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Midweek Review

House watchdog committees paint a bleak picture as SLPP seeks passage of Colombo Port City Bill

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Justice Minister M.U.M. Ali Sabry, PC, on Sunday (18) declared that the commissioning of the Colombo Port City was an occasion to celebrate. Declaring that the high-profile project is turning point for post-war Sri Lanka, Minister Sabry explained how the mega project could transform the country.

Sabry, who had served as the Treasurer and as the Deputy President of the Bar Association (BASL) on many occasions, assured there was absolutely nothing to worry about the project.

 Former President of the BASL U.R. de Silva, PC, Chief Advisor to the Justice Ministry, too, defended the project. Among those who defended the project were lawmakers Prof. G.L. Peiris, Keheliya Rambukwella, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Shehan Semasinghe and Namal Rajapaksa.  

 The government responded following an unexpected attack from former President of the BASL Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC. If the former Justice Minister, while being a member of the current administration’s parliamentary group, had not mounted such a frontal attack out of the blues, the government wouldn’t have had to mount such a strong defence of the Colombo Port City project. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, attack was followed by the BASL declaration that it would move the Supreme Court against the establishment of an Economic Commission (EC) to manage the Colombo Port City. Saliya Pieris, PC, in his capacity as the President of the BASL, moved the SC against the government move. In nearly 20 petitions filed against the proposed Bill, the defendant is Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC.

One-time internationally recognised top law academic Prof. Peiris emphasised that the proposed Bill was in line with the Constitution and received the sanction of the AG before being presented to the Cabinet of ministers.

It would be pertinent to mention that the CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Limited had been the main sponsor of the National Law Conference 2020 on Feb 14, 2020 at Jetwing Blue, Negombo, during the tenure of Kalinga Indatissa, PC, as the President of the BASL. The CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Limited had been among nearly 40 sponsors. USAID had been among the group. On the following day, Dr. Harsha Cabral, PC, and Dr. Asanga Gunawansa addressed the members on ‘Port City-Development of the law, local and international arbitration’. There were several related sessions which dealt with offshore financing, banking investment and FDI and its legal regime. Saliya Pieris and Manohara de Silva addressed the gathering on fundamental rights, labour laws and conflict of laws.

At the end of the inauguration of the event, on Feb 14, CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Limited distributed a 51-page report titled ‘Economic Impact Assessment of the Port City Colombo’ prepared by leading multinational audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (Pvt) Limited. The distribution of the report followed the briefing given by the CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Limited. In spite of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (Pvt) Limited declaring the report was meant for general guidance as regards matters of interest only and should be taken as investment advice, it presented an attractive picture of the project.

The Presence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, Attorney General Dappula de Livera PC and Justice Minister Sabry PC underscored the importance of the event. The writer was present on the occasion.

 

Clash over China project

 All political parties should bear in mind that the current pathetic state of the economy cannot be blamed on China or any other country. If Parliament fulfilled its primary obligations as regards ensuring financial discipline and enactment of laws, the country wouldn’t have been in an extremely dicey situation, financially. Politicians now opposing the China led project, as well as those backing it, should keep in mind how the political parties, they represented ruined the national economy through their profligacy and downright mismanagement.

During the yahapalana administration, BASL received quite a bit of negative media coverage following revelation it received Rs 2.5 mn sponsorship from the disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) for the three-day Law Asia 2016 Golden Jubilee Conference in August, 2016 during President’s Counsel Geoffrey Alagaratnam’s tenure as its President. The sponsorship was accepted over a year after the first Treasury bond scam perpetrated in late Feb 2015 caused a national stir.

A section of the Opposition, some members of the civil society, and SLPP Colombo District MP Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, are up in arms over the proposed establishment of an Economic Commission (EC) to manage the Colombo Port City. Some trade unions, affiliated to political parties, too, are opposed to the move. As to how sincere their loud outcry is yet to be determined by the highest court in the land.

 JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, MP, compared what he called a future Chinese administration of the Colombo Port City with that of China-administered Hong Kong. The same JVP turned a blind eye when the yahapalana government with which they were then openly cavorting with, gave away the Hambantota Port on a platter to Beijing on a 99-year lease.

Those opposed to the proposed EC asserted that as the Colombo Port City would be outside the purview of Parliament, it wouldn’t be subjected to domestic laws. The Cabinet of ministers, recently sanctioned legislation that once gazetted and passed in Parliament it would enable the setting up of an EC.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya lawmaker Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Kiriella warned of the Colombo Port City becoming a federal structure beyond the financial control of the Central Bank, Monetary Board and the Finance Ministry. Among those who moved the Supreme Court against the proposed Bill are the BASL, Purawesi balaya, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), the JVP and the UNP. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jegan Jegatheeswaran, too, filed cases.

