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20 A: President ready to submit fresh draft

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GL heads team to advise PM on disputed amendment: Report due tomorrow

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assured civil society groups, the National Joint Committee (NJC) and Yuthukama that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution would be rescinded to pave the way for a new draft.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave this assurance at a meeting with Manohara de Silva, PC and lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga last Friday (11) evening at the Presidential Secretariat. Manohara de Silva is also a member of a special committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, to formulate a new Constitution.

The meeting took place close on the heels of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO) urging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to alter the 20th Amendment.

Earlier, the SLPP said that changes, if necessary, could be made at the Committee Stage in Parliament.

The SLPP also dismissed the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) threat to move the Supreme Court against the 20th Amendment on the basis the Attorney General cleared the 20th Amendment draft.

Also on the same day, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa named a nine-member group headed by SLPP Chairman and Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris to study the proposed 20th Amendment in the wake of growing protests by even those who backed the SLPP at both 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls. The Premier’s committee includes putative chief architect of the hotly disputed 20th Amendment Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC as well as Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, who represents the SLFP. With 13 elected on the SLPP ticket and one on the SLFP ticket, the latter is the second largest in the government parliamentary group.

The Premier has called for their report by Tuesday (15) according to a statement issued by the Premier’s Office under the hand of his Media Secretary Rohan Weliwita.

Addressing the media at Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandiraya yesterday (13), SLPP National List member Gevindu Cumaratunga appreciated swift response of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa to concerns expressed by them. In spite of the SLPP having a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the means to ensure the 20th passage, the top leadership responded to public concerns. Lawmaker Cumaratunga said.

Cumaratunga said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had declared his readiness to withdraw the present draft 20th Amendment and re-submit a rectified draft. The lawmaker said that in spite of the 20th being a temporary measure to remove obstacles placed by the treacherous 19th Amendment, they were determined to take remedial measures.

In response to a query by The Island, the MP said that the public shouldn’t mix concerns expressed by them with those who still believed the 19th was the panacea for all our ills.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), too, last Friday named a special 14-member group headed by Nihal Jayamanne, PC, to examine the 20th Amendment. The Executive Committee of the BASL and the Bar Council will make recommendations in respect of the 20th Amendment once Jayamanne handed over his report.

Cumaratunga asserted that the decision to submit a fresh draft wouldn’t cause a delay in the process. “We are determined to remove serious hindrance caused by the 19th. It launched a debilitating blow to the presidential system of governance by diluting his/her powers as part of an overall strategy to weaken the state,” Cumaratunga said.

Dr. Amarasekera too appreciated the President’s decision.

Political sources told The Island that the government parliamentary group last Tuesday (8) discussed the urgent need to address issues caused by the proposed 20th Amendment. Members had pointed out shortcomings/mistakes at the meeting chaired by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa though decision to appoint a team led by Prof. Peiris had been taken on Friday, sources said. A section of the parliamentary group had been seriously concerned and disappointed over the way the government expedited the process at the expense of transparency, sources said.

Meanwhile, Industry and Commerce Minister Wimal Weerawansa, addressing a public gathering at Avissawella on Saturday (12), explained Premier Rajapaksa’s decision to table an altered 20th Amendment soon in parliament. According to Weerawansa, who is also a member of Prof. Peiris’s team, said that the leaders of political parties in the SLPP-led coalition decided to submit a fresh draft at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister. The minister said that examination of the 20th Amendment would begin tomorrow (15).

Minister Weerawansa pointed out that the 20th Amendment in its present form once approved in parliament couldn’t be challenged in the Supreme Court. The National Freedom Front (NFF) leader said such a measure was unfair by the people. The minister pointed out that when changes made in the Committee stage couldn’t be challenged in court. The previous government denied the public chance to challenge 19th Amendment by incorporating changes in Committee stage, the minister said, underscoring the need to allow the public an opportunity to move court even against Amendment/law if they felt a particular Amendment/law violated their rights. There were countries which allowed such public challenge, the minister said. The minister emphasized the need to introduce a new Constitution.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga said that they couldn’t take the issue lightly especially in the backdrop of the previous administration causing debilitating damage to the existing governance structure. The readiness on the part of the President and the Prime Minister marked the beginning of a new era where the top leadership swiftly and decisively acted on public concerns.

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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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