A 3-day debate on the current situation in the country following the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks again showcased a Government still struggling to project a unified message and assure the country’s citizens of their security, almost 3 weeks after the carnage. Confused signals were projected from Day 1 of the debate on Tuesday (7). Prime [...]


Govt. upbeat on security while detractors are sceptical


A 3-day debate on the current situation in the country following the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks again showcased a Government still struggling to project a unified message and assure the country’s citizens of their security, almost 3 weeks after the carnage.

President Sirisena addresses Parliament regarding the Easter Sunday attacks

Confused signals were projected from Day 1 of the debate on Tuesday (7). Prime Minister (PM) Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that all those directly connected to the Easter Sunday terror attacks were now either dead or in custody. What remained was to arrest all those who aided and abetted in their operation, he said, adding that security forces and police had been able to contain the situation. Speaking later in the day, President Maithripala Sirisena said 99% of the terrorists involved in the attacks had been captured and the others will also be arrested within the next 3 days. Nevertheless, before the session commenced, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told MPs that Parliament continued to be under serious security threat and additional precautions were being taken.

The decision to reopen schools in the current environment came in for severe criticism from many Opposition MPs, and even some of those within Government. They pointed out that it was unwise to reopen schools when there was a threat of further attacks.

Joining the debate on Wednesday (8), MP Field Marshal (FM) Sarath Fonseka said he, personally, would not have taken the decision to open schools this week, as reopening schools at this juncture puts children in danger, in case of further attacks. He also confirmed as authentic, an intelligence memo currently circulating on social media, warning of further terrorist attacks on or around May 13. FM Fonseka insisted that the Government should take such intelligence warnings seriously, in light of what happened in the lead-up to the Easter Sunday attacks.

Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa too flayed the Government for opting to reopen schools, disregarding the appeals of religious leaders. “It is common knowledge that the children of politicians too, aren’t attending school these days. That is not the fault of the parents. They know that this Government does not talk responsibly. The people know that the Government cannot project a unified message that can be deemed trustworthy. The President holds one view, the PM another view, while MPs hold completely different views from both of them.”

The Opposition Leader assured the Government they would lend their support to eradicate this new form of terror, but called on the Government to get its act together and take a united stand.

There was further criticism over the Government’s directive to media institutions not to show images and footage of weapons recovered during countrywide search operations. Opposition MPs insisted that the move amounted to media suppression and was an attempt by the Government to hide its own ineptness to deal with the security situation. National Freedom Front Leader Wimal Weerawansa warned that, if the Government continued to suppress information, people would inevitably start to believe every wild rumour they see on social media.

Meanwhile, the controversial “Shariah University” being built in Batticaloa under Eastern Province (EP) Governor A.L.A.M. Hizbullah, was subjected to heated arguments in the House this week, with allegations being traded by both sides, on exactly when the project commenced and its nature.

Leader of the House, Lakshman Kiriella stated that the university project had commenced in 2013 during the previous Government. United People’s Freedom Alliance Bandula Gunawardena strongly refuted this, stating that no such approval had been given to establish a university. “It maybe that approval was given to establish a vocational training institute or some other institution, but not a university,” he claimed.

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Sunil Handunnetti told Parliament that he would summon the University Grants Commission, the Board of Investment and all related parties to the Batticaloa Campus (Pvt) Ltd project, before COPE on May 21, to investigate the controversial project. He questioned on whose authority 35 acres of land belonging to the Mahaweli Authority had been released to build the Batticaloa campus, based on a request by a farmers’ organization. “Why can’t Minister Kiriella mention that the owner of this campus is EP Governor Hizbullah?” he queried.

The proposed draft Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) was also the focus of debate, with Opposition MPs alleging that the Government was attempting to use the Easter Sunday terror attacks as an excuse to rush the CTA through Parliament. JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa were both severely critical of the CTA, claiming it contains provisions to clamp down on public protests and trade union activities. Mr Rajapaksa proposed that a Parliamentary Select Committee be appointed to look into the issue. PM Wickremesinghe strongly pushed back against these allegations, insisting that the CTA was an urgent need and that it did not infringe on human rights. He however, said he had no objection to further discussing the matter.

MPs from both the Government and Opposition also raised the issue of various laws affecting different communities such as Muslim Law, Kandyan Law and Thesawalamai Law. UNP MP Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne noted there were many Laws within these private Laws that were discriminatory towards women. However, there were certain aspects of Laws such as the Kandyan Law that are still very progressive. “We can’t go and abolish all these Laws completely, as these are issues pertaining to culture. Moreover, it cannot be done without a referendum.”

Noting that these Laws can never be abolished under the current Parliament, Dr Wickramaratne said the solution lay in bringing all these private Laws under the Fundamental Rights (FR) Chapter of the Constitution. “This would mean that the Supreme Court can decide which sections of these Laws violate the FR enshrined in the Constitution, and which sections do not. This will be acceptable to everyone,” he pointed out.

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