 Rebel lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse last Thursday (15) flayed the entire political system with the focus on the incumbent government over the move. MP Rajapakse basically repeated what JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said several days ago. What is really interesting is where the former Justice Minister addressed the media. Many an eyebrow was raised when the MP lambasted the government at Abayaramaya, Narahenpita, with Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda by his side. 

Some monks are sullying the robe by getting involved in virtually every other brouhaha raised in the political arena, when they should essentially be guiding the adherents of Buddha’s teachings on that path.

 On the following day, the former minister claimed that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa blasted him over the statement made on the previous day. Lawmaker Rajapakse acknowledged that he wouldn’t hesitate to take a decision regarding his political future with the SLPP government. The government parliamentary group is likely to be undermined by this development. It would be pertinent to mention that the government overcame opposition to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution from its ranks. The 20th Amendment required two-thirds majority.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa presented the Colombo Port City EC Bill to the Cabinet of ministers. The 76-page Bill provides for the establishment of an EC authorised to grant registrations, licences, authorisations, and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be established within the Colombo Port City.

The proposed EC will consist of not less than five members and not more than seven members, including its Chairman and they will be appointed by the President, under whose purview the Colombo Port City functions.

The Bill, titled the ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission Act’, is expected to be presented to Parliament within the next few weeks.

Lawmaker Dissanayake declared that Parliament should defeat the move. However, with the ruling party enjoying a two-thirds majority in Parliament with its group numbering 145 members, the dilapidated Opposition is not in a position to thwart the government’s mega project.

 

A US warning

Against the backdrop of continuing US-China rivalry, Sri Lanka should be extremely cautious in finalizing the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Act. Unsolicited and clearly interfering, the US advice into the country’s internal affairs in this regard shouldn’t be ignored. 

The media recently quoted the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Alaina Teplitz as having said: “Any legislation relating to the Port City has to be considered very carefully for its economic impact. And of course, among those un-intended consequences could be creating a haven for money launderers and other sorts of nefarious actors to take advantage of what was perceived as a permissive business environment for activities that would actually be illegal.” Teplitz was further quoted as having said: “I do recognize that the government of Sri Lanka wants to take advantage of the investment that has already been made in creating the Port City foundation, but the legislation really needs to be reflected to address these challenges and to be careful of what it might be to open doors to bad practice and unfair competition for the rest of the country.”

The country’s tax revenues have plunged in 2020, raising concerns over debt and the fiscal path, credit downgrades and Sri Lanka’s ability to sustain vital public services to the people, while managing loss-making state enterprises.

Let me examine shocking revelations in Parliament, pertaining to waste, corruption and irregularities as the fiscal environment continued to deteriorate. Evaluation of reports released by the Communication Department of Parliament as regards inquiries conducted by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and the Committee on Parliamentary Finance (COPF) chaired by Prof. Charitha Herath, Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, respectively, would enable the public to grasp the gravity of things that had been perpetrated and the resultant situation.

The country celebrated Sinhala and Tamil New Year in an utterly bad financial environment, undoubtedly exacerbated by the pandemic as has happened world over. Televised celebrations also involving lawmakers representing the SLPP and the SJB highlighted the absurdity of a deteriorating situation. Lawmakers joined celebrations amidst continuing controversy over unprecedented slashing of duty on sugar imports, importation of contaminated coconut oil, destruction of forests and unbridled corruption.

 

Horrifying picture

Statements issued by the Communications Department revealed a horrifying picture. A pathetic situation caused by those who enjoyed political power since the introduction of the JRJ Constitution in 1978. Interestingly the two major political parties primarily responsible for the current predicament are no longer in power. The last general election, in August 2020 reduced the UNP to just one National List MP. The SLFP parliamentary group consists of 14 members with only one of them elected on the SLFP ticket. The rest entered Parliament through the SLPP. Political parties essentially engineered, encouraged and conveniently turned a blind eye to corruption. The examination of the House Communication Department statements revealed how the political set up, public sector and the private sector perpetrated corruption.

Parliament faces challenges

 COPE Chairman Prof. Herath explained the growing financial indiscipline among those enterprises coming under his purview when he presented their first report to Parliament on March 10, 2021. SLPP National List lawmaker alleged that the power of Parliament to supervise public sector enterprises had been challenged. Prof. Herath cited the Auditor General’s report on the Lakvijaya coal-fired power complex at Norochcholai, Puttalam, as an example to highlight the financial lawlessness. One-time Media Secretary questioned how some public sector enterprises were excluded from the AG’s scrutiny.

Another SLPP lawmaker Shantha Bandara pointed out how various public sector institutions blatantly ignored instructions issued by parliamentary watchdog committees.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, himself under fire for accommodating the members of his family and relatives on his staff assured that ways and means to address those issues would be addressed through the proposed new Constitution. Abeywardena insisted that the current situation could be addressed only through the enactment of a new Constitution.

