose the Easter Sunday mastermind. Lawmaker Cumaratunga pointed out the UNP appointed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), that probed the Easter Sunday attacks, failed badly in its endeavor. The MP said that those who represented the PSC and now in Parliament Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Sarath Fonseka, M.A. Sumanthiran and Rauff Hakeem and defeated JVP candidate Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, owed an explanation without further delay. The Yuthukama Chief emphasized that the PCoI had achieved its objectives whereas the PSC engaged in a futile exercise to whitewash certain people.

Appreciating the services rendered by the PCoI, MP Cumaratunga said that the report encompassed the alleged Easter Sunday attacker Zahran Hashim views on the terror project (page 528) and the recommendation of further investigations against the backdrop of its failure to secure credible evidence as regards a foreign hand. Referring to the PCoI comment on one-time National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmdali’s assassination in 1993, MP Cumaratunga discussed in Parliament during the adjournment debate the circumstances leading to Ranil Wickremesinghe receiving the leadership of the UNP. Faulting those who had examined Athulathmudali’s assassination through a political lens though he was assassinated by the LTTE, MP Cumaratunga questioned the way some reacted to the LTTE killing State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, Gamini Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Cumaratunga asked what would have happened if the military and the police failed to thwart the second wave of NTJ suicide attacks and also defuse vehicle bombs, including one in close proximity to St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade. The SLPP MP recollected how a driver of a vehicle used by Zahran’s gang to move a large consignment of explosives to the East helped thwart the second wave by alerting the police. Unfortunately, those who played with national security pursued an entirely different agenda, the MP alleged. Had Zahran’s followers succeeded, the presidential poll, too, could have been off indefinitely, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, underscoring the need for the thorough examination of the political strategy adopted by those who spearheaded the yahapalana project.

MP Cumaratunga also made reference to a national referendum conducted in late Dec 1982 to put off a scheduled general election by six years and Digana violence soon after the Feb 2018 Local Government polls defeat suffered by those in power to highlight what he called despicable UNP strategies.

MP Cumaratunga said that the PCoI had made several extremely important recommendations, including the defense portfolio to be under the President (page 486). The 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in Oct 2020 addressed that particular issue, the MP said. The MP pointed out further a spate of recommendations made by the PCoI to strengthen the monitoring of funds received through the banking and various other proposals such as to do away with the Proportional Representation system (changes in the electoral system) to ensure political stability.



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Parliament rejected two anti-corruption proposals

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Ex-COPE Chairman makes another revelation:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Parliament has blocked two specific proposals made by MP Prof. Charitha Herath in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to enable the Parliamentary Watchdog Committee to engage the Attorney General in high profile corruption cases, directly.

SLPP National List MP Herath lost the COPE Chairmanship with the prorogation of the Parliament on 28 July by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The prorogation results in suspension of all business before the House and quashed all proceedings pending at the time, except impeachments.

Prof. Herath told The Island yesterday (25) that in consultation with Auditor General W. P. C. Wickremaratne, he had requested for the modification of Standing Orders 120, several months back, to permit the COPE to call for Attorney General’s interventions as and when necessary. If that was not acceptable, Parliament should approve specific requests made by him on behalf of the COPE, he suggested.

Prof. Herath said that the alternative, too, has been rejected. Responding to another query, he said that he had submitted the proposals to the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders. The Committee consists of nine members, including the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders, Prof. Herath also suggested that if proposals submitted in writing weren’t acceptable then at least a representative of the Attorney General should be allowed to participate in the COPE proceedings. That proposal too was turned down.

Prof. Herath said that the rejection of specific measures to address corruption accusations should be examined against the backdrop of the economic fallout of waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement of the national economy as well as the unprecedented recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.

Prof. Herath alleged that the Parliament should be seriously concerned over the Geneva intervention especially because the country was seeking immediate assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Asserting that the situation was so grave that even USD 2.9 bn loan facility spread over a period of four years couldn’t revive the national economy, Prof. Herath emphasised that streamlining of public sector enterprises was a prerequisite for the economic recovery process. Therefore, corruption had to be curtailed by taking tangible measures, he said.

Prof. Herath said that though the particular Standing Order had been amended it didn’t meet their aspirations. What has been approved by the Parliament was inadequate to meet the growing threat posed by influential racketeers, the outspoken MP said. Prof. Herath has closed ranks with the dissident SLPP group, led by Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, and Dullas Alahapperuma. Other members of the group are Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dilan Perera, Dr. Upali Galappatti, Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, Lalith Ellawala, K.P. S. Kumarasiri, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Gunapala Ratnasekera and Udayana Kiridigoda.

Prof. Herath said that as the SLPP declined to allocate time for members of the rebel group, he was compelled to obtain five minutes from the Opposition to take up the issue in Parliament.Appreciating Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella for giving him the opportunity, Prof. Herath pointed out how a carefully prepared set of proposals to strengthen the COPE had been rejected.

