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Midweek Review

Colombo Port City: Who can be entrusted with safeguarding Sri Lanka’s interests?

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

 

SLPP National List lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga, on Sunday (25) raised three issues in respect of the controversial Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission’, that had been challenged in the Supreme Court.

Addressing the media at the Sri Sambuddhajayanthi Mandiraya, lawmaker Cumaratunga expressed concerns over (I) the composition of the proposed Economic Commission (EC) with the focus on the President being the sole authority in deciding its members, (ii) authority over the newly reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green, and finally (iii) automatic approval granted to those making applications for projects through the EC.

Cumaratunga called the briefing in the wake of Friday’s (23) conclusion of hearing of petitions filed by those opposed to the project on the basis the Bill, as whole, is inconsistent with many provisions of the Constitution. There were also several intervenient petitions defending the Bill. These petitions were heard before a five-judge-bench comprising Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare, Justice Priyantha Jayawardena, Justice Murdhu Fernando, and Justice Janak de Silva.

 Cumaratunga, in addition to being an SLPP lawmaker, also expressed views on the Bill in his capacity as the Chairman of the nationalist civil society pressure group Yuthukama. Yuthukama is represented in the current Parliament by two lawmakers – Cumaratunga and Anupa Pium Pasqual who entered Parliament from the Kalutara district.

At the commencement of the briefing, the MP appealed to the media to ensure priority to the Port City issue though they could raise any other matter pertaining to simmering controversy over the Easter Sunday carnage, the Covid-19 rampage, and the developments since the Presidential Political Victimisation Commission handed over its report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Dec 8, 2020. 

Having compared the proposed Bill, with two concept papers submitted during the previous UNP-led administration, and the current, on Sept 09, 2019 and June 16, 2020, respectively, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the failure on the part of those who prepared the Bill, at issue, to take into consideration the salient points therein.

The arch nationalist emphasized the responsibility on the part of the SLPP government to take remedial measures on its own, in respect of the Bill, regardless of the position taken by the Supreme Court. With the country crossroads, in the wake of implementation of the mega project, the government couldn’t, under any circumstances, shirk its responsibility to introduce the required changes, he argued.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to convey its ruling to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

Out of the 145-member SLPP parliamentary group, lawmaker Cumaratunga is the second to express concerns over the Bill. Having fired a broadside at the Bill, Colombo District SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, represented Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Nayaka Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Sri Abhayarama Purana Viharaya and President of the Public Service United Nurses’ Union, Sri Abhayarama, Narahenpita, and Nagashenage Dasun Yasas Sri Nagashena, of 90/12, Gramasanwardana Road, Polwatta, Pannipitiya.

Former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, Dr. Rajapakse’s written submissions in respect of the case filed against the Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Disanayake, and Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, depicted a far more serious picture than lawmaker Cumaratunga’s criticism.

Having found fault with the incumbent administration for placing the responsibility of naming the EC on the President, MP Cumaratunga stressed that the appointing process should be subjected to parliamentary supervision. The lawmaker pointed out the concept papers presented by the previous government and the present, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, underscored the need for the EC to consist of Sri Lankans. Referring to the concept paper presented on June 16, 2020, Cumaratunga said that it proposed the appointment of 10 members, including the Chairman of the EC. The Yuthukama Chief asserted that the issue at hand could be resolved by ensuring the majority of appointments to the EC, depending on the number, be placed under parliamentary supervision whereas the President/the minister in charge of the Port City, too, could make appointments. However, all should be Sri Lankans whereas required foreign experts could be hired for suitable positions, including that of the Director General.

MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in giving the sole authority, as regards appointments, to the President, or the minister in charge, in case the government brought the Port City under a particular Ministry.

Cumaratunga pointed out that the Office of the President shouldn’t be the sole decision-making authority, as elections were held every five years. Referring to statements as regards the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) law, introduced by late President J.R. Jayewardene, in 1978, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that over the years there were many amendments to the Constitution. The government member expressed the view that the Bill, at issue, couldn’t be discussed taking into consideration JRJ’s law. The Constitution, the lawmaker emphasized, had undergone far reaching changes with the enactment of the 17th (Oct. 2, 2001) 18th (Sept. 10, 2010) 19th (April 28, 2015) and 20th Amendments (Oct 22, 2020) Amendments. Therefore, the incumbent government couldn’t go back on those Amendments, the MP said, pointing out that the two concept papers submitted in terms of the 19th and 20th Amendments envisaged the EC being subjected to the supervision of the Constitutional Council and the Parliamentary Council, respectively.

