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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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MCC inconsistent with Constitution

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AG agrees with Prof. Gunaruwan report

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, Project Implementation Agreement, as well as Articles of Association of MCA (Millennium Challenge Act), Sri Lanka, are violative of cerain provisions of the Constitution.

The AG has said so in a 20-page report sent to Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the President.

The President’s Office on Sept. 3, 2020, sought the AG’s opinion on the MCC Compact and related matters in the wake of the Cabinet-appointed Prof. Gunaruwan Committee strongly advising against going ahead with the US initiative. The US sought Sri Lanka’s consent for the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and MCC. The previous government finalised ACSA in early August 2017.

Dr. Jayasundera made available the Gunaruwan report to the AG.

The outgoing US administration in Dec 2020 announced Sri Lanka had been left out of the MCC project.

AG’s Coordinating Officer State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne confirmed the MCC et al were inconsistent with the Constitution and other laws.

The Island,

 however, learns that the AG’s Department on two previous occasions, in letters dated Oct 10, 2018 and June 10, 2019, addressed to Jonathan G. Nash, Chief Operating Officer, MCC, and Director General, External Resources Department, respectively, asserted that the Compact and the Programme Implementation Agreement (PIA) were in line with the Sri Lankan law.

The first letter was sent during Jayantha Jayasuriya’s tenure as the AG and the second under incumbent AG without his approval, sources said. Dappula de Livera succeeded Jayasuriya in April 2019 about a week after the April 21 Easter Sunday carnage. Jayasuriya is the incumbent Chief Justice.

Prof. Gunaruwan’s Committee soon after the last presidential election in Nov 2019 failed to obtain the AG’s Department opinion in spite of making representations through the Prime Minister’s Office.

In the run-up to 2019 parliamentary election, then Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the Attorney General had approved the US project though the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) called it a sell-out.

The following is the text of the letter dated Oct 10, 2018 captioned ‘Legal Status of Proposed MCC Compact signed by Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, Senior Additional Solicitor General, addressed to Jonathan G. Nash, Chief Operating Officer, MCC:

“I refer to your communication dated 27th September, 2018 in respect of the above captioned matter. In this regard, I am made to understand that the delegation from the Government of Sri Lanka was able to have fruitful discussion with the Millennium Challenge Corporation Team in resolving some of the outstanding issues.

“Having gleaned through the proposed Millennium Challenge Compact, the draft Program Implementation Agreement (PIA) as well as the Points of Discussion (without prejudice) between the negotiating parties which has been made available to me, I wish to at the very outset opine that no existing laws of Sri Lanka inhibit the Compact and the PIA being implemented in Sri Lanka. If I may elucidate further, the covenants of the Compact and the PIA do not infringe any existing domestic law or any previous undertakings given by the Government of Sri Lanka. It is acknowledged that the Compact imposes legal obligations on both parties to the Agreement

“Further, consequent to the negotiations and discussions had between parties, it is proposed that the Government of Sri Lanka would seek the passage of a law in Parliament to establish the MCA- Sri Lanka as a non-profit Company limited by guarantee under the Companies Act No.07 of 2007 to implement the provisions of the Compact. It is envisaged that the proposed enactment would encompass the Compact and the PIA as Annexures, which would form an integral part of this enactment.

“Thus, I am of the view that the passage of the said enactment by Parliament would result in the Compact and the PIA, having the parity of status of a domestic law in Sri Lanka.

“In the Context of the above, it is requisite that Section 7.1 of Article 7 of the Compact referring to the provisions on Entry Into Force, would be revised with the deletion of the sentence pertaining to the Compact prevailing over the domestic laws of Sri Lanka.

“However, in order to assuage any concerns with regard to the implementation of the Compact, by an unlikely event of a legislation in the future which may impinge or infringe the said compact, upon notification by the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media (the relevant Ministry) of this fact, a legal opinion would be tendered that the proposed legislation if proceeded with would violate the covenants of the Compact. This would enable the relevant Ministry to forward its observations to the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament, that the Attorney-General has opined that the proposed Bill if enacted would violate the Compact.

“In the circumstances, I believe that the aforementioned matters would confirm the legal status of the Compact and its entry into force.”

“Copies were sent to Ms. Caroline Nguyen, Managing Director- Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America Millennium Challenge Corporation and J. Charitha Ratwatte, Head of Policy Development and Chief of Party MCC- Sri Lanka Project.”

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Environmentalist accuses Govt. of resorting to trickery to hand over 800,000 acres to pvt. companies

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Gama Samaga Pilisandara’ is a psychological operation to counter people’s resistance to a move to hand over chena and grasslands to large companies, environmentalist Sajeewa Chamikara said yesterday.

Chamikara claimed that the government had earmarked 800,000 acres of land to be given to corporations, and those lands would mainly consist of forests and areas used for chena cultivations and to feed cattle by small scale farmers.

“The Gama Samaga Pilisandara is an attempt to misguide the people by giving them false promises. The government tells people they could cultivate lands belonging to the Forest Conservation Department and instructs officials not to punish people who send cattle into forests. People walk away feeling good but a few months later they will find that these same lands handed over to big companies.”

They had conducted a survey on the lands that had been given to corporations by the government during 2020 Most of those lands in fact were those used by cattle herders and chena cultivators, he said.

For example 70,000 acres in Demaliya and Wandama were being given to a company engaged in sugarcane cultivation, and almost all those lands were those used by small scale farmers and cattle herders, Chamikara said. Among the lands that were given were those earmarked for those displaced by the Uma Oya project. The previous administrations tried to provide irrigation water to those lands through the Handapanagala scheme.

Chamikara said: “Another 62,000 acres have been earmarked in Moneragala, Ampara and Badulla districts for sugarcane cultivation. 80% of these lands are chena cultivations. In Rambaken Oya 5,426 acres have been earmarked for 15 companies to carry out various agro projects and most of these lands are now used by small scale cattle herders. Recently, the Department of Agriculture wrote to the Forest Conservation Department requesting that 80,000 acres in Moneragala, Anuradhapura and Badulla districts be released. These lands are to be used for corn cultivation. The Forest Conservation Department then asked the Department of Agriculture to identify the lands and we know that these lands for the most part are those used by small scale cattle herders and chena cultivators.”

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Contempt of Court case against GMOA President re-fixed for hearing on March 03 and 10

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By Chitra Weerarathne

The Court of Appeal yesterday re-fixed for hearing on March 3 and March 10, the Contempt of Court application against the President of the Government Medical Officers’ Association Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya.

Counsel Ravindranath Dabare said that his client Dr. Padeniya was under self-quarantine and was unable to attend Court.

Dr. Padeniya was summoned for Contempt of Court under Article 105/3 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka for allegedly having criticised a Superior Court ruling in respect of the admission of students to the Sri Lanka Institute of Technology and Medicine, Malabe, at a public rally on April 7, 2016, disrespecting a Supreme Court order pertaining to the enrolment of a student in the Private Medical College, which will ultimately lead to an MBBS degree.

The Court of Appeal bench comprised Justice Arjuna Obeysekera (President) and Dr. Mayadunne Corea.

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