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Committee-stage amendments to Sri Lanka’s ‘Online Safety Bill’: CPA concerned

ECONOMYNEXT – The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), one of the entities that petitioned Sri Lanka’s controversial ‘Online Safety Bill’, has expressed deep concern over committee-stage amendments proposed to the bill.

Hours after the parliament’s deputy speaker announced a Supreme Court verdict on the constitutionality of the bill, the CPA said in a statement that the proposed amendments could drastically change the initially gazetted bill, straying from its original ‘merits and principles’, which would be against article 78(3) of the constitution.

The Supreme Court has determined that the bill is not inconsistent with the constitution and can be passed in parliament by a simple majority subject to amendments made to 31 of its provisions.

Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapakse reading the Supreme Court determination said Tuesday November 07 morning that, if sections 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 36, 37, 42, 45, 53 and 56 of the bill are amended at the committee stage, it can be passed with a simple parliamentary majority.

Otherwise, the aforesaid provisions of the draft bill must be passed by a special majority in parliament, according to the court’s determination, as per Section 84(2) of the constitution.

The bill was challenged in the Supreme Court in terms of Section 121(1) of the constitution. The CPA was among parties that challenged the constitutionality of the bill.

Related:

Sri Lanka’s CPA challenges controversial Online Safety bill

According to the CPA, on October 18, during the hearing on the constitutionality of the Online Safety Bill, the Attorney General’s Department of Sri Lanka had produced to the Supreme Court a series of amendments that the government proposed to move during the committee stage when the bill was to be taken up in parliament. These amendments would make substantial alterations to the bill that was gazetted.

The CPA said that several of the amendments also deviate from “the merits and principles” of the originally gazetted bill and thus, are in contravention of Article 78(3) of the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka. Subsequently, such substantial change requires the government to withdraw the currently proposed bill and re-gazette the amended version, the organisation said.

The “most pertinent” of these changes are as follows, according to the CPA:

1) Removal of “Certain Statements of Fact” The originally gazetted OSB consistently makes reference to the vague terminology of “certain statements of fact”. This has now been replaced by the term “prohibited statements” which are defined by the offences set out in Part III of the OSB. This change is exemplified in the differences between the original Preamble of the OSB and the proposed amendment:

Preamble of the Online Safety Bill Proposed amendment
“An Act to establish the Online Safety Commission; to make provisions to prohibit online communication of certain statements of fact in Sri Lanka…” “An Act to establish the Online Safety Commission to provide safety from prohibited statements made online…”

Notably, this change is also seen in the Long Title, Clause 3, Clause 11(b) and the Part IV Heading.

2) Changes to the Objectives of the Bill

Problematically, Clause 3 of the original OSB set out its objectives as including protecting persons from statements that may be “threatening, alarming or distressing”. Such vague terminology could have been arbitrarily misused by the Government due to their inherent conceptual uncertainty. These words have now been removed and replaced whereby it is now an objective of the OSB to “protect persons against damage caused by the communication of prohibited statements”. While significantly changing the original objective of the OSB, this new amendment continues to adopt the broad and imprecise terminology of “damage”.

The objectives of the Bill have been used as a cover for far-reaching regulatory action initiated by the Minister. For example, the Government sought to justify the legality of the Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization From Holding Violent Extremist Religious Ideology) Regulations No.01 of 2021 based on the broad objectives of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Though the4 Online Safety Bill has been initiated under the guise of ‘protection’ of the public from online harms, the threat of the Government looms larger.

3) Entry of the Constitutional Council in Appointments and Removals of Commission Members

Previously, Clause 5 of the OSB set out that the Executive President of Sri Lanka appointed the five members of the Online Safety Commission (OSC) with the only criteria being that those members have qualifications and experience in the fields of information technology, law, governance, social services, journalism, science and technology or management. Additionally, the President held the sole authority to accept the resignation of or remove the members of the OSC. However, the proposed amendment now makes such appointment and removal of members of the OSC by the President subject to Constitutional Council approval:

Clause 5 of the bill Proposed amendment
…the Commission shall consist of five members appointed by the President having qualifications and experience in one or more of the fields of information technology, law, governance, social services, journalism, science and technology or management.” “(1) The Commission shall consist of Sive members appointed by the President, subject to the approval of the Constitutional Council, from among the persons having qualifications and experience in one or more of the fields of information technology, law, governance, social services, journalism, science and technology or management.

