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Party leaders confident Speaker will act impartially, protect all MPs’ rights and privileges

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By Saman Indrajith

With a total of 15 different political parties represented in the Ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka, there were early indications on Thursday during the brief speeches made to congratulate the newly appointed Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena of the balancing act that would be needed to ensure the smooth functioning of the legislature.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa led the House in congratulating the newly elected Speaker and said that with more than three decades as a legislator, Parliament will be in safe hands under him. “You will be mindful that you are the third citizen of this country now.  You have the will and strength to be an impartial and fair Speaker,” he said.

Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa said the newly elected Speaker had always acted with dignity, integrity and honour and the House was extremely honoured to have him in that exalted position. “We believe you will be just and fair. This is indispensable for a flourishing democracy,” Premadasa said.

“This institution represents the will of the people. The voice of the voiceless. And you as guardian angel of Parliament, we believe you will ensure that the people’s sovereignty is protected and enhanced.”

TNA parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan said that with the Speaker, with his long experience as a legislator would act efficiently and effectively in an impartial manner. He said the TNA would extend its maximum cooperation to the Speaker.

Former Northern Province Chief Minister, C V Wigneswaran, who was elected as the Jaffna District MP from the Tamil People’s National Alliance or TMTK, in his speech, noted that there was a very powerful government now, similar to the one constituted under the late J. R. Jayewardene in 1977. It was during that regime that we had the 1983 pogrom. “Certainly, this government too could follow the example of the Elephant of that time, and end up as today, reduced to a single member in the future, but I’m sure they would not. They would prefer to learn from the mistakes of the past and usher in a period of peace and prosperity where all communities would feel equal to each other and walk with dignity and pride as children of Mother Lanka.”

Wigneswaran said, “Freedom and equality could only dawn if we shed the false historical perspectives of the past and recognise the rights of the people living in the North and East of Sri Lanka who are entitled to the right of self-determination as per Article 1 of Chapter 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in addition to their hereditary and traditional right to be recognized as a nation.

“We are sure you will guide us all without fear or favour if any such impasse comes to past.”

Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) Jaffna District MP Gajan Ponnambalam said: “In a House that is so heavily weighted on one side, it is the responsibility of the Speaker to ensure that as debates that reflect different mandates given to parties by voters are respected and treated with fairness.

 “We must not forget that all parties represented in this House come here today with their respective mandates. Those mandates must be respected, those mandates must be voiced, the mandate must be respected and due place must be given.”

Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) Batticaloa District MP Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan who came to Parliament from remand prison pledged to work in cooperation with the government during his speech congratulating the new Speaker.

He also sought the Speaker’s intervention to ensure that he was allowed to attend Parliament without any hindrance. “The Attorney General (AG) has said I will need to get permission from the Court each day I want to attend Parliament but this is not possible. I hope I will be allowed to attend sittings without any hindrance.”

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Govt. suspended Sectoral Oversight committees to prevent discussion on 20A – Opposition Leader

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By Saman Indrajith

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa accused the government of suspending the functioning of Sectoral Oversight committees to avoid the 20th Amendment being discussed.

Raising a point of Order on Thursday in Parliament, soon after government members moved a motion to suspend the functioning of Sectoral Oversight Committees, the Opposition Leader demanded to know the objective and rationale behind the motion.

“This is a gross violation of democratic process. You are trying to bypass the process,” he protested.

Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena presented the motion to suspend the committees until establishing Parliamentary Consultative Committees under the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Leader of the Opposition Premadasa and JVP lead NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake objected to the motion.

Premadasa said that the Sectoral Oversight Committees had the power to inspect the bills presented to parliament before they are considered in the House.

The committees are there to analyze, appraise, and evaluate the bills and have the powers to indicate the conditions and circumstances in necessity or desirability of enacting new legislations. Now when the committees are suspended the government does not need to worry of the changes being suggested at the committee for the 20th Amendment, he said.

He said that the Government tried to avoid the 20th Amendment to the Constitution being discussed at the Sectoral Oversight Committee.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that the issue came up earlier and as a result SJB MP Mayantha Dissanayake was assigned to study the matter and to present a report regarding it.

Opposition Leader Premadasa then queried as to why the committees are going to be suspended before receiving the said report.

Leader of the House Minister Gunawardena said that the opposition leader had not read the motion properly. The motion was presented to suspend Sectoral Oversight Committees until the appointment of Members to them, the Minister said.

