Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala said she does not identify the LTTE detainees as political prisoners and if there are any political prisoners, they are ready to interfere as a government.

Minister Athukorala was responding to the motion moved by MP Sumanthiran on PTA detainees yesterday at Parliament.

“I do not deny that this happened on a political process. But we as the Justice Ministry have no power to release them. I do not identify them as political prisoners, neither do I consider them as LTTE terrorists,” she said.

She did not comment on the detainees released under the previous government.

The Minister said thousands of cases are pending before the courts and hearing them delays.

“The cases will not be delayed intentionally. We will minize delays. Around 30,000 cases are pending in high courts and a judge has to hear nearly 400 cases,” she said.

Minister Athukorala said 54 cases are of attempting to kill. Six are Sinhalese, three Muslims and 45 Tamils. They have been accused of killing Lakshman Kadirgamar, attempting to kill former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, killing the late Former Minister Jayaraj Fernandopulle, attempting to kill Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, suicide bombers who killed 29 people including Maj. General Janaka Perera and passengers of a bus.

“I cannot confirm whether they have political motive. They are punishable under the Penal Code. This is not against any individual under the PTA,” she said.

She said 43 cases were concluded and punishments were given after proper hearing and they were given opportunities to present their evidence.

“We intend to minimize delays irrespective of north or south. We will protect the independence of the judiciary and not ready to counter the orders. This is not targeting a set of individuals,” she said.

The Minister said this problem will be resolved with humane approach

Release all detainees held under PTA – Sumanthiran

MP Sumanthiran, moving an adjournment motion on detainees in Parliament yesterday, requested the government to make a political decision to release all the prisoners held under the PTA without further legal action against them.

He said it was meaningless to incarcerate detainees under the PTA even after they spent over a decade in prisons.

He said the government is to replace the PTA with the “Counter Terrorism Act”. The Prevention of Terrorism of Act (PTA) was enacted in 1979 as a temporary legislation for six months. It was extended from time to time and eventually became permanent.

The MP said that several provisions of the PTA were left out in the new bill.

“Several persons were arrested under the PTA over the last several decades and convicted. In most cases, suspects’ confessions to a police officer were the only or main evidence against them. Under the proposed new law, confessions are not counted as evidence. Over 100 persons are in prisons under PTA,” he said.

He sad the Prevention of Terrorism Temporary Provisions Act is criticized by many people and organizations.

He said some clauses in the PTA are draconian; there is preventive detention for 18 months at a time, merely on suspicion and a detention order signed by the Defence Secretary.

“A provision of the Act says that a confession by a suspect signed by an officer above the Assistant Superintend of Police is admissible as evidence in court. If the confession is challenged, proving that the confession was not voluntary is given to the accused. This provision is utterly unfair,” he said.

MP Sumanthiran said that it was revealed that persons held were tortured to obtain confessions under the PTA and these confessions were challenged many a time. Many accused had told courts with medical evidence that they were tortured to get information.

“Police officers did not investigate properly and obtain evidence to present in court. Persons under suspicion or on false information were apprehended and convicted when actual offenders roamed free,” he said.

He said that these people were accused of waging a war against the government. Political objective of creating a separate State has come to an end in 2009 and it does not exist now.

“This happened when an armed rebellion was in the country. People waged war against the government to form another government but that objective is no more. The Rajapaksa government released 12,000 people who fought against the government but the present government, we thought, would be more humane than the Rajapaksa government, but we do not see any progress,” he said.

He requested Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala to ask the President to excise his power of granting pardon.

Speaker approves Office for Reparations Act

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced in Parliament yesterday that he gave his assent to the Office for Reparations Act.

The Act is to provide for the establishment of the Office for Reparations, to identify aggrieved persons eligible for reparations, and to provide individual and collective reparations to such persons.

It repeals the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority Act, No. 29 of 1987.

The legislation passed in to law in Parliament on October 10 with a majority of 16 votes following a division called by the Joint Opposition. It received 59 votes in favour and 43 votes against.

The Bill was moved for debate by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The five-member Office for Reparations has to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council (CC) as per the legislation.