Can Speaker Abeywardena’s assurance be accepted under an extremely volatile fiscal situation? How can tangible measures required to address the crisis be further delayed on the assurance that such issues would be dealt with through the proposed new Constitution. Unless Parliament accepted its responsibilities namely (a) enactment of new laws and (b) financial discipline, the country faces an extraordinary crisis.

The statement issued on April 12 by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, ahead of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, is a grim reminder of Sri Lanka’s predicament. Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Beijing Dr. Palitha Kohona signed the loan agreement with the China Development Bank at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Beijing. The latest loan is the balance of USD 1 billion, out of which USD 500 million was received last year.

Before examination of COPE, COPA and COPF reports, let me remind what Secretary to the Finance Ministry S.R. Attygalle told Parliament on Dec 07, 2020 in response to a query pertaining to discrepancy in pensions. The Communications Department of Parliament quoted Attygalle as having said that the annual salary, pension and gratuity payments cost the Treasury a staggering Rs 1.1 trillion. In addition to that amount, the absorbing of 50,000 graduates to the public sector in terms of a 2021 budget proposal as well as 100,000 employment opportunities to the poorest of poor families, too, would cost a hefty sum.

When the writer sought a clarification from Attygalle on April 15th morning, the official explained the salaries amounted to a staggering Rs 800 bn annually and the rest for pension and gratuity.

Public finances are in turmoil. COPE, COPA, COPF as well as Parliamentary Consultative Committees essentially highlight waste, corruption and irregularities. The following are some samples of revelations.

The COPA on March 26, 2021, revealed the failure on the part of the Inland Revenue Department to collect taxes. The Communications Department reported how the Inland Revenue Department received 6,878 dishonoured checks worth Rs. 240 million as at 31 Dec, 2020. It was also revealed at the COPA meeting that Court cases had been filed by Inland Revenue Department in the Colombo Magistrate’s Court to recover Rs. 2670 million in tax arrears from casinos.

The Communications Department of Parliament on March 24, 2021, on the basis of Consultative Committee of the Ports and Shipping Ministry, reported a highly contentious matter involving Sri Lanka Customs. The Consultative Committee was told how due to failure on the part of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to pay due taxes to the Customs for the importation of gantry cranes, the latter was now entitled to 50 per cent of the fine imposed on the SLPA. The Consultative Committee, while asserting such a payment to the Customs was a major problem recommended talks with relevant officials, including the Secretary to the Treasury to recover the money as a payment to the government. The Communications Department quoted Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena as having said that the issue at hand should be also discussed with the COPA.

The Communication Department of Parliament on March 2, 2021 reported the shocking revelation of how Lanka Mineral Sands Limited caused substantial revenue loss at a time the country was facing an extremely serious financial crisis. The report dealt with the COPE meeting held in Parliament on the same day. COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath instructed the Secretary to the Ministry of Industries, Anusha Palpita, to immediately investigate and submit a report on the tender awarded by Lanka Mineral Sands Limited for the sale of 85,000 metric tonnes of ilmenite at USD 147 per tonne to the third-place bidder instead of the prospective winning bidder, who had offered the highest price of USD 165 per tonne of ilmenite. Lanka Mineral Sands claimed that their decision was based on a recommendation made by a tender subcommittee appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers and that the transaction received Cabinet approval. Questioning the rationale in awarding the tender to the third-placed bidder, COPE discussed the possibility of the Lanka Mineral Sands Limited deceiving the Cabinet of Ministers. The inquiry revealed that the current price of a metric tonne of ilmenite is close to USD 240. Many an eyebrow was raised when it was revealed that substantial part of the sold stock to a buyer in October 2020 was still stored in the Pulmudai at the expense of the Lanka Mineral Sands. The buyer hadn’t paid the full payment, the COPE was told.

The Island received the entire set of statements issued by watchdog committees. A communiqué issued on March 15, 2021 by the Communications Department of Parliament revealed the failure on the part of the Finance Ministry, Inland Revenue and the Justice Ministry to take remedial measures in respect of laws delay. Their failure seriously affected the revenue collecting process.

The Commissioner General of Inland Revenue H. M.C. Bandara has told COPA that his department had not been able to recover billions of rupees in tax arrears due to lengthy judicial process and the attendant delays. The COPA assured that the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance and the Inland Revenue Department would be summoned for a discussion. That promised meeting is yet to take place. During the COPA meeting held on March 10, 2021, it was also pointed out the deficiencies in a list that contained names of tax defaulters. The COPA also pointed out the shortcomings in Legacy and Ramis computer systems that controlled tax files and the revelation of Rs 107 bn in tax arrears according to Legacy system, out of which only Rs 224 mn have been recovered exposed the chaotic situation.