(2) Subject to the provisions of section 6, the President shall recommend the names of Sive persons to be appointed as members of the Commission under subsection (1), to the Constitutional Council for approval.

(3) The President shall, within a period of fourteen days of receiving the approval of the Constitutional Council, appoint the persons approved by the Constitutional Council under subsection (2) as members of the Commission.

(4) Where the Constitutional Council refuses to approve the name of a person referred to in subsection (2), the President shall make a fresh nomination, and the provisions of subsections (1), (2), and (3) shall apply to such nomination accordingly.

(5) In the event of the President failing to make the necessary appointments within the period of fourteen days as speciSied in subsection (3), the persons approved by the Constitutional Council shall be deemed to have been appointed as the members of the Commission, with effect from the date of the expiry of such period.”.

 

Clause 7(2) Proposed amendment
The President may, for reasons assigned, remove a member of the Commission from his office.” A member of the Commission may be removed from his office by the President, subject to the approval of the Constitutional Council following a hearing of the relevant member that such person

(a) is unable to exercise, perform and discharge the powers, duties and functions of such office because of an infirmity of body or mind that has lasted for more than a period of three months;

(b) has failed to exercise, perform and discharge the powers, duties and functions of such office for a consecutive period of more than three months without the approval of the Commission; or

(c) is disqualified in terms of the provisions of section 6.

4) Changes to Voting Procedure

The gazetted OSB provides in Clause 9(5) that all decisions made by the Online Safety Commission would be decided by a majority vote of the members. The proposed amendment instead states that all decisions would be reached by a majority vote of the members of the OSC “present and voting at the meeting at which the decision is taken”. Since the quorum for a meeting of the OSC is only 3 members, technically, decisions can be made with only 2 members of the OSC supporting such a decision.

5) Expansion of Powers of the Online Safety Commission The amendment to Clause 11(i) of the OSB by Clause 11(h) would have the effect of enhancing the role of the Online Safety Commission from a regulator of ‘prohibited statements’ to an autonomous investigative agency:

Clause 11(i) Proposed amendment
“to carry out such investigations and provide such services upon being directed by any court”. “to carry out such investigations and provide such services as may be necessary to exercise and perform the powers and functions of the Commission”.

The gazetted Bill provided for some judicial control in the investigative functions of the Commission. The proposed amendment would give the OSC its own unique investigative powers and remove the minimum judicial controls proposed in the original Bill.

Pointedly, this pattern of expanding functions is seen in Clause 26(9) of the proposed amendment to the OSB, which now adds that in case of an individual or an internet intermediary non-compliance with notices issued by the OSC, the OSC “may apply to the Magistrate’s Court by way of petition and affidavit to obtain an order directing such person… to comply”.

In a similar fashion, Clause 31(3) now sets out that a person who fails to comply with the ‘code of practice’ issued by the OSC and consequently causes “wrongful loss to any other person, shall be liable to pay damages by way of compensation to the person who suffered such loss”. It would seem that the OSC is now capable of legislating for online practices.

As opposed to mitigating against the arbitrary discretion bequeathed to the Online Safety Commission by the originally gazetted OSB, the amendments only serve to further enhance those powers. 6) Alterations to Punishments for Communicating ‘Prohibited Statements’ Part III of the OSB contains various offences, many of which amount to ‘prohibited statements’, and the punishments attached to each. The proposed amendments to the OSB make wide alterations to the punishments for offences under the OSB, as follows:

Clause Punishment in gazetted bill Proposed amendment
12 “…imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine…” Adding “…or to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand rupees” to the existing punishment.
14(a) “…imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding five years, or with fine…” Adding “… a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand rupees or with both such…” to the existing punishment.
14(b) “…imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding five years, or with fine…” Adding “…to a fine not exceeding three hundred thousand rupees, or to both such imprisonment…” to the existing punishment.
17 “…imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding five years, or with fine…” Adding “…to a fine not exceeding three hundred thousand rupees…” to the existing punishment.
18 “…to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to a fine…” Adding “…to imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or to a fine not exceeding seven hundred thousand rupees…” to the existing punishment.
19 “… to imprisonment of description for a term not exceeding five years, or to a fine…” Adding “…a term which may extend to three years or to a fine not exceeding three hundred thousand rupees…” to the existing punishment.
21 “…imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding seven years, or to a fine…” Adding “…to a fine not exceeding seven hundred thousand rupees, or to both such imprisonment…” to the existing punishment.
23 “…imprisonment for a term not exceeding twenty years or to a fine…” Adding “…imprisonment for a term not less than two years and not exceeding twenty years or to a fine not exceeding one million rupees…” to the existing punishment.

