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Academics et al call for broadening and concretising democratic moment into sustained political action

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A group of academics, in a statement issued, says that the origins of the present crisis are political, having been brought about by authoritarian policies of successive governments. Such authoritarian rule has been consolidated for decades through Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian mobilisations, one of the most recent one being mandatory cremations, after a COVID death. It is built upon the notion that powerful, rich, professional and militaristic men must lead the way through mechanisms, isolated from the needs of the larger community.

The following is the text of the statement titled ‘The democratic moment today: A call for action and reflection’: We are witness today to events that are unprecedented in our postcolonial history. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets, spontaneously, in protest in an extraordinary demonstration of democratic fervor. The calls for change are loud, and spectacular.

They are driven by anger at a small elite group—the Rajapaksas, who have built a dynastic political empire with their cronies and allies in and out of Parliament and a supportive business elite. One of the worst spells of economic hardship that the country has experienced in the past few decades has driven people to the streets, demanding that the President of the country “go home”.

But these calls for change are not just of the government in power, but of the forms of governance as well. Hard questions are being asked by the protesters: questions about economic policies, the functioning of the judiciary, relations between communities, and related concerns.

People want prices reduced and essential items, like food, medicine, milk powder, electricity, gas and stationery, available in adequate amounts for their families; communities want the country’s stolen wealth returned and re-distributed; many want the divisive ethnic and religion-based politics to end and past violations acknowledged and accounted for; the people are united in their cry for a country free of totalitarianism. The polyphony of slogans demanding economic, political social and gender justice must be heard and addressed.

The economic crisis was precipitated by the inability of the heavily indebted government to guarantee to the people essential imports, triggering the protests. Further, arbitrary decisions like the ban on the import of fertiliser badly impacted agricultural production. Shortages and exorbitant price hikes affecting food, medicines, fuel, and electricity, have induced widespread suffering. The impact is harshest on the working class, especially underclass, underprivileged, and multiply marginalised persons and communities; whose conditions have been rendered ever more precarious by the pandemic.

The origins of the present crisis are political, having been brought about by authoritarian policies of successive governments. Such authoritarian rule has been consolidated for decades through Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian mobilisations, one of the most recent one being mandatory cremations, after a COVID death. It is built upon the notion that powerful, rich, professional and militaristic men must lead the way through mechanisms isolated from the needs of the larger community. Such ideologies have discriminated against people on the margins and have little space for pluralism. It has resulted in heightened militarisation, inequality and injustice. It has narrowed the space for collective democratic action, and instead validated a culture of patronage and centralised authority.

It is important at this juncture that touted solutions do not compound the crisis. IMF involvement is very much on the table: the neoliberal economic thought that sees the IMF as the ideal solution extends across the political spectrum. However, it is decades of neoliberal policies that have led us to this crisis in the first place. Neoliberalism promotes policy that safeguards private property rights and free markets, overriding social concerns. Globally, social services, such as transportation, health and education have become spaces for racketeering and private profit, and transformed governments to be facilitators of this process. No longer is the state expected to provide services to the public and no longer do such services belong to the public. As a result, the role of the state has weakened and we have become victims of the vagaries of markets. We have witnessed the slashing of spending on social welfare.

Deregulation and privatization have become the norm. Today, we rely on the remittances of exploited migrant workers and heavy international borrowing, instead of developing production along viable lines, leading to self-sufficiency. In the event of an IMF intervention, we should keep the above in mind.

As a means of addressing the economic crisis in the short term, provisions must be made for immediate relief for the suffering people. We must demand progressive direct taxation, including a wealth tax on property and vehicles, geared towards redistribution and greater equality. We must insist on a significant reduction of the funds allocated to the defence sector and insist that core public services, including health, education, electricity, water and transport, are strengthened and funded by the state. Those who are landless should be given land for housing, agriculture and other economic activities.

