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Controversy over PSC on electoral reforms amidst formulation of draft Constitution

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… 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 sec.pscelectionreforms2021@parliament.lk .

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.

The Island

 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.



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Debt-ridden CEB goes ahead with shocking pay hike amidst pandemic

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Workers offered 25% increase this year…12% annually over three-year period
 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two days after the Presidential Secretariat stated that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) owed two state banks––Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank, a staggering Rs 85 bn, the cash-strapped enterprise announced an annual 12 percent salary increase to its employees.

Vijitha Herath, Chairman, of the CEB, yesterday (15) said that the salary increase in terms of the collective agreement for 2021-2023 period would enable the workers to receive 25 per cent in the first year whereas annually it would be 12 percent over a period of three years.

The ministry said that in spite of severe difficulties caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic, the salary increment was granted in response to workers’ request.

Declaring that the Cabinet and the Board of Directors of the CEB had approved the salary increase, the ministry has sought cooperation of the CEB trade unions to finalise the collective agreement.

The ministry claimed that CEB workers had been granted a spate of privileges not given to other state sector employees hence consensus on collective agreement was expected soon.

The Presidential Secretariat on Sunday explained that one reason for the banking sector crisis was the failure on the part of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the CEB to settle Rs 562 bn and Rs 85 bn, respectively.

The Presidential Secretariat issued the statement in the wake of SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, triggering a political storm by demanding Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s immediate resignation over recent increase in fuel prices.

The CEB Chairman also claimed that they had been able to bring down the accumulated losses to Rs 56 bn last year from Rs 97 bn in the previous year.

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Indian fishers riled by SL moves to create new fish breeding grounds

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

 

Fishermen from Rameswaran will hold a protest today (16) against Sri Lanka’s decision to submerge 20 old buses in the seas off Jaffna to create breeding grounds for fish.

Members of 17 fisheries associations in Tamil Nadu and Rameswaran claim that this will affect their yield as more fish will be attracted to the breeding grounds created by submerged buses.

The Ministry said that sinking those buses was nothing new and that such buses provided a hard surface for invertebrates to live on, some of which could not live on the sand bottom that is naturally there.

“Some fish are not fast swimmers, so they need a structure to provide both food and shelter; they wouldn’t, for example, be able to outswim a shark, but they could duck into the shelter instead,” a Sri Lankan fisheries association representative said.

However N. Devadas, the head of the Indian fishermen’s association in Rameswaram, said that they would also hand over a petition against that decision to the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka has been submerging old SLTB buses in the deep sea for many years as a part of the Deep Sea Fish Development Project.

 

 

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Three more weeks needed to see drop in COVID deaths – Dr. Fernandopulle

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It would take at least three more weeks to see a drop in COVID-19 related deaths in the country, Minister of COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle said yesterday.

There had been a drop in the number of cases reported already, she said.

“The number of patients is coming down but there has been an increase in deaths. However, this too will come down.

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