These offences are similar to already existing provisions in the Penal Code, except that those in the Bill deal with actions done online (as opposed to the Penal Code). However, the punishments specified in the Bill are harsher than what is specified for the corresponding offence in the Penal Code. Additionally, Clause 16 which criminalized communicating a false statement with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings has now been deleted.

7) Enhancement of Minister’s Discretion A significant amendment is proposed to Clause 37(1) of the OSB. The gazetted Bill authorised the Minister to appoint private individuals as “experts” to assist in the investigation of the commission of an offence subject to the courts deeming such appointment “necessary”. However, the amendment removes this judicial safeguard and now allows the Minister to appoint the so-called “experts” without prior approval by the courts:

Clause 37(1) Proposed amendment
Where the court deems necessary, the Minister may by Order published in the Gazette appoint a person, an institution or a body of persons having the specified qualifications and experience in  information technology (hereinafter referred to as “an expert”), to assist any police officer in any investigation…” The Minister may by Order published in the Gazette appoint a person, an institution or a body of persons…”

8) The Commission’s Ability to Institute Criminal Proceedings

Clause 42 of the OSB is to be amended to allow the OSC to directly institute criminal proceedings against any citizen. This is a significant deviation from the powers originally conceived for the Commission, in the originally gazetted Bill. It is also apparent that the amended Clause 42(1) is convoluted and incoherently framed:

Clause 42 Proposed amendment
“Save as expressly provided in this Act, the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, No. 15 of 1979, 25 shall, mutatis mutandis apply to investigations, the trial of offences and to appeals from judgements, sentences and orders pronounced at any such trial under this Act.” “(1) Save as expressly provided in this Act, the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, No. 15 of 1979, shall, mutatis mutandis apply to investigations, the trial of shall, mutatis mutandis apply to investigations, institution of proceedings, the trial of offences and to appeals from judgements, sentences and orders. pronounced at any such trial under this Act.

( 2 ) Where the Commission, on consideration of material collected in the course of investigations conducted under this Act, is satisfied that any person has committed an offence under the provisions of this Act, it may take steps to institute criminal proceedings in terms of section 136 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, No. 15 of 1979.”

(Colombo/Nov07/2023)

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Widespread support for Sri Lanka debt workout, reform progress at IMF/WB meet: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – There was widespread support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and acknowledgement of progress made under an International Monetary Fund program, at meeting of the fund and World Bank, State Minister for Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

“The strides made in our economic recovery and financial stability have been acknowledged as significant advancements towards our country’s prosperity by our stakeholders and international partners,” Minister Semasinghe said in an x.com (twitter) post after attending the meetings.

“Further, it was heartening to note the widespread appreciation and support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to reaching the restructuring targets and confident of smooth progress in the continued good-faith engagements for a speedy debt resolution that will ensure debt sustainability and comparability of debt treatment.”

Sri Lanka ended a first round of talks with sovereign bondholders in March without striking a deal but some agreement on the basis for a deal.

An initial deal with bilateral creditors have been reached, but they may be awaiting a deal with private creditors to sign formal agreements.

International partners have appreciated reforms made under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Semasinghe said.

“It was great to engage in productive bilateral discussions with all of whom appreciated the recent economic developments, progress in debt restructuring, strengthening of tax administration, and ongoing governance reforms,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has been allowed to re-appreciate by the central bank amid deflationary monetary policy, bringing tangible benefits to people in the form of lower energy and food prices, unlike in past IMF programs.

Electricity prices were cut as a strengthening currency helped reduce the cost of coal imports.

Related Sri Lanka central bank mainly responsible for electricity price cut

The currency appreciation has also allowed losses to the Employment Provident Fund imposed to be partially recouped, helping old workers near retirement, as well as raising disposable incomes of current wage earners on fixed salaries.

Related Sri Lanka EPF gets US$1.85bn in value back as central bank strengthens rupee

The IMF, which was set up after World War II to end devaluations seen in the 1930s after the Fed’s policy rate infected other key central banks, started to actively encourage depreciation after a change to its founding articles in 1978 (the Second Amendment).

