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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on Sept.13 told a media briefing at the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandiraya, Thunmulla, that the gazette would be rescinded to pave the way for a new draft.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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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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