The 20th Amendment did away with the 10-member CC thereby passing the responsibility to the five-member Parliamentary Council. MP Cumaratunga explained that in terms of those concept papers mentioned, the officials who should be appointed to the EC. They included Governor, Central Bank, Secretary to the Treasury et al.

 

Parliament shirks its responsibilities

 Before discussing concerns in respect of the Bill, at issue, raised by nearly 20 petitioners, including lawmaker Rajapakse, it would be pertinent to take up the failure on the part of those responsible to ensure financial stability. The country is experiencing severe difficulties for want of financial discipline, at every level, with the Parliament yet to take tangible remedial measures. The revelations made by House parliamentary watchdog committees, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), as well as the Public Finance Committee (PFC), since the last general election, painted a bleak picture. The situation is so bad, a guarantee that the EC would comprise only Sri Lankan nationals holding responsible positions does not promise a clean administration. It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lankans, being at the helm of the EC wouldn’t necessarily guarantee safety, security, political stability and uppermost the country’s interest without oversight.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s hard hitting speech in Parliament, last Friday (23), painted a grim picture of the national economy. The JVPer didn’t mince his words when he named those allegedly responsible for massive waste, corruption and irregularities during successive governments.

Dissanayake pointed out how wrongdoers continued to enjoy political power, regardless of their public exposure. Lawmaker Dissanayake’s fiery speech highlighted Sri Lanka’s overall failure to tackle corruption, now, possibly, even threatening the very survival of the country. The JVP leader cited the Treasury bond scams, perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016, as well as the massive sugar tax scam executed by the present lot. Reference was also made to the payment of a staggering USD 6.5 mn in 2014 to US national Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, of Indian and Pakistani origins, to lobby the US Government to save Sri Lanka from human rights scrutiny by Washington. The then Rajapaksa government wired a total of USD 6.5 mn to a venture capitalist and political fundraiser who was sentenced recently to 12 years in a federal prison in the US on charges of embezzlement.

According to the US Department of Justice, Sri Lanka hired Zuberi of Arcadia, California, in 2014, to improve the country’s image in the United States, in the wake of investigations undertaken by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. Of course, in this instance the then government would have turned to a questionable lobbyist out of sheer desperation, like a drowning man clutching at a straw, as the powerful West piqued by the ignominious defeat of the LTTE at the hands of our security forces, which they had always claimed were incapable of defeating it, was and still is out to punish us for defying their mantra. 

Zuberi had promised to make substantial expenditures on lobbying efforts, legal expenses, and media buys, which prompted Sri Lanka to agree to pay Zuberi a total of USD 8.5 million over the course of six months, in 2014. But actual payments amounted to USD 6.5 mn.

Examination of recent statements, issued by the Communication Department of the Parliament, pertaining to proceedings at the COPE, COPA and PFC, chaired by Prof. Charitha Ratwatte, Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, respectively, revealed the absence of proper scrutiny at any level in all sectors. Let me briefly discuss the shocking disclosure of the happenings at the Football Federation of Sri Lanka at the recently concluded COPE proceedings. The watchdog committee questioned a range of irregularities during the tenure of Attorney-at-Law Manilal Fernando as its President. And, finally, he was forced to quit because of those controversial dealings. The COPE queried how a sum of Euro 40,400 (approximately Rs 6 mn) received from the Italian Football Players’ Association to construct a football ground in his home town, Kalutara, ended up in Fernando’s private account. Prof. Herath’s committee also questioned the misappropriation of a sum of USD 60,000 (nearly Rs 6 million) provided by the Asian Football Federation to conduct competitions, a sum of Rs.10 mn given by a private company to construct 20 houses for tsunami victims and a sum of USD 200,000 donated by the Asian Football Federation.

 It also transpired, during the COPE proceedings, that the current President of the Federation, Anura de Silva, has submitted an affidavit to the court claiming that financial irregularities hadn’t taken place in spite of the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) moving the courts. The committee pointed out the seriousness in submitting such an affidavit.

 In addition, it is reported that Anura de Silva now wants to quit from the post of President of the Sri Lanka Football Federation to make way for Manilal’s son to climb to that post!

 Prof. Herath directed both Manilal Fernando and Anura de Silva to appear before COPE on May 06. COPE also dealt with controversial circumstances under which elections to the Football Federation of Sri Lanka was conducted with the Chairman of the Elections Committee as well as two other members given Rs 750,000 and Rs 600,000 each, respectively. The crisis at the Football Federation of Sri Lanka should be examined against the backdrop of the disgraceful conduct of the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) administrations.

