We are there for the people - State Minister | Daily News

We are there for the people - State Minister

State Minister of Justice and Prison Affairs, Anuradha Jayaratne. Picture by Sudath Malaweera
State Minister of Justice and Prison Affairs, Anuradha Jayaratne. Picture by Sudath Malaweera

No one is above the law. In order for there to be harmony in society justice must prevail. But for the men and women of the law to perform their duty, then the public need to also take precautions and protect themselves as a community. The Daily News speaks to State Minister of Justice and Prison Affairs, Anuradha Jayaratne on the current issues pertaining to the law.

Q: Minister Anuradha Jayaratne, you are the State Minister of Justice and Prison Affairs. When we compare the last few years, has there been a rise in crime? And in which areas?

A: It is mainly cocaine and drug use. If you take the figures, the number of cases has increased. What we are facing right now is a big issue. That is why we issued a gazette notification. If you take the drug ICE it was included as a dangerous drug. It was not in the ordinance before. Now we can give a life sentence for the drug ICE. The Justice Ministry is doing its best to address this issue of drugs. We have also started on rehabilitation projects. What we believe is that sending offenders to prison will not solve the problem. When giving the sentence, we will need to go for medical treatment as well. This will have to happen simultaneously. So we are planning on doing both simultaneously. So when they come back into society that person will be rehabilitated.

Today the population in prison is 26,000 (prisoners and remandees). Sixty five per cent are there because of drug use. Thirty five per cent are there because of committing other crimes like rape, murder and robbery. So we can see that there has been a certain increase in cases. That is something we need to acknowledge. Because without acknowledging it, we cannot move forward. No matter how much we improve our economic situation, there won’t be a solution. If this drug problem still persists, then we will continue to experience drug related problems. We can see that the problem of drug abuse is far more threatening than other problems.

Q: Recently the entire country was shocked by the scam conducted by Thilini Priyamali. It involved a very large sum of money exchanging hands illegally. In order to prevent similar wrongdoings from taking place in the future, what can be done by the justice system?

A: This case brings up extremely disturbing facts that we have to face. One is how gullible certain members of the public are. In Sri Lanka we have the Central Bank and certified financial institutions. They must understand the extreme risk of doing business with someone who is not going through these mediums. Thilini Priyamali is one such scammer. She is not the first and will not be the last. People need to take precautions. People need to do their business transactions with people and organisations that are accredited. People and organisations that are credible. What I understand from all of this is that people in this country seem to be swayed by high interest rates and are tempted to invest. They do not do a background check. They are tricked by what they perceive as attractive. There is a legal framework here. But these people, who invest in these scams, do so by not operating within this legal framework. There are laws in place. But the problem is that these people invest billions in these scams without checking the credibility of these people and organisations. There is the Cyber-Crimes Act. The Cabinet approved the signing of the Budapest Cyber-Crime Convention second protocol. But no matter how many laws you introduce, if people are not careful and prudent, these scammers will continue to rip off the public. But if these scammers are apprehended, they will be punished. That I can assure you.

Q: Recently on the news, it was revealed that our prisons in Sri Lanka have become extremely congested. Your Ministry is the Ministry of Justice and Prison Affairs. Now what can your ministry do about this?

A: That is also a problem that we are facing right now. If you take the capacity in all the prisons, only 13,000 prisoners can be accommodated in Sri Lanka. But right now we have over 26,000. So it is more than double. This is a big issue. Right now the rehabilitation programmes need to be conducted. When you take this 26,000, 65% of the prisoners are there for drugs. Putting these drug addicts in prison for six months and then releasing them back into society will not solve the issue. After about six and seven months they will come back to the prison again. So the plan is to treat them. The belief is that they will be rehabilitated. We are also thinking of giving them vocational training. So when they go back to society again, they will have a way of earning and making a living. They can educate their children. So we should treat them for the illness. Secondly, we should give them vocational training during the period of the sentence.

We have the Vishodhana Panatha. So when the wrongdoer has been given a sentence of less than two years, they can be rehabilitated. So they are rehabilitated under a VishodhanaOfficer. So under the Vishodhana Panatha these offenders are rehabilitated under a Vishodhana Officer. For example, in Gampola there are around 40 inmates. So for around three months they are given medical treatment at Gampola Hospital and they are given vocational training under the officer. So because of this, the number of offenders sent to prisons becomes less. Also offenders do not continuously return to prisons.

Then there is the house arrest system. The offender is confined to his/her house. They have to wear a GPS bangle on their hands. So for example, they have to live within the boundaries of their house. If they do try to move beyond the boundary, the officers are immediately notified by a beep. We believe that sometimes house arrest can be more effective than being in a prison. He/she will see that the members of his/her house are upset and inconvenienced due to his/her actions and that will make the person realize the gravity of the crime committed.

Q: Will more facilities be increased in prisons?