We must broaden and concretize this democratic moment into sustained political action, pushing for structural changes in the long term. Draconian laws, including the Public Security Ordinance and the Prevention of Terrorism Act must be repealed. The country must engage in demilitarization by cutting back on military expenditure, releasing lands held by the military, and confining the military to the barracks. Devolution of power from the center to the peripheries is required. The executive presidency, together with the legislation brought about by the 20th Amendment to the constitution that consolidated powers at the centre must be done away with. Instead, we must nurture transparency and pluralism, through mechanisms such as tribunals, independent commissions and an independent judiciary.

As a people, we call for solidarity at this historical moment! We call for a movement of workers, unions, women’s groups, all marginalized, disenfranchised and discontented people towards a just and democratic future for us all.”

The signatories to the statement are:

Ruchini Abayakoon, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, Udari Abeyasinghe, University of Peradeniya, Asha L. Abeyasekera, Royal Holloway, University of London, Asanka Abeyratne, Social Activist, Sachini Abeysekara, Brock University, Mohamed Adamaly, Attorney at Law, Chamalee Ahangama, S.L. Usman Akeel, Daily Ceylon, Indi Akurugoda, University of Ruhuna, Ashwini Amarasinghe, University of Peradeniya, M. A. M. S. Anaf, Kalmunai, Shani Anuradha, University of Peradeniya, Nalin Galkanda Arachchi, University of Vocational Technology, Ratmalana, S. Arivalzahan, University of Jaffna, Swasthika Arulingam, Attorney at Law, Odayan Arumugam, Trainer/Community Activist, Colombo, Mohamed Ashfaque, Akkaraipattu, A.N. Ashiq, Karaithivu,

Dhilma Atapattu, University of Peradeniya, Fazeeha Azmi, University Of Peradeniya, Crystal Baines, Ph.D. Candidate, Kandy, Dhanuka Bandara, Miami University of Ohio, Sumudu Bandara, University of Peradeniya, Bisliya Bhutto, Human Rights Activists,

Rudhramoorthy Cheran, University of Windsor, A.S.Chandrabose, Open University of Sri Lanka, Sasindi Chandrasekara, Visakesa Chandrasekaram, University of Colombo, Kaveesha Coswatte, APIIT Law School, Chamalee Ahangama Dayarathna, Counselor, Ruwanthie de Chickera, Playwright, Jan Ramesh de Saram, Colomboscope, Erandika de Silva, University of Jaffna, Marisa de Silva, Colombo, Mithma de Silva, University of Peradeniya, Priyanka de Silva, University of Peradeniya, Sulari de Silva, University of Moratuwa, Hiranyada Dewasiri; Uva Wellassa University of Sri Lanka,

Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, University of Colombo, Janaranga Wijaindu Dewasurandra, Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, Kaushini Dammalage, Independent Researcher, Kanchuka Dharmasiri, University of Peradeniya, Chirath Dharmasena, Visakha Dharmadasa, AWAW, Shanka Dharmapala, independent researcher, Malaka Dewapriya, Filmmaker and Visual Artist, Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, University of Colombo, Priyan Dias, University of Moratuwa, Migara Doss, Attorney-at-Law, Ruwanthi Edirisinghe, City University of New York, Sarala Emmanuel Feminist Activist Batticaloa, Sandya Ekneligoda, Social Activist, Diroshan Fernando, Sasindi Fernando, Secondary school student, Amal Fernando, Kandy, Avanka Fernando, University of Colombo, Corita Fernando, Washington State University, Sasindi Fernando, Student, Bhavani Fonseka, Attorney-at-Law, Gnanabalan Gnanalosan, Point Pedro, Jaffna,

Mario Gomez, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Thilanka Gunaratne, University of Peradeniya, Lesley Gunasekara, Independent Researcher, Ranmini Gunawardena, University of the Visual and Performing Arts, Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya, Camena Guneratne, Open University of Sri Lanka, Ashika Gunasena, Independent practitioner, Tasneem Hamead, Colombo, Azkha Hassen, Al Gazzaly NS, Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo, Hasna Hasbullah, undergraduate, University of Jaffna, Jafar Hasbullah, University of British Columbia, Samal Hemachandra, Univ. Of Colombo, Himansa Herath, Siri Hettige, University of Colombo, Rajan Hoole, Jaffna, J. S. Ishie, Ministry of Health,

