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20 A: Decision on PM’s committee recommendations awaited

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government should decide whether to accommodate recommendations made by a committee that studied the 20th Amendment to the Constitution presented by Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, to parliament yesterday (22), SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris told a media briefing at the Battaramulla party office.

Prof. Peiris, who is also the Education Minister, said that the opportunity to express different opinions on the proposed 20th Amendment underscored the importance of following what the former law Professor called the democratic process.

Prof. Peiris said so when the media asked whether recommendations in respect of the 20th Amendment made by a 9 member committee appointed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa would be accommodated by the government. The committee handed its recommendations and observations to the Premier on Sept. 15.

The committee headed by Prof. Peiris, consisted of Ministers Ali Sabry, Udaya Gammanpila, Nimal Siripala de Silva and Wimal Weerawansa, State Ministers, Susil Premjayantha and S. Viyalendran and MPs Dilan Perera and Premanath C. Dolawatta.

The SLPP Chairman acknowledged that acceptance of their recommendations was subject to government decision.

Minister Peiris said that rescinding the relevant gazette issued on Sept 12 to pave the way for a new gazette hadn’t been an option under any circumstances. Whatever the alterations acceptable to the government could be moved at the Committee Stage, the minister said.

SLPP National List lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga on Sept.13 told a media briefing at the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandiraya, Thunmulla, that the gazette would be rescinded to pave the way for a new draft. The claim was made close on the heels of Cumaratunga along with Manohara de Silva, PC, making representations to the President in respect of the 20th Amendment.

At the commencement of the briefing, Prof. Peiris said that the SLPP throughout its parliamentary poll campaign declared that the 19th Amendment would be largely abolished leaving those sections that needed approval at a referendum intact. Prof. Peiris emphasized that the SLPP retained those sections as the government didn’t want another countrywide referendum in the wake of presidential and parliamentary polls in Nov 2019 and August 2020, respectively.

Pointing out that 113 seats would have been sufficient to govern the country, Prof. Peiris explained the SLPP pushed a for two-thirds majority as the party knew what it was aiming at.

Reiterating the SLPP’s commitment to fulfill pledges given at both presidential and parliamentary elections, Prof. Peiris said that as long as the 19th Amendment remained President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wouldn’t be able to go ahead with his plans.

Prof. Peiris said that those opposed to the proposed 20th Amendment could move the Supreme Court within a week from the day the government presented it in parliament.

Minister Sabry presented it in parliament yesterday.

Prof. Peiris said that the Supreme Court, in terms of the Constitution, would have to rule on the 20th Amendment within three weeks. The SC’s decision would be made known to the President and the Speaker, Prof Peiris said, pointing out that the apex court’s responsibility in that regard was limited to the examination of the 20th Amendment’s constitutionality. The minister explained the SC would examine whether the 20th Amendment contained sections that required approval at a referendum.

Prof. Peiris said that the 20th Amendment was the responsibility of the entire government.

Commenting on diverse views on the proposed piece of legislation, Prof. Peiris said that the alterations could be made at the Committee Stage.

When the media pointed out that the proposed law would deliver a deadly blow to independent commissions due to the abolishing of the 10-member Constitutional Council, Prof. Peiris said that the appointing authority was to be replaced by a five-member Parliamentary Council. Prof. Peiris said that the move was meant to empower the President to make necessary appointments, in consultation with the Parliamentary Council, if necessary, to ensure that the commissions represented the true interests of the public.

Referring to the inclusion of civil society members in the Constitutional Council, Prof. Peiris questioned the absurdity in allowing those who hadn’t been elected to exercise powers of the President. One-time External Affairs Minister alleged that external elements, too, had been engaged in local exercises to undermine the Sri Lankan State.

The Minister dismissed the assertion that abolishing the 19th Amendment meant re-activation of the 18th Amendment. How could that be when the 20th included three key provisions, restriction of presidency to two terms and both president’s and the parliament term 5 years in line with the 19th Amendment.

