Manhunt on for Bathiudeen

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 17 2020
Ceylon Politics Manhunt on for Bathiudeen
By Gagani Weerakoon

Three Venerable Theras - Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera and Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thera who were in the forefront to bring back Rajapaksas to power, on Friday (16), submitted a strongly worded letter addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa urging him to reconsider the decision to ratify the proposed 20th Amendment Bill, introducing necessary amendments before passing it.

They pointed out in their letter though the Government had envisioned the creation of a stable and strong Government with the new Bill they had warned that its haphazard ratification would instead create an autocrat of a President while rendering the Cabinet into a non-entity.

The Theras had opined that the powers vested in the incumbent Prime Minister would be seriously curtailed while reducing the Cabinet into mere puppets if the Bill is passed and also explained that the new Bill, if enacted, would prevent the masses from legally challenging any unconstitutional moves by the present regime.

They had further observed that the proposed Amendment if passed would also pave the way for the creation of an unstable Government with no respect for the rule of law and have also warned that allowing dual citizens to seek higher political office would impinge on national security and the sovereignty of the people. They had also stated that dual citizens should be prohibited from not only entering Parliament but also from holding any post in any Government institution.

The Sangha Troika had also urged the President to reconsider amending several Clauses contained in the Bill such as those concerning the appointment of Judges to the higher Courts, the removal of the Presidential Secretariat, the Prime Minister’s Office and State Institutions from audit inquiries conducted by the Auditor General, and allowing the President to increase the number of Cabinet Ministers according to his wishes, among others.

This comes in the wake of Government announcing that they will be debating 20th Amendment Bill in Parliament on 21 and 22 October. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will officially announce to the House, the determination sent by the Supreme Court on Tuesday (20). 

Unprecedented Leak

In an unprecedented and controversial event, a document purporting to be the determination of the Supreme Court on the 20th Amendment Bill was leaked and circulating on various social media platforms and websites.

The determination, a document which contains the decision of the Supreme Court in response to 39 petitions filed by political parties, human rights activists, the Bar Council and other groups, was sent to the President and to the Office of the Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene on previous Friday (9).

The Supreme Court, which had perused the Special Determination and Interlocutory Petitions concerning the proposed 20th Amendment Bill by the Government, has deemed that four Clauses contained in the Bill, would need to be ratified not only with a two-thirds majority in Parliament, but also through a public referendum as well, stated informed sources.

The Supreme Court has also recommended that the immunity conferred on the President should be subjected to restrictions and a challenge by way of a Fundamental Rights application against an official act rendered permissible.

The Apex Court has informed that if total immunity were to be granted to the President, then that should only be accorded to him after seeking approval from a public referendum.

The 20th Amendment Bill also proposes to do away with the Clause contained in the 19th Amendment which deems that it is an offence to disregard directives issued to State officials by the Election Commission. The Supreme Court recommends holding a referendum in this regard too. 

The Supreme Court has recommended that the Clause contained in the 20th Amendment to remove the Section in the 19th Amendment, regarding instructions given by the Election Commission, if they are not heeded by its officials, is an offence and would also need to be ratified through a referendum.

It is also claimed that the Supreme Court has suggested that if Parliament is to be dissolved after a lapse of 12 months since its inauguration, then the Government would need to gain approval for it through another referendum as well.

The Supreme Court has also recommended that the proposal made in the 20th Amendment Bill to remove the Clause in the 19th Amendment which dictates that an environment should be created for the conduct of a free and fair Poll, should also be approved only through a referendum.

Meanwhile, during the course of the hearing of 39 Special Determination and Interlocutory Petitions by the Supreme Court, Attorney General Dappula de Livera had stated to the five-Judge Bench, through a motion, that the Government was looking to add the necessary amendments to the mooted Bill, during the Committee Stage of its deliberations in the House.

Religious leaders concerned 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, while insisting the 20th Amendment should not be proceeded with in its entirety, Tuesday (13), said a two-thirds majority of the members in Parliament, based on political parties, does not necessarily manifest the true conscience of the people.They said, instead, a new Constitution needs to be the national priority at present.

They also called for an Independent Constitutional Council to be appointed, to draft the new Constitution.

In the wake of the change of Government following the Parliamentary Elections, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka is constrained to share its grave concern to protect the sacredness of the State that transcends the mutable political and governing bodies. The 1978 Constitution changed primarily the Westminster type Cabinet Democracy to an Executive Presidency. Since then, 19 Amendments have been made, citing various reasons. However, one cannot deny that the main reasons have been to ensure economic growth, national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Island Nation. Apparently, the proposed 20th Amendment under consideration does not seem to put forward any other rationale for the move, they observed.

