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GL: It will be grave mistake to burden public further

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris says that whatever the political arrangement, envisaged by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, to address the developing political-economic-social crisis, the expansion of the Cabinet-of-Ministers wouldn’t be acceptable to the public, under any circumstances.

“It would be a grave mistake on the part of political parties represented in Parliament, even to consider a bigger Cabinet at a time, the vast majority of people are struggling to make ends meet,” the rebel SLPP National List MP said. The SLPP consists of 145 MPs but is largely divided into four groups, with the one backing former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa being the largest.

Those who accepted the need for a much-touted all-party government/arrangement, should be able to manage with 18 ministers, Prof. Peiris asserted.The SLPP Chairman said so when The Island asked for the status of their dialogue with President Wickremesinghe. The rebel group, including Dullas Alahapperuma, who challenged Wickremesinghe at the July 20 presidential contest, was among those present on the occasion. The meeting took place at the Presidential Secretariat, on July 04. The SLPP fielded Wickremesinghe as their candidate at the first such vote that was convincingly won by the UNP leader. Wickremesinghe secured 133 votes, in spite of the UNP having just one MP (UNP leader) in Parliament.

Prof. Peiris said that their position, on the current situation, was made clear to both the President and Premier Dinesh Gunawardena. Responding to another query, Prof. Peiris emphasized that those who formulated solutions should bear in mind Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy status and ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the dialogue with other bilateral and multilateral creditors.Therefore, the proposed solutions shouldn’t be a further burden on the hapless public and unfavourable to talks on debt-restructuring, Prof. Peiris stressed.

The former top legal academic said that the government and the Opposition couldn’t turn a blind eye to a range of proposals made by the public protest movement that overthrew the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration. Appreciating President Wickremesinghe entering into a dialogue with the protest movement amidst the furor in some quarters over the declaration of Emergency, Prof. Peiris said tangible measures were necessary to regain public confidence.

He warned that an extra-large Cabinet-of-Ministers would cause dissent and further jeopardize relations between the Parliament and the irate public.

Prof. Peiris who had served the Cabinet-of-Ministers of Presidents, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, declared support for economic recovery measures taken by President Wickremesinghe to address, what the former Minister described as daunting challenges at a media briefing on July 05 at the Madiwela residence of rebel MP Wasantha Yapa Bandara.

Addressing the media, Prof. Peiris explained the urgent need for consensus among political parties represented in Parliament on an economic recovery plan to meet the basic needs of the people and then gradually re-build the national economy. Ensuring food security posed quite a formidable challenge with the disruption of fuel distribution affecting the entire country, he said.

The appointed National List MP pointed out that starved of inputs how dilapidated agriculture, fisheries and health sectors caused unbearable difficulties to those struggling to cope up with the runaway cost-of-living.While underscoring the need to address the contentious issue of the cost of living, without delay, Prof. Peiris emphasized the need for national understanding on key sectors such as economy, health and agriculture et al. Such an understanding was necessary to ensure continuity of key policies, regardless of change of governments, he said.

Commenting on the pivotal importance of parliamentary committees, including watchdogs, Prof. Peiris said their group assured President Wickremesinghe and Premier Gunawardena support for the overall national recovery plan though they didn’t want to accept ministerial responsibilities.Prof. Peiris stressed that they wouldn’t want to be part of the executive by accepting ministerial portfolios as ministers represented the executive in the Parliament.

He also asserted that the President should adhere to his maiden policy speech delivered in Parliament on August 03.In terms of the Constitution, the formation of a national government would automatically do away with the restrictions imposed on the size of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, he pointed out.Declaring that under normal circumstances, the incumbent government could have 30 ministers and 40 State/Deputy Ministers, Prof. Peiris said that formation of a national government, in terms of the constitution, would be a legitimate excuse to expand the cabinet.

Therefore, the decision-makers should realize ground realities before finalizing solutions acceptable to the public. The protest movement, whatever the shortcomings and violence associated with it, reflected the public suffering, Prof. Peiris said. “That is the undeniable truth. So, Parliament cannot ignore the post May 09 developments when responding to the emerging threats,” Prof. Peiris told The Island.



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22A: Jayasumana asks govt. to stick to SC ruling, warns against moves detrimental to unitary status

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Prof. Jayasumana

Dissident SLP MP Prof. Channa Jayasumana has said that the government will not be allowed to use the proposed 22 Amendment to introduce anything detrimental to the country.

The Anuradhapura District MP said that it would be advisable for the ruling party to refrain from proposing amendments at the committee stage, other than what were authorised by the Supreme Court.

The Parliament is scheduled to debate the 22 Amendment tomorrow (06) and the day after (07).

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill seeking the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution could be adopted with a two-thirds majority in the House, though some clauses would require a nationwide referendum.

The rebel MP said that the clauses, inconsistent with the Constitution, should be left out of the Bill.

Responding to The Island queries, the former State Minister said that they would defeat whatever attempts to undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status at a time the country was struggling to cope up with a deteriorated economic situation.

The lawmaker said that it would be nothing but treachery to allow opportunists to exploit the recent developments. Prof. Jayasumana intends to take up the issue at hand with the 13-member rebel group, ahead of the two-day debate.

“Obviously, the SLPP is divided over the issue at hand,” the academic said, adding that the election of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the President, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, highlighted sharp divisions within the party over policy and strategy.

