… can Parliament ensure two processes do not clash
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Controversy surrounds the recent appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to examine proposals pertaining to election laws and make appropriate amendments to the Constitution as a nine-member committee, appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, neared work on the formulation of a new draft Constitution.
Romesh de Silva, PC, heads the nine- member expert committee.
The first meeting of the PSC chaired by Foreign Minister and Leader of the House of Parliament Dinesh Gunawardena was held on May 17 in the House. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena named the 14-member PSC on May 5.
The PSC consists of Nimal Siripala de Silva, Prof. G. L. Peiris, Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi, Douglas Devananda, Wimal Weerawansa, Ali Sabry, Jeevan Thondaman, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Kabir Hashim, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Mano Ganesan, M.A. Sumanthiran, Madhura Withanage and Sagara Kariyawasam.
Those involved in the new Constitution-making process told The Island that the PSC on May 17 requested for public proposals in this regard before June, nearly four months after the Election Commission submitted its own recommendations to the nine-member committee.
The nine-member committee consists of Romesh de Silva, PC, Gamini Marapana P.C., Manohara de Silva P.C., Sanjeewa Jayawardena P.C, Samantha Ratwatte P.C, Prof. Naazima Kamardeen, Dr. A. Sarveswaran, Prof. Wasantha Seneviratne and Prof. G.H. Peiris.
Those political parties that had been represented in the PSC as well as not included in the outfit conveniently refrained from at least raising the possibility of the parliamentary body making an unnecessary intervention, sources said. Asked for a clarification, sources pointed out that all political parties and others interested in making recommendations to the nine-member committee had time and the space to do so.
Sources said that the appointment of the PSC should be examined taking into consideration the nine-member committee in the process of formulating an alternative electoral system based on the submissions received.
Declaring the government was aware of the proposed alternative electoral system, sources said among those who made representations were several representatives of the government, including leader of the PSC on Electoral Reforms Dinesh Gunawardena and National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa.
Asked whether the ruling SLPP had submitted proposals to de Silva’s committee, sources said that submissions weren’t made orally or in writing . The committee report would be submitted to the head of the Cabinet who is the President, sources said. Sources pointed out that both the Chairman of the SLPP and its General Secretary and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam had been accommodated in the PSC. Sources explained that the appointment of a PSC to propose amendments to electoral system was quite questionable when the government repeatedly declared both in the run-up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary elections that it intended to enact a new Constitution after the passage of 20th Amendment.
The government secured an overwhelming two-thirds majority for the 20th Amendment in Oct last year.
Shan Wijetunga, Director – Department of Communication, Parliament, in a statement issued on May 19 stated that the Secretary to the PSC and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament and Chief of Staff Mrs. Kushani Rohanadeera, on behalf of the Committee, has requested the public and any interested party to submit their proposals to the Committee in writing or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Wijetunga quoted Mrs. Kushani Rohanadeera as having said: ” If the PSC wished to obtain oral evidence from those who had made submissions, the relevant parties would be summoned to appear before the Committee in due course.”
A source pointed out a new process was being undertaken amidst an unprecedented crisis caused by the eruption of Covid-19 epidemic and at a time further restriction of Parliamentary proceedings and related activities. The General Secretary of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and member of the PSC on electoral reforms Ranjith Madduma Bandara on Sunday (23) acknowledged him being in self-imposed quarantine after SJB leader Sajith Premadasa was tested Covid-19 positive.
sought an explanation from Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, as regards the functioning of the nine-member committee appointed by him last year and whether the PSC would undermine the process, the Minister said that Romesh de Silva’s committee was appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his recommendation. Minister Sabry said: “The nine-mmeber committee asked for a three-month extension in March and was given by the President. Once the committee submitted the proposed draft, it will be discussed in Parliament so we get maximum possible consensus.”
Minister Sabry, who is a member of the PSC said that it had been appointed by the Speaker to exclusively look at the electoral reforms. “Hopefully, it will complement the final draft constitution rather than serving as an obstacle,” President’s Counsel Sabry said.
Other sources said that at the PSC’s first meeting held on May 17 some members had expressed concerns over the absence of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the committee. The SLMC and ACMC parliamentary groups comprised five and four members, respectively. Sources said that the Chairman of the PSC Minister Gunawardena pointed out that as the Muslim community was being represented there couldn’t be any issue. Both the SLMC and the ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket.
DG Information ignorant of basic election laws and regulations: ECSL
by PRIYAN DE SILVA
The Election Commission (EC) has expressed its disappointment at controversial statements made by some public officials about elections. It says some top government official, including the Director General of Government Information, are not familiar with the basic election laws and regulations laid down in the Constitution.
