Bathiudeen uses Parliament privileges in his defence

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Aug 7 2021
Ceylon Politics Bathiudeen uses Parliament privileges in his defence
By Gagani Weerakoon

The Government at the beginning of July 2021 declared that it would be able to roll out 10 million jabs, of the various COVID-19 vaccines, among those aged above 30 years by 1 August 2021.

While reaching this target, the support extended towards the vaccination drive from the three armed forces had been commendable and on 29 and 30 July and on 1 August a total of 1.4 million jabs of COVID-19 vaccines had been rolled out.

Hence, around 86 per cent of the country’s population aged above 30 had been provided with the jabs by 1 August under the supervision of PresidentGotabayaRajapaksa.

Following a written request made to the Japanese Prime Minister by the President, the Japanese Government had agreed to send across 728,460 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to the country which would enable scores who had received its first dose to receive the second dose as well.

Furthermore, with the coordination of the three Armed Forces, a 24-hour vaccination drive was initiated at Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo to administer the second jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Also similar centres were set up in Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara to roll out the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Under the President’s supervision, during the past week, Sri Lanka had taken the lead globally in the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

As part of this rapid vaccination drive by mid this month at least one individual from the population here would have received at least a solitary dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The officials are looking to complete the task of administering both doses of vaccines to at least 50 percent of the population here before the end of this month.

Around 5,000 soldiers of the SL Army are engaged in carrying out this undertaking while they are backed by 50 specialist doctors and 300 doctors.

The vaccination drive has been targeted at several segments of society, age-wise and job-wise and presently it has become a resounding success due to the concerted efforts of all those involved in this process.

The Health Ministry, in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Army, was able to roll out the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, after its arrival on Saturday (31), to members of the public who were kept waiting for over six months.

The Health Ministry’s Epidemiology Unit by end April 2021 had administered 925,242 jabs as the vaccine’s first dose, after Sri Lanka received its first consignment of COVID-19 vaccines from the Government of India. The country received a total of 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine on 28 January 2021 as a donation from the Government of India. Since then, the country purchased another 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab which arrived on 25 February 2021 and received another 264,000 more doses of the same under the COVAX facility on 7 March 2021. However, with India’s rising number of COVID cases, and the fire that erupted at the Serum Institute, India was unable to send more vaccines to Sri Lanka. 

The Epidemiology Unit was only able to vaccinate 385,885 second doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine, by 23 July 2021, leaving 539,357 persons awaiting the arrival of more vaccines to obtain the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The Sri Lankan Government and the Epidemiology Unit decided to mix and match vaccines owing to the crisis. Thereby, a decision was taken to administer the Pfizer vaccine to those who awaited the second dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca, amid doubts regarding immunity levels that this section of the population may have against the coronavirus, after the lapse of several months.

Health Minister PavithraWanniarachchi, addressing the gathering on Saturday (31) said, “There was a large crowd in the Western Province hoping to get the second dose of AstraZeneca. It is a great relief to the people who were expecting the second dose of the vaccine to have received it from the Government of Japan.”

The Japanese Government donated 728,460 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and the COVAX Foundation were instrumental in obtaining this number of doses, Minister Wanniarachchi said, when receiving the consignment of vaccines at the BIA.

The Army set up several walk-in vaccination centres to administer the AstraZeneca jab. They include the Viharamahadevi Park for 24 hours open for vaccination, BodirajaramayaPanagoda, Army Hospital Narahenpita, Kotelawala Defence Hospital and Sri Lanka Army Medical Corps, Werahera.

Meanwhile, Regional Epidemiologist of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), Dr.DinukaGuruge, said 88,000 Colombo city dwellers awaited the second dose of AstraZeneca. However, to ensure that the relevant section of the public who received their first dose of the vaccine between February and May received the recommended second dose, the CMC would provide the vaccine only on “appointment basis,” she stressed. The date, time and venue would be given then, Dr.Guruge added.

However,due to a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases, some hospitals have reached maximum capacity, and have been forced to declare an emergency by mid-week.

Most hospitals have run out of the facilities available to treat COVID-19 infected people, and sources said due to a sudden spike in people infected with COVID pneumonia the ICU facilities had also become scarce.

Hence, health authorities warned the rate of deaths from the illness could increase alarmingly in the coming days and weeks.

It is further claimed the impending COVID-19 situation could also seriously and adversely affect the staff of health institutions islandwide.

Meanwhile, due to the overnight increase in COVID-19 infected patients, the wards set aside at State hospitals for treatment had reached maximum capacity and it is reported presently hospitals are struggling to cater to the increasing demand day in and day out.

