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Opp. activist admits govt. commands over 150 members

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SLPP project to secure 2/3 for 20A: Wimal alleges bid to ‘bribe’ his group

By Shamindra Ferdinando

An unexpected crisis has erupted in the ruling coalition with the National Freedom Front (NFF) accusing SLPP National List MP Jayantha Ketagoda of making an attempt to bribe some of its members, ahead of the vote on proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution scheduled for today (22).

Ketagoda previously entered Parliament on the JVP-led Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket in March 2011 after the then General Sarath Fonseka, MP, was disqualified after being jailed by a Military Court.

NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa has brought the alleged attempt to the notice of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday (21) in Parliament.

A spokesperson for the party told The Island that Minister Weerawansa had named MP Ketagoda as the culprit when Premier Rajapaksa inquired who made the alleged attempt.

The spokesperson claimed that those members of parliament present there thwarted a clash between lawmakers Weerawansa and Ketagoda after the Premier left the meeting.

According to Minister Weerawansa, his members had been offered a range of perks and privileges if they give up their campaign against the proposed move to pave the way for dual citizens to enter parliament.

The NFF parliamentary group consists of six lawmakers, including one National List MP. It comprises Wimal Weerawansa, Jayantha Samaraweera, Mohammed Muzammil, Nimal Piyatissa, Gamini Waleboda and Uddika Premaratne.

In addition to the NFF, several others elected on the SLPP ticket and appointed through the National List, Udaya Gammanpila (Pivithuru Hela Urumaya), Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Democratic Left Front), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (Lanka Samasamaja Pakshaya), Weerasumana Weerasinha (Community Party), Gevindu Cumaratunga and Anupa Pasquel et al expressed concerns over the proposed 20th Amendment. However, they were able to reach consensus on several contentious issues including limit on the number of ministers and non-cabinet ministers and state auditing process, sources said. But, the SLPP remained divided over the move to accommodate dual citizens in parliament.

Following consultations between the NFF and the CP represented by former minister Dew Gunasekera at Rajagiriya on Tuesday (20), Minister Weerawansa said that exclusion of dual citizens from parliament should be extended to Secretaries to the Ministries, Ambassadors/High Commissioners and Governor of the Central Bank and other important appointments.

Meanwhile, civil society activist Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon spearheading a campaign to protect the 19th Amendment told media briefing at Narahenpita yesterday (21) the likes of Wimal Weerawansa was trying play the role of the Opposition while being in the government. Tennakoon, who readily gave up the post of Executive Director of polls monitoring group CaFFE without any qualms to receive appointment as a Governor under President Maithripala Sirisena’s administration, however questioned the NFF’s strategy. Tennakoon alleged that the NFF only opposed Basil Rajapaksa’s re-entry to parliament though the outfit questioned several clauses in the proposed 20th Amendment.

Alleging that NFF leader pursued personal agenda, Tennakoon said that regardless of his opposition, the party would vote for the 20th Amendment. Tennakoon acknowledged that the SLPP could comfortably secure 2/3 majority for the 20th Amendment. Tennakoon said that 23 lawmakers who had previously voted for 17th, 18th and 19 would support the 20th Amendment, too.

The SLPP parliamentary group comprises 145 members. The remaining members represent the SJB (54), ITAK (10), JJB (3), AITC (2), EPDP (2), UNP (1), SLFP (1), OPPP (1), TMVP (1), MNA (1), TMTK (1), ACMC (1), NC (1), and SLMC (1).

Asserting that the government could receive over 155 votes in support of the 20th Amendment, Tennakoon revealed that those who represented the Opposition in Batticaloa, Badulla and Ratnapura were likely to switch their allegiance.

Declaring that those amendments placed before the Supreme Court by Attorney General Dappula de Livera on behalf of the government was nothing but eyewash; Tennakoon said that some of those who protested against the 20th Amendment today backed it.

Tennakoon alleged that Weerawansa was seeking to play the role of the Opposition Leader.



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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka

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Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour

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Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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COPF uncovers major failings in online visa procurement process

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Harsha de Silva

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), chaired by Dr. Harsha de Silva, released a critical report revealing major discrepancies in the procurement process and agreement with a Consortium, comprising GBS Technology Services, IVS Global-FZCO, and VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Issuing a press release, MP de Silva said the Committee’s findings highlight significant concerns and recommend urgent corrective actions.

The COPF found that the company got the deal through an uncompetitive Procurement Process

“The Consortium was appointed without a competitive bidding process, preventing the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DOIE) from securing the best value for money.

“Proposals were submitted before finalising the System Specification Requirement (SSR), raising concerns on procedural integrity.

“Critical Issues Identified:

Unclear Fee Structure: Lack of transparency in fee components, including discrepancies in service fees and convenience fees.

“Data Breach and Termination: A significant data breach was reported by a major travel vlogger in May 2024 potentially triggering a termination clause.

“Conflicting Exclusivity: The exclusivity granted to the Consortium contradicts the presence of existing service providers and the recommendation by the evaluation committee.

“Uninvested Funds: The USD 200 million investment promised to Cabinet remains uninvested and not mentioned anywhere in the agreement.

“Terminated Service Provider: Mobitel, the previous ETA service provider since 2012, submitted multiple proposals for system improvements and a comprehensive proposal for new services was overlooked.

“Recommendations:

Comprehensive Forensic Audit: The COPF recommends that the Auditor General undertake a comprehensive forensic audit of the entire procurement process. This audit should be completed at the earliest opportunity to serve as the foundation for necessary actions, which could include abrogating or amending the Consortium Outsourcing Agreement.

“Data Protection Measures: The COPF urges the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), DOIE, and the Sri Lankan Data Protection Authority to review the KPMG report and take immediate and decisive actions to ensure the complete security and protection of all data handled through the ETA application process.

“Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of COPF, stated, “The absence of a competitive bidding process in the procurement of online visa services has likely resulted in an agreement that does not provide the best value for money. Our findings call for immediate action by the Auditor General to address these critical issues and ensure transparency and accountability, which could even mean abrogation of this agreement.”

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