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My brother's arrest is clearly a case of political victimization - Rishad Bathiudeen

Commenting on the arrest of his brother Riyaj Bathiudeen, former minister and the Leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) Rishad Bathiudeen said that it is "clearly political victimization and is an attempt to tranish my image."

Two people including the brother of the former minister were arrested in Puttalam over the terrorist attacks on April 21, police said on Tuesday. The Special Investigations Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department will conduct further investigations into the suspect, the police noted.

However, the former minister noted that none of his family members or his lawyers have been allowed to speak to him yet. He also observed that although seven people were arrested along with him, only his name and his brither's name were published in media with many false allegations.

"This arrest is clearly political victimization and the only reason for his arrest was that he is a brother of mine. During the Easter Sunday Attacks last year, many politicians, mainstream and social media started their racist campaigns against me saying that I was behind this attack. But finally it was proved and even the Acting IGP of Police informed the Parliamentary Secretary General that Rishad Bathiudeen has had no connection with this attack or any other terrorist activity following his investigations. Now the arrow has been pointed at my brother to tarnish my image," Bathiudeen said in statement today.

"Neither me nor any of my family members are involved with these terrorist attacks. I also wish to state that we were and will always be against terrorism since we also belong to a community that were forcibly evicted by the LTTE in 1990," he said.

Bathiudeen said that he and his family including his brother will provide their fullest cooperation to the investigations conducted by the Police and CID with regard to these attacks.

"I request these racist media and other extremists to stop publicizing fake news which will disrupt the investigations. Think wisely and act with humanity," the former minister said.

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Mangala says MR’s speech grossly irresponsible and misleading

Former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera called out Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for the grossly irresponsible and misleading statement the latter had made recently.

The full text of the statement issued by Mangala Samaraweera is as follows;

"Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa is the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He also holds the vital portfolio of Finance, Economic and Policy Development. He was President of Sri Lanka for two terms and held many ministries during that time. And he has been a Member of Parliament since 1970.

Therefore, he has no excuse whatsoever for the grossly irresponsible and misleading statement he made yesterday. It is a base political statement, dressed up to conceal its mendacity, using the official letterhead of the Prime Minister.

In the interests of brevity, I will not respond to the entire statement. However, the claims made in relation to Parliament’s role in our Republic and its public finance function have a direct bearing on the health crisis, economic crisis, debt-crisis and looming constitutional crisis facing our nation today.  

Canard I

“It is without getting a budget approved in Parliament that we have allocated this amount of money and given relief to the General Public.”

Any money allocated by the Government is the public’s money. It is raised by taxes and by debt – which must be paid by future taxes. It is not the largesse of any person, office or family.

The current allocation of money is determined by the Vote-on-Account passed by a Resolution of Parliament on 23 October 2019. That Resolution determines the scheme of expenditure and borrowing for the period 1 January 2020 to 30 April 2020. Therefore, any money the Government must have been approved by Parliament.

The Prime Minister’s claim that money is being spent without Parliamentary approval is a very serious violation of the Constitutional provisions on public finance. These provisions clearly state that Parliament has the power of the purse; including complete and undiluted control over government revenue, expenditure and debt.

Canard II

“The President did not have the opportunity to get the assistance of Parliament to do any of these things. Parliament did not support us when we tried to get an interim budget approved before Parliament dissolved.”

As stated above, all the expenditure currently being spent by the Government is under the Vote-on-Account passed on 23 October. Any expenditure outside that would be a violation of the constitution. Therefore, Parliament has adequately discharged its duty of providing the Executive with necessary funds for the governance of the Republic.

As further expenditure and borrowing is necessary in light of the Coronavirus, my colleagues across the political spectrum have made abundantly clear that they will support the allocation of additional funds and an increase in the debt ceiling.

As to the claim that “Parliament did not support us when we tried to get an interim budget approved before Parliament dissolved”, that is a lie. The Government moved an unprecedented resolution in Parliament. It attempted, for the first time in history, to move a motion to amend a Vote-on-Account. Despite this highly irregular procedure, political parties sitting on the Opposition benches agreed to support the Government’s social welfare schemes. We did not object to increases in expenditure on health, education and other schemes.