Over the past couple of decades, under the watch of successive governments, the financial discipline has deteriorated to such an extent that the national economy is in deepening turmoil. Therefore, the Port City undertaking is a vast challenge that requires the highest consideration and, under any circumstances, the public shouldn’t be duped by the promise that Sri Lankan nationals, holding responsible positions at the helm of the EC, would ensure the best interests of the country.

 

Wijeyadasa isolated

 Contrary to lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s high profile stand as regards the Port City project, the SLPP constituents endorsed it. The National Freedom Front (NFF) parliamentary group threw its weight behind the Port City project. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), too, defended the project while those appointed on the SLPP National List, except Yuthukama leader Cumaratunga, refrained from causing any friction. However, Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, who had represented both the SLFP and the UNP cabinets since his entry into parliamentary politics, pursued his agenda.

 Let me verbatim the section headlined ‘Threat to the National Security’ in Dr. Rajapakse’s written submissions to the SC: “The zone has been exempted from the Customs Ordinance. The Customs is debarred from exercising its powers within the Zone and the people in the Zone. There may be importation of prohibited substances, such as drugs, weapons, etc. The South jetty of the Colombo Port is situated, adjoining the said Zone, and it is controlled by the company belonging to the Chinese government.

As the proposed Commission is formed, in the event of any violation or disregard of International Charters and Treaties including, UN Charter, UN Charter for Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity within the said zone, the Sri Lankan State is responsible, not the purported commission.

There is a turmoil situation prevailing in the region, as well as in the World, due to the power struggle between China on one side and India, the USA, Europe, Japan on the other side. This kind of unprecedented facilitation to China would undoubtedly expose the whole country and the whole nation to danger. When presenting Bills of this nature, it is necessary to take geo-political factors into consideration.

In the course of argument, it was submitted that the government of Sri Lanka could not be able either to resist and control the import of any prohibited substance, including weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, atomic, multi-barrel, etc., as the operation of the Customs Ordinance is excluded. On 21st April, a ship loaded with Uranium, meant to be used for nuclear, which belongs to China, docked at the Hambantota Port by misleading the Authorities. The Government was able to direct it to leave the Port because that power of the government was preserved in the Agreement. But the present Bill does not contain any such safeguard.

One must not forget that the Colombo South Jetty is adjoining the zone. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that the Chinese government will not resort to such devastation, compelling the other super powers to destroy the economy of the country and to expose national security to danger.

The total consideration of the Bill, as a whole is inconsistent to the rudimental principles of our Constitution and it shall be ruled out ab initio.”

 Former Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, in a recent interview with the writer over the phone, pointed out how Sri Lanka lost the strategic Hambantota port, to China, in 2017, and was now about to suffer a similar fate as regards the Port City project. Ranatunga recalled how the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration went ahead with the Hambantota project in spite of him giving up the Ports and Shipping portfolio. The country would one day pay a very heavy price for irresponsible actions of politicians and officials, the outspoken defeated UNP candidate, at the 2020 August general election, told the writer.

 

 



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Midweek Review

India’s role in re-moulding the SAARC

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Making sense of regional integration in South Asia:

 

By Dr Srimal Fernando

Regional integration and cooperation have proven to be vital in dealing with political and economic challenges that cannot otherwise be dealt with effectively

In a national context, India’s unique positioning in the South Asian region has influenced the responses of the other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states regarding regional cooperation. Hence, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation SAARC’s strength and effectiveness are reliant not only on the organization’s institutional capabilities but also on the stableness of the member states that are less powerful and the security issues that appear at both the regional and extra-regional levels. For the South Asian region to attain successful regionalism, the less powerful countries in the region will need to espouse India’s power. Given that the South Asian nations share close cultural, historical and social ties, it becomes almost impossible to isolate them. In South Asia, India controls a greater proportion of the trade surplus and informal trade with other nations in the region. It can be debated that India’s policies on regional cooperation and SAARC has been symbolic of a worldwide approach in addressing the problems in a region.

India’s strategic location could provide the impetus required for promoting meaningful regional cooperation. Hence, India should renew its interest in promoting the agenda for regional cooperation and also engage in developing greater ties with other SAARC member states. Given India’s power, it can cause significant implications for SAARC’s political and economic structure. Hence, it is vital that India proactively advances both inter-regional as well as intra-regional integration in the economies of the region. A close evaluation of SAARC’s context indicates that there is insufficient commitment amongst its member states in pushing forward the regional integration agenda.

