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Karu takes over late Ven. Sobitha’s outfit, Sajith vows to scuttle 20A

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, in his new capacity as the Chairman and Convenor of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) today (17) will unveil his campaign against the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

A spokesperson for NMSJ told The Island that the former Speaker recently accepted their invitation to take over the movement formed by the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera.

Responding to a query, the official said that Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya, who succeeded Ven. Sobitha in the wake of the latter’s demise in Nov. 2015, made the request on behalf of the NMSJ.

Jayasuriya will brief the media at the Solis hotel , Pita Kotte at 10 am today.

 

NMSJ official said that Prof. Wijesuriya offered his position in the wake of the outfit requesting the former UNP MP to spearhead a campaign to protect the 19th Amendment enacted during his tenure as the Speaker. Karu Jayasuriya accepted the new role close on the heels of the UNP rejecting his offer to succeed Ranil Wickremesinghe as its Leader. The offer was made after the party suffered a debilitating setback at the August general election. Jayasuriya however did not contest that election.

 NMSJ announced the new campaign in the wake of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) vowing on Tuesday (15) to prevent the passage of the 20th Amendment.

 Addressing a gathering at the New Town Hall, SJB leader Sajith Premadasa said that the government bid would be thwarted.

 Among those present were many civil society activists, including the Executive Director of the Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

 Opposition Leader Premadasa told The Island that the SJB was ready to lead the campaign against the government’s bid to establish an authoritarian administration. Colombo District lawmaker Premadasa said that the draft of the 20th Amendment in its present form wasn’t acceptable at all. The SJB leader pointed out that the SLPP was in turmoil with some sections of the ruling coalition as well as those who supported the SLPP at the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls publicly complaining about the draft gazetted on Sept 2. The former Deputy UNP leader pointed out that there hadn’t been discussion at least within the SLPP regarding far reaching constitutional changes envisaged through the 20th Amendment. Lawmaker Premadasa noted that the SLPP’s move had received the attention of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. He was referring to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s criticism of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Delivering opening remarks at the 45th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva Monday, Bachelet said she was troubled by the swift changes the Sri Lankan government was making after withdrawing its support to the UN resolution 30/1.

Bachelet said among other developments, the proposed 20th amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission.

Having secured 145 seats at the last general election, the SLPP needs five more votes to enact the 20th Amendment with a 2/3 majority.

 The parliament comprises: SLPP (145), the SJB (54), the ITAK (10), the JJB (3), the AITC (2), the EPDP (2), UNP (1), the OPPP (1) the TMVP (1), the MNA (1), the TMTK (1) the ACMC (1), the NC (1) and the SLMC (1).

 The UNP and the OPPP are yet to name their National List members (one each).

 The NMSJ official said that the outfit would conduct consultations next week with a cross section of interested parties as regards the 20th Amendment to reach consensus on a set of proposals to the SLPP government. According to him, there should be consensus among all stakeholders before the parliament debated the proposed new law. It wouldn’t be fair to introduce amendments at the Committee Stage as happened during the passage of the 19th Amendment under the previous dispensation, the NMSJ spokesperson said.



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PMB declines to release Rs 1.2 bn FD for paddy purchasing

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Treasury forced to bear responsibility for Rs 2 bn in loans

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said that the State Banks weren’t in a position to release funds to the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) as the enterprise owed them a staggering sum, running to over Rs 20 bn.

Due to the failure on the part of the state enterprise to settle previous loans, the Treasury has been compelled to accept the responsibility for repaying them, the State Minister said.

The Kegalle District lawmaker said so on the live political programme, Salakuna, telecast on Hiru on Monday night. The State Minister was responding to interviewer Chamuditha Samarawickrema’s query regarding the inordinate delay on the part of the government to implement the paddy purchasing scheme.

Referring to Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera’s abortive efforts to obtain the required funding, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya said that the Treasury was helpless.

State Minister Siyambalapitiya said the PMB couldn’t be faulted for the crisis as successive governments had directed the state enterprise to purchase paddy at a higher price, then ordered it to sell at a much lower price, thereby causing staggering losses.

The State Minister also acknowledged management level shortcomings and political interventions caused the ruination of the PMB.

