BASL Prez sets record straight
Govt-EC battle over LG polls:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) Saliya Pieris, PC, says the Election Commission (EC) has retained him as its Counsel as Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, does not appear for the EC in a fundamental rights case filed against the conduct of the scheduled local government polls.
The outgoing BASL Chief said so when The Island sought his response to accusations directed by SLPP Gampaha District MPs Sahan Pradeep Withana and Milan Jayatilleke regarding a secret meeting he had with the five-member EC and its Director General.
The EC consists of Nimal G. Punchihewa (Chairman), M. M. Mohamed, S.B. Divaratne, K.P.P. Pathirana and Mrs. P.S. M. Charles. Saman Sri Ratnayake functions as its Director General.
Pieris said that there was absolutely no basis for such allegations. “In fact, I have been retained by the EC in 2020,” the BASL President said. Pieris will continue in the current capacity till the BASL Convocation scheduled for March 25, 2023.
Kaushalya Navaratne was recently elected uncontested as BASL President after Sarath Jayamanne, PC, one-time Director General, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) withdrew his nomination. Incumbent Secretary, BASL, Attorney-at-Law Isuru Balapatabendi, too, was elected uncontested for 2023/2024 period.
Pieris said that DG, EC, didn’t even attend the meeting.
Pieris emphasised that the BASL is firmly of the view that the EC should be allowed to exercise its powers mandated under the Constitution and the law without interference.
In a statement dated January 11, 2023, the BASL asked the President and the Government to refrain from taking any steps which could be construed as an interference with the independent
functions of that Commission and with the exercise of the franchise by the people.
It warned of dire consequences in case the government interfered with the scheduled election.
In terms of the relevant laws, the LG poll could be postponed for a maximum period of one year.
EC sources said that as the last LG poll had been held on February 10, 2018 and Local Authorities constituted subsequently, the next poll was to be concluded by March 19, 2022.
Former Local Government Minister Roshan Ranasinghe had put off the election by one year and it was to be conducted and Local Government Authorities established by March 20, 2023, sources said.
Responding to The Island queries, sources said that the law allowed the EC to set the date for election after Sept. 20, 2022 as stipulated. Asked to explain, sources said that the EC received the authority to take necessary measures after completion of six months of the postponed period.
Minister Ranasinghe put off LG poll claiming the threat posed by Covid-19.
Acknowledging criticism directed at the EC regarding inordinate delay in issuing notice for LG polls, sources pointed out that if the election was called immediately after Sept 20, 2022, perhaps 250,000 to 300,000 could have lost an opportunity to exercise their franchise as the EC had to go by the 2021 Electoral Register.
The process was delayed to update the Electoral Register in terms of the relevant Act, sources said, adding that those who reached 18 could be accommodated thrice every year.
Having finalised the Electoral Register, the EC was to go ahead with other preparations when Premier Dinesh Gunawardena twice called EC members and DG, for talks last December at his office where the MEP leader explained the difficulties experienced by the government and the public in case LG poll was conducted.
Among the issues that had been raised by the Premier were the Advanced Level examination, retirement of public servants, economic crisis, shortage of printing paper, fog experienced in some parts of the country etc.
Subsequently, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has called for two meetings with EC members and DG, to repeat concerns raised by Premier Gunawardena previously. On both occasions, Premier Gunawardena has been present while AG Rajaratnam attended the second meeting chaired by President Wickremesinghe on January 05 at the Presidential Secretariat.
Sources said that scheduled polls couldn’t be postponed on the basis of division within the EC as whatever the differences they had to abide by the relevant Acts and laws.
These sources said that the AG’s refusal to appear for the EC should be examined against the backdrop of him questioning the EC over the process, particularly the decision to issue ‘call notice’ on January 04, 2023.
The government, in a bid to pressure the EC, pushed for the Treasury, the IGP and the Government Printer to declare their inability to facilitate the electoral process. However, the meetings called by the EC failed to cause the anticipated uproar as there was consensus regarding the need to conduct LG polls as scheduled.
Sources said that the process was on track and EC didn’t expect the government to cause further hindrance.
High Commissioner of New Zealand to Sri Lanka meets with the Chair of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus in Parliament & Secretary-General of Parliament
Michael Appelton, High Commissioner of New Zealand to Sri Lanka, accompanied by Andrew Traveller, Deputy High Commissioner, met with the Chair of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus in Parliament, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle MP, and Secretary-General of Parliament, Kushani Rohanadeera, recently.
During the meeting, the Ambassador emphasized that gender equality in politics is vital for the achievement of peaceful societies, the realization of full human potential, and sustainable development. He also stated that they have taken several initiatives to ensure equal women’s participation in the New Zealand Parliament.
Dr. Fernandopulle, MP, shared her concerns regarding the lack of gender sensitivity in Sri Lankan politics. She drew attention to the urgent need for a more inclusive political framework that ensures equal representation and participation for women.
The Secretary-General of Parliament affirmed that Parliament has taken actions to increase youth and women’s representation in committees and is currently working on improving disability access to Parliament.
Climate Change University to be launched next year
At the briefing on the progress of Climate Change and Green Growth held on Wednesday (31) at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo between President Ranil Wickremesinghe and officials of the Climate Change Secretariat led by President’s Adviser on Climate Change Ruwan Wijewardene it was revealed that the Climate Change University would be launched next year and that the University Grants Commission had identified approximately 130 scientists who have gained international recognition for their research on climate change who, together with their international affiliations would be brought together as part of the initiative.
President Wickremesinghe expressing his perspective on the International Climate Change University, emphasized that it should be a post-graduate institution solely focused on research which does not offer undergraduate courses. Any country or organization that contributes to the university becomes a stakeholder and gains membership on the Board of Governance. The Korean Exim Bank has expressed interest in partnering with the university and negotiations between Sri Lanka and the Korea Exim Bank, led by the External Resource Department have concluded successfully. The President said that prestigious institutions like Harvard and MIT have also expressed interest in collaboration.
The discussions also revolved around inviting a group of international experts from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, tentatively scheduled for July/August to engage in policy conversations, addressing global issues, and exploring potential research projects that could be derived from these policy dialogues.
President Wickremesinghe emphasized that all future research in the field of climate change should be conducted at this institution.
IUSF threatens showdown
By Pradeep Prasanna Samarakoon
The university system is facing a grave crisis as around 40 percent of the lecturers have left the state education system, says the Convenor of the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) Madushan Chandrajith.
Chandrajith said the ‘exodus’ of top academics would lead to a massive drop in the quality of education as most of those who have left are among the cream of scholars.Chandrajith said that about one-third of students in state universities, eligible for hostel facilities, did not have access to them.He warned that the IUSF will organise massive protests, in the coming weeks, if steps are not taken to resolve the many issues in the University system.
While the Mahapola scholarship has not been increased, the prices of food in the hostels have risen dramatically, he said.
“About 2,500 students in Kelaniya, 4,000 students in Rajarata and 6,000 in Peradeniya do not have hostel accommodation,” he went on to say..According to Chandrajith, a student needs about Rs 20,000 a month to meet basic needs.
“One requires about Rs 12,000 a month for food alone,” he said.
A senior official at the Ministry of Public Administration told The Island that some lecturers and doctors had a 100 percent attendance record but they avoided work.
“They are responsible for the attendance registry and they cook up the books to have full attendance. They take a lot of OT payments by doing this. We are looking at introducing a digital mechanism to mark attendance at universities and hospitals,” he said.
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