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NPC once again ratchets up arguments against 20A with fresh missive

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If the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was to be acceptable, it should be passed like 19A with the entire House voting for it barring one, the National Peace Council (NPC) yesterday said, urging the government to reconsider the clauses in the draft 20th Amendment. Issuing a press release, the NPC said that some of the most respected civic organisations in the country, including clergy, trade unions, the State Auditors Association and the Bar Association have expressed their serious objections to the proposed constitutional amendment.

“Nevertheless, the government appears determined to strengthen the presidency at the cost of other institutions. The government’s public position has been that the presidency needs to be provided with the necessary powers and immunities to proceed with the urgent task of developing the country. The National Peace Council urges the government to reconsider its position,” the NPC said in a press release.

The NPC said that constitutions evolved over the centuries to be a compact between the government and citizens to protect the citizens from abuse by the rulers whether for good reasons or bad. “The protections of human rights and the resources of the people through judicial review, financial audit and parliamentary oversight stems from this desire to protect the people from the caprice of those who lead governments from time to time. The National Peace Council notes that the draft 20th Amendment to the constitution as it currently stands is an emasculation of the protections available to the people and also to other institutions of state available in the constitution,” the press release said.

The NPC said they were especially concerned about the removal from the Auditor-General’s purview of the audit of the accounts of “companies in which the Government or a public corporation or local authority holds fifty per centum or more of the shares of that company”. The power to audit these accounts was expressly conferred on the Auditor-General by the 19th Amendment which is now a part and parcel of the constitution.

“There seems to be misunderstandings of amendments which have been introduced from time to time are single and separate components of the Constitution. The reality is the current Constitution encompasses all amendments passed from 1978 onwards and is in fact is the Sri Lankan Constitution in its entirety. While the 19th Amendment was passed into law with only a 2/3 majority and without the approval of the people at a referendum the same is not necessarily applicable to the 20th Amendment. The National Peace Council holds the view that there is a ratchet effect in which human rights and democratic rights once given cannot be taken back on the same basis. The same is true of key aspects of accountability imposed on the state and its power holders to protect the rights of the people from abuse and pillage, whether it be audit or rule of law,” the press release said.

The 19th Amendment was approved by 215 of the 225 parliamentarians voting in favour and only one opposing it. The 19th Amendment is now part and parcel of the constitution and the repeal of its clauses is subject to the protections available in the constitution and therefore, any constitutional amendment to its content should have a similar consensus in parliament, the NPC 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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