However, we did object to raising the debt-ceiling. As a result of the debt-fuelled growth of the 2009 to 2015 era and the utterly irresponsible tax cuts this year, Sri Lanka was in a debt-trap. If we failed to pay our debt, then we would default. This would lead us down the path of Argentina or Greece. In order to prevent this fate, we insisted on maintaining the responsible borrowing limit that had been put in place. Between 2017 and November 2020, Sri Lanka recorded its first proper primary surplus – meaning the government’s books were balanced - in 63 years. That record was repeated in 2018 and up until November 2019. This was maintained despite the Rajapaksa’s constitutional coup and the Easter Bombings.

Canard III

“The public who have the sovereignty ask us as to what use there is re-summoning Parliament in such a situation.”

Mr. Prime Minister, the public are concerned about their health. They are concerned about whether their food stocks will last. They are concerned about paying for their next basket of provisions. They are concerned about whether they will lose their jobs. They are concerned about the strength of the rupee. They are concerned about the health of the economy.

They are also concerned that the rule-of-law is maintained and proper checks-and-balances are put in place. We have seen the corruption and abuse of power that arises when there is no accountability. Parliament is one of the three key pillars that constitutes the checks-and-balances that protect our government from abuse and keep our democracy – the oldest in Asia – alive and flourishing. Sri Lanka has faced many disasters: natural, like the Tsunami, or man-made, such as terrorism and insurgencies. We have faced them all successfully because we were a democracy.

This is why the constitution clearly states that the sovereignty of the people shall be jointly exercised within a framework of fundamental rights. First by the legislature. Second by the executive. And third by the judiciary. In fact, following the passage of the 19th Amendment, the President is responsible and accountable to Parliament. Due to the dissolution of Parliament, it has been unable to provide that oversight. As the date of elections has been extended, and the country has been engulfed by multiple crises, it is the President’s duty to invoke the provisions of the Constitution relating to such a situation, including Article 70(7).

Conclusion

The government is playing fast-and-loose with the Constitution and with the rule-of-law. It is not only putting the health of our democracy in danger, its actions are severely damaging the health of our economy. The borrowing limit is about to be breached, which means the government can raise no further funds despite the desperate need for a fiscal stimulus. We are on the verge of a constitutional crisis. There is uncertainty about the authorization to raise funds following 30 April. This cavalier attitude, combined with the myopic tax-cuts earlier this year, are key reasons why the interest rate on government debt rose to over 100% last week. Investors and financial markets have lost all confidence in the government. Even before the corona outbreak, the stock market was plummeting and foreign investors sold their assets in droves. By contrast, following the Easter Bombings we were able to raise debt in June 2019 at 5.49%.

Many citizens are going to lose their jobs. Our industries are facing an unprecedented crisis. The rupee is collapsing. This is the time to get all arms of government working to prevent any further deterioration in the situation. It is not the time to start constitutional crises. It took the economy months to recover after the last one in October 2019. To do so then was criminal, to do so today would be the most callous case of placing a family’s private political interest over the interests of the entire country."

 
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COVID-19 pandemic: Sri Lanka rated among countries plagued with low safety

Sri Lanka has been ranked in the top 20 countries faced with a high risk of the COVID-19 pandemic by Deep Knowledge Ventures, a Hong Kong-based venture capital fund that targets health care and longevity technology which has been evaluating the crisis performance of 150 countries and territories in an ongoing project.

The COVID-19 Risk Ranking Framework conducts benchmarking of countries according to 24 parameters grouped into 4 major categories:

  •     Infection Spread Risk
  •     Government Management
  •     Healthcare Efficiency
  •     Regional Specific Risks


Accordingly Sri Lanka was ranked 16 out of 150 countries as per the Risk Ranking Framework indicating a high risk.dfkv global 1

 
How is Sri Lanka doing in Asia?
 An Asia-specific ranking was released by the DKV Group the same day shows several South and Southeast Asian countries plagued by low safety. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Laos, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines round up the countries with the highest risk in Asia.

Dmitry Kaminskiy, DKV's founder and managing partner pointed out that these countries are likely to face "quite negative dynamics" in the coming weeks, lamenting the "inefficiency of government management."

 Asia's middle ground consists of Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and, at least for the moment, India.

Kaminskiy said India's roughly 10,000 cases and 300 deaths are "quite good" numbers given the population. Even so, and despite an ambitious lockdown, he finds it "a little bit of a mystery why the country is not yet affected" more seriously given poor sanitation and stretched resources.

