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Counsel for petitioners stress need for protecting media freedom

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20A before SC

* 19A adopted without referendum; 20A seeking to replace it needs only 2/3 – lawyers for ministers

By Chitra Weerarathne

Media freedom should be safeguarded in the future. The 19th Amendment protected media freedom. New laws should not obstruct it, Sanjeewa Jayawardene, President’s Counsel yesterday told the Supreme Court.

President’s Counsel Jayawardene appeared for two petitioners. The matter before the Court is the constitutionality of the Bill in reference to Articles 120, 121 of the Constitution.

In Sri Lanka the people were supreme. Unlike in India, where the Constitution was supreme, the counsel argued.

The state media was an instrument of the state unlike the private media, he said.

“The Election Commission is duty bound to hold a free and fair election.”

The State cannot issue guideline on private media, on the time to be allocated to different candidates. In the 19th Amendment Bill, According to the Section 26, the chairmen of the state and private media were made duty bound to comply with guidelines declared as regards, the Counsel said.

In the 19th Amendment Bill, when the people exercised franchise, under clause 4(c), they have to make an intelligent choice. “The state media is controlled. Then the private media could provide information to the reader.”

The media was linked to the exercise of franchise. The private media could help the people select candidates within the scope of truthful publicity, the counsel said. A licence under Rupavahini Corporation Act is needed to publish/ broadcast. But false publicity is not allowed. But it a dangerous to have to be controlled strictly by the state.

“In the 19th Amendment there is no interference in media freedom even in respect of state controlled media,” counsel Sanjeewa Jayawardene said.

Article 4(c) and Article (10) were violated by the 20th Amendment. The 19th Amendment did not violate media freedom. It should be maintained likewise in the future as well, he stressed.

Intervenient petitions were taken for hearing. There were seven of them among them was one by Professor G.L. Peiris, the present Minister of Education and Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.

President’s Counsel, Gamini Marapana PC, supported the application by Professor G. L. Peiris.

The 17th Amendment was amended by the 19th Amendment because it violated franchise. It was not approved by the people at a referendum. Similarly, all the provisions of the 19th Amendment which is to be amended by the 20th need not be presented to the people at a referendum.

Amendment introduced by a special majority need not necessarily be placed before the people at a referendum to be enacted, he argued.

Chapter (12) of the Constitution explains that certain Amendments could be dealt with without a referendum.

“The provision of our constitution are amendable, according to the 13th Amendment. There need not be a referendum. The Indian Constitution was different to our constitution. A provision in the constitution could be amended by court and Parliament, without a referendum.

“19th Amendment was determined by the Supreme Court. It did not go before the people,” counsel argued.

“It is illogical to say that to remove that amendment you should go before the people.”

Counsel said that former President Maithripala Sirisena had said in public that the 19th Amendment had taken power from the President and that had made the government weak. This has been referred to following the Easter Sunday bomb blasts. The President and the Prime Minister had been pulling in different directions.”

Because of the 19th Amendment the President, who is the commander-in-chief could not be the Defence Minister, the Counsel pointed out.

In several aspects, the President from 1978 Constitution up to 2015 enjoyed greater authority over the Parliament than in France.

Now it may referred back to the 1978 situation with a two-thirds majority in Parliament. In this country there is provision to repeal the entire Constitution unlike in India.

The bench comprised the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justice Buwanaka Aluwihara Justice, Sisira De Abrew, Justice Priyantha Jayawardene and Justice Vijith K. Malalgoda.

The Attorney General, Dappula De Livera PC, appeared for the state.

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Current wave of COVID-19:

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AG asks police to probe alleged negligence of Brandix, others

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has called for an immediate investigation into circumstances that led to the coronavirus eruption at the Brandix apparel manufacturing facility at Minuwangoda early this month.

AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne told The Island that a progress report had been called  by or before Nov 13.

The AG stepped in amidst Opposition political parties, both in and outside Parliament questioning the failure on the part of health authorities to establish how the eruption had taken place.

Instructions were issued yesterday (27) when the AG summoned DIG Ajith Rohana, a senior officer in charge of the police Legal Division. The State Counsel said that the AG wanted the Brandix management, its agents and government servants probed as regards their negligence and carelessness.

Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera recently told The Island that they were yet to ascertain the cause of the current wave. Health Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Sujeewa Munasinghe said they had probed several leads and were now close to bringing the inquiry into successful conclusion.

Both Dr. Samaraweera and Head of the National COVID-19 Task Force Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva have said the 39-year-old Brandix employee who was the first to be tested positive is not the patient zero as regards the garment cluster.

The AG intervened in the absence of a police investigation into various accusations regarding the second wave with the number of positive cases rapidly nearing 9,000.

Brandix, in response to The Island queries, has assured that it followed health guidelines when 341 workers attached to its facility in India and their families were repatriated in three batches. The company said that it would fully cooperate with government authorities inquiring into the outbreak.

The Opposition lambasted the government for the deteriorating situation during last Friday’s debate on the epidemic now threatening to overwhelm the health facilities.

JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe yesterday said that a comprehensive inquiry was needed to establish the truth. (SF)

 

 

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An Open Letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: 

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Don’t try to sign agreements in secret

Issued by the Sri Lanka
Study Circle 

We, the members of the Sri Lanka Study Circle in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement – the largest organised grouping of Nations after the UN – that initiated a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1971 which was unanimously adopted by the entire World to make forever the Indian Ocean a zone of peace within which area no Nuclear weapons whatsoever would be permitted are a bit confused about the status of your visit to Sri Lanka due to a lack of transparency. 

Initially, your embassy in Colombo, when questioned about rumours of a possible visit by you to our country, denied those rumours. Several days later, the embassy made an announcement that you would be visiting our country for a day. 

