BY GAGANI WEERAKOON
President Maithripala Sirisena instructed officials to provide an allowance of Rs 10,000 per month for all farmers who are affected by the prevailing dry weather and also instructed relevant authorities to appoint a committee comprising District Secretaries, Grama Niladharis and Samurdhi Officials to collect comprehensive information on affected families.
After getting the relevant information, this allowance will be given from next month till the Yala season begins.
This was decided on and instructions issued when he met relevant Heads of Departments, to review the effects of drought on the farming sector in the country, at the President’s Official Residence last Thursday (16).
A large number of complaints have been received from the public regarding land reclamation to the President; thus he told officials to take prompt action in this regard. “Those officials who cannot fulfil their duties in a proper manner should resign from their respective posts,” a somewhat angry President warned officials.
All preparations have been made to provide subsidized rice to the drought affected families in the near future and the President requested officials to fulfil their duties in this regard in a proper manner by distributing the subsidized rice equally, focusing their attention on the accurate data.
President Sirisena emphasized that it is essential to pay attention to water standards when providing drinking water. The President apprised the officials to use buses to transport people when they travel far away for bathing.
Amongst other instructions he gave to the officials, were setting up of emergency power generating machines in areas like Pallekele, Hambantota, Kurunegala and Galle as an alternative to a future power crisis and the importance of educating the public through media and internet regarding the efficient electricity consumption. The President said that the Treasury will be provided with the necessary financing for the continuous supply of electricity.
Attention has been drawn to repairing tube wells in the rural areas, development of the agricultural wells, growing paddy in abandoned paddy fields in the wet zones with the assistance of the local government authorities. Ministers Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Rajitha Senaratne, Ravi Karunanayake, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Duminda Disanayake, Faizser Musthapha, Ministry Secretaries including Secretary to the President, P.B. Abeykoon and several other officials also attended this meeting.
RTI and barriers
With the gazette notification issued on rules and regulations of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Sri Lanka has reached third best place in the RTI global ranking with Mexico and Serbia being in the first and second places
Simultaneously, Sri Lanka becomes the best in South Asia, bypassing India, according to Canadian-based RTI watch-dog Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).
“Countries often go up a few points on the RTI rating when they adopt rules and regulations. But this is an impressive jump up for a country which already had a very strong score, so both the minister and the commission deserve to be congratulated for their good work,” CLD’s Executive Director Toby Mendel was quoted in its website www.law-democracy.org.
When the Bill was unanimously adopted in Parliament last August, Sri Lanka was in the seventh place of global ranking and then dropped into the ninth place. However, the new regulations of the Act have added ten more points to Sri Lanka which brought it to the third best place in its global ranking.
The rules and regulations were gazetted in early February by the minister in concurrence with the RTI Commission in Sri Lanka.
The implementation of the Act was commenced on 3 February and countrywide public authorities had received more than 300 RTI applications on the first working day of the week.
Meanwhile, the assigning of 1,800 Information Officers under the RTI Act and the launch of RTI web portal took place under the patronage of President Sirisena at Temple Trees where he declared that he is the only President who declared assets to the country.
“If the politicians and the government officers assigned with their tasks fulfil their responsibility with openness no problem will arise. That example should come from the top”, he said.
There was no demand for me to submit my assets declaration. But I did it in the last two years,” he added.
The President recalled that he exposed his asset declaration to journalists, after submitting it to the Elections Commissioner as the Common Candidate.
“The people of this country elected this government on 8 January 2015 to change a government which exceeded the limits of fraud, corruption and irregularity. The people elected the new government not to act like the former government. The allegations against the former government should not be directed to the new government,” he pointed out.
“When the programme to build the country is progessing the cordiality and the cooperation of the politicians and the government officers is important. It is a strong chain that is needed to build the country,” the President further said.
“The politicians and government officers should get rid of the unholy culture they have been used to. They should fulfil their responsibility for the country with transparency,” he declared.
“Today there are many protests on roads in Colombo. They are misusing the democratic freedom in the country. The government took action to give the service pension to the disabled war heroes who did not complete 12 years. This benefit hasn’t been given to them in the history of this country. Even when the government has done it, another group is protesting on the road,” the President said.
The website for the Right to Information www.rti.gov.lk was launched by the President on this occasion.
