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Reduction of fuel prices, no-faith motion so far not discussed at Cabinet or SLPP group level – Udaya

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila says the government hadn’t discussed the possibility of reducing fuel prices though there was a spate of statements regarding downward revision.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader and attorney-at-law Gammanpila said so when The Island asked him whether the government had deliberated the issue at hand at the cabinet and the Cost of Living Committee following the increase in fuel prices on June 11. The PHU represented in Parliament by one lawmaker is a constituent of the ruling SLPP, the largest party in the Parliament with 116 seats. The SLPP parliamentary group consists of 145 members with the SLFP being the second largest group with 14-members.

Responding to another query, Colombo District lawmaker said that the cabinet and the SLPP Parliamentary group hadn’t discussed how to face the no-faith motion moved by the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) against him for the fuel price hike.

Party leaders on July 5 decided to debate and vote on the no faith motion on July 19 and 20th. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena presided the meeting.

Minister Gammanpila said that the Speaker Abeywardena should have rejected the SJB’s no-confidence motion on technical grounds.

Minister Gammanpila said that the Cost of Living Committee on June 09 decided to increase the fuel prices due to extremely grave financial situation that undermined the entire banking system. The PHU leader said that he was among several Ministers and State Ministers present on the occasion. Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa had been among them.

On the following day, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Finance Minister, in writing authorised the hike in fuel prices, MP Gammanpila said, adding that whatever various interested parties propagated the economic situation remained dicey.

Minister Gammanpila pointed out that the Presidential Media Division (PMD) in a statement dated June 13 set the record straight. The President’s Office admitted the financial crisis that had been caused by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) being in debt to the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank to the tune of Rs 737 bn.

Lawmaker Gammanpila said that contrary to numerous reports, claims and speculation, they hadn’t worked out a plan to bring down fuel prices or introduce a relief package so far.

Minister Gammanpila said that he was not worried at all about the SJB’s no-faith motion. The minister explained that in spite of the SJB not having the numbers in parliament, the no-faith motion had been directed at the government as part of its overall political strategy to cause a split.

“Those who had publicly criticised me for announcing the fuel price hike are aware of the circumstances leading to the June 11 announcement. Both the President and the Prime Minister endorsed the decision,” Minister Gammanpila said, adding that problems couldn’t be addressed through rhetoric. Whatever, various spokespersons say, at the end of the day, the SLPP would have to defeat the SJB no-faith motion by the widest possible margin.

The lawyer explained that the Cost of Living Committee decided on the fuel price hike in the wake of Central Bank issuing a dire warning on the national economy. The Minister said that the Central Bank warned the Treasury of dire consequences unless fuel prices were revised forthwith.

The Energy Minister said that Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle, too, acknowledged the challenges ahead when SJB lawmaker Dr. Harsha de Silva recently sought the Treasury Chief’s opinion on the current financial situation. The SJB has raised the issue at a routine meeting of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) chaired by Prof. Charitha Herath.

He pointed out the SJB’s contradictory stand on the economic situation. On one hand, the SJB demands the government bring down the price of fuel and provide relief to the masses. Referring to high profile SJB’s vehicle protest outside the parliament to highlight their demand to reduce fuel prices, Minister Gammanpila said the same lot called for IMF intervention to save the economy.

Minister Gammanpila said that he didn’t play politics with the issue but sought a common ground where all could work together to overcome challenges. The minister recalled the difficulties faced by him recently when he sought the foreign exchange required to procure fuel. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his address to the nation late last month acknowledged the daunting task in meeting annual loan payments amounting to USD 4 bn.

A group of eight lawmakers, including two ministers, Wimal Weerawansa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, recently declared that they would soon propose a relief package to those who had been badly affected by the June 11 fuel price hike. However, the group hadn’t taken it up at cabinet or parliamentary group level and such a mechanism remained unfeasible due to the current situation, The Island learns.

Early last month, Minister Gammanpila declared that the country lacked the wherewithal to build a second refinery at Sapugaskanda and external investments were required to get the project off the ground. Minister Gammanpila pointed out that Minister Bandula Gunawardena and State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, too, recently explained how difficult the situation was on the economic front.



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SLFP tells major partner how to resolve crisis

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Kotelawala Bill rallying point for Opposition

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has offered to support the proposed Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Act if the government met its four conditions primarily meant to ensure KNDU remained within the State University system.

The SLFP, in a missive dated Aug 3 addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made the following amendments to the KNDU Bill, namely (i) the KNDU should be under the University Grants Commission (UGC) (ii) those outside the military to be admitted on the basis of Z-Score rankings (iii) taking into consideration undergraduates had to pay for receiving education at the KNDU and making arrangements to provide them with loans payable later and (iv) civilians should be in the majority in the unversity governing bodies.

The SLFP parliamentary group consists of 14, including one National List member, Dr. Suren Raghvan. The SLPP with 116 seats on its own enjoys a simple majority in Parliament.

Office of former President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday (4) made available a copy of its letter to the President signed by Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, MP, Chairman of the SLFP committee that inquired into the simmering KNDU controversy.

The SLPP decision to go ahead with KNDU Act has triggered protests in Colombo and several other areas, including Jaffna.

Acknowledging the pivotal importance in addressing issues pertaining to University level education, particularly those who couldn’t enter State universities seeking entry into Universities even in developing countries, the SLFP has recommended the setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to examine the issue at hand within a specific period would be the most suitable measure. However, if the government wanted to move the matter expeditiously in Parliament, the SLFP believed the above mentioned four amendments should be included.

Lawmaker Siyambalapitiya told The Island that the party consulted the SLFP parliamentary group as well as several other stakeholders before reaching consensus on the KNDU Act. MP Siyambalapitiya said that the SLFP expected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to pay special attention to the suggestions made.

Senior Vice President of the SLFP Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa told The Island that if there had been proper mechanism for consultations among constituents of the SLPP led alliance issues such as the KNDU Bill could have been easily avoided. Prof. Piyadasa emphasized that those in political authority should have consulted all constituents before it finalised the KNDU Bill and presenting it to Parliament. Responding to another query, Piyadasa pointed out why SLPP should do away with the practice of taking major decisions without consulting constituents. The academic cited the enactment of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Oct 2020 and the passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill as two glaring examples.

Prof. Piyadasa pointed out how some sections of the Opposition exploited mishandling of the KNDU issue to such an extent that now trade unions affiliated to political parties brought dozens of groups under one banner. They had managed to cleverly mix teachers’ salary issue with the KNDU controversy, Prof. Piyadasa said, alleging the government allowed the situation to get out of hand. Tuesday’s violent protest on the road leading to Parliament highlighted the deterioration of the situation and the failure on the part of the government to address the issue at hand, prudently.

Prof. Piyadasa said that the government couldn’t ignore concerns expressed by the Government Medical Officers’ Association and the Association of Medical Specialists in that regard. Pointing out the government could easily resolve the issue by following the SLFP’s recommendations, Prof. Piyadasa said urging the government to respond to the developing situation swiftly and decisively.

Referring to a spate of statements issued by the Defence Ministry in that regard, Prof. Piyadasa said that the government should seek the backing of all political parties represented in parliament to expand capacity of State Universities.

He said that the SLFP recently discussed the matter with breakaway JVP faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP). Except perhaps for some pursuing agendas of their own, vast majority of lawmakers wouldn’t back the proposed KNDU Bill in its present form, Prof. Piyadasa said.

Piyadasa emphasized unnecessary trouble caused by the government