 

India and the South Asian Regionalism agenda

In South Asia, India is seen as a major player in the sphere of promoting initiatives for regional cooperation. Interestingly, the concept of establishing a regional identity in South Asia to boost intra-regional cooperation can be traced back to the endeavours of pre-independent India. India’s foreign policy had been progressively shaped by the Non-Alignment principles from the time of the Afro-Asian movement in achieving its objectives. Subsequently, this Nehruvian approach to regionalism has been succeeded by new regionalism in South Asia, which has seen a redirection in India’s approach towards this concept. India was also part of the Bandung Conference of 1955, which predominantly is considered to have paved the way for regional cooperation in Asia and South Asia. Subsequently, over the years, India has taken an active role in the SAARC initiatives.

Consequently, India recognized the proposal made by President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh for the creation of a regional platform which identified numerous areas of cooperation. The establishment of SAARC came to be seen by India as a remedy to the strained political posture in South Asia, and since then, India has emerged as an influential member state of the organization. Nevertheless, finally India was convinced about the potential economic advantages that cooperation could bring about by merging most of the South Asian economies at that time. Although the areas of cooperation were limited to a few spheres such as technical cooperation during the initial years of forming SAARC, India subsequently came to fully accept and support the proposal for founding SAARC.

Eventually, given India’s strategic importance in the region, it became crucial for the country to actively participate in the joint initiatives for cooperation in the region. A striking feature of the region’s political and economic dynamics has been India’s political and economic dominance in contrast to the unequal levels of development among the other SAARC member nations.

 

India and Regional Economic Integration in South Asia

India’s economic dominance over the rest of the SAARC member states can be crucial in unifying the rest of the South Asian nations under a single umbrella. Given India’s role in promoting trade and attracting foreign direct investment, it can be said that regional integration has been an essential part of its foreign policy. This is notably significant to India, given that the dynamics of globalization and cross-border value chains are crucial for a state’s economy.

India’s magnitude as well as its economy, which is the largest in the region, provides the country an advantage over the other member states of SAARC. India has a Gross National Product (GNP) which is almost three times the total national product of the other SAARC member states. Being a vital player in the region in advancing regional prosperity and in reviving SAARC, these elements have vested India with high prospects. Subsequently, this has led India to be actively engaged in fostering regional cooperation through numerous endeavours to promote growth and development in the region. This has been further assisted by India’s strategic positioning which makes it possible for the nation to trade with its neighbours. Notably, India accounts for 80 percent of all intra-regional trade in South Asia.

In spite of these developments, the disproportionate distribution of trade advantages, that frequently favours India owing to its economic supremacy, has caused inequalities among the SAARC nations. Consequently, the prospects of India playing a leading role in fostering regional growth and development have been riddled with suspicion and fear of India’s dominance over the smaller and weaker economies of SAARC. Moreover, there exists immense prospects for improving political and economic ties amongst SAARC member states and the rest of the world. Accordingly, one of the critical developments in regional politics in the past three decades can be considered to be the emergence of regional cooperation institutions such as SAARC. Hence, nearly all of the South Asian countries have been encouraged by this development to embraced regionalism. However, the extent to which India and the SAARC nations can remain committed towards implementing regional initiatives under the SAARC framework is yet to be seen, given the rapid proliferation of regional arrangements and manifold memberships between India and the rest of the SAARC nations within such arrangements.

 

New Regionalism in South Asia

A close evaluation of SAARC indicates that there is insufficient commitment among its member states towards pushing forward the regional integration agenda. However, despite many challenges, SAARC’S continued existence for over three decades since its formation provides new prospects for improving the organization. Hence, it is vital that India takes on an active role in advancing initiatives in the region as a mode of reaching high GDP rates and trade growth.

In addition, given that the South Asian region is considered to be one of the least integrated regions of the globe, it is crucial that India is robust in promoting both inter-regional as well as intra-regional integration in the economies of South Asia.

About the Author

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O. P Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’

 

 

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Midweek Review

House seeks public views on ‘the role of an MP and aspirations of the people’

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Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, at the inauguration of a three-day capacity building programme for the Staff of Secy Gen of Parliament, at CITRUS Hotel, Waskaduwa, in early March 2016. The USAID funded the programme meant to promote much touted good governance. Training of parliament staff was part of an overall project worth Rs 1.92 bn.