The government needs to address shortcomings in the revenue collection process without further delay. In an utterly corrupt system, delays, failures and shortcomings seem to be deliberate and well calculated. With the country on the brink of financial disaster, it would be the responsibility of parliament to take remedial measures. Perhaps, the Presidential Commission inquiring into the Customs should summon parliamentary watchdog committees at the onset of public sittings to obtain a clear picture of the ground situation before it proceeds.

 Readers should not think we are merely scare mongering, but the truth remains that we must be responsible for our future instead of ever being ready to beg for handouts or rescue packages from outside. True that unlike most powerful Western nations and their lending arms China has not been behaving like the proverbial Shylock. But we have an inherent duty not to live beyond our means.



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Midweek Review

India’s role in re-moulding the SAARC

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Making sense of regional integration in South Asia:

 

By Dr Srimal Fernando

Regional integration and cooperation have proven to be vital in dealing with political and economic challenges that cannot otherwise be dealt with effectively

In a national context, India’s unique positioning in the South Asian region has influenced the responses of the other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states regarding regional cooperation. Hence, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation SAARC’s strength and effectiveness are reliant not only on the organization’s institutional capabilities but also on the stableness of the member states that are less powerful and the security issues that appear at both the regional and extra-regional levels. For the South Asian region to attain successful regionalism, the less powerful countries in the region will need to espouse India’s power. Given that the South Asian nations share close cultural, historical and social ties, it becomes almost impossible to isolate them. In South Asia, India controls a greater proportion of the trade surplus and informal trade with other nations in the region. It can be debated that India’s policies on regional cooperation and SAARC has been symbolic of a worldwide approach in addressing the problems in a region.

India’s strategic location could provide the impetus required for promoting meaningful regional cooperation. Hence, India should renew its interest in promoting the agenda for regional cooperation and also engage in developing greater ties with other SAARC member states. Given India’s power, it can cause significant implications for SAARC’s political and economic structure. Hence, it is vital that India proactively advances both inter-regional as well as intra-regional integration in the economies of the region. A close evaluation of SAARC’s context indicates that there is insufficient commitment amongst its member states in pushing forward the regional integration agenda.

 

India and the South Asian Regionalism agenda

In South Asia, India is seen as a major player in the sphere of promoting initiatives for regional cooperation. Interestingly, the concept of establishing a regional identity in South Asia to boost intra-regional cooperation can be traced back to the endeavours of pre-independent India. India’s foreign policy had been progressively shaped by the Non-Alignment principles from the time of the Afro-Asian movement in achieving its objectives. Subsequently, this Nehruvian approach to regionalism has been succeeded by new regionalism in South Asia, which has seen a redirection in India’s approach towards this concept. India was also part of the Bandung Conference of 1955, which predominantly is considered to have paved the way for regional cooperation in Asia and South Asia. Subsequently, over the years, India has taken an active role in the SAARC initiatives.

Consequently, India recognized the proposal made by President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh for the creation of a regional platform which identified numerous areas of cooperation. The establishment of SAARC came to be seen by India as a remedy to the strained political posture in South Asia, and since then, India has emerged as an influential member state of the organization. Nevertheless, finally India was convinced about the potential economic advantages that cooperation could bring about by merging most of the South Asian economies at that time. Although the areas of cooperation were limited to a few spheres such as technical cooperation during the initial years of forming SAARC, India subsequently came to fully accept and support the proposal for founding SAARC.

Eventually, given India’s strategic importance in the region, it became crucial for the country to actively participate in the joint initiatives for cooperation in the region. A striking feature of the region’s political and economic dynamics has been India’s political and economic dominance in contrast to the unequal levels of development among the other SAARC member nations.

 

India and Regional Economic Integration in South Asia

India’s economic dominance over the rest of the SAARC member states can be crucial in unifying the rest of the South Asian nations under a single umbrella. Given India’s role in promoting trade and attracting foreign direct investment, it can be said that regional integration has been an essential part of its foreign policy. This is notably significant to India, given that the dynamics of globalization and cross-border value chains are crucial for a state’s economy.

India’s magnitude as well as its economy, which is the largest in the region, provides the country an advantage over the other member states of SAARC. India has a Gross National Product (GNP) which is almost three times the total national product of the other SAARC member states. Being a vital player in the region in advancing regional prosperity and in reviving SAARC, these elements have vested India with high prospects. Subsequently, this has led India to be actively engaged in fostering regional cooperation through numerous endeavours to promote growth and development in the region. This has been further assisted by India’s strategic positioning which makes it possible for the nation to trade with its neighbours. Notably, India accounts for 80 percent of all intra-regional trade in South Asia.

