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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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Fuel crisis: Key CPC facility opened for VIPs, friends as public transport shrinks

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya trade unionist Ananda Palitha yesterday (01) alleged that members of Parliament, Chairmen of various government institutions, and other politically connected persons, continued to obtain unlimited petrol and diesel from the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) facility at Kolonnawa.

The former CPC employee declared that the powers that be had transformed the Kolonnawa depot into a special facility to cater to the needs of the politically influential.

Those who touted the ‘One Country, One Law’ concept had created a special category while almost the entire nation suffered due to the unprecedented disruption of fuel supplies, Palitha said.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera and CPC Chairman Sumith Wijesinha didn’t answer their phones.

Ananda Palitha said that none of those who had been given access to the Kolonnawa depot came under essential services. “Why should lawmakers, whatever their status in society, be given access to the special facility when they aren’t included among essential services,”

Ananda Palitha asked.The SJB activist said that the government was struggling to maintain public transport after having repeatedly promised to sustain.

The trade unionist alleged that though they brought the clandestine operation at Kolonnawa to the attention of the government, it continued unabated. Barrels full of fuel had been taken from Kolonnawa, he said, among the beneficiaries were owners of V8 and other super luxury vehicles.

Ananda Palitha said that the Opposition should have taken up this issue vigorously.

Responding to another query, Ananda Palitha said that according to information available to them, Ceypetco had approximately 3,000 mt of diesel, 2,500 mt of petrol 95,600-700 mt of petrol 92 and was not in a position at least to meet the requirement of the essential services.

“The government is yet to come up with a plan to obtain petrol and diesel,” Ananda Palitha said, urging the government to take the public into confidence.

Palitha pointed out that the police had carried out numerous raids, targeting those who hoarded diesel and petrol, whereas a primary fuel depot that was not supposed to pump fuel for outsiders, engaged in business. The government should be ashamed of this situation, the trade union leader said, pointing out the country was heading for chaos.

The Island yesterday afternoon brought Ananada Palitha’s allegations to the notice of Lalith Weeratunga, Senior Advisor to the President,Gotabaya Rajapaksa

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Energy cooperation sought from Saudi Arabia on urgent basis

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has requested Charge d’ Affaires of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Abdulelah A. A. Orkobi, to facilitate Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed to visit Saudi Arabia from July 02-05 as Special Envoy of the President of Sri Lanka.The request was made when the envoy called on Prof Peiris at the Foreign Ministry on Thursday (30).

At the meeting, Foreign Minister Peiris briefed the Saudi envoy on the current economic situation, including fuel shortage and its negative impact on all sectors in Sri Lanka. Prof. Peiris sought avenues for energy cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as an utmost urgent matter.

Charge d’ Affaires of Saudi Embassy Orkobi, emphasized the importance attached to the Sri Lanka – Saudi bilateral relationship and assured all possible support to Sri Lanka, at this juncture.

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‘Halting assistance’: Japanese envoy reassures Prez

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Japanese Ambassador Hideaki Mizukoshi yesterday (01) met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa against the backdrop of reports that Japan wouldn’t provide financial assistance due to the possibility of such being mismanaged.A section of the media quoted the Japanese envoy having said so at a meeting with a group of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members during a recent visit to the north.

Subsequent to the meeting at the President’s House, the President’s Office said that the Japanese envoy reassured the President of their support to the proposed IMF programme with Sri Lanka and bilateral development assistance.

However, the Japanese embassy didn’t issue a statement on the meeting though it regularly issued statements on a range of issues.

Recently Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Japan Sanjiv Gunasekera suddenly quit the top diplomatic posting. The government has nominated former Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage as Gunasekera’s successor.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office has sought a clarification from the Japanese embassy regarding the controversial declaration and received an assurance that the envoy didn’t say so at the meeting with the TNA (SF)

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