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Expert Committee concerned over PC polls before reaching consensus on new Constitution

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FNO urges govt. to keep its promise or face the consequences

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The nine-member Expert Committee tasked with preparing a preliminary draft for a new Constitution is concerned about the continuing push for Provincial Council polls before a consensus could be reached on constitutional proposals and electoral reforms, authoritative sources said.

The committee appointed in early Sept, 2020 on the recommendation of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC consists of Romesh de Silva PC (Chairman of the outfit), Gamini Marapana PC, Manohara de Silva PC, Sanjeewa Jayawardena PC, Samantha Ratwatte PC, Prof. Naazima Kamardeen, Dr. A. Sarveswaran, Prof. Wasantha Seneviratne and Prof. G.H. Peiris.

Authoritative sources told The Island that the Expert Committee had done a considerable amount of work and was confident of finalizing the report before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Ministerial sources asserted that the PC polls could be held in April 2021 if agreement could be reached on a political agenda.

Except the National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), no other political party represented in parliament so far submitted their proposals to Romesh de Silva’s committee, sources said. Proposals can be submitted till next Thursday, Dec 31, 2020.

Sources said that the expert committee was apprehensive about the possibility of having PC polls ahead of the report. Such a development would be a setback to the process undertaken and automatically result in questions as regards the government’s sincerity, sources said.

In spite of serious problems that had been caused by continuing corona epidemic, Romesh de Silva’s committee was on track to finalize the report as originally planned.  The committee is of the view that the PC polls should be delayed pending the finalization of the report.

The Island sought an explanation from Minister Sabry spearheading the effort on behalf of the government whether the SLPP would go ahead with PC polls before consensus could be reached on a new Constitution. Minister Sabry said that the cabinet of ministers would have to take a decision on it. “They haven’t made a decision yet. Some decision may come soon,” the justice minister said.

The Federation of National Organizations (FNO) that campaigned for the SLPP at both 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, in a letter addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa strongly advised against conducting PC polls before agreement could be reached on a new Constitution. FNO convenor Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera told The Island that at the time the government secured two/thirds for the 20th Amendment an assurance was given to introduce a new Constitution. The government shouldn’t deviate from the original plan by conducting PC polls ahead of a new Constitution, Dr. Amarasekera said.

Conducting PC polls at the present juncture would cause irreparable damage to the ruling coalition, Dr. Amarasekera warned, while drawing the SLPP’s attention to the need to do away with the system that encouraged separatist agenda.

The FNO emphasized that the SLPP shouldn’t risk public ire by giving into those who still believed in devolution of power as the panacea for the North-East problem. Responding to another query, Dr. Amarasekera said that PC polls couldn’t be acceptable under any circumstances ahead of a new Constitution.

The civil society activist suggested that the government should consult its own expert committee tasked with formulating a preliminary draft for a new Constitution as regards the move to conduct PC polls.

Chairman of Elections Commission attorney-at-law Nimal Punchihewa recently told The Island that if the government desired a minor amendment could be moved in parliament to pave the way for PC polls under the previous system as the relevant Act had been amended.

Dr. Amaradasa urged the government not to bend backwards to appease those promoting separatist as well as religious extremism or face far reaching consequences.

Asked whether the FNO opposed devolution of power, Dr. Amarasekera said that there was absolutely no issue in decentralizing power on the basis of provinces or districts but with sufficient safeguards to prevent extremist elements exploiting the set up. Those tasked with formulating a new Constitution should propose proper framework that could address devolution issues without jeopardizing national interests. Therefore, re-establishing PCs under the existing system wasn’t acceptable to the vast majority of people, Dr. Amarasekera said. The renowned writer said that the government could either follow a sensible path by introducing a new Constitution or cause its own downfall by seeking to restore PC system.

EC Chairman Punchihewa told The Island that the PC system was intact though the elections hadn’t been held as scheduled during the previous administration. The functioning of the Office of the Governor in nine the provinces proved that the operation of the system, Punchihewa said, adding that the EC remained ready to move once the government took a decision.

 

Pic saved as ROMESH DE Silva and Dr Gunadasa Amarasekera



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About 232 out of 500 escapees from K’kadu Drug Rehab Centre arrested

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Two hundred and thirty two inmates out of the 500, who escaped from the Kandakadu Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, yesterday morning, following a clash with soldiers guarding the facility, had been arrested, Maj. Gen. Darshana Hettiarachchi, Commissioner General – Rehabilitation, said.

Hettiarachchi denied allegations from certain quarters that they had allowed inmates to escape to divert public attention away from the burning economic issues, and crippling fuel shortages.

He said an impartial inquiry would be conducted into the death of an inmate.

Hettiarachchi said that they were confident that other escapees too would be arrested soon.

Police Spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said a 36-year-old inmate had died under mysterious circumstances on Tuesday. The deceased was a resident of Mutwal. The death of the inmate had been reported to the Welikanda police, he said.

The Police Spokesman added that a team of policemen from Welikanda had visited the Rehabilitation Centre. However, a large number of inmates had surrounded the body and did not allow anyone near it and that had led to a clash between inmates and the military personnel at the centre.

At around 8 am yesterday, a large group of inmates had broken the two main gates and escaped, he added.

The Police Spokesman said that the police and Army had brought the situation under control, after several hours.

