Opposition claims refuted in toto - Justice Minister Ali Sabry | Sunday Observer
Prorogation of Parliament:

Opposition claims refuted in toto - Justice Minister Ali Sabry

19 December, 2021

Categorically refuting the main Opposition SJB claim that the prorogation of Parliament was meant to terminate investigations undertaken by Parliamentary watchdog committees namely the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and Committee on Public Finance (COPF), Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC said it is the prerogative of the President to deliver the Government’s Policy Statement at the inauguration of the new Parliamentary session as per the tradition. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that all those Parliamentary committees can be reconvened and reestablished soon after the Parliament is reconvened.


Q: The main Opposition SJB alleges that the sudden prorogation of Parliament was meant to terminate investigations undertaken by parliamentary watchdog committees such as the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF). Would you like to comment?

A: The impression that the Opposition attempts to create on the prorogation of Parliament is not correct. The Parliament has been prorogued for a very short period of time. That is in order to permit the President to address the Parliament and outline his policy on post Covid recovery, popularly known as the Government’s Policy Statement. Other than that there is nothing else and all those Parliamentary committees can be reconvened and reestablished soon after the Parliament is reconvened. Actually, the prorogation of Parliament had been there for a long period of time to pave the way for the President to address the Parliament at the inauguration of the new session.

Q: Is there any difference of opinion among the coalition parties of the Government on the Yugadanavi power plant issue?

A: Some of the coalition parties of the Government are of different opinion regarding the issue. However, that is always expected when several coalition partners are there. Everybody needs not to take the same line in terms of investments and promoting investments as well as the Yugadanavi power plant partnership. I would say there is some sort of differences of opinion among coalition partners of the Government. However, all these are differences of opinion like within a family. So, whatever the differences, we would be able to discuss those and iron it out.

Q: How would you respond to the Opposition and Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera’s claim that the gas companies should pay compensation to all those affected by gas-related explosions?

A: If you look at it, even the Minister in charge had a similar stance. If there is negligence on the part of the company, they must compensate the people who are affected by those gas-related explosions. However, the Government is not in a position to bring the wrongdoers to book overnight. The investigations as well as a probe have been commenced at the company level. Hopefully, it would be able to identify who are the perpetrators or the wrongdoers.

Q: Senior Adviser to the Justice Minister U.R. de Silva (PC) has said that if certain gas companies had behaved in a manner jeorpadising the lives of consumers, then the public could institute legal action against such companies and seek compensation for losses suffered as per provisions in the Public Utilities Commission Act. Your comments?

A: As a consumer if there is any negligence on the part of the supplier, they are vulnerable for damages.

Q: There are proposals and recommendations by various economists and international rating agencies to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Are there any contradicting views within the Cabinet of Ministers and Government Parliamentary Group regarding the matter?

A: This matter is still under discussion and no final decision has been taken yet. There are opinions expressed for and against it even within the Cabinet of Ministers. The Government will consider the pros and cons of both views and will implement the most favourable view.

Q: Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves have dropped to approximately US$ 1.5 billion. What are the remedial measures taken to address the foreign reserves crisis?

A: Several attempts are being made in terms of obtaining some bilateral assistance and soft loans as well as renegotiating the payments which are due. I think it is more appropriate that the Finance Minister should answer this. But generally, several measures are being considered to address this issue. In the meantime, one of the measures that are under discussion within the Cabinet is whether we should approach the IMF. However, no finality has been reached upon in this regard. All these avenues are now being looked at by various parties.

Q: Has any decision been taken to bring amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No.48 of 1979 next year?

A: Basically, there has been a long candid need for an amendment in terms of the PTA and discussions are taking place. The President appointed a Cabinet Sub Committee to look into that and it has submitted its report to the Cabinet of Ministers. There is a Sub Committee headed by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and that Committee will submit the report to the Cabinet to take a decision. Once the Cabinet decision comes in probably we will have to relook at the law.

