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Zuhair: PTA amendments do not address real issues

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The proposed amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No 48 of 1979 (PTA) issued by gazette notification published on 27.01.2022 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs do not eliminate the draconian aspects of the original PTA, says former MP M.M. Zuhair, PC.

For example, the continued admission at PTA trials of specified statements made by suspects while in police custody in violation of the time tested provisions of the Evidence Ordinance have led and will lead to further grave injustices, Sri Lanka’s one-time Ambassador in Iran said in a statement issued yesterday.

The following is the text of the statement: “These statements at times recorded by Magistrates and more often by police officers above the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASPs) take place while the physical security of the suspects remain under the exclusive control of the police. Suspects remain in State control, both before as well as after the statements are recorded, when suspects are under total fear of reprisals if statements are not given in the manner tailor-made by the police. This often happens more often in cases where the police had not been successful in getting evidence implicating suspects already detained.

“Visits by Magistrates to places of detention are welcome but will not remove the fear of mental torture that suspects in police custody will have to face soon after the Magistrate’s departure, if they disclose that they were compelled to make the confessionary statements.

“Reports of the superior courts, the Human Rights Commission and independent lawyers disclose the hostile conditions, harassments and indignity PTA suspects face, not only in police custody but also at the hands of officials and non-PTA suspects in most remand prisons.

“The superior courts of the country have recorded a large number of cases of police intimidation to obtain confessionary statements. The recent case of a State Minister allegedly threatening some PTA suspects in remand custody is widely known. Continuing the widely criticised practice of the executive, namely the President, the Attorney General or a Superintendent of Police (SP), all of whom are executive officials deciding on the grant or refusal of bail for suspects under detention, do not meet the standards set out in our Constitution and by the Supreme Court in several cases.

“The proposed amendment allowing the Court of Appeal to grant bail only if the trial had not commenced can be argued as limiting even the existing powers of the Court of Appeal and also as an attempt to remove the judicial discretion that the original courts ought to exercise when a suspect is produced before a Magistrate.

In addition, for the first time in Sri Lanka’s judicial history a bail approved by the Court of Appeal under the new proposed provision, section 15 B, can be ignored and in effect overruled by a lower Court, namely the High Court which can remand the suspect under the first proviso to section 15 B until the conclusion of the trial, even in cases where Court of Appeal has approved bail!

“If the intention of the proposed law is to continue to weaponise the PTA against the minorities, as one can easily comprehend thus far from the gross failure by the Attorney General to prosecute PTA offenders belonging to the majority community, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be inviting more opposition to Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council from the new proposals. The proposals also denigrate the President’s speech made at the recent inauguration of the new session of Parliament that human rights violations will not be condoned and that “We are a nation that respects international laws and conventions”!

“The period of detention by executive fiat, though reduced from 18 months to 12 months, does not provide for any consequential provision that would enable the judiciary, even in such circumstances and also in cases of custodial torture, to grant bail.

“Amending the PTA to eliminate the obnoxious provisions and bringing it in line with the provisions of our own Constitution as well as international treaties, would be the minimum that can be done to restore the country’s image as a modern nation State.”



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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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