They have also launched a joint operation to arrest the inmates, who are still at large.

There are around 1,000 drug addicts being rehabilitated at the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Center at any given time.

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Women parliamentarians’ Caucus calls for greater accountability and transparency

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International Day of Parliamentarism

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle says accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system have become vital issues as the country makrs the International Day of Parliamentarism today (30).

In a statement issued to the media by the Caucus, Dr Fernandopulle said: International Day of Parliamentarism, which recognises the role of parliaments in national plans and strategies and in ensuring greater transparency and accountability at national and global levels. This Day was first established by the UN General Assembly through a resolution adopted in 2018 which also marked the 129th anniversary of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU, which was first established on the same day in the year 1889, is a global organization that works to promote ‘democratic governance, human representation, democratic values, and the civil aspirations of a society’.

This Day further solidifies the unique and enduring system of parliamentary democracy as the standard for political representation. Last year, in 2021, the Day focused on “Youth Empowerment” in Parliament whereas the theme for the International Day of Parliamentarism 2022 is “Public Engagement”. Conspicuously, the word ‘parliament’ originates from the French word ‘parler,’ which means ‘to talk.’ Thus, public discourse and engagement lay the very foundation of the parliamentary system of governance.

At a juncture where public engagement in the democratic process is at an all-time high, the theme for International Day of Parliamentarism aptly suits the current democratic and economic discourse taking place in society.

The Parliament is a cornerstone of any democracy as it must fulfill its fundamental role of providing a voice to the voiceless. The main responsibilities of a Parliament include the formulation, enactment and overseeing of the implementation of laws and policies that are sustainable and crucial for the progression and stability of the country. The Parliament also has a duty to hold the Executive or Government of the country accountable. Accordingly, representing the interests of the public, it must also fulfill the role of acting as a “check” to “balance” the power that the executive holds.

The Parliament must also perform “checks” and “balances” on Government expenditure as it has the responsibility of approving budgets for Government expenditure. Thus, during this economic crisis, the Parliament of Sri Lanka has a crucial role to play and effectively realize such roles and responsibilities. To do so meaningfully, public engagement is a necessity.

Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said: “I believe we should make this Day an occasion to remember the importance of accountability and transparency in a parliamentary system. The Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus recognizes that it has a role to play in initiating a conversation towards realizing a process by which the Parliament can conduct self-evaluation utilising the feedback received by the public discourse. This would be vital in order to gauge the progress the Parliament has made and identify challenges and devise strategies and mechanisms to overcome such challenges to be more representative of the voices of people.”

MP Thalatha Atukorale said: “In the face of crisis, if our parliamentary system fails to realize its purpose, then we must re-evaluate the practices of our Parliament. Therefore, I believe that this Day should be used as an opportunity to formulate an effective strategy to improve transparency and accountability of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.”

MP Diana Gamage said: “On this Day, I pledge to be a voice to the people of Sri Lanka, particularly the more vulnerable, and play my role in initiating mechanisms and formulating laws that reflect the current needs of the people of Sri Lanka whom we are representing in Parliament”.

Parliament is the bedrock of a functioning democracy. In Sri Lanka, let us realise this goal for all Sri Lankans, leaving no stone unturned to ensure quality of political representation, which means gender equality and social inclusion too.

MP Manjula Dissanayake said: “To be effective and successful, the Parliamentary system must encourage public engagement and must also be based on principles of equality and inclusivity in order to better comprehend and prioritise the needs of the public”.

Vice-Chairperson of the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus, MP Rohini Kumari Wijeratne said: “The parliamentary system is founded upon the sovereignty of people. Therefore, the success of the parliamentary system depends on public engagement in the democratic process and how well the parliamentary system responds to such public engagement.”

MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said: “We as Parliamentarians must not be oblivious to the fact that the public has lost confidence in the Sri Lankan Parliament and by extension, the Parliamentarians. A strong contention can be and is being made that the Parliament of Sri Lanka falls short of effectively realizing one of its main purposes: to formulate and implement policies and laws that benefits ALL people, particularly the more vulnerable. To meet that end, we must harness public discourse and engagement.”

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Proposals to revive agriculture sector unveiled

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By Ifham Nizam

The Department of Agriculture has handed over proposals with an action plan for the revival of the agriculture sector to the Minister of Agriculture, Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation, Mahinda Amaraweera.

Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture Rohana Pushpakumara, Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Ajantha de Silva, and its Directors, representing respective divisions, were also present.

The focus of the proposals is on the importation of chemical fertilisers and organic farming, increasing rice production in the country, promoting the cultivation of indigenous crops for export, taking measures to meet the national vegetable and fruit demand, prioritizing agricultural research and development, and other agricultural Inputs.

The proposals also deal with a number of other issues such as the misuse of pesticides and fertilisers.

The proposals consist of 11 short-term plans to uplift agriculture.

Speaking at the event, the Minister of Agriculture, Mahinda Amaraweera, requested that the proposals, aimed at increasing the income of the farming community, be implemented without delay and that everyone be committed to make the Yala season, and the forthcoming Maha season, a success. “We must make the current Yala and the next Maha season a success. The country’s economy depends on the stability of the agriculture sector.

The Director General of the Department of Agriculture handed over the relevant proposal to the Minister.

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