The usefulness of money as a store of value, or a denominator of current and future values then decline, leading to loss of real savings, real wages and increases in social unrest.

Before that, members who devalued more than 10 percent after printing money for growth or any other reason, faced the threat of suspension from the organization as punishment.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has appreciated to around 300 to the US dollar now from 370 after a surrender rule was lifted in March 2023.

But there is no transparency on the basis that economic bureaucrats are allowing the currency to gain against the US dollar (the intervention currency of the central bank).

The rupee is currently under pressure, despite broadly prudent monetary policy, due to an ‘oversold position’ in the market after recent appreciation made importers and banks to run negative open positions as the usefulness of the currency as a denominator of future value declined with sudden strenghtening. (Colombo/Apr21/2024)

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Sri Lanka choices recalled in Vietnam debate on monetary and fiscal options to target output

FIRST SIGNS: Fuel queues and shortages were developing in Vietnam in 2022 with a BOP deficit of $15.6bn in 3Q when rates were hiked to stop inflationary sterilization. Photo/Vietnamnet.vn

ECONOMYNEXT – Vietnam can grow 6.0 percent in 2024, with ‘policy support’ but there is a debate whether it should be done through fiscal (widening deficits/worsening debt or state spending) or monetary means, a top International Monetary Fund official said.

The IMF projects 6.0 percent growth for Vietnam in 2024 “as it rebounds from a challenging 2023,” Krishna Srinivasan, Director of the Asia and Pacific Department told reporters during the Spring Meetings in Washington.

Western Statism

“Now, in the case of Vietnam, I would say that there’s an issue about policy mix, whether you could get more support from the fiscal and rely less on monetary,” Srinivasan said.

“So there is an issue of policy mix which we’re talking, which we’ve been engaging the authorities with.

“I would say that policy support should be more favorable and that should, and along with external demand, help raise growth to 6 percent.”

Sri Lanka used both fiscal and monetary mix to boost growth from December 2019, triggering an external default two and a half years later.

Vietnam’s forex reserves fell below 3 months of imports in 2022 after the State Bank kept policy rates down by inflationary sterilization of forex market interventions.

The currency was then stabilized with rapid fire rate hikes and credit controls to dial back inflationary policy, just as long fuel ques started to form at petrol sheds, with angry riders already hit by rising prices due to Dong weakness. 
The return to market interest rates averted wider social unrest from being triggered by depreciation and further losses at state energy utility EVN, due to fixed prices amid soaring coal prices.

The State Bank of Vietnam later cut rates and relaxed credit controls as the BOP shifted to a surplus.

The government has since cut value added taxes. Public sector salaries are set to rise further this year, possibly as much as 30 percent, after earlier wage restraint. (Related Link: Public employee’s salaries to increase by 30 per cent from July 1: Minister)

State Driven Growth Options

The IMF also said in an Article IV consultation report released in October 2023, that fiscal metrics should be effectively undermined for ‘growth’ but more through income redistribution, and possible support for a fallout from a weak property sector.

Some Vietnamese property companies are reeling from expansion during earlier low rates and Covid-linked construction delays, which could also hit banks.

“Building on successful fiscal consolidation in recent years, there is fiscal space to provide further support,” an IMF Article IV consultation report released in October 2023 said.

“The government could scale up social safety nets that would boost growth and protect the most vulnerable households.

“Given the slowdown and the constraints faced by monetary policy, going forward, fiscal policy can take a leading role in supporting aggregate demand.

“For instance, the government could scale up social safety nets—and consider cash transfers to provide swift relief to poorer households.

“If the current turmoil proves more damaging to the economy and the financial sector, targeted support could be considered, including to help real estate developers restructure.”

Dong on thin ice

In 2023, Vietnam’s balance of payments was only marginally in surplus by 1 to 3 billion dollars a quarter, indicating that credit was still resilient after a successful ‘soft-landing’, and any further shocks from macro-economists can destabilize the external sector easily.

In the fourth quarter of 2024, Vietnam’s BOP was only 2.4 billion dollars in surplus.

Any extra spending or tax cuts which boosts the deficit due to attempts to engage in ‘macro-economic policy’ and expand government borrowings would lead to money printing under a fixed policy rate, reversing gains made by the State Bank over 2023, and pushing the Dong down, analysts say.

