November 17, 2019
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    Allow AG’s Dept officials at COPE as observers – Chairman

    October 24, 2019

    Parliament’s Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Chairman Sunil Handunnetti has asked the Speaker to take action to allow Attorney General’s Department representatives to participate at COPE committee sessions as observers.He made this request from the Speaker following the presentation in the House of the COPE report for the period from March 1, 2018 to October 26, 2018.

    Handunnetti pointed out that COPE had no judicial powers and there was no point of any scrutiny if action could not be taken against the wrong-doers. He added that in countries like Pakistan there is a representation of the Attorney General Department at the COPE which, he said, was a constructive feature.

    He therefore proposed that steps be taken to allow Attorney General’s Department officials at COPE meetings as observers. Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri who was presiding said that he would convey the request to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and he would take measures accordingly.

    Easter Sunday terror attacks: PSC holds State Intelligence Service responsible for lapses

    The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday terror attacks held the State Intelligence Service responsible for the lapses in the defence sector which led to the terror attacks that killed 270 persons and wounded 400 others.

    Chairman of the Committee Deputy Speaker Ananada Kumarasiri noted that had the State Intelligence Service (SIS) taken measures to pass on the intelligence information they had received from local and overseas sources to the defence authorities, the disaster could have been averted or at least mitigated.

    “For example, one of the suicide bombers had gone to the target site but left that place after noticing uniformed policemen deployed there for some other duty. That shows the attacks could have been prevented had the defence authorities responsible been alerted by the SIS,” Deputy Speaker Kumarasiri said.

    “It was former Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana who initially issued the first warning about extremist Muslim activities in Sri Lanka in 2011. Thereafter, during the period 2013-14 several Islamic religious groups have also brought the issue to the notice of the security establishments. Both SIS and the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) had been operating in the Kaththankudy area separately and had links with the extremist group led by Zahran Hashim. In April 2018, the SIS had made a request to the Defence Secretary asking him to suspend the TID operations there. Thereby, the SIS took the sole and full responsibility with regard to Zahran’s group,” Kumarasiri said.

    Addressing a media briefing held at the Parliament Committee Room subsequent to the PSC report being presented to Parliament, the Deputy Speaker noted that soon after the attacks, an individual by the name of Army Mohideen was arrested.

    “That arrest shows that there had been prior knowledge of the persons responsible. It has come to light during investigations that some extremist Muslim youth had been used by defence establishments as paid informants during the times of war. Thereafter, they had been used for various other purposes. They had been allowed to operate freely,” he said.

    Asked to name the single most culpable official or institute responsible for the mishap, PSC member MA Sumanthiran named the SIS Director. “The SIS had the intelligence reports very close to the day of the attack. In addition, they shooed off TID from operations and the arrest of Army Mohideen showed that they had links. Thus the SIS should be responsible. The former Defence Secretary, IGP, Chief of National Intelligence too are responsible,” he said.

    “The SIS should have informed the Police stations in the Eastern Province but they had issued warnings only to some Police officers in the Western Province. That was one mistake by the SIS,” he said.

    Asked whether the political authorities had been named responsible, Chairman Kumarasiri said that the President, Prime Minister, State Minister of Defence and former Eastern Province Governor Hisbullah had been blamed.

    However, the PSC report could not be used as evidence to hold anyone liable for a civil or criminal case in a court of law as per Section 16 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act, Sumanthiran said.

    “But the evidence given here could be used to counter any testimonies by the same persons before a court of law,” he said.

    PSC Member Minister Rauff Hakeem said that the post of CNI had been made redundant for some unknown reason. “There seems to be an inhibition and reluctance between intelligence and defence authorities in sharing intelligence,” he said.

    The PSC makes several recommendations that require urgent attention. These are broadly categorised as follows: -

    1. Essential reforms in the security and intelligence sector

    2. Establishment of an enhanced financial supervisory mechanism

    3. The need to control and monitor the rise of religious extremism

    4. Addressing delays with justice: Reforming the Attorney General’s Department

    5. Wahabism and the need for action

    6. Media reporting, fake news and other areas of concern

    7. Holding politicians/ peoples’ representatives accountable

    8. Reforming the educational sector to counter growing extremism.

    Meanwhile, the executive summary of the report stated that on April 21,2019, Easter Sunday, the suicide terrorist bombings that took place targeting three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka killed around 277 people (including 8 suicide bombers) and wounded more than 400 people as per the information provided by Police Headquarters. At least 40 foreign nationals and at least 45 children were reported to be among the dead.

