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Gevindu underscores need for 20 A pending new Constitution

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…discusses merits, demerits et al

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga says the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted last month is required to rectify weakening of the State by the 19th Amendment. Alleging that the 19th Amendment had been introduced in 2015 with an overwhelming majority primarily to achieve three objectives namely (I) remove the Rajapaksas from politics (II) provide executive powers to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and (III) weaken the Sri Lankan State by depriving the executive of the previously enjoyed power.

In a brief interview with The Island, MP Cumaratunga, who is also the leader of the civil society organization Yuthukama, said that the despicable political project had been largely defeated. Those who had conspired to provide executive powers to the Premier at the expense of the President through the 19th Amendment were politically irrelevant today, the lawmaker pointed out.

Having reversed the UNP spearheaded strategy with the successful conclusion of 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, the government had now done away with measures to weaken the State, the MP said.

Cumaratunga said that he discussed those issues on the second day of the debate on the 20th Amendment on Oct 22. The parliament provided the required 2/3 majority for the Amendment. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena signed it into law on Oct 29.

Cumaratunga underscored the pivotal importance of correctly recognizing the objectives of the 19th Amendment and the challenges faced by the 20th Amendment.

“The 19th Amendment was brought into achieve sinister external objectives. The 20th Amendment was proposed to defeat that project jointly implemented by foreign powers and their local agents. If they succeeded in their high profile project to introduce a new constitution to their liking spearheaded by UNP leader Wickremesinghe, we would have ended up in total chaos with permanent foreign military presence and the country being a supply base for Western powers.”

The 19th Amendment was nothing but a dangerous constitutional tool that could have caused anarchy at every level, the newcomer to parliamentary politics alleged. In addition to NL member Cumaratunga, another key Yuthukama activist Anupa Pasquel was elected from the Kalutara district on the SLPP ticket at the August poll.

Cumaratunga explained how the conspirators included worthy sections to hide their real intentions. The MP alleged that their strategy had been quite efficient and useful from their point of view as the public were largely deceived. Cumaratunga said that nationalist groups, including Yuthukama wholeheartedly accepted many clauses which they sincerely believed were in the public interests.

Cumaratunga appreciated the restriction of the number of cabinet ministers and non-cabinet ministers to prevent political horse trading. This thwarted political parties from exploiting instability in parliament for their advantage, the MP said. “We also accepted the provision in the 19th Amendment to prevent the party in power to bring in emergency Bills, constitutional changes,” Cumaratunga said, recalling how the then President JRJ brought in the 13th Amendment to appease India and the 15 Amendment introduced by slain President Ranasinghe Premadasa to placate religious minorities. MP Cumaratunga alleged that the 19th Amendment included a clause prohibiting emergency amendments/Bills in a bid to hide their sinister intentions. The right of the public to challenge new laws in the Supreme Court should not be interfered with in any way, lawmaker Cumaratunga said.

Yuthukama

 Chief alleged that additional measures were introduced by way of the 19th Amendment to strengthen the State auditing process in a cunning bid to divert the attention from selling vital state assets. While strengthening the hands of the Auditor General, the yahapalana administration perpetrated Treasury bond scams twice, the second in March 2016 far bigger than the first in late Feb 2015, MP Cumaratunga said. Responding to another query, Cumaratunga asserted that the handing over of Hambantota port on a 99-year-lease to China in 2017 exposed the previous government.

Cumaratunga appreciated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa effecting a spate of changes following representations made by the Maha Sangha and them once the 20 th  Amendment was unveiled.

Cumaratunga said that the 20th Amendment faced the daunting challenge of reversing the 19th but the entire 78 Constitution as well as a series of amendments meant to protect the interests of political parties and their leaders.

Commenting on Manohara de Silva’s examination of strategies adopted by separatist elements, lawmaker Cumaratunga pointed out almost all amendments introduced after the 13th Amendment sought to pacify those promoting separatist ideology. The MP explained a campaign undertaken by Yuthukama soon after the enactment of the 19th Amendment in 2015 and the need to bring in 20th Amendment until consensus could be reached on a new Constitution.

A 9-member committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, is formulating a new Constitution.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga, in his speech delivered in parliament on Oct 22 pointed out the absurdity in following the Indian ‘system’ in introducing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Cumaratunga highlighted the introduction of a term (Railway Areas) in keeping with the Indian Constitution regardless of no such designated area in Sri Lanka.

Commending the government decision to expand the number of members of the Election Commission from present three to five, MP Cumaratunga said that their earnest wish is to bring in a new Constitution before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa begins his second year in Nov 2021. Cumaratunga said that Yuuthukama found seven sections in the original 20th Amendment wholly unacceptable. Among them was a bid to promote separatist ideology as well as to do away with the provision to subject the Office of the President and the Prime Minister to the State auditing process.

Yuthukama

leader acknowledged that all their proposals hadn’t been accepted including the one in respect of checks and balances among the President, the Prime Minister and the Parliament though the required was met to a certain extent by the President receiving the constitution right to dissolve parliament two and half years after the first sitting.

Appreciating the formulation of a Parliamentary Council in respect of the appointment of judges to higher courts, members of Commissions, including their chairmen, Attorney General and IGP instead of the previous Constitution Council that followed the NGO agenda, MP Cumaratunga said that the President’s prerogative regarding the appointment of the AG and the IGP was important. However, the MP acknowledged that the Parliamentary Council role in merely making observations needs to be resolved. Cumaratunga appealed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to make appointments taking into consideration recommendations/observations of the Parliamentary Council. The lawmaker also emphasized the importance of the Speaker’s role in the proposed mechanism for the President to receive recommendations/observations of the five-member Parliamentary Council. Cumaratunga said that the proposed mechanisms should be subjected to the Speaker’s approval; as such a decision should be made available to the parliament as it would ensure the intervention of the House in the matter.



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Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code

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by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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