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Dinesh admits Parliament yet to address longstanding issue

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Dereliction of duty in public sector:

Auditor General suggests remedial measures to punish culprits

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Auditor General W. P. C. Wickramaratne says the National Audit Act and the Standing Orders 120 and 121 of the Parliament should be amended to curb waste, corruption and irregularities in the public sector.

Wickramaratne emphasised the urgent need to address the issue at hand as the country experienced the worst-ever post-independence economic downturn.

Wickramaratne said that he had recently discussed ways and means of addressing the issue with the chairmen of the two parliamentary watchdog committees, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) headed by Prof. Charitha Herath and Prof. Tissa Vitharana, respectively.

The AG said so when The Island sought his response to Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena’s recent admission in Parliament that recommendations made by the watchdog committees as well as the Committee on Public Petitions hadn’t been carried out by officials. The Education Minister, who is also the leader of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), blamed the crisis on the inadequacy of constitutional and legal powers in place.

Minister Gunawardena acknowledged that in spite of the issue at hand being raised in Parliament on many occasions, it hadn’t been addressed. He said so when some members of the Committee on Public Petitions complained about the failure on the part of the officials to carry out specific recommendations.

AG Wickramaratne said that his Department could take action in that regard if the watchdog committees made specific recommendations in respect of the surcharge. However, both the National Audit Act and Standing Orders 120 and 121 should be amended to provide the required authority to the Auditor General, Wickramaratne said.

Responding to another query, AG Wickramaratne stressed that the Secretaries to the Ministries in their capacity as the Chief Accounting Officers were responsible for implementing the recommendations made by the watchdog committees. The watchdog committees summoned state sector enterprises on the basis of reports prepared by competent officers of the AG’s Department, Wickramaratne said.

“We, too, participate in the proceedings chaired by Chairmen of the watchdog committees. Therefore, the findings cannot be disputed by any party. What the watchdog committees regularly issue is information that can be the basis for legal proceedings,” the Auditor General said.

Wickramaratne received the appointment as the AG in April 2019. According to Wickramaratne, the AG’s Department could impose surcharge on Local Government authorities therefore it would be quite important to expand the scope of their authority. The AG reiterated his concerns over their failure to secure parliamentary approval for the National Audit Bill in its original form.

The Parliament passed the National Audit Bill with amendments in early July 2018. Unfortunately, the provisions relating to the proposed surcharge et al had been deleted in spite of determined efforts made by the AG’s Department during the tenure of Gamini Wijesinha to have the Bill enacted in its original form.

Wickramaratne emphasised the urgent need to strengthen the state sector revenue collection process while tough measures were taken in respect of those who caused losses to the State.

He explained how the enactment of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Oct 2020 further weakened the overall state auditing process much to the dismay of his department. The forthright official called for enhancement of revenue collection measures, consolidation of state revenue and necessary amendments to face the daunting economic challenges.

Making reference to COPA reports based on AG’s Department findings, Wickramaratne said that it wouldn’t be too hard to recognize the longstanding shortcomings and the lapses. COPA Chairman Prof. Vitharana explained the far reaching changes required to streamline the Customs, the Inland Revenue and the Exercise Departments key institutions responsible for state revenue collection.

Minister Gunawardena has told members of the Committee on Public Accounts that they should look into the matter as successive Parliaments failed to take remedial measures. The Colombo District lawmaker said that they had discussed this matter with Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and his intervention was being sought to address the issue.

A statement issued by Minister Gunawardena’s Office, quoted the Chief Government Whip as having told members of the Committee on Public Petitions: “The issue raised by you has been raised, discussed and deliberated in every parliament though remedial measures weren’t taken. This issue is connected to the Constitution. We expect public servants to implement relevant recommendations in terms of the powers exercised by them. It should be done. If public servants leave without reaching consensus what can be done.”

MP Charitha Herath on a number of occasions told The Island of the need to take punitive measures against those who deprived the government of revenue. The SLPP National List MP said that the national economy was in such bad shape that urgent measures were required to stabilize the economy badly hit by the Covid-19 eruption.



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Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi premises becomes a net zero carbon emission zone

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe announced plans to implement a program aimed at transforming Anuradhapura, once a major trade and economic center, into a globally renowned city. He emphasized the need to highlight Anuradhapura’s cultural, educational, commercial, and economic values and to initiate archaeological research to bring its significance to the world stage. While cities like Tanjore, Madras, and Sanchipuram receive global attention, Anuradhapura has yet to be developed to the same extent.

The President mentioned that he would discuss these plans with the Director General of UNESCO, who is visiting Sri Lanka this week. Several universities worldwide have already expressed interest in supporting these initiatives.

President Wickremesinghe made these remarks during the ceremony to commission the 150-kilowatt solar power system installed by the LTL Group at the historic Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya premises in Anuradhapura on Saturday (13) morning . He also stated that the government would support powering the Atamasthana and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi premises.

During his visit to the Anuradhapura shrine, the President met with the Chief Incumbent of the Atamasthana in Anuradhapura and Chief Sanghanayake Thera of Nuwara Kalaviya Most Ven. Dr. Pallegama Hemarathana Nayake Thera and engaged in a brief discussion. After paying obeisance to the historic Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi and receiving blessings, he participated in the commissioning of the  solar power system.

Additionally, President Wickremesinghe interacted with the public gathered at the Anuradhapura sacred grounds, engaging in friendly conversations and gathering their input.

In a significant move towards the government’s national policy of reducing carbon emissions and achieving a zero-emission target, LTL Holdings has dedicated a 150-kilowatt solar power system to Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. This marks the first phase of its net zero carbon emission plan.

This solar power system meets the entire power requirement of the Sri Maha Bodhiya precinct, making the premises of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi a net zero carbon emission zone for the first time in history.

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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka

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Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour

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Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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