J. Prince Jeyadevan, University of Jaffna, 79. K.W. Janaranjana, editor, Anidda newspaper, Velayudan Jayachithra, Senior Project Officer, Women and Media Collective, Sumedha Jayakody, Independent Researcher, Pamoda Jayasundara, University of Peradeniya, Gehan Jayasuriya, University of Peradeniya, Shakila Jayathilaka, Barana Jayawardana, University of Peradeniya, Chulantha Jayawardena, Univ. Of Moratuwa, Janaki Jayawardena, University of Colombo, Uthpala Jayawardena, Open University of Sri Lanka, Pavithra Jayawardena, University of Colombo, Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna, Sakuntala Kadirgamar, Law and Society Trust, Akhila Kahandagama, Concerned citizen, Anushka Kahandagamage, University of Otago, Pavithra Kailasapathy, University of Colombo, Saman M Kariyakarawana, University of Visual and Performing Arts, Thisal Kaluarachchi, University of Moratuwa, Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya, Anuruddha Karunarathna, University of Peradeniya, Ransi Karunarathna, Sri Lanka Press Institute, Inoka Karunaratne, University of Peradeniya, Amal Karunaratna, Retired from the University of Adelaide, Apsara Karunaratne, independent researcher, Charuka Karunarathne, Inoka Karunaratne, University of Peradeniya, Ransi Karunarathna, Sri Lanka Press Institute, Portia Kemps, University of Peradeniya, Thamali Kithsiri, University of Peradeniya, Chulani Kodikara, University of Edinburgh, Manikya Kodithuwakku, Open University of Sri Lanka, Sandamali Kottachchi, Attorney at law, Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan, Mannar Women’s Development Federation, Pradeepa Korale Gedara, University of Peradeniya, Chamali S Kulathunga, University of Peradeniya, Ramya Kumar, University of Jaffna,

Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya, Vijaya Kumar, University of Peradeniya, Amal Kumarage, University of Moratuwa, Radha Kuruwitabandara, Attorney-at-Law, A.H. Lareena, Lecturer, Hasini Lecamwasam, University of Peradeniya, Menaka Lecamwasam, Independent researcher, C. Liyanage, Attorney -at-law, Saumya Liyanage, University of the Visual and Performing Arts, Mary Caroline Lurthunayaham, Wellawatta, Gunasingarajah Maheshwaralingam, University of Jaffna, Sudesh Mantillake, University of Peradeniya, Prabha Manuratne, University of Kelaniya, Ruvinie Machado, Colombo, Dulanjaya Mahagamage, Kandy, Tharinda Mallawaarachchi – University of Colombo, Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary, Free Trade Zones and General Services, Employees Union, Kalindu Matharage, Independent, Sumudu Himesha Medawela, University of Peradeniya, Mahim Mendis, Open University of Sri Lanka, Navindu Mendis, National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, Juweriya Mohideen, Muslim Women’s Development Trust, Puttalam, Alikhan Mohideen, University of Peradeniya, Sakina Moinudeen, Colombo, S.P.Mohan, Heart’s Organisation Upcot,

