An Ill-timed Dastardly Behaviour of a Legislator Puts Govt in Deep Waters

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 18 2021
Ceylon Politics An Ill-timed Dastardly Behaviour of a Legislator Puts Govt in Deep Waters
By Gagani Weerakoon

Continuing the trail of resignations, an ambassador, a chairman of a statutory board and a State minister tendered resignations from their respective positions and the latter happened to be the most dramatic one. Sri Lankan Ambassador to Myanmar, Prof. Nalin de Silva, has resigned on personal grounds and arrived in Sri Lanka on 15 September, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said. 

The MFA said Prof. de Silva had informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of his decision, which has been accepted officially. Prof. de Silva on his Facebook page has noted that he has not resigned out of frustration or influence, but because he had tested COVID-19 positive. He and his wife had contracted the virus in Myanmar. Prof. de Silva noted that he is suffering from COVID-19 and therefore, finding it difficult to work in Myanmar. “There is a wave of resignations in Sri Lanka these days.

 I did not resign following that wave,” he said on Facebook. He further said some criticised him on the issue of the fishermen detained in Myanmar. “In response, I told them that I was thinking of resigning to allow someone who could free the fishermen. Journalists, as usual, said I was going to resign without reading the story properly. They wanted to make it anti-Government, especially against the President,” he added. He also said the fishermen were released through the Chief Thera of the Sitagu Temple in Myanmar. 

Paddy Marketing Board Chairman, Dr. J.D. Mannapperuma, tendered his resignation on the same day (15), saying he was “inconvenienced” by the way the Board has been functioning lately, with no policy in paddy and rice pricing. He said he “cannot function” the way he had been working earlier, in such a backdrop. Dr. Mannapperuma, is a rice scientist, qualified in the USA, and has been in the paddy sector from 1972. He said changing the price of rice and paddy beyond a limit had inconvenienced him. 

“I am one of the founders of this Paddy Marketing Board I must say, but this is not the way to perform our duties.” He said paddy and rice prices are proposed three months before, after scientific calculations which were done by him. Then it is changed several times which is unwarranted. 

It does not work that way, he said. Dr. Mannapperuma, who was appointed as the Chairman 20 months ago, said it is “difficult” to work as “policies keep changing.” Too often new Gazette Notifications are issued on the certified prices and farmers don’t want such price changes. 

Farmers will not sell paddy if this goes on, he warned. He also said that is why people start hiding rice and paddy and other commodities, leading to a price hike in the market. “I don’t believe in work that is not methodical and this policy change from time to time will create a shortage of paddy,” he added. 

Embarrassing prison drama 

The third and the most dramatic resignation was that of State Minister Lohan Ratwatte. This was not done willingly but followed local and international resistance over a controversial behaviour of the Minister that put the Sri Lankan Government in deep water. Ratwatte had allegedly entered both Welikada Prison and Anuradhapura Prison while being under the influence of liquor. 

The first instance, where he entered Welikada Prison was apparently to show the gallows to a group of ‘friends’ who had not seen it. In the second instance he had entered Anuradhapura Prison and had allegedly held two Tamil prisoners at gunpoint and threatened them. Ratwatte recently said he, as the Minister of Prisons has a right to visit any prison at any given time - which nobody had challenged. 

The question was him being under the influence of liquor and as someone who is responsible for the lives of inmates holding two of them at gunpoint. The incident took place almost simultaneously to the UNHRC sessions taking place in Geneva where Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record is being put to test. On the other hand, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is set to address the UN General Assembly which is scheduled to kick start on 21 September. 

Call for removal and investigation 

Various local and international bodies came forward to denounce the behaviour of Ratwatte and called on the Government to remove him from the post as he is not fit to hold such responsible position. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) raised concerns regarding allegations against State Minister Lohan Ratwatte of forcibly entering the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons and intimidating prisoners, while stating that it is an act of gross impunity and a threat to the rule of law. 

