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NMSJ Chief urges Prez to take decisions through consensus



Former Speaker and Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Karu Jayasuriya has urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to take tangible measures to bring all political parties together as the country faces the Covid-19 challenge.

The NMSJ, in a statement issued, attributed the following comments to its leader Karu Jayasuriya: “Different political ideologies or aspirations for power should not be prioritized. First and foremost, we must save the country and its people from this catastrophe before us.

The whole country must unite for that. We made an appeal towards this for the first time in Kandy recently. I called on the Most Venerable Mahanayake Theras to discuss these matters. It was then that we realised that we also had the blessings of the chief prelates towards our endeavours. Accordingly, we call on the President and the people of this country to come forward. We make this appeal with the utmost sincerity. If you have love for the country, all political forces and all communities must join hands and face this challenge without delay and the President should extend an invitation to all to join hands in this regard. This is also the opinion of the majority of the people in the country. Otherwise, this country will suffer dire consequences.

In fact, this endeavour should not be limited to the efforts taken to control the Covid-19 pandemic. As a country, we have to make decisions by consensus, even on matters of national importance, such as the government’s decision to ban chemical fertilizers at once as well as the Colombo Port City Project. This is also the position of the National Movement for Social Justice.

We are conducting this press briefing today to reaffirm our position. We hope that all political leaders as well as the civil society will pay attention to this.

If we are to take such an approach, there are a number of factors to consider. The legislature has been weakened due to the transfer of power to the executive by the 20th amendment. There is no discussion in Parliament today on matters of national importance. There is no participation of the people’s representatives.

In countries like the United States, the UK, and Europe where democracy reigns, all important political decisions are made taking into account the advice and guidance of experts. There are special committees and procedures for this purpose. In Sri Lanka, such matters are taken up through sectoral oversight committees. This is a very strong democratic process that is accepted throughout the world.

Our Honorable President is an experienced person after having lived in the United States for a long time. We are of the view that we do not need to explain in detail the importance of such committees to the US Congress with regard to the crucial decisions such committees make. We believe that perhaps he has a better understanding of it than many others.

If so, we propose to activate public representation through parliamentary sectoral oversight committees. Despite not being able to achieve accepted results from all sectoral oversight committees that were initiated in 2015 mainly due to the lack of interest of committee members, we must acknowledge that the sectoral oversight committees on education, justice and national security have been very active. It was through these committees that proposals to increase the number of attorneys in the Attorney General’s Department from 118 to 218, increase the number of High Court Judges from 70 to 108 and to establish two special courts to hear cases of corruption and bribery came to fruition. In addition the wages of judges and officials of the Attorney General’s Department were significantly increased on the proposals made by those committees.

Further, the University of Batticaloa was taken over and the long standing salary anomalies were rectified while the SAITM and Kotelawala faculties of education were merged according to the recommendations made by the parliamentary sectoral committee on education. We should also understand that a great deal was done to bring about unity among the Sinhala and Muslim communities after the Easter Sunday attacks.

Therefore, a sectoral oversight committee on health can be established to find solutions to the pandemic. It would be prudent to explore the possibility of allowing foreign and local experts to submit their views in addition to Opposition members as this is a national endeavour. We see this as a very timely step and can be set up in a few weeks.

A similar approach to the Port City Project would be the most appropriate course of action for the President and the Government. A peaceful solution to the present problem is to set up an All-Party Oversight Committee and seek expert local and foreign opinions and advice in order to finalise this project. No one has objected to the creation of special trade zones. The question arises with regard to the powers that are vested in it, and whether or not the institutions that govern them are in accordance with the constitution of the country. It is important to listen to the views of eminent legal academics such as Prof. Suri Ratnapala as well as institutions such as the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

President J.R. Jayewardene launched the Public Private Partnership (PPP) concept for the first time in Asia under the Greater Colombo Economic Commission. A state-owned corporation dealing with leather products collaborated with two well-known Korean companies and established the largest export oriented footwear factory in Asia. Despite some difficulties at the inception, it later became a successful business venture.