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Current wave of COVID-19:

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AG asks police to probe alleged negligence of Brandix, others

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has called for an immediate investigation into circumstances that led to the coronavirus eruption at the Brandix apparel manufacturing facility at Minuwangoda early this month.

AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne told The Island that a progress report had been called  by or before Nov 13.

The AG stepped in amidst Opposition political parties, both in and outside Parliament questioning the failure on the part of health authorities to establish how the eruption had taken place.

Instructions were issued yesterday (27) when the AG summoned DIG Ajith Rohana, a senior officer in charge of the police Legal Division. The State Counsel said that the AG wanted the Brandix management, its agents and government servants probed as regards their negligence and carelessness.

Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera recently told The Island that they were yet to ascertain the cause of the current wave. Health Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Sujeewa Munasinghe said they had probed several leads and were now close to bringing the inquiry into successful conclusion.

Both Dr. Samaraweera and Head of the National COVID-19 Task Force Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva have said the 39-year-old Brandix employee who was the first to be tested positive is not the patient zero as regards the garment cluster.

The AG intervened in the absence of a police investigation into various accusations regarding the second wave with the number of positive cases rapidly nearing 9,000.

Brandix, in response to The Island queries, has assured that it followed health guidelines when 341 workers attached to its facility in India and their families were repatriated in three batches. The company said that it would fully cooperate with government authorities inquiring into the outbreak.

The Opposition lambasted the government for the deteriorating situation during last Friday’s debate on the epidemic now threatening to overwhelm the health facilities.

JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe yesterday said that a comprehensive inquiry was needed to establish the truth. (SF)

 

 

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An Open Letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: 

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Don’t try to sign agreements in secret

Issued by the Sri Lanka
Study Circle 

We, the members of the Sri Lanka Study Circle in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement – the largest organised grouping of Nations after the UN – that initiated a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1971 which was unanimously adopted by the entire World to make forever the Indian Ocean a zone of peace within which area no Nuclear weapons whatsoever would be permitted are a bit confused about the status of your visit to Sri Lanka due to a lack of transparency. 

Initially, your embassy in Colombo, when questioned about rumours of a possible visit by you to our country, denied those rumours. Several days later, the embassy made an announcement that you would be visiting our country for a day. 

We surmise therefore that you are visiting our country, not at our invitation but at your request, at a time when the ugly head of COVID is raising its head once again due to, what appears to be, the criminal negligence of a Company funded and mentored by your Government. 

We must express our dismay and protest that the forerunners to your visit have dampened the spirit and purpose of your visit by flagrantly violating the basic health guidelines, required to be followed by all entering our country, to bring under control the pandemic which has caused thus far the deaths of 218000 people in your country. 

 We trust that you and your entourage would subject yourself to the mandatory health checks, especially travelling from India which ranks number two, next to your country, in the number of COVID related deaths. 

We note that your visit has been preceded by many communiques appearing in the media.  

To comment on some of them: You seem to harbour an illusion that your country and ours has a common vision. No, we do not have a common vision; your country is a Capitalist country where the engine of growth is the private sector. Ours, Mr. Pompeo, as per our Constitution and the thinking of our people, is a Socialist State where, in perfect harmony with Buddhist principles, public interest prevails over private interest.  

The factors of production like Land are held by the State and not private individuals. That is why MCC goes against the very grain of Sri Lankan thinking, Buddhism and culture and does not have the people’s mandate. 

You have ‘advised’ our Government to take necessary and difficult decisions to secure her economic independence. Mr. Chairman MCC, we request you to keep your unsolicited advice to yourself. We are indeed sorry if some members of our country had portrayed themselves to you, as imbeciles. The majority of them are not capable of sagacious and independent thought.   

You seem to suggest that some of our donors’ conditions are not transparent and our discriminatory. In fact this is the very criticism the people have levelled against the MCC ; it is very discriminatory and the least transparent. The people of this country have yet to see the draft MCC document in the language they understand, Sinhala and Tamil. 

