… questions HRCSL silence over CC member’s controversial stand
By Shamindra Ferdinando
North Western Province Governor A. J. M. Muzammil yesterday (30) alleged that the Election Commission (EC) seemed to be brazenly selective in the implementation of relevant laws pertaining to the conducting of parliamentary polls scheduled for Aug 5.
Muzammil said that the EC owed the public an explanation as to how the EC allowed Constitutional Council member attorney-at-law Javid Yusuf to appear on the political stage whereas Governors were strongly advised against participating in the ongoing polls campaign.
In spite of the dissolution of parliament on March 2, 2020 to pave the way for parliamentary polls, the 10-member CC headed by former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is staying put.
The EC, embroiled in a deepening controversy over the re-renaming of the Ape Jathika Peramuna as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) consists of Mahinda Deshapriya (Chairman), Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole and Nalin Abeysekera, PC.
Muzammil made available to The Island several letters he had received from the EC as well as Secretary to the President and his response to both EC and Secretary to the President to highlight the fact that the EC was following what he called a highly biased policy.
The EC had conveniently chosen to ignore Yusuf throwing his weight behind a civil society project meant to sabotage a high profile SLPP campaign seeking a two-thirds majority at the August 5 poll to do away with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, Muzammil said.
The former Colombo Mayor was referring to Yusuf calling for a common stand against the moves against the 19th Amendment enacted at the onset of yahapalana administration.
Yusuf is on record as having said that the government would have conducted parliamentary polls regardless of the severe threat posed by the corona epidemic, if not for the timely intervention made by the EC in terms of the 19th Amendment.
Muzammil emphasized that the EC put off the scheduled polls in terms of the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981 not under the 19th Amendment as referred to by the CC member. The bottom line is that in case of a calamity even the Election Commissioner had the power to put off an election, Muzammil said, urging the EC not to play politics with the process.
Muzammil said that the controversy over a CC member taking a political stand took place close on the heels of EC member Prof. Hoole controversial comments in an interview conducted in Jaffna. The CC remained silent on the EC member’s conduct and the EC ignored a CC member taking sides in the ongoing political battle, when all of them should be strictly neutral. The civil society grouping Yusuf is aligned with campaigning against the SLPP and was canvassing for the UNP, its breakaway faction the SJB, the JVP and the TNA to save the 19th Amendment, Muzammil said.
Responding to another query, Muzammil said that the polls monitoring bodies seemed to be strangely silent on what was going on at the EC. The EC lost public credibility by turning a blind eye to the CC member declaring his intention to save the 19th Amendment by campaigning with a section of civil society.
A spokesperson for civil society grouping Freedom said that due to practical difficulties caused by the Corona crisis they couldn’t conduct public meetings since the one held on July 8 at the New Town hall. However, several media briefings were held since the inaugural meeting to highlight the need to save the 19th Amendment to prevent emergence of an authoritarian administration, the spokesperson said, adding that quite a useful webinar on economic issues, too, was conducted. A second webinar would be held today, Friday (31), with the participation of Jayadeva Uyangoda, Javid Yusuf and Suren Fernando. The Freedom spokesman said that they took a strong stand in respect of the 19th Amendment on a programme on TNL television recently.
Muzammil said that he didn’t find fault with the civil society for campaigning against the SLPP. The issue is why the EC allowed a CC member to be part of the campaign whereas Governors appointed by the President were told not to engage in any promotional activity.
Muzammil said that he received a letter from Presidential Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera that instructed him not to promote any candidate at public expense. The Wayamba Governor pointed out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) had issued several statements recently advising public servants et al, including those in the media emphasizing the importance of neutrality in the whole process. However, the HRCSL hadn’t commented on the CC member taking a political stand, Governor Muzammil said, adding that his position on the HRCSL was subjected to correction.
Yusuf, in a recent interview with The Island explained his rights as a member of the civil society as well as the CC, vowing he wouldn’t serve the CC at the expense of his primary role.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
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.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
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.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
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.