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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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Vasu defends constituents’ right to differ

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Prez chairs govt. group meeting:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara has strongly defended the right of the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) constituents’ to take up contentious issues in public.

Minister Nanayakkara told SLPP parliamentary group meeting at the President’s House on Sunday night (24) that their right to differ on matters of public interest shouldn’t be questioned.

Nanayakkara said so when Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena and MP Tissa Kuttiarachchi faulted some constituent parties for dissenting views on certain issues.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was present at the meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The meeting lasted for about two hours.

The SLPP held Sunday’s meet in the wake of some constituent parties of the ruling coalition asking for a discussion on the questionable agreement between the government and the US New Fortress Energy Company over the Yugadanavi power plant, etc. Sources said that initially, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa indicated that the issue could be discussed with the Premier but subsequently arrangements were made for the Sunday’s meeting.

The New Fortress recently announced that a definitive agreement had been executed for the external investment in West Coast Power Limited (WCP).

WCP owns the 310 megawatts Yugadanavi Power Plant based in Colombo. The deal is also for the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo. In terms of the agreement, New Fortress will acquire a 40 per cent ownership stake in WCP. The US energy firm plans to build an offshore LNG terminal located off the coast of Colombo.

Minister Nanayakkara has said it is not unusual for members of a coalition to hold different views depending on the issues as they also represent the interests of the public.

Nanayakkara has pointed out how the left parties remained with the UPFA though they didn’t agree with the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to enact the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Parliament passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with a two-thirds majority on 08 Sept. 2010, enabling the President to seek a third term among other things.

The SLPP constituents have differed with the government on several issues such as fuel price increases announced by Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila on 12 June as well as the abortive bid to transfer 49 percent of shares of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port to India and Japan.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa spearheaded the constituents’ campaign. He sought an explanation particularly as regards Cabinet approval for the controversial energy deal with the US firm, without a discussion among ministers.

NFF sources told The Island that their leader felt the urgent need to take up the matter to prevent further deterioration of relations among the coalition members.

Several parties including government ally the Jathika Sanvidhana Ekamuthuwa moved the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, respectively against the secretive energy deal with the US firm.

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‘Those who hesitate to get vaccinated pose a threat to others’

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath said yesterday a significant number of people had not received the Covid-19 vaccine, and posed a threat to society.

“No matter what your age category is, you will be at a higher risk of being infected and spreading it to others. So please get vaccinated,” he urged.

The DDGHS said that a booster shot would be given to people from 01 Nov.

The Health Ministry would carry out the ongoing vaccination drive until everyone got the first two doses, he said.

“However, we won’t keep hundreds of vaccination centres open. Most likely, those who have not got vaccinated will have to go to designated locations to receive the vaccine.”

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School attendance high as parents have faith in teachers – CTU head

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Teachers and principals protested at Colombo Fort yesterday urging the government to rectify their salary anomalies. The protesters marched from the Fort Railway Station towards the Presidential Secretariat but police did not permit them to proceed beyond the Telecom rounadbout. Pic by Nishan S Priyantha

By Rathindra Kuruwita

School attendance was high Despite inter-provincial travel restrictions, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) General Secretary, Joseph Stalin said yesterday. “The government announced on 22 October that primary sections of all schools would be reopened on 25 October. Despite the short notice the attendance was high, and this is testament to the faith parents have in teachers,” he said.Primary sections of 9,155 schools recommenced yesterday.

“However, we will only teach. Teachers do a lot of additional work instead of teaching and most people who slander us have no idea about this,” he said.

Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath urged relevant authorities to provide safe and adequate transport facilities to students. It was vital that those vehicles were ventilated, and social distancing was maintained.

“We urge parents to buy reusable face masks for kids. If your child has any symptoms of COVID such as fever and cold, don’t send him/her to school until you are certain this is not COVID. Teach your child the importance of washing hands, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. This is the way we can ensure there is no spread in the school system,” Dr. Herath said.

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