‘US officials warned the Sri Lankan Government who they team up with for their economic partnership’. Mr. Pompeo, if that is a threat you can go to Mars; you could spend your time more profitably over there. We are aware that you were refused an audience with the Pope and we are acutely aware that you have endorsed the torture going on in Guantanamo Bay and that you hold a view that the hell-hole you forcibly occupy there should not be shut down. 

It is laughable that you allude to debt diplomacy of some other countries. Does it not make you laugh that the US offers a gift horse – as your acolytes would say- worth 480 Million USD when the US has a sovereign debt of 26 Trillion USD. Amidst this debt from where did you get this pottage and why not use this amount to reduce your own debt? 

 ‘Secretary Pompeo will travel to Colombo to underscore the commitment of the United States to a partnership with a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka and to advance our common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.’ 

Hitherto, your military reach in the Pacific was limited to the South-east Asian Countries because the Pacific ended there. The Indian Ocean was untouched and the littoral states in the Indian Ocean declared the Indian Ocean, a Zone of Peace.  

What you are now attempting to do is extend the Pacific Ocean to include the Indian Ocean.  

As a first step, you have artificially made two Oceans one, by calling it the Indo-Pacific Ocean. And the second step is to extend the militarisation of the Pacific Ocean to cover the ‘Indian Ocean’ portion of the Indo -Pacific Ocean.  

This is where the MCC, the ACSA, the SOFA and the QUAD fit in. This is how, in our opinion, the US would militarily ‘Pivot-to-Asia’ 

You have the gumption to say ‘free and open’ Indo Pacific Ocean when in the seas around the American Continents you restrict naval activity by applying unilaterally a doctrine, the Monroe doctrine. 

Make no bones about it, the Indian Ocean, Mr. Secretary, is a nuclear Free Ocean, and an Ocean of Peace. Sri Lanka is a committed Non-Aligned State and not a Neutral state. Some novices are confused about this. 

 If you wish to speak with Sri Lanka come in Peace and we shall talk. We shall talk openly and transparently. Do not attempt to sign Agreements in Secret because they do not have the mandate of the People.     

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CEJ warns of danger to health from lead in paints

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By Ifham Nizam

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) yesterday urged the public to be vigilant about the lead content in consumer items. Dilena Pathragoda, CEJ Managing Director said that most old buildings still had old paint with high lead levels.

Addressing the media at an event to mark the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action he said that some Sri Lankan companies dump lead contaminated liquid waste into our water ways without following the proper procedures.

CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage said: “In Sri Lanka, lead concentration in paint has been limited by the Consumer Affairs Authority as a result of a case filed by the CEJ in 2011. Accordingly, enamel and floor paints can have only 600ppm of lead while the limit is 90 ppm for emulsion and paints used on children’s products. This law came into effect from January 1, 2013. It is also mandatory to declare on the label if the paint is lead safe.”

Withanage added that it was the consumer’s duty to check for the lead level before purchasing paint. He added that many countries in the region had now reduced the maximum permissible lead level to 90 ppm in all types of paints. It was time to introduce more stringent standards for Sri Lankan paints, he said.

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent and irreversible brain damage in children, resulting in reduced Intelligence quotient (IQ), reduced attention span, impaired learning ability and increased risk of behavioral problems.

In adults it can affect reproduction, endocrine or the hormone system and the cardiovascular system. Research shows that the main source of lead poisoning is paint. The oil-based paints that are commonly known as enamel paint, floor paint, anti corrosive and lacquer contain high lead levels. These paints are commonly found on walls of preschools and childcare facilities, children play areas, furniture, baby cots and some toys.

In addition, researchers have revealed that lead is found in some imported plastic and rubber toys, stationery, paints on porcelain, cosmetics and artificial jewelry. People working in; e-waste recycling plants, lead-acid battery/ car battery recycling plants, metal smelting, construction and demolition work are highly vulnerable to lead exposure.

 

 

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