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Gevindu reminds govt. of its promise to unveil draft Constitution

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‘New Law should reflect post-war realities’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga says they expected the realisation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s much touted assurance to place the proposed draft Constitution before the people ahead of the second anniversary of his victory at the Nov 2019 presidential election.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga, who leads civil society organization Yuthukama recalled how Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, on behalf of the President gave that assurance to Parliament. In a brief interview with The Island, the MP asserted that though Covid-19 caused quite a disruption, he strongly believed the draft Constitution should be presented next month as promised.

Minister Sabry, also of the SLPP National List announced the appointment of a nine-member experts’ committee to draft a new Constitution. The committee consists of Romesh de Silva (Chairperson), Manohara de Silva, PC, Gamini Marapana, PC, Sanjeewa Jayawardena, PC, Samantha Ratwatte, PC, Prof. Nadeema Kamurdeen, Prof. G. H. Peiris, Prof. Wasantha Seneviratne and Dr. A. Sarveshwaran.

Asked whether he really expected the expert committee to meet the deadline amidst current political turmoil compounded by the deepening financial crisis, MP Cumaratunga emphasized the pivotal importance in keeping to the original plan. “Proposed enactment of a new Constitution shouldn’t be derailed under any circumstances. Therefore, the presentation of the draft Constitution by Nov 2021 as promised shouldn’t be deferred,” lawmaker Cumaratunga said. The civil society activist underscored that the electorate overwhelmingly voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP at the presidential and parliamentary elections, respectively to introduce a new Constitution.

Responding to another query, MP Cumaratunga said that the government couldn’t forget 6.9 mn voted for the SLPP candidate at the presidential and it received nearly two-thirds at the parliamentary poll as the electorate realized the need for a new Constitution. “Proposed new Constitution should reflect the ground situation. In other words, we need a Constitution that recognized Sri Lanka’s triumph over separatist campaign, reiterated unitary status and one that fulfilled the aspirations of those who voted for the SLPP at 2019 and 2020 national elections as well as the country as a whole,” the MP said.

Cumaratunga is among 17 members elected on the SLPP National List. The SLPP secured the lions’ share of the 29 NL whereas the main Opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) won seven.

The Yuthukama Chief said that the introduction of comprehensive electoral reforms was of critical importance as the current system failed to address public concerns. Pointing out that the current Constitution and the Proportional Representation (PR) system had been introduced in 1978 and 1989, respectively, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the country could no longer afford to continue with the same.

MP Cumaratunga also dealt with constitutional proposals made by him on behalf of Yuthukama to the experts’ committee as well as the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on electoral reforms.

Referring to the outcome of the 2015 presidential election, MP Cumaratunga pointed out how the then Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena won the contest thanks to the overwhelming victories he achieved at certain electorates. Emphasizing that the 2015 election result hadn’t reflected the actual public opinion across the country, the lawmaker said they believed Sri Lanka should adopt a system similar to that of the US in respect of presidential election. Asked to explain, MP Cumaratunga said that the US elected the winner not only on the basis of votes but the territory as well.

Yuthukama

also proposed that 70 percent of the total number of MPs should represent electorates whereas 20 percent represent best losers and the remaining 10 percent constitute the National List.

Parliament now consists of 196 elected and 29 appointed members.

Commenting on the long delayed Provincial Council polls, MP Cumaratunga underscored their faith in the system. “Elections to PC should be conducted under the current system in place. PCs should be transformed to sort of coordinating institutions meant to develop the respective regions,” the MP said.

MP Cumaratunga said that he dealt with these issues in Parliament on Sept 7 though it didn’t receive sufficient media coverage.

Referring to recent reportage of Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s three-day visit here, MP Cumaratunga said the UNP-SLFP administration that had the backing of India put off the PC polls. Pointing out external interventions at the 2015 presidential poll, MP Cumaratunga urged India to be sensitive to the vast majority of Sri Lankans than those disruptive political elements.

Cumaratunga pointed out a comprehensive statement issued by the Indian High Commission in Colombo following the conclusion of Shringla’s visit commented on the PC polls. MP Cumaratunga said that the yahapalana lot brought in amendments to the Provincial Council Act. That particular operation was meant to delay PC polls indefinitely as the then government caused such devastating crises it feared elections, MP Cumaratunga said.

Referring to SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem on Oct 7 stressing in Parliament the need to conduct PC polls urgently, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that those now represented the SJB, the TNA, the SLMC and Rishad Bathiudeen’s All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) contributed to the indefinite postponement of PC polls. “That is the undeniable truth. FS Shringla’s cannot be unaware of that though he was India’s Ambassador in Washington at that time,” MP Cumaratunga said, urging the government to set the record straight.

MP Cumaratunga said that the postponement of PC polls should be examined against the backdrop of the debilitating setback those in power at that time suffered at Local Government polls held in Feb 2018. With the emergence of the SLPP as the dominant political party in the country in the wake of Local Government polls, the yahapalana lot had no option but to infinitely puff PC polls. “They wanted to prevent further deterioration of the government. So the deferment of PC polls,” the MP said.