It is stated that at hospitals such as Colombo National, Colombo South Teaching Hospital (Kalubowila), Karapitiya Teaching, Gampaha, Ratnapura, Kegalle, Colombo North (Ragama) in one bed at least three COVID-19 patients had been put up for treatment for want of beds.

It is said the situation at Ragama Hospital had reached its breaking point. Sources said around 500 COVID-19 infected patients are treated there and the majority of them had been forced to lie on mattresses in the hospital corridor, waiting for their chance to occupy a bed in the wards which had been filled to capacity.

Meanwhile, a few patients alleged that even bodies of COVID-19 dead had been placed in the hospital corridor, without disposing it, which could also be a serious health risk to all concerned.

They also charged that toilet facilities at the Ragama Hospital were also not up to the standard and when contacted regarding the allegations the Director of the Hospital, Dr.LiyanageRanasinghe had this to say “Our Hospital is the only Teaching Hospital available in the entire Gampaha District. For over a year now the number of COVID-19 infected patients being admitted here had shown a marked increase and we decided to set aside 10 of our wards for treatment. Our Wards 26 and 30 have been allocated towards the treatment of these patients who are admitted here daily. We categorise these patients under three segments and they are all subjected to rapid antigen tests. Following this, those who show minor symptoms are advised to undergo home quarantine. Any other patients who show serious symptoms are sent to hospitals situated in areas such as Kandana and Minuwangoda. The remaining patients are admitted to Ward 7 and they are sent there depending on the number of beds.”

Bathiudeen’s privileges 

President GotabayaRajapaksa on Wednesday (4) visited Parliament and attended proceedings.

He arrived in Parliament at around 11:15 a.m. and was escorted to the Chamber by Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena, along with State Ministers KanchanaWijesekera and IndikaAnuruddha.

The President then entered the Chamber accompanied by Prime Minister MahindaRajapaksa.

He remained in the Chamber until around 12:00 noon during the Oral Questions Round.

During his stay in the Chamber, the President was seen in a deep conversation with the Prime Minister, Gunawardena and Minister Johnston Fernando.

Meanwhile, a tense situation erupted in Parliament when Chief Opposition Whip LakshmanKiriella alleged that SJB MP RishadBathiudeen’s parliamentary privileges have been violated, as he has been detained for over 100 days without charges.

“Why was he arrested in the first place? Now he is being detained on Detention Orders. There are no charges filed against him either. The Court was ready to hear his case on four occasions, but it was postponed. This is a violation of parliamentary privileges. According to the parliamentary privileges, the Speaker should have been informed as to why a particular MP was arrested.”

Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena, who intervened at this point, stressed that as the matter related to Bathiudeen is sub judice, it should not be discussed further.

“I have the right to disturb you. It is a sub judice matter. We cannot stop an investigation against an MP. The Speaker has given permission for him to attend Parliamentary Sittings.”

Speaker MahindaYapaAbeywardena: “I have been informed that Bathiudeen was arrested along with some facts related to that. I have been informed that the investigation is still ongoing.”

Kiriella: “There should be a clear reason to arrest someone. Have you been informed as to why he was arrested? This is a common concern for both the Government and Opposition.”

The Speaker, however, did not give an answer to this claim. Although Kiriella tried to speak further, his microphone was taken away.

Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando then requested the Speaker to move the floor for the proceedings of the day.

“Kiriella is shouting without a microphone. You dare to talk about privileges now. When we were arrested during your Government’s time, the Speaker was not informed.”

At this juncture, Bathiudeen requested a minute to speak from Fernando. The Speaker then gave the microphone to Bathiudeen.

Both President GotabayaRajapaksa and Prime Minister MahindaRajapaksa were present in the Chamber when he was speaking.

“I was arrested in April and after that I was questioned for only five days. Following this, nothing has happened until now. There is no probe against me. I am not lying. You can come and see whether I am lying. When I asked why I was arrested, the OIC said it was due to a telephone conversation between me and then Ministry Secretary Balasubramaniam. That telephone call only lasted for about one and a half minutes. That was the only reason behind my arrest.”

Then the microphone was taken away from him. Bathiudeen requested more time, but the Speaker denied his request.

Fernando: “I request the Speaker to continue the proceedings. Bathiudeen is speaking about Balasubramaniam. Where is that person now?”

 Ishalini’s death note?

