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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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CB Governor: Lanka now in a position to pay for essentials

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‘Inflation will not be as high as initially expected’

Inflation will not be as high as initially expected and there are signs of economy stabilising, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says.Dr. Weerasinghe said that during the past few months a number of initiatives had been made to improve the economy and they were yielding the desired results.

“During the last review, we thought the inflation would reach 70%. However, now we believe that the inflation will not be that high even with the electricity tariff hike,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the severity of the shortage of foreign currency had lessened. The country was now in a position to import fuel, gas and medicines.

“This has become possible because of the decisions we took. Imports have decreased. Export revenue has somewhat increased. Even without short-term loans we have been able to meet our basic needs. This is a positive development,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.The CB Governor said that inflation driven by demand had lessened because the expansion of loans had been curtailed.The supply side inflation too would drop with price and foreign exchange stabilisation.

“Still the inflation is about 60% and that’s why we need to maintain the current high policy rates. Once the government adjusts the fiscal policy, tax, and presents the new budget, things will improve. I think you can also see this. We are seeing positives,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe also urged exporters to bring back the foreign exchange earnings, and that the Central Bank had taken steps to ensure that exporters abided by the CB regulations.

“The irregularities due to open accounts, hawala and undial are being controlled and the black market premium is dropping. The foreign exchange liquidity in the banking sector has increased,” he said.

The Governor added that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had made good progress. An IMF delegation was expected to visit Sri Lanka by the end of August to reach a staff-level agreement.After Sri Lanka reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF, it had to start engaging with its creditors on debt restructuring.

“Once we reach an agreement with the IMF the situation will improve further,” he added. (RK)

(See related stories in the business section)

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CID arrests Mervyn 15 years after he forcibly entered Rupavahini

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By Norman Palihawadana

Former Minister Mervyn Silva was yesterday arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for forcibly entering the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and attacking some employees there in 2007.On 27 Dec. 2007, Silva and his associates entered the SLRC premises and assaulted its news director for not airing a speech he had made in Matara.

SLRC employees held Silva incommunicado for hours, and the police intervened to secure his release. A few weeks later, some of the workers involved in the incident came under goon attacks.Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President at the time.

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Aeroflot affair: flights yet to resume; MP questions status of probe into detention of SU 289

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ByShamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka hadn’t been able yet to convince Russia to resume Aeroflot flights and tourists from there to Sri Lanka suspended in the wake of the detention of SU 289 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on the afternoon of June 02, authoritative sources said.

Sri Lanka grappling with an unprecedented foreign exchange shortage desperately needs tourists from an important destination like Russia, which earlier accounted for a sizeable share of the incoming traffic. Responding to The Island queries, sources said that relevant authorities were in the process of looking into the issue at hand.Having summoned Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow Janitha Abeywickrema Liyanage soon after the incident at the BIA, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning over the incident.

In the wake of the Russian warning, the then government took measures to lift restrictions imposed on the aircraft that was to be detained till June 16. The detained SU 289 was allowed to leave on June 06.Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (18) told The Island that no holds barred investigation was required to ascertain the truth.

Lawmaker Weerasekera said that the government should inform the Parliament of the progress of the investigation and what steps it intended to take as well as measures already taken to mend relations with Russia.

The retired Navy Chief of Staff said that those in authority should investigate whether a court ruling issued in respect of a case filed by Ireland-based Celestial Aviation Trading Company Ltd., against Aeroflot had been manipulated by interested parties.

It transpired that no sooner High Court Judge, S. M. H. S.P. Sethunge, in the Commercial High Court of the Western Province, Attorney-at-Law Aruna de Silva accompanied a fiscal officer of the same Court to the BIA at lightning speed to deliver the ruling.

Lawyer de Silva appeared for the plaintiff with Avindra Rodrigo, PC, (litigation) of FJ & G.de Saram, leading law firm from the colonial times. The law firm has previously declined to comment on this matter.High Court judge Sethunga is on record as having said that he didn’t order the BIA not to permit Aeroflot SU 289 to take off on the afternoon of June 02.

Attorney-at-Law Dasun Nagasena, Coordinating Secretary to Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC yesterday (18) said that the Justice Ministry recommended action against the Attorney-at-Law to the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC. Nagasena said that the fiscal officer who served the Justice Ministry had been interdicted, pending further investigations. As regards the lawyer, it would be handled on the advice of the CJ, the official said. Responding to another query, the official said that the Justice Ministry hadn’t been informed yet of the progress of the investigations.

Ports, Shipping and Aviation Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra yesterday said that ministry officials on Wednesday (17) discussed ways and means of resuming Aeroflot flights with relevant authorities, including the Russian embassy. Ruwanchandra said they were hopeful reaching a consensus on this matter soon. The official said so in response to The Island queries.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Saliya Pieris, PC, yesterday said that they could initiate an inquiry only on the basis of a formal complaint. He said so when The Island asked him whether the BASL initiated an inquiry into the lawyer’s conduct in this regard. The President’s Counsel said that normally the BASL wouldn’t launch an investigation into a matter inquired into by the CJ.

At the time of the BIA incident, Prof. G.L. Peiris had been the minister in charge of foreign affairs. Since the change of government, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has sworn in Ali Sabry, PC, as the new minister of foreign affairs.

Russia has pointed out that action was taken against SU 289 in spite of an assurance given by Sri Lanka in respect of regular flights to Colombo.Sri Lankan Airlines in late March suspended flights to Moscow in the wake of imposition of what the airline called operational restrictions in the wake of war between Russia and Ukraine.

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