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Mangala being investigated over transport given to displaced voters

BEING GRILLED – Former Finance Minister talking to reporters outside CID headquarters May 13, 2020/Supplied

ECONOMYNEXT – Two leading members of the United National Party-led former government were grabbed by the long arm of the Law yesterday.

Former Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne was arrested and remanded over a controversial press conference he held on the eve of the Presidential election last year and former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera was grilled for over 5 hours by the CID.

Samaraweera said that he was questioned over the provision of transport to Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) to travel from Puttalam to Jaffna to vote during the last elections.

Speaking to reporters outside the CID headquarters on May 13, Samaraweera said that he had approved state funds as the former Finance Minister to pay for these displaced persons to travel in state-run buses to their polling stations.

Election law prohibits anyone from paying or providing transport for voters to travel to polling stations without express permission from the Elections Commission or the Presiding Officer.

Some 11,000 former residents of Vavuniya and Jaffna are living in IDP camps in Puttalam, Samaraweera said.

These people were evicted from their homes in 1990 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and are yet to be registered in their new places of residence as voters.

After the end of the war some attempts have been made to resettle them in the former lands but the process has been slow.

At the time of the election, Samaraweera said there were this large number of voters who “would have been disenfranchised if they were not given the facilities to travel to their former places of residence to vote.”

“I did this in the interest of democracy,” Samaraweera said.

He claimed that it has been the practice for all governments, including the former government of Mahinda Rajapaksa to provide state-sponsored transport for these voters to travel to their respective polling stations in Jaffna and the Vanni.

Samaraweera said that he had been questioned for five hours and fifteen minutes by the police and had been asked to come back on Tuesday.

He said that the questioning was part of the harassment his former Cabinet colleague Rishad Bathiuddin was facing from the current administration.

Bathiuddin draws significant support from this particular displaced community.

Samaraweera said that when Bathiuddin was “part of the Rajapaksa government the same transport facility was given to these people by Basil Rajapaksa. Now that he is no longer with them (the Rajapaksas) they are going after him.”

“Questioning me is part of their hunting of Bathiuddin,” Samaraweera claimed.

He said the actions against the former minister of the UNP government was normal for Rajapaksa-led administrations.

His interrogation was because a particular Buddhist Monk had lodged a complaint against him.

Samaraweera blamed a “clique of drug-mafia sponsored Monks” of opposing him. (Colombo, May 14, 2020)