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Constitutionality of bid to remove MP monk can be challenged – EC Chairman



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Election Commission Chief Nimal Punchihewa says that National List MP Ven. Atureliye Rathana thera can move the Supreme Court against ‘Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya’ decision to remove him from Parliament.

Attorney-at-law Punchihewa said that Ven. Rathana could seek Supreme Court intervention within a month after Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake received a letter from the relevant political party informing him of their decision to remove a National List MP.

Responding to The Island queries, Punchihewa explained the Constitution barred the Secretary General from taking action for a period of one month. In case, the MP monk refrained from moving the court, the Secretary General could act according to the request made by the party, he said.

According to Punchihewa, ‘Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya’ has written to the Secretary General on 16 Oct with a copy to him. He said that he received a letter dated 15 Oct from that political party informing him of the decision to remove Ven. Rathana. “That letter has been copied to the Secretary General. I immediately advised the Secretary, Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya that the letter should be addressed to the Secretary General as he/she exercised the privilege to declare a vacant seat in Parliament,” lawyer Punchihewa said. “If a vacancy is created due to the resignation or removal of an MP, the Secretary General will have to bring it to our notice.”

Punchihewa served as the Director (Legal) of the EC prior to being appointed as its Chief. Punchihewa succeeded Mahinda Deshapriya. The Elections Chief explained that in case Ven Rathana thera challenged the party in court, the action sought by them would be stayed until the judiciary decided on the matter.

The new EC named on Dec 3, 2020 comprises S.B. Divaratne, M.M. Mohamad, K.P.P. Pathirana and J. Thyagarajah. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed them for a five year term in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. However, Thyagarajah recently quit the EC to receive the appointment as Governor of the Northern Province.

Asked to explain the continuing crisis over the National List of ‘Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya,’ lawyer Punchihewa said that soon after the last parliamentary polls the then Secretary of that party, Wedinigama Wimalatissa thera wanted himself to be appointed the solitary National List member of the party.

Punchihewa said both Ven. Wimalatissa thera and Ven. Rathana thera battled for the seat. Some wanted Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara thera appointed as the National List MP of ‘Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya.’ However, Ven. Gnanasara couldn’t have been appointed as a person not in either a district list or a National List was automatically disqualified from receiving NL slot when original appointments were made, Punchihewa said.

Recalling Ven, Gnanasara thera had been on the rejected ‘Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya’ Kurunegala District list for the August 2020 general election, Punchihewa said that the EC was not aware of whatever the internal discussions regarding the appointment of Ven. Rathana, who contested the Gampaha district on ‘Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya’ ticket. The party failed to win a single seat though it repeatedly vowed to obtain over a dozen seats.

Ven. Rathana thera took oaths as an MP before Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on January 05, 2021 after ‘Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya’ announced his appointment on Dec 18, 2020.

The Secretary General of Parliament didn’t answer his mobile phone.

Punchihewa acknowledged that two other National List appointments had been challenged in the Supreme Court. The EC Chairman was referring to public litigation activist Nagananda Kodituwakku complaining to the Supreme Court in respect of the appointment of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Basil Rajapaksa on the respective National Lists of the UNP and the SLPP.

Of the 29 National List slots, the SLPP secured 17 seats whereas the UNP managed just one.

Ven. Rathana thera couldn’t be contacted yesterday afternoon.

Having first entered Parliament from the Kalutara district on the JHU ticket at the 2004 general election Ven. Rathana thera switched allegiance to the UPFA subsequently and entered parliament from the Gampaha district on the UPFA ticket at the 2010 general election. Ven. Thera aligned himself with the UNP ahead of the 2015 presidential election and secured a UNP National List slot at the August 2015 general election. Soon thereafter, the Ven thera switched his allegiance to the then President Maithripala Sirisena but ended up with ‘Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya’ at the August 2020 general election. That party hadn’t represented parliament, provincial councils or Local Government authorities at least on one occasion prior to 2020 general election.

Punchihewa said that he sincerely wished the New Constitution would ensure clear guidelines in respect of the appointment of National List members. There couldn’t be ambiguity in this regard, Punchihewa said, adding that the country couldn’t afford to allow controversies to undermine the public faith in the Constitution and the electoral system.

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Scotland Police to stop training Lankan cops



Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Concerns over the human rights record in Sri Lanka has led to the halt of the police training contract between the Sri Lanka and Scottish Police, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of the Scotland Police confirmed.

He said they have written to the British High Commission in Colombo to inform the Sri Lanka government that they are no longer planning to renew the training contract with Sri Lanka’s police force due to end in March next year.

The British Foreign Office reported last week that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation deteriorated during the first half of 2021.

The report said: “Security forces increased their surveillance and intimidation of human rights activists and their use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, with a number of arbitrary arrests.