Rumala Morel, University of Peradeniya, Chathurika Munasinghe, University of Peradeniya, Thaha Muzammil, Free Media Movement, Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo, Amizhthini Nakkeeran, Aze IT Consultancy (pvt) Ltd, Jaffna, S. Narththanah, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Pavithra Navarathne, Attorney-at-Law, Pamod Nayanapiya, Ammaarah Nilafdeen, Independent Researcher, Abeysinghe Navaratne-Bandara, Retd. University of Peradeniya, Sabreena Niles, University of Kelaniya, Hasanthi Niriella, M. A. Nuhman, Retd. Univ. Of Peradeniya, Ranjini Obeyesekere Formerly Princeton University and Univ. of Peradeniya, Upali Pannilage, Univ. Of Ruhuna, Sasinindu Patabendige, University of Jaffna, Muditha Pathirana, Independent Researcher, Nirmala Perera, Oshada Perera, Kandy, Paba Piyarathne, Srinagaruban Pathujan, University of Jaffna, Eshantha Peiris, University of Peradeniya, Pradeep Peiris, University of Colombo, Sanjeeva Pieris, Kaushalya Perera, University of Colombo, Kusal Perera, Political commentator, Journalist, Nicola Perera, University of Colombo, Nirmala Perera, Tania Perera, Colombo, Amalka Pinidiyaarachchi, University of Peradeniya, Dimagi Pitawala, University of Peradeniya, Ven. Fr. Samuel Ponniah, Church of Ceylon, Padma Poshpakanthi, Savisthri National Women’s Movement/ Women Acton for Social Justice, N. W. Prins, University of Ruhuna, Angel Queentus, Jaffna Transgender Network, Mirak Raheem, Independent Researcher, S. Rajadurai, University of Colombo, Chandi Rajapaksha, University of Peradeniya, Maheema Rajapakse, APIIT, Selvaraja Rajasegar, editor, maatram.org, Shafiya Rafaithu, Independent Researcher, Rupika Rajakaruna, University of Peradeniya, Vasuki Rajasingam, Jaffna, Sampath Rajapakshe, Lecturer 184. Tharsiga Ramanaaharan, Jaffna, Ramesh Ramasamy, University of Peradeniya, Harshana Rambukwella, Open University of Sri Lanka, Kanchana Virajani Ranaraja, Kandy, Piyumani Ranasinghe, Attorney-at-Law, Rajitha Ranasinghe, University of Peradeniya, Menaka Rathnayaka, University of Peradeniya, Sriyani Ranatunga, Research Assistant, University of Peradeniya, Dilini Ratnayaka, University of Peradeniya, Rev. M. V. E. Ravichandran, University of Jaffna, Ramzy Razeek, Social Activist, Rasma Razmi, University of Peradeniya, Stephini Sahid, Secondary School Teacher, Kandy, T. H. Rasika Samanmalee, University of Colombo, Aruni Samarakoon, University of Ruhuna, Dinesha Samararatne, University of Colombo, Gameela Samarasinghe, University of Colombo, Ganganee Samaraweera, University of Ruhuna, Unnathi Samaraweera, University of Colombo, Shreen Abdul Saroor, Women’s Action Network, Kalana Senaratne – University of Peradeniya, Hiniduma Sunil Senevi, Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka , Belihuloya, Sharmila Seyyid, Author and Researcher, Tudor Silva, University of Peradeniya, Shashik Silva, Independent Researcher, Vanie Simon, Affected Women’s Forum, kkaraipattu, Krishan Siriwardhana , University of Colombo, Dr. K. Sivaji, University of Jaffna, Ratnasingam Sharveswara, University of Jaffna, S.Sivagurunathan, Interpreter and translator, N. Sivakaran, University of Jaffna, Gopikha Sivakumar, Undergraduate Univ. Of Jaffna, Sumathy Sivamohan, University of Peradeniya, Taniya Silvapulle, Social Scientists’ Association, S. Sivasegaram, retired University of Peradeniya, Gnani Somasundaram, Lanka Hospitals, M.Sooriasegaram, Jaffna, H. Sriyananda, The Open University of Sri Lanka, Ermiza Tegal, Attorney at Law, Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly Univ. Of Kelaniya, Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna, Darshi Thoradeniya, University of Colombo, Yathursha Ulakentheran, Independent Researcher, Ramila Usoof, University of Peradeniya, Nimali Vineeshiya, PGIHS ,University of Peradeniya, Chethiya Waththuhewa, University of Peradeniya, Manisha Weeraddana , University of Peradeniya, Ishan Weerapura, Social Scientists’ Association, Dasuni Weerasinghe, Attorney at law, Devaka Weerasinghe, Colombo, Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo, Shiran Harsha Widanapathirana, APIIT, Amali Wedagedera University of Hawaii, Ishan Weerapura, Social Scientists’ Association, Poornima Weerasinghe, John Wesley, University of Peradeniya Carmen S.Wickramagamage, University of Peradeniya, W. Namal M. Wickramasekera, University of Colombo, Maithree Wickramasinghe, University of Kelaniya, Upul Wickramasinghe, Univ. Of Durham, Priyan R. Wijebandara, Journalist, Gayatri Wijekoon, University Lecturer,

