Cabinet of Ministers Divided Over PC Polls
By Gagani Weerakoon
Nine fire engines, along with Sri Lanka Air Force and Army personnel, managed to extinguish a fire that broke out at the Supreme Court (SC) Complex on Tuesday (15).
Many thought that the fire had broken out in the Record Room of the building that stored more than 30,000 case files, including the one concerning the contempt of Court case related to SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake and several other high profile cases, of which verdicts are due in the coming weeks.
Sources said, the fire had begun from the ground floor room, but fortunately the Record Room where the case files had been kept or any of the other electronic items or the other equipment had not been damaged by it.
However, the Government Analyst along with three CID teams was deployed to probe the incident.
Even the Ministry of Justice is housed in the same building, while all Secretariats of the SC and the Court of Appeal, along with 12 Court rooms are also housed there.
It has come to light that extensive damage had been prevented, after security officers had witnessed plumes of smoke coming out of the window panes from the fifth storey of the SC building, and alerted the Security Chief Marshal of the SC.
Within a span of 10 minutes of being informed by the Marshal, nine fire engines, along with Air Force and Army personnel had rushed to the complex, and doused the fire.
Immediately afterwards, Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Attorney General Dappula de Livera, Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Priyantha Mayadunne, officers from the AG’s Department, DIG Ajith Rohana, and other senior Police Officers arrived at the SC Complex.
Soon after, the fire fighters, along with Forces personnel had noticed that the fire had not originated from the fifth floor of the building, but instead from the ground floor.
They were able to extinguish the flames within 60 minutes.
Following urgent talks held between CJ Jayasuriya, AG de Livera, Secretary to the Ministry of Justice Mayadunne, and DIG Rohana, it was decided to deploy three CID teams to investigate the blaze at the SC Complex.
They also decided to continue proceedings of the SC and the Court of Appeal as usual from today and to deploy Air Force personnel to clean up the fifth floor of the building, yesterday.
Meanwhile, another moot point discussed was whether the blaze was an act of sabotage, as the fire had begun from the ground floor, allowing it to spread to other rooms of the complex, where high profile case files are stored.
Hence, they agreed that a lengthy, efficient, and transparent inquiry should be initiated by the CID.
The Keselwatta Police on Wednesday (16), made submissions to the Colombo Additional Magistrate Kanchana Neranjani Silva in connection with the blaze that occurred at the Supreme Court Complex in Aluthkade on 15 December.
They told the Court that they had already commenced initial investigations into the fire and later produced a summary of their probe to the Magistrate.
The Police added that further inquiries into the blaze had been handed over to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). The fire which had started at the ground floor of the Supreme Court Complex was eventually doused by the Fire Brigade and Air Force and Army personnel.
The probe conducted by the CID has revealed that only disposable air conditioning items had been damaged in the fire.
Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police Ajith Rohana said, the blaze had not damaged any of the documents or case files kept in the SC record room.
He said, the blaze had begun at around 4:25 p.m. and that they were yet to determine the cause. Three CID teams are probing the blaze.
Meanwhile, the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Priyantha Mayadunne said, due to the sudden blaze that had taken place at the Supreme Court Complex and the Court of Appeal, the proceedings of the two Courts had not taken place yesterday.
He said, this decision had been taken due to the necessity to shutdown electricity to aid the on-going probe into the blaze.
Elephant matters at Cabinet
This week Cabinet meeting was also held through video technology. Though the meeting was scheduled to start at 5:00 p.m., most of the Ministers were seated having got connected to the Presidential Secretariat till the arrival of the President. During this time, a discussion on elephants surfaced.
Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana inquired from the Minister of Wildlife C.B. Ratnayake whether he had seen details in social Media where Sri Lanka had been identified as the country with the largest number of elephant deaths in the world. C.B. Ratnayake answered saying that he had seen it and that there were some issues related to the elephants. Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara who intervened had a different issue.
He asked whether there was any small country in the world like this where the pachyderms die in such numbers. Ratnayake replied in the negative. He explained that the population of the elephants had increased in the recent past. Then Minister Pathirana inquired as to the precise number of jumbos here. Wildlife Minister said, though the data had varied based on the survey done nine years ago the number had been 7,200.
In the meantime, a talk on the prices of essential items came to the table. Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage tried to rile Minister Bandula Gunawardena claiming that the latter had failed to keep a lid on the rise in prices of essentials. Gunawardena blamed it on the state of agriculture here. Wimal Weerawansa then joked that Gunawardena had begun to look even more handsome after the gazetting of the Commercial Department. Trade Minister Gunawardena then urged Weerawansa to at least hand over the Economic Centres in Colombo coming under former’s purview to him. Weerawansa responded that anything in Colombo would be given other than the Economic Centres. Minister Mahindananda said, the economic centres set up had begun to resemble like shopping complexes. Gunawardena then responded that they had not been built under his watch.
Weerawansa had submitted a Cabinet Paper towards the development of the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA). At that point, Minister Prasanna Ranatunga who intervened said, that he could provide the NGJA with a Duty Free Shop at the BIA. Weerawansa profusely thanked Minister Ranatunga for his gesture. Wildlife Minister Ratnayake then urged his Ministry also be given some space at the BIA. Weerawansa responded that animals cannot be accommodated there as it is an Airport. Ratnayake clarified saying he had only sought approval to sell wild-life tickets to tourists.