He, however, added that when the Right to Information Bill was gazetted in February, an NGO sent letters to the Prime Minister and him on that day itself requesting them to declare their assets.
The President noted that NGOs should act within their limits and work in accordance with the subject area within their purview.
It is in this backdrop that doubts arise whether the RTI would bear any fruit at society level despite being in top three in global rankings. The presence of RTI Act itself is not adequate as long as the public do not utilize it in seeking information and the bureaucracy in furnishing information. As a country which practised not giving information under the guise of ‘being too sensitive’ or ‘threat to national security’ for more than three decades, it is a necessity that the public actively taking part in putting the RTI Act to maximum use with a positive approach to overcome long prevailing socio-political cultures.
Army denies CBK‘s charge
Tamil women who survived Sri Lanka’s civil war now face widespread sexual exploitation by officials in their own community as well as from the Army, the head of an ethnic reconciliation body said on Wednesday.
Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, said women who were widowed during the 26-year conflict were among the victims of abuse by officials who frequently demand sexual favours just to carry out routine paperwork.
“There is a lot of sexual abuse still going on by officials, even Tamil officials and even at lower levels, the Grama Nildaris (Village Headmen),” AFP quoted her as being told to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Correspondents’ Association.
“Even to sign a document, they abuse the women and of course some people in the (armed) forces continue to commit sexual abuse,” she said.
“We feel that when women have livelihoods, they will be empowered…they feel safer and they don’t have to be exploited,” she has said.
Kumaratunga said many women had been traumatized as a result of the sexual abuse and needed psychological support, but the authorities lacked qualified experts to treat them.
“We cannot bring counsellors from abroad because they won’t know the language,” she said.
However, the remarks by the former Head of State seems to have irked the military personnel with Sri Lanka Army categorically denying the allegations levelled against them.
“The Army Headquarters has noted with dismay a recent statement, alleged to have been made by the head of an ethnic reconciliation body on sexual exploitation and abuses of Tamil women by the Army in the post- war scenario. The Army categorically denies the same as a baseless allegation,” a statement issued by the SL Army read.
Director Media, Brigadier Roshan Seneviratne said that in 2010, civil administration was firmly established in the North and the Army withdrew from all forms of civil administration.
“Since then, the Army has not been involved in administration concerning civilians, the question of sexual exploitation and abuses, during the said process does not hence arise. Regrettably, the author of this statement has made unsubstantiated and baseless assertions without specifying any incident of sexual exploitation or abuse,” he remarked.
The statement issued by the Army also stated: “The Army wishes to place on record that it has a Zero Tolerance Policy on sexual abuses as evidenced in Premawathi Manamperi case in 1971, Krishanthi Kumaraswamy case and Rajini Vellayudunpillai case that took place during the period 1995-2005. In all these instances, the Army fully cooperated with the Civil Court cases, against the accused soldiers who were on trial, resulting in death penalty.
In line with this principle, the Army always takes stern action on Army personnel, against whom ex-facie cases have been filed and discharged summarily from the Army despite acquittal/pending action in Civil Courts. It shall continue to pursue this policy.”
They were of the opinion that at a time when the government is genuinely committed to the Rule of Law and Reconciliation,baseless assertions of this nature would only jeopardize the reconciliation process.
SAITM still brewing
With Sri Lanka Medical Council planning to challenge the ruling of the Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court and with National Trade Union Centre threatening to cripple the country by bringing masses to streets the brewing matter of SAITM is expected to be continued in the week to come as well.
President Sirisena who met university student association representatives last week, requested all Student Associations from State Universities not to engage in activities which would disrupt their education, till solutions were provided if there is any issue, as the government is currently negotiating with all relevant parties to provide a satisfactory solution to every party regarding private medical colleges.
During the meeting, the representatives of University Student Associations came out their proposals in detail, to take into consideration when providing a solution to this issue.
The President further said that the government will take steps to solve this issue in the future after referring the opinions of each and every party, including Student Associations, Deans, Sri Lanka Medical Council, University Grants Commission as well as SAITM.
The representative of University Student Associations pointed out that even though they raised their voices against this private medical college during the previous regime, they did not draw their attention regarding this issue and the representative further stated that they expect the present government will provide a just solution to this issue to further strengthen free education in this country.