Recalling the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution under controversial circumstances as violence swept the country against the signing of the Indo-Lanka accord of July 29, 1987, MP Cumaratunga said that the expert committee headed by de Silva received many proposals in respect of PC system/13 A. Referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Independence Day speech last year, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the subjects like education and health should be under the purview of the government.

At the onset of MP Cumaratunga’s speech in Parliament on Oct.7, the civil society activist appreciated the proposed amendments to the Registration of Electors Act No 44 of 1980 to enable those reaching 18 years of age to exercise their franchise. The lawmaker expressed confidence the Parliament could reach unanimous consensus on this. MP Cumaratunga also appreciated making the National Identity Card (NIC) compulsory for voting as such moves greatly strengthened the overall electoral process.

MP Cumaratunga dealt with two other issues namely rampant corruption and the deterioration of the Local Government system due to amendments proposed by the JVP and the SLMC. The MP said that they sincerely hoped the expert committee and the PSC would take the entire gamut of issues and proposals into consideration before submitting the draft Constitution.



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Keheliya turns down request for abolishing price control on medicine

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Industry leader has sought court intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) said that in spite of difficulties caused by the foreign currency crisis price control on imported medicines couldn’t be done away with.

Abolition of price control on drugs would heap an enormous burden on the vast majority of people, Minister Rambukwella said.

Lawmaker Rambukwella said so when The Island sought his response to the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) requesting the government to do away with price control. Claiming that the grouping imported over 80 percent of medicines into the country, the SLCPI recently warned of possible collapse of the industry unless remedial measures were taken swiftly.

Minister Rambukwella said that recently he met an SLCPI delegation at their request to discuss issues at hand. “Of course, I understand the difficulties experienced by all sectors, including the pharmaceutical trade. However, price control as regards medicine cannot be done away with,” Minister Rambukwella said.

The SLCPI has pointed out to the Minister that at the moment medicines were the only commodity under price control in the local market. The Health Minister asserted that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the medicine with other commodities.

Minister Rambukwella said that regardless of constrains, the government was trying to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicine and it wouldn’t be fair to do at this juncture.

In a statement sent to the media SLCPI asserted: “There is no solution to this dilemma than removing the price control of medicines and implement a fair and equitable pricing mechanism which will link the price of medicines to the dollar, inflation and direct costs such as raw material, fuel and freight charges, which will then make importing and marketing of medicines viable. As difficult as it may sound, the authorities will have to choose between having medicines at a cost and not having medicines at all.”

The SLCPI has already sought the intervention of the courts to establish what the grouping called a transparent pricing mechanism outside government price control.

Recently, Minister Rambukwella, at a meeting also attended by State Minister Dr. Channa Jayasumana called for a report on the requirement of medicines over the next six months. The Health Ministry declared that there was no shortage of drugs whereas SLCPI claimed some drugs were in short supply and the situation could get worse.

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Central Expressway: Rs 3 mn raked in within 12 hours

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Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said yesterday that about three million rupees had been earned by way of toll within the first 12 hours of the opening of the second phase of the Central Expressway.

Rs 2,805,100.00 had been paid by the expressway users during the first 12 hours from 12 noon to midnight Sunday (16) after its opening by the President and the Prime Minister on Saturday (15).

The Minister said that during the first 12 hours of the period of toll collection, a total of 13,583 vehicles had traversed the most  scenic road stretch in the country between Mirigama and Kurunegala. No traffic accidents had been reported during the 12 hour period.

Minister Fernando said that the newly opened road had been allowed to be used by the public free of charge for 12 hours from midnight Saturday (15) to Sunday (16) noon.

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President to inaugurate second session of Ninth Parliament today

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by Saman Indrajith

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to commence the second session of the Ninth Parliament today at 10 am with his third Presidential policy statement (formerly Throne Speech).

He made his first ‘Throne Speech’ on Jan 3, 2020, opening the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament and the second on Aug 20, 2020 to open the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.

Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake said that MPs have been requested to arrive at the parliamentary complex at 9.25 am the latest.

The MPs, if accompanied by their spouses will alight from their vehicles at the Staff Entrance of the parliamentary building, while all other MPs are requested to drive up to the Members’ Entrance.

To facilitate orderly arrival, the MPs are requested that the Car Label provided them with be pasted on the inside top left-hand corner of the windscreen of their vehicles. On arrival at Parliament, Members’ vehicles would be directed by the Police to the appropriate Car Park.

Thereafter the MPs are requested to enter the lobbies of Parliament and to remain there until the Quorum Bells are rung.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive at the Main Steps of the Parliament Building at 9.40 a.m. and he would be received by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

The President will be escorted by them to the Parliament Building. Thereafter, the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament will escort the President to his Chambers.

At 9.55 a.m. the Quorum Bells will be rung for five minutes and all Members will take their seats in the Chamber of Parliament.

The President’s procession will leave for the Chamber of Parliament and will enter the Chamber at 10.00 am. On entering the Chamber the President’s arrival will be announced whereupon all Members will stand in their places until the President reaches the Chair and requests the Members to be seated.

Thereafter, the Proclamation proroguing the Parliament and Summoning the Meeting of Parliament will be read by the Secretary General of Parliament. Then, the President will address Parliament.

After his policy statement the President will adjourn the House until 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday (19).

Thereafter, the President will leave the Chamber escorted by the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

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