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GL: Under 19A President has responsibility sans authority

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20A does not dilute powers of Parliament

By Saman Indrajith

The main issue with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was that while it delegated responsibilities; it did not assign the necessary powers to ensure that those responsibilities could be fulfilled, Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris told Parliament yesterday.

 Speaking during the second day of the two-day debate on the 20th Amendment, the Minister elaborated that the best example was with regard to defence. “Under Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution, a key responsibility of the President is to safeguard national security. Yet, under the 19A, though the President was elected by 6.9 million voters, he can’t be the Minister of Defence. In fact, he can’t hold any ministries. He is the Commander of the armed forces and police, but he can’t command them.”

Prof. Peiris said that a lot of responsibilities had been heaped upon the President, but he had not been given the necessary powers to carry out those responsibilities. “There is responsibility without authority; that is the basic flaw in the structural framework of the 19th Amendment,” the one time top law academic said.

Prof. Peiris also asked whether the framework established by the 19th Amendment was really in line with democracy. “The Constitutional Council was the centrepiece of 19A. All appointments to the so-called independent commissions are made by the CC. Take for example, the civil society members in the CC. They can’t be removed, though a new President and government is in power. They will be in power for another year until their term ends, and no one can do anything about it.”

“We don’t fear the independent commissions, but their conduct is unjust. They have become totally politicised,” he said.  

While there must be checks and balances on those in power if those checks and balances went beyond a certain limit and became excessive, the end result was that nothing would get done, he argued. “Those who hold positions of power would not be able to do anything. There will be a gridlock situation.”

 The minister also dismissed claims made by the Opposition that the 20A would considerably reduce Parliament’s powers. “Under Article 148 of the Constitution, it is Parliament that is responsible for public finance. No matter how powerful a President is, he must still come before Parliament to obtain the necessary funds for the function of the governance mechanism. This cannot be done through any other entity. That is why the Finance Minister is due to present the Budget to Parliament in November; a Budget you all have every right to pass or defeat. As such, 20A will not reduce the powers of Parliament by one bit.”



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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