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Death threats against NDDCB Chairman:

I will ensure he is given adequate protection - Minister John Amaratunga

Minister of Public Order, Disaster Management and Christian Affairs, John Amaratunga's illustrious political career spans over 37 as a Member of Parliament who has held several key ministerial portfolios.

Due to his competence in handling his portfolio, especially Public Security, the UNP Government has given him the Interior Ministry portfolio which included the Police Department and the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said the UNP government that assumed office in 2002 was responsible for taking steps to eradicate the scourge of drugs in the country.

All successive governments that came to power after 2004 turned a blind eye to these drug barons who ran a network of operations islandwide. Minister Amaratunga said the government would take serious note of death threats faced by the Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, (NDDCB) Dr. Chamira Nilanga Samarasinghe, as they have already launched a huge drive against drug traffickers.

Excerpts:

Q: The Police have arrested three soldiers in civils carrying weapons. What is the authority they have to carry such a weapon? Who authorised them to carry the weapon and for what purpose were they being deployed?

A: Anybody who carries an unauthorised weapon will be remanded and no bail will be given. The Act is very clear that bail can be given to such people only after filing an application in the High Court. The case is now under investigation. I can't tell you exactly who is behind this and what their intention was or what they have been deployed for.

Definitely this white van concept was orchestrated by the previous government. I think this is also a part of that operation. Now we are looking for more white vans. This is the sort of concept the previous regime believed in - to harass people and stop them from supporting their political opponents.

Q: The white van phenomenon may have been a marked feature of the previous regime. How is it that in this incident too, military personnel in civil attire travelled in a white van carrying arms?

A: The investigations on the assassination of TNA MP Raviraj has proved that some Navy personnel were responsible for the shooting and that they also operated in a white van. Obviously, this is a pattern which was initiated by the previous government so this would have also originated from the same source.

Q: It seems like the incumbent government is also adopting the dirty tactics practised by some dictatorial regimes. Is there some sinister force operating outside the government? Could not this other force be the remnant of the previous regime?

A: I would assure you that under good governance, this behaviour would not be tolerated by the present government. These are the remnants of the previous government. We have to eradicate and mete out severe punishment to anybody trying to resort to such tactics.

Q: Could this be a ploy or a set up by political enemies to embarrass the government?

A: I think so. Because the intention behind these tactics is to create a fear psychosis among government MPs, Ministers and organisations. They followed the same tactic during the previous regime as well. Now they are trying to repeat that culture once again.

Q: The Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board (NDDCB), Dr. Chamira Nilanga Samarasinghe is under death threat for doing his job. Has your Ministry investigated and identified from where the threat is originating?

A: When the NDDCB Chairman makes a complaint regarding a death threat against him, he should give us the telephone numbers of the persons who made these threats. But there are no such telephone numbers. The Chairman with the help of the Telecom should find out from where these calls have originated. Then only we can proceed with investigations.

We are also trying to provide security to safeguard his life. I don't know to what extent these threats are genuine. But we have to take serious note because we are conducting a huge drive against drug trafficking. Obviously, a lot of money is circulating, so those concerned will try to destroy anybody attempting to disrupt their business.

Q: The government has made many claims about powerful forces being involved in the illegal narcotic trade. However, to date no drug kingpin has been either arrested or charged. Could it be that the Head of the NDDCB and that whole agency are now paralysed due to these death threats?

A: That is not the reason. There are a number of foreigners in our remand custody. Among them, Pakistanis, Afghans and locals who have been identified as drug traffickers. Action has been taken against them and investigations are pending. The main task of the NDDCB is to identify the sources and inform the Police. There are special units in the Police and a DIG is designated for that.

They are taking prompt action against drug traffickers. The main task of the NDDCB is to rehabilitate drug addicts and they are doing it effectively. At the same time, the NDDCB would educate principals, teachers and students on the danger of these drugs.

Q: Will your Ministry provide protection to enable the NDDCB Chairman and the Board to keep the voting public informed of candidates with criminal records?

A: We have informed the NDDCB to come up with information on candidates who are involved in drug trafficking.

One UPFA candidate in the Gampaha list has a record of importing and distributing drugs. He was under cover by the previous regime. He has a free hand to import and distribute drugs, not only in Sri Lanka but also to India, the Middle East and other far Eastern countries.

Q: If the NDDCB cannot fulfill its duties, isn't there a risk that once again underworld elements could return to Parliament?

A: Of course. During the previous regime, such underworld elements won most of those elections by throwing their illegal money to provide goods and services to low income groups to secure their votes.

A few days ago, the Indian government had also raised concerns about drug trafficking taking place in Sri Lanka. They are to appoint a special Police team to investigate from which part of Sri Lanka these drugs come to their coast.

Q: What is the protection you are providing the NDDCB Chairman at the moment? What about the other staff? Shouldn't they also be given protection?

A: I have written to the IGP that the NDDCB Chairman's life should be safeguarded and to provide him adequate security.

I hope, he would have provided security by now. Because of the election campaign, I didn't have time to personally check. But I will ensure that he will be given all protection as he is doing an honest job. He is a qualified doctor and a competent person in eradicating the drug menace from Sri Lanka.

Q: What problems are there to prosecute the 25 MPs said to be in the narcotic trade when the government has declared an all out war on narcotics?

A: We can't bring a person to book or take him to court without sufficient evidence. There should be witnesses and documents to prove it.

That is why the investigations are going on to obtain such documents and evidence and file a B report to produce them in courts. That has been done in several cases and some people are now in remand custody.

Q: Party Leaders hold the voters responsible for electing rogue candidates to Parliament. Should it not be the Party Leaders' sole responsibility not to give nomination to such people?

A: Absolutely. As an example, in the UPFA's Gampaha list, there is a candidate who is convicted of several crimes and declared as IRC number 89917. The Western Province Chief Minister who is contesting from Gampaha district has been allegedly charged for bribery.

A Western Provincial Council Minister who has charges on drug dealing is also contesting from the UPFA's Gampaha district. I don't know if the Secretaries or the Leaders of those parties are so bankrupt to give nominations to such corrupt elements and call upon the people to vote for them. The UPFA will lose the Gampaha district while the UNP will have a massive victory.

Q: As this is election time, why don't you tell the voters that if elected to power, your government will make public the names of these 25 MPs and prosecute them in courts?

A: We always talk about good governance. It means allegation should be made against a person if there is sufficient evidence to prove it.

Mere hearsay evidence is not enough. Now the investigations are pending.

There is also talk about the ethanol issue and a Secretary of the former Prime Minister had issued a letter to release a container of drugs. But these investigations have not been concluded.

We are talking of democratic governance, where a person has a right to go to court and defend. Finally it is up to the judiciary to decide and give them adequate punishment.

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