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Blaming postponement of LG polls on Omicron unacceptable – SJB

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‘PM, SLPP Chairman owe an explanation’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was frightened to face the electorate, hence the decision to postpone Local Government polls scheduled for late March 2022, top Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) spokesperson Mujibur Rahuman said yesterday (17).

Lawmaker Rahuman said so in response to Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Roshan Ranasinghe’s statement issued yesterday that the elections to 341 Local Government bodies had been delayed by one year. Pointing out that the State Minister initially declared that the Provincial Council polls would be deferred before correcting it that the government intended to put off Local Government polls fearing the Covid-19 spread, lawmaker Rahuman said that the people were being given the booster.

Government representatives and Health Ministry officials have said that the Covid-19 situation was under control, the former UNP MP said. If the situation was under control and the government felt confident to further relax Covid-19 health guidelines, there couldn’t be any justification in putting off scheduled polls on the basis of the threat posed by the global epidemic.

MP Rahuman emphasised that the parliamentary election was conducted in August 2020 in spite of Covid-19 spreading fast at that time. Having repeatedly declared that the ongoing vaccination programme had achieved the desired results, now State Minister Ranasinghe on the instructions of his political masters announced the postponement.

The government owed an explanation without further delay, lawmaker Rahuman said. “Let Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is the leader of the SLPP and the Chairman of the ruling party Prof. G.L. Peiris explain State Minister’s claim the scheduled Local Government polls cannot be held because of Covid-19, particularly Omicron.”

Rahuman said that the government recently allowed a four-nation football tournament and IPL cricket.

Responding to queries, the SJB spokesperson pointed out that the postponement of Local Government polls in the immediate aftermath of prorogation of Parliament meant the SLPP was in serious trouble. The MP explained the government had been beset by deepening turmoil within the parliamentary group over hotly disputed agreement on the Yugadanavi Power Plant.

MP Rahuman asked whether Foreign Minister Prof. Peiris, who had now taken over the finance portfolio, would take the responsibility for the deal now challenged before the Supreme Court. The MP insisted that the postponement of Local Government polls was nothing but political as the SLPP was struggling to cope up with the rapidly deteriorating situation on the political front.

MP Rahuman questioned the rationale in the Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa leaving the country for the US as the US energy deal now threatened the government. Having vowed that a near 2/3 majority in Parliament secured at the August 2020 parliamentary election, the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Oct 2020 and the passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill in May, 2021 would pave the way for an accelerated development programme, the government was now on the back foot, lawmaker Rahuman said.

The crisis caused by introduction of carbonic farming without making adequate preparations and spate of accidents resulted in by LPG gas explosions as well as uncertainty over the supply of fuel had a devastating impact on the population, the Colombo District MP said.

The SJB official attributed the current situation to Sri Lanka having to settle as much as over USD 900 mn in January 2022 to foreign lenders. Pointing out that the foreign reserves had been down drastically amidst foolish attempts to strengthen foreign reserves and attract foreign currencies, MP Rahuman claimed that the SLPP appeared to have decided against facing the electorate. The same applied to the much delayed Provincial Council polls, the MP said.

The yahapalana government, too, delayed Local Government polls and refrained from conducting the Provincial Council polls as it feared the public sentiments. MP Rahman represented yahapalana government.

He said that the SLPP’s political project had gone awry and the top leadership now was shy of facing the electorate.



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SC: Anti-Terrorism Bill needs approval at referendum and 2/3 majority to become law

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Certain sections inconsistent with Constitution

By Saman Indrajith

Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa informed Parliament yesterday that the Supreme Court (SC) has determined that some sections of the Anti-Terrorism Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and, therefore, the Bill had to be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum.

Rajapaksa said that the Supreme Court had determined that the Sections 3, 4, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 72 (2), 75 (3) and 83 (7) of the draft Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution.

The SC has determined that sections 3, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 75 (3) should be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum if they are to become law.

Sections 4 and 72 (2) of the Bill have to be amended as per the SC determination.

Section 83 (7) requires passage by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

However, the SC had stated that it could be passed by a simple majority if the recommended amendments are accommodated, Rajapaksa said.

Opposition MPs say the Anti-Terrorism Bill is being introduced in an election year to repress Opposition parties.They said the proposed law is a threat to democracy itself.

“This Bill is being presented not at a time of terrorism prevailing in the country but during an election period. The Bill has not defined nor analysed what a terrorist is. Anyone can be arrested,” SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said.

The MP said both the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the controversial Online Safety law were meant to quell democracy.

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Harin’s claim that SL is part of India: Govt. says it is his personal opinion

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Manusha accuses Wimal of having taken parts of Fernando’s speech out of context

By Saman Indrajith

Labour and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara told NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa in Parliament to refrain from taking chunks of others’ speeches out of context and misinterpreting them for political mileage.

The Minister said so following concerns raised by Weerawansa over a recent statement by Tourism Minister Harin Fernando on India-Sri Lanka relationships.

Weerawansa said that Minister Fernando had recently stated that Sri Lanka was a part of India. “Was it Minister Fernando’s personal opinion or the government’s official standpoint? Was it the opinion of the Cabinet?”

Chief Government Whip Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said what Minister Fernando had stated was the latter’s personal opinion.

