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Opposition asks govt. to make new Constitution

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Instead of adopting piecemeal measures

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB)-led Opposition, yesterday (29) pledged to work with the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) to scuttle the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

General Secretary of the SJB Ranjith Madduma Bandara made the pledge on behalf of its leader Sajith Premadasa, at a meeting chaired by NMSJ Chief former Speaker Karu Janasuriya at Hotel Janaki in Colombo 5.

The Opposition grouping reached a consensus on a common action plan to oppose the 20th Amendment both in and outside parliament.

The SLPP commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament whereas the main Opposition consists of 54 members.

The Opposition held the meeting as the Supreme Court began hearing petitions filed against the 20th Amendment. The audience was informed that as many as 39 cases against the government had been filed.

Jayasuriya declared that they had the backing of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) as well as the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).

However, the JVP wasn’t represented at the meeting. Defeated Gampaha District candidate Arjuna Ranatunga represented the UNP, while lawmakers Mano Ganesan and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam addressed the gathering on behalf of the Democratic People’s Front and Ahila Illankai Thamil Congress, respectively.

The former Speaker recently succeeded Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya, who took over the civil society organisation in late 2015 following Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera’s demise.

Alleging that the 20th Amendment would grant dictatorial powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Jayasuriya strongly criticised the proposed law on six specific reasons, namely (1) the parliament would be reduced to a puppet in the hands of the President (2) the executive wouldn’t be answerable to the parliament, the judiciary and the people. Those institutions coming under the purview of the President wouldn’t be subjected to the auditing process (3) politicisation of the entire election process (4) facilitating waste, corruption and irregularities by abolishing the Audit Service Commission and the National Procurement Commission (5) weakening of the judiciary and (6) enabling dual citizen to enter parliament.

Both Jayasuriya and Maddumabandara pointed out that the government project faced unexpected opposition with growing protests against the proposed law.

SJB MP Rajitha Senaratne told the gathering that they would conduct a countrywide protest campaign on Oct 5 against the 20th Amendment. It would be followed by a rally at Hyde Park on Oct 8, where all political parties represented in parliament and civil society groups were scheduled to participate.

MP Senaratne found fault with the media for not vigorously campaigning against the 20th Amendment.

Jayasuriya led the call for the government to abandon the hasty bid to enact 20th Amendment and take tangible measures in consultation with all stakeholders, both in and out of parliament to introduce a new Constitution acceptable to all communities.

The government was warned of dire consequences of unilateral efforts to enact 20th Amendment that would deliver a knockout blow to democratic way of life. Dr. Senaratne alleged that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent declaration that public servants should accept his verbal directives as circulars, signaled an extremely dangerous trend.

MP Mano Ganesan said that the urgent requirement today was to address the national question. Declaring that the national issue couldn’t be addressed by enacting the 20th Amendment, he urged the government to abandon the project. Instead of 20th Amendment, the government should initiate immediate action to bring in a new Constitution, he added.

Among those present on the occasion were civil society activists Constitutional Council member Javid Yusuf and Prof. Rohan Samarajeeva.

The Opposition fiercely attacked the SLPP bid to do away with State auditing process. “How could the SLPP justify abolishing the audit process?” MP Ganesan asked, claiming that many government members were disappointed at the way the ruling party handled the 20th Amendment. Opposition speakers insisted the SLPP couldn’t justify 20th Amendment by claiming the 19th Amendment had been introduced to keep the Rajapaksas at bay.

The NMSJ said that it was ready to lead a high profile campaign similar to the one which had paved the way for the change of government in 2015. The NMSJ said that the SLPP shouldn’t misrepresent the mandates it received at presidential and parliamentary polls, in Nov 2019 and Aug 2020 to bring about a dictatorship.

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Majority of 300 luxury vehicles to be released

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… some shipped in without opening LCs, EU wants restrictions abolished

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The majority of the luxury vehicles imported by special permit holders in contravention of the import ban imposed by the government in view of precarious economic situation caused by corona first wave are likely to be released subject to penalties.

Well informed sources said that those vehicles shipped in without even opening LCs would be released. Among the violators were many government servants.

Sources said that vehicles brought in without opening LCs were likely to be confiscated.

“We have categorised over 300 vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and Audis into two groups. Customs are now in the process of evaluating individual cases,” a high ranking state official said.

The government announced a ban on vehicle imports to arrest the depletion of foreign reserves. Sources acknowledged that at the time the vehicles

arrived in Sri Lanka the second corona wave hadn’t erupted. The situation was far worse now and further deteriorating, they said, adding that the Customs were being inundated with requests for releasing vehicles on sympathetic grounds.

Controversy surrounds the failure on the part of the government to strictly implement the import ban in view of the sharp drop in state revenue due to the pandemic.

Recently, the EU demanded that Sri Lanka immediately lift import ban or face the consequences. The EU issued the warning in talks with government representatives. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena explained the circumstances that compelled the government to impose import restrictions. The EU sought an explanation as to when the ban would be lifted. The Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Gunawardena as having explained to the EU the challenges Sri Lanka economy was facing amidst the dwindling foreign currency reserve situation due to the significant reduction in remittances and tourism revenue induced by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The minister said that the import restrictions were being reviewed.

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Nearly 74,000 persons under home quarantine

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Close to 74,000 people belonging to 27,974 families had been placed under home quarantine, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said on Wednesday (25).

He said that the number of cases from the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda clusters had increased to 17,436 with 458 persons had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Two wards of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura were temporarily closed on Wednesday after two pregnant women admitted there tested COVID-19 positive.

The two women are from Atalugama, which has been declared an isolated area. During the last few days close to half of the COVID-19 patients detected in Colombo District are from Atalugama.

The two women have been sent to Neville Fernando Hospital, Malabe. The patients and staff in Wards 3 and 4 at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital are now under quarantine. Their family members too have been asked to undergone self-quarantine.

The Police had arrested 61 persons who had violated quarantine laws within the 24 hours that ended at 8 am yesterday, Police spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana said, adding that they had been arrested for not wearing masks or for not maintaining physical distancing. With those altogether 688 persons had been arrested for violating quarantine laws from October 30, he said.

Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said that apart from Welikada, the spread of COVID-19 had been controlled at other prisons. COVID-19 cases had been reported from six prisons, he added.

“We are conducting PCR tests and hope that the situation in Welikada too would be brought under control. Twenty four new cases were detected from prisons on November 24 and from October 04, we have identified 708 cases within the prison system.”

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Severity of impact of second wave on economy could be far worse than anticipated – CBSL

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The impact of the second wave of COVID-19 could be severer on the economic growth than previously anticipated, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara said yesterday (26).

Dr. Amarasekera said so responding to a query by The Island at a CBSL media briefing. The top official said that an assessment couldn’t be made yet as the second wave was continuing.

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