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20A passed at first reading stage amidst protests from SJB

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By Saman Indrajith

 

The 20th Amendment Bill was passed yesterday in Parliament at the first reading stage amidst protests from the SJB.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry presented the Bill to the House.

SJB members who were wearing black armbands and badges with ‘No to 20’ printed on them shouted. They held placards denouncing the 20th Amendment.

 Some SJB MPs were seen coming from their desks to the Well of the House, and then the government MPs too came down and shouted, ‘Yes to 20’.

Serjeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando and his deputy Kushan Jayaratne were seen standing before the Mace

 Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardane moved a number of Orders under the Special Commodity Levy Act for debate.

Seconding the move, Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self-Employment, Business Development and Underutilised State Resources Development State Minister Shehan Semasinghe said that the Opposition should have raised their concerns elsewhere.

“They can now go before court and express their concerns. They have one more option. That is to secure a two-third majority in Parliament and defeat the Bill. Without doing any of them they shout here to disrupt sittings and thereby waste public funds. We remember how they behaved when they were in power; they brought in several no-confidence motions. They did so after suspending the Standing Orders of the House. The then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya suspended Standing Orders to allow JVP MP Vijitha Herath to move a motion. We do not act in such undemocratic manner. People have given us a mandate to do away with the 19th Amendment. We act according to that mandate.”

SJB Kegalle District MP Kabir Hashim:

There are two groups in this House. One group ruled this country for 20 years. We were in power for five years.

If they say that they need more powers to develop this country that is a joke.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said the TV camera was not focussed on MP Hashim.

SJB MPs shouted demanding that the camera be focussed on him

MP Hashim:

If this is the manner the government ensuring the rights of MPs before the 20th Amendment, what will happen to us after it becomes law?

MP Hashim:

Have you been able to bring down the price of a single commodity after coming to power? When you came to power in 1994 you promised to abolish the executive presidency, and do away with the open economic policies. You did not do so. Mahinda Rajapaksa too came to power on the same promises. But his government did not honour thems. Today, we are staging this protest to save the powers of the Prime Minister not for our sake. Do you remember the Subha and Yasa story. A palace guard and the king exchanged their places for the fun of it. But the guard did not give back the throne to the king. He remained in the position and even killed the King. The same will happen here when the 20th Amendment is passed.

Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage:

This is a government of the people. We will not do anything against people’s aspirations. We uphold democracy. During the times when you were in the government you did not hold elections. There are many MPs in the opposition today who want to join our government. By this morning there were 17 opposition MPs who wanted to join us. We will get 20 MPs from the Opposition to secure the passage of this Bill. You do not worry about saving the powers of the Prime Minister. We will see to that. You passed the 19th Amendment to prevent the Rajapaksas from coming to power. The Opposition paints a dismal picture of the 20th Amendment. Former Minister Hashim laments about the prices of commodities. Tell me the price of a coconut. Tell me. You cannot because you do not know. You do not know because you are living in luxury away from people.  Today a coconut is Rs 70 in the market. You are not with the people that is why you lost the election.

Industry Minister Wimal Weerawansa raising a point of order said that MPs could not demand that the camera be focussed on them. “Whenever there is a protest in the House, the camera should focus either on the Speaker or the Mace. That is the procedure. It was introduced by the former Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara.”

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa:

We register our opposition and frustration over the 20th Amendment. This amendment has provisions that will erode democratic values.



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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka

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Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour

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Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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COPF uncovers major failings in online visa procurement process

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Harsha de Silva

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), chaired by Dr. Harsha de Silva, released a critical report revealing major discrepancies in the procurement process and agreement with a Consortium, comprising GBS Technology Services, IVS Global-FZCO, and VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Issuing a press release, MP de Silva said the Committee’s findings highlight significant concerns and recommend urgent corrective actions.

The COPF found that the company got the deal through an uncompetitive Procurement Process

“The Consortium was appointed without a competitive bidding process, preventing the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DOIE) from securing the best value for money.

“Proposals were submitted before finalising the System Specification Requirement (SSR), raising concerns on procedural integrity.

“Critical Issues Identified:

Unclear Fee Structure: Lack of transparency in fee components, including discrepancies in service fees and convenience fees.

“Data Breach and Termination: A significant data breach was reported by a major travel vlogger in May 2024 potentially triggering a termination clause.

“Conflicting Exclusivity: The exclusivity granted to the Consortium contradicts the presence of existing service providers and the recommendation by the evaluation committee.

“Uninvested Funds: The USD 200 million investment promised to Cabinet remains uninvested and not mentioned anywhere in the agreement.

“Terminated Service Provider: Mobitel, the previous ETA service provider since 2012, submitted multiple proposals for system improvements and a comprehensive proposal for new services was overlooked.

“Recommendations:

Comprehensive Forensic Audit: The COPF recommends that the Auditor General undertake a comprehensive forensic audit of the entire procurement process. This audit should be completed at the earliest opportunity to serve as the foundation for necessary actions, which could include abrogating or amending the Consortium Outsourcing Agreement.

“Data Protection Measures: The COPF urges the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), DOIE, and the Sri Lankan Data Protection Authority to review the KPMG report and take immediate and decisive actions to ensure the complete security and protection of all data handled through the ETA application process.

“Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of COPF, stated, “The absence of a competitive bidding process in the procurement of online visa services has likely resulted in an agreement that does not provide the best value for money. Our findings call for immediate action by the Auditor General to address these critical issues and ensure transparency and accountability, which could even mean abrogation of this agreement.”

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