    Investigators identified Zahran Hashim, one-time leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath, as the main suspect behind the execution of these co-ordinated attacks. Subsequent to the attacks, incidents of ethnic violence and tension targeting the Muslim community occurred in several parts of the country. 40 Members of Parliament representing the UNP, UPFA, ITAK and JVP presented a resolution in Parliament requesting the appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) with the resolution passed in Parliament on May 22, 2019 without a division. The PSC held 24 sittings from May to October 2019 and heard evidence from 55 persons.

    The present report is endorsed by all members of the PSC. The PSC makes several findings and recommendations in the report. Below are some of the key findings:

    Following the attacks, evidence emerged that prior intelligence information was available regarding the impending attack but that it was not acted upon.

    The PSC notes that intelligence information related to the attacks was first received by the Director, SIS on 4th April 2019 but there were delays from his end to share it with the relevant intelligence and security personnel.

    The Director, SIS was called by name by the then Secretary MOD to brief the ICM on 9th April 2019 but failed to do this by saying he would send a written update on the intelligence received. This, the PSC notes is a major failure from the Director SIS, the lead in the intelligence apparatus who had received pride of place at the ICM and NSC.

    The PSC also notes the failure on the part of the SIS to act up on the subsequent intelligence information received after the explosion on 16th April 2019 in Kattankudy.

    The PSC notes that the Director SIS bears the greatest responsibility. This is compounded by the fact that since April 8, 2018, a full one year before the incident, he had in writing to the IGP requested for the shutting down of investigations by others into Zahran, which resulted in the SIS becoming the sole investigator on Zahran.

    The PSC also observes that the SIS missed a series of events that should have alerted the state security apparatus to the impending attacks and demonstrated to them the importance of the intelligence information received. This was in the context of intelligence already known on Zahran and his allies including police reports on him and arrest warrants issued on him dated March 2017. Other incidents since 2018 (described in detail in the findings) demonstrate how the lead intelligence party should have been more vigilant and taken steps to keep the ICM, NSC and other relevant parties informed. This failure by the SIS has resulted in hundreds of deaths, many more injured and immeasurable devastation to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans and that must not be treated lightly.

    The PSC makes this observation considering attempts made to shield the culpability of key individuals and the need to hold all individuals responsible without further delay. The PSC further notes, that whilst the greatest responsibility remains with the Director SIS, others too failed in their duties. Within the security and intelligence apparatus, the Secretary MOD, IGP, CNI and DMI failed in their responsibilities. All were informed of the intelligence information prior to the Easter Sunday attacks but failed to take necessary steps to mitigate or prevent it.

    The PSC makes a very serious finding in terms of the status of the state intelligence apparatus, where intelligence information known to a few was not shared with relevant parties.

    The PSC also observes that further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instil fear and uncertainty in the country in the lead up to the Presidential Election to be held later in the year. Such a situation would then lead to the call for a change of regime to contain such acts of terrorism. Coincidently or not so coincidentally, the security situation and fear would be unleashed months away from the Presidential Election.

    The PSC also notes that this occurred in the context of changes in the leadership in the Sri Lankan Army and DMI in 2019. These are extremely serious observations that can impact the democratic governance, electoral processes and security of Sri Lanka and must require urgent attention.

    In addition, the PSC observes that the President failed in numerous occasions to give leadership and also actively undermined government and systems including having ad hoc NSC meetings and leaving out key individuals from meetings. Whilst the fissures in Government were evident in 2018, amplified with the Constitutional Crisis, these also impacted the security apparatus.

    Several others are listed in the report as having failed in their duties including the Prime Minister and State Minister for Defence and the Attorney General’s Department.

    An important finding of the PSC is the need for structural and legislative reform which are discussed in detail in the report. A critical introduction would be an independent and robust National Security Council with a National Security Advisor, essential in addressing evolving security challenges. The PSC also highlights the need for legislative reforms in several areas such as initiatives to counter fake news and responsible reporting, work in the education sector, the need for greater Parliament oversight, among others.

    The PSC also makes note of the rising extremism in Sri Lanka. Evidence received by the PSC indicates that Zahran started a campaign to radicalise Muslim youth and motivate them to use violence to achieve their ends post March 2018 attacks on Muslims in Digana. However, investigations to date have not shown any evidence that Zahran had direct links with the ISIS.The PSC observes that several people of Kattankudy and several local Muslim groups made complaints against Zahran as early as 2013/2014 to the authorities. Testimony also showed that investigations had commenced into some of his speeches and activities. The rise in extremism was also in the backdrop of increasing levels of Islamaphobia. The PSC also observes increasing levels of Wahabism and Arabization in parts of Sri Lanka in recent years. A physical change had taken place in recent years in Kattankudy town with the emergence of Date-Palm Trees and Arabic lettering on public sign boards. The Batticaloa campus buildings also prominently display Arabic architecture and landscape, making it drastically different to any university building in the country.

