Maithri-Ranil Discuss Easter Commission Report Over Dinner Hosted by PM

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Feb 27 2021
Ceylon Politics Maithri-Ranil Discuss Easter Commission Report Over Dinner Hosted by PM

The final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Easter Sunday bombings appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena was handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa two weeks ago. At the Cabinet meeting of that week, the President said the report was "controversial" and it could cause some problems in implementing its recommendations.

However, they will have to be implemented and the report will be submitted to the Cabinet as soon as possible, he said. Accordingly, the report was presented to the Cabinet last Monday (22).

In the meantime the President appointed another committee to look into how the recommendations of the PCoI should be implemented. Minister Chamal Rajapaksa was appointed as the Chairman of the Committee while Ministers Udaya Gammanpila, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena were the other members.

The first meeting of the said committee appointed by the President was held at the Presidential Secretariat before the Cabinet meeting last Monday. The committee members discussed the steps to be taken to implement the recommendations of the PCoI and they also decided to hand over their observations to the President soon. The Cabinet meeting was held on Monday at around 5 p.m. at the Presidential Secretariat. PCoI report was presented by President Rajapaksa.

"This PCoI was not appointed by us, but by the previous Government. We extended its tenure and proceeded with it. After receiving the report, I appointed another committee to re-examine how its recommendations should be implemented. Not to change any of its recommendations,” he explained. He said the report would be tabled in Parliament and further action would be taken accordingly.

Subsequently, the report was handed over to the Speaker on Tuesday (23) and the latter said that it would be given to all Parliamentarians by Thursday. Till then, Sinhala, English and Tamil copies of the report were kept at the Parliament library for MPs’ perusal. MPs representing the Opposition were seen reading it and a ruling party MP, after seeing Harin Fernando referring to the report, said “maybe he is checking whether his name is there.”

Recommendations of PCoI report 

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into 21 April 2019 bombings on Easter Sunday, in its final report, has recommended to the Attorney General (AG) that criminal proceedings be instituted against former President Maithripala Sirisena under provisions of the Penal Code for his failure to appoint an Acting Defence Minister when the former left for Singapore on a private tour on 16 April 2019. 

The Commission has also mentioned that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was not invited to the National Security Council (NSC) meetings. The Report states that Wickremesinghe was not attending the NSC following Sirisena’s decision to remove the former from the PM post. It also states that Wickremesinghe was not invited by Sirisena to the NSC, even after he re-assumed duties as Premier.

The PCoI states that there is no justifiable reason for Sirisena not to invite the former Premier to the NSC and also points out that Wickremesinghe should have raised the matter in Parliament or Cabinet, to ensure the status quo is restored. It states the failure of the former Premier to do so and not inviting him to the NSC were unacceptable. 

In addition to Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, the PCoI has recommended that criminal charges be filed against former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, former Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis, former Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara, former Director of State Intelligence Nilantha Jayawardena and senior DIG Nandana Munasinghe.

The PCoI has also recommended that organisations such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-e-Islami Students Organisation be banned and that an in-depth investigation be carried out into the activities and members of such organisations, to file criminal charges under appropriate legal provisions. The Report also states that laws and regulations should be enacted to ban extremist organisations such as the Islamic State (IS).

In the final Report, the PCoI has further recommended that senior Government officials should not hold more than one post, as former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando has held senior positions in a number of other institutions in addition to the post of Defence Secretary. For this reason, it is stated in the Report that the PCoI observes that Fernando has not spent enough time for duties of the Defence Ministry.

The Report also states that legal conditions should be laid down under the Public Security Act to enable the Police to obtain the assistance of the Sri Lanka Army without imposing the State of Emergency.

The PCoI stated in its Report that Zaharan, Rilwan Hashim, Seini Maulavi, Mohamed Ibrahim Ilham Ahmed (Shangri- la hotel suicide bomber), Mohamed Ibrahim Inshaf Ahmed (Cinnamon Grand hotel suicide bomber), Abdul Latif Jameel Mohamed (Dehiwala Tropical Inn Lodge suicide bomber), Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hastun (Katuwapitiya St. Sebastian’s Church suicide bomber), Alawdeen Ahmed Muaath (Kochchikade St. Anthony’s Church suicide bomber), Mohamed Nazar Mohamed Azad (Batticaloa Zion Church suicide bomber), Mohamed Azam Mohamed Mubarak (Kingsbury Hotel suicide bomber), Mohamed Noufar alias Naufer Moulavi who is believed to be the mastermind behind Easter Sunday bombings, Ahamed Milhan Hayathu Moahmed and Mohamed Ibrahim Sadiq Abdul Haq (who is in remand custody over the incident of several Buddha statues being vandalised in the Mawanella area in October 2018, were directly involved in the Easter Sunday bombings. 

