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20 A: Govt promises to look into issues raised by nationalist groups

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Co-cabinet spokesman Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila yesterday (10) assured that concerns raised by the National Joint Committee (NJC), Federation of National Organizations, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Burma Prof. Nalin de Silva et al would definitely be looked into.

The assurance was given in response to The Island query at the post-cabinet media briefing at the Information Department presided by cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

Minister Gammanpila, who is also the leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) acknowledged that the 20th Amendment wasn’t perfect.

Asked whether the government accepted the need to rectify issues/shortcomings pointed out by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, on behalf of the FNO, Minister Gammanpila said representations could be made. The minister explained the procedures the government expected to follow.

There were shortcomings, the minister admitted again. References were made to stand taken by Manohara de Silva, PC, a member of the expert committee headed by Romesh de Silva to formulate a new Constitution.

The Island asked why changes couldn’t be made through consultations among all stakeholders before the Committee Stage. The Island sought an explanation why the 20th Amendment did away with Article 53 of the Constitution meant to ensure members of Parliament did not promote or support a separate State (7th Schedule introduced by the Sixth Amendment)

The FNO asked the SLPP government to establish a mechanism to (1) accept public proposals as regards a new Constitution (11) suspend Provincial Council polls until the enactment of the new Constitution and (111) far reaching alterations to the proposed 20th Amendment approved by the Attorney General before the Government Printer issued the relevant gazette.

The Federation called for what it called rectification of technical and wrongful policy decisions, in addition to members of the cabinet given an opportunity to provide comments, in writing. Having rectified mistakes, the government would have to amend the 20th Amendment and re-gazette it.

The civil society group said that it would be a mistake to bring in amendments at the committee stage as it could create a situation similar to that of the passage of the 19th Amendment.

They also requested the following provisions altered (1) do away with the proposal in the 20th Amendment to reduce the number of days from 14 to seven available for the public in respect of enactment of urgent bills (ii) abolish provisions relating to the enactment of urgent bills as successive administrations abused them (iii) rescind the proposal to amend Article 53 of the Constitution which required members of parliament to take oath against supporting and promoting a separate State (iv) remove proposal to allow dual citizens to enter parliament. In addition to that extend that law to cover the Governor of the Central Bank, Attorney General, IGP, Auditor General, service commanders, judges of the Supreme Court and Secretaries to Ministries and (v) abolish the move to do away with the National Audit Commission and also to ensure no state institution is freed from audit.

Meanwhile, former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka U.R. de Silva, PC, on Wednesday (9) revealed that Justice Minister Ali Sabri had assured that the Article 53 of the Constitution meant to prevent promotion of a separate state would be accommodated in the 20th Amendment. The revelation was made on Derana Aluth Parlimenthuwa. The BASL Chief was responding to query why the SLPP government resorted to such a course of action when the 19th Amendment left the vital provision intact. De Silva acknowledged the need to rectify mistakes/shortcomings in 20 Amendment.

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Foreign qualified medical students protest

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A group of foreign medical degree holders protested opposite the Presidential Secretariat yesterday (23) requesting that tangible measures be taken to conduct the Examination for Registration to Practice Medicine (ERPM) without further delay.

They alleged that over 1,500 students had been deprived of the opportunity to sit the examination due to the fault of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, which is now under investigation by a committee, appointed by Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi.

Photo: A section of the protesting students (pic by Thushara Atapattu)

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SJB insists referendum necessary besides 2/3 majority in Parliament

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Supreme Court moved against 20A

By Chitra Weerarathne

General Secretary of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya Ranjith Madduma Bandara, MP, yesterday (23) filed a petition in the Supreme Court stating that the proposed 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution was inconsistent with the Constitution. It requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approval by people at a referendum for passage, the SJV has argued.

The SJB says 20A violates people’s sovereignty and franchise enshrined in Article (3) and (4) of the Constitution.

The petitioner has argued that the provisions in clause 55 of the Bill are inconsistent with the public trust doctrine and the principle of checks and balances and would prejudicially affect public finance.

 The clause 54 of the Bill seeks to repeal Article 156 A of the Constitution, which provides constitutional recognition to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or corruption, the petition says.

 The petition says 20A seeks to repeal the prohibition on dual citizens being elected to Parliament and to the post of President.

The power of the Auditor General to audit the state institutions has been curtailed, the petition says, arguing that it could be detrimental to the economy.

It will be detrimental to the country if the Constitutional Council is replaced by a Parliamentary Council, the SJB General Secretary’s has contended in his petition.

Clause 20 (2) of the proposed 20A has restricted the powers of the Election Commission as regards the conduct of elections, the petitioner has argued.

The 20A states that an omission by the President could no longer be challenged through a fundamental rights violation petitions in the Supreme Court, the petitioner has said, adding that the Bill seeks to further enhance the powers of the President by allowing him to unilaterally remove the Prime Minister. The President would not be accountable to Parliament, the petition says.

The 20A would repeal Article 70/ (1) of the Constitution and enable the President to dissolve Parliament even immediately after a general election, the SJB General Secretary argues.

The respondent to the petition is the Attorney General.

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Lawyer Hijaz’s foundation received funds from banned foreign outfit – CID tells court

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By A.J.A.A beynayake and Kasuni Rebecca

The CID yesterday informed the Colombo Fort Magistrate Priyantha Liyanage that Save the Pearls Trust run by lawyer Hijaz Hisbullah, now in custody for allegedly aiding and abetting one of the Easter Sunday bombers, had received Rs.13 million from a banned organisation named the Caliphate of Qatar.

The CID told court that according to the bank accounts of the trust the money had been received by it during the last few years and the police had launched an investigation to ascertain whether the funds had been used for terrorist activities.

The CID told court the investigation had been launched under the Money Laundering Act and a psychologist’s opinion had been sought on the book titled “Navarasam” found in a madrasa (school teaching Islam) run by Save the Pearls Trust in Puttalam.

The Magistrate order the CID to submit to court a Sinhala translation of the book and examine whether the contents of the book promoted terrorism.

The case will be taken up again on October 7.

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