President writes to Speaker on PSC probing Easter attacks | Sunday Observer

President writes to Speaker on PSC probing Easter attacks

President Maithripala Sirisena told senior police officials on Friday that he had written to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya earlier this week, to inform him that the ongoing Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) proceedings into the Easter Sunday bombings could adversely impact cases filed in the Supreme Court and criminal investigations into the attacks.

The Attorney General had informed him in writing that the PSC proceedings could “strongly and adversely influence” five cases currently pending before the Supreme Court, into the Easter terror attacks, the President told officials at a meeting at the Presidential Secretariat on Friday evening.

“On the AG’s request a seven judge bench of the Supreme Court is set to hear those cases in connection with the April 21 incidents,” he said. The AG’s observations had also been sent to the Speaker, President Sirisena said.

The President said he had been dismayed that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya had failed to read his letter to the Legislature when the session resumed on Thursday, a statement from the Presidential Media Division said. “It is the practice for the Speaker to read out the President’s announcements at the start of the session, but this was not done,” he said.

On June 4, President Sirisena wrote to Speaker Jayasuriya about the PSC.

“The Hon. Attorney General is of the opinion that the proceedings of the above Committee would be prejudicial and would cause an adverse impact on the judicial proceedings in the Supreme Court,” the letter signed by President Sirisena and seen by the Sunday Observer read.

The letter from the Attorney General is annexed to the President’s missive to the Speaker and refers to a letter from the Secretary to the President, Udaya Seneviratne, about the PSC on June 3.

“I am of the opinion that the said proceedings pending before the Select Committee of Parliament would have a substantial danger, a prejudicial and adverse impact on the ongoing criminal investigations being presently conducted in that regard. The proceedings would also have a prejudicial and adverse impact on pending judicial proceedings in the Supreme Court,” the letter from Attorney General Dappula De Livera noted.

However, on Thursday, the PSC decided to continue proceedings, after being informed of the President’s letter to the Speaker.

Former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and suspended IGP Pujith Jayasundara appeared before the PSC and provided extensive and explosive testimony before the Committee on security lapses and system failures that had led to the prior intelligence warnings about the Easter Sunday bombings going unheeded.

The PSC members wrote back to the Speaker, with reference to the letter from President Sirisena, insisting that Parliament is the sole judge of its powers and privileges, and had exclusive jurisdiction over its own proceedings, the Sunday Observer learns.

In their reply to the Speaker, PSC members recalled that Parliament had resolved unanimously to appoint the Select Committee upon a motion signed by members from all political parties in Parliament.

“We note that it may potentially become necessary for this Committee to look into the actions and inactions of the Police and also that of the Attorney General. As such, it would be inappropriate to give heed to any views – solicited or unsolicited – proffered by those potentially under inquiry,” the letter from the PSC noted.

The PSC told the Speaker in its reply signed by most members of the Committee, that the Judiciary and Parliament had historically maintained good relations and were capable of continuing that tradition. “Any attempt by the Executive to interfere in our relationship is “unlawful and could constitute a breach of privileges of this Committee and the House,” the letter noted.

The exchanges indicate escalating tensions between the two branches of Government with regard to the PSC set up to probe the bombings. On Friday, President Sirisena summoned an emergency Cabinet meeting to oppose the Select Committee and told Ministers that he would not permit any officer still in active service to testify before the Select Committee.

“Those who have already testified before the Committee are officials I have removed from service. I will not permit any serving officers to appear before this Committee – I will take responsibility for them,” President Sirisena told the meeting of senior police officials on Friday.

President Sirisena said he was opposed to bringing intelligence officials and criminal investigation department officials before a parliamentary committee that was open to the media. “It could make them the targets of criminal elements,” he said.

Select Committee Member and JVP Lawmaker Dr Nalinda Jayatissa told the Sunday Observer that nobody could prevent state officials from appearing before the PSC or courts to give evidence.

Dr. Jayatissa said, “If the President thinks the top state intelligence officers giving evidence before the PSC is prejudicial to the national security, the PSC can take a decision to summon them without opening PSC proceedings to the media. But there is no point in summoning only the retired intelligence officers. If attempts are made to weaken Parliament using Executive powers, it could have serious repercussions.”

The Parliamentary Select Committee will hold sittings again on Tuesday (11) and Wednesday (12), when members of the Kattankudy Mosque Federation, the All Ceylon Jamaithul Ullama, other civil society groups and Muslim politicos are likely to be summoned to testify before the Committee.

Officials bound to respond to summons by Parliament: Speaker

All officials are bound by law to respond to summons by Parliament, and should be cognizant of the consequences of failing to appear when so ordered, Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya said yesterday.

Issuing a media statement to set the record straight on the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday attacks, Speaker Jayasuriya responded to some of the criticism it has faced in recent days, including the fact that opening the sittings to the media were compromising intelligence officials and national security.

He reiterated that the Committee had repeatedly informed witnesses coming before it that they could request in-camera sittings if they felt that any part of their testimony could prove detrimental to national security.

The decision to permit proceedings of the PSC which was established under Standing Orders of Parliament, to be open to the press was also approved by Parliament, the Speaker’s statement emphasised. “This is not an unusual experience for countries that function within a democratic framework. Recently, the global media broadcasted testimony provided by the US Attorney General and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in an US Congressional Inquiry.

This is a common feature in many countries that are considered mature democracies,” the Speaker noted in his statement.

The statement emphasised that the Speaker could not dismiss at whim a Select Committee set up by a resolution of Parliament.

“The final power to dismiss a committee set up by a motion of Parliament according to Standing Orders lies with Parliament itself and proceedings of the Committee may not be suspended at the whims of the Speaker,” Jayasuriya’s release to the media stated. “The Committee has the right to decide on whether it will open its proceedings to the media,” the statement said.

The Speaker said he would discuss the issue with Party Leaders and bring it to the attention of the House soon.

Speaker Jayasuriya said that communications from the President were read out in the House only based its relevance. The need to read out a letter sent by the Secretary to the President, with regard to a Parliamentary Select Committee does not arise.

“When the letter was received, the Speaker forwarded it to the members of the PSC, requesting them to be mindful about discussing issues that may be prejudicial to national security and to ensure to the best of their ability, that national security is not jeopardised,” Jayasuriya’s statement noted.

Furthermore, a special meeting was called with the members of the PSC, and instructions were given personally, the release said.

The Select Committee was set up by consensus of Parliament, with a composition of 12 MPs, including seven Government lawmakers, and 05 opposition parliamentarians, the Speaker’s statement said. “Unfortunately the UPFA has decided to boycott sitting as members of the Committee. Had they participated, the issues that have arisen could have been resolved within the Committee itself,” the release from the Speaker’s Office said.

The Parliament had no intention of challenging the powers of the President, the statement said, adding that the criticism of a Select Committee set up by the Parliament could create the wrong impression among the people. “These facts are being placed in the public domain, in good faith, in order to set the record straight,” the statement noted.