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Cabinet nod for new Act to grant immunity to Intelligence Officers

Legal experts RepublicNext spoke to were of the opinion that providing such immunity would violate Article 12 of the Constitution

Image Credit: DGI

The Cabinet of Ministers has approved a proposal to draft a Bill called the National Intelligence Act to protect the duties, responsibilities, provide immunity and legal powers to State Intelligence Officers.

According to Co-Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena, the decision was taken by the cabinet to protect Intelligence officers being targets of political vendettas.

He told the regular Cabinet Press briefing today Jan 15, that there were instances during the Yahapalana government’s rule when Intelligence officers were held in custody for longe periods and their salaries cut.

The Minister said Intelligence officers had rendered invaluable service to the country, sacrificing their lives to provide vital information to win the 30-year separatist war.

He added that the new Act will give powers for these officers to protect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the country while preventing threats from extremists and identifying specific threats to communities in the country in advance.

Legal experts RepublicNext spoke to were of the opinion that providing such immunity would violate Article 12 of the Constitution and the Bill would need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to become an Act and even require a Referendum.

Gunewardene also said that Cabinet also decided to amend the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund Act based on a recommendation of the Chief Justice.

Gunawardena said that the Chief Justice has informed the government that there is a conflict of interest in hearing cases against the Mahapola scholarship in courts as the CJ Chairs the Mahapola Trust Fund Board.

He added that the Act will be amended to appoint a Supreme Court judge or another individual in the judicial system to chair the board, and said that the amendment will be brought before Parliament shortly.

Further, the Minister said that the Higher Education Ministry in the discussions with the university students who were protesting, demanding an increase in the Mahapola scholarship had said that the current government does not have the power to increase these payments it as its expenditure is limited to the vote on account.

Gunawardena also said that although the previous government increased Mahapola scholarship to Rs 5,000, only half of it was given from the trust fund while the remaining Rs 2,500 was paid by the Treasury, which cost the government Rs 2 billion annually.