The PMB owed the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank Rs 1,600 mn and Rs 690 mn, respectively.

The State Minister acknowledged that the issue couldn’t be resolved in spite of interventions made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Premier Dinesh Gunawardena. Referring to a subsequent discussion he had with the Secretary to the Treasury Mahinda Siriwardana, lawmaker Siyambalapitiya said that the BOC has asked for Rs 1.2 bn fixed deposit as security though the PMB declined to do so. According to the State Minister the PMB asserted that it couldn’t forgo the fixed deposit as the

interest received was utilized for day to day running of its operations.

The State Minister said that the banks could release the required funding on the basis of a guarantee given by the Treasury. The lawmaker explained the inability on the part of the Treasury to give such a guarantee as further deterioration of public finance could have a devastating impact on the banking sector. Such an eventuality couldn’t be allowed, the SLFPer said.

The Minister acknowledged that the failure on the part of the government to launch a paddy purchasing scheme would dishearten the farmer community.

Chamuditha Samarawickrema pointed out that the private sector had managed their ‘operations’ in a much better way.

The State Minister said that the situation was so bad that of the recent Rs 93 mn public sector salary bill, the government could meet Rs 82 mn. The government had no option but to ask those state enterprises to pay salaries from their funds, pending repayment, the MP said, reiterating the Treasury couldn’t help the PMD at the moment.

Responding to further questions, the State Minister said that the government would definitely give priority to the PMD issue once they finalized public sector salary payments. The Minister urged the media not to pursue an agenda detrimental to the government’s recovery efforts. Asked to explain, the State Minister said that there had been accusations the government didn’t purchase paddy to clear the field for the private sector. The Hiru team pointed out that the banks had released substantial amounts to the private sector to purchase paddy. The Minister explained the banks tried their best to help but circumstances were such the government couldn’t help at the moment.

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PSC proposes amendment to Children and Young Persons Ordinance

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A meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee to ensure gender equality in progress. Among those present were lawmakers Rohini Kaviratne, Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Dr. Seetha Arambepola and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament Kushani Rohanadeera (pic courtesy Parliament)

The Parliamentary Select Committee to ensure gender equality has decided to propose amendments to the Children and Young Persons Ordinance to consider all those below 18 years as children.

The PSC presided by its Chairperson Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle that met in the Parliamentary Complex last week also decided to replace the reference ‘young persons’ in the Ordinance and to rename it as the Children’s Ordinance.

As per the amendments every reference to “Children and Young Persons Ordinance”, “children and young persons”, “child or young person” and “age of sixteen years” in any regulation or rule made under the principal enactment or notice, notification, contract, communication or other document issued under the principal enactment shall be read and construed as a reference respectively, to “Children’s Ordinance”, “children”, “child” and “age of eighteen years.

Section 71 of the Ordinance will be amended, by the repeal of subsection (6) of that section establishing that “nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the right of any parent, teacher or legal guardian to punish a child or youth”.

The purpose of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance Clause 23 is to make orders for the establishment of Juvenile Courts for the supervision of juvenile offenders for the protection of children and young persons.

State Minister Dr. Seetha Arambepola, Members of Parliament Thalatha Atukorala, Rohini Kaviratne, Eran Wickramaratne, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Manjula Dissanayake, Secretary to the Committee and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament Kushani Rohanadeera and senior officials representing the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms were present at the PSC meeting.

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80 houses destroyed in fire at Thotalanga

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The scene of the fire(pic by Jude Denzil Pathiraja)

At least 80 houses were destroyed due to a fire that broke out in a highly congested area in Colombo on Tuesday (27) night. Around 220 people had been displaced, the police said.

The fire broke out at Kajeemawatte in Thotalanga at around 8 pm on Tuesday and it took firefighters several hours to bring the fire under control. Twelve fire engines were deployed, but many of the dwellings had been burnt out as approach roads were not wide enough for the vehicles to reach the fire.

Those who are affected are now housed in community centres and places of worship.

No casualties were reported in the incident. The police are yet to determine the cause of fire and the total damage to property has not been estimated still.

Meanwhile, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is on an official visit to Japan, has instructed Presidential Secretary Saman Ekanayake to take steps to provide immediate relief to all victims of the fire.

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