The then Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad and his wife visited Sri Lanka to study this. Deng Xiaoping, the then leader of China sent the Mayor of Shanghai to Singapore and Sri Lanka as his special envoy. They wanted to study how we operated.

Also, former President J.R. Jayewardene gave special powers and facilities to the factories of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission. These institutions also enjoyed administrative and commercial independence. The functions of the Customs Department were also streamlined while providing special facilities for selected imports. I responsibly state these facts based on the experience gained as the chairperson of those companies and a member of the Presidential Commission on Privatization.

We opine that the decision taken by the Government to completely stop the use of chemical fertilizers should be referred to a sectoral oversight committee. Important decisions like these should be made only after having extensive discussions with all relevant stakeholders. The safety of the environment, the safety of the people, the food security of the country, and the living standards of the farmers as well as the overall consumer needs of the country should be taken into consideration.

No one has objected to the promotion of compost or organic fertilizer. At an online forum with over 1200 participants, I listened to the various observations made by them. Everyone at the forum was of the view that the proposal to stop the importation of chemical fertilizer was correct but it would be difficult to implement for at least another few years. It is clear that all stakeholders of the agriculture industry have the same views. The protests carried out by members of the farming community in many parts of the country today illustrate this reality.

As such, these issues can be resolved amicably by subjecting these proposals to a lengthy study through oversight committees over a period of several months. Instead of criticizing one another in and out of Parliament, we strongly believe that the burning issues of the country can be resolved through such a cordial approach.

We present these proposals with the noble intention of resolving the issues affecting our country. I hope that these matters will be brought to the attention of the authorities and the public.”

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JVP asks public not to be distracted by circuses



JVP-led NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has called on people not to be distracted by the ongoing circuses from the burning issues affecting their lives.

Addressing an NPP rally, in Mihintale, last week, Dissanayake said: “The President seems to think that he can govern the country with the help of circuses and other such gimmicks. He spent a huge amount of public funds on the Independence Day celebrations despite protests. Then there were Sinhala Tamil New Year shows, and the Vesak and Poson pandals. Now, he is getting ready to put up a mega military tattoo in August. In the meantime, the state media claims that the economy is thriving and the rupee is rallying steadily against the US dollar. The rupee appreciation is due to a drop in the demand for the dollars more than anything else, and the government is trying to deceive the public.

“People are starving. They are without medicine. The education sector is in crisis. Unemployment rate is on the increase. But the President is busy putting up shows.”

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ICCPR being used against Freedom of Expression–Amnesty International



Amnesty International has said it is concerned about the arrest of comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya.

“The right to freedom of expression applies to information and ideas of all kinds, including those that may be deeply offensive. Sri Lankan authorities must ensure that all laws, policies and practices aimed at combatting advocacy of hatred are drafted and applied in a strict manner so that they do not lead to unjustified restrictions of freedom of expression of minorities,” it said in a statement.

The Amnesty International South Asia, Regional Office said that Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act, which introduces the ICCPR into domestic legislation, has been used time and time again to restrict freedom of expression. It prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility.

“Advocacy of hatred is more than just the expression of ideas or opinions that are hateful towards members of a particular group, it requires a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile toward, or commit violence against the group in question. When the expression fails to meet this test, even if it is shocking, offensive, or disturbing, it should be protected by the state. The ICCPR Act was enacted to introduce into domestic legislation the obligations that Sri Lanka committed to abide by after ratifying the human rights treaty. Ironically, the Sri Lankan authorities are using it instead as a tool of repression to target minorities. This must end,” said the statement.

Nathasha Edirisooriya must be released and any pending charges against her must be dropped immediately, said the Amnesty International South Asia, Regional Office.

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Man stabbed to death at soup dansala



By Norman Palihawadane

A 23-year-old man had been knifed to death a ‘dansala’ at Pannila, in Eheliyagoda, on Saturday evening (03), police said.The incident occurred near a soup dansala organised by the victim’s relatives.

Police said that an argument between the victim and another regarding an incident of theft had escalated into a brawl with the assailant stabbing the victim.

The suspect has been identified and the Eheliyagoda Police are conducting further investigations to take the suspect into custody.

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