Referendum on Constitution at stake

Govt losing its credibility over corruption


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Power and Renewable Energy Minister and attorney-at-law Ajith P. Perera, MP, on Monday warned the government that its failure to firmly deal with massive corruption perpetrated during the previous administration and since the change of government in January 2015 would have far reaching consequences.

The government would certainly have to pay a very heavy price for losing credibility among the electorate, the UNPer said warning of the fact that it would realize its folly when it faced the electorate at a referendum on the proposed new Constitution.

Kalutara District MP Perera said so at a seminar organised at the new town hall by a health sector trade union grouping campaigning for a new Constitution.

On the podium were health minister and government spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, UNP National List MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne and Convenor of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya.

Declaring that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had enough numbers to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament for the proposed new Constitution, Deputy Minister Perera said the coalition would face a Herculean task at a referendum.

Underscoring the importance of credibility for the government, Deputy Minister Perera referred to serious corruption allegations against some members of the current administration. The UNPer, however, refrained from referring to any cases.

Commending the police for successful conclusion of investigations into corruption cases, Deputy Minister Perera said the Attorney General’s Department, too, to some extent had fulfilled its obligations. However, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had to take tangible measures to ensure swift implementation of justice.

Turning towards Prof. Wijesooriya, Deputy Minister Perera faulted the civil society for not appreciating recent recommendations made by Sectoral Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs meant to curb laws delays and to take up corruption cases. The UNPer alleged that the civil society had failed in its responsibility to voice support for the government efforts where such backing was required.

Prof. Wijesooriya responded that they had already aired support to that initiative though Deputy Minister Perera said he wasn’t aware of civil society backing.

Perera said the damaging public perception regarding corruption allegations against some members of the government as well as its failure to deal with those who had been accused of similar charges during the previous administration could cause a debilitating setback to ongoing efforts to win public support for the new Constitution.

Those who had been campaigning against constitutional reforms would certainly attack the government over waste, corruption and irregularities and undermine the whole exercise because the government shirked in its responsibilities.

Dr. Wickramaratne said the ongoing government campaign to promote new Constitution was weak. He attributed this situation to the failure on the part of the UNP and the SLFP to reach consensus on the proposed Constitution.

Dr. Wickramaratne stressed the need for political parties to be flexible in a bid to secure agreement on key constitutional proposals. Pointing out that both the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) had been flexible, thereby paving the way for successful conclusion of talks, Dr. Wickramaratne said that they wouldn’t get an opportunity to reach consensus on Constitution.

Referring to recent media reports pertaining to crisis in the TNA, Dr. Wickramaratne expressed serious concern over some extremist Tamil politicians, including Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. challenging what he called moderate ITAK (Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi) members. The MP called for common strategy to defeat extremists on both sides.

He said that northern extremists posed a fresh threat on post-war stability and their project directed at the TNA could cause serious trouble.

Dr. Wickramaratne said that the government couldn’t intervene on the basis of some foolish statement made by the Chief Minister or the explosion of a hand grenade.

The UNP MP said that among the issues under discussion was whether defeated candidates could be accommodated in parliament through the National List.

Deputy Minister Perera warned of fresh security threat if they failed to devolve power. Commenting on the controversy of proposal to change the Chapter on Buddhism, Deputy Minister Perera said that the issue could have been avoided. The UNPer asserted that it would have been better if the Chapter that dealt with Buddhism wasn’t taken up for deliberations.

Prof. Wijesooriya accused a section of the media of promoting those hell-bent on sabotaging post-war reconciliation process. The civil society activist blamed the government for not being able to counter lies propagated by hostile elements, especially an influential section of the Buddhist clergy averse to peaceful resolution of the national problem.

Those monks now causing turmoil never resorted to campaign against people responsible for grave crimes.

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