In spite of these developments, the disproportionate distribution of trade advantages, that frequently favours India owing to its economic supremacy, has caused inequalities among the SAARC nations. Consequently, the prospects of India playing a leading role in fostering regional growth and development have been riddled with suspicion and fear of India’s dominance over the smaller and weaker economies of SAARC. Moreover, there exists immense prospects for improving political and economic ties amongst SAARC member states and the rest of the world. Accordingly, one of the critical developments in regional politics in the past three decades can be considered to be the emergence of regional cooperation institutions such as SAARC. Hence, nearly all of the South Asian countries have been encouraged by this development to embraced regionalism. However, the extent to which India and the SAARC nations can remain committed towards implementing regional initiatives under the SAARC framework is yet to be seen, given the rapid proliferation of regional arrangements and manifold memberships between India and the rest of the SAARC nations within such arrangements.

 

New Regionalism in South Asia

A close evaluation of SAARC indicates that there is insufficient commitment among its member states towards pushing forward the regional integration agenda. However, despite many challenges, SAARC’S continued existence for over three decades since its formation provides new prospects for improving the organization. Hence, it is vital that India takes on an active role in advancing initiatives in the region as a mode of reaching high GDP rates and trade growth.

In addition, given that the South Asian region is considered to be one of the least integrated regions of the globe, it is crucial that India is robust in promoting both inter-regional as well as intra-regional integration in the economies of South Asia.

About the Author

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O. P Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’

 

 

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Midweek Review

House seeks public views on ‘the role of an MP and aspirations of the people’

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Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, at the inauguration of a three-day capacity building programme for the Staff of Secy Gen of Parliament, at CITRUS Hotel, Waskaduwa, in early March 2016. The USAID funded the programme meant to promote much touted good governance. Training of parliament staff was part of an overall project worth Rs 1.92 bn.

By Shamindra
Ferdinando

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is in deepening turmoil. Political parties are in disarray, with the country’s two major political parties – the United National Party (UNP) reduced to just one (National List) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) 14 (one National List/13 on the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket), respectively. Leaderships of those parties have caused so much damage to their parliamentary groups, over the years, that both are unlikely to recover for a long time.

Unfortunately, the SLFP’s offshoot the SLPP, and the breakaway UNP faction the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, are struggling to cope up with the deteriorating political environment. Overall, the country is in disorder with political parties, beset by internal conflicts, pulling in different directions, whereas the status of the Parliament remains questionable.

Lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s assertion that Parliament is the most corrupt institution in the country cannot be dismissed. The declaration made by President’s Counsel Rajapakse, in response to a query by the writer, at a media briefing, called by him, at the Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF), in June 2019, highlighted the unprecedented crisis. Having made that declaration, as a UNP lawmaker, Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s own political future, as a member of the ruling SLPP, is uncertain today against the backdrop of him moving the Supreme Court against the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill – whatever the court ruling may be. In a way, one-time BASL (Bar Association of Sri Lanka) President Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s plight reflected the growing instability and insecurity, in general, mainly brought on by the unprecedented pandemic, in living memory, but amplified by the unabated immoral political shenanigans.

The whole political setup seems to be in a dilemma. The House couldn’t have picked a better time to launch the second volume of an academic journal, titled ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’, to discuss a range of topics which dealt with parliamentary matters. The themes are (1) Constitution and Amendments to the Constitution (2) Representative Democracy and the Committee System (3) Legislative Functions of Parliament (4) Parliament and the Endowment of its Citizens (5) Standing Orders, Members’ Conduct and Parliamentary Procedures (6) Electoral System, the Parliament and Public Outreach (7) Parliamentary Reporting and Mass Communications (8) Sustainable Development Goals and the Parliamentary System (9) New Trends in Sri Lankan Women Politics and finally (10) The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People.

The Communications Department of the Parliament called for submission of articles, in all three languages (3,000 to 5,000 words each), to: journal.slparliament@gmail.com by, or before, May 21, 2021, after having informed the relevant officer, handling the project, on weekdays, on 0112 777328, of their desire to furnish articles.

The writer feels the entire gamut of issues, at hand, can be addressed by dealing with only the final topic: ‘The Role of an MP and aspirations of the People.’ The Communications Department assured those interested in submitting articles that their work would be reviewed by a panel of experts.

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is at a crossroads, with the SLPP bent on further consolidating executive powers, whereas the other political parties sought to dilute the powers enjoyed by the President. The Role of an MP and aspirations of the people, or any other relevant topic, cannot be discussed unless all stakeholders acknowledge the failure on the part of Parliament to fulfill its two primary obligations. There is no point in denying the fact that Parliament pathetically failed to ensure financial discipline as well as enactment of required laws to combat it. If Parliament achieved its objectives, or at least, made a genuine effort over the years, there wouldn’t have been a need for projects such as ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’ Would the expert panel accept the brutal truth?

 

Timely setting up of Communication Department

Can Parliament, as the supreme law-making institution, absolve itself of the responsibility for the deterioration of every sector, through sheer negligence? Thanks to the setting up of a proper Communication Department, the public, to a large extent, gets to know what is going on. The Communication Department, so far, has dealt quite professionally with proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and the Public Finance Committee (PFC) thereby giving the public a clear idea as to what is really going on. The coverage of COPE, COPA and PFC proceedings disclosed a pathetic state of affairs. Waste, corruption irregularities and negligence seem to be the order of the day.