Ranjit Wijekoon, Colombo, Asanka Wijesinghe, Economics researcher, Maneesha Wijesundara, University of Peradeniya (former student), Dinuka Wijetunga, University of Colombo, Roshani Wijewardene, Shermal Wijewardene, University of Colombo, Apsara Wimalasiri, Colombo, Lareef Zubair, Independent Researcher.



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Lanka on the brink of economic collapse: Prez seeks international help to overcome crisis

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, addressing the 27th International conference on ‘Future of Asia’, yesterday, called upon the international community to help Sri Lanka overcome its economic crisis.

Addressing the virtual summit, the President said that it was no secret that the last several months had been extremely difficult for Sri Lanka.

“We are currently undergoing a severe economic crisis, which has profoundly impacted the lives of all Sri Lankans, resulting in social unrest. The virtual shutting down of the tourism industry and the sharp decline in inward remittances from expatriate workers due to COVID19 in the past two years and increasing inflation due to other events combined with Sri Lanka’s high outstanding debt obligations to cause a severe financial crisis,” he said.

President Rajapaksa said that in April, Sri Lanka announced a ‘Debt Standstill’ with the intention of restructuring this external public debt through negotiations with our creditors, whilst simultaneously approaching the International Monetary Fund for a suitable programme.

“In parallel to these efforts, we have appointed a new Prime Minister and a Cabinet of Ministers with representation from multiple political parties, and we are fostering ongoing discussions in Parliament towards forming a national consensus on the way forward,” he said.

Given below are excerpts of his speech: “Sri Lanka is Asia’s oldest democracy. It is crucial that the solutions to our present national crisis are supported through our nation’s democratic framework.

“As we work through such solutions, however, we urgently require the assistance of our friends in the international community to ensure that our immediate needs in terms of the importation of essential medicines, food supplies, and fuel are met.

We are also in urgent need of bridging financing to restore confidence in our external sector and stabilise our economy until the debt restructuring process is completed and an IMF programme commences.

“Sri Lanka is grateful for the support provided by India, our close friend and neighbour, which responded with generosity in our time of need. The support extended by our other neighbours and development partners, as well as regional and global institutions, is also deeply appreciated.

“Japan remains one of Sri Lanka’s key development partners, and we hope that the negotiations now underway regarding bridging funds from Japan will conclude soon, and support Sri Lanka as we try to stabilise our economy and our nation.

“I appeal to the other friends of Sri Lanka present here today, to also explore the possibility of extending support and solidarity to my country at this very difficult time.

“A positive aspect of recent events in Sri Lanka has been the increased engagement of our youth in the nation’s politics.

“We have seen similar activism in other countries too, where the loss of confidence in prevailing systems has led to strong displays of opposition against governments.

“It is important to ensure that these systems undergo the reforms that are essential to their improvement so that future generations will benefit from better opportunities in education and employment, leading to an increase in their productivity.

“The grave difficulties facing Sri Lanka are an early indication of the long tail effects of the COVID19 pandemic, made worse by the ongoing conflict in Europe that may affect other vulnerable nations too.

“Supporting such vulnerable nations through these difficulties is essential for regional as well as global stability.

