MEP, EPDP opt out of the grouping; Sirisena expected to attend launch
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera says the reaction of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to the deteriorating financial crisis and a spate of other contentious issues have compelled some members of the ruling coalition to make a set of alternative proposals dubbed a national declaration.
Commenting on the proposals to be launched at the Imperial Hall, Monarch Hotel, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte, on 02 March, State Minister Jayasekera yesterday (27) alleged that the government seemed incapable of addressing the issues at hand.
Responding to questions, the former Minister said they had initially planned to present a short-term plan stressing the need for the government to make a course correction. “We really didn’t have any other option as the SLPP doesn’t believe in consultations among the partners,” lawmaker Jayasekera said.
The Kurunegala District lawmaker said of the 145-member government parliamentary group about 30 MPs represented their group. Of the dissident group, 14 are SLFPers, and the second largest group represents the National Freedom Front (NFF) led by Wimal Weerawansa. The group included some SLPP National List members and Ven. Atureliye Rathana thera, NL member of the Ape Jana Bala Party.
MP Jayasekera said that SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena, MP, would attend the launch of the alternative proposals on 02 March. Asked whether they would place themselves on a collision course with the government, the SLFP General Secretary referred to the SLPP’s recent public rally in Anuradhapura. Those who now questioned the motives of other parties conveniently remained silent over the fact that the SLPP had not invited any of its coalition partners to the rally.
State Minister Jayasekera said that they could have addressed the issues differently if the government leaders had consulted other political parties over matters of national importance. Had there been proper consultations among partners, the government wouldn’t have had to face unprecedented protests over the banning of fertilizer and agrochemical imports, MP Jayasekera said.
The SLFP has held District Conventions in many areas including Jaffna. State Minister Jayasekera said that they wouldn’t back down under any circumstances and were ready to face challenges at any level.
Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told The Island on Saturday (26) that unveiling of national declaration should be examined against the backdrop of their controversial decision to oppose the Yugadanavi deal. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Gammanpila said that it wouldn’t have ended up in the Supreme Court if the government had followed proper procedure in adopting a cabinet decision. According to the minister, the financial crisis is so severe that consequences can be devastating. Minister Gammanpila recently told PHU gathering at Avissawella that he along with Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena on July 17, 2021 at the Janadhipathi Mandiraya explained to the SLPP parliamentary group how the financial crisis could affect Sri Lanka till 2030.
Minister Gammanpila and State Minister Jayasekera alleged that the SLPP hadn’t responded to their concerns at all. Therefore, they had no option but to present a set of alternative proposals to the people, the lawmakers said.
On behalf of the Organising Committee State Minister Jayantha Samaraweera said that the Democratic Left Front, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, the SLFP, the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the NFF, the National Congress, the PHU, the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya, the Vijaya Dharani Jathika Sabhawa, the Eksath Mahajana Pakshaya and Yuthukama civil society organisation would attend the launch of the new initiative on 02 March.
SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, who is also the Foreign Minister, couldn’t be contacted yesterday as he was in Geneva to attend UNHRC sessions scheduled to commence today (28). After concluding an official visit to France several days ago, Prof. Peiris has arrived in Geneva where Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet is to present an oral statement on Sri Lanka today.
The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) led by Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has opted out of the dissident grouping. The MEP group in Parliament consists of three lawmakers, namely Dinesh Gunawardena, his son Yadamini accommodated on the SLPP National List and Gampaha District MP Sisira Jayakody. The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), too, has refrained from joining the alliance.
Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI
Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.
Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.
Unions predict end of energy sovereignty
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.
“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”
Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.
“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.
Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue
The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.
Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.
“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.
“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”
Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.
However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen
Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”
But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.
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