Q: SJB Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne recently told Parliament that the public has doubts that there is a tendency of cases against Government politicians being withdrawn by the Attorney General’s Department. Your comments?

A: The Attorney General is an independent officer. What he does is none of the Government’s business as long as it is there in terms of the law. Certainly, there is no pressure or any attempt from the side of the Government to get involved in those cases. So, it is not new that one makes representation to the Attorney General from time to time to consider the evidence which have been brought before him to allow or disallow. In that sense, I don’t see there is any involvement on anybody’s side and I would flatly refute that Opposition allegation.

Unfortunately, during the tenure of the Yahapalana Government there was a concerted attempt to abuse the powers by setting up all sorts of mechanisms such as the Anticorruption Secretariat. Through that they handpicked their political opponents, filed complaints and went to courts.

All those things were seen in the past. They also established a separate Police unit called the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID), separate court houses and day- today permanent trial at bar. All those were set up to target their political opponents. We haven’t done anything of that sort. Basically we have given a freehand to the Attorney General as it has to be for him to decide on merit.

Q: How do you view the demand made by Tamil political parties for full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution?

A: The 13th Amendment had been an ongoing discussion ever since it was introduced in 1987. So, we need to consider both sides. Even though devolution has to be supported, we can’t compromise on the threat to national security in the long run. Therefore, full implementation of Police and land powers may be not possible. However, within the existing framework, the President, Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers have to decide as to which extent we are willing to go.

Q: The SJB says Budget 2022 doesn’t address any of Sri Lanka’s burning issues. Would you like to elaborate your views?

A: We wouldn’t agree to that. If Sri Lanka wants to come out and become a developed nation, we need to look after our economy but that is not through lending. You need to create opportunities. The production has to come up and education and rural economy have to be uplifted while the infrastructure has to be developed. So, in terms of that, the Budget has allocated more funds to education, degitalisation, infrastructure development, rural development and to create job opportunities. These are sustainable ways of looking at the future. I would like to say this is a development oriented Budget. If we continue these provisions, it is a good chance that we can get over them.

Q: What kind of intervention has been made by the Government to seek justice for the family of Sri Lankan Manager Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana who was brutally killed by an extremist mob in Sialkot, Pakistan?

A: I think we have had an excellent relationship with Pakistan as a nation. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa kept in touch directly with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Premier Khan has done admirably well in terms of initially ordering a probe. Based on the probe, more than 135 people have been taken into custody, arrested and even remanded. Apart from that there is a national apology from Pakistan. All together there is compensation of nearly Rs. 35 million to be paid to the family of the victim. Therefore, everything possible has been done on the part of the Government. We are closely monitoring how the prosecution is taking place.

Q: Is there any delay on the part of the ongoing legal process initiated to bring the masterminds of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks to book as claimed by certain sections?

A: The investigations have been completed and that is obvious. After completion of the investigations, the indictments have been served. A Trial at Bar has also been established. So, the case will be heard on a day-to-day based on that. That is what we are looking at.

Q: The media has reported that the Government decided to pay US$ 6.7 million to the Chinese fertiliser company that had shipped a disputed fertiliser consignment on the advice of the Attorney General’s Department? Is there any truth in it?

A: Not at all. Basically, what the Cabinet decided was these matters should be considered as commercial matters and deal with it in that way without dragging it into courts. So, the advice is to amicably settle the dispute. The amicable settlement is that the LC will be honoured and the payments in terms of the LC will be paid and they will send us the goods again. If the goods are of high quality the matter ends there. If they are not in good quality that means we have to call for the performance character.

Q: What is the outcome of the discussion you had with Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations Kanni Wignarajah and a delegation from the UNDP?

A: We have a very cordial relationship with the UNDP and they are supporting our legal reform agenda. So, we discussed in particular three areas how to get the support of the UNDP for our justice reform agenda. Secondly, we discussed how to strengthen the reconciliation process among the communities. Thirdly, attention was also focused on how we can continue to have a good relationship between the UN and the country.