In addition, it states that the Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami and the Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami students’ union, as well as groups based on Thowheed ideology, were indirectly involved in the bombings. In addition, the PCoI states that the activities of organisations such as the BBS have also indirectly contributed to the bombings. 

The PCoI has also recommended that matters pertaining to the alleged connection between Parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen and the copper factory owned by Inshaf in the Wellampitiya be referred to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).

In addition, the PCoI recommends that clothing designed to cover the entire face be prohibited in any public place. It also points out that such clothing is now banned in many countries around the world.

It also states the former IGP has failed to curb the activities of the group including Zaharan, despite the large amount of intelligence information provided by the State Intelligence Service (SIS) and other agencies. Accordingly, the PCoI has recommended to the AG that criminal charges be filed against former IGP Jayasundera, under the relevant provisions of the Penal Code, as well.

The PCoI also recommends that a Presidential Advisory Committee be appointed representing all religious leaders with balanced religious representation and that no politician be appointed to the said committee. It also stated that the publications of all religions should be regulated, adding that the capacity for monitoring and managing publications on social media platforms should also be increased.

In addition, it has recommended that the registration of political parties based on religious reasons and beliefs should be prohibited and that the name of any religion should not be used as a name of any political party. It further states that the TV channel 'Peace TV' should be banned in Sri Lanka and that it has already been banned in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. 

The Report recommends that legislation be enacted to confiscate all properties, including business properties of the suicide bombers. The PCoI has recommended this after it was revealed that one of the suicide bombers had transferred his properties after deciding to be a suicide bomber.

Recommendations of several categories have been made by the PCoI that includes changes to be made to the sectors such as administration, defence, finance and several others. The PCoI states that the absence of three important components in the administration of the Government plays a pivotal role in the radicalisation process. According to its report, absence of Good Governance, absence of an effective judicial system and absence of platforms to be heard, greatly contribute to the radicalisation process.

India's keen attention on Imran's arrival

Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan arrived in Sri Lanka last Tuesday. He was received by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa at Katunayake Airport. Several representatives of the Government also attended the event and bilateral talks between Rajapaksa and Khan were held at Temple Trees. There Rajapaksa also introduced some Ministers to Khan.

“This is Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, brother of former Cricket Captain Arjuna Ranatunga,” Rajapaksa introduced Ranatunga to Khan and he said, “I saw some similarities of them.”

What Imran told Arjuna

Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa had invited Khan to a luncheon last Wednesday with the intention of involving veteran athletes as well. The luncheon was held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo where Khan stayed during the visit. Khan’s peers such as Arjuna Ranatunga, Sidath Wettimuni, Ranjan Madugalle, Roy Dias, Asantha de Mel were invited for the banquet and also included Sanath Jayasuriya, Hashan Thilakaratne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Kumar Sangakkara.

NamalRajapaksa who received Khan at the entrance was accompanying him and Khan stopped by seeing someone familiar.

“Arjuna, what are you doing now,” he asked.“I am not in the Parliament now. Wasn’t elected this time,” he replied and Khan said, “As cricketers, we should know how to come back too.”

I have understood it Premier, Arjuna said.

You see, I was in the defeating side for almost 20 years. It takes some time. Can Arjuna remember that I told you to form a separate political party, but you didn’t do that? That is how I came this way,” Khan also said.

Then Arjuna replied saying, “I didn’t think of doing so, because my father also sacrificed many things for politics.”

The chat they had for about two to three minutes was very interesting and it didn’t reach an end even then. Khan did not forget to give Arjuna a piece of advice during his speech too. 

Khan addressing the gathering commended former Sri Lankan cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga for his efforts to instil a winning mindset for his former cricket team members. 

“Sports teach you something which you could not learn in university or school. The idea of competing in sports is to prepare you for struggles in life. The problem is that sportsmen when they finish their sporting career, live in their comfort zone, do not want to take any new challenges and the entire experience of struggle which is taught to you on the sporting field is lost,” Prime Minister Khan said.

