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20A: SLPP rejects criticism, plans to secure its passage next month

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dismissing criticism of the proposed 20th Amendment that it would pave the way for a dictatorship, Education Minister Prof. Peiris yesterday (7) told the media at the SLPP office, Battaramulla, that it would be presented to Parliament next October ahead of the presentation of Budget 2021.

Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP, said that the government wasn’t worried about the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) moving the Supreme Court against the 20th Amendment as it was gazetted having secured the Attorney General’s approval.

Flanked by Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena and SLPP General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam, Prof. Peiris indicated that they didn’t see a requirement to make any changes to the 20th Amendment at the committee stage.

The minister said that the government enjoyed the required parliamentary support necessary for the passage of the 20th Amendment. The SLPP on its own secured 145 seats whereas its allies obtained half a dozen seats to ensure the required two-thirds.

Responding to a query, a smiling Prof. Peiris said SJB’s Lakshman Kiriella or any other party could seek legal recourse against the 20th Amendment. “We are confident the 20th Amendment can be adopted without any hassle,” Prof. Peiris said, pointing out that finding fault with the 20th Amendment seemed ridiculous after the AG endorsed it without subjecting any of its provisions to a referendum.

Prof. Peiris said that the 19th Amendment enacted in the wake of 2015 presidential election, was meant among other things to deprive Namal Rajapaksa an opportunity to contest the presidency, disqualify Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa from contesting either presidency or parliamentary election on the basis of them being dual citizens of US and Sri Lanka and Mahinda Rajapaksa from seeking a third term.

The 20th Amendment has proposed the eligibility of a 30 year –old to contest the presidency in addition to dual citizens the opportunity to contest national level elections.

Prof. Peiris said that those who had been critical of the 20th Amendment had conveniently forgotten it didn’t touch two of the most important features in the 19th Amendment. He emphasized that the two term limit on a President as well as both presidential and parliamentary terms being restricted to five years from the earlier six would remain intact under the 20th Amendment.

Asked why much desired constitutional bar to restrict the number of ministers to 30 and non-cabinet ministers to 40 had been proposed to be abolished, Prof. Peiris pointed out there was provision in the 19th Amendment to make ministerial and other appointments regardless of the restriction by simply forming a National Government. The UNP and the SLFP did form such a government and made appointments beyond the prescribed 30 cabinet and 40 non-cabinet limits, Prof. Peiris said.

Responding to another query, Prof. Peiris side-stepped the issue by pointing out that the SLPP, too, could have finalized such an arrangement by entering into an agreement with the EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party). The EPDP won two seats in the Northern Province at the recently concluded general election.

Prof. Peiris also welcomed the Court of Appeal granting MP elect Premalal Jayasekera an opportunity to attend parliamentary sittings tomorrow (8).

Jayasekera is held at Welikada prison after being found guilty by Ratnapura High Court over a 2015 killing in the Kahawatte police area in the run up to the presidential election of that year. Prof. Peiris said that Jayasekera enjoyed the right to move both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court challenging the ruling given against him.

The Education Minister said that the SLPP received two mandates to do away with the 19th Amendment. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the SLPP candidate won the presidential election by a staggering 1.4 mn votes whereas the SLPP secured a near two-thirds majority at the general election. Therefore, there couldn’t be any issue as regards the SLPP taking tangible measures to drastically alter the 19th Amendment before introducing a new Constitution.

Recently, the government announced a 9-member group led by Romesh de Silva, PC, to formulate the new draft Constitution.

The former Law Professor strongly defended the controversial decision to re-introduce emergency Bills while guaranteeing full immunity to the President. Referring to a Supreme Court case, Prof. Peiris emphasized that the country’s apex court had accepted the right of the President to receive immunity. Prof. Peiris said that emergency Bills were necessary in times of emergency such as the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks which plunged the entire country into crisis.

Prof. Peiris dealt with the continuing controversy over the 20th Amendment proposing a five-member Parliamentary Council in place of the Constitutional Council comprising ten. Of course the method of appointments to seven Commissions as well as key posts had been changed to give the President power to exercise his mandate, Prof. Peiris said, dismissing claims that the Commissions were being abolished. The proposed system reflected the will of the people whereas the 19A empowered the Constitutional Council at the expense of the President elected by the people of the whole country.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the Election Commission member Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole and Constitutional Council member Javid Yusuf were two persons who abused their positions in the respective outfits to undermine the SLPP. Prof. Hoole once declared in Jaffna not to vote for the SLPP whereas attorney-at-law Yusuf openly campaigned against the SLPP’s push for a two-thirds majority to do away with the 19th Amendment, Prof. Peiris said.

Prof. Peiris said that their plans were on track though nearly ten months were wasted due to the inability on the part of the President to dissolve parliament immediately after winning the presidential election last November due to the shackles placed by the 19A and the subsequent crisis caused by the corona epidemic.

Prof. Peiris emphasized that the people’s President would exercise powers for their betterment.

