Easter bombings: PSC to charge ahead despite opposition from JO | Sunday Observer

Easter bombings: PSC to charge ahead despite opposition from JO

Members of the PSC. Pic: Sulochana Gamage
Members of the PSC. Pic: Sulochana Gamage

The next session of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed to investigate the Easter Sunday bombings will reconvene on Tuesday (04). The PSC has decided to summon Senior DIG, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Ravi Seneviratne, the former DIG, Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), Nalaka Silva, CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera and Director TID, SSP W.S.E. Jayasundera.

History was made last Wednesday when Parliamentary Select Committee proceedings were opened to the media for the first time, on a directive by Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya. Proceedings were live telecast on the parliament website and also on PEO TV Channel 91 before being suddenly interrupted while the second witness before the Committee, Chief of National Intelligence Sisira Mendis was giving evidence. The proceedings were conducted like a US congressional hearing, which are completely open to the public except if witnesses request to testify on camera.

The PSC has been tasked to investigate any lapses and make recommendations to the Speaker within the next three months. Its interim report is to be submitted within two weeks. The PSC will also look into the allegations made against Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen against whom the Joint Opposition (JO) has brought a motion of no confidence.

The main opposition has also decided to opt out of membership in the PSC, claiming that the sittings are a threat to national security. JO frontliner Wimal Weerawansa went so far as to urge security sector officials not to testify before the PSC unless the live telecast of proceedings are halted. Ironically, JO members were signatories to the proposal to set up the Select Committee to investigate the Easter attacks, with approval granted for the Committee to discuss any national security issues.

However PSC members have insisted on how important it is for the proceedings to be transparent, a new step for the Sri Lankan Parliament, where opposition lawmakers have long voiced support for oversight committee sittings to also be open to the media.

JVP Parliamentarian and PSC member Dr.Nalinda Jayatissa told the Sunday Observer it was the Parliament which granted permission to open the PSC proceedings to the media and the PSC was appointed with the consent of all political parties represented in Parliament. The document to set up the PSC was signed by all political parties including MP Udaya Gammanpila and some other JO MPs.

“Actually, the PSC process is a sort of postmortem. In a postmortem, we should ascertain what has really gone wrong,” Jayatissa told the Sunday Observer, explaining that the PSC sittings have no impact on future security operations.

“Any person giving evidence before the Committee has an obligation not to divulge information publicly which he or she believes could threaten national security,” the JVP MP added.

Witnesses have full discretion to decide what they wish to say with the media present, Dr Jayatissa explained. No member of the PSC would force a witness to testify.

In any event the issues will soon be public since the former IGP who was sent on compulsory leave and others have filed Fundamental Rights petitions. When these cases are litigated, all the facts will be in the public domain since courtroom sittings are public.

The JVP PSC member said that the whole country already knew who serves as the Chief of National Intelligence. “This is a simple internet search. It is not as if the PSC is summoning intelligence operatives to testify,” he added.

According to Dr Jayatissa, the opposition agenda in opposing the Select Committee process is quite clear. “Its source is the SLFP and Weerawansa’s team.When the April 21 incidents are analysed, it will come to light as to who had failed to fulfill their responsibility. They are opposing and shouting to defend one person but what is so important for us is the people’s security and not to defend one particular individual. Therefore, the PSC will proceed,” he said.

Defence Secretary Gen. Shantha Kottegoda and the Chief of National Intelligence DIG Sisira Mendis were the two witnesses who were first called before the PSC comprising Prof. Ashu Marasinghe, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Minister Rauff Hakeem, JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa chaired by MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne. However, three PSC members including its Chairman, Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran did not participate in the first day’s proceedings as they were overseas.

Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) DIG Sisira Mendis testifying before the PSC made a shocking revelation that the last National Security Council (NSC) meeting prior to the Easter Sunday attacks was held on February 19, 2019. “Before February 19, the NSC met on January14, 2019. In 2018, the NSC had met on January 05, February 19, March 05, May 02, July 10, October 23, November 13 and December 03. During some of these meetings, State Intelligence Service (SIS) Chief Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena spoke about Zaharan Hashim and his allies spreading hate speech and extremism. However, the IGP did not attend the NSC meetings after November 2018,” he said.

DIG Mendis told the Committee even though he pointed out at the Intelligence Coordinating Meeting (ICM) on April 09, 2019 that the information on the Easter Sunday attack should be discussed but the matter was not discussed until the day of the attack. Mendis also said when he declared that IGP Pujith Jayasundara did not respond to any of the communications he sent since December 2017 stressing the need to beef-up security measures against possible IS threats on Sri Lanka.

Mendis giving evidence before the PSC said “I first came to know of the imminent attacks on April 08. It was a busy day for Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando who was expecting to host the Indian Defence Secretary that day. I could not meet him in the morning, but verbally told him that morning and met him later around 3.00 pm where I informed him of the report. The Defence Secretary asked me to report it to the IGP which I did promptly while labelling the letter as ‘eyes only’ which requires his immediate and urgent action.”

Defence Secretary Gen. Shantha Kottegoda who was the first witness to testify before the PSC said although the threats posed by extremists have diminished, it cannot be thwarted in a month or two. “I believe it requires a coordinated approach and long term objectives inclusive of border controls and use of sophisticated technology. There needs to be greater coordination between the relevant ministries and departments.”

Gen. Kottegoda also told the Committee that he personally believes that certain statements made by Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera after being released from prison should not have been made. He made this remark when PSC Member MP Sarath Fonseka showed him a report published in a national newspaper headlined the Thera saying “We will create a new force to crackdown on extremism.” MP Fonseka said he personally believes it is not right to make such statements at a critical time like this. Minister Rauff Hakeem said still there is a lot of hate speech circulating on the electronic media and asked if it was not possible to issue a warning to prevent them. Gen. Kottegoda said they have taken certain steps like blocking social media and he also urged the media to act more responsibly.