By Shamindra
Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is in deepening turmoil. Political parties are in disarray, with the country’s two major political parties – the United National Party (UNP) reduced to just one (National List) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) 14 (one National List/13 on the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket), respectively. Leaderships of those parties have caused so much damage to their parliamentary groups, over the years, that both are unlikely to recover for a long time.

Unfortunately, the SLFP’s offshoot the SLPP, and the breakaway UNP faction the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, are struggling to cope up with the deteriorating political environment. Overall, the country is in disorder with political parties, beset by internal conflicts, pulling in different directions, whereas the status of the Parliament remains questionable.

Lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s assertion that Parliament is the most corrupt institution in the country cannot be dismissed. The declaration made by President’s Counsel Rajapakse, in response to a query by the writer, at a media briefing, called by him, at the Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF), in June 2019, highlighted the unprecedented crisis. Having made that declaration, as a UNP lawmaker, Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s own political future, as a member of the ruling SLPP, is uncertain today against the backdrop of him moving the Supreme Court against the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill – whatever the court ruling may be. In a way, one-time BASL (Bar Association of Sri Lanka) President Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s plight reflected the growing instability and insecurity, in general, mainly brought on by the unprecedented pandemic, in living memory, but amplified by the unabated immoral political shenanigans.

The whole political setup seems to be in a dilemma. The House couldn’t have picked a better time to launch the second volume of an academic journal, titled ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’, to discuss a range of topics which dealt with parliamentary matters. The themes are (1) Constitution and Amendments to the Constitution (2) Representative Democracy and the Committee System (3) Legislative Functions of Parliament (4) Parliament and the Endowment of its Citizens (5) Standing Orders, Members’ Conduct and Parliamentary Procedures (6) Electoral System, the Parliament and Public Outreach (7) Parliamentary Reporting and Mass Communications (8) Sustainable Development Goals and the Parliamentary System (9) New Trends in Sri Lankan Women Politics and finally (10) The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People.

The Communications Department of the Parliament called for submission of articles, in all three languages (3,000 to 5,000 words each), to: journal.slparliament@gmail.com by, or before, May 21, 2021, after having informed the relevant officer, handling the project, on weekdays, on 0112 777328, of their desire to furnish articles.

The writer feels the entire gamut of issues, at hand, can be addressed by dealing with only the final topic: ‘The Role of an MP and aspirations of the People.’ The Communications Department assured those interested in submitting articles that their work would be reviewed by a panel of experts.

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is at a crossroads, with the SLPP bent on further consolidating executive powers, whereas the other political parties sought to dilute the powers enjoyed by the President. The Role of an MP and aspirations of the people, or any other relevant topic, cannot be discussed unless all stakeholders acknowledge the failure on the part of Parliament to fulfill its two primary obligations. There is no point in denying the fact that Parliament pathetically failed to ensure financial discipline as well as enactment of required laws to combat it. If Parliament achieved its objectives, or at least, made a genuine effort over the years, there wouldn’t have been a need for projects such as ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’ Would the expert panel accept the brutal truth?

 

Timely setting up of Communication Department

Can Parliament, as the supreme law-making institution, absolve itself of the responsibility for the deterioration of every sector, through sheer negligence? Thanks to the setting up of a proper Communication Department, the public, to a large extent, gets to know what is going on. The Communication Department, so far, has dealt quite professionally with proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and the Public Finance Committee (PFC) thereby giving the public a clear idea as to what is really going on. The coverage of COPE, COPA and PFC proceedings disclosed a pathetic state of affairs. Waste, corruption irregularities and negligence seem to be the order of the day.

Let me briefly discuss the shocking revelation made by COPE proceedings on Feb 12, 2021, just to underscore the public dilemma. COPE examination of the Education Ministry reveals that the National Child Protection Policy is yet to be implemented though the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has been in existence since 1998. COPA Chairman Prof. Charitha Ratwatte, serving his first term as a National List lawmaker of the SLPP, stressed the need to implement it without further delay.

According to a statement issued by former journalist Shan Wijetunga, Director, Communications Department, COPE directed Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera to expedite the process. During the proceedings, the revelation of the failure on the part of the NCPA to furnish its 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports to Parliament, is also a grave embarrassment. The Education Ministry owed an explanation how NCPA, an institution under its care, brazenly neglected its responsibility. Would you believe the NCPA’s Legal Section comprised just two employees and just one to handle complaints? The COPE placed the number of complaints that hadn’t been addressed, by January 1, 2021, at a staggering 40,668.

