Wijeyadasa: No govt. has followed national disaster guidelines for past 18 yrs



By Saman Indrajith

Successive governments had not followed national disaster guidelines formulated after the 2004 tsunami disaster, Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told Parliament yesterday (25).The Minister said so, making a statement on the status of litigation on the X-Press Pearl disaster and a report on the disaster by the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development.

Commenting on the report, Rajapakshe said the Sectoral Oversight Committee, comprising 12 members had presented its report in late July, but only six members had signed it.The Justice Minister said that the Sectoral Oversight Committee report had levelled serious allegations against the Attorney General’s Department.

“This report is problematic as only six have signed. What is the view of the other six MPs? I urge the Speaker to prepare some guidelines on this,” he said.

The Parliament had appointed a committee led by Minister Ramesh Pathirana to study both X-Press Pearl and MV New Diamond disasters, Rajapakshe said.

“I have also just appeared before it. However, the report of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Sustainable Development has caused great inconvenience to the Attorney General’s Department. In fact, most of the findings of the report reflect the opinions expressed by a former employee of the Attorney General’s Department. He now appears as an expert in maritime law.

In response, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that they had no intention of making life difficult for those engaged in litigation in the X-Press Pearl case. However, the manner in which the estimates for the damage caused by the disaster had been made left much to be desired.

“The previous government learnt nothing from the MV New Diamond case. It also learnt nothing from the X-Press Pearl disaster. The manner in which the damage to nature was calculated was wrong. Those in charge said the damage was only limited to the area between Negombo and Panadura. However, we know that the damage was caused to a much larger area. So, was the damage properly assessed? Also the MPs do have a right to ask questions about the status of inquiry, he said.

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Lakshman Kirielle asked the Justice Minister to explain the current status of the litigation. He said that MPs need to know what has transpired following Sri Lanka filing a case in Singapore.

The Minister said that a nine-member team, with representatives from the Attorney General’s Department and the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), met representatives from insurers of X-Press Pearl in Singapore. There is also an attempt to shift the case to a commercial high court there.

“This would allow us to have judges from different countries. This would actually be beneficial to us,” he said.