The government proposed new regulations with powers to arrest and send individuals to rehabilitation centres to be ‘de-radicalised’ with no judicial oversight or requirement for further process.”

News of Scotland’s Police not renewing the contract was welcomed by critics of Sri Lanka including Mercedes Villalba who is a Scottish Labour politician who has been a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Scotland since May 2021.

British MPs and MSPs jointly sent a letter to the Scotland Police and the British High Commission in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago requesting them to stop the training programme.

Villalba was one of the signatories and after this announcement, she said “I have been pleased to support the campaigners and thank them for their tireless efforts in securing the commitment from the chief constable. I also want to thank Police Scotland for being responsive to the real concerns which were expressed about Sri Lanka’s record of human rights violations.”

Talking about the decision to stop training, Chief Constable Livingstone said that a review must be done to accurately reflect the current security and human rights issues in the region, which have changed since the initial deployment after the end of the Civil War in 2010.

“We remain of course committed to supporting the international development of policing services right across the world so that we can enhance and enable human rights and we can underline the values that we hold dear in Police Scotland of integrity, fairness and respect. Those values will always be at the heart of the work we deliver in Scotland and at the heart of everything we do internationally”, he added.

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Interfaith Week celebrated in London



Sujeeva Nivunhella reporting from London

A Pooja to celebrate Interfaith Week was organized here last week with the advice and guidance of Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Nayake Thera, head of the London Buddhist Vihara and the Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain.

This annual event begins on Remembrance Sunday, a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of the World War I to remember armed forces personnel who died in the line of duty. This tradition was inaugurated by King George V in 1919.

Adhering to the country’s Covid guidelines, this year’s celebration was held using Zoom technology on the theme “Altruism in each religion”.

Ven. Seelawimala welcomed everyone who joined the session. Notable participants of the event were Ven. Thawalama Bandula Thera, Ven. Kalugamuwe Kassapa Thera from London Buddhist Vihara, Dr Harriet Crabtree – Director of Interfaith Network, UK, Ranjish Kashyap, General Secretary/Director Hindu Council,UK, Dr. Pujya Samaniji Pratibha Pragya, who is a Jain nun from Harrow, Rev Gyoro Nagase, Japanese monk, London Peace Pagoda, Battersea, Dr Desmond Bidulph – Chairman of Buddhist Society and Charanjith and Ajith Singh MBE, Hounslow Friends of Faith, who represented the Sikhs.

All present chanted prayers according to their own faiths to eradicate human suffering, to have peace and especially to see an end to the pandemic situation in the world.

A pre-recorded video of Devotional Songs by London Buddhist Vihara Dhamma School Children was played at the event.

Interfaith Network – UK was founded in 1987 with representatives from the Buddhist, Bahai, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Islam, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities,

National and local interfaith bodies, academic institutions and educational bodies concerned with inter-religious issues are affiliated to the organization. Then head of the London Buddhist Vihara late, Ven. Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera was actively involved in forming the Network and was a founding member.

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Frankfurt Consulate massive white elephant, alleges Lankan living there



Foreign office looking at closing some overseas mission due to financial constraints

by Harischandra Gunaratna

Sri Lanka’s Consulate in Frankfurt has turned out to be a white elephant although the Sri Lankan government spends a whopping Rs. 200 million per year for its operations, Azad Shaukatally, a businessman and a Sri Lankan expatriate in Frankfurt told the Sunday Island.

“Over the years, this consulate has not contributed anything tangible to the country. All that has happened is successive governments appointing political loyalists to head the Mission. None of them have done anything concrete to promote business between the two countries,” he said.

According to him, the Mission could have contributed a great deal by promoting Sri Lankan exports and tourism as Frankfurt is the business hub of Germany.

“What actually happens is, the Consulate in Frankfurt simply replicates several tasks performed by the Embassy in Berlin and that’s it. But it cost the country exorbitantly without the knowledge of the authorities. This is sheer waste of national resources and it needs to be brought to an end,” Shaukatally said.

When the Sunday Island contacted the Foreign Ministry on the matter, its Acting Director General Sugeeshwara Gunaratna said: “The Foreign Ministry regularly evaluates individual performance of each Sri Lankan mission abroad, and constructively engages with them from time to time on specific issues or matters which are mutually beneficial in promotion of Sri Lanka’s bilateral and multilateral relations with the host country and various international organizations while ensuring best interests of the people of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan citizens living abroad.”

He said that any decisions related to opening of new missions or closure of particular Missions/Posts abroad including the Consulate General in Frankfurt would be taken after wider consultation with relevant stakeholders based on the relevance of each Mission/Post in promotion of Sri Lanka’s relations abroad.

“Under the current financial constraints, the Foreign Ministry is in the process of closing down some of the Sri Lankan Missions/Posts abroad after obtaining the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers. However, no final decision, has so far, been taken with regard to the Missions/Posts which would be closed down in the near future,” Gunaratna said.

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