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NFE deal at risk over privilege matter raised by Ranil



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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Scotland Police to stop training Lankan cops



Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Concerns over the human rights record in Sri Lanka has led to the halt of the police training contract between the Sri Lanka and Scottish Police, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of the Scotland Police confirmed.

He said they have written to the British High Commission in Colombo to inform the Sri Lanka government that they are no longer planning to renew the training contract with Sri Lanka’s police force due to end in March next year.

The British Foreign Office reported last week that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation deteriorated during the first half of 2021.

The report said: “Security forces increased their surveillance and intimidation of human rights activists and their use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, with a number of arbitrary arrests.

The government proposed new regulations with powers to arrest and send individuals to rehabilitation centres to be ‘de-radicalised’ with no judicial oversight or requirement for further process.”

News of Scotland’s Police not renewing the contract was welcomed by critics of Sri Lanka including Mercedes Villalba who is a Scottish Labour politician who has been a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Scotland since May 2021.

British MPs and MSPs jointly sent a letter to the Scotland Police and the British High Commission in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago requesting them to stop the training programme.

Villalba was one of the signatories and after this announcement, she said “I have been pleased to support the campaigners and thank them for their tireless efforts in securing the commitment from the chief constable. I also want to thank Police Scotland for being responsive to the real concerns which were expressed about Sri Lanka’s record of human rights violations.”

Talking about the decision to stop training, Chief Constable Livingstone said that a review must be done to accurately reflect the current security and human rights issues in the region, which have changed since the initial deployment after the end of the Civil War in 2010.

“We remain of course committed to supporting the international development of policing services right across the world so that we can enhance and enable human rights and we can underline the values that we hold dear in Police Scotland of integrity, fairness and respect. Those values will always be at the heart of the work we deliver in Scotland and at the heart of everything we do internationally”, he added.

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Interfaith Week celebrated in London



Sujeeva Nivunhella reporting from London

A Pooja to celebrate Interfaith Week was organized here last week with the advice and guidance of Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Nayake Thera, head of the London Buddhist Vihara and the Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain.

This annual event begins on Remembrance Sunday, a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of the World War I to remember armed forces personnel who died in the line of duty. This tradition was inaugurated by King George V in 1919.

Adhering to the country’s Covid guidelines, this year’s celebration was held using Zoom technology on the theme “Altruism in each religion”.

Ven. Seelawimala welcomed everyone who joined the session. Notable participants of the event were Ven. Thawalama Bandula Thera, Ven. Kalugamuwe Kassapa Thera from London Buddhist Vihara, Dr Harriet Crabtree – Director of Interfaith Network, UK, Ranjish Kashyap, General Secretary/Director Hindu Council,UK, Dr. Pujya Samaniji Pratibha Pragya, who is a Jain nun from Harrow, Rev Gyoro Nagase, Japanese monk, London Peace Pagoda, Battersea, Dr Desmond Bidulph – Chairman of Buddhist Society and Charanjith and Ajith Singh MBE, Hounslow Friends of Faith, who represented the Sikhs.

All present chanted prayers according to their own faiths to eradicate human suffering, to have peace and especially to see an end to the pandemic situation in the world.

A pre-recorded video of Devotional Songs by London Buddhist Vihara Dhamma School Children was played at the event.

Interfaith Network – UK was founded in 1987 with representatives from the Buddhist, Bahai, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Islam, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities,

National and local interfaith bodies, academic institutions and educational bodies concerned with inter-religious issues are affiliated to the organization. Then head of the London Buddhist Vihara late, Ven. Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera was actively involved in forming the Network and was a founding member.

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Frankfurt Consulate massive white elephant, alleges Lankan living there



Foreign office looking at closing some overseas mission due to financial constraints

by Harischandra Gunaratna

Sri Lanka’s Consulate in Frankfurt has turned out to be a white elephant although the Sri Lankan government spends a whopping Rs. 200 million per year for its operations, Azad Shaukatally, a businessman and a Sri Lankan expatriate in Frankfurt told the Sunday Island.

“Over the years, this consulate has not contributed anything tangible to the country. All that has happened is successive governments appointing political loyalists to head the Mission. None of them have done anything concrete to promote business between the two countries,” he said.

According to him, the Mission could have contributed a great deal by promoting Sri Lankan exports and tourism as Frankfurt is the business hub of Germany.

“What actually happens is, the Consulate in Frankfurt simply replicates several tasks performed by the Embassy in Berlin and that’s it. But it cost the country exorbitantly without the knowledge of the authorities. This is sheer waste of national resources and it needs to be brought to an end,” Shaukatally said.

When the Sunday Island contacted the Foreign Ministry on the matter, its Acting Director General Sugeeshwara Gunaratna said: “The Foreign Ministry regularly evaluates individual performance of each Sri Lankan mission abroad, and constructively engages with them from time to time on specific issues or matters which are mutually beneficial in promotion of Sri Lanka’s bilateral and multilateral relations with the host country and various international organizations while ensuring best interests of the people of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan citizens living abroad.”

He said that any decisions related to opening of new missions or closure of particular Missions/Posts abroad including the Consulate General in Frankfurt would be taken after wider consultation with relevant stakeholders based on the relevance of each Mission/Post in promotion of Sri Lanka’s relations abroad.

“Under the current financial constraints, the Foreign Ministry is in the process of closing down some of the Sri Lankan Missions/Posts abroad after obtaining the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers. However, no final decision, has so far, been taken with regard to the Missions/Posts which would be closed down in the near future,” Gunaratna said.

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