We surmise therefore that you are visiting our country, not at our invitation but at your request, at a time when the ugly head of COVID is raising its head once again due to, what appears to be, the criminal negligence of a Company funded and mentored by your Government. 

We must express our dismay and protest that the forerunners to your visit have dampened the spirit and purpose of your visit by flagrantly violating the basic health guidelines, required to be followed by all entering our country, to bring under control the pandemic which has caused thus far the deaths of 218000 people in your country. 

 We trust that you and your entourage would subject yourself to the mandatory health checks, especially travelling from India which ranks number two, next to your country, in the number of COVID related deaths. 

We note that your visit has been preceded by many communiques appearing in the media.  

To comment on some of them: You seem to harbour an illusion that your country and ours has a common vision. No, we do not have a common vision; your country is a Capitalist country where the engine of growth is the private sector. Ours, Mr. Pompeo, as per our Constitution and the thinking of our people, is a Socialist State where, in perfect harmony with Buddhist principles, public interest prevails over private interest.  

The factors of production like Land are held by the State and not private individuals. That is why MCC goes against the very grain of Sri Lankan thinking, Buddhism and culture and does not have the people’s mandate. 

You have ‘advised’ our Government to take necessary and difficult decisions to secure her economic independence. Mr. Chairman MCC, we request you to keep your unsolicited advice to yourself. We are indeed sorry if some members of our country had portrayed themselves to you, as imbeciles. The majority of them are not capable of sagacious and independent thought.   

You seem to suggest that some of our donors’ conditions are not transparent and our discriminatory. In fact this is the very criticism the people have levelled against the MCC ; it is very discriminatory and the least transparent. The people of this country have yet to see the draft MCC document in the language they understand, Sinhala and Tamil. 

‘US officials warned the Sri Lankan Government who they team up with for their economic partnership’. Mr. Pompeo, if that is a threat you can go to Mars; you could spend your time more profitably over there. We are aware that you were refused an audience with the Pope and we are acutely aware that you have endorsed the torture going on in Guantanamo Bay and that you hold a view that the hell-hole you forcibly occupy there should not be shut down. 

It is laughable that you allude to debt diplomacy of some other countries. Does it not make you laugh that the US offers a gift horse – as your acolytes would say- worth 480 Million USD when the US has a sovereign debt of 26 Trillion USD. Amidst this debt from where did you get this pottage and why not use this amount to reduce your own debt? 

 ‘Secretary Pompeo will travel to Colombo to underscore the commitment of the United States to a partnership with a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka and to advance our common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.’ 

Hitherto, your military reach in the Pacific was limited to the South-east Asian Countries because the Pacific ended there. The Indian Ocean was untouched and the littoral states in the Indian Ocean declared the Indian Ocean, a Zone of Peace.  

What you are now attempting to do is extend the Pacific Ocean to include the Indian Ocean.  

As a first step, you have artificially made two Oceans one, by calling it the Indo-Pacific Ocean. And the second step is to extend the militarisation of the Pacific Ocean to cover the ‘Indian Ocean’ portion of the Indo -Pacific Ocean.  

This is where the MCC, the ACSA, the SOFA and the QUAD fit in. This is how, in our opinion, the US would militarily ‘Pivot-to-Asia’ 

You have the gumption to say ‘free and open’ Indo Pacific Ocean when in the seas around the American Continents you restrict naval activity by applying unilaterally a doctrine, the Monroe doctrine. 

Make no bones about it, the Indian Ocean, Mr. Secretary, is a nuclear Free Ocean, and an Ocean of Peace. Sri Lanka is a committed Non-Aligned State and not a Neutral state. Some novices are confused about this. 

 If you wish to speak with Sri Lanka come in Peace and we shall talk. We shall talk openly and transparently. Do not attempt to sign Agreements in Secret because they do not have the mandate of the People.     

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CEJ warns of danger to health from lead in paints

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By Ifham Nizam

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) yesterday urged the public to be vigilant about the lead content in consumer items. Dilena Pathragoda, CEJ Managing Director said that most old buildings still had old paint with high lead levels.

Addressing the media at an event to mark the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action he said that some Sri Lankan companies dump lead contaminated liquid waste into our water ways without following the proper procedures.

CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage said: “In Sri Lanka, lead concentration in paint has been limited by the Consumer Affairs Authority as a result of a case filed by the CEJ in 2011. Accordingly, enamel and floor paints can have only 600ppm of lead while the limit is 90 ppm for emulsion and paints used on children’s products. This law came into effect from January 1, 2013. It is also mandatory to declare on the label if the paint is lead safe.”

Withanage added that it was the consumer’s duty to check for the lead level before purchasing paint. He added that many countries in the region had now reduced the maximum permissible lead level to 90 ppm in all types of paints. It was time to introduce more stringent standards for Sri Lankan paints, he said.

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent and irreversible brain damage in children, resulting in reduced Intelligence quotient (IQ), reduced attention span, impaired learning ability and increased risk of behavioral problems.

In adults it can affect reproduction, endocrine or the hormone system and the cardiovascular system. Research shows that the main source of lead poisoning is paint. The oil-based paints that are commonly known as enamel paint, floor paint, anti corrosive and lacquer contain high lead levels. These paints are commonly found on walls of preschools and childcare facilities, children play areas, furniture, baby cots and some toys.

In addition, researchers have revealed that lead is found in some imported plastic and rubber toys, stationery, paints on porcelain, cosmetics and artificial jewelry. People working in; e-waste recycling plants, lead-acid battery/ car battery recycling plants, metal smelting, construction and demolition work are highly vulnerable to lead exposure.

 

 

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