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FUTA demands abolition of KNDU Bill

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The Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) has urged the government to drop plans to introduce the General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill in the guise of an ‘Amended Bill.’

The FUTA alleged that the changes made were cosmetic and there was no change to the substance of the Bill and it posed a grave threat of militarising higher education in Sri Lanka.

The FUTA statement: “We also note that the government is attempting to push through this highly controversial bill at a time when the country is facing its gravest economic and governance crisis since independence and call upon the government to immediately halt this process and withdraw the Bill. The KNDU Bill is hardly a policy priority at this moment when the country’s economic life has all but ground to a halt and people and industries are struggling with 8-hour power cuts, fuel and gas shortages and the concomitant disruption of livelihoods.

 The amended Bill continues to allow civilian education at KNDU, and it allows education in all disciplines without restricting the functions of the University to defence and military studies. It also facilitates a fee levying higher education space that can be expand limitlessly and create a parallel highly unregulated higher education system outside the state university system in which student admission is not based on merit but the financial strength of the students’ social background. The so-called ‘amended Bill’ retains a highly militarized governance structure from top to bottom and the Board of Governors, the top governing body of the university, is full of military officers including the top most military officers of the country, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff, Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy and the Commander of the  Air Force. The Vice Chancellor also remains a senior officer of the armed forces. Under the ‘amended bill’ there continues to be a Head Quarters, the high level operational body of the KNDU, filled with military personnel. This is a body placed above the Council which in a normal civilian university is the supreme administrative forum..

The ‘amended bill’ has further introduced a highly controversial amendment to include the Chairman of the UGC as the member of the Board of Governors (prior to the amendment it was restricted to a nominee of the UGC). While already the representation of the UGC – the institute that carries the prime responsibility of regulating and safeguarding the interests of the state university system – within the Board of Governors of the KNDU leads to a conflict of interest, naming the Chairman of the UGC as a member of the Board of Governors at the KNDU exacerbates this conflict of interest. As those who are familiar with the issues within the existing KDU are aware, the presence of the Chairman of the UGC at the existing Board of Management of the KDU has made him complicit in decisions that seriously undermine the state university system which has even led to court cases where he is a respondent. His presence within the Board of Governors of the proposed KNDU – with greater powers to dominate and expand this military-led system of higher education – can pose a serious threat to the interests of the existing state university system. As past experience has shown the UGC chairman has been unable to represent the interests of the state university system within the Board of Management of the KDU, but has only served to undermine the interests of the state university system while facilitating the expansion of KDU and its military model of education.

FUTA therefore urges the government to unconditionally withdraw the KNDU Bill immediately. As we have explained in detail in a number of our previous communications, FUTA unreservedly rejects civilian education within a highly militarized structure such as the KNDU. Allow civilian education be given within the state university system and reallocate the vast amount of money channeled to KDU/KNDU to the state university system to facilitate its expansion, so that civilian student earmarked for KDU/KNDU can be absorbed into the existing state university structure. University education is a civilian affair and all across the democratic world universities are spaces that produce independent, free-thinking and creative citizens. A military-led education model will never achieve this and will only further contribute to tarnishing Sri Lanka’s already battered democratic credentials in the global community.”

We would like to remind the government that the country is in a serious multidimensional crisis and on the the verge of collapse unless urgent remedial action is taken. Rather than trying to re-package controversial bills that were soundly rejected by a vast cross-section of the people of this country, what the government should do is to focus on the multiple crisis faced by the country and find immediate solutions. FUTA is determined to defeat the KNDU Bill and will take all possible measures to prevent militarization of high education in the country and mobilize broad social and political support against this ‘amended KNDU Bill’ unless it is withdrawn immediately.



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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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.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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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.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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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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