“Whether it is an amendment or the drafting of a new Constitution, the sovereignty of the people should always be safeguarded and protected. In all probability, the contents of the 20th Amendment will find its way into the envisioned new Constitution. It is imperative then to closely examine the proposed 20th Amendment before it is voted upon in Parliament,” they added.

The statement went on to say that the Executive Presidency has been a bone of contention since it was created in 1978. All elected Presidents since 1994 vowed to abolish the Executive Presidency with powers vested in it by the 1978 Constitution and transfer power to the democratically-elected Parliament, but none had the political will to do so for reasons unknown to the people.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka emphasised that concentration of power in an individual, without checks and balances, does not augur well for a Democratic Socialist Republic.

“A two-thirds majority of the members in Parliament based on political parties does not necessarily manifest the true conscience of the people. Therefore, let the entire membership of the Parliament appoint an independent Constitutional Council comprising a majority of men and women of proven integrity from the society who will take care of drafting a new Constitution which ensures transparent democracy, the rule of law, and the equality of all citizens,” they said.

They further said that rules need not be changed due to the vagaries and inconsistencies of individual players, but to identify and elect or appoint suitable persons who will abide by the rules to safeguard truth, justice, and the well-being of the country. It is the bounden duty of the democratically-elected Parliament to create wholesome governing structures capable of moving this country forward.

“The drafters must beware to plug the loopholes that lead to multiple interpretations. Greater clarity is needed if the Constitution is to serve the citizenry,” they added.

Meanwhile, the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) is expressing deep concern about the manner in which the 20th Amendment to the Constitution is sought to be introduced and several substantive provisions of the amendment itself.

In a statement issued on the same day, NCCSL called upon the Government to “preserve those parts of the 19th Amendment that promote the independence of key institutions and accountable governance.”

“Since one of the main objectives of a Constitution is to protect and empower the people vis-a-vis the Government, all amendments to the 20th Amendment should be made accessible to the public so that their views can be considered before the Amendment is debated in Parliament,” it said.

The NCCSL brings together all Protestant Christian Churches and Nine Ecumenical Organisations.

The statement criticised the manner in which the Amendments have been brought in and decry the promise to make Committee Stage changes to the proposals.

“This violates basic features of transparency, accountability and constitutionalism and betrays the promise made by several Government Ministers that the public will be informed and consulted before constitutional amendments were introduced,” it said.

The NCCSL proposed that the positive aspects of the 19th Amendment be retained and deplored the disregard shown to “the recommendations made since the mid-1980s in favour of the importance of de-politicising key democratic institutions notably by the Presidential Commission on Youth Unrest (1990) and the concerted campaign since the constitution was adopted in 1978, led by a wide cross-section of political forces and civil society groups, to introduce greater checks and balances on the office of the Executive Presidency by curtailing the President’s wide powers of appointment.”

It was in this background, that two leading prelates representing two orders (Chapters) of monks told reporters that the 20th Amendment to the Constitution would have given him sweeping powers over Parliament and the Judiciary.

Ven. Prof Pallekande Rathanasara Thera, Chief Registrar of the Amarapura Sect and Ven. Aththangane Sasana Rathana Thera, Chief Registrar of the Ramanna Sect addressing Media in Colombo said that the proposed Amendment will not have a balance of power between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary and would deal a death blow to democracy in Sri Lanka.

The statement did not include the most powerful and influential Siam Nikaya. However, Rathanasara Thera said that their intention was to get all three Sects on board.

“All power will be concentrated in the Executive setting us on the path to dictatorship,” the Monks warned.

Sasana Rathana Thera said that the 19th Amendment enacted by the last Parliament brought some “balance of power between the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive. This proposal gives all the power to the Executive.  Approving this will be like cutting our own necks in democratic terms,” he said.

“It is the view of the various Chapters of Monks who met and discussed this proposal last week that this proposal is being brought as part of someone’s personal agenda,” he added.

“We feel that as Buddhist Monks we need to safeguard democracy in this country and maintain the sovereignty of the people and the Rule of Law,” Rathanasara Thera said.

Permitting persons holding Dual Citizenship to hold political office will also destroy the independence of the country, he added.

Meanwhile, the Patriarch of the Chulaganthi Chapter of Amarapura Sect and the President of the Maha Sangha Council of the Amarapura Sect, Ven. Gantune Assaji Thera, speaking on the proposed 20th Amendment Bill said, it is his view that the Executive should be strengthened further than what it is presently. 