A: Yes. We have several issues right now. The Government has taken a decision not to invest any capital in infrastructure. This has been a major issue for us. With a special request we are going to upgrade on essentials. But capital expenditure is very much limited in the year 2023. Right now as a country we are facing a number of issues. We are facing a huge shortage in everything. So capital investment won’t be feasible for the year 2023. The food in prisons will cost 2.4 billion in 2022 and in 2023 the estimate is 4.7 billion.

Right now the idea is to make the prisoners cultivate their own food on a plot of 250 hectares. So then the Government will not have to spend so much money. Basically we are putting these prisoners to work. They will be able to procure their own food.

Q: There was a plan to build a new prison. What happened to that proposal?

A: This was initiated about five or six years ago. The idea was to take the Welikada Prison to Horana. If you take the Welikada land plot, it is a commercially viable area. If we try to keep a prison there, I don’t think it is suitable in the long run. The Prison Department, Justice Ministry with the UDA have done all the planning. We are planning to move the Welikada Prison to Horana. We had a discussion with a few parties who are interested in this venture. So whoever is interested in the Welikada Prison land can go for a major development later on. We are not planning on using any Government funds. If a private party is interested in developing the Welikada Prison, whatever the money we get from the land will be utilized for the new prison, which is going to come up in Horana. All the planning has been done by the UDA. That is the plan. We are not taking anything from the Treasury to develop another prison.

Q: What are the conditions in our prisons? Are the hygiene standards good? Are they clean? Are the prisoners treated humanely?

A: Right now our prison standards are quite high. The facilities we have given to the prisoners are up to the standards. Some people give different statements to the media. But that is obviously to gain attention. We treat our inmates very humanely.

Q: It was revealed very recently that a large number of Sri Lankan women had left for Oman to find jobs with tourist visa and many of them have become victims of human trafficking. What can the justice system do to prevent such wrongdoing?

A: We have to understand that these women have not gone to these countries on Visa-related employment. They have gone on Tourist Visa. So the protection they receive as a worker is limited. The problem here is that these women lack awareness and knowledge related to these matters. So they lack knowledge about the proper procedure. They have little knowledge about the details connected to that Visa, the nature of the Visa and the income they are entitled to. Of course we cannot blame them, as we all know about the economic problems in the country. They need to support their families. That is why they are going abroad. We have spoken to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we have decided to educate these travel agencies about the laws concerning this operation. So when sending these women abroad they are aware of the law. The problem is that most people are ignorant about the laws. At the same time, we have to be vigilant about scrupulous persons and agencies which violate laws by exploiting loopholes in the system.

Q: Ice is the most widely used drug among the youth of Sri Lanka. What can be done by the authorities to crackdown on these drug dealers?

A: We have included this in the Dangerous Drugs Act. For such offences, life sentence can be given after October this year. We were hoping that this would discourage people from using ICE. What I personally believe is that there is now a very strong chain. So locally these drug dealers have built up a good network. So this network is the biggest problem for us. It is a massive chain. We need to break this chain. The Justice Ministry, the Tri-Forces and Police have to work together. Also the awareness campaign is very important, especially amongst the schoolchildren. According to the reports that we get, these schoolchildren are being given these drugs for free. When the kids get used to it, then they start charging the schoolchildren. This has to be changed. For us to change this, the whole network needs to be broken. Steps are being taken to do exactly that.

Q: What do you think are the shortcomings of the legal system in Sri Lanka and what needs to be done to rectify them?

A: One problem is old laws. The other is the time taken to bring in new laws. Sometimes it is only after the incident has happened are the amendments brought forward. In the recent past a lot of amendments have been passed. These old laws need to be upgraded in such a way that it is suitable to modern times. We must also expedite the process. Because delay will make people lose faith in the law. People want a code of laws that are fair to them. A code of law that is impartial and unbiased. And people want justice. So we must administer the law swiftly. Because people have their human rights. They need to believe in the Justice System. There needs to be a concerted effort by all organisations involved.

Q: We know the cases of child abuse take a long time to go to the courts. What can be done to expedite this process?

A: We have taken several measures to avoid delays. We have established separate courts and magistrates have been appointed. The Attorney General’s Department and the Government Analyst will take measures to send the relevant files without delay. Under these circumstances, I believe that the process will be expedited satisfactorily.

Q: What has the Budget 2023 allocated to your Ministry and how do you intend on spending it?

A: We have allocated money mainly for recurrent expenditure. We have cut down capital expenditure on everything. Only the essentials will be done for the year 2023. We have allocated Rs. 6,951,400 for the Ministry of Justice and Rs. 11,241,000.00 for courts administration. But there are other budget items. We have 18 institutions. For example, the Supreme Court and Independent Commissions come under separate budget items.

Q: Is there any message you wish to give to the Sri Lankan public?

A: The Justice Ministry is independent, impartial and unbiased. We are dedicated to safeguarding the trust people have in us. If people do not believe in the Justice System, then no country can progress. We are not influenced by any other organisation. We are there for the people.


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