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AG’s submissions to SC on 20 A:

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Govt. ally, NFF, protests against dismissal of its proposals

By Shamindra Ferdinando

General Secretary of the National Freedom Front (NFF) S. Wijayasiri, on behalf of its leader Wimal Weerawansa, in a letter to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has warned of dire consequences, if the government went ahead with the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution regardless of growing public opposition.

Colombo District MP Weerawansa said that his party wouldn’t accept responsibility for political fallout if the government refused to heed advice.

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) parliamentary group comprises five NFF lawmakers, including one National List member.

Referring to Attorney General Dappula de Livera’s assurance to the Supreme Court regarding amendments that were to be made to the 20th Amendment at the Committee Stage in Parliament, the NFF pointed out that none of those critically important recommendations made by Weerawansa to a 9-member committee appointed by the Premier were accommodated by the Attorney General.

The NFF expressed serious concern over what the party called the following three vital points ignored by the government (1) Depriving the Auditor General of his right to examine accounts of those enterprises in which the government held controlling shares (ii) re-introduction of urgent bills and (iii) paving the way for dual citizens to contest parliamentary polls instead of extending the prohibition to those receiving diplomatic postings and other senior public sector appointments.

Appreciating Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa being sensitive to concerns raised by constituents of the SLPP as well as the public, the NFF said that refusal on the part of the government to heed such criticism would be detrimental to the administration.

The NFF assured the Prime Minister that it would take into consideration the ongoing anti-Sri Lanka and anti-government project in progress while deciding its stand on the 20th Amendment. In spite of sharp differences over the proposed piece of legislation, the NFF reiterated its commitment for the protection of the government and the mandate received from the people.

Weerawansa was represented in the 9-member committee that was led by Education Minister who is also the Chairman of the SLPP Prof. G.L. Peiris. Nimal Siripala de Silva and Udaya Gammanpila represented the SLFP and the PHU, respectively in the committee appointed by the PM that drew up some changes to the proposed 20A.

Weerawansa is the first party leader to publicly express concern over the government refusal to take their concerns as well as those of the public amidst the ongoing Supreme Court hearing of petitions filed against the 20th Amendment. Hearings commenced on Sept 29. The Supreme Court is constitutionally responsible to rule on the petitions by or before Oct 12. Among those 39 petitions filed against the 20th Amendment was one by Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, member of the Election Commission (EC).

The NFF appreciated efforts made by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa to reach consensus among SLPP constituents on the proposals made by the NFF and other members of the Prof. G.L. Peiris’ committee.

Meanwhile, PHU leader and attorney-at-law Gammanpila told The Island that there was no basis for speculation that the government was having talks with the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) to secure its backing for the passage of the 20th Amendment. Gammanpila said that there were no negotiations with ACMC leader Rishard Bathiudeen whatsoever. The minister said so in response to The Island queries as to whether his party would change stand taken jointly with the NFF in the run-up to the general election that they wouldn’t accept Bathiudeen in the cabinet under any circumstances. The Island sought an explanation from Gammanpila how the public perceived Internal Security Minister Chamal Rajapaksa meeting Bathiudeen in Vavuniya close on the heels of the former minister’s brother Riyaj who had been held in custody for more than five months under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in connection with his alleged involvement in 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.

ACMC parliamentary group consists of four elected on the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) ticket at the 2020 August general election.

Opposition political parties, civil society and other interested parties have sought the Supreme Court intervention expecting a referendum in addition to 2/3 majority in parliament as proposed by the Attorney General.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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premanath-c-Dolawatta

SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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