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Prez says he told AG perpetrators of Easter carnage and bond scams must be brought to justice

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‘No escape for wrongdoers’

Steps had been taken to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the Easter Sunday attacks, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said, yesterday, addressing the nation on the Independence Day.

Rajapaksa said that he would also take into consideration the recommendations of the previous Parliament’s Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security, and action would be taken against all parties involved in the carnage.

“We will not allow those responsible for designing and enabling this tragedy to escape justice. We will never allow extremism to raise its head again in this country,” the President said.

President Rajapaksa also said that he had advised the Attorney General to take necessary action on the Treasury bond scams.

The President said that he had established a Presidential Deregulation Commission to change the outdated laws and regulations that negatively affected the general public as well as the domestic and foreign companies.

For a long time the importance of simplifying outdated laws and regulations had been discussed but nothing to address it. Implementing the recommendations of this Commission would provide significant impetus to the country’s future economic development, he said.

“Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” policy statement articulated the need for educational reforms to foster a knowledgeable and skilled future generation. Accordingly, a separate State Ministry had been created to undertake the reforms needed in the education sector.

Two task forces had been created to obtain specialist assistance for these reforms, and their recommendations were already being implemented, said President Rajapaksa.

“During the course of this year, the number of students gaining admission to universities will increase by 10,000, or 30 percent. Provisions have been made to double the number of students entering the state Technical Colleges from 100,000 to 200,000. Approval has been granted for the creation of a system of city universities catering to every district in order to increase the capacity of universities. We are acting quickly to implement recommendations for educational reforms. As a result, we anticipate that there will be an appreciable qualitative improvement in the education sector within the next few years,” he said.

President Rajapaksa said that he established a dedicated Ministry of Technology and brought it under his purview. Through that Ministry, steps would be taken to develop the policies and legal framework required to improve the technology sector, as well as to simplify the functioning of the state sector and markets through the use of information technology as a tool for broader digital governance. Action had already been taken to create five technology parks with all facilities in five identified districts in order to encourage entrepreneurs and start-ups in the technology sector.

Rajapaksa said that a number of groups supported him when he ran for presidency and that he believed that a vast majority of those people did so not in search of personal benefits but because they expected him to serve the nation diligently.

“I am always prepared to fulfill the genuine expectations of the public that supported me with honest intent. However, I will never take decisions that will damage the country and to please those who seek gains for themselves personally or for their businesses”, the President said.

Given below are excerpts of the speech:

I have always loved and respected the environment. In the past, whilst serving as the Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development, I strove to protect the environment when undertaking such activities as urban beautification, urban development, and the creation of walking paths and urban parks. Today, too, our Government has paid particular attention to preserving the environment for future generations. What the creation of urban forests, designing of green cities, promotion of green businesses, undertaking of nationwide tree planting programmes, reconstruction of irrigation tanks and canals, recultivating of fallow paddy fields, promoting the use of organic fertilizer, and limiting the use of plastics demonstrate is the implementation of this sustainable environmental management policy.

The foundation of our citizen centric economic policy is that the true potential of the economy cannot be unleashed without economic freedom. To achieve the Government’s aims of eliminating poverty, providing equal opportunity for improvement of all citizens, and developing domestic businesses, we require a clean and efficient public service.

The public service is a powerful, nationwide mechanism. This represents an opportunity that many countries in the world do not possess. Therefore, I expect this powerful mechanism to make a significant contribution to the national decision making process. However, I observe that weaknesses currently prevail in decision making at every level. Even on very simple institutional matters, I have observed that officials avoid making decisions and refer them to the Cabinet of Ministers. They expect advice from circulars for every activity. They avoid taking decisions even within the limits of their authority. If we do not change this situation, it will be extremely difficult for us to take this nation forward.

The legal reforms necessary to protect those in the public service who take correct decisions are currently being formulated. I therefore request all those in positions of authority to ease the limitations and practices that obstruct the general public through the state administration.

I personally participate in the ‘Conversation with the Village’ programme because rural development is one of my Government’s priorities. The public administration system at both the District and Divisional level is extremely important to achieving the citizen centric economic development articulated in my vision statement “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”. There is a clear responsibility incumbent on everyone involved in this development process, from the Governors, District Secretaries, Divisional Secretaries and Public Health Officials, to officials such as Grama Niladharis, Samurdhi Officials, Agriculture Research and Production Assistants, Family Health Service Officials and Development Officials at the village level. They have all provided tremendous support in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus and in providing other essential services. Similarly, I look forward to the unstinted support of all public servants in successfully overcoming the challenges that confront us in terms of our economic development.

The political leadership has a grave responsibility not only on matters at the national level but also in rural development. We have instituted mechanisms to ensure the active participation of Cabinet and State Ministers, Members of Parliament, and Members of Urban and Municipal Councils in the development activities at District and Divisional levels.