Let me briefly discuss the shocking revelation made by COPE proceedings on Feb 12, 2021, just to underscore the public dilemma. COPE examination of the Education Ministry reveals that the National Child Protection Policy is yet to be implemented though the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has been in existence since 1998. COPA Chairman Prof. Charitha Ratwatte, serving his first term as a National List lawmaker of the SLPP, stressed the need to implement it without further delay.

According to a statement issued by former journalist Shan Wijetunga, Director, Communications Department, COPE directed Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera to expedite the process. During the proceedings, the revelation of the failure on the part of the NCPA to furnish its 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports to Parliament, is also a grave embarrassment. The Education Ministry owed an explanation how NCPA, an institution under its care, brazenly neglected its responsibility. Would you believe the NCPA’s Legal Section comprised just two employees and just one to handle complaints? The COPE placed the number of complaints that hadn’t been addressed, by January 1, 2021, at a staggering 40,668.

Perhaps ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ should include an additional topic to address the plight of the hapless children for want of a responsible Parliament. Can Parliament explain how it failed to take remedial measures in respect of NCPA? Let me stress, The Island dealt with the Feb 12 COPE proceedings only. If one examined the entire lot, the public would curse those who had served successive governments over the years. The NCPA/Education Ministry’s failure seems relatively light when compared with the shoddy handling of almost all other key ministries.

Against the backdrop of such poor performances by Parliament, the House itself should examine a high-profile costly project, implemented by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), during previous administration. The USAID was launched in late Nov 2016 with a Rs. 1.92 billion (USD$13 million) partnership with the Parliament of Sri Lanka to strengthen accountability and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.

According to the American aid agency, the three-year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) was meant to improve strategic planning and communication within the government and Parliament, enhance public outreach, develop more effective policy reform and implementation processes, and increase political participation of women, and underrepresented groups, in Parliament, and at local levels.

Nearly two years after the conclusion of the project, wouldn’t it be necessary to examine whether the USAID project did any good? Did the USAID project make a tangible change? If not, who benefited from the Rs 1.92 bn project? These questions need answers. Perhaps, the issue can be dealt by some of those who will contribute to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’

 

Why not examine the Rs 1.92 bn

USAID project?

Karu Jayasuriya, who accepted the USAID project, in his capacity as the Speaker, at that time, (with the consent of the then President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP), owed an explanation as regards how US funding benefited the country. Interestingly, KJ today heads the NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice), the brainchild of the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, who spearheaded a political campaign that brought the Mahinda Rajapaksa government down. Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya took over the NMSJ, in the wake of Ven Sobitha’s demise, in early Nov 2015, before giving up the post to pave the way for KJ. The civil society organization NMSJ accommodated KJ in the wake of the former Speaker quitting active politics. But the irony is, it must be noted that NMSJ, too, is involved in anti-government politics to its neck.

‘The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People,’ the last topic offered by Parliament to those interested in contributing to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha,’ would be an ideal opportunity to discuss how the political party system mercilessly failed the country. While the vast majority of people struggled to make ends meet, the political class, and their crowd, enjoyed life at the expense of the national economy. Political parties plundered the country with impunity, regardless of the consequences.

The deterioration of parliamentary standards today cannot be compared with any particular post-independence period. That is the undeniable truth. It would be pertinent to mention that lawmakers should be held accountable for massive waste, corruption, irregularities as well as negligence revealed by COPE, COPA, and PFC. Examine how the mega sugar duty scam, perpetrated by the incumbent administration, cost the Treasury dearly. Can the Finance Ministry absolve itself of responsibility, whoever ordered it do so?

Serving Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, recently commented on the role of the judiciary, vis-a-vis the Executive and the Legislature. Both the Executive and the Legislature should take note of the President’s Counsel’s assertion. The courts had quite justly come to be regarded as the sentinel over the powers of the legislature and the executive in Sri Lanka in order to safeguard the rights of the citizen, under the law and the Constitution, the Attorney General Dappula de Livera has said on March 23, at the ceremonial sitting of the Court of Appeal.

The ceremonial sitting was held to welcome, His Lordship Justice Arjuna Obeysekere as the President of the Court of Appeal, Her Ladyship Justice Menaka Wijesundera, their Lordships Justice Nihal Samarakoon, Justice Prasantha de Silva, Justice Mohamed Laffar, Justice Pradeep Kirthisinghe, Justice Sampath Abayakoon and Justice Sampath Wijeratne as Judges of the Court of Appeal.

Just a week after the AG’s extraordinary declaration, at a ceremonial sitting many an eyebrow was raised when he had to intervene in respect of a Colombo High Court ruling, pertaining to two narcotics cases.

