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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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Herath: COPE dissolution must not hinder probe into economic crisis

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Prof. Charitha Herath yesterday (07) said that though the prorogation of the Parliament led to the dissolution of the watchdog committee it shouldn’t hinder a planned inquiry to identify those responsible for the current economic chaos.

Prof. Herath said that the COPE was about to initiate the probe when the prorogation of the Parliament took place. President Ranil Wickremesinghe prorogued the House at midnight on July 28, just a week after the Parliament overwhelmingly elected him to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, won at the Nov 2019 presidential poll.

In a brief interview with The Island, Prof. Herath said as a result of the prorogation, he no longer functioned as the COPE Chairman. All committees, except the High Post Committee, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Sectoral Oversight Committees and Select Committees of Parliament, stand dissolved, lawmaker Herath said, urging the powers that be to ensure the continuation of the inquiry.

The proposed inquiry would be largely based on a report received by the Parliament from Auditor General W.P.C. Wickremeratne several weeks ago, Prof. Herath said.

Prof. Herath said that the parliamentary watchdog, he headed, had planned daily sittings over a period of two weeks to inquire into the entire gamut of issues that finally led to the declaration made by incumbent Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, on 19 May, that the country was no longer in a position to service its foreign debt. This was a week after UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted the premiership, Prof. Herath said, while stressing the responsibility on the part of the Parliament to conduct a no holds barred investigation into the whole affair.

According to the first-time entrant to the Parliament, the inquiry was to be launched on July 19, but couldn’t due to the political upheaval, caused by the forced resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Among those asked to appear before the parliamentary committee were the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, and his predecessors, Prof. W.D. Lakshman (Dec 2019-Sept 2021) and Ajith Nivard Cabraal (Sept 2021-March 2022), former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera (Nov 2019-Dec 2021), Finance Secretary Mahinda Sirisiwardana and his predecessors, S.R. Attygalle and Dr. S.R. Samarasinghe, who now functions as an advisor to President Ranil Wickremesinghe.The COPE also planned to summon former members of the Monetary Board, Sanjiva Jayawardena, PC, and Dr. Ranee Jayamaha and others. Governor, CBSL and Secretary to the Treasury are ex-officio members of the Monetary Board.

Asked whether he would like to be re-appointed as COPE Chairman, Prof. Herath said that as his outfit inquired into the issues at hand pertaining to overall financial crisis that caused massive protest campaign, leading to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster without fear or favour those interested in serving the watchdog again should be accommodated. Prof. Herath said that he was ready to give the required leadership to it, especially against the backdrop of President Wickremesinghe’s assurance to the Parliament, regarding a high profile anti-corruption campaign.

Herath quoted President Wickremesinghe as having told the Parliament that: “It is essential to completely eliminate bribery, corruption and fraud from our society. I will implement a national policy to combat bribery and corruption. New rules and regulations and orders in this regard are being prepared by the Ministry of Justice. A consensus will be reached with the International Monetary Fund regarding combating corruption.”

Prof. Herath emphasized that regardless of consensus on political matters, the current crisis couldn’t be addressed unless tangible measures were taken to discipline the public sector and also thwart corrupt practices involving the public and private sectors.

Prof. Herath said that those who could provide information, relating to the inquiry, would be given an opportunity to do so.When The Island pointed out he may not be even considered for re-appointment as COPE Chief due to him joining the rebel group, that backed Dullas Alahapperuma, at the presidential contest, Prof. Herath stressed that he was confident his political stand shouldn’t be a disqualification. Should it be the case, would there be any purpose in even talking about an all-party arrangement to address issues at hand.Prof. Herath said that the country couldn’t move forward without establishing who brought on this catastrophe in our country.

Declaring old political strategies would be irrelevant in the current context, Prof. Herath said that no one could challenge the process adopted in the election of President Wickremesinghe as the 8th President.

Lawmaker Herath told a recent media briefing, chaired by SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, at the Madiwela residence of SLPP MP Wasantha Yapa Bandara, that not only legality of a process but legitimacy, too, was of pivotal importance.

Prof. Peiris emphasized that unless political actions that had been constitutionally correct, received legitimacy, those responsible would always be at a conflict with the public. There couldn’t be a better example than the referendum ordered by the then President J.R.J, in 1982, meant to extend the life of his government by six years, Prof. Herath said.

“No one could find fault with J.R.J for exercising his powers in terms of the Constitution. Therefore, there was no issue with regard to the referendum that allowed the first Executive President to extend the life of the Parliament. The action, in spite of being controversial, is in line with the Constitution. But, J.R.J’s action never received legitimacy. It never will,” Prof. Herath said.

The catastrophic consequences of J.R.J’s actions should be examined, taking into consideration the eruption of separatist Tamil terrorism in the early 80s and the launch of the second JVP-led insurgency, in the wake of the proscription of that party on political grounds, the MP argued.

Prof. Herath urged all political parties, particularly those in power, to secure the legitimacy by taking into consideration concerns raised by various stakeholders. Responding to another query, Prof. Herath recalled how the then COPE Chairman, DEW Gunasekera, was deprived of an opportunity to hand over his report on the Treasury bond scams by the hasty dissolution of Parliament by President Sirisena, in late June 2015. “We shouldn’t repeat past mistakes. People have suffered enough. Therefore, let there be a clear stand on creating an administration responsible and acceptable to all.”

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JVP: Both President and ruling party MPs must be sent home

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BY Saman Indrajith

The Aragalaya protest must unite all its forces to pressure the Executive and the legislature, and the protesters should not shy away from that task, JVP trade union wing leader, KD Lalkantha, said, addressing a rally at the Ananda Samarakoon Open Air Theatre, in Nugegoda, on Saturday.

Lalkantha said that the Aragalaya had to topple both the President and the government. “There is no point in attacking any other power centre. Actually, there are no other power centres in this country today. Parliament is the place where the President derives his power. He is just a constitutional President. He has no mandate. Nor do the SLPP MPs have any mandate. The government MPs cannot even attend a funeral today. They all are hiding from the people. So we no longer need them. We must get rid of them and their constitutionally appointed President.”

Lalkantha said Wickremesinghe had unleashed two types of terror. “On one front, he uses the police and security forces to arrest, detain and prosecute the leaders of the Aragalaya protests. On the other front, he tries to promote his interests, ideologically. Dozens of university students are made to praise him on television. People should not fall for these ruses.”

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Stakeholders’ proposals to be made available

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Bid to form all-party govt.:

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said the proposals presented by all stakeholders, during talks on the formation of an all-party government, will be made available to them.President Wickremesinghe stated so during Friday’s (05) discussions with leaders of the 11 independent parties in the Parliament and the 43 Brigade on the formation of an all-party government. The discussions were held at the President’s Office.

President Wickremesinghe pointed out that only the JVP, the National People’s Power, and a few other Tamil political parties, had not come for talks. He thanked the parties that had met him for their willingness to sink their political differences for the sake of the public. Leader of the 43 Brigade MP Champika Ranawaka said his outfit was hopeful that it would be possible to restore the 19 Amendment to the Constitution. He also said that there was a need to appoint professionals as Heads of State Institutions.

Ranawaka further said that a country could not be developed by political reforms alone, and the contribution of professionals should be a key factor. He said educational reforms had to be introduced in keeping with global trends.Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Members of Parliament Professor Tissa Vitharana, Wimal Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Udaya Gammanpila, Asanga Navaratne, Premanath C. Dolawatta, Karu Paranawithana, Secretary to the President Saman Ekanayake, and President’s Additional Secretary Attorney-at-Law, Chaminda Kularatne, were present in this discussion.

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