The inquiry into the death of the 16-year-old domestic aide, who died at the residence of SJB MP RishadBathiudeen, has now shifted to a phrase reportedly written by her, in the room she was residing, according to Police.

The phrase, 'En SawukkuKaranam,' translates to 'The reason for my death'. Police said officials, including the Government Analyst, are paying close attention to it.

As a result, despite the fact that the phrase is written in Tamil language, it contains English letters and she had used a pen.

The Police, CID, and Government Analyst are all conducting investigations to see if the phrase was written before or after the death, and if it was written to deceive the investigations.

After getting treatment for 12 days at the Colombo National Hospital, the 16-year-old girl died of serious burn injuries on 15 July. She had been sexually assaulted for a long time, according to the post-mortem report.

A few schoolbooks that had been used by Ishaliniwere submitted to the Government Analyst for handwriting analysis.

This was following the discovery of a phrase written on the wall of her cooped-up room.

They said in her phrase the victim had stated “the reason for my death.” According to the Police, the victim had written her comment in English, denoting a Tamil meaning, and hence they had decided to hand over books that had been used by the deceased for inspection by the Government Analyst.

The Police believe that following handwriting analysis by the Government Analyst A, they would be able to determine whether the comment had been written by the deceased or someone else to lead investigators on a wild-goose chase.

The brother of maid Ishalini says that his sister had studied up to Grade VII at the Tamil MV, Puwakpitiya, Avissawella.

The victim’s brother said according to his knowledge his late sister had not been versed in English, to write anything in that language.

He added that he cannot comment further on anything that had been written on the wall of the room where his sister had lived.

Bathiudeen, meanwhile, used Parliament Privileges to explain events that took place at his house on the day the domestic aide was subjected to burn injuries in an attempt to indicate she set herself ablaze.

 Parties discuss KNDU Bill 

UNP Leader RanilWickremesinghe visited UNP headquarters to meet academics from the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) to discuss the Kotelawala National Defence University Bill.

The professors initially pointed out the imperfections of Sri Lanka’s university education system and how it needed to adapt to the modern world, to which Wickremesinghe responded by explaining how university education has changed in South Asia and Europe.

The discussion was followed by a debate on the Bill, during which the lecturers discussed the likelihood of university militarisation as well as the establishment of private schools and higher education institutions under this university, as well as their opposition to the bill.

The leader, who was interested in hearing the perspectives of the lecturers, allowed the party Chairman, VajiraAbeywardena, to convey the party’s viewpoints, explaining how the decision to establish the KNDU and its objective came about.

Wickremesinghe noted that, the Government wanted the Bill to be brought in quickly and passed quickly. “The Government did not go for a vote on the KNDU Bill in the face of opposition from all parties and, at the end of the debate, the Government had to agree to the UNP’s proposal to return the Bill to the Committee on Higher Education to obtain further recommendations,”

The academics then praised Wickremesinghe’s vision for university education and thanked him for standing with the UNP and FUTA’s opinion. A university lecturer claimed that this conversation had improved his team’s expertise.

He stated that they discussed the same issue with other party leaders, but that those leaders dropped their heads and simply agreed, adding that Wickremesinghe offered fresh points to their knowledge with which they can proceed.

Following a conversation with the professors, Wickremesinghe summoned party officials to discuss the 75th UNP Convention, which will be held on 6 September and the discussion were joined by Abeywardena, Party General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, SagalaRatnayake, and others.

Wickremesinghe then inquired about the party’s anniversary preparations and new plans from Range Bandara, and latter then delivered a report, after which the group discussed how to carry the party ahead by bringing in new faces and strengthening existing groups.

Range Bandara said that the task of completing the party seat organising committees has begun and that Deputy Leader RuwanWijewardene visited Badulla last weekend and learned that the party’s efforts were successful.

In response, Wickremesinghe stated that Wijewardene told him after conversing with him that there is a huge awakening in the BadullaDistrict, and that the monks enjoyed Wijewardene’s coming.

Range Bandara went on to say that the Abeywardene will be in charge of the Southern Province, while party Assistant Leader Akila VirajKariyawasam will be in charge of the North Western and North Central Provinces, and that the factions will be separated into these provinces.

Ratnayake remarked that following the party’s anniversary, members should focus on forming constituency groups and conducting a media campaign, and everyone agreed.

Wickremesinghe asked the Minister of Health about the COVID-19 situation in the country during a Parliamentary Session on Tuesday, and requested that the Ministry of Health submit a report on COVID-19 when the Parliament meets on Tuesdays every week, as other Governments do in other parts of the world.