The PC moved the Court of Appeal in revision of two bail orders of the Colombo High Court 04 as regards detection of 65 grams and 485 grams of heroin.

Following the AG’s intervention, the Court of Appeal stayed bail being granted to the suspects. The AG intervened after a State Counsel assigned to Court No 04 challenged the granting of bail.

Of the seven High Courts in Colombo, two Courts, namely No 04 and 05, have been assigned the additional task of dealing with bail applications.

Newly appointed Court of Appeal judge Menaka Wijeyasundera issued the stay order pending further investigations. The Attorney General’s Department examined the cases pertaining to bail applications handled by both Colombo High Courts before the intervention was made.

Democracy cannot thrive unless the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary work for a common agenda. The much-touted ‘One Country, One Law’ concept would never be a reality if the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary pulled in different directions, whoever wielded political power. In the absence of a common objective to lift the living standards of the public, in a stable environment, whoever exercised political power, the country will remain in simmering turmoil.

If one genuinely examines the topics acceptable to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ he or she will quickly realize the entire parliamentary system is in a mess. In spite of introducing 20 Amendments to the President JRJ’s dictatorial Constitution enacted in 1978, the very basis of the law is mired in controversy. And in some cases, the role of lawmakers has been questioned.

 

Ranjan’s removal et al

SJB lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake losing his Gampaha district parliamentary seat, over contempt of court charges, the arrest of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen for allegedly aiding and abetting, Easter Sunday bombers, the CID investigation into a complaint as regards SJB National List lawmaker Diana Gamage’s nationality, controversy over SLPP lawmaker Premalal Jayasekera, sentenced to death over 2015 killing, taking oaths, dismissal of murder charges against Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, MP Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan as well as termination of proceedings by the Attorney General and CIABOC in respect of several other lawmakers highlighted the crisis the country is in.

The fact that the incumbent government enacted the 20th Amendment to the Constitution with the backing of the ACMC, as well as the SLMC, whose leader and Attorney-at-Law Rauff Hakeem has been pictured with Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim’s brother, Mohammed Rilvan, recuperating in a hospital from injuries he suffered while testing a bomb in 2018, painted a bleak picture. High profile accusations and still unanswered questions raised by SJB lawmakers, Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando pertaining to alleged involvement of some members of the intelligence services in the Easter Sunday carnage, shocked the community. Such accusations should be examined. Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for turning a blind eye to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recognizing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE) as the sole representative of their community. Parliament never bothered to raise this issue with TNA. How come a recognized, political grouping recognized proscribed organization as sole representative of their community. Perhaps, the now banned National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) tried similar tactics, in 2015, when it sought to infiltrate Parliament. The NTJ secured an electoral alliance with the UNP-led political alliance, ahead of the 2015 general election, and was cunning enough to secure a National List place for one of Sri Lanka’s richest traders, Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, whose sons, lham and Insath carried out the bombings of the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels.

The Parliament, as the lawmaking institution, should undertake a genuine examination of its shortcomings. The House should discuss ‘ The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People’ the last topic offered by ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ as part of the overall efforts to streamline the parliamentary process.

The political process, adopted in respect of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments, revealed that such politically motivated strategies wouldn’t work. Those seeking to enact a new Constitution should realize that the passage of a new Law, only on the basis of a two-thirds parliamentary majority, wouldn’t ensure the much desired political stability, especially in the face of the daunting Covid-19 challenge. All four above mentioned Amendments were introduced as part of a political strategy, pursued by those in power at the time of the enactment.

Some of those who voted in early 2015 for the 19th Amendment, depicted as the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills in 2020 backed the 20th brought in at the expense of the previously enacted Amendment. Beleaguered former President and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena excused himself from voting for the 20th Amendment last Oct, whereas his MPs did. The SLPP has no qualms in securing the passage of the 20th Amendment with the backing of the SLMC and the ACMC, having lambasted them in the run up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 general election.

Those exercising parliamentary powers and privileges should realize that real power can be achieved through genuine consensus. Political tools, such as urgent bills, will only serve limited purposes and even if succeeded in depriving the Opposition, the civil society and the media from playing their classic role, there cannot be certainty in the final outcome. Parliament should take note of the BASL statement, dated April 15, issued by BASL Secretary, Rajeev Amarasuriya, in respect of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission. Let me produce the relevant section verbatim. It stated: “On the 8th of April 2021, just fifteen (15) calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette, the Bill was placed on the Order Paper of Parliament. In terms of the Constitution, a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill has to do so within one week from the Bill being placed on the Order Paper of Parliament.

The Executive Committee of the BASL is extremely concerned about the limited time given for scrutiny and discussion of this important Bill, as well as the timing of placing the Bill on the Order Paper of Parliament, which was after the suspension of sittings of the Supreme Court, a time when many members of the legal profession are unavailable. Furthermore, the period of one (1) week within which such a Bill could be challenged before the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality, included not only the weekend but also three public holidays. Thus, the members of the public have been deprived of a meaningful opportunity to scrutinize the Bill and to discuss its merits.”

