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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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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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