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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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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary

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There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran

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But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President

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The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.

 

 

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