Perhaps ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ should include an additional topic to address the plight of the hapless children for want of a responsible Parliament. Can Parliament explain how it failed to take remedial measures in respect of NCPA? Let me stress, The Island dealt with the Feb 12 COPE proceedings only. If one examined the entire lot, the public would curse those who had served successive governments over the years. The NCPA/Education Ministry’s failure seems relatively light when compared with the shoddy handling of almost all other key ministries.

Against the backdrop of such poor performances by Parliament, the House itself should examine a high-profile costly project, implemented by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), during previous administration. The USAID was launched in late Nov 2016 with a Rs. 1.92 billion (USD$13 million) partnership with the Parliament of Sri Lanka to strengthen accountability and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.

According to the American aid agency, the three-year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) was meant to improve strategic planning and communication within the government and Parliament, enhance public outreach, develop more effective policy reform and implementation processes, and increase political participation of women, and underrepresented groups, in Parliament, and at local levels.

Nearly two years after the conclusion of the project, wouldn’t it be necessary to examine whether the USAID project did any good? Did the USAID project make a tangible change? If not, who benefited from the Rs 1.92 bn project? These questions need answers. Perhaps, the issue can be dealt by some of those who will contribute to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’

 

Why not examine the Rs 1.92 bn

USAID project?

Karu Jayasuriya, who accepted the USAID project, in his capacity as the Speaker, at that time, (with the consent of the then President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP), owed an explanation as regards how US funding benefited the country. Interestingly, KJ today heads the NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice), the brainchild of the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, who spearheaded a political campaign that brought the Mahinda Rajapaksa government down. Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya took over the NMSJ, in the wake of Ven Sobitha’s demise, in early Nov 2015, before giving up the post to pave the way for KJ. The civil society organization NMSJ accommodated KJ in the wake of the former Speaker quitting active politics. But the irony is, it must be noted that NMSJ, too, is involved in anti-government politics to its neck.

‘The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People,’ the last topic offered by Parliament to those interested in contributing to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha,’ would be an ideal opportunity to discuss how the political party system mercilessly failed the country. While the vast majority of people struggled to make ends meet, the political class, and their crowd, enjoyed life at the expense of the national economy. Political parties plundered the country with impunity, regardless of the consequences.

The deterioration of parliamentary standards today cannot be compared with any particular post-independence period. That is the undeniable truth. It would be pertinent to mention that lawmakers should be held accountable for massive waste, corruption, irregularities as well as negligence revealed by COPE, COPA, and PFC. Examine how the mega sugar duty scam, perpetrated by the incumbent administration, cost the Treasury dearly. Can the Finance Ministry absolve itself of responsibility, whoever ordered it do so?

Serving Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, recently commented on the role of the judiciary, vis-a-vis the Executive and the Legislature. Both the Executive and the Legislature should take note of the President’s Counsel’s assertion. The courts had quite justly come to be regarded as the sentinel over the powers of the legislature and the executive in Sri Lanka in order to safeguard the rights of the citizen, under the law and the Constitution, the Attorney General Dappula de Livera has said on March 23, at the ceremonial sitting of the Court of Appeal.

The ceremonial sitting was held to welcome, His Lordship Justice Arjuna Obeysekere as the President of the Court of Appeal, Her Ladyship Justice Menaka Wijesundera, their Lordships Justice Nihal Samarakoon, Justice Prasantha de Silva, Justice Mohamed Laffar, Justice Pradeep Kirthisinghe, Justice Sampath Abayakoon and Justice Sampath Wijeratne as Judges of the Court of Appeal.

Just a week after the AG’s extraordinary declaration, at a ceremonial sitting many an eyebrow was raised when he had to intervene in respect of a Colombo High Court ruling, pertaining to two narcotics cases.

The PC moved the Court of Appeal in revision of two bail orders of the Colombo High Court 04 as regards detection of 65 grams and 485 grams of heroin.

Following the AG’s intervention, the Court of Appeal stayed bail being granted to the suspects. The AG intervened after a State Counsel assigned to Court No 04 challenged the granting of bail.

Of the seven High Courts in Colombo, two Courts, namely No 04 and 05, have been assigned the additional task of dealing with bail applications.

Newly appointed Court of Appeal judge Menaka Wijeyasundera issued the stay order pending further investigations. The Attorney General’s Department examined the cases pertaining to bail applications handled by both Colombo High Courts before the intervention was made.

