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EC Chief: Time not opportune for election; interim administration need of the hour



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Election Commission (EC) Nimal Punchihewa says extremely violent public reaction to Monday’s mob attacks, on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government for over a month, is a grave warning to political parties, represented in Parliament.

In a brief interview with The Island, Attorney-at-Law Punchihewa emphasised the urgent need for political, electoral and constitutional reforms to address the issues at hand.

One-time member of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Punchihewa stressed Parliament had to fulfill its mandatory obligations.

“Financial discipline and enactment of laws are of pivotal importance. Such measures cannot be delayed further against the backdrop of widespread of violence against lawmakers. Parliament needs to take tangible measures to restore public confidence in democracy,” Punchihewa said.

Punchihewa insisted that violence couldn’t be condoned under any circumstances. Referring to acts of violence, including the setting fire to the Jaffna library on May 31 1981, and the July 1983 riots, Punchihewa said that political parties represented in Parliament should act decisively now, or face the consequences.

Asked to comment on organised attacks on the houses some lawmakers, representing the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the killing of Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale, at Nittambuwa, Punchihewa said that those who had instigated violence against the protesting public had never expected such a violent reaction.

Countrywide protests reflected the public mood, Punchihewa said. Those who wielded political power never realised the transformation of utter public despair, over the economic fallout, to anger, he added. Had they realised the real crisis, the government wouldn’t have allowed unprovoked attacks on protesting public, he said.

The EC Chairman noted that even if Temple Trees had planned Monday’s meeting, it should have been cancelled in view of the declaration of a State of Emergency. Political parties should take measures as quickly as possible to bring in the much-delayed reforms, Punchihewa said, underscoring the need for transparency in campaign financing and introduction of a recalling system as practiced in many countries.

Responding to another query, Punchihewa said that the EC strongly believed the time was not opportune for a general election, and even before Monday’s calamity a general election wouldn’t have been feasible. Therefore, there should be a consensus on an all-party interim mechanism to govern the country, and tangible measures had to be adopted to address economic woes with a recovery plan being put in place before an election could be conducted, Punchihewa said.

It was regrettable that public opinion had turned against the political party system soon after the celebration of the 90th anniversary of universal franchise, the EC Chief said, recalling how a group of youth representing the Galle Face protesters had explained to EC members their stand on the current political situation. They had spoken on behalf of the voiceless who really experienced the rapid economic decline due to a combination of reasons-ranging from poor economic management to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The EC chief said that perhaps the EC should explore ways and means of working with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to address the issues at hand. There was no point in denying the fact the political party system was in crisis.

Punchihewa pointed out that there had been several proposals from political parties as well as other groups, including the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) for resolving the crisis, and a consensus had to be reached on them fast. All stakeholders had to be flexible and ready to improve and modify proposals on the table as the country experienced the worst ever economic crisis that now threatened to disrupt supply chains, he added.

Punchihewa pointed out that no less a person than Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena had recently warned of a possible food shortage. That statement made in his capacity as the Speaker should be examined along with Finance Minister Al Sabry, PC’s confession in Parliament soon after his return from Washington, where Sri Lanka appealed for immediate IMF intervention.

According to Punchihewa, the EC had submitted its proposals to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as well as Romesh de Silva, PC outfit that recently finalized the draft constitution. Punchihewa said that all those concerned should act fast. The BASL could play a significant role in the overall process to restore political stability, Punchihewa said, warning further delay in consensus among political parties both ion and outside parliament would encourage lawlessness.

EC Chairman said that club-wielding youth checking vehicles on Monday in many parts of the country underscored hitherto unknown danger.


Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party



By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code



by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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