The BASL noted that although Ratwatte tendered his resignation from the office of State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, he did not do so from his portfolio of the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery Related Industries. “The allegations against him are such that Ratwatte can no longer command the trust or responsibility of not only a Government Minister charged with duties in respect of prisons, but also as a Minister holding any other portfolio and as a Member of Parliament,” the BASL added. The BASL added that such acts of impropriety are ones which should be investigated fully and impartially and if proved be imposed with penal consequences. “It is imperative that independent and 

impartial investigations into these alleged criminal acts are conducted expeditiously,” the BASL further said. The BASL said the State has a duty to protect prisoners in their custody, while calling upon all relevant authorities including the Attorney General and the law enforcement authorities to act forthwith in dealing with these serious acts of impropriety allegedly committed by Ratwatte. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has started its own investigation related to the incidents that have taken place in Prisons. Three Regional Coordinating Officers of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka visited Anuradhapura Prison on 15 September 2021 to investigate the incidents that took place on 12 September 2021, the Commission said. 

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka will summon all the responsible parties connected to these incidents as early as possible. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa called for the immediate removal of State Minister Lohan Ratwatte over the alleged incident of him threatening two Tamil inmates at Anuradhapura Prison. 

Issuing a statement in this regard, Premadasa regarded Ratwatte’s conduct as disgraceful and unlawful, exemplifying the anarchical situation that exists in our country. “This unlawful and despicable act is a further illustration of the precipitous decline in the present human rights situation in our country”, Premadasa said. 

Tamil political parties also called on the immediate resignation or removal of State Minister Lohan Ratwatte over the alleged incident of him threatening two Tamil inmates at Anuradhapura Prison. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) condemned the State Minister’s unruly conduct, demanding that he be stripped of his portfolio, arrested and charged, following an inquiry into the incident. 

Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) President, MP Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam revealed that the State Minister had summoned the Tamil inmates, and ordered two of them to kneel before him. He had then aimed his firearm at the inmates, and threatened to kill them on the spot. 

Condemning the State Minister’s ‘dastardly’ behaviour, Ponnambalam raised concerns over the fact that several Tamil political prisoners are already being held unjustly under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He went on to describe the Act as ‘one of the most draconian pieces of legislation known to the world’. “They have been remanded for several years, some even more than a decade with no evidence against them and no indictments being served. To have the Minister who is supposed to look after their affairs threaten to kill them can’t possibly make their trauma any worse!”, the MP said. 

Ponnambalam urged that such matters concerning the violation of several rights be referred to officials beyond the UNHRC, such as the International Criminal Court, as a matter of urgency. He also pointed out to the Core Group on Sri Lanka at the 48th session of the United Human Rights Council in Geneva to understand the futility of the UNHRC and human rights in Sri Lanka, referring to the country as a ‘reluctant State that has mastered the art of avoiding accountability’. 

“That a Minister can behave in this manner when UNHRC’s gaze is on Sri Lanka, only shows how unperturbed the State is with regard to the UNHRC. If Lanka is not taken beyond the UNHRC to the ICC as a matter of urgency, the plight of Tamil victims stands to deteriorate far more”, Ponnambalam tweeted. 

According to reports Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa telephoned Ratwatte from Italy and had urged him to resign. Following this, he handed over his resignation letter from the post of State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation. Issuing a statement, the President’s Media Division (PMD) noted that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was informed of the decision, and has accepted the resignation. 

Denial not supported 

However, Ratwatte said that he is not ‘stupid’ to hold prisoners at gunpoint and threaten to kill them. He in fact, said that this was a result of a campaign against him as he was in the process of ‘cleaning’ prisons from underworld and drug mafia from being operated from inside. However, his arguments were failing to hold water as several statements made by his Government colleagues were not in his favour. 

For instance, the official statement issued by the PMD on his resignation clearly mentioned that Ratwatte extended the resignation and that “… the State Minister had accepted responsibility for the relevant incidents.” Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara said he believed that the gun Ratwatte held was a licensed one and public immediately recognised that this statement has validated the incident. 