“It is therefore earnestly hoped that nations able to do so, lend a helping hand to these countries as they seek to overcome the very serious threats they face. An even more widespread problem that the world will face in future concerns food security.

“The shortages of food items and sharp increases in food prices likely to occur in the months ahead will place considerable strain on many countries.

“It is therefore essential that we pay attention to this crucial problem and prioritise agricultural production locally and improve our resilience in the face of this coming issue.

“Increased cooperation amongst nations will also be necessary to ensure that we overcome this issue.

“As we look to the future, it is no secret that even more widespread challenges caused by human induced climate changes lie ahead for the Asian region as well as the world.

“The adverse impacts of such climate change, including loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and pollution, degradation of air quality and ecosystems, will all contribute to significant challenges for many nations including in food security.

“Maritime security in Asia is another thorny issue that require serious policy attention. In addition to traditional security concerns involving the projection of naval power, many non-traditional issues including piracy, human trafficking, drug-smuggling, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing continue to pose challenges in this region.

“Sri Lanka has a great interest in the security of the Indian Ocean region, and the protection of the sea-lanes has established a strong relationship between Sri Lanka and dominant regional players including Japan.

“Sri Lanka has responsibility over protecting sea routes, maritime resources and combating maritime crime over a significant region of the Indian Ocean, and we look forward to partnering with the Asian community as we seek to expand our capacities in these areas in future.

“Another enduring regional concern has been civil unrest, conflicts, and communal violence. Sri Lanka too has been marred by sectarian tensions throughout its history. I am of the view that policymakers must come together to devise collaborative regional mechanisms on such issues.

“Exchanging expertise and experience to build capacity in the fields of peacebuilding and reconciliation is essential. So too is the empowerment of the underprivileged, because this is one of the root causes of unrest.

“In this context, I respectfully submit to this forum that the core objectives and functioning of some existing regional bodies are presently affected by conflicts of member countries on matters relating to economic, political, or strategic interests.

“It is my hope that member countries will be able to overcome such impasses and work together in the true spirit of Asia to fulfil the region’s priorities.

“In concluding, I once again thank Nikkei for having organised this conference, and the Government of Japan for hosting this event.

As Sri Lanka overcomes its present difficulties and starts rebuilding for tomorrow, we look forward to constructively participating in future such events too, for the betterment of Asia.”

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BASL, Opposition reject 21-A draft

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The Bar Association has rejected the 21st Amendment to the Constitution that has been presented by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, to the Cabinet recently.

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, has rejected the 21 A in its present form.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, SJB spokesperson Eran Wickremaratne explained why the SJB wouldn’t support the proposed law as it would further enhance the executive.

A spokesperson for the BASL told The Island that they pointed out serious shortcomings in the draft and the need to rectify them. According to him, the BASL, in letters dated May 23 explained their position to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickemesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Rajapakse.

The JVP and TNA too have rejected the 21 Amendment in its present form.

The following is the text of the BASL letter addressed to the President, PM and the Justice Minister: “On the 23rd of April 2022, the Bar Council approved the “PROPOSALS OF THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF SRI LANKA (BASL) TO RESTORE POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC STABLITY IN THE COUNTRY”. In the 13-point proposal the BASL proposed the introduction of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution by repealing the provisions of the 20th Amendment and restoring the 19th Amendment, and the re-establishment of the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions which existed under the 19th Amendment whilst enhancing their financial independence, transparency, and accountability.

The BASL is concerned that whilst the 21st Amendment will restore the provisions of the previous 19th Amendment to the Constitution as regards the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions, there are several vital provisions which were found in the 19th Amendment which are not incorporated into the draft 21st Amendment.

The provisions of the 19th Amendment precluded the President from assigning to himself any subjects or functions. However, the 21st Amendment does not incorporate such a provision and as such the President will be able to continue to retain Ministries and assign to himself any subjects and functions and take over subjects and functions of any Minister. The BASL is of the view that the 21st Amendment must include a provision amending Article 44(2) of the Constitution removing the power of the President to retain Ministries and assigning to himself any subjects or functions. Such provision must be made operative as soon as the 21st Amendment is passed.