The new office will be responsible in deciding the criteria for eligibility for aggrieved persons to obtain reparations and/or financial compensation, the quantum of reparations, and which body has pay them. Implementation of such policies on reparations and guidelines is subject to the approval by the Cabinet.

Dollar appreciation results in many global issues: Kabir Hashim

Highways and Higher Education Minister Kabir Hashim said Sri Lanka has very limited options as an emerging market to overcome the issues created by the dollar appreciation. He was addressing Parliament on the global issue of the Dollar appreciation.

The Minister said that many other countries are facing several issues as a result.

He said the government has taken several initiatives to improve and strengthen the economy. The Minister said that an 8 percent increase was in agriculture sector in 2017 and added domestic production is increasing.

“Sea fish export has been increased compared to the increase in previous years. The sector contributes 100 per cent value addition. Foreign revenue has improved and we see increase in the number of tourists. Sri Lanka was rated as the top country for tourists to visit in 2019 by the Lonely Planet. We are competing with many global issues,” he said. The Minister said that post April, the government did not change its path but it faced many global issues that depreciated the Sri Lankan Rupee.

“Not only our country, several other countries had to face problems as a result. As a country, we have very limited option to counter these issues,” he said. The Minister said Russia’s economic growth in 2017 was 1.7 per cent and Chile recorded 1.5 per cent while Australia 2.3 per cent. It was 1.3 per cent in Canada and 5.9 per cent in Malaysia while Singapore recorded 3.6 per cent economic growth, Korea recorded 3.1 per cent and Sri Lanka 3.4 per cent.

“Even though many people point their fingers at the government that the economy has drained and there was no improvement, it is not true. There is a decrease in economic growth in many other emerging countries as a result of the global situation,” he said. Many people accuse the government that taxes has been increased and public are facing several issues.

“In 2009, under the former government, direct tax was 22 per cent and indirect tax was 77 per cent, in 2010, direct tax was 18 per cent and indirect tax was 81 per cent. In 2011, direct tax was 18 per cent and indirect tax was 81.4 per cent.

“In 2014, direct tax was 18 per cent and indirect tax was 81.4 per cent,” he said. The Minister said the government will increase the direct taxes from 18 per cent to 40 per cent and decrease the indirect tax from 82 per cent to 60 per cent.”

No instability in State banks – Harsha

National Policies and Economic Affairs State Minister Harsha de Silva said that there was no instability in the State-run Bank of Ceylon (BoC) and the People’s Bank.

The Minister was responding to questions raised by MP Dinesh Gunawardena in Parliament yesterday about the depreciation of Sri Lankan Rupee against the US dollar and that mismanagement and corruption have been taking place in the BoC and People’s Bank.

Minister de Silva said the government will meet the challenges of the Rupee depreciation.

He said the Rupee depreciation and issues of State banks have no connection and said that all emerging markets are facing the issues created with the Dollar appreciation. MP Gunawardena claimed that the government is in power for the past three and half years making false promises to the people with all four budgets.

“Initiatives have already been taken to restructure State banks to make them more efficient under the instructions given by the President. New boards of directors will be appointed for these institutions,” he said.

He said the Banks Supervision Department of the Central Bank has to do an inquiry before changing chairmen and director boards of the State banks.

“Sri Lanka’s largest ever Sovereign Bond issuance with a combined value of $ 2.5 billion was successfully concluded drawing widespread demand from global investors,” he said.

He said the LIBOR interest rate was 0.5 per cent between 2008 and 2015 and many western stakeholders invested in emerging markets.

“The LIBOR interest rate has been increased up to 3 per cent,” he said.

State Minister De Silva said the BOI will improve foreign investment and Sri Lanka got more foreign investments in 2017.

“BOI’s goal is to increase the Foreign revenue to USD 5 Billion by 2020 and the highest recorded revenue was USD 1.9 Billion in 2017. In 2018, they are expecting to reach USD 2.5 Billion”, he said.

He said that as the investment zones under BOI has reached its highest capacity, measures have been taken to set up three more investment zones in Hambantota, Milleniya and Bingiriya.