DKVG 2 asia

 Countries deemed 'safe'

Meanwhile, The COVID-19 Safety Ranking Framework conducted benchmarking to determine levels of health and safety for each country during the pandemic.

 The countries were evaluated using 24 specific parameters in 4 distinct categories: Quarantine Efficiency, Government Management Efficiency, Monitoring and Detection, and Emergency Treatment Readiness. 
DKVG safety
 (Source: DKV Global and Nikkei Asian Review)
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Sri Lanka’s COVID – 19 cases rises to 185

Sri Lankan health officials on Tuesday said the number of COVID – 19 patients in the country has risen to 185.

Earlier today, the health ministry confirmed its sixth death due to the virus, while also announcing four more recoveries.

Accordingly, the total number of active cases stands at 137, with the total recovered cases standing at 42.

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sri-lanka-s-covid-19-cases-rises-to-218

Total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka now at 218 following the detection of another person who tested positive for corona virus.

According to the COVID-19 Dashboard at the Health Promotion Bureau, the total number of recoveries in Sri Lanka now stands at 56.

Seven people have died from the virus in the island.

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Sri Lanka’s COVID – 19 cases hits 175

The number of patients affected due to COVID – 19 has reached 175, health officials said Sunday, as 13 more patients tested positive since last afternoon (March 14).

Director General of Health Services, Dr Anil Jasinghe said that three out of the nine patients are receiving treatment at the Homagama Base Hospital. The other patients included one each from Negombo and the Puttalam Quarantine Centre and two from Colombo, Dr. Jasinghe said.

He noted that another patient who was from Matara had maintained contact with a COVID – 19 patient.

According to the ministry of health, 133 people suspected to have contracted the virus are under medical observation at present.

Sri Lanka has confirmed five deaths due to the disease, with the number of recovered patients standing at 33.

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IDH staff receive gift packs from Sri Lanka Muslim Civil Society

The Sri Lanka Muslim Civil Society (SLMCS), an organisation committed to unity as one nation, distributed 2000 gift packs to the frontline staff at the  Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) and Mulleriyawa hospital on Friday (10). This was in recognition of their place as heroes in our nation’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The SLMCS said that their invaluable and dedicated service to the nation of Sri Lanka and her people while putting their own lives; as well as their families, at risk, should be lauded and appreciated.
 
The SLMCS came together in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday terror attacks to bring solidarity and hope in a time of darkness - to Rise, Resist and Unite.

They wished to acknowledge the valiant effort by the frontline workers in their quest to Rise, Resist and Unite in combatting Covid-19.

Muslim civil 1

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44 year old dies at Welikanda Hospital from COVID-19

A 44 year old male who tested positive for COVID-19 and was being treated at the Welikanda Hospital, passed away this morning.

The Director General of Health Services confirmed the 05th COVID-19 death in Sri Lanka adding the victim had returned to the country from Italy and was a resident from Homagama.

This is incidentally, the first COVID-19 death reported from the Welikanda Base Hospital.

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Parliamentary Election 2020: Prof. Hoole responds to P.B.

Member of the Elections Commission, Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole has responded to statements made by the secretary to the president, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera regarding the Parliamentary Election 2020 and the date of summoning the new Parliament.

Newstube.lk will reproduce Prof. Hoole's statement below.

I refer to the Daily Mirror article, of today’s date, on the date for summoning the new Parliament after elections, and The Island’s two pieces yesterday on the same topic. I am in “Lockdown” in Jaffna and write on my own as a Member of the Election Commission in response to Dr. P.B. Jayasundara’s letter.

Dr. Jayasundara wrongly starts the Daily Mirror interview: “President’s Secretary P.B.Jayasundara in a reply to the Chairman of Election Commission said that the date for fixing the poll is the responsibility of the Election Commission and therefore the question of reference to the Supreme Court in terms of Article 129 of the Constitution does not arise.” He is missing the point. Reference is urgent.

Yes, fixing the date for polls is the EC’s responsibility. But averting a constitutional crisis is the President’s more than anybody else’s, and only he can seek the constitutional advice of the Supreme Court.

We have clearly stated that we cannot fix a date to conform to the constitutional requirement of Constitution’s Article 70(5)(a) that the date of summoning the new Parliament has to be within 3 months of the date of the Gazette for the dissolution of Parliament – which was 2 March –  making June 2 the last date the new Parliament must meet.

