by Saman Indrajith
A privilege matter raised by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament last week relating to the government’s agreement with US-based New Fortress Energy (NFE) places the entire deal at risk, parliamentary sources said.
Raising a privilege issue, Wickremesinghe claimed that the framework agreement between the Government and New Fortress Energy Sri Lanka Power Holdings LCC had been entered into in violation of the powers, privileges and immunity of Parliament. He called on the Government to make a full disclosure to the House.
The UNP leader identified clauses in the agreement breaching the powers and privileges of Parliament. Among these, Clause 8 on ‘Confidentiality and Announcement’, states that for five years, either party shall not without the prior written consent of the other parties disclose to any person any information.
The permitted disclosures are in regard to the order of a court, arbitration tribunal or an order or decree, rule and regulation of any ‘governmental authority’. “It makes reference to ‘governmental authority’, but Parliament is not a government authority. It is the legislature. Therefore, the minister cannot obtain information under this joint venture agreement for the purpose of disclosing it to Parliament,” Wickremesinghe said.
He requested Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to summon the Treasury Secretary, Directors of New Fortress Energy Sri Lanka Power Holdings LLC, and Attorney General to discuss the framework agreement on LNG supply.
Parliament sources said that once an MP presents a privilege matter in the House, the Speaker must announce within a couple of days that the matter would be referred to the Privileges Committee of Parliament. “The Speaker did not make such an announcement so far,” a committee member told the Sunday Island.
“After it is referred to the committee it is for us to decide whether the privilege of an MP has been breached and recommend action. Given the prevailing situation, it is most likely the committee would rule in favour of the UNP leader because even some government members in the Privileges Committee have voiced their opposition to this agreement,” he said.
The 12-member Ethics and Privileges Committee of Parliament comprises of six from the government and six from the opposition. They are Tharaka Balasuriya, M .U. M. Ali Sabry, Vijitha Berugoda, Kanaka Herath, Anuradha Jayaratne, Kabir Hashim, G. G. Ponnambalam, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, A. Aravindh Kumar, Velu Kumar, Kokila Gunawardene, Premitha Bandara Tennakoon, Shan Vijayalal de Silva, C.V. Wigneswaran, Gevindu Cumaratunga and Prof. Ranjith Bandara.
Parliament sources said that the Article 4 (c) of the constitution provides an exception to the rule that judicial power of the people should be exercised by Parliament through the courts. In matters relating to parliamentary privileges, parliament itself directly exercises a degree of judicial power.
The provisions of the Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act No 21 of 1953 and its subsequent amendments, the Supreme Court as well as the Parliament has jurisdiction to hear cases relating to breaches of privileges.
The Ethics and Privileges Committee can examine all matters relating to privilege with reference to the facts of each case and decide whether there has been any breach, if so its nature and circumstances and make such recommendations as the committee may deem fit.
The committee is empowered to send for persons, documents and other records and do everything necessary for the fullest investigation of the matters referred to it, these sources said.
“The legitimacy of the agreement is being questioned and has already been challenged in the Supreme Court. There are some Privileges Committee members belonging to the government who consider that this agreement is against the national interest. It is most unlikely that the issue would be decided in favour of the government if Wickremesinghe’s privilege matter is referred to the committee by the Speaker.
“That will certainly upset the apple cart,” he said on Friday.
Gymnastics Ireland ‘deeply sorry’ to Black girl ignored at medal ceremony
Ireland’s gymnastics federation has apologised for the allegedly racist treatment of a young Black gymnast who was skipped by an official handing out medals to a row of girls last year.
Footage posted on social media last week of an event in Dublin in 2022 showed the official appearing to snub the girl, the only Black gymnast in the lineup, who looked bewildered.
“We would like to unreservedly apologise to the gymnast and her family for the upset that has been caused by the incident,” Gymnastics Ireland (GI) said in a statement posted on its website on Monday.
“What happened on the day should not have happened and for that we are deeply sorry,” said the statement. “We would like to make it absolutely clear that [GI] condemns any form of racism whatsoever,” it added.
The video posted on Friday soon went viral and drew widespread condemnation of the girl’s treatment, including from star United States gymnast Simone Biles, who said she sent the girl a private video message of support.
“It broke my heart to see the video. There is no room for racism in any sport or at all,” Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist, said Saturday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Biles’s US teammate Jordan Chiles described the incident as “beyond hurtful on so many levels”.
In an earlier statement, GI defended the official who it said had made an “honest error” but acknowledged it received a complaint from the parents of the girl alleging racist behaviour in March 2022.
GI said an independent mediation had led to a “resolution agreed by both parties in August 2023”, that the official had written an apology and that the girl had received her medal after the ceremony.
However, the Irish Independent on Sunday anonymously quoted the girl’s mother as saying GI had failed to publicly apologise and that she would take the issue to the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation in Switzerland.
