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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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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka

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Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour

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Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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COPF uncovers major failings in online visa procurement process

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Harsha de Silva

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), chaired by Dr. Harsha de Silva, released a critical report revealing major discrepancies in the procurement process and agreement with a Consortium, comprising GBS Technology Services, IVS Global-FZCO, and VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Issuing a press release, MP de Silva said the Committee’s findings highlight significant concerns and recommend urgent corrective actions.

The COPF found that the company got the deal through an uncompetitive Procurement Process

“The Consortium was appointed without a competitive bidding process, preventing the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DOIE) from securing the best value for money.

“Proposals were submitted before finalising the System Specification Requirement (SSR), raising concerns on procedural integrity.

“Critical Issues Identified:

Unclear Fee Structure: Lack of transparency in fee components, including discrepancies in service fees and convenience fees.

“Data Breach and Termination: A significant data breach was reported by a major travel vlogger in May 2024 potentially triggering a termination clause.

“Conflicting Exclusivity: The exclusivity granted to the Consortium contradicts the presence of existing service providers and the recommendation by the evaluation committee.

“Uninvested Funds: The USD 200 million investment promised to Cabinet remains uninvested and not mentioned anywhere in the agreement.

“Terminated Service Provider: Mobitel, the previous ETA service provider since 2012, submitted multiple proposals for system improvements and a comprehensive proposal for new services was overlooked.

“Recommendations:

Comprehensive Forensic Audit: The COPF recommends that the Auditor General undertake a comprehensive forensic audit of the entire procurement process. This audit should be completed at the earliest opportunity to serve as the foundation for necessary actions, which could include abrogating or amending the Consortium Outsourcing Agreement.

“Data Protection Measures: The COPF urges the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), DOIE, and the Sri Lankan Data Protection Authority to review the KPMG report and take immediate and decisive actions to ensure the complete security and protection of all data handled through the ETA application process.

“Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of COPF, stated, “The absence of a competitive bidding process in the procurement of online visa services has likely resulted in an agreement that does not provide the best value for money. Our findings call for immediate action by the Auditor General to address these critical issues and ensure transparency and accountability, which could even mean abrogation of this agreement.”

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