During the four days that Parliament was in session, Wickremesinghe visited Parliament and met members of the Government and Opposition. A group of new MPs also briefed Wickremesinghe about Ministers’ and MPs’ attempts to have speeches delivered in Parliament to be given to the heads of Media organisations.

When Wickremesinghe said, “A relative of mine owns a Media outlet, so I need to ask if we can obtain another newspaper to fulfil these demands,” the crowd burst out laughing.

Other passersby joined the crowd in laughter as a group of politicians clapped in the lobby. They also spoke with Wickremesinghe about the COVID-19 problem and the economic crisis, as well as the fertiliser issue.

Members of the Government and Opposition praised Wickremesinghe’s remarks in Parliament on Thursday, saying he had clarified the country’s true condition. Due to the current emergency, he urged Parliament to pass a budget for COVID-19 expenses and to eliminate the import of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment from the procurement procedure.

Wickremesinghe also told the Parliament that they are waiting to see what happens now.

SLFP writes to President

In light of the controversy surrounding the KNDU Bill, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), one of the Government’s key factions, formed a committee chaired by Deputy Speaker RanjithSiyambalapitiya to analyse the Bill and suggest revisions.

The party consulted the SLFP Parliamentary Group as well as a number of other stakeholders before reaching an agreement on the KNDU Bill.

The SLFP made a copy of its letter to the President and published, which was signed by Siyambalapitiya.

Accordingly, the committee’s letter to President GotabayaRajapaksa on 3 August said that the SLFP would support the proposed KNDU Bill if the Government met the party’s four conditions, the most important of which was to keep KNDU within the State university system.

Their first suggestion was that KNDU be placed under the University Grants Commission (UGC), the second was that those outside the military be admitted based on Z-Score rankings, the third was to take into account that undergraduates had to pay for their education at KNDU and make arrangements to provide them with loan facilities that could be paid back later, and the last suggestion was that civil servants be admitted based on their Z-Score rankings.

Recognising the critical importance of addressing issues relating to university level education, particularly for those who have been denied admission to State universities and are seeking admission to universities in other countries, the SLFP has proposed the formation of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to examine the issue at hand within a specific time frame.

However, the SLFP believes that the above-mentioned four modifications should be included if the government wants to move the bill from Parliament quickly.

The SLFP expects President GotabayaRajapaksa to pay special attention to the suggestions presented, Siyambalapitiya has mentioned in the letter.

The Government, meanwhile, decided to postpone taking up the General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill for debate in Parliament on Friday (6), Minister ChamalRajapaksa informed Parliament.

Rajapaksa said so in response to a question raised by UNP MP RanilWickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe queried whether the Bill would be taken up for debate in Parliament on Friday (6).

The Minister said the Government hopes to postpone the debate on the Bill, giving the public more time to express their views on the matter.

Ranil goes to courts

UNP MP RanilWickremesinghe has filed a writ application, before the  Court of Appeal, seeking an order, in the nature of a Writ of Certiorari, quashing the recommendations made against him, by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) appointed to probe political victimisation of Public officials during the tenure of the former Government.

Wickremesinghe, who is the former Prime Minister, said he was summoned to the PCoI and after having attended, he was informed that he was not being treated as a respondent but only as a witness, due to which he was led to believe that no recommendations would be made against him and that no material will be collected to his detriment.

He added that in such circumstance, he gave evidence and no charges or complaint was served against him, and that the nature of the complaints against him, if any, were not disclosed.

Wickremesinghe stated that thereby, the recommendations, made in relation to him, contained in the report are vitiated by bias and is in breach of his legitimate expectation.

“The Anti-Corruption committee and the Secretariat was established consequent to the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers while expenditure was made according to law," he said adding that the said Secretariat only provided a mechanism for expeditious investigation and disposal of complaints and did not in any way contribute to a legal impediment to the direct invocation of the powers of any authority.

Further it was stated that the relevant authorities, including the Police, Attorney General’s Department and the Judiciary investigated complaints and took decisions to prosecute and carry out prosecutions in all cases and that he did not interfere with the investigations or the authorities.

He stated that such recommendations could affect his legal rights, and/or his reputation adding that findings are ultra vires the powers and mandate of the Commission.

It was further stated in the Petition that thereby there is a complete violation of the rules of Natural Justice and no proper hearing was given to him thereby making the recommendations unreasonable, irrational, Arbitrary and with no basis.

Wickremesinghe thereby also requested for an interim order suspending the operation of the findings contained in the report against him until the final determination of the Petition.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Aug 7 2021

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