“To strengthen the projects and quicken the procedures, single window investment facilitation task force will be set up. In 2018, USD 25 Million worth re- exports have been recorded apart from those investments”, he said.

However, MP Gunawardana who raised the question, repeated that the president instructed to change the directors’ board as there was an mismanagement in State run banks and asked the government ministers not to hide it.

He said that as there are issues with the depreciation of rupee against the dollar immediate measures should be taken to solve them and added that a Parliament special committee has to be appointed to look into it.

Minister of Public Enterprise & Kandy City Development Lakshman Kiriella in response said that it has been recorded that BOC and People’s bank are profitable.

According to the report by the Auditor General, there was no corruption or mismanagement taking place in those institutions.

“A new board is appointed every three years”, he said.

He said that former government appointed officer after checking on their horoscopes and added that it was not the same under the present government.

CC in favour of extending age limit of IC members

The Constitutional Council (CC) has been in favour of extending the term of members of the independent commissions (ICs) to a maximum age limit of 80 years.

The CC chaired by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya met at the Parliamentary complex yesterday. The Speaker’s Media Division in a press release said the CC discussed the appointments to the independent commissions for which the three-year term has ended. The term of the members of the Human Rights Commission, Public Service Commission and National Police Commission ended this month. The CC has proposed to reappoint the same members considering that those commissions have high level of efficiency at present.

A final decision in this regard will be made after a discussion with President Maithripala Sirisena.

The Speaker, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan are ex-officio members of the CC. Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala, former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and JVP MP Bimal Rathnayake were appointed to the CC early this month, while its new Civil Society representatives are Dr. Jayantha Danapala, Ahmad Javid Yusuf and Naganathan Selvakkumaran.

PRECIFAC, Bond Commission reports: Fresh calls to resume debate

Fresh calls were in Parliament yesterday to resume the suspended debate on the PRECIFAC and Bond Commission reports.

The topic came to the fore when TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran raised a privilege issue asking the Speaker to take action against MP Bandula Gunawardena, the Island newspaper and the MTV TV for making false accusations that he (Sumanthiran) sabotaged the debate on the bond commission report.

Sumanthiran said the Island newspaper had quoted MP Gunawardena as saying that the debate had to be postponed as MP Sumanthiran demanded Sinhala and Tamil translations of the bond commission report. “This is totally wrong. I did not ask for translated copies of the Bond report as it was the Party Leaders’ agreement to proceed with the debate if the English copy is available. What I pointed out was that the PRECIFAC report was only available in Sinhala and therefore our party members are unable to speak on it,” he said.

The debate on the two reports was taken up on February 6, but it was postponed on February 20 until the House receives the English translation of the PRECIFAC report.

It came to light yesterday that Parliament was yet to receive the translated copies of the PRECIFAC report even after the lapse of eight months. MP Gunawardena urged the Speaker to resume the debate and UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake joined in the request. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the request would be discussed at a Party Leaders’ Meeting.

US sanctions on Iran may bring in fresh troubles – Eran

Sri Lanka may face fresh troubles when the Trump administration imposes more sanctions on Iran after November 5, Finance and Mass Media State Minister Eran Wickramaratne said.

The State Minister, opening the debate in Parliament yesterday on the Finance Bill and several Orders under the Excise (Special Provisions) Act, said the Government is in talks with its friendly countries to ensure the uninterrupted supply of oil to Sri Lanka.

“The US imposed sanctions against Iran on August 28 and it would impose new sanctions on November 5. This impacts Sri Lanka as we depend on Iranian crude oil. We export tea to Iran and earn a considerable income. The US sanctions remains a challenge for Sri Lanka,” the State Minister said.

He said Sri Lanka has had to negotiate a GSP plus trade concession with the UK as it no longer an EU member following the Brexit. He said the US-China trade war and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of the US also impact on Sri Lankan economy. He said the Sri Lankan Rupee depreciated by 11.9 per cent from January to October 21 mainly due to external reasons. The State Minister said the Indian Rupee depreciated by 15 per cent, and Pakistan Rupee by 21 per cent during the same period.

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