Arjuna keen to lead UNP | Sunday Observer

Arjuna keen to lead UNP

11 October, 2020

On Friday, October 9, over 100 Government MPs called for a full investigation on the release of former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother who was arrested by the CID on suspicion of aiding and abetting the terrorists who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks.

A letter signed by 100 Government lawmakers claiming that Riyaj Bathiudeen was released by the CID without following proper legal procedure, was presented to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa by Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage at Temple Trees on Friday.

The MPs in their letter have stated that despite strong evidence against Riyaj, he was released by the CID on September 30 without being presented in court and without any legal procedure.

The Parliamentarians have called on the President and the Prime Minister to order a full investigation into this act by the CID and to re-arrest him and enforce the law in a proper manner.

No direct links

However, State Minister of Internal Security Chamal Rajapaksa informed Parliament last week that he was released because it was confirmed by the CID that he had no direct links to terrorism. However, Minister Rajapaksa said that release does not mean the suspect is vindicated of all charges.

The Minister said that he would be taken into custody if new evidence surfaces. Responding to a question raised by SJB Badulla district MP Chaminda Wijesiri, the Minister said that the suspect had been detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for three days for questioning and thereafter, detained for two three-month periods with permission of court. Minister Rajapaksa said, “As there was no evidence to prove that the suspect aided and abetted the terrorists to carry out the attacks, he was released on Sept 29. However, if there is new evidence, he would be arrested again.”

MP Wijesiri said that when the suspect was nabbed, the Police spokesman stated that the police had evidence to prove that the suspect aided and abetted the terrorists by transporting explosives.

“Now, after a couple of months, the same Police spokesman says that there is no evidence. What statement are we to believe?” The MP demanded to know from the Minister what action the Government would take against the spokesman whose double standard on the matter was exposed?

Minister Rajapaksa said the police spokesman should have waited till the investigations were over to make a statement. “The spokespersons are trying to put up a media circus so they state whatever is told to them,” the Minister said.

PCR tests

SJB Parliamentarian Harin Fernando called for the conduct of PCR tests on all 223 MPs, so that they could be assured that MPs would be safe from the illness.

He said so in his response to SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatte’s accusation that MP Fernando deliberately puts others’ lives in danger.

MP Dolawatte said that MP Fernando has put up a post in his twitter account that he underwent a PCR test.

“To undergo the PCR test, the MP would have felt some complications. Has he shown symptoms of Covid-19? Please let us know the results of his test,” Dolawatte said, adding “Harin Fernando has a moral obligation to stay away from others after facing the PCR test. Instead he came here and mixed with others, he should inform us of the results of the test. His actions puts all of us in danger.”

Harin Fernando said, “I underwent a PCR test and was cleared. I can send him my report. What about other MPs? The Government has recommended people to get a PCR test. A Government MP criticises me for following the Government recommendation. Government MPs are afraid of facing the test. They too should be tested for Covid-19.”

Book on ganja

On Thursday, October 8, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena promised that an investigation would be conducted to ascertain how a book titled Triloka Vijaya promoting the use of ganja had been distributed among the staff members of Parliament and who was responsible for it. The Speaker promised to conduct the investigation after the matter had been brought to his notice by Matara district SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana at the time of commencement of the sittings.

MP Pathirana said, “I spoke of schematic plans to propagate the use of ganja on Tuesday. Soon after that I came to know that a book titled Triloka Vijaya had been distributed among Parliament staff members. At present visitors to Parliament have been suspended. Who brought the books into the premises? How could it be distributed among staff members?”

MP Pathirana said the foreword of the book says that it is for the purpose of obtaining delight (aanandaya labanna). What does it mean? Doesn’t it promote smoking ganja? “I asked this question from Minister Bandula Gunawardena and SLPP MP S.B. Dissanayake but could not get an answer.”

Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena said, “Since my colleague mentioned my name I have to clarify that I had nothing to do with distributing the book.”

MP Pathirana told the House since the word Aanandaya is mentioned, “I asked both Ministers Gunawardena and Dissanayake the meaning of the word. We have heard of Aanandayen Pragnawata (from delight to wisdom). Does distributing this book among parliament staff mean that they are being asked to smoke ganja?”

The Speaker said he will look into the matter.

No political deal

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that the Government has not entered into any political deal with Parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen. The clarification from the President came days after Bathiudeen was photographed with Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and other Government politicians at an event, leading to speculation that he is being courted to win support in Parliament for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.

The President in a post on his official Facebook page, stated, “I emphasise that our Government has not entered into any political deal with Parliament member Rishad Bathiudeen. I assure my citizens that I will not forsake the trust that they have placed in me and I will most certainly continue to work towards strengthening the built trust.”

President Rajapaksa said, “Ensuring national security is the first and foremost responsibility of my Government. I am not prepared to hand over the power of arresting or arbitrarily releasing people to politicians, as happened in the past. I will also take action to rectify any omissions or mistakes made by the authorities or officials.”