The SLPP won 145 seats at the last parliamentary election, though over 20 members have now declared they wouldn’t follow dictates of the party.

Prof. Jayasumana said that he publicly discussed the issue at hand recently following a gathering at Horowpothana, Morawewa.

Meanwhile, Ven. Professor Induragare Dharmarathana Thera said that the Jathika Mahajana Sabhawa would launch a protest campaign today (05) at the Independence Square, at 8.30 am.

The Ven. Thera alleged that they feared an attempt would be made to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that was enacted way back in the late 80s to appease those pushing for division of the country, on ethnic lines (SF)

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State FM: Treasury needs to increase revenue by Rs 400 bn

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The Finance Ministry yesterday (04) quoted State Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya as having said that the Treasury faced the daunting task of increasing the revenue by Rs 400 bn.

Siyambalapitiya said that both the government and the Opposition had acknowledged the urgent need to enhance revenue. The Minister said that their efforts to save foreign exchange by restricting imports had been quite successful and that the government had been able to reduce imports by 25 percent, in July this year, when compared with figures for the same month in the previous year.

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GL fires broadside at SLPP-RW govt., calls for accountability

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dissident SLPP lawmaker Prof. G.L. Peiris has alleged that the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe administration has allocated 320 vehicles for the recently appointed 38 State Ministers and their staff.

In addition, those who had been appointed District Coordinators had also been allocated vehicles, the former External Affairs Minister told the media on Monday (03). The ruling SLPP secured the lion’s share of state ministerial portfolios, as well as lucrative appointments as District Coordinators, the former minister said.

Addressing the media at the rebel group’s office, at Nawala, the SLPP National List MP and the party Chairman flayed what he called the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government for squandering taxpayers’ money to appease a section of the Parliament at a time the vast majority of people were struggling to make ends meet.

Pointing out that in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the government could appoint 30 cabinet and 40 non-cabinet rankers, Prof. Peiris said that it was only a matter of time before the government increased the number of Cabinet ministers to 30. At the moment, the Cabinet comprised 18 ministers, including Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Prof. Peiris said that in the wake of the Parliament approving the Social Security Contribution Levy Bill, the cost of living would go up further. The Parliament recently announced the Treasury intended to collect Rs 140 bn, annually, through the implementation of the new Bill.

The one-time Education Minister explained the current economic difficulties the student populationis facing. The retired top academic expressed serious concern over quite a number of students giving up education.

Commenting on the inordinate delay in conducting Local Government elections, Prof. Peiris alleged that the government feared facing the electorate for obvious reasons. Declaring that the Election Commission now had the power to call for Local Government polls, Prof. Peiris urged the EC to ensure the public received an opportunity to exercise their franchise.

“The EC shouldn’t disappoint the public,” the SLPP Chairman said, declaring their intention to move Court in case the government sought to further postpone the much-delayed Local Government polls. Prof. Peiris stressed their determination to vigorously oppose the government strategy to indefinitely put off Local Government polls. This should be examined against the backdrop of none of the Provincial Councils having elected members for several years now.

At the onset of the briefing, Prof. Peiris declared that the Opposition scored a significant victory when President Ranil Wickremesinghe was compelled to rescind his controversial Gazette notification on the setting up of High Security Zones in Colombo. The President wouldn’t have done so if not for heavy attacks mounted by all concerned. Prof. Peiris paid a glowing tribute to the media for relentlessly pursuing the issue until President Wickremesinghe had no option but to annul the dictatorial law. If the government strategy succeeded, Colombo city would have been transformed to a cantonment, the former Law Professor said, flaying Media Minister Bandula Gunawardena’s recent declaration that the electronic media needed to be regulated.

Referring to the recent warning issued by the Public Administration Ministry, to public servants, that they would be appropriately dealt with over social media posts/statements, Prof. Peiris said such a strategy wouldn’t work now. Reiterating the national economy was in such a desperate state, Prof. Peiris said that serious allegations, pertaining to procurement of coal for the Lakvijaya Coal-fired Power Plant, as well as crude oi,l couldn’t be suppressed.

Responding to a query on Sri Lanka’s position at the ongoing 51 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, the former Foreign Minister faulted the government for arresting anti-government, activists under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Prof. Peiris said that in his former capacity as the External Affairs Minister he assured the UNHRC, in June this year, that the PTA wouldn’t be used while the government undertook a comprehensive study on a new security law. But, the government indiscriminately used the PTA in cases not related terrorism at all, Prof. Peiris said, questioning the rationale in Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s declaration that those arrested in terms of the PTA wouldn’t be charged under the same law.

The Premier owed an explanation, the former minister said, pointing out the UNHRC was concerned over the utilization of the PTA.

The former minister said that if the UNHRC adopted a new resolution in respect of Sri Lanka, it could have a detrimental effect on ongoing negotiations with the IMF, the GSP plus as well as efforts to attract foreign investment. Prof Peiris insists: “What we really need is adequate investment, not more loans.”

Prof. Peiris said that the National Council was nothing but another talk shop. The government could have proved its sincerity by giving the leadership of parliamentary watchdog committees, the COPE and the COPA, to Opposition lawmakers, the MP said. Instead, the SLPP was hell-bent on suppressing those who dared to dissent, regardless of the consequences, the former Minister said, vowing to push for the restoration of parliamentary democracy.

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