In addition, the BASL observes that the President’s powers to prorogue and dissolve Parliament are left intact, in contrast to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution where the President could dissolve Parliament only after four and a half years following a Parliamentary election. The BASL is of the view that the provisions in the 19th Amendment relating to dissolution of Parliament should be restored. In addition, the BASL recommends that the following matters which were contained in the BASL proposals be included in the 21st Amendment:

1. A provision for the members of the Monetary Board to be appointed with the approval of the Constitutional Council (in addition to the Governor of the Central Bank);

2. A provision for the appointments of the Secretaries to the Ministries, Governors of the Provinces, Ambassadors and Heads of Missions be done on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Cabinet of Ministers;

3. A provision to require Presidential Pardons to be done according to the recommendation by a body established by law, appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council;

4. A provision to enhance the financial independence, transparency, and accountability of the Independent Commissions.

The BASL further recommends that the number of members of the Constitutional Council who are not Members of Parliament be increased from 3 to 5 and conversely the number of Members of Parliament on the Constitutional Council be reduced from 7 to 5 as was found in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. This is consistent with the position taken by the BASL in 2015 when the 19th Amendment was enacted.

The BASL calls on the Government to ensure the early enactment of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, as it is a necessary step towards achieving stability in Sri Lanka.”

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Plea for debt moratorium to rescue drowning SMEs and saving millions of jobs

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Around 4.5 million Sri Lankans employed in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) might lose their jobs in the coming months unless the government stepped in and assisted businesses, Chairman of Sri Lanka United National Businesses Alliance (SLUNBA), Tania Abeysundara told the media in Colombo on Wednesday.

She warned that a lot of SMEs might collapse in the next month unless the government arranged a debt moratorium.

“4.5 million people work in SMEs. When we asked the Central Bank Governor, he said that he can’t assure a debt moratorium. He was worried about the banking sector. I would like to ask the governor, wouldn’t the banking sector collapse if the SME’s can’t pay their loans,” Abeysundara said.

She said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had approved money printing to pay the salaries of government employees.

“When the government has no money to pay their employees, they can always print the money. What about us? Are we also to print money? Unless we receive a debt moratorium we will have to close our businesses,” she said.

Meanwhile, Treasurer of the SLUNBA, Lakmal Perera said that “once people lose their jobs, it is likely that they would come on to the roads and that will lead to a chaotic situation.

“We asked the government about this and they have no answer. There is no way that we can pay our loans with this contraction of the economy. We need an answer soon, when these people are on the roads the 225 MPs won’t be able to stop them,” he warned.

Vice chairman of the Association and President of the Vehicle Importers Association, Indika Sampath Merenchige also insisted that the government should talk to the business owners and give them a moratorium. If that did not happen, SMEs would be compelled to stop repaying loans.

“We give the government two weeks. We have employees that have been working with us for 10-15 years. They are a big part of how we have succeeded and survived. So, we can’t send them home. We have to somehow pay them. So, we have to stop paying loans,” Merenchige said.

Deputy Chairman of the SLUNBA, Susantha Liyanarachchi, who is also the Chairman of the National Construction Association of Sri Lanka (NCASL) said that there was a danger of a large number of garment factories leaving the country and as they couldn’t expect the cabinet that had been appointed to navigate the country out of the economic crisis.

“If garment factories leave, what will happen to foreign currency earnings?” he asked.

Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe said that the minimum economic activity would be experienced in the country in the next six to eight months.

“That means the economy will contract. We estimate that the economic contraction this year will be greater than any other time in post-independence Sri Lankan history. No one can bring down inflation below 30-40 percent in the next six months. People who are poor and vulnerable will be severely affected. Unless the government provides some support, the poor will find it hard to live,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that poverty levels would increase and when an economy contracted there would be a lot of unemployment, especially in the SME sector. (RK)

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