Democracy cannot thrive unless the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary work for a common agenda. The much-touted ‘One Country, One Law’ concept would never be a reality if the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary pulled in different directions, whoever wielded political power. In the absence of a common objective to lift the living standards of the public, in a stable environment, whoever exercised political power, the country will remain in simmering turmoil.

If one genuinely examines the topics acceptable to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ he or she will quickly realize the entire parliamentary system is in a mess. In spite of introducing 20 Amendments to the President JRJ’s dictatorial Constitution enacted in 1978, the very basis of the law is mired in controversy. And in some cases, the role of lawmakers has been questioned.

 

Ranjan’s removal et al

SJB lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake losing his Gampaha district parliamentary seat, over contempt of court charges, the arrest of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen for allegedly aiding and abetting, Easter Sunday bombers, the CID investigation into a complaint as regards SJB National List lawmaker Diana Gamage’s nationality, controversy over SLPP lawmaker Premalal Jayasekera, sentenced to death over 2015 killing, taking oaths, dismissal of murder charges against Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, MP Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan as well as termination of proceedings by the Attorney General and CIABOC in respect of several other lawmakers highlighted the crisis the country is in.

The fact that the incumbent government enacted the 20th Amendment to the Constitution with the backing of the ACMC, as well as the SLMC, whose leader and Attorney-at-Law Rauff Hakeem has been pictured with Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim’s brother, Mohammed Rilvan, recuperating in a hospital from injuries he suffered while testing a bomb in 2018, painted a bleak picture. High profile accusations and still unanswered questions raised by SJB lawmakers, Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando pertaining to alleged involvement of some members of the intelligence services in the Easter Sunday carnage, shocked the community. Such accusations should be examined. Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for turning a blind eye to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recognizing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE) as the sole representative of their community. Parliament never bothered to raise this issue with TNA. How come a recognized, political grouping recognized proscribed organization as sole representative of their community. Perhaps, the now banned National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) tried similar tactics, in 2015, when it sought to infiltrate Parliament. The NTJ secured an electoral alliance with the UNP-led political alliance, ahead of the 2015 general election, and was cunning enough to secure a National List place for one of Sri Lanka’s richest traders, Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, whose sons, lham and Insath carried out the bombings of the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels.

The Parliament, as the lawmaking institution, should undertake a genuine examination of its shortcomings. The House should discuss ‘ The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People’ the last topic offered by ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ as part of the overall efforts to streamline the parliamentary process.

The political process, adopted in respect of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments, revealed that such politically motivated strategies wouldn’t work. Those seeking to enact a new Constitution should realize that the passage of a new Law, only on the basis of a two-thirds parliamentary majority, wouldn’t ensure the much desired political stability, especially in the face of the daunting Covid-19 challenge. All four above mentioned Amendments were introduced as part of a political strategy, pursued by those in power at the time of the enactment.

Some of those who voted in early 2015 for the 19th Amendment, depicted as the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills in 2020 backed the 20th brought in at the expense of the previously enacted Amendment. Beleaguered former President and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena excused himself from voting for the 20th Amendment last Oct, whereas his MPs did. The SLPP has no qualms in securing the passage of the 20th Amendment with the backing of the SLMC and the ACMC, having lambasted them in the run up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 general election.

Those exercising parliamentary powers and privileges should realize that real power can be achieved through genuine consensus. Political tools, such as urgent bills, will only serve limited purposes and even if succeeded in depriving the Opposition, the civil society and the media from playing their classic role, there cannot be certainty in the final outcome. Parliament should take note of the BASL statement, dated April 15, issued by BASL Secretary, Rajeev Amarasuriya, in respect of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission. Let me produce the relevant section verbatim. It stated: “On the 8th of April 2021, just fifteen (15) calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette, the Bill was placed on the Order Paper of Parliament. In terms of the Constitution, a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill has to do so within one week from the Bill being placed on the Order Paper of Parliament.

The Executive Committee of the BASL is extremely concerned about the limited time given for scrutiny and discussion of this important Bill, as well as the timing of placing the Bill on the Order Paper of Parliament, which was after the suspension of sittings of the Supreme Court, a time when many members of the legal profession are unavailable. Furthermore, the period of one (1) week within which such a Bill could be challenged before the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality, included not only the weekend but also three public holidays. Thus, the members of the public have been deprived of a meaningful opportunity to scrutinize the Bill and to discuss its merits.”