Corruption and waste are significant obstacles to a nation’s development. We are setting an example to eradicate corruption and waste in the public administration. We will not be lenient on anyone who is found guilty of corruption or waste. However, one of the difficulties we face in preventing corruption is the indirect support given willingly or unwillingly by the public to such activities. I request the general public not to encourage corruption either directly or indirectly. If anyone is found to be engaging in corrupt practices, please inform the relevant authorities.

I invite everyone to join in a national effort to mobilize public opinion against corruption and waste. Our future generations too must be educated in this regard. I appreciate the support that is being extended by the media for this initiative.”



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GL: Colombo Port City Bill received AG’s sanction

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…SC scheduled to commence hearing petitions today

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris says that the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill is consistent with the Constitution. Prof. Peiris, who is also the Education Minister, insists the Bill received the sanction of the Attorney General.

Prof. Peiris explained to the media the circumstances under which the incumbent government had initiated the proposed Bill. He did so having briefed Ven. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Thera as regards the current political developments, at the Sri Dharmaloka Maha Viharaya, Rukmale, Pannipitiya, on Saturday (17).

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently presented the Colombo Port City EC Bill to the Cabinet of ministers. The 76-page Bill provides for the establishment of an EC authorised to grant registrations, licences, authorisations, and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be established within the Colombo Port City.

Responding to government member Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s bombshell accusations that the proposed Bill when enacted in parliament would transform newly reclaimed land adjacent to the Galle Face Green to sovereign Chinese territory, Prof. Peiris emphasized the responsibility on the part of the President in respect of the implementation of the project. Declaring that even an amendment couldn’t be moved without specific approval of the President, Prof. Peiris said all reports pertaining to financial matters, too, should be submitted to the President.

The former law professor also challenged those opposed to the proposed Bill claiming that the police and the military would be excluded from performing duties in the reclaimed land. One-time External Affairs Minister insisted that the police and the military enjoyed the right to exercise powers in terms of the country’s law in case of violations.

The minister said that the government was keen to create an environment conducive for foreign direct investment. However, those who now decried the Colombo Port City EC Bill conveniently forgot the formation of the ‘Greater Colombo Economic Commission’ (GCEC) under a new draconian Bill introduced by the then President J.R. Jayewardene.

Prof. Peiris said unlike JRJ’s Bill, the one proposed by the incumbent government adhered to the Constitution hence the approval from the Attorney General.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the JRJ’s Act paved the way for GCEC to take decisions pertaining to newly formed Export processing Zones (EPZ) and basically conduct its affairs outside the purview of the parliament. Claiming that those who exercised the required powers could transfer funds to and from accounts and anyone violating the secrecy faced jail terms, Prof. Peiris stressed that even the judiciary couldn’t intervene in some matters pertaining to this particular Act introduced in 1978.

According to Prof. Peiris, in 1992, the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa further strengthened the law by depriving the public an opportunity to obtain a restraining order from a court in respect of the all-powerful Commission.

Prof. Peiris accused the UNP and its breakaway faction, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other interested parties of propagating lies against the project as part of their overall political strategy. The minister acknowledged that the UNP was among those who moved the Supreme Court against the proposed Bill.

Since former Justice Minister Rajapakse strongly condemned the proposed Bill at a hastily arranged media briefing at Abayaramaya under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda thera, several Ministers and State Ministers, Keheliya Ranbukwelle, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Prof. G. L. Peiris, Namal Rajapaksa, Ajith Nivard Cabraal responded to their colleague on behalf of the government.

A five-member bench of the Supreme Court will begin hearing the petitions today (19).

Among those who filed cases against the proposed Bill were President of the Bar Association Saliya Pieris, PC, former lawmaker Wasantha Samarasinghe on behalf of the JVP, civil society activists, Gamini Viyangoda and K.W. Janaranjana on behalf of Purawesi  Balaya and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA).

Viyangoda questioned the government’s motive in depriving the public ample time and space to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill.

Purawesi Balaya spokesperson said that the disputed Bill had been placed on the Order Paper of Parliament on the 8th of April 2021, at a time when the sittings of the Supreme Court were suspended for the vacation. In terms of the Constitution any citizen seeking to challenge a Bill on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the Constitution has to do so within one week of being placed on the Order Paper of Parliament, which in this instance is the 15 th of April 2021. The petitioner said between the 8 th April 2021 and 15 th April 2021, there were the weekend and three public holidays intervening, thereby giving any citizen seeking to challenge the Bill, only two working days to obtain legal advice and representation.

Those who complained bitterly over urgent Bills exercised the same strategy as regards the controversial Bill, the civil society activist said. Responding to another query, Viyangoda said that if the government was confident the Bill didn’t violate the Constitution, it could have been properly discussed at their parliamentary group meeting before being presented to the cabinet of ministers.

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Wijeyadasa, under heavy flak over opposition to China project, says ready to face consequences

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, yesterday (18) told The Island that he stood by the accusations he made in respect of the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill.

The former Justice Minister emphasised that he had expressed concerns publicly regarding the planned project after carefully examining the proposed Bill.

