State Relief Measures to Victims Totally Inadequate
By Buddhika Samaraweera
The mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into 21 April, 2019, Easter Sunday bombings required it to recommend such measures as maybe necessary to rehabilitate or assist those affected by the bombings. Accordingly, the PCoI examined the public and private sector involvement in providing assistance to victims. The PCoI, in its final report, mentions its findings in this regard, on which this article is based.
The Office for Reparations (OR) is operating under the Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms and was established by Act No. 34 of 2018 by repealing the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority Act No. 29 of 1987. According to the Act, it is mandated to make policies, facilitate and implement such policies on reparations, to grant individuals and collective reparation to aggrieved persons.
Seeni Mohamed Badurdeen, Acting Director of OR testified before the PCoI and said OR was assisted by Divisional Secretaries of the respective areas of victims domicile. All necessary documents required by the OR to effect payments to the victims were processed by Divisional Secretaries and transmitted with recommendations to effect payments.
Welfare and relief measures
Government officials who gave evidence before the PCoI explained at length the compensation and various welfare and relief measures offered to victims of the Easter Sunday bombings. It was mentioned that Treasury funding has been made available with the approval of Cabinet to provide financial support to victims(dependents of the dead persons, injured persons and persons whose properties were damaged). Government through the Treasury had allocated a sum of Rs 301,062,500.00 for this purpose.
Compensation Payment to victims of the Terrorist
Attacks on 21.04.2019
(Progress Report up to 06.12.2020)
These payments had been made on a Cabinet decision and associated circulars issued by the Government under the OR. Cabinet Memorandum dated 22 April, 2019 and the decision dated 25 April, 2019 was submitted to the PCoI by Acting Director of the OR.
Accordingly, the Office for Reparation has paid Rs 1 million each to deceased persons. A maximum of Rs 500, 000 and minimum Rs 50,000 had been paid to injured persons depending on the magnitude of the injuries suffered. Out of the Rs One million, Rs 100,000 has been paid immediately for meeting the cost of funeral arrangements.
However, as set out in the above schedule, even the maximum limit of Rs 500,000 had been paid only to a minute percentage of the injured. On making inquiries, the PCoI was informed that the computation of Rs 500,000 was on the earning capacity of the individual, and not on his injuries.
The PCoI observes that compensation had been paid for the deaths of 220 persons. However, according to the evidence 271 deaths occurred due to the several bombings on 21 April 2019. The PCoI, therefore, recommends that the Government pay compensation for the balance 51 deaths as well.
There is a further aspect. The Government based on government policy as approved by Cabinet paid compensation for death and disability to all the victims including foreigners. However, the PCoI observed that there are deviations in payment of compensations to the victims of Digana and Beruwala incidents in comparison to the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings.
These incidents arose due to riots between sections of the Buddhist and Muslim communities in 2018.The compensation paid for death is twice the amount of compensation paid to the victims of Easter Sunday bombings. Also the actual cost of the properties damaged due to the riots have been paid to Digana and Beruwala victims, but not to those of bombings on 21 April.
The PCoI states that it does not observe any rational critieria on which such a distinction could be made between the two incidents. At a minimum, on both occasions the Government failed to provide the required security to its citizens.
The PCoI also examined the initiatives taken by the Catholic Church to provide welfare measures to the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings.
‘Seth Sarana’ also known as Caritas Colombo is affiliated to Caritas Sri Lanka(SEDEC), the National Secretariat for Justice, Peace and Human Development Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka. Seth Sarana is the Social Action Arm of the Archdiocese of Colombo. This charitable organisation has been established by the present Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith in 1986 as the Archdiocesan Director of the Human Development Commission at that time.
Realising the gravity of the loss suffered, Seth Sarana had divided the affected families into the following two basic categories to effectively provide assistance, aid and relief for such families, despite whichever community, caste, creed and religion they belonged to;
1. Families which had lost a member/members as a result of the attack
2. Families which had a member/members who was injured as a result of the attack.
Seth Sarana had paid a sum of Rs 100,000 for each of these families who had lost their direct or related members, as a relief to cover their funeral expenses. (Ex: If two members had lost their lives in a family, a sum of Rs 200,000 was paid).
Also, an initial payment of relief was made to each injured person amounting to Rs 50, 000 for medical expenses in the first week itself. Thereafter, based on a survey conducted and subsequent visits to each of these affected families, a second donation was made. The primary objective of these relief efforts was to assist these families to cover their medical expenses and the other day-to-day expenses incurred.
