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NFE deal at risk over privilege matter raised by Ranil

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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.



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Booster shots: Poor public response makes GMOA contemplate legal remedy

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Lack of enthusiasm among the public to receive the booster dose was disconcerting, given that Sri Lanka had a long-established and highly functional immunisation programme, the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

By 20 January 2022, 64.56% of Sri Lankans had been fully vaccinated, but only 22.47% had received the booster dose, the GMOA said.

“At the early stages of vaccination against Covid-19 the public response was favourable. However, the current waning of interest might be driven by the myths and rumours regarding the vaccines. It is important to take measures to counter such misinformation by raising public awareness of the ongoing vaccination programme.”

“Legal action against those responsible for the spread of communicable diseases can be taken under the Penal Code”, GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando said. “Provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance can be used against persons who do not comply with directions given by the proper authorities under the Quarantine Ordinance,” he said.

The GMOA said that several countries had made it mandatory to have proof of vaccination for entry into public places. The same thing could be done in Sri Lanka to ensure that more people got vaccinated.

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Govt., SJB haggle over procedure to rescue country

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By Saman Indrajith

The SJB on Sunday said that it was wrong for the President and the government to seek the assistance of the Opposition to steer the country out of the present crises without creating a proper forum to obtain such assistance.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivering the latter’s third Policy Speech in Parliament last week had sought the assistance of the Opposition. “His speech is full of excuses. He sought our assistance but there is no forum to offer our assistance. The government too has asked for the same several times. If the government needs the Opposition’s assistance, what it should do is to declare a state of national disaster situation so that the Opposition could make use of Parliament as the forum for our contributions. That has not been done so far. The President and the government could make use of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act No 53 of 2005 to form a disaster management committee comprising the government and opposition MPs.

The President is the ex-officio Chairman of the committee, the Prime minister and the Opposition leader are there with 24 government ministers and five opposition MPs. In addition to that there are provisions to the involvement of the Chief Ministers of Provinces in the committee. If the government genuinely needs our support it should have started forming that committee. There are laws enabling the formulation of mechanisms to help people the government does not make use of them. We have been repeatedly asking the government to appoint that committee.

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Lord Ahamad plants kumbuk tree sapling during visit to Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary

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By Ifham Nizam

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK, planted a Kumbuk (Terminalia arjuna) sapling at the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary last week.

The Department of Wildlife said Lord Ahmad had been joined by the British High Commissioner in Colombo Sarah Hulton, Hasanthi Urugodwatte Dissanayake, Acting Additional Secretary of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Foreign Ministry, Saman Liyanagama, Wildlife Ranger of the Colombo Wildlife Range, Department of Wildlife Conservation and Professor Sevvandi Jayakoddy, Senior Lecturer of the Wayamba University.

The planting activity was followed by a brief visit to the wetland and Prof. Jayakoddy, and Liyanagama explained the importance of wetland ecosystems as well as challenges in conservation and maintenance, while Dissanayake briefed him on the Sri Lanka’s pioneering work related to mangrove restoration and conservation, both at policy level as well as at the ground level.

Hasini Sarathchandra, Publicity Officer, Department of Wildlife Conservation said British High Commission in Colombo with the International Water Management Institute Headquartered in Sri Lanka, had already launched a project under the Darwin Initiative at the Baddegana Wetlands.  Similar collaborations are envisaged involving the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary.

Wetlands play an important role in our natural environment. They mitigate the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else. Colombo is a city built on and around wetlands. Despite progressive loss and degradation, wetlands still cover some 200 km2 of the Colombo metropolitan area and suburbs.

The wetlands are fundamental to the well-being of the people of Colombo and its suburbs. The wetlands can reduce extreme air temperatures and make the city more live able due to evaporative cooling. The wetlands provide a critical land-mass which helps to maintain the richness of Colombo’s biodiversity.

The Bellanwila-Attidiya wetlands was declared as a bird sanctuary on 25 July 1990, due to biodiversity of the area and its contribution to controlling floods. The wetlands, which span over 930 acres, host endemic species and is a paradise for migratory birds. 44 species of fish including 06 which are endemic to the country have been identified in the Bolgoda River which flows through the wetlands. The wetlands are also home to 21 reptilian species, 17 species of mammals and 10 butterfly species. Bellanwia-Attidiya sanctuary falls within the upper catchment of the Bolgoda river basin. The Department of Wildlife Conservation manages the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary.

Selection of the location was also due to the close collaboration that Sri Lanka has with the Government of the UK on conservation of mangroves and wetlands.

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