“In spite of a spate of statements issued by various government spokespersons, I’m confident of the legal process scheduled to begin today (19). The entire country should be concerned over the government move made at the behest of China.”

Responding to another query, the Colombo district MP urged political parties represented in Parliament to study the Bill with an open mind. The proposed law should be examined taking into consideration the previous UNP-led government transferring control of the strategic Hambantota port to China on a 99-year-lease and China is also in control of a terminal in the Colombo port for 35 years.

The MP said that he was ready to face the consequences of his decision to take a contrary view as regards the Chinese project. Those who had been benefited by the mega China funded project would shamelessly back it, lawmaker Dr. Rajapakse maintained, recollecting how members of parliament backed the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement brokered by Norway, shielded Treasury bond thieves et al.

Those who moved the Supreme Court against the proposed Bill included the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, MP Rajapakse said. The former Minister claimed that unprecedented tax exemptions provided to the businesses coming up in the newly reclaimed land adjacent to the Galle Face Green would pose a severe threat to the national economy.

The MP said that he didn’t personally have anything against China or any other country, but strongly believed in political and economic independence of the country. Therefore, the right-thinking lawmakers couldn’t under any circumstances vote for the proposed Bill as it was, the former Minister said.

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Hiding in obscure corner of India, Myanmar’s ousted lawmakers plotting to dethrone military junta

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI:

Roughly a dozen ousted Myanmar lawmakers, who fled to India after the February 1 military coup, are now busy plotting to dethrone the generals.

In a spartan hillside room in India furnished only with a thin sleeping mat, one of the Myanmar Members of Parliament (MPs) spends much of his days attentively listening to Zoom conference calls and tapping away messages on his smartphone.

The short, soft-spoken man is among the handful of ousted Myanmar MPs who have fled across the border to India’s remote north-eastern region after the military coup and the lethal crackdown on dissent.

Two of the lawmakers and a Myanmar politician spoke to a Reuters reporter. They are involved with the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or CRPH, a body of ousted lawmakers that is attempting to re-establish the civilian government and displace the military.

The three said the group is supporting demonstrations, helping distribute funds to supporters and holding negotiations with multiple entities to quickly form a civilian administration nationwide. They asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families back home.

Most of the ousted lawmakers are from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) that overwhelmingly won a November 2020 election, which the military has annulled.

The coup has been met with a fierce pro-democracy movement and tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country, despite the crackdown.

Security forces have killed over 700 people, and more than 3,000 have been detained, including more than 150 lawmakers and members of the former government. Mobile and wireless internet services have been shut down.

The fear of detention and inability to rebuild a civilian government without internet connectivity has driven some Myanmar lawmakers involved in the resistance to work from India, the two MPs elected to Myanmar’s Parliament said.

“There is no time,” one of them, who is from the country’s western Chin state, told Reuters. “People are dying in our country.”

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military did not answer calls seeking comment. The junta has accused the CRPH of treason. The group is working to set up a national unity government to challenge the military’s authority.

Since fleeing to India around two weeks ago, the lawmaker said he had been holding regular discussions with colleagues to set up a parallel administration in Chin state, under directions from the CRPH.

The process is complex, involving building consensus between elected representatives, political parties, ethnic armed groups, civil society bodies and civil disobedience movement leaders, the two lawmakers and the politician said.

The CRPH is also keen on opening communications with India, where at least 1,800 people from Myanmar are already sheltering. It will seek New Delhi’s blessings for the parallel government it is attempting to form, the politician said.

“We can’t rely on China, Thailand and other neighbouring countries,” he said. “The only country where refugees are being welcomed is India”.

India’s External Affairs Ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

This week, NLD lawmakers from Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region held an online conference call, but only 26 out of 49 representatives dialled in, according to the second MP who attended the meeting from India.

“We don’t know where the rest are,” the federal lawmaker said. Two party officials were now trying to track down their missing colleagues.

Some of the fiercest resistance to the junta has come from Sagaing. In the last two months, around 2,000 families involved in the civil disobedience movement in one part of the region have been given financial assistance of around 17 million Kyat ($12,143), the lawmaker from Sagaing said.

The presence and activities of escapee Myanmar lawmakers could pose a diplomatic quandary to India, particularly given New Delhi’s close ties with the Myanmar military rulers.

But India’s position on the Myanmar crisis itself appears to have somewhat shifted in recent weeks. This has also been acknowledged by some CRPH representatives.

At an United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on April 10, Indian diplomat K. Nagaraj Naidu said New Delhi is pushing for a return to democracy in Myanmar. “The first, and most immediate step, in this regard is the release of detained leaders,” Naidu said.

However, India is concerned around internal divisions within the CRPH that could hobble its functioning, a source with knowledge of New Delhi’s thinking said.

The politician involved with the CRPH said he is hopeful that India will engage with the group.

“If democracy wins in Myanmar, it is also a win for India,” he said.

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