JVP leader Dissanayake said that the committees should not be suspended until the said report is presented. The motion says that the suspension is till new members are appointed to them. That is the tricky point. There are concerns about the sectoral oversight committees and we are awaiting a report. The report could propose some changes, or to continue the committee in their present form or to abolish them.

“Those are the possible recommendations of the report. We could suspend the committees till the report is ready. But the government is suspending them till new members are appointed. The prime minister knows the trick. That was the same method he employed while he was the president to prevent the functioning of independent commissions under the 17th amendment to the constitution. The law was passed to set up commissions but they could not function for nearly five years because the members were not appointed to them. So the same trick is being played once again. There would be no appointments to the sectoral oversight committees so that they would not function if we pass the motion,” the MP said, asking the speaker to give a ruling on the matter.

Speaker Abeywardena: There is no need for me to give a ruling, put it to the House and make a decision.

Leader of the House Minister Gunawardena asked whether the House agreed and the government MPs shouted ‘aye’. The motion was passed.

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Yahapalana govt. made use of CID and police to frame their political opponents – MP Jayasekara

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By Saman Indrajith

Murder convict, Ratnapura district SLPP MP Premalal Jayasekara told Parliament on Thursday that the way the yahapalana government made use of the CID and police to frame their political opponents was now unfolding in the media.

Participating in an adjournment debate on the Finance Commission, the MP said: “I think there would be some more terrifying stories on how the yahapalana political leaders got certain officials such as Shani Abeysekera to tamper with evidence while also fabricating evidence to achieve their political objectives by bending the law according to their whims and fancies.

When these stories come out, people who voted for the SLPP to send the yahapalana government home, will be proud of their choice. They understand that they did a yeoman service to the entire nation by voting to change that regime. People can be happy that they voted for the SLPP to end such a tyrannical government.”

The MP said that Shani Abeysekera and several others now under investigation for ‘making’ and ‘breaking’ cases by forcing witnesses to give evidence had played a role in investigations against him. “There will dawn a day when the truth will come out,” the MP said.

He further said that not all the police officers were corrupt and politically motivated such as Shani and others under investigation. “There are many gentlemen in uniform. Amongst them there are highly corrupt officers such as Shani,” he said.

“Similarly there are many untold stories about prison officers. We saw in the media recently some reports of corrupt officers. Just like in the case of the police, not all prison officers are corrupt. There are some bad eggs. One of the reasons might be the poor salary and facilities they get. Since I am now in prison, I see these things”, the MP noted.

He added: “I happened to read a letter from a jailor describing how hard their lives are. I table that letter. It shows the hard life they live while they are on duty. We know that the salaries of police officers were increased by 40 percent recently. But prison officers did not get a raise. I propose that their salaries be increased because that would at least ease their burden,” MP Jayasekera said.

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US donates locally procured Personal Protective Equipment to support SL’s COVID-19 Response 

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COLOMBO, September 24 – 

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Alaina B. Teplitz donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi as part of the United States’ ongoing assistance to Sri Lanka in its response to COVID-19.  

The donation includes 23,000 masks, 24,000 nitrile gloves, 600 isolation gowns with hoods, 60 infrared thermometers, 50 portable oxygen concentrators with a large supply of expendable equipment to support their operation, and disinfectants.  The total value of donation was $191,000. 

 The donation was funded by the US Department of Defense.  All items were procured locally in keeping with US efforts to support Sri Lanka’s local businesses and industry as they recover from COVID-19’s economic impact.  As part of its private sector engagement with the apparel industry and the Sri Lanka’s Export Development Board, the United States has funded capacity building trainings that have aided new exporters in accessing the US market. 

 “These donations from the American people accomplish two shared goals: protecting the health and safety of Sri Lankans and supporting Sri Lankan jobs,” said Ambassador Teplitz.  “Providing sustainable assistance that enables Sri Lanka’s economic recovery is a hallmark of the U.S.-Sri Lanka partnership.”  

In Sri Lanka alone, the United States has provided more than $26 million in health assistance over the last 20 years and this latest donation, builds on more than $6 million in COVID-19 assistance in 2020.  On behalf of the American people, the Ambassador recently presented 200 brand-new, high-quality ventilators that enable Sri Lanka’s health providers to deliver quality care that could save lives.

Meanwhile, the American people are also helping Sri Lankan children resume their schooling via support for a national media campaign that encourages children and parents to follow seven important lessons to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

The United States continues to be one of the world’s largest providers of bilateral assistance in health. Since 2009, the American people have generously funded more than $100 billion in health assistance and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance globally.  

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