Minister Nanayakkara: “If anyone has read the entire statement made by Minister Fernando this type of question would not have arisen. The Tourism Minister was referring to historical relationships between India and Sri Lanka to ask Indians to visit Sri Lanka.

A distorted version of the speech by Minister Fernando is being circulated on social media. Certain parts have been removed while some words have been introduced to this edited version. Ones should read the statement in its entirety to understand it. We have not discussed this in the Cabinet meeting” Minister Nanayakkara said.

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US backs Lankan journalists vis-a-vis Online Safety law

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Kumar Nadesan, Chairman Board of Directors of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (left) Elizabeth Allen ( Centre) and US Ambassador Chung (pic courtesy US embassy)

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Elizabeth Allen on Monday (19) declared US support for journalists here against the backdrop of enactment of ‘Online Safety Bill’

She spokes about press freedom and related issues at the Sri Lanka Press Institute Press Club.

A statement issued by the US Embassy quoted Allen as having said the U.S. Embassy is all in on supporting your incredible work. Sure, we might bump heads over a story now and then, but above all, we’re your biggest fans. We’re all in on programmes that hone your skills because we believe in your right to pursue journalism freely and fearlessly.

I want to thank you for protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists here in Sri Lanka and around the world, ensuring all citizens enjoy the right to express their ideas and opinions openly and freely. Even in difficult times, you continue to press forward and ask difficult questions. Your commitment to seeking out the truth and shouting it from the rooftops remains a democratic staple, and I truly appreciate what you do.

It’s only fitting that I begin my remarks this afternoon by telling a story that I think is relevant in light of today’s topic about the media’s role in a democracy.

Over a century ago, American media coined the term “muckraker” for journalists who delved into societal issues, exposing corruption.

Although the term carried a somewhat negative connotation, labeling these journalists as mere “gossip mongers,” today, we honor them as the pioneers of investigative journalism.

These muckrakers played a pivotal role in ushering in the Progressive Era, a time of significant social and political reform in American history.

Even President Theodore Roosevelt referred to them as “muckrakers,” criticizing their focus on society’s flaws through figures like Lincoln Steffens, whose work shed light on corruption and spurred a nationwide call for accountability and reform.

Steffens’ book ‘The Shame of the Cities,’ published in 1904, made him renowned for uncovering corruption within American cities, highlighting the nefarious links between political leaders, businesses, and organized crime.

His fearless journalism raised critical awareness about the urgent need for governmental and corporate accountability. Steffens wasn’t acting as a public relations officer for the government; his role was to uncover the truth; however unpleasant it might be.

Faced with the stark realities Steffens presented, American officials and the public were compelled to confront a pivotal question: ‘Is this the kind of country we aspire to be?’ The resounding answer was no.

Steffens’ work didn’t just expose wrongdoing; it sparked a nationwide demand for reform and played a crucial role in fostering a dialogue about the essential role of investigative journalism in ensuring power remains accountable.

This story showcases how freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not just fundamental human rights, they are also vital contributors to a country’s development and growth.

This brings me to my main point: how the global media space supports democracy and fosters peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

In my mind, the correlation is obvious: When a government constricts the rights and freedoms of its citizens, the future and the development of the country will naturally suffer.

Globally, we’re witnessing serious and escalating challenges to media freedom. The United States stands firmly for the freedom of expression, advocating for press freedom both online and offline, and ensuring the safety of journalists and media workers worldwide. Unfortunately, these essential freedoms are under threat globally, including concerns raised here in Sri Lanka.

When governments intensify efforts to withhold information from the public by restricting internet access and censoring content, we must speak up. Notably, when Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill in January, the United States voiced concerns over its potential effects on freedom of expression, innovation, and privacy.

It’s common to hear arguments against unfettered freedom of expression. Critics claim the media is biased, aiming to embarrass governments and undermine public trust. Others worry that without checks, freedom of expression may fuel the spread of misinformation. Some argue that an unchecked press can incite tension and compromise security. And there’s concern that continuous reports on corruption, violence, and political strife can tarnish a nation’s image, deterring investment and hampering development.

However, the media’s bias should lean towards the public’s interest, acting as a guardian to ensure that leaders fulfill their duties. This principle holds in Sri Lanka, the United States, and globally.

The challenge of negative press, often labeled as “fake news” or “biased journalism,” is not new. For generations, governments and the media have navigated a complex, sometimes adversarial relationship. This dynamic isn’t unique to any one nation; in the United States, for instance, presidents from both major political parties have experienced their share of friction with the press. This tension, a hallmark of democratic societies, plays a crucial role in fostering transparency and encouraging effective governance. It’s a familiar scene: politicians and journalists engage in heated exchanges, especially when leaders feel their actions are misrepresented, leading to accusations of inaccuracies and biased reporting.

The press’s duty is to deliver facts as they stand, shedding light on the government’s achievements as well as spotlighting areas where policies or programs fall short. This transparency not only informs the public but also strengthens the nation as it encourages constructive action and improvement.

And suppressing voices only complicates matters further. Attempting to conceal issues rather than addressing them is akin to hiding a broken tool rather than fixing it. True progress comes from collaborative dialogue, even if it means embracing the messiness of public discourse.”

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