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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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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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