Family focused programmes
Seth Sarana also provided the following family focused support programmes for the affected families to start new businesses and settle loan payments to improve their financial conditions;
1. Income generation programmes for all affected families promoting home-based small scale businesses
2. Scholarships for children directly affected.
3. Loan settlement. Seth Sarana has proposed the following activities as necessary interventions to ensure smooth operations of day-to-day life of the victims.
1. Government to set up a special Scholarship programme for the children who are affected and are victims of the Easter Sunday attacks in areas such as vocational training, higher educational support and advancement in sports.
2. Government to introduce a special livelihood support programme for affected families to commence and/or improve their businesses through special cash grants.
3. Government should provide a special Medical insurance coverage for all such critically injured persons of the Easter Sunday attacks.
4. Government to give priority to cover housing needs of affected families where the breadwinner is deceased and/or wherein there are critically injured members and were living on rent.
5. Government to provide a system of offering job vacancies in the State sector for children affected by the Easter Sunday attacks.
6. Government to undertake a programme to ensure the well-being of the children who had lost both parents and who are below 18 years of age are addressed.
The Archbishop of Colombo had given a sum of Rs 42.9 million to 114 families affected by the bombing at St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade. A sum of Rs 95,579 million had been given to 281 families affected by the bombing at St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya by the Archbishop of Colombo. The Archbishop of Colombo had donated a sum of Rs 10 million to Zion Church also.
At present the Archbishop is providing financial assistance to meet the requirements for ongoing medical treatment and surgeries of about 37 persons, and also providing funds for income generation and day-to-day running expenses of these victims who are unable to cope with such circumstances due to being adversely affected by the bombings.
In considering compensation and welfare measures for victims, the PCoI mentions that it must be borne in mind that some victims need long-term therapy. There are victims who had been hospitalised for a long period.Some of these patients may be disabled for a long period of time and require continuous ongoing care and assistance to return to normalcy.
Considering the matter, the PCoI recommends that the government pay compensation of Rs 2 million for each deceased person and above Rs 500,000 for expenses for all injured persons.
The PCoI observes with great regret that the compensation paid to victims of Easter Sunday bombings were totally inadequate considering the negligence on the part of the Government. It is inadequate due to the failure on the part of the Government to prevent the attack despite prior warnings of an impending attack.
Where the Government fails to provide security to its citizens due to negligence, it is incumbent on the Government to pay compensation commensurate with the loss or damage. Hence, sufficient and reasonable amount of compensation should be paid similar to the victims of Digana and Beruwala incidents.
To generate the funds required for the above mentioned proposal, the PCoI recommends enacting legislation to confiscate all properties, including business properties of the suicide bombers. Such legislation may have to be retrospective in operation to some extent since the PCoI heard that some of the suicide bombers had transferred their properties after deciding to become a suicide bomber.
Act No. 34 of 2018 of the Office For Reparations has provisions to request funds for life long welfare for the most needy persons among the victims under a project proposal submitted to Cabinet for approval.
Therefore, the PCoI recommends the Office submit a comprehensive proposal for Reparations to the Line Ministry to obtain Cabinet Approval for further funding.
It is also suggested that this Cabinet Paper covers requirements proposed by Seth Saranaas set out above as well as the proposals of the PCoI. It is important to implement a welfare project for the victims of Easter Sunday terrorist attack for a period of five years by the allocation of funds on a staggered basis annually from the Treasury.
1. Government to expeditiously find out the truth behind the Rs 1 billion donation pledged by the World Muslim League, that has not been realised so far and take all necessary steps possible to obtain it.
2. Government to pay/ reimburse actual cost of medical bills of Mohamed Thasleen, former Coordinating Secretary to then Minister Kabeer Hasheem for his invaluable service rendered to the CID in uncovering the explosives in Wanathawilluwa.
3. Government to make a reward payment to the next of kin of Late Ramesh Raju of the Zion Church Batticaloa for his bravery that led to a minimising of the death toll.
4. The Ministry of Public Service, Provincial Council and Local Government is making policies on relief and welfare measures that are not cash or in kind but to grant special privileges.
One such instance is the allocation of a percentage of additional marks for victims of terrorist attacks who sit for competitive examinations for the selection to government service employment. PA circular 17/92 dated 24 March, 1992 was effective for victims of terrorist attacks during the LTTE insurgence which has now being abandoned. The PCoI also recommends the issue of a similar circular to apply to the victims of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks.