Legality of Presidential Committee questioned

  • Committee not appointed under existing laws
  • Recommendation to make SIS independent

By Skandha Gunasekara

The Presidential Committee that probed the 21 April terrorist attacks told the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), probing the same, that they had recommended having a separate, independent body to oversee national security.

The three members of the Presidential Committee – Supreme Court Justice Vijith Malalgoda, former Inspector General of Police N.K. Illangakoon, and former Ministry Secretary Padmasiri Jayamanne – testified before the PSC together on Tuesday (20).

The three-member Presidential Committee appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena to investigate the Easter Sunday attacks told the PSC that the State Intelligence Service (SIS) should be made an independent body.

Presidential Committee Chairman Supreme Court Justice Vijith Malalgoda told the PSC that the SIS should not operate in the same manner as other intelligence agencies such as the Directorate of Military Intelligence.

Responding to a question posed by the PSC regarding the recommendations made by the Presidential Committee in accordance with its findings, Justice Malalgoda said it had recommended that the SIS be made an independent body through an act of Parliament.

“The first intelligence reports had been received around 5 April, but there had been no proper co-ordination. There were intelligence operatives in a single police station belonging to several intelligence bodies, which should change. We observed that some officers have submitted false records,” Justice Malalgoda said.

Former IGP N.K. Illangakoon too agreed with the remarks of Justice Malalgoda.

“There isn’t a proper mechanism in place to co-ordinate the intelligence agencies. We have observed that. We are not against having some number of agencies, but the nature of the intelligence agencies should match the requirements of the country. Accordingly, we proposed that the lead intelligence agency be converted into a body operating under separate legal provisions. There have been lapses in intelligence co-ordination. This could help rectify this problem,” Illangakoon said.

Presidential Committee not constituted under existing laws

When PSC member MP M.A. Sumanthiran questioned which law the Presidential Committee was appointed under, Justice Malalgoda said: “Our committee was not appointed under any existing laws.”

However, Justice Malalgoda went on to say that the urgency and importance of the situation had compelled him to take up the task.

“Initially, I was not willing to participate in the committee. But then, Illangakoon pointed out that this issue was of national importance, and the fact that the committee was appointed a day after the attacks made me see the urgency of it. So, we went ahead with the activities the committee was tasked with,” he said.

Following is the exchange between the members of the Presidential Committee and the PSC:

Sumanthiran: If I remember correctly, while giving evidence, Illangakoon had stated there were three reports. Is that right?

Malalgoda: Yes. There were.

Sumanthiran: Illangakoon also mentioned the recommendations of your committee. He said he could not release those recommendations to the PSC without the consent of the other members of the Presidential Committee.

Illangakoon: I said that I would not comment on the report without the presence of the other members of the Presidential Committee.

Sumanthiran: It was there in the public realm and in media reports that those recommendations are being implemented. Why could it not be revealed to the PSC?

Malalgoda: We observed some irregularities in the evidence given to us by certain officials and authorities. There were some recommendations because we were able to conduct our inquiries within just two days after the explosion. When witnesses gave evidence, there were some findings which could have been used in investigations. Some recommendations seemed to have been implemented.

Sumanthiran: Was that committee appointed under the provisions of any written law?

Malalgoda: We did not reject the call to set up the committee because we thought the issue at hand was of national importance. We started on 22 April itself, and on 24 April, witnesses started giving evidence.

Minister Rauff Hakeem: When it came to issues pertaining to dereliction of duties found by your committee, it would have been better if we were given that report. We could compare it with ours. But unfortunately, you are not in such a position. Can we at least have the list of names of witnesses?

Malalgoda: We met with several high-ranking officers, experts, ministers, and various ranks. There were roughly 60 persons. We do not have the list now. It is included in the report. We destroyed all the documents after compiling the report.

Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne: Have you observed any lapses on the part of the authorities?

Malalgoda: We cannot recall each and every one. But we noticed some glaring shortcomings, such as the intelligence report warning of the attack on the Kochchikade church. The one that was sent to the area police station, which is the Foreshore Police Station, was done so only after the attack. In the case of the Katana Police Station, the warning had been received on 13 April, but the OIC pasted the message in his book only on 20 April. We found that there had been no regard and/or proper co-ordination of intelligence reports. We made recommendations in this regard. We have also made recommendations on regulating explosives after studying evidence pertaining to the use of explosives by the Easter Sunday attackers. We recommended that the SIS be made an independent body through a parliamentary act.

Malalgoda: The first intelligence report had been received around 5 April. But there had been no proper co-ordination. When it comes to national security, there should be one body above all others. There are intelligence operatives in a single police station belonging to several intelligence bodies. That should be changed. We observed that some officers have submitted false records.

For example, the warning had been received by the Katana Police Station. According to their books, 21 policemen had been detailed at the site. But we found out that it was false and that it had been entered into the books only after the attacks.

Tuesday’s PSC comprised of members Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP M.A. Sumanthiran, Minister Rauff Hakeem, Chairman Ananda Kuamrasiri, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, and Minister Ravi Karunanayake.