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Origin of second corona wave remains a mystery

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SLAF clears Ukrainians here to inspect AN 32s

Ramada Hotel responds to allegations

Probe not taken out of CCD in spite of AG’s intervention

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Contrary to various claims as regards the origin of the Minuwangoda covid cluster that could have resulted in a catastrophic coronavirus eruption at the Peliyagoda Central Fish Market, the Health Ministry is yet to announce its conclusive findings.

Well informed sources said that the top health administration remained silent when Health Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi recently inquired whether they were able to ascertain the origins of the second wave now into its fifth week.

Gampaha hospital made the first chance detection on Oct 2 when a 39-year-old Brandix worker was tested positive during a random test.

Minister Wanniarachchi has raised the issue at a top level meeting held at the ministry to discuss ways and means of countering the threat. Senior representatives of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), too, were present at the meeting.

Authoritative sources said that the government probed primarily two possibilities, namely repatriation of 341 Brandix workers and their families from India in three separate batches and a Ukrainian air crew causing the unprecedented crisis. Sources described the Ukrainians as an eight member crew of a civilian cargo plane that arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Sept 11 and a five-member Ukrainian technical crew here on May 9 on the invitation of the SLAF.

The Island sought an explanation from Asoka Jayamanne, Manager of Ramada Seeduwa where the Ukrainians stayed as regards accusations pertaining to the second wave. Declaring that hotels allowed to accommodate foreign airline crew were under government supervision,

Jayamanne said that the five-man Ukrainian technical crew never stayed at Ramada. “However, we accommodated the eight-member Ukrainian crew in terms of specific health guidelines issued,” Jayamanne said, adding that the crew arrived at the hotel on Sept. 11 after being subjected to PCR tests at the BIA. “We were informed on the morning of Sept. 13 of one of them being tested positive. Those responsible for evacuation of covid patients swiftly moved in, and the Ukrainian was taken to Infections Diseases Hospital, Angoda,” Jayamanne said.

Responding to another query, Jayamanne said that two days later (Sept. 15) the Captain of the crew sought their assistance as another member was in pain. Fearing the worst, the Captain sought immediate medical attention and once the situation was brought to the notice of relevant authorities, the second Ukrainian received immediate medical attention, Jayamanne said. “They moved him to the government hospital at Negombo where PCR tests cleared him.”

Jayamanne said that both Ukrainians after being discharged from hospitals were given accommodation at Ramada before they left the country. Six remaining members of the crew who stayed at Ramada during the 14-day quarantine period left the country on Sept 25, the hotelier said.

Jayamanne said that as part of the overall measures in place to curb spreading of coronavirus, they had set up a six-man special team to serve foreigners arriving in the country. “Of them, three were assigned to look after the Ukrainians. None of them were affected,” Jayamanne said, appreciating efforts made by health and military authorities to sustain hotel services in an extremely difficult situation.

Declaring that they were continuing services, Jayamanne emphasized that wouldn’t have been the case if Ukrainians caused the second wave.

 Asked again whether the Ukrainian technical team had at least visited Ramada hotel, Jayamanne alleged that deliberate attempts were being made to divert attention. “All visitors regardless of nationality are accommodated under government supervision. We follow a set of tough rules and regulations, including uninterrupted CCTV monitoring,” Jayamanne said.

The hotelier said that five out of a group of 15 hotel employees were tested positive in the second week of Oct. All of them were quarantined at the government facility for two weeks and subsequently directed to undergo home quarantine for two more weeks, Jayamanne said.

SLAF spokesperson Group Captain Dushan Wijesinghe yesterday told The Island that the five-member Ukrainian technical team was here to inspect three AN 32 transport aircraft before they were flown to Ukraine for overhauling. “They arrived at the BIA on May 5 and left on July 5 having completed their task,” GC Wijesinghe said, emphasizing that the group never stayed at Ramada or used private transport throughout this period.

According to the SLAF spokesperson, the Ukrainian team were subjected to three PCR tests, first on arrival at the BIA on May 9, the second at the Jetwing Hotel, Pitipana where the group was quarantined (May 9-22) and the third at the Katunayake air base on July 2, three days before their departure. Group Captain Wijesinghe said that during the period (May 22-July 5), the foreign team inspected the aircraft, the group stayed within the base till their departure. Responding to another query, the senior Air Force officer said that the SLAF flew the three aircraft to Ukraine, underwent stipulated quarantine there before returning home. The SLAF team assigned to work with the visitors, too, underwent quarantine in terms of health guidelines, GC Wijesinghe said.

The SLAF officer said that a high priority project was undertaken having obtained necessary approvals from relevant ministries and they followed stipulated guidelines. The official emphasized that the visitors were accommodated at the Jetwing hotel as per the relevant directives and the whole process completed without jeopardizing measures in place to counter corona.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday (4) told The Island that the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) was inquiring into the second eruption. Asked whether police headquarters appointed a new team following the directive of Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, to appoint a new team as the CCD was crippled by many officers being tested positive for the virus, attorney-at-law Rohana said the CCD remained in charge of the inquiry.

DIG Rohana said the CCD would conduct the investigation. AG de Livera directed Acting IGP C.D. Wickremaratne on Oct 27 to submit a progress report on an inquiry into alleged negligence on the part of Brandix management and government officers resulting in the crisis.

Well informed sources said that there had been lapses on the part of MoH, Dompe who had been asked to look after Minuwangoda area following the transfer of the MoH there. However, the failure on the part of the medical facility within Brandix premises, Minuwangoda as well as the BoI to detect large numbers of workers reporting sick should be inquired into, sources said. Sources explained that against the backdrop of the first wave, factories couldn’t have afforded to ignore basic precautions.

Against the backdrop of hospitals and quarantine facilities overflowing, the government recently decided to quarantine first and second/third level contacts of corona positive persons at their own homes. DIG Rohana yesterday placed the number of home quarantined persons in the Western Province at 5,715 and 6,199, respectively. The police spokesperson said that 14 ASPs had been tasked to constantly monitor the home quarantine process.


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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report

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PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.

They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.

With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.

 

Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.

The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.

Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.

The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.

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JVP picks holes in PCoI report

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By Saman Indrajith

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.

“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”

Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.

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TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin

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By Saman Indrajith

It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.

 MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.

 MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.

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