Meanwhile he has ordered IGP Chandana Wickramaratne to immediately inquire into the complaint lodged against State Minister Lohan Ratwatte over the prison incident. The Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners (CPRP) had lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on 17 Friday urging the immediate arrest of State Minister Lohan Ratwatte over allegedly threatening Tamil prisoners at the Anuradhapura Prison on Sunday. 

On the other hand, Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa commended the decision taken by State Minister Lohan Ratwatte to step down from his portfolio of Prisons by taking responsibility for the controversy allegedly taking place at Anuradhapura Prison. Speaking to the Media, Weerawansa stated that Ratwatte resigned after taking responsibility for the recent incidents that were reported at the Welikada and Anuradhapura Prisons, adding that such exemplary behaviour pertaining to a resignation has not been witnessed in the past. 

“He has admitted to his mistakes. Mistakes similar to the incident may occur, but what is important is that the person responsible takes responsibility for it and resigns from the relevant position”, Weerawansa said. Responding to a question raised regarding Ratwatte retaining his portfolio as State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related Industries, Weerawansa said that he would only be required to step down from this portfolio if he was involved in a gem and jewellery theft. 

Terror threats 

The State Intelligence Service is probing an email warning of a bomb threat at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) received on 15 September. Two days ago a hand grenade was found in a restroom of a leading private hospital in Colombo due to which security at the hospital was beefed up. Security at BIA and Mattala Airport was also heightened after the said email was received by a BIA official. Ceylon Today learns the email had resulted in a tense situation at the airport. 

However, Chairman of Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) (Private) Limited, G.A. Chandrasiri said there is no security threat and alleged that it was a fake alert. In the meantime, a senior official at the Mattala Airport said the threat should be considered seriously and has resulted in security being tightened at both airports. 

As the State Intelligence Service is probing the matter, the top officer said he cannot divulge any information. While many were sceptical about these threats citing no terrorist would send out an email prior to an attack, some have raised concerns whether there is a pattern. About two weeks ago, New Zealand police shot and killed a “violent extremist” who was known to the police, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, after he stabbed and wounded at least six people in a supermarket in the city of Auckland. Interestingly, Easter Sunday attack in 2019 took place few weeks after Christchurch Mosque attack in New Zealand. 

However, Defence Secretary Gen. (Retd.) Kamal Gunaratne assured that there is no reason for the public to panic due to the information disseminating over a fake email of hostile nature received by airport authorities. Referring to the standard security measures adopted at the Bandaranaike International Airport, he noted that the country’s defence and law enforcing agencies are continuing their duties in the same vein ‘without letting anyone disrupt the lasting peace’. 

Two suspects involved in placing a hand grenade in a private hospital in Colombo for an individual benefit were also taken into custody, he added, while further investigations are being conducted by the Police. The Archdiocese of Colombo has responded to the recently televised statements made by Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Secretary General, Venerable Galgoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera. 

The Catholic institution called for an inquiry to be carried out into the Thera’s statements claiming that there could be another terrorist attack, similar to that of the 2019 Easter Sunday Terror Attacks. They further requested the Inspector General of Police to take immediate action against those found to be involved. 

Speaking during a TV programme on Monday (13), Gnanasara Thera claimed that another such attack may take place in the future, for which the necessary weapons have already been secured. When questioned further by the host, Gnanasara Thera assured that he possessed information and proof regarding both the attack, and the responsible party. 

He further noted that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has also been informed of the potential threat. Moreover, Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith denied claims that Gnanasara Thera had warned the Cardinal of the 2019 Easter Sunday Terror Attacks in 2017. Meanwhile, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) also responded to the statements made by the Thera.

 Issuing a statement, the ACJU requested authorities to investigate these claims immediately and to take appropriate measures in this regard. “We also urge the authorities to clarify the reality of these claims to the public,” they added. The ACJU noted, however, that several baseless allegations have been made by Gnanasara Thera, to which they will respond shortly.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 18 2021

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