The former Pakistan cricket captain recalled that his political debut was as tough as his entry into the cricketing world, adding that he didn’t accept defeat. “When I came into politics, just like my first Test match, my party never got one seat. We were wiped out. Everyone wrote my obituary in politics. I was the butt of all jokes not for one year, two years or five years. For almost 14 years people laughed at me,” Khan said.

The former cricketing legend also dished out some advice for former Sri Lankan cricket captain- turned politician Arjuna Ranatunga, who was in the audience. “I didn’t join a political party; I started alone, with no political background. No established politicians joined me anyway, because they thought I have no chance of winning. So I started with very few people. For fourteen years, Arjuna a message for you, for fourteen years, I was alone. It was the lessons I learnt in cricket that helped me in politics. The key lesson is that you only lose when you give up,” he said.

Premier Imran Khan also commented on the gradual development of the Sri Lankan cricket team prior to the 1996 Cricket world cup win. “I must say it’s a pleasure for me to watch my old colleagues here. I have watched Sri Lanka. I came here first I remember playing against the Sri Lankan team. I always thought they had talent, especially batting talent. But then they did not have the self-confidence,” he said.

“They did not believe that they could win. It was exactly the same with us, when I first played for my country, we toured England, and I remember my senior players telling me, look do not think that we can beat the English. We’ve just come here to learn. And as it happened, a series which we should have won, we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory because we didn’t have self-belief. So I remember Sri Lanka faced that same problem. Gradually I saw the team evolve, develop self-belief. I must say, I commend you Arjuna, because you were the one who actually instilled in them that grit, determination, self-belief. We were all very pleased to watch you win the world cup in Lahore,” Khan added

Premier, there are some friends who played cricket with you. Arjuna showed them to Khan. Oh my god, my friends, Khan exclaimed as he approached Sidath, Ranjan, Roy, Sangakkara, Vaas, Murali. Khan, after having a chat with them for some time, also appeared for photographs.

Khan did not forget to give his contact number to Arjuna too. He also got Arjuna’s number.

Ranil visits Temple Trees

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe visited Temple Trees on Wednesday (24) on an invitation to participate in the dinner hosted by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

He was seated at the table allocated for former President Maithripala Sirisena, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, and Pakistani Minister of Tourism and the Pakistani Chairman of the Board of Investment. 

The former President had already taken a seat at the table when Wickremesinghe arrived at the banquet. 

As, the Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa, was not present at that time, only the former Prime Minister and the President were present at the table, besides the two members of the Pakistan delegation. Although Sirisena looked annoyed, Wickremesinghe started a casual conversation with the former President. 

“Have you looked at the PCoI report on Easter Sunday terror attacks?” Wickremesinghe asked the former President who replied curtly, “Not yet.”

Their conversation went on until Sajith Premadasa arrived at the table. 

Reminding that there is no need to be afraid of the PCoI report, Wickremesinghe requested the former President to meet the lawyers and discuss the matter and take further steps. 

Wickremesinghe also spoke to Premadasa as well as the Pakistani Minister of Tourism and the Chairman of the Board of Investment. He left the banquet after speaking with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, too. 

Next day, he started to study the PCoI report. Therefore, the former Ministers and MPs who used to meet him arrived late. Wickremesinghe also gave an interview to two national newspapers regarding the PCoI report, as well. 

Wickremesinghe held discussions with UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene, General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, Chairman Vajira Abeywardena and other party activists. He explained about the interviews he gave to the newspapers, to them.

 “There is nothing important in that commission report. This is just like a politically influenced document,” Sandith Samarasinghe said. 

“I agree. The commission was appointed to find out who carried out the attack and who was behind it. But apart from all that, the report contains only the information which is already in the public domain. The report states that there should be one common law in the country. The incumbent President’s policy statement also states that there should be a common law. It is proposed to abolish the Ministry of Buddhasasana. It is said that Dhamma schools should be taken over by the Government. If the one country-one law principle is introduced to do all this, the need to prioritise Buddhism according to Article 9 of the Constitution will be abolished,” Wickremesinghe, on a serious note said.

 “It is also proposed to file a criminal case against a group of officials, including the former President. How can that be done,” Prof. Ashu Marasinghe asked. 

“The report proves that none of the UNP MPs and Ministers was involved in the terror attack,” Ruwan Wijewardene said.