The way Parliament handled the 2015 and 2016 Treasury bond scams and the shocking revelation that some lawmakers, on both sides, received donations from the disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) tarnished the image of the House beyond salvation. Having funded a high profile good governance project, the USAID totally turned a blind eye to the Treasury bond scams! So, we will end this with the warning written by Virgil more than 2000 years ago; “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.

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Midweek Review

CAS for our secondary school students   

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by Anton Peiris
B.Sc. (Ceylon), PGCE (Kenya), M.Sc. (London ), DAES (York). Emeritus Coordinator, International

Baccalaureate, Switzerland.

 (Reduce O/L STRESS (continued): The package of 7 subjects plus computer skills plus CAS is designed to impart an all-round education.)

CAS was introduced to 10 schools in Europe, the UK and North America by the International Baccalaureate Organisation in 1970.  By 2010 it had spread to more than 5,000 Secondary and High schools worldwide. Now it is Sri Lanka’s turn to introduce it. CAS should be compulsory for all Senior Secondary students (i. e. Grades 10 – 12).

It is something that is done outside school hours.

 

C = CREATIVITY : 

That is, learning to play a musical instrument or taking lessons in oriental dancing or Art or Music or taking part in a theatre production or singing in a choir or doing Painting or Sculpture or pursuing a Hobby like stamp collection or carpentry or metal work or motor mechanism or photography or aeromodelling or playing chess or bridge or poker, etc.

 

A = ACTIVITY: 

Playing cricket or football or basketball or badminton or tennis or netball or volleyball or hockey or swimming or athletics or any other sporting activity.

 

S = SERVICE  : 

For example, giving Tuition in English or Mathematics to a weak student from a poor family or to a handicapped child for free ( no fees charged ) for 45 minutes during a weekend or baking a cake to sell the cake slices at a fundraising event for a worthy cause or visiting an orphanage occasionally and playing a musical instrument to entertain the poor orphans or taking a handicapped person (in a wheelchair) to the cinema, or visiting a handicapped or old or retired  person or couple living alone and reading a short story to them or informing them of the local / international news items once a month, etc. That is, to undertake a project that often involves community service. 

It is not necessary to do a Service activity every week. The aim should be to do it at least three times during the year.

The students playing for the school cricket team or any other sports team have already fulfilled their Activity component of CAS. Similarly, the students who are members of the school band or dramatic society have already fulfilled their Creativity component. If a group of students take part in a particular community service project, then all the members of the group have fulfilled their Service component. 

Some students take part in Service projects in their Temple or Church. These also count as Service activities for CAS.  

It is the duty of the teachers to provide the students with some guidance on the choice of suitable Service projects. CAS should be an enjoyable experience for the students.

CAS should be monitored by the school for each student. Each school should appoint at least one CAS Coordinator, i.e. a competent teacher. He/she should not be a full-time teacher because it is a post of responsibility requiring many hours of work per week both inside and outside the school hours. A CAS Coordinator should be paid a salary equivalent to that of a Deputy School Principal. 

The CAS Coordinator must ensure that, at the end of Grade 11, every student has worked on Creativity, Activity and Service for at least one year.

There is a school in Sri Lanka that has a strong CAS programme for A / L (IB) students: The Overseas School of Colombo in Battaramulla. The senior officers of the Ministry of Education should visit this school and meet the CAS Coordinator.   

About 35 years ago, a teacher in the Overseas School of Colombo discovered that a village school, a few kilometres away from Battaramulla, had only a well and no tap water and there was no pipe borne water nearby. A CAS project was organised to provide the school with a water pump, a water tower and tank. To raise the required money, the students organised bake sales, staged a theatre production, donated part of their pocket money and solicited donations from parents and their employers.

A parent who was a civil engineer drafted the plans and a group of Advanced Level (IB) students spent a few hours during their weekends mixing cement, bricklaying, etc., (all under expert supervision ). Senior students in the village school also took part in the manual work. The project was completed and the school had tap water in the school premises. The grateful village headmaster brought the OSC students and their CAS Coordinator in Perahara with drummers and Kandyan dancers for the opening ceremony. 

Those OSC students (most of them foreigners) not only fulfilled the Creativity and Service components of their CAS requirement but also acquired an ‘awareness of a common humanity and social responsibility ‘.

CAS will provide our students with the joys of childhood and school life that they have missed and also equip them with qualities like empathy and love of neighbour. 

Long live CAS! 

 

(To be continued.

Next instalment: A solution to the problem of extra heavy School Bags. The writer has taught O/L, A/L and IB mathematics and physics for 45 years in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Switzerland.) 

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