The National Peace Council (NPC) yesterday urged the government to reconsider the need to proceed with the 20th Amendment in its present formulation as it is excessively centralizing and does not reflective of the plural nature of the Sri Lankan society.
“The proposed 20th Amendment to the constitution has been approved by the cabinet of ministers and put before the general public prior to being debated in parliament. This far reaching constitutional change seeks to centralize power in the institution of the Executive Presidency with the justification of ensuring stability in the country and safeguarding national sovereignty. In terms of the amendment, the President can remove the Prime Minister, a member of the cabinet, any other minister or a Deputy Minister and authority to dissolve Parliament after completion of sittings for a period of one year. This massive transfer of power to the Presidency has been justified to the electorate as stemming from the inability of the previous government to govern effectively under the 19th Amendment to the constitution,” the NPC said in a statement.
The NPC added that the 20th Amendment empowers the President to make appointments to top positions of the state having obtained observations of the Parliamentary Council, which is made of members from Parliament. The President will also be empowered to appoint the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court, the President and the judges of the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General, the Auditor General and also to make appointments to the Election Commission, the Public Service Commission, Judicial Service Commission, the National Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, the Finance Commission and the Delimitation Commission, the MPC said. Unfortunately the proposed Parliamentary Council will have no civil society representation and can only advise the President and the previous 10 member Constitutional Council, which included 3 members of civil society, made these appointments, the press release said.
“The time frame for Bills to be challenged in the courts has been reduced from the previous two weeks to one. The Urgent Bills, a concept which was introduced by the 1972 Constitution had been misused by the successive governments in the past to pass various Bills. The extremely short time frame will compromise people’s right to know and constrain public discourse to challenge a Bill in a court of law. The sweeping powers given to the Presidency takes away the checks and balances on the powers of the President brought in by the 19th Amendment which it supersedes. The National Peace Council is particularly regretful that a constitutional provision eliminated that is relevant for our work is article 33 (1) (b) which said that the President shall “promote national reconciliation and integration.” It was the President’s office that was warranted by the 19th Amendment to be the driver of reconciliation,” NPC said.
Given the importance of the amendment and the serious nature of the changes, NPC request the government to reconsider the need to proceed with the 20th Amendment in its present formulation as it is excessively centralizing and not reflective of the plural nature of Sri Lankan society. The NPC added that there was no urgency for the 20th amendment because it is said to be an interim measure until the formulation of a new constitution. The NPC said that they fear this amendment may undermine the good work done by the office of the President to date, including providing entry to educated professionals to parliament through the national list, providing employment to many thousands of people and relief to those affected by the COVID induced economic downturn in terms of delayed loan payments and other development measures.
The NPC said that the 20th Amendment is a return to the 18th Amendment, which was passed in 2010 and made the Parliament subservient to the Presidency. The governance practices of the pre-2015 period, and their negative consequences, contributed to the change of government in 2015, the statement read. The entire basis of the 19th Amendment of 2015 was the need to ensure that the Rule of Law prevailed “over the rule of men” and that misuse and abuse of power should be prevented through a system of checks and balances in which the independence of institutions such as the judiciary was safeguarded to the maximum.
“The main negative outcome of the 19th Amendment was the inability of the former President and Prime Minister, and other government leaders, who came from two opposing political parties to work together. This led to a paralysis in the government which prevented it from governing in a problem solving manner. The current government does not suffer from the same constraint as they come from not only the same party and enjoy a 2/3 majority in Parliament, but also the President and Prime Minister are from the same family. An option for the government would be to focus on formulating a new constitution in which the weaknesses of the 19th Amendment can be addressed along with a reform of the electoral system. This could be a through a well thought out consultative process in which the opposition parties and civil society are also included that will enable the new constitution to be passed consensually by Parliament and the people,” NPC said.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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