Perhaps most importantly, as in yesterday’s Island’s headline, “Dr. P. B. Jayasundara, Secretary to the President, has written to Mahinda Deshapriya, Chairman of the Election Commission, pointing out that the latter has failed to act according to the full provisions of Section 24 of the Parliamentary Elections Act and should have published another date for the general election as per Section 24 (3) of the Act.

Dr. Jaysundara is mistaken. Section 24(3) says where due to an emergency or unforeseen circumstances the poll cannot be taken on the date already specified under Section 24(1) in any electoral district the Commission may by order published in the Gazette appoint another day for the taking of such poll, and such other day shall not be earlier than the fourteenth day after the publication of the order of the Gazette. Section 24(3) says that when the poll cannot be taken on the date already specified under Section 24(1) in any electoral district due to an emergency or unforeseen circumstances, the commission may, by order published in the Gazette, appoint another day for the taking of the poll. Further, Section 24(3) specifies that the revised date may not be earlier than the fourteenth day after the publication of the order of the Gazette.

First, Dr. Jayasundara should say should publish, not should have published. We can still publish; no time frame is prescribed. Moreover, on that, the word may gives us discretion.

Dr. Jayasundara further says “As per the advice by His Excellency, it is not possible at this point of time to state that the election cannot be held on or before 28.05.2020.” First, advice to whom? Second, former Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse,  who is quoted thus in yesterday’s (9 April, 2020) Island:

“Asked by Shamindra Ferdinado how the President and the EC could reach consensus on a new date, in terms of the Constitution and the Parliamentary Election Act, PC Rajapakse stressed that the issue couldn’t be resolved in line with available Constitutional provisions, or the Parliamentary Election Act.”

That is, a constitutional impasse is imminent according to the President’s loyalist.

Dr. Jayasundara further states “I need hardly emphases that it is the right of the people of this country to exercise their franchise, which their sovereign right [sic.]”

Indeed, it is because of that right that the Commission stated that the elections cannot be held on time for the new Parliament to meet by 2 June, 2020. If we set that date, it would mean one of two things. One, the public in fear of CORONA-19 would not stand in lines to vote. That means they will lose their franchise, but will exercise their franchise if we do not rush into polls and watch the situation. This care for the franchise of the people therefore seems insincere and disingenuous to me, to service a narrow political agenda rather than any national cause as the time urgently calls for.

And Two, if not the scenario envisaged under One, if we guestimate when the pandemic will be over, and set a date and the pandemic is still raging, people will go to the polls, stand in crowded lines, and spread this life-threatening virus. Alternatively, we might have 225 MPs elected with a handful of votes each as happened in the 1990s when EPDP MPs got returned sometimes with under 10 votes as a result of LTTE death threats against those who go to vote.

Dr. Jaysundara again misses the point in his assertion that “the question of Reference to the Supreme Court in terms of Article 129 of the Constitution does not arise,” . Come 2 June, 2020, the Constitution and the Elections Act will be violated. We at the Commission are the experts with people who have spent their working lives on elections. They are emphatic that there is no way in which the new parliament  can meet by June 2.The obstacle is not only CoVID, but also thedemand for excessive holidays that are upcoming, and the national tendency to truancy until an auspicious day.

Already, there is customary worker absenteeism during the new year and Vesak. This, by itself, makes June 2 less probable than we might optimistically imagine. Postal ballots in high response places like Anuradhapura (with many soldiers) were a small fraction of what should have come in when the curfews started. Will the post office staff, whom we cannot control, deliver the remaining registered post without waiting for auspicious times?

I figure that even the president is experiencing that staff absenteeism. For, his hardly two-page letter of 6 April, has the errors in thought pointed out that are corrected only when the normal complement of staff is present. Moreover, it has seven errors of grammar, not counting mistakes I might have missed – meaning that even the language editors are not coming to work despite the President’s reputation for discipline. How can we in a more relaxed organization imagine an error-free election with all poll cards and legally prescribed forms done right?

