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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, May 05, 2005

First sitting of Tsunami Commission

Daily News: "03/05/2005

Opening address delivered by State Counsel Janak de Silva at the first public sitting of the Tsunami Commission:

"The 26th of December 2004 dawned as yet another day for all Sri Lankans. This was the holiday season where families took a break from their busy schedules. All were looking forward to a tranquil end to the hectic year that had been. Many families had come together to enjoy the holidays, which later turned out to their detriment as the events unfolded.

They were eager for the dawn of a new year overflowing with expectation and prosperity for them as well as the nation at large. However, at about 2.59 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time, a large earthquake occurred in the Indian ocean near Sumatra, Indonesia, which set in motion a series of events that was going to change the destiny of many Sri Lankans as well as foreigners, who were in Sri Lanka at that time, the nation as a whole and bring death and destruction of unimaginable magnitude.

The eastern, southern and parts of the western coast of Sri Lanka was hit by a giant tsunami. The destruction it wreaked upon human life and property is inconceivable. More than 30,000 died, more than 4,000 are still missing and nearly 500,000 persons were displaced. This was the worst tragedy that we as a nation had to countenance.

In the aftermath of this disaster various reports appeared in the media that some State institutions/agencies in Sri Lanka had received advanced warning relating to the earthquake and that there had been a failure to give advance warning of the impending disaster to members of the public.

If these reports are accurate, it is the greatest dereliction of duty in the annals of public administration in this country. On the other hand, if these reports are inaccurate, it is a gross abuse of the freedom of expression.

It is also said that similar natural disasters could occur again. President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka desirous of, amongst other things, ascertaining the truth of these reports in the public interest has, by exercising the powers vested in her in terms of Section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act appointed Your Honours as the Commissioners to the Commission of Inquiry into matters relating to the conduct of relevant State institutions/agencies following the natural disaster which occurred on 26 December, 2004, and the measures that should be taken to improve early warning mechanism for natural disasters such as landslides, earthquakes, tsunami, floods, tornadoes, cyclones etc. and thereby to prevent or mitigate such devastation in the future. The mandate of the Commission has more fully been set out in the warrant which was read out by the Secretary to the Commission.

In my capacity as the State Counsel leading the team of State Counsel assisting the Commission, let me assure Your Honours that we shall leave no stone unturned in our efforts to ascertain the truth. If certain State institutions/agencies and officials have been negligent in the performance of their duties then, irrespective of the office they hold, it must be made public for we owe it to the people who lost their lives, their kith and kin and to the people who have suffered loss of property.

However, if in fact there has been no dereliction of duty that too must be made public. We owe it to the relevant State institutions/agencies, officials and their families who may have had to face the wrath of the public at large due to the aforesaid reports that appeared in the media.

In this endeavour, I intend to lead oral evidence of all relevant officials and experts as well as placing any relevant documentary evidence before the Commission. Attempts are being made to obtain relevant information from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center since it is said that the warning of the impending disaster was given by the Center."

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