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Poll monitors believe SLPP should abide by AG’s advice

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MP-elect on death row

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Polls Monitoring groups-PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Election) and CMEV (Centre for Monitoring Election Violence) yesterday (2) said that the government would have to abide by the instructions issued by Attorney General Dappula de Livera in respect of MP elect Premalal Jayasekera sentenced to death over a killing in Kahawatte, Ratnapura, in January 2015.

The AG has informed the Secretary to the Justice Ministry and the Secretary General of Parliament of Jayasekera being disqualified to serve as a member of parliament and also to exercise his franchise.

Acknowledging that the SLPP Ratnapura candidate had received the second highest number of preferences at the August general election, PAFFREL Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi and CMEV National Coordinator and Researcher Manjula Gajanayake pointed out that the Attorney General expressed his opinion after the Secretary to the Justice Ministry sought his advice.

Premalal Jayasekera polled over 140,000 preference votes. Pavitradevi Vanniarachchi obtained over 200,000 votes the highest preference there by a candidate representing any contesting party.

Both Hettiarachchi and Gajanayake emphasized that it was no longer a political issue

Secretary to the Justice Ministry sought the AG’s advice in the wake of the Commissioner General of Prisons seeking advice regarding Jayasekera being allowed to attend the inauguration of parliament on August 20.

Hettiarachchi said that the authorities quite rightly refrained from taking Jayasekera to parliament on August 20 though the convict’s family received an invitation to attend the inauguration from the Office of the Secretary General of Parliament.

Responding to another query, Hettiarachchi, who is also the Convenor of March 12 Movement said that he couldn’t comment on behalf the civil society groups though the PAFFREL strongly opposed any political party or a lawmaker challenging the AG’s stand. There couldn’t be any dispute over the AG’s advice, Hettiarachchi stressed, urging all those responsible to review the situation.

According to the AG’s Department as a result of Jayasekera appealing against the Ratnapura High Court ruling, only the death sentence had been suspended pending the Court of Appeal case.

Hettiarachchi pointed out that in the wake Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara challenging the AG’s competence, the government sought the AG’s opinion on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Addressing the media on Monday (31), veteran lawyer Nanayakkara said that the AG couldn’t decide on Jayasekera’s fate as it was the responsibility of the parliament.

Manjula Gajanayake said that Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s dismissal of the AG’s opinion as regards Jayasekera’ eligibility sent a wrong signal to other members of the SLPP parliamentary group as well as the public. Gajanayake said that Nanayakkara couldn’t have been unaware of the constitutional provision as regards convicted persons.

Responding to another query, Gajanayake alleged that during the general election campaign in Ratnapura Vasudeva Nanayakkara repeatedly assured the electorate that he would stand by Premalal Jayasekera. Gajanayake said that the CMEV and other monitoring groups observed Nanayakkara’s campaign throughout that period.

Nanayakkara of the Democratic Left Front (DLF) contested on the SLPP ticket.

Former CAFFE (Campaign for Free and Fair Election) Executive Director Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon told The Island that there were three previous examples regarding convicted persons being denied the opportunity to attend Provincial Council and Parliamentary sessions. Tennakoon said that former Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council member Hasitha Muhandiramge’s convicted over 1999 double murder case and General Sarath Fonseka were prevented from attending Sabaragamuwa PC and parliament, respectively.

Tennakoon said that the ruling SLPP would have to pick Sunny Rohana or Ranjith Bandara who polled 53,261 each in place of Premalal Jayasekera. As both SLPPers had polled equal number of preferential votes, the Election Commission (EC) would have to decide the replacement on toss of a coin.

Tennakoon said that a decision would have to be made before Parliament meets again on Sept 8. So far, the 9th parliament met twice on Aug 20 and 21.

Authoritative sources told The Island that the three-member EC hadn’t discussed the issue formally though it came up. The EC consists of Mahinda Deshapriya (Chairman), Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole and Nalin Abeysekera PC. Sources said that the EC was scheduled to meet him on coming Friday and Saturday. “We have not met as a Commission on this although it came up informally. We meet next on the 4th evening and 5th”, an EC member said.

Asked whether this could cause a dispute between the government and the AG’s department, sources said that the law was clear in this regard. Perhaps the parliament could intervene only by enacting new laws and backdating them, sources said.

CAFFE Executive Director Ahamed Manas Makeen faulted the Ratnapura electorate for voting for Premalal Jayasekera in spite of knowing he was convicted for the Kahawatte killing. Makeen also questioned the SLPP accommodating the former Deputy Minister on its Ratnapura nominations list regardless of the pending verdict.


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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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