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22 A: Amendments accepted at ‘committee stage’ should be subjected to SC approval

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Nalin de Silva highlights major constitutional flaw

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to Myanmar, Prof. Nalin de Silva, has said that whatever amendments introduced to a particular Bill at the committee stage should be definitely subjected to the approval by the Supreme Court.

The one-time Mathematics Don has stressed that the Speaker shouldn’t endorse the amended Bill until the Parliament obtained the Supreme Court’s consent.

Prof. De Silva said so commenting on a simmering controversy over Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, manipulating the committee stage process to introduce new amendments which may not be in line with the Supreme Court ruling on the original Bill on the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution.

Prof. de Silva dealt with the issue at hand as sections of the ruling SLPP, including dissidents, warned against any moves to dilute executive powers to enable the full operationalisation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

The outspoken retired academic has urged the Parliament to introduce an amendment to prevent the Speaker from endorsing an amended Bill, till the Supreme Court approves it.

Prof de Silva last served as Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Myanmar, from 2020 to 2021.

The activist described the absence of provision for the Supreme Court to examine a Bill, following the committee stage, as a major flaw in the Constitution. This loophole should be closed, Prof de Silva said, recalling how successive governments had exploited the committee stage of controversial Bills to pursue their agendas. Prof de Silva cited the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution as a case in point.

Prof de Silva stressed that the Justice Minister’s approval of amendments were certainly not sufficient. Therefore, Supreme Court approval should be a prerequisite for the Speaker’s endorsement, he said.

Having pointed out that the 22nd Amendment had been presented to the public, through Gazette notification, Prof de Silva emphasized that the executive, the legislature and the judiciary were involved in the overall process.

Prof de Silva said that all amendments proposed to the 22 A that would be taken up for vote tomorrow (07) should be defeated. In fact, future attempts to introduce amendments at committee stage of a particular Bill, too, should be thwarted as the Speaker and the Justice Minister whichever party/alliance in power didn’t have the competence to examine the constitutionality of the proposals, Prof de Silva said.

The former diplomat said that the move to dilute executive powers should be examined against the backdrop of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s failure to secure the required international financial assistance. Declaring that the incumbent government couldn’t obtain at least loans from Western powers let alone grants, Prof de Silva questioned the status of Sri Lanka’s much-touted Staff-Level Agreement with the International Monetary Fund now being contradicted by the government.

Prof de Silva was commenting on Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s declaration in Parliament on Tuesday (04) that there was only a draft agreement and they were yet to finalize the Staff-Level Agreement with the IMF.

Prof de Silva said that before the finalization of the agreement, the draft agreement should be submitted to the Parliament.

The retired academic said that the government owed an explanation regarding the efforts to introduce constitutional amendments at a time political parties, represented in Parliament, should be concentrating on a tangible economic recovery plan. Prof de Silva asked whether they genuinely expected the introduction of 22 A to the Constitution would really enhance political stability.

Prof de Silva expressed serious concerns about how the powers that be could propose certain amendments at the committee stage of the 22 A with a view to appeasing the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as well as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), a constituent party of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). The retired University Don pointed out the possibility in the government proposing consultations between the appointing authority (the President) and the Chief Ministers in respect of the appointment of Governors of the Provinces. In terms of the Constitution now, the appointment of Governors is the prerogative of the President.

Prof de Silva said that the President couldn’t dilute executive powers enshrined in the Constitution.



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Health crisis: GMOA calls for WHO intervention

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Alleging the government has failed to address the developing crisis caused by grave shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has called for WHO’s intervention.In a letter dated January 26, 2023, addressed to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge has raised concerns about shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, escalating prices of medicines and allegations of malpractices and corruption in procurement procedures.

The GMOA has released its letter to the media along with what it called a 10 fold plan formulated by an expert committee set up by the GMOA.

The following are the GMOA’s proposals:

1. To appoint a high-level coordinating committee within the Ministry of Health to ensure effective communications and coordination between following institutions, identified as responsible for the whole exercise. (a) Ministry of Health focal points (b) Medical Supplies Division (MSD) (c) State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) d. State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) e. National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Monthly progress review meetings of aforementioned committees are to be ensured, with Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Health or his representative. Quarterly review with Minister of Health to facilitate arriving at essential policy decisions.

