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Prez assured Cabinet MCC won’t be signed – Wimal

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…AG’s opinion pending

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had assured the Cabinet of ministers that his government wouldn’t sign the MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) agreement, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa yesterday (29) said. The Cabinet had received that assurance before US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo arrival in Colombo on Tuesday, 27, he added.

Addressing the media at the NFF party office at Pitakotte, Minister Weerawansa said the issue had been discussed at length at the Cabinet before the arrival of Secretary of State Pompeo.

Weerawansa said the NFF wouldn’t remain in the govenrment if it signed MMC agreement, which he said, was detrimential to Sri Lanka’s interests.

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, is yet to give his opinion on the MCC though the government-appointed Prof. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan’s Committee strongly recommended that Sri Lanka reject the proposed agreement in its current form.

The Attorney General’s Department refrained from giving its opinion to the Gunaruwan Committee in spite of a request made through the Prime Minister’s Office, The Island learns.

The NFF group in the SLPP parliamentary group consists of six lawmakers, including one National List MP Mohammed Muzammil, who was present at yesterday’s briefing.

Referring to India and US signed pact finalized on Tuesday (27) to share ‘geospatial intelligence’, paving the way for deeper military cooperation between the two countries, Minister Weerawansa claimed that India seemed to be under far stronger US pressure than Sri Lanka. Foreign media reported the agreement would provide India’s armed forces access to data from U.S. military satellites to facilitate targeting and navigation.

Colombo District MP appreciated President Gotabaya Rajapaksas’s declaration, in his talks with the US official that Sri Lanka wouldn’t compromise independence and sovereignty and remained neutral and non-aligned in its foreign policy.

Minister Weerawansa said that soon after the US announced Pompeo’s visit in the wake of the high profile meeting the President had with the top Chinese delegation, Sajith Premadasa’s SJB, the JVP and politically bankrupt UNP launched a campaign over Pompeo’s visit. They used both mainstream and social media to convince the public Pompeo was here to sign both MCC and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement), MP Weerawansa said. They campaigned on the premise that the signing of MCC and SOFA was to take place secretly.

The NFF leader said those who had been propagating lies were all members of the UNP-led yahapalana administration that invited the then US Secretary of State John Kerry. Lawmaker Weerawansa alleged that they didn’t utter a word. Instead, they welcomed Kerry in May 2015. None of them could remember, the yahapalana government entered into ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) in the first week of August 2017, minister Weerawansa said.

Minister Weerawansa pointed out in spite of the controversial agreement; the JVP remained strongly aligned with the UNP-led administration throughout.

In the run-up to the last presidential election, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, in response to The Island query at Temple Trees media briefing said that the MCC would be signed.

Minister Weerawansa said that if not for the change of government last November, the UNP would have certainly finalized the MCC by now. The minister pointed out that the previous government also discussed SOFA with the US and was busy making preparations for the finalization of MCC when the parliament was dissolved.

Pompeo was previously scheduled to visit Colombo in June 2019 ahead of the last presidential election.

Responding to another query, Minister Weerawansa said that the SJB, the JVP and the UNP obviously prayed for the US to pressure Sri Lanka over MCC and SOFA. The NFF leader said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength to face international pressure and unlike the treacherous previous UNP-led government remained committed to non-aligned foreign policy.

Minister Weerawansa said that the government was pursuing transparent foreign policy. Both the President and the Foreign Minister, in no uncertain terms reiterated Sri Lanka’s stand during the US Secretary of State’s visit. The minister said that the Opposition appeared to have really believed the government was to align with the US led coalition against China.



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22A: Jayasumana asks govt. to stick to SC ruling, warns against moves detrimental to unitary status

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Prof. Jayasumana

Dissident SLP MP Prof. Channa Jayasumana has said that the government will not be allowed to use the proposed 22 Amendment to introduce anything detrimental to the country.

The Anuradhapura District MP said that it would be advisable for the ruling party to refrain from proposing amendments at the committee stage, other than what were authorised by the Supreme Court.

The Parliament is scheduled to debate the 22 Amendment tomorrow (06) and the day after (07).

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill seeking the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution could be adopted with a two-thirds majority in the House, though some clauses would require a nationwide referendum.

The rebel MP said that the clauses, inconsistent with the Constitution, should be left out of the Bill.

Responding to The Island queries, the former State Minister said that they would defeat whatever attempts to undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status at a time the country was struggling to cope up with a deteriorated economic situation.

The lawmaker said that it would be nothing but treachery to allow opportunists to exploit the recent developments. Prof. Jayasumana intends to take up the issue at hand with the 13-member rebel group, ahead of the two-day debate.

“Obviously, the SLPP is divided over the issue at hand,” the academic said, adding that the election of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the President, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, highlighted sharp divisions within the party over policy and strategy.

The SLPP won 145 seats at the last parliamentary election, though over 20 members have now declared they wouldn’t follow dictates of the party.

Prof. Jayasumana said that he publicly discussed the issue at hand recently following a gathering at Horowpothana, Morawewa.