PC polls heats up Cabinet
Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon submitted a proposal to hold the delayed Provincial Council Polls based on the current electoral system. But, Minister Bandula Gunawardena opposed it. He noted that at a time when the President had given an undertaking to amend the Constitution pressing ahead with the said Poll would be courting disaster. Minister Vasudeva also agreed with the view shared by Mnister Bandula. At that point Minister Prasanna Ranatunge also put his two cents worth and insisted that the PC Polls should be held as it is part of the democratic functioning of the Government. This sentiment was also supported by Minister Ramesh Pathirana. Dr. Pathirana too wanted the PC Elections to be held and then to ponder on amendments to the PC Polls Act later. Minister Dinesh Gunawardena intervened and said that if the PC Polls were to be held under the old system it would create issues to the Government. He warned the trust placed on the President by the people could also be eroded through such actions. Minister Vasudeva then wondered whether simply staging a Poll would entail any undue issues to the Government.
Foreign Minister Gunawardena then explained that the issue at the moment was with the electoral system that should be adopted. Minister Ranatunga observed that the Polls should simply be held without deferring it further for no tangible reasons.
Minister Dinesh Gunawardena insisted that a political decision would have to be reached regarding whether the election should be held or not. Weerawansa pointed out that holding an election amidst the COVID-19 situation would not go down well with the voters. His opinion was then backed by Minister Sarath Weerasekera. Weerasekera insisted that his personal view was that the country would be better served sans the PCs. Wimal again remarked that the topic should be broached before the party leaders’ meeting before seeking the approval of the Government Parliamentary Group ahead of contemplating future measures. The President too agreed with the view expressed by Weerawansa and advised the Ministers not to panic over the issue and that it should be deliberated at length at the two aforesaid meetings.
Meanwhile, Ministers Namal Rajapaksa and Pavithra Wanniarachchi went to the Ministry of Tourism last Monday. This was to discuss on further improving the tourism sector next year through the sports arena. Namal then inquired from Ranatunga how the situation was with regard to the reopening of the BIA.
Minister Ranatunga looked at the Health Minister and said that she was yet to hand him the necessary health guidelines. Wanniarachchi said it will happen when the time is right. Minister Namal then said that next to the tourism industry the biggest affected sector had been the field of youth and sports. Minister Ranatunga then suggested that a joint programme with the three Ministries should be formulated to tide over the COVID-19 crisis. They all nodded in agreement.
With Member of Parliament Patali Champika Ranawaka resigning from the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and joining the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), expecting to be offered a top post, such as Deputy Leader of the Party, a highly controversial situation has arisen within the latter party.
During the last General Election, Ranawaka came fifth in the Colombo District and it is said that severe injustice will result if he is given a position ahead of Sarath Fonseka and Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, who obtained first place in the preferential votes list from the Gampaha and Kalutara Districts respectively, Samagi Jana Balavegaya sources said.
Ranawaka had obtained only 65,574 preferential votes, while Parliamentarian Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka had obtained 110,535 and Parliamentarian Rajitha Senaratne had got 77,476 votes, these sources said adding that they cannot in any way approve of someone who obtained a lower number of preferential votes asking for a top post in the Party.
They further said that, if so, top posts in the Party should be allocated to those who left the United National Party and seniors who joined the Samagi Jana Balavegaya, such as Sarath Fonseka and Rajitha Senaratne and not Champika Ranawaka who obtained a lesser number of preferential votes than S. M. Marikkar, Mujubur Rahuman and Dr.Harsha De Silva in the Colombo District.
Govt to respond to Maldives
The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry will make an announcement on the matter concerning the Maldives Government facilitating Islamic funeral rites in the Maldives for Sri Lankan Muslims succumbing to COVID-19.
Addressing the weekly Cabinet Media briefing, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said, the Government will take decisions according to the advice given by the expert committee appointed to review the disposal of deceased COVID-19 victims, adding, neither the Cabinet nor the Prime Minister will take arbitrary decisions in this regard.
Fielding a question posed by the Media, Rambukwella said, the Foreign Ministry will make an announcement regarding the statement made by the Foreign Ministry (FM) of Maldives, and according to his knowledge there were no discussions in the Cabinet regarding the matter.
“What happened at the initial stage, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that burials can be done in a country’s specific manner? So we referred this to an expert committee. Time and again we have been taking their views. Whenever there are certain requests and some appeals from various parties, we refer that to the expert committee. We strongly believe that if you appoint a committee of that nature, you should take expert advice from that,” he stated.
Downplaying the stance of the Government regarding the statement made by the Maldives Government’s Foreign Ministry, Rambukwella further said, they will verify the situation and make public their stance concerning such.
When queried whether the Government is aware of such a statement, Rambukwella said that he is not aware about any statement made by the Maldives Government.
The Maldives Government had said, it was considering a request from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to facilitate Islamic funeral rites in the Maldives for Sri Lankan Muslims succumbing to COVID-19. Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid tweeted that the Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is considering the special request from President Rajapaksa. “President Solih’s decision is based on the close and longstanding bilateral ties between Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and to ensure help face the challenges of the pandemic. This assistance will also offer solace to our Sri Lankan Muslim brothers and sisters grieving over the burial of loved ones,” Shahid said.