We do not want to go there where laws are violated without care as seems inevitable from the refusal to consult the Supreme Court, and we find ourselves with a fixed poll date that is unlikely to work out. We need resolution. Only the Supreme Court’s direction, even if we do not agree with whatever it might say, has no appeal and will give finality to whatever we do. That right of consultative appeal is defined under Article 129(1) of the constitution:

If at any time it appears to the President of the Republic that a question of the law or fact has arisen or is likely to arise which is of such nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it, he may refer that question to the Court for consideration and the Court may, after such hearing as it thinks fit within the period specified in such reference  or within such time as may be extended by the President, report to the President its opinion thereon.”

Note – only the President can ask the Supreme court for advice, and even specify a date by which the answer has to be given. Whatever opinion the Supreme Court gives cannot be appealed. If the Commission on its own chooses to act unilaterally, someone will go to court and the matter will drag on beyond 2 June anyway.

It is good to recall Article 33(1)(d) of the Constitution:

  33(1) (d) It shall be the duty of the President to on the advice of the Election Commission, ensure the creation of proper conditions for the conduct of free and fair elections and referenda.

We, the Commission, invoked this provision when advising President Maithripala Sirisena not to postpone the long overdue provincial elections. Here, although I wanted this provision explicitly invoked, the Chairman did not and said that Mr. Abeyesekere also did not want to.

Although we did not invoke 33(1)(d), it is there. Whether we explicitly invoked the article or not, I believe the President is duty-bound to heed our advice as contained in our letters of 31 March and 1 April 2020. It is best for the president to revoke his Gazette of 2 March. Parliament will then run smoothly just as it did after the Supreme Court declared the 27 October 2017 dismissal of parliament by Maithripala Sirisena illegal. The Parliament elected on 17 Aug. 2015 can go on until 5 years after its first meeting on 1 Sept. 2015. That could give us a way out of this Corona crisis. It is best, however, if the Supreme Court gives this advice. Either way, it is in President Rajapaksa’s hands; not in the Election Commission’s as he makes out.

The military has been directing traffic from even before the crisis. Curfews, although good for fighting Corona, have no legal basis. So those being arrested for breaking curfew cannot be charged. The IGP has no business arresting those who criticize the government. Some say that subsections 6, 7 and 8 of Article 15 permit the derogation of some rights in an emergency in the interests of the economy, national security, public order, the protection of public health or morality, etc. But on close reading all these restrictions on our rights must be prescribed by law.  That means even the curfews must have the authority of parliament.

The curfews and restrictions are excused as being good for these difficult times – it is but a sleight of hand when the restrictions can easily get the blessings of our representatives in Parliament. Why are we denied a parliament at these critical times? Is it because our rights can be curtailed without parliamentary oversight? It seems to me that when there is a lawful way to restrict our fundamental rights, an institutional crisis is being precipitated to do away with the law in the name of doing good.

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Sri Lanka’s COVID – 19 cases rises to 159

The number of COVID – 19 patients in the country has risen to 159, health officials said, after eight persons tested positive for the virus by late Friday.

According to the ministry of health, 128 people suspected to have contracted the virus are under medical supervision in state hospitals across the island.

Sri Lanka has confirmed four deaths due to the virus, with the number of recovered patients standing at 24.

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Black market liquor prices soar as Police nab violators

Liquor stores and bars are closed under Sri Lanka’s curfew measures which has caused black market liquor prices to triple. Sri Lanka Police say they are trying to stop people swapping instructions for how to produce illicit liquor during a curfew imposed due to the new coronavirus.

Posts on social media like Facebook and WhatsApp have been widely shared with tips for producing moonshine using locally available items such as sugar, coconut water and yeast.

Deputy Inspector General Ajith Rohana says that people who promote consumption of liquor or methods to produce it could face a prison sentence of up to two years. He says special teams are examining posts on social media and those who publish posts on distilling spirits at home, will be prosecuted in accordance to the provisions of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act.

Sri Lanka has recorded 197 cases of the new coronavirus and seven infected people have died. Nearly 20,000 people have been arrested for curfew violations.

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Sri Lanka reports fourth death due to COVID – 19

Sri Lankan health officials on Thursday confirmed the fourth death caused due to COVID – 19 in the country.

Director-General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe said the deceased has been identified as a 58-year old man who had been receiving treatment at the IDH Hospital.

He had developed pneumonia while being treated at the hospital.

The number of COVID-19 patients in the country rose to 151 after four people tested positive for the virus on Thursday.

Government statistics show that 127 people suspected to have contracted the virus are under medical supervision with the number of recoveries standing at 21.

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