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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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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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