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Udaya questions why CPC prevented from entering LPG market

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Minister Gammanpila at the abandoned Sapugaskanda facility

…reveals Rs 37 mn loss suffered during Asantha’s tenure as Chairman

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila recently alleged that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had suffered Rs 37 mn loss due to an abortive bid made by the state enterprise to enter the LPG (liquid petroleum gas) in 2008.

Lawmaker Gammanpila, who is also the leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya, said that the CPC had made the attempt in violation of an agreement with Shell and Laugfs Gas to supply its entire output of LPG from the Sapugaskanda refinery to the above mentioned companies.

The Minister said so after inspecting an abandoned gas filling facility at the CPC facility at Sapugaskanda. The visit took place, on Thursday (24), after a three-member committee headed by the Energy Ministry’s head of Internal Audit D. P. S. J. Kumara inquired into the failed operation.

The CPC undertook the project during former national cricketer Ashantha de Mel’s tenure as the CPC Chairman. A. H. M. Fowzie had been the minister in charge of the subject.

The Minister called for a report when the media revealed that the facility had been abandoned a decade back.

Gammanpila vowed to reveal the person who had caused losses to the CPC, having misled its Board of Directors as regards the viability of the project.

The PHU leader requested state enterprise Litro Gas to explore the possibility of accommodating the facility in its current production setup. The minister described the facility installed at Sapugaskanda as technologically outdated even at the time 2008 administration acquired it.

When the CPC made an attempt to enter the LPG market, Laugfs successfully moved the Supreme Court against it. The CPC abandoned the facility following the Supreme Court directive.

The Energy Minister questioned how the CPC had been prevented from entering the gas market. Underscoring the importance of market competition, the lawmaker said that the Energy Ministry intended to inquire into how the CPC reached an understanding with competitors that prevented the state enterprise from entering the LPG market. The minister said that he would examine the obstacles placed before the CPC in entering the market without undermining Litro.

Declaring that Sri Lanka had substantial natural gas deposits in the Mannar basin, the Energy Minister said that the government intended to enter the gas market. Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that a new enterprise would be established under the CPC to provide healthy competition.

Addressing the post-Cabinet media briefing on Sept. 10, co-Cabinet spokesperson Gammanpila said that Surath Ovitigama had been named the Director-General of the Petroleum Resources Development Secretariat and Saliya Wickramasuriya had been appointed advisor.

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Saumya Liyanage removed from posts of Dean and Professor 

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From M.A. Kaleel, Kalmunai Corr. 

Professor Saumya Liyanage of the University of Visual and Performing Arts has been summarily removed from the posts of Professor and Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies he was holding at the university. 

 The decision was taken by the University Council chaired by the Competent Authority of the University Professor Abayaratne Bandara. 

 According to the Council, the decision for his removal is that he had not obtained a postgraduate degree by research (Master or PhD) within the probationary period of eight years. When a lecturer is appointed on probationary basis, he is given eight years to complete postgraduate degree––a master’s or a PhD.  

Liyanage holds a PhD from La Trobe University, Australia and he claims he submitted his PhD thesis within the stipulated period of 8 years, and the university has recommended him for the award of PhD with minor corrections. The effective date of PhD could be the date of submission of corrected thesis or the date of annual convocation. It differs from university to university. 

Liyanage, who joined the university in 2007, was supposed to obtain his PhD before 2015, but the university has taken 5 years to detect that he has not completed his PhD within the probationary period. He was promoted as a Professor and the Dean of Graduate Studies.  

 Professor Abayaratne Bandara also served as the Director General of National Institute of Education.  When Bandula Gunawardena became the Education Minister, he removed Dr. Upali S. Sedera from the post of DG only a few months after his appointment and appointed Professor Abayaratne Bandara to the post.

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SF under delusion that he is still Army Chief – SLPP MP

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‘Even Vasu is capable of flooring him’

By Saman Indrajith

Badulla District SLPP MP Chamara Sampath Dassanayake told Parliament, yesterday, that the SJB Gampaha District MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was under the delusion that he was still commanding the army.

“He should realise that he is in Parliament. Yesterday, he threatened to take on the entire front row of government ranks single-handedly. We do not need an entire row of members to match him. We could send a single person that is our minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

MP Fonseka thinks all those here have passed only Grade Eight. What is wrong with a person with that kind of educational qualification becoming an MP? What about the late Mr. D. S. Senanayake? He was the first prime minister of the country.  He had passed only the fifth standard. We have had leaders who had not studied beyond Grade Eight. Didn’t they govern this country well? On the contrary, where is UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was considered educated and intelligent? What has he done? He is not even in this Parliament today. Was he able to govern this country successfully?”

“We know a lot about him and his ways of conduct. When he was the commander of the Army he sent a helicopter to Colombo to fetch two loaves of bread, while denying so many wounded soldiers the chance to be flown to Colombo. He also brought water from the Iyakkachi well in Vettailaikerni to Colombo because that was his favourite drinking water. We know all this”.

MP Dassanayake said that they had come to Parliament with great trust in it. Yet, he said that there were no thugs in the parliament and no room would be spared to turn the Ninth parliament into the same situation as the Eighth parliament.

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