Western macro-economists believe that expanding government action (through the Treasury or central banks) to tinker with ‘aggregate demand’ can boost growth numbers instead of giving a chance for people and businesses to engage in real production of goods and services by providing monetary stability.

Collapsing currencies and external imbalances are then blamed on ‘current account deficits’ and ‘structural deficiencies’.

Such Keynesian and post-Keynesian beliefs have worsened since quantitative easing was normalized in the US after the Great Recession and ‘stimulus’ re-captured Western media attention despite the hard lessons of the 1960s and 1970s, critics say.

In Sri Lanka, the IMF taught a central bank that had already busted the currency from 4.70 to 131 to the dollar to calculate ‘potential output’ just as the country was barely recovering from a 30-year civil war.

Sri Lanka defaulted within 7 years of ‘data driven monetary policy’ (flexible inflation targeting with output gap targeting) and three currency crises later in peacetime amid increasingly aggressive macro-economic policy as consecutive stabilization programs reduced growth numbers.

Aggressive Macro-economic Policy

After using higher deficits and inflationary rate cuts in 2015 amid low inflation, inflationary rate cuts despite tax hikes in 2018 (fiscal policy is tight therefore monetary has to be loose mantra), macro-economists took a proverbial Keynesian bull by the horns and cut both taxes and rates from December 2019 saying there was a ‘persistent output gap’.

Related Sri Lanka fiscal stimulus to close output gap

Analysts say there is no real choice between monetary or fiscal deterioration to achieve macroeconomic policy desires of interventionists, in a country with a bureaucratic interest rate.

A policy rate, unless hiked, will automatically result in inflationary monetary operations as domestic credit picks up, irrespective of whether it is driven by private or state credit.

Any so-called ‘fiscal support’ can only be given without harming the exchange rate in a country that has a reserve collecting central bank with a policy rate, by liquidating any sovereign wealth funds or borrowing abroad and pushing up net external debt, analysts say.

By worsening external net debt levels, desires of macro-economists can be satisfied without harming monetary stability and the living standards of the population in general or nutrition of the children of the poorest sections of society by so-called exchange rate flexibility or debasement.

In Sri Lanka, potential output is now written into a brand new IMF-backed monetary law even before the first default workout is complete. Potential output is mentioned in every monetary policy statement, not stability. (Colombo/Apr20/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings: A Preventable Tragedy

ECONOMYNEXT – Five years on, Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings has left us with more questions than answers.

Both the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government and now the Ranil Wickremesinghe tenure has been shown up poorly in terms of ensuring the masterminds and those who failed to prevent the bombings are bought to book.

As one sifts through various reports and discussions on the Easter Sunday bombings which took the lives of 315 and injured at least 600, one must, as Sunanda Deshapriya, activist and investigative journalist told a webinar recently, ask whether that tragedy was preventable.

If it was, then why was it not?

The webinar was organised by the Solidarity Movement for Justice and Truth (SMJT).

One interesting fact that investigators discovered, Deshapriya said, was that a phone number used by one of the bombers, was amongst a series used by the infamous ‘Tripoli Brigade’ that is alleged to be behind the Lasantha Wickrematunga murder.

This brings up the question whether the Easter bombers were connected to these covert groups within the Armed Forces which some observers have blamed for a number of violent incidents.

There were other questionable events. In an interview with TNL in 2023 former CID Head, Ravi Seneviratne claimed that though the visit to Vanathavilluwa by his officers investigating the destruction of Buddhist statues in Mawanella, was not public knowledge, the military intelligence had turned up there.
Deshapriya says, “We have to ask who ordered the MI to go there.”

In his interview, Seneviratne also said that Zaharan, the leader of the Thowheed Jamat that carried out the Easter bombings, first came to their attention in January 2019. They received tips of Zaharan’s whereabouts from civilians he said, and those were always that he had been sighted in various locations in the East.

However, following the Easter attacks the CID had realised that while they were looking for Zaharan in the East, he had been moving around in Wattala, Negombo, Mount Lavinia and Panadura. He alleged that while Zaharan seemed to have been secure in these areas, the CID had had no inkling of it.

The CID has informants everywhere, so why were they not aware that Zaharan was living in the Western Province, he asks.

SSP Shani Abeysekara is on the record as saying that the Intelligence operatives had “deliberately mislead the CID.”

Evidence indicates that former head of State Intelligence, DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, had wiped out his phone and laptop prior to handing them over the investigators.