Prof. Herath stressed that the intervention of the COPE was required as the Secretaries to the Ministries often failed to proceed with the instructions issued to them. The MP found fault with section 3 and 4 of Standing Orders 120. Declaring that though the Parliament was routinely blamed for its failure to arrest corruption, MP Herath said that Members of Parliament weren’t aware of what was going on. He also called for the strengthening of Standing Orders 119, 120 and 121 that dealt with the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), COPE and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF), respectively.

MP Herath declared in Parliament that the crux of the matter was that those appointed members of the Cabinet represented the interests of the Executive and thereby undermined the very basis of the responsibilities of the House. The undeniable truth was that the Cabinet ministers didn’t represent the interests of the Parliament. “In other words, they worked against the collective responsibility as members of Parliament to ensure financial discipline,” MP Herath said, pointing out that in some countries the lawmakers were not entrusted with the task of decision-making.

Referring to Executive Sub-Committees to be established, Prof. Herath emphasized the pivotal importance of recognizing their responsibilities. If they were answerable to the Executive there would be serious consequences pertaining to the parliamentary system. Executive Sub-Committees shouldn’t be at the expense of the Parliament, the MP said, underscoring the responsibility of the part of all political parties represented in Parliament to take immediate remedial measures.

The rejection of the COPE proposals meant that the Parliament,as an institution hadn’t been sensitive to the recent public upheaval that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a staggering 6.9 mn votes to give up the presidency and literally flee for his life.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been elected by Parliament to complete the remainder of the five-year term secured by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the SLPP, hadn’t realised the need to introduce urgent reforms, the MP alleged.Prof. Herath also questioned the rationale behind setting up of the National Council when the powers that be deprived the existing mechanisms required power to achieve their objectives.

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AHP asks President RW to be wise gazette-wise

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The Academy of Health Professionals (AHP) has called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and refrain from issuing gazettes, one after the other, and then reverse them in order to prevent worsening of the crisis situation prevailing in the country’s health sector.

AHP President Ravi Kumudesh, has, in a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, said that the country’s health sector is in the present situation as the former President and the Health Minister allowed themselves to be manipulated by a coterie of officials. “We call on the President not to become another ruler who reverses gazettes and to assess the practicality of the proposals put forward by his advisors before gazzetting them. One such cause for the downfall of the health sector was former Health Ministers playing with the retirement age. As a result, there are many senior officials holding top offices of the health sector despite the fact that all of them are above the age of 60 years. If any official is given a service extension for an office in a health sector position, then it should be given only for a six-month period with the specific objective of training one of his qualified subordinates for that particular position.

 During that period, the official who is given the service extension should not be sent abroad for training or further education. Many officials, who are over 60 years of age, had been given service extensions and were found given foreign trips for capacity building. The irresponsible human resource management in the public sector is one of the main concerns that has been raised by the International Monetary Fund when assisting this country,” Kumudesh has said in his letter.

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BASL contemplates legal action against HSZ gazette

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has threatened legal action against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reintroduction of war-time high security zones (HSZs).

“The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured,” the BASL has said in a statement.

The BASL has said it is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act.

Full text of the statement: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is deeply concerned at the declaration of certain areas in Colombo as High Security Zones under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 by President and Minister of Defence Ranil Wickremesinghe.The said order appears to cover several areas in the Colombo District including the areas in Colombo ordinarily used by the members of the public. It also covers several areas in Hulftsdorp in the vicinity of the Court premises.

The said order by the President purports to prohibit public gatherings or processions whatsoever on a road, ground, shore, or other open area situated within such High Security Zones without the permission of the Inspector General of Police or a Senior Deputy Inspector General. It also prohibits the parking of vehicles within the zone unless reserved for parking by the Competent Authority or under a permit issued by him, such Competent Authority being the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.The scope of the Official Secrets Act is clearly set out in Section 2 of the said Act which can be read at: https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/official-secrets.4/

What Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act enables the Minister, is to declare any land, building, ship, or aircraft as a prohibited place. The Act does not empower the Minister to declare large areas as High Security Zones.The objective of making an order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is to better safeguard information relating to the defences of Sri Lanka and to the equipment, establishments, organisations, and institutions intended to be or capable of being used for the purposes of defence. Orders under Section 2 cannot be made for any other purpose.

The BASL is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act. It is also of utmost concern that the purported order imposes stringent provisions in respect of bail by stating that a person taken into custody in connection with an offence under the said orders shall not be granted bail except by a High Court. The Official Secrets Act contains no such provisions, and in fact Section 22 of the Act empowers a Magistrate to release a suspect on Bail. As such the purported order seeks to significantly curtail the liberty of the citizen, without any reasonable or legal basis.

The BASL is deeply concerned that under the cover of the purported order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act that there is the imposition of draconian provisions for the detention of persons who violate such orders thus violating the freedom of expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of movement all of which are important aspects of the right of the people to dissent in Sri Lanka

The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said Order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured.We continue to remind the authorities including the President of the wisdom found in the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the ‘Jana Ghosha’ case of Amaratunge v Sirimal and others (1993) 1 SLR 264 which states as follows:

“Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day.”

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