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have agreed to strengthen their relationship and work in unison. The decision was taken during a meeting involving SLFP and SLPP stalwarts including Basil Rajapaksa. The discussion had revolved around using the alliance between both parties in a more effective manner.

The SLPP said that local government representatives of both parties will work unitedly and a committee will be appointed with the representatives of both parties to work at the district level. An agreement had also been reached to provide representatives of both parties equal opportunities to engage in development related activities.

Steps down

Former Minister and former Parliamentarian Arjuna Ranatunga has stepped down as the United National Party (UNP) Gampaha district leader. Ranatunga has sent his resignation letter to UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. In the letter, Ranatunga says he decided to step down as Gampaha district Leader as the party’s new Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene works under him in the district and that does not seem appropriate. Ranatunga had recently said he was prepared to accept the UNP leadership post.

SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris played down dissenting voices within the Government against 20A insisting that it was part of the democratic process.

He told reporters that opposing views on several clauses included in the 20A by NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa and SLPP Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was part of the democratic process of citizens having the right to express their views.

“There are several stages to getting important legislation of this nature passed. There are 39 petitions before the Supreme Court and we are awaiting the court’s decision on whether or not we need to hold a referendum. This decision will be conveyed to the Speaker by October 12, which is the end of the three-week period specified in the Constitution. There will be changes at the Committee Stage and we have already said that some changes will be made,” he said.

Prof. Peiris defended the inclusion of dual citizenship, reiterating that it was only introduced in the 19th Amendment to target specific members of the Rajapaksa family.

Independent investigation

State Minister of Highways Nimal Lanza told the media that he is requesting the Government to conduct an independent investigation into why former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother, Riyaj Bathiudeen who was alleged to have had contact with a bomber and extremists who launched the attacks on Easter Sunday was released, without following legal procedure.

Lanza said when Riyaj was taken into custody by the Police five months ago, it was revealed that the Police had uncovered powerful evidence against him that he had had contact with the terrorists who launched the attacks.

He asked, how was it that Bathiudeen was exonerated of those allegations after the lapse of five months? Was the mobile phone belonging to him examined properly? Was a proper court procedure followed when releasing him?

Lanza said investigations should be conducted into this and revealed to the country and that he is making this request to the Justice Minister.

The State Minister said society is focusing strong attention on politicians and their close associates who provided political protection to the accused in the Easter Sunday attacks and if accused persons are released in this manner, serious doubts would arise, not only among the Catholics, but overall society about the investigations. He said it is the responsibility of the Government to eliminate those doubts.

Follow instructions

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has urged the public to follow the instructions given by the health authorities and obtain the information from official Government information services without being deceived by the “false propaganda spread by various groups”.

In a message posted on his official Facebook page, the President stated, “At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is sweeping the globe, we defeated it together as a strong nation. Today, Covid-19 is activating back in our country. As before, our health, security and other services are doing their best to save us from this pandemic.

“In this challenging situation, I urge you to follow the instructions given by the health authorities and obtain information from official government information services without being deceived by the false propaganda spread by various groups.”

No detrimental agreements

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage said the Government will not sign any international agreement detrimental to the country.

The Minister made this observation joining the debate on the Adjournment Motion moved by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva on the economy.

Moving the Adjournment Motion, Dr. De Silva said that the economy was deteriorating as a result of the Government’s economic policies. Large scale business and small and medium enterprises have been severely affected by the Government’s economic policies.

De Silva said that the Government has failed to manage the economic crisis that occurred due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minister Aluthgamage responding to Dr. de Silva said, “Your Government and ours are totally different to each other. You need to remember that first. Our policies are different. Your Government had pro-western, pro-capitalist policies. Our policies are suitable for a country with a strong local economy. There is a major difference between our development plans and yours. The previous government came up with a taxation policy. It suppressed the public. What kind of an economic development plan is that?”

Irresponsible statements

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniaarachchi on Friday requested the Opposition not to waste the time of the House by selectively quoting her statements regarding the spread of Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

Wanniaarachchi pointed out that she did not make any irresponsible statements and asked the Opposition to listen to her entire statement and not partially. Sri Lanka has not yet hit the fourth stage of the pandemic where randomly selected people test positive for the virus.

Minister Wanniaarachchi made these observations when SJB Parliamentarians alleged that the Government had let its guard down and ignored Covid-19 precautions, resulting in the public losing fear of the virus and the pandemic spreading at a faster rate in the second wave.

Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said, “None other than the Health Minister made statements that Covid-19 was eradicated from society. She boasted that Sri Lanka was the world’s first country that removed the coronavirus from its territory. Such statements resulted in people losing their fear and letting down their guard. That is the reason for the second wave that is prevailing now.”

Health Minister Wanniaarachchi in her reply said, “ I kindly request Opposition MPs to go through my statements in full. You have listened only to a section of the statement that I made. They take a section out of context and try to create the wrong impression.”