“Why did he do that? When did he do that? What did it contain? There are many secrets about the Easter Sunday attacks that are yet to be revealed,” Deshapriya said.

He also states that “there are also many holes in Azad Maulana’s story on Channel 4.”

Despite these discrepancies, Deshapriya says that the volume of information about Zaharan available to the Security Forces, particularly the intelligence arm was quite substantial.

The bombings and the aftermath, the hysteria around the need to save the country and future generations, the demonization of the Muslim community all pointed to one goal; a regime change. Those fighting these past five years to bring the masterminds to book must also now, determine whether that heinous deed was intentional.

The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and the Commission of Inquiry (COI), both appointed to examine the events leading to the Easter attacks, concluded that if the Indian intelligence reports had been acted on, the bombings on April 21, 2019, could have been avoided, the report noted.

On April 19, the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) released a report titled, ‘5 Years Since Easter Sunday Attacks: Still Awaiting Justice,” where it says that “various committees were appointed to collect evidence and provide a report of the findings.

‘A Presidential commission, a Presidential committee, and a Parliamentary Select Committee were appointed to investigate the Easter Sunday Attacks. The report produced by the Presidential Committee was not published while the Parliamentary Select Committee’s report was fully published, and the Presidential Commission report was partly published.

On 26th January 2023, the Right to Information Commission directed the Presidential Secretariat to make the presidential committee report public before 9th February 2023 after hearing an appeal filed by CSR. However, none of the major recommendations in the published reports have been implemented to deliver justice for the victims.”

“The reports reveal that authorities had sufficient time and enough intelligence to act on the suspicions and prevent the incident. SIS Director received intelligence reports from India on the 4th and 5th of April 2019 and again two reports on the 20th of April describing the possibility of the attack, naming the suspects, and the urgency of the terror attack.

Additionally, there was a dry run conducted five days before the bombings where a motorcycle was blown up using a remote-controlled device in Zaharan’s home base, and although the SIS learnt of the incident the next day, even after intelligence reports stated that Zaharan was planning a terror attack, proper investigations into this matter did not take place.

The amount of information that was received prior to the attack and the lack of action, investigation, and implementation of safety measures inevitably raised questions as to who was actually behind the attacks” CSR said.

“A less dysfunctional government might have still failed to connect incoming intelligence with the information on Zaharan in Sri Lankan police files, but it would have tried much harder,” it added.
The report goes on to note the lapses made by the Sri Lanka government’s leaders.

“Regardless of the number of intelligence reports both by the U.S and India, that had warned about imminent attacks targeting churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe both acted out of gross ignorance. Even, at the time the unfortunate incident has happened, the executive president Mr. Sirisena was out of the country and returned a considerable time after the incident.”

Fr. De Silva also asks as to how the Police would conduct an impartial inquiry into the role of the various personnel who were holding powerful positions at the time and still continue to do so.

Gen Salley remains as head of Intelligence. The DIG in charge of the area where the Katuwapitiya church is situated in that period was Deshabandu Tennekoon, who is now the Inspector General of Police. DIG Nilantha Jayawardene who was the Intelligence chief is now Senior DIG Administration, a post second only to the IGP.

“In seeking justice how can we engage with these leaders in power who are themselves accused of complicity in these incidents,” asks Fr. De Silva. “We are doubtful we can get justice without a change in the people holding office.”

As election fever hots up, the main opposition political parties are jostling with each other promising to bring the masterminds of the Easter attacks to book, under their regimes. Both the SJB and the JVP led NPP have put out official statements on the course of action they would take if elected to power.

Speaking at a zoom discussion organised by the Australia Sri Lanka Forum for Justice for Easter Victims on April 17, SJB’s Eran Wickremaratne said his party would introduce amendments to existing structures, to create an Independent Public Prosecutors Office to handle such cases.

The SJB plans to establish a permanent office with members of Scotland Yard and the FBI to work alongside local investigators to bring closure to the Easter tragedy, he said.

Meanwhile, the JVP led NPP presented a 7 point plan which would address the inaction of the authorities, and take legal action against all those directly and indirectly involved in the Easter Sunday bombings.
Both political parties have presented their proposals to Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. Let’s hope they are not mere election promises!

The Easter Sunday victims have been political pawns these past five years, just as the many others who lost family members in the various conflicts the country has been through.
They too, are still awaiting justice.

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