The EC says it may be due to his ignorance that the Director General of Government Information has issued the Special News Release, on 29 January, claiming that ‘the gazette notification, with the signatures of the Chairman, and other members of the Election Commission, required for the commencement of the Local Government Election process, has not yet been sent to the Government Press for printing’. The EC has said such notices have to be signed and sent by the relevant Returning Officers in accordance with section 38 of the Local Authorities Election (Amendment Act) No 16 of 2017, and not by the members of the EC.
The EC has confirmed that the notices from the Returning Officers were sent to the Government Press on Monday (30).
The EC’s Media release also points out that the DGI may be unaware that Article 104GG of the Constitution states that if any public official refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to comply with the Commission he or she has committed an offence.
Article 104GG of the Constitution says: (1) Any public officer, any employee of any public corporation, business or other undertaking vested in the Government under any other written law and any company registered or deemed to be registered under the Companies Act, No. 7 of 2007, in which the Government or any public corporation or local authority holds fifty percent or more of the shares of that company, who – (a) refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to cooperate with the Commission, to secure the enforcement of any law relating to the holding of an election or the conduct of a Referendum; or (b) fails without a reasonable cause to comply with any directions or guidelines issued by the Commission under sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (4) or sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (5), respectively, of Article 104B, shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand rupees or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
AKD says no improvement at Sapugaskanda oil refinery since it went into production in 1969
The capacity of the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery (SOR) has not increased since it was established in 1969, National People’s Power (NPP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says.
Speaking at a public rally recently he that in 1969, the SOR used the most advanced technology available at the time.
“CPC started construction in 1968 and SOR started operations, refining oil, on August 5th, 1969. During that time, the CPC could refine 50,000 MT of crude oil. 55 years later, the capacity remains the same. In 1969, the CPC started with the most advanced technology available at the time. Technology has improved now. We are still refining oil with 1969 technology,” he said.
Dissanayake said that Sri Lanka built a fertiliser factory to use the byproducts of the refinery and, in 1982, a newspaper reported that 5000 MT of urea, produced by that factory, was exported to Pakistan. Today, that factory is closed.
“The CPC also had a nylon factory, as a subsidiary. We built our own nylon thread fish nets. By-products of the refinery were used as pesticides and insecticides for our pineapple and flower production. Those factories were closed, too. We had a candle industry from the by-products, we produced lubricant oil. It was sold to American Caltex. Refinery produced fuel for airplanes. It has the capacity to sell USD 1.4 million worth airplane fuel per day. We can buy crude oil, refine, and sell to ships. These are opportunities we must use to earn foreign currency. Recently this section of the CPC was privatized,” he said.
The ruling class has failed to secure even the most important assets, he said. Agriculture, land, gems, ilmenite, our natural resources, so will these rulers protect what is left, he asked.
“They have absolutely no plan to build this country. Selling our resources, closing down factories and selling valuable machinery is what they know. Every government has taken part in the destruction of the refinery. This is why we need a change in the economy. We need to transform our economy. Only NPP can do that,” he said.
The NPP leader said that the existing constitution concentrates too much power in the hands of the executive president. Sri Lanka has had this executive presidential system for 40 years and executive power was used against the people, repressing them.
“Our economy was destroyed. It has done no good to this country. One man cannot develop the country. Individuals have capacities and limitations. We need to unite our capabilities to govern this country. It’s a collective effort and the NPP is the only party to undertake it. That’s the point of difference. There are talented people from all fields like history, economy, mathematics, law and so on. There are lawyers, university academics and professionals. The government has to unite these capacities and talents to bring optimum results for the country. NPP will do that. For that we have to abolish executive presidency and rewrite the constitution vesting more powers in the Parliament. We will bring about this change,” he said.
Dissanayake said an NPP administration will limit the number of Ministers to 18. He added that crossovers have distorted the democratic system and corrupted the political culture.
“People vote for them in one party but for money and positions they change political allegiance. This has become a public nuisance. Some MPs demand ransom to stay in the party. We will add a provision to the Constitution to ban crossing over,” he said.
JVP: Where are President’s influential foreign friends?
By Rathindra Kuruwita
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who assumed duties, claiming that he had very influential friends overseas, now claims he can hardly afford to pay government servants, National People’s Power (NPP) MP Vijitha Herath says.
“If anything, things are worse than before. The government is afraid of the people and is trying to postpone elections,” Herath said, adding that the March 09 local council election would mark the beginning of the end for the Ranil-Rajapaksa administration.
Herath said so addressing an NPP election rally recently.
“They will no longer be able to pretend that the people are with them. Not that they have any legitimacy, locally or internationally, but the level of their unpopularity will be seen on 10 March,, when the poll results are announced” he said.
Strong winds over Eastern, Uva, Western, Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces and in Galle, Matara, Mullaitivu, Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts.
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