Welcome to Ireland where people get away with racism! This little black girl broke my heart. Don’t skip this post without leaving a million heart for her. Make her famous… pic.twitter.com/YYMIP1IALZ
— Mohamad Safa (@mhdksafa) September 22, 2023
SJB: State audit vindicates no-faith motion against Keheliya, remedial measures urgently required
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Opposition MP Harshana Rajakaruna yesterday (25) said those who had defeated the no-confidence motion (NCM) against Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella should peruse the latest State audit report on the Health Ministry.
The Gampaha District SJB MP said the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) at a recent meeting chaired by State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna had strongly criticised the Health Ministry over the continuing waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement exposed by the National Audit Office (NAO). The Parliamentary Watchdog Committee emphasised that Health Ministry explanations/responses to the issues at hand were not acceptable.
Dr. G. Wijesuriya, Deputy Director General (Medical Services 11) at the Health Ministry had cut a pathetic figure by trying to defend politicians and officials responsible for the sorry state of affairs in the health sector, MP Rajakaruna said, adding that Dr. Wijesuriya failed to explain how 97 doctors had been allowed to serve in the Health Ministry though the cadre was only 37.
The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government acted as if the defeat of the NCM by a majority of 40 votes had been an endorsement of Health Minister Rambukwella’s actions, MP Rajakaruna said.
A total of 113 MPs voted against the NCM while 73 MPs voted in favour. Thirty-eight lawmakers skipped the vote taken on 08 September.
The NAO report should be examined against the backdrop of the dismissal of Opposition concerns over the continuing deterioration of the public health sector, the former UNPer said. That report was nothing but an indictment of a vital ministry, lawmaker Rajakaruna said, pointing out massive waste particularly at a time of unprecedented financial crisis was an unpardonable crime.
Minister Rambukwella, Health Secretary Janaka Sri Chandragupta and Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Asela Gunawardena owed an explanation how they allowed such waste and corruption as the government struggled to maintain basic and essential services. Referring to the damning NAO report, MP Rajakaruna said that Rs 349,025,664 worth medicine, equipment and other items had been discarded during 2022 due to low quality while all state hospitals experienced severe shortage of drugs. According to the report, the use of medicine, equipment and other items worth Rs 31,751,024 had been temporarily stopped due to concerns over quality but by the time the Health Ministry took a decision in this regard, such medicines were already issued to patients.
During COPA proceedings, SJB MP Hector Appuhamy questioned the Health Ministry top management why the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) continued to make emergency purchases thereby wasting precious public funds.
COPA Chairman Alagiyawanna and Attorney General W.P.C. Wickremaratne, who is also the ex-officio Chairman of the Audit Service Commission (ASC), appointed after the change of government, censured the top management of the Health Ministry for its failures at all levels, MP Rajakaruna said.
The Opposition lawmaker said that the ACS should vigorously pursue this investigation. The ASC consists of W.P.C. Wickramaratne, retired Justice Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, Mrs. Nandaseeli Godakanda, Gnananantharajah Thevagnanan and A M Dharmajith Nayanakantha.
MP Rajakaruna said that the Health Ministry also admitted before COPA that 957 doctors had left the country between the period of August 2022 and August 2023. Of them, 526 had taken long leave, 163 resigned and 197 vacated their posts, the lawmaker said, adding that instead of addressing the issues at hand taking tangible measures to reassure medical professionals, the government played politics with the developing crisis.
The SJB spokesperson recalled how Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, during the three-day debate on the NCM, stressed that the Opposition accusations directed at Minister Rambukwella were unsubstantiated. The Premier had no qualms in declaring that there was no basis for the NCM and the Opposition was making an effort to deceive the public, MP Rajakaruna said, urging MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena to examine the NAO report. President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Premier Gunawardena should deal with the crisis in the health sector without further delay, the MP said, warning the failure to do so would result in a catastrophe.
MP Rajakaruna asked Premier Gunawardena to read his declarations during the debate. The NAO report has endorsed the NCM regardless of the outcome of the vote, MP Rajakaruna said.
Bishop Valence Mendis accuses govt. of playing games
By Norman Paliahawadane
Kandy Diocese Bishop and Chilaw Apostolic Administrator Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis says it is ludicrous that the government has chosen to appoint more committees to probe the Easter Sunday terror attacks instead of implementing the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which probed the carnage. Delivering his sermon at the Holy Mass offered at the Holy Cross, National Shrine, Marawila last week, Bishop Valence Mendis said the government authorities for the past four and half years had engaged in futile exercises wasting time and public funds in the name of probing the Easter Sunday attacks. Now, it was very clear that the government had no genuine desire to find the truth or deliver justice to the victims and their family members. Just another committee was the latest joke of a series of such gags. “If they are genuinely concerned about delivering justice then they should implement the recommendations of the PCoI. We are sure that authorities did nothing about more than 80 percent of recommendations of the PCoI to ensure justice,” the Bishop said.
Treasurer of the Kandy Diocese Rev. Fr. Nelson Samantha, Rev. Fr. Peter Charles, and Administrator of the Shrine Rev. Fr. Niranjan Dayalal were present.
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