Meanwhile, Ven. Professor Induragare Dharmarathana Thera said that the Jathika Mahajana Sabhawa would launch a protest campaign today (05) at the Independence Square, at 8.30 am.

The Ven. Thera alleged that they feared an attempt would be made to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that was enacted way back in the late 80s to appease those pushing for division of the country, on ethnic lines (SF)

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State FM: Treasury needs to increase revenue by Rs 400 bn

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The Finance Ministry yesterday (04) quoted State Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya as having said that the Treasury faced the daunting task of increasing the revenue by Rs 400 bn.

Siyambalapitiya said that both the government and the Opposition had acknowledged the urgent need to enhance revenue. The Minister said that their efforts to save foreign exchange by restricting imports had been quite successful and that the government had been able to reduce imports by 25 percent, in July this year, when compared with figures for the same month in the previous year.

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GL fires broadside at SLPP-RW govt., calls for accountability

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dissident SLPP lawmaker Prof. G.L. Peiris has alleged that the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe administration has allocated 320 vehicles for the recently appointed 38 State Ministers and their staff.

In addition, those who had been appointed District Coordinators had also been allocated vehicles, the former External Affairs Minister told the media on Monday (03). The ruling SLPP secured the lion’s share of state ministerial portfolios, as well as lucrative appointments as District Coordinators, the former minister said.

Addressing the media at the rebel group’s office, at Nawala, the SLPP National List MP and the party Chairman flayed what he called the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government for squandering taxpayers’ money to appease a section of the Parliament at a time the vast majority of people were struggling to make ends meet.

Pointing out that in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the government could appoint 30 cabinet and 40 non-cabinet rankers, Prof. Peiris said that it was only a matter of time before the government increased the number of Cabinet ministers to 30. At the moment, the Cabinet comprised 18 ministers, including Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Prof. Peiris said that in the wake of the Parliament approving the Social Security Contribution Levy Bill, the cost of living would go up further. The Parliament recently announced the Treasury intended to collect Rs 140 bn, annually, through the implementation of the new Bill.

The one-time Education Minister explained the current economic difficulties the student populationis facing. The retired top academic expressed serious concern over quite a number of students giving up education.

Commenting on the inordinate delay in conducting Local Government elections, Prof. Peiris alleged that the government feared facing the electorate for obvious reasons. Declaring that the Election Commission now had the power to call for Local Government polls, Prof. Peiris urged the EC to ensure the public received an opportunity to exercise their franchise.

“The EC shouldn’t disappoint the public,” the SLPP Chairman said, declaring their intention to move Court in case the government sought to further postpone the much-delayed Local Government polls. Prof. Peiris stressed their determination to vigorously oppose the government strategy to indefinitely put off Local Government polls. This should be examined against the backdrop of none of the Provincial Councils having elected members for several years now.

At the onset of the briefing, Prof. Peiris declared that the Opposition scored a significant victory when President Ranil Wickremesinghe was compelled to rescind his controversial Gazette notification on the setting up of High Security Zones in Colombo. The President wouldn’t have done so if not for heavy attacks mounted by all concerned. Prof. Peiris paid a glowing tribute to the media for relentlessly pursuing the issue until President Wickremesinghe had no option but to annul the dictatorial law. If the government strategy succeeded, Colombo city would have been transformed to a cantonment, the former Law Professor said, flaying Media Minister Bandula Gunawardena’s recent declaration that the electronic media needed to be regulated.

Referring to the recent warning issued by the Public Administration Ministry, to public servants, that they would be appropriately dealt with over social media posts/statements, Prof. Peiris said such a strategy wouldn’t work now. Reiterating the national economy was in such a desperate state, Prof. Peiris said that serious allegations, pertaining to procurement of coal for the Lakvijaya Coal-fired Power Plant, as well as crude oi,l couldn’t be suppressed.

Responding to a query on Sri Lanka’s position at the ongoing 51 sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, the former Foreign Minister faulted the government for arresting anti-government, activists under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

Prof. Peiris said that in his former capacity as the External Affairs Minister he assured the UNHRC, in June this year, that the PTA wouldn’t be used while the government undertook a comprehensive study on a new security law. But, the government indiscriminately used the PTA in cases not related terrorism at all, Prof. Peiris said, questioning the rationale in Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s declaration that those arrested in terms of the PTA wouldn’t be charged under the same law.

The Premier owed an explanation, the former minister said, pointing out the UNHRC was concerned over the utilization of the PTA.

The former minister said that if the UNHRC adopted a new resolution in respect of Sri Lanka, it could have a detrimental effect on ongoing negotiations with the IMF, the GSP plus as well as efforts to attract foreign investment. Prof Peiris insists: “What we really need is adequate investment, not more loans.”

Prof. Peiris said that the National Council was nothing but another talk shop. The government could have proved its sincerity by giving the leadership of parliamentary watchdog committees, the COPE and the COPA, to Opposition lawmakers, the MP said. Instead, the SLPP was hell-bent on suppressing those who dared to dissent, regardless of the consequences, the former Minister said, vowing to push for the restoration of parliamentary democracy.

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