Joining the conversation, Range Bandara said: “However, this report does not mention the role of the Prime Minister in forcibly going to the Ministry of Defence after the Easter Sunday attack and preventing the second attack. If the then Prime Minister had not intervened, there would have been a big disaster.”

“The report also proposes to make voting compulsory and to fine those who do not vote,” Wajira Abeywardena said. 

“The Commission says that people should vote for a stable Government. It does not matter if a stable Government is formed when there are conflicts. Only in Australia fines are imposed for not voting. Other countries do not do that. This is not a practical thing at all,” Wickremesinghe said with a laugh.

“If one country-one law principle is initiated, the rules have to be changed a lot. There were proposals from Muslim women regarding the abolition of the Muslim marriage law. Also, it seems that they try to repeal the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance and Kandyan law using the Muslim Marriage law as an excuse. But will the Buddhist clergy allow that to happen,”asked a legal officer.

"I see this as a politically influenced document. It says to abolish the Bodu Bala Sena. However, Abdul Razik's Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaat is not mentioned in the report. There are a lot of contradictions in the report. A group of Buddhist monks also asked me if this was done to target Buddhists. We will work from the point of view that we do not agree with this report,” Wickremesinghe suggested.

The visit of Pakistani PM Imran Khan was also discussed during the meeting. 

Meanwhile, Vajira Abeywardena drew attention of others to a matter that had not been brought to the discussions yet.

Earlier, during the visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan, then President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe hosted two separate banquets. When President Musharraf visited during former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure, the President as well as the Prime Minister hosted banquets. But PM Khan only got the chance to take part in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s banquet. The question arises as to whether this was done to please someone,” Abeywardena said. 

“Looking at as to why the President avoided this, I think he may have done this to please India,” a legal officer said. 

They also exchanged views on party activities as well as the new President of the Sri Lanka Bar Association. They claimed that the election portrays the public outcry against the Government. 

The UNP members noted that the candidate who had come forward from Viyathmaga was defeated and the independent candidate had won the election.

Although they requested Wickeremsinghe again to take the party’s National List seat and go Parliament to represent the country on issues such as PCoI report on Easter Sunday terror attacks, Wickremesinghe refrained from answering. He only smiled and did not say anything.

SLFP Stance

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in a special statement announced that it appears that the final report of Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings has been prepared on double standards by adopting a lax policy towards former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and a strict policy only on former President Maithripala Sirisena. 

The SLFP had appointed a special committee headed by its Senior Vice President, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva to review the final report of the PCoI and its recommendations.

The SLFP further claims that the PCoI has not properly investigated regarding the information that Pulastini Rajendran alias Sara Jasmine (the widow of Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hastun who carried out the suicide bombing at St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya) had fled to India with the support of a Police officer. The PCoI has ignored certain matters that could have been exposed through her by doing so, it added. 

It also states that certain conclusions and recommendations have been made beyond the scope assigned to the PCoI.  Certain recommendations have been made after studying matters which are not relevant to the PCoI’s scope at all, it stated, and also mentioned that the SLFP’s general opinion is that positive recommendations are not included in the PCoI report.

Also, adding that former President Sirisena appointed the PCoI during his tenure based on three main factors, including the identification of local and foreign forces behind the Easter Sunday bombings, identification of the main motives of such forces and the presentation of recommendations for legal action against those directly or indirectly involved in the attack, the SLFP, in the statement, announced that it rejects many of the recommendations included in the PCoI report.

It further states that Sirisena took over the Ministry of Law and Order on 30 October, 2018 and that the PCoI has not mentioned about any responsibility for the attack on anyone who had previously been in charge of the said Ministry. In addition, it states that the perpetrators of the attack and the swords found in various mosques following the attack have not been adequately investigated.

“The PCoI has been tasked with examining whether former or current Government officials were directly or indirectly involved in the attack, and it has not been given any authority to investigate the role of the Head of state or political leaders, including Ministers,” the statement further mentioned.

It also states that the PCoI’s recommendation that criminal charges be filed against an Executive President is an unfavourable precedent. It states that it is an undermining of the constitutional power of a Head of State and added that such actions targeting Sirisena will set a precedent for bringing criminal charges against any Head of State in the future and that it is a dangerous and reckless act.

The SLFP also stated that it hopes to conduct an indepth study of this report and its recommendations in the future and make a special statement in this regard. 

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Feb 27 2021

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