“Many have inquired about the stand of the Amarapura Sect concerning the proposed Bill. What I can say is that the Amarapura Sect has not convened any of its representatives or executive bodies to discuss the merits or demerits of the mooted Bill. 

If any views pertaining to the Clauses contained in the Bill are to be conveyed to the country, then the Sect would need to examine its contents thoroughly rather than going through it hastily. 

The Government has already announced that amending certain clauses of the Bill will be considered at the Committee Stage debate in Parliament. We are still not aware what those amendments would be. We are even in the dark concerning the deliberations undertaken by the Supreme Court, which perused the merits and demerits of the Bill,” a statement issued in this connection read. 

Meanwhile, the Mahanayaka of the Ramanna Sect, Ven. Napana Pemasiri Thera stated that the edicts of the Sect have clearly stipulated that no monk attached to this Sect should be engaged in political work or be affiliated with party politics. 

‘If there are any monks who have gone against the stipulated edicts, then it is apt for such members of the Buddhist clergy to abstain from such work forthwith while maintaining the dignity of this Sect at all times. Especially, when talking of activities of the Government, it is best that Buddhist monks air their opinions with clarity and with much understanding. The activities of the Government are one thing and politics is another. Both cannot be mixed. Hence, I would like to stress that all monks attached to this Sect conduct their activities in deep understanding of the aforesaid issues raised. Especially when dealing with the public, it is imperative that monks carry out their work with clear notions and understanding. Due to frailness, I have limited my ventures outside. The Secretaries of the Sect should understand that without the consent of the Chief Prelate of the Sect, they should not release statements. This should be borne in mind by all monks of this Sect,’ a statement issued in this regard read.

President determined 

Amidst growing opposition President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the purpose of the 20th Amendment is not to bring in a new Constitution, but to abolish the 19th Amendment only, and that within the 19th Amendment there are a number of obstructions to develop the country and provide services to the people. 

The President said so when he participated in a meeting of members of the governing Party, held at Temple Trees, on 9 October evening.

This meeting was called by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss the 20th Amendment. 

The President said, as a result of the 19th Amendment, the country had gone into anarchy and that the people had given a clear mandate during the Presidential Election and the Parliamentary Election to change it. 

“The former Prime Minister of the Good Governance Government was defeated. Even the former President, during that Government, accepted the fact that the country could not move forward with the 19th Amendment. 

Government officials in villages said when I went to visit these villages recently certain circulars are obstructions to providing villagers with what they want. 

The results of the 19th Amendment are being seen only now. Today, the results are being received by the President. Therefore, the people requested to abolish the 19th Amendment. 

If appointment of top Government officials cannot be done correctly, how can a country move forward?

When that authority goes to representatives of certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs), what will happen to the country?

There are more than enough reasons to justify abolishing the 19th Amendment, very soon. 

Once the 19th Amendment is annulled, a new Constitution which suits the country will be presented. Then, lengthy discussions on that can be held,” the President said.  

Justice Minister, Ali Sabry PC and Education Minister, Professor G.L. Peiris had also presented facts regarding the 20th Amendment on this occasion. 

A group including Minister Wimal Weerawansa, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara, State Minister Dr. Sarath Weerasekera, MPs Gevindu Kumaratunga and S. B. Dissanayake also expressed their views.  

Bathiudeen Brothers wanted

Social media to be stormed with memes related to law enforcing authorities and Government not being able to locate MP Rishad Bathiudeen who has been ordered to be arrested. The memes sums up the concerns among general public whether the authorities actually want to arrest the Bathiudeen duo or are playing according to a pre-planned script to hoodwink ordinary people. 

The duo was in the limelight ever since the controversial release of Riyaj Bathiudeen by the CID after being under detention for five months, citing lack of evidence.

The Attorney General Dappula de Livera summoned the DIG of the Criminal Investigation Department and the Chief Investigating Officer, involved in the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen, to meet him at his office.

The AG informed that releasing suspect RiyajBathiudeen in the face of incomplete investigations into last year’s Easter Sunday Terror Attacks by the CID, is not a justified move on the part of the latter.

This was mentioned by the Attorney General’s Coordinating Officer, State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne. She stated following a meeting held with the DIG of the CID, Attorney General de Livera had instructed in writing to the DIG, on the importance of conducting further inquiries into the Easter Sunday Bombings, as well as the involvement of suspect Bathiudeen in the carnage.

Jayaratne said the Attorney General had ordered the CID DIG, to furnish him with a complete investigative report in this connection, within 30 days.

The State Counsel said during the meeting held with the CID DIG, Attorney General de Livera had charged that the CID had appointed an inexperienced officer to probe the connections of Riyaj Bathiudeen to the Easter Sunday Blasts.

