By Shamindra Ferdinando
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Chairperson Dr. Deepika Udagama strongly asserted that the law should be applied to all citizens equally.
Dr. Udagama said so when The Island sought the reaction of the commission to President Maithripala Sirisena’s admission that members of the UNP as well as the SLFP had been implicated by justice K. T. Chitrasiri’s Commission of Inquiry and PRECIFAC (Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges), respectively.
The issue was taken up at a press conference called Dr. Udagama at the commission’s new premises at No 14, R. A. de Mel Mawatha, Colombo 4. In addition to Dr. Udagama, members of the commission, Saliya Peiris, PC, Ambika Satkunanathan and Dr. Upananda Vidanapathirana joined the media briefing. Member Hamid Ghazali Hussain wasn’t present.
The Island also raised the accountability on the part the commission as regards staggering losses amounting to Rs 8,529 mn suffered by the Employes Provident Fund (EPF), Mahapola Scholarship Fund, National Savings Bank and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC).
Dr. Udagama said that wrongdoers could be dealt with according to Article 12 that guaranteed right to equality.
Responding to another media query, Dr. Udagama acknowledged that special status given to doctors as well as armed forces to accommodate their children at schools of their choice caused problems. Dr. Udagama asserted that it wasn’t fair for members of old boys’ associations and past pupils’ associations of various schools to receive privileged status in securing school admissions.
Dr. Udagama underscored the pivotal importance of addressing the difficulties experienced by the under privileged in securing school admission. The outspoken official revealed that her commission had made some recommendations to relevant authorities regarding problems caused by various groups given special status.
The Island brought to the commission’s notice how lawmakers had created an unprecedented special category for the benefit of those who had been rejected by the electorate to enter parliament through the backdoor, receive pension after completing just one five year term and received a range of perks and privileges at taxpayers expense.
Dr. Udugama declined to respond to query whether the commission considered President Sirisena’s statement on the treasury bond scam unfair by the UNP in the run-up to February 10 local government election. The human rights chief said that particular issue should be taken up with the National Elections Commission (NEC).
However, the Human Rights Commission would soon issue a circular in respect of the conduct of government servants in time of election, Dr. Udagama said.
The HRC Chairperson also referred to the recent move to introduce a gazette notification containing guidelines for media coverage of the forthcoming local government elections that would address the concerns raised by the media. The Island pointed out that the gazette was yet to receive parliamentary approval and the parliament was not scheduled to meet till January 23.
Dr. Udagama said women-headed households, particularly those in the Northern and Eastern districts were undergoing severe difficulties. She estimated such families to be about 20 per cent of the population. Asked by The Island why the difficulties experienced by those who had once fought for the LTTE and LTTE widows weren’t so far addressed nine years after the conclusion of the war while resources squandered on accommodating more women representatives in local government bodies, Dr. Udagama stressed that both received their attention.
The new electoral system would, besides enabling the election of candidates on the First Past the Post System, ensure that for the first time 25 percent of the seats in the various local bodies were allocated to female candidates.
Dr. Udagama expressed concern over the electorate repeatedly exercising their franchise in support of violent elements over the years with some receiving over 100,000 preferential votes at national level elections.