2. To ensure Transparent Procurement Procedures, where every interested citizen should be entitled to know the true facts.

3. To upgrade the available computer software programme to match the current needs and to ensure more efficiency in procurement procedures.

4. To appoint a technical committee to study Auditor General Reports with regard to procurement Procedures of last 5 years and actions to be declared with specific time frame to implement recommendations of the Auditor General.

5. Review the recent Presidential Investigation Commission reports and initiate urgent actions to file legal action against the respondents. Remove all those officials who are accused through these reports of malpractices, from their current posts, until the verdicts are delivered.

6. To minimise emergency purchases of Medicinal drugs and ensure the transparency of that process through progress reports on emergency purchases, which is to be published on a monthly basis.

7. To identify alternative modes for distribution of pharmaceutical drugs to peripheral stations (e.g.: Public Transport services with identified modifications)

8. To open an “Information Desk” at the Ministry of Health to effectively communicate with and guide the donors of pharmaceutical items.

9. To fill the existing vacancies at National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), following stipulated acceptable pathways and activating all the sub committees within NMRA.

10. To declare a relief package to reduce the prices of essential medicinal drugs, through the upcoming interim budget.

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CEB says suspension of power cuts not possible

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By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) says it is not in a position to discontinue power cuts despite an assurance from some quarters that there will be no power cuts till the end of the G C E Advanced Level examination on 17 February.

CEB Chairman Nalinda Illangakoon, contacted for comment, told The Island that they had not taken any decision to halt power cuts, especially at night. He however stressed that during the examination hours there would be no power cuts.

“We have not agreed with anyone to do away with power cuts,” he said, adding that they had clearly pointed out that Rs. 4.1 billion was required to continue power supply without power cuts until 17 February.

He also said that the CEB could not do business on credit. “I am responsible for my institution. Anybody can say anything but I have to run it,” he added.The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday said that the power sector stakeholders had agreed not to impose power cuts from yesterday until the end of the GCE A/L examination.

The HRCSL said in a statement that there will be no power cuts until February 17.They also said that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had come to an agreement with the PUCSL to provide continuous fuel supply for electricity generation during the A/L examination.

Covering the cost required for power generation must be identified as a priority in the proposed tariff revision, PUCSL instructed the CEB. Accordingly, the two parties agreed to pay the relevant expenses incurred within 60 days, the statement said.

The HRCSL also said the Power and Energy Ministry should intervene to provide coordination facilities for the agreement.Accordingly, an agreement was made not to continue with power cuts during the exam period starting today.This agreement will be included as a recommendation of the HRCSL, and the PUCSL agreed to implement the recommendations.

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PM’s Office: IMF impressed with progress made by govt.

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Director Dr. Krishnamurthy Subramanian has said the political will displayed by the Sri Lankan leadership to speed up reforms and implement difficult tax increases in order to revive the economy is highly appreciable, according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s Office yesterday (26)

Dr Subramanian, who called on Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the PM’s Office in Colombo yesterday (26) was quoted as having said almost all the requirements for the IMF relief package for Sri Lanka have been completed and the moment the final assurances from major lending countries is completed, the process would be finalised.

“We will bat for you,” IMF Executive Director said using cricket jargon. “We play forward with a straight drive for you and whenever necessary, we play cover drives too,” said Dr Subramanian who was the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India from 2018 to 2021.

The Prime Minister briefed the IMF delegation about steps taken by the government to face the unprecedented economic challenges faced by the country and to enhance agricultural produce to meet local demand and also for export.

While elaborating the measures taken to reduce non-essential imports and increase export production, he stressed the need for welfare for the poorest segments of the society. Dr Subramanian said that as the Prime Minister pointed out a safety net for economically vulnerable groups is an essential requirement when plans are formulated to restructure debt and revive the economy.

However, he emphasised that the public sector should be ready to make sacrifices as they are at least assured of salaries, while many others have lost their avenues of income.

Secretary to the Prime Minister, Anura Dissanayake, Deputy Governor of Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara, who is IMF Alternate Executive Director, Dr. P.K.G. Harischandra, Director and Dr. V D Wickramarachchi, Deputy Director of Economic Research Department of Central Bank also took part in the discussion.

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