    Evidence received by the PSC indicates that Arabization commenced and was fostered in Kattankudy by M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. The PSC notes that the spread of Wahhabism and the Arabization of Kattankudy contributed to the growth of extremism in the Islamic community especially in the East and must be further investigated.

    The PSC also notes that several politicians made comments subsequent to the Easter Sunday attacks which were inflammatory and irresponsible. The PSC notes that speeches that incite hate and racism, by politicians, religious leaders and others, are extremely dangerous and must be independently investigated and individuals held to account. Inaction will only exacerbate the impunity and contribute to further hate and fear in Sri Lanka.

    SLPP did not object to Hakeem’s appointment to PSC - Kiriella

    Leader of the House and Public Enterprise, Kandyan Heritage and Kandy Development Minister Lakshman Kiriella said that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) members did not object to the appointment of Minister Rauff Hakeem on May 23 this year to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

    He added that all in the Opposition too agreed to appoint Rauff Hakeem to the same Parliamentary Select Committee.

    He made these observation in response to Opposition Member Dinesh Gunawardena who demanded that Rauff Hakeem make a statement on the pictures and videos circulating at present with the Easter Sunday terrorist ring leader Zahran. Dinesh Gunawardena made the statement before the final report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

    Dinesh Gunawardena further said that Rauf Hakeem is a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Easter Sunday terror attacks. However, some video footage and photos have been released recently in which Zahran had met Rauff Hakeem. During the Easter Sunday terror attacks, over 300 people had died and even the Cardinal has said that the committee could not be accepted.

    He queried as to how the Committee report could be accepted at such a situation when the impartiality of a member is questioned. He demanded the Chair to ask Rauff Hakeem to make a statement in the House.

    Leader of the House Minister Kiriella said that Minister Hakeem would make a statement during the course of the day.

    Responding to Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister Rauff Hakeem stated that there is a well planned mud slinging campaign against him these days. He said that he knew that it was not he who was the target but it was the intention of those mudslingers to grab the power at any cost.

    Hakeem added that those who do so never think of the damage caused to me, who has represented Parliament for more than two and half decades, in their attempt to achieve power.

    He added that he would present more pictures at the press conference during the course of the day about the Moulavi and with whom he had affiliations.

     

    Thilanga appointed as COPE member to fill Gajadheera’s vacancy

    UPFA MP Thilanga Sumathipala has been appointed as a member of the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) as per Parliament Standing Orders 127 (3), Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri announced yesterday. The appointment was made to fill the vacancy in the COPE Committee following the passing away of its then member MP Chandrasiri Gajadheera, the Deputy Speaker further said.

    At this juncture, JVP MP Bimal Rathnayake, raising a Point of Order, objected with regards to Sumathipala’s appointment.

    Rathnayake pointed out that there is an ongoing COPE investigation against MP Thilanga Sumathipala, thus, such a decision to appoint Sumathipala as a COPE member is unethical and is in contempt of Parliament.

    “I believe that you as the Deputy Speaker has the power to act on this. There is an ongoing investigation with regards to the Cricket Board. Thus it is unethical to appoint MP Sumathipala as a COPE member. It is contempt of Parliament. Until these investigations are concluded, please suspend this appointment,” Rathnayake urged.

    MP Sumathipala, at a later stage, stood to reply Rathnayake’s statement. Sumathipala said that he has been legally appointed as a COPE member and he has sufficient qualifications to hold such a position.

    “There are no restrictions on me to hold any post or membership in any Committee or any such official body. I have completed my Master’s Degree and PHD in Public Administration from the University of Colombo. I don’t know if MP Rathnayake is aware of my educational qualifications. If there are any investigations against me, I can refrain from attending those proceedings,” Sumathipala furthered.

    Country’s economy bankrupt - Bandula

    The economy of this country has been bankrupted under this government, said Opposition Parliamentarian Bandula Gunawardena in Parliamentary yesterday.

    He said so joining the debate on the Vote on Account presented in Parliament by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

    Bandula Gunawardena said that the financial status of all the public and private sector employees has seen a decline during this period. The government promises to increase the salaries of the public servants again but it is not practical. “When the salaries are increased, taxes would also have to be increased which would mean that the prices of goods would also increadse,” MP Gunawardena said. “We experienced this scenario during this government.”

    He also said that oil prices were very high in the world market during the Mahinda Rajapaksa era. “But the prices of oil dropped after 2015, but the benefit did not pass on to the public,” Gunawardena said.

    “The country saw made vast strides in the aftermath of the war and developed to a middle income country. The economic development rate increased to 7.4 percent. However, by now the economic development rate is 3.7 percent which is one of the lowest in the South Asian region.”

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