The way Parliament handled the 2015 and 2016 Treasury bond scams and the shocking revelation that some lawmakers, on both sides, received donations from the disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) tarnished the image of the House beyond salvation. Having funded a high profile good governance project, the USAID totally turned a blind eye to the Treasury bond scams! So, we will end this with the warning written by Virgil more than 2000 years ago; “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.

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Midweek Review

CAS for our secondary school students   

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by Anton Peiris
B.Sc. (Ceylon), PGCE (Kenya), M.Sc. (London ), DAES (York). Emeritus Coordinator, International

Baccalaureate, Switzerland.

 (Reduce O/L STRESS (continued): The package of 7 subjects plus computer skills plus CAS is designed to impart an all-round education.)

CAS was introduced to 10 schools in Europe, the UK and North America by the International Baccalaureate Organisation in 1970.  By 2010 it had spread to more than 5,000 Secondary and High schools worldwide. Now it is Sri Lanka’s turn to introduce it. CAS should be compulsory for all Senior Secondary students (i. e. Grades 10 – 12).

It is something that is done outside school hours.

 

C = CREATIVITY : 

That is, learning to play a musical instrument or taking lessons in oriental dancing or Art or Music or taking part in a theatre production or singing in a choir or doing Painting or Sculpture or pursuing a Hobby like stamp collection or carpentry or metal work or motor mechanism or photography or aeromodelling or playing chess or bridge or poker, etc.

 

A = ACTIVITY: 

Playing cricket or football or basketball or badminton or tennis or netball or volleyball or hockey or swimming or athletics or any other sporting activity.

 

S = SERVICE  : 

For example, giving Tuition in English or Mathematics to a weak student from a poor family or to a handicapped child for free ( no fees charged ) for 45 minutes during a weekend or baking a cake to sell the cake slices at a fundraising event for a worthy cause or visiting an orphanage occasionally and playing a musical instrument to entertain the poor orphans or taking a handicapped person (in a wheelchair) to the cinema, or visiting a handicapped or old or retired  person or couple living alone and reading a short story to them or informing them of the local / international news items once a month, etc. That is, to undertake a project that often involves community service. 

It is not necessary to do a Service activity every week. The aim should be to do it at least three times during the year.

The students playing for the school cricket team or any other sports team have already fulfilled their Activity component of CAS. Similarly, the students who are members of the school band or dramatic society have already fulfilled their Creativity component. If a group of students take part in a particular community service project, then all the members of the group have fulfilled their Service component. 

Some students take part in Service projects in their Temple or Church. These also count as Service activities for CAS.  

It is the duty of the teachers to provide the students with some guidance on the choice of suitable Service projects. CAS should be an enjoyable experience for the students.

CAS should be monitored by the school for each student. Each school should appoint at least one CAS Coordinator, i.e. a competent teacher. He/she should not be a full-time teacher because it is a post of responsibility requiring many hours of work per week both inside and outside the school hours. A CAS Coordinator should be paid a salary equivalent to that of a Deputy School Principal. 

The CAS Coordinator must ensure that, at the end of Grade 11, every student has worked on Creativity, Activity and Service for at least one year.

There is a school in Sri Lanka that has a strong CAS programme for A / L (IB) students: The Overseas School of Colombo in Battaramulla. The senior officers of the Ministry of Education should visit this school and meet the CAS Coordinator.   

About 35 years ago, a teacher in the Overseas School of Colombo discovered that a village school, a few kilometres away from Battaramulla, had only a well and no tap water and there was no pipe borne water nearby. A CAS project was organised to provide the school with a water pump, a water tower and tank. To raise the required money, the students organised bake sales, staged a theatre production, donated part of their pocket money and solicited donations from parents and their employers.

A parent who was a civil engineer drafted the plans and a group of Advanced Level (IB) students spent a few hours during their weekends mixing cement, bricklaying, etc., (all under expert supervision ). Senior students in the village school also took part in the manual work. The project was completed and the school had tap water in the school premises. The grateful village headmaster brought the OSC students and their CAS Coordinator in Perahara with drummers and Kandyan dancers for the opening ceremony. 

Those OSC students (most of them foreigners) not only fulfilled the Creativity and Service components of their CAS requirement but also acquired an ‘awareness of a common humanity and social responsibility ‘.

CAS will provide our students with the joys of childhood and school life that they have missed and also equip them with qualities like empathy and love of neighbour. 

Long live CAS! 

 

(To be continued.

Next instalment: A solution to the problem of extra heavy School Bags. The writer has taught O/L, A/L and IB mathematics and physics for 45 years in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Switzerland.) 

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