She observed that the Attorney General had stated that the inexperienced officer tasked with conducting the probe against Bathiudeen had not been versed in the provisions contained in Sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

Furthermore, the Attorney General had also alleged that the CID had clearly failed to conduct a detailed probe into wealth, properties, vehicles and bank accounts owned and accrued by Riyaj Bathiudeen, she said. State Counsel Jayaratne pointed out that Attorney General de Livera, had also explained to the CID, that the latter had failed to conclusively probe as to how Bathiudeen had financed extremist and terrorist activities here.

The Attorney General had opined that though details had come to light regarding Riyaj Bathiudeen having used 16 mobile phones, the investigators had failed to locate 12 of those phones, and he had alleged that the probe to recover those phones had not been conducted in any convincing manner, she stressed.

The influence that MP Rishad Bathiudeen tried to exert on officers, who were conducting investigations into his brother Riyaj Bathiudeen, who was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in relation to the Easter Sunday attacks, has now been revealed through information contained in a voice tape. 

This tape includes all information about how Parliamentarian Bathiudeen spoke daily to officers conducting investigations on his brother Riyaj Bathiudeen and in addition how he met heads of the Criminal Investigation Department and spoke to them about his brother. 

Defence sources revealed that further investigations have now commenced into this voice tape too.

It is in this midst that Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of Parliamentarian Rishad Bathiudeen, wrote to President Rajapaksa on Monday (12) seeking justice as certain factions including members of the ruling Party are insisting that he be re-arrested and legal action taken against him.

He was released on 29 September after serving time in remand custody for allegedly aiding the National Thowheed Jamaat’h Leader Zaharan Hashim to flee to India.

In his letter to the President he states, “You might be well aware that several false and baseless allegations are being spread among the public by various parties from the day of my arrest by the Criminal Investigations Department, which even continued after my release on 29 September”.

Following the Attorney General directing the Police to investigate the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen, the Police have deployed two teams comprising 60 officers with special investigative skills, under the supervision of two Senior DIGs and one ASP, to look into the circumstances pertaining to his release.

Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said the investigating officers are divided into two groups and they will conduct investigations in a thorough manner.

However, a meeting was held between the Defence Secretary, Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratne, Acting IGP C.D. Wickramaratne and the AG Dappula de Livera on 13 October to discuss the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen.  

DIG Rohana emphasised that based on the seven points highlighted by the AG, one investigation team will investigate four matters while the other investigation team will investigate the three remaining matters. 

Amidst this drama, the Attorney General instructed the Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), Chandana D. Wickramaratne, to arrest MP Rishad Bathiudeen and two others according to the law of the country.

Criminal Investigation Department (CID) appointed six teams and dispatched two teams to Mannar to arrest MP Bathiudeen.

Bathiudeen is being charged with using 222 buses, belonging to the State-owned Sri Lanka Transport Board, to transport internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Puttalam to polling booths set up in Silavathurai during the 2019 Presidential Election. He has also been charged with misappropriating State funds amounting to Rs 9.5 million flouting provisions contained in the Offences against Public Property Act.  

The CID has uncovered during investigations that when former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen had heard the news that he would soon be arrested, on his vehicle radio, he had abandoned the vehicle on the Puttalam-Chilaw Main Road and fled. 

He had arrived in Colombo from Puttalam with an escort vehicle on 13 October. He had been listening to a private radio channel on the vehicle radio while travelling, CID sources said. 

As soon as the former Minister heard the news that the Attorney General had informed Police to take him into custody, he had asked the driver of the vehicle to stop it at a certain spot on the Puttalam-Chilaw Road and alighted from the vehicle and got into another vehicle and fled to Puttalam. This was found out during investigations conducted by the CID. 

At this time, the Police Constable who had been deployed for the security of the former Minister had also been in the vehicle and he has been arrested on the charge of aiding and abetting the suspect Bathiudeen to escape. 

Later, the CID seized the former Minister’s luxury jeep and arrested the two drivers who were in it. Investigations have commenced into two firearms and bullets found inside this vehicle.  

The CID also obtained a statement from Bathiudeen’s wife in Colombo. The CID also questioned Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa for about one hour on 16 October and obtained a statement from him concerning Parliamentarian and former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen who is wanted by the law enforcement authorities but is presently in hiding.  

CID officers visited Premadasa’s residence at the Royal Park in Rajagiriya to record the statement. CID sources said, they had recorded a statement from Premadasa concerning a telephone conversation that is said to have taken place between Bathiudeen and him, subsequent to the Attorney General ordering authorities to arrest Bathiudeen.   

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 17 2020

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