Former minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who is in remand custody, has refused to attend the parliamentary session today (07) despite being given permission, the Prisons Department said.
The fifth session of the ninth parliament will be ceremoniously declared open by president Ranil Wickremesinghe this morning.
The Parliament was prorogued with effect from midnight on January 26, by way of a proclamation published in the government gazette.
Yesterday, Rambukwella tendered his resignation to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who in return, had accepted it. Later, a gazette notification was published, confirming the resignation of Rambukwella as the Environment Minister.
The SLPP parliamentarian was arrested on February 02 after he arrived at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to record a statement on the substandard human immunoglobulin procurement scandal.
He was reportedly interrogated for nearly 10 hours before being placed under arrest.
The following day, Rambukwella was remanded until February 15 and admitted to the Prison Hospital house later.
During the court proceedings that day, the prosecution told the Maligakanda Magistrate Lochani Abeywickrama that Rambukwella had removed the suppliers registered with the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) and enabled unregistered suppliers to enter the procurement process.
The magistrate also heard that there was no shortage of human immunoglobulin vaccine at the time when the former health minister sought Cabinet approval to make emergency purchases for a list of certain medicinal drugs.
The former health minister’s arrest came hot on the heels of pressure from civil society activists and health sector trade unionists, who have been protesting time after time against the law enforcement authorities’ failure to put him behind bars.
Prior to Rambukwella’s apprehension, seven arrests had been made in connection with the drug procurement scam.
But the fifth accused was later released on bail.
As such, the former Health Secretary, the Director of the Health Ministry’s Medical Supplies Division (MSD) and three other officials of the same division, as well as the owner of the company, which is said to have supplied the substandard batch of immunoglobulin vials, now remain in custody on remand.
In October 2023, the NMRA revealed that forged documents were found to have been submitted for Customs clearance to procure a batch of 22,500 vials containing human immunoglobulin, an antibody produced by blood plasma cells, which later failed the quality tests.
The product, which was said to have been manufactured by Livealth Biopharma Pvt Ltd. India and imported by a local medicine supplier called Isolez Biotech Pharma AG (Pvt) Ltd.
However, the India-based manufacturer has denied having a hand in this fraudulent activity and communicated to the NMRA that it has neither manufactured, supplied nor exported these products to any party.
Soon after the human immunoglobulin scandal became a hot topic, Rambukwella was stripped of the health ministerial portfolio and was appointed as the Environment Minister in a Cabinet reshuffle in October 2023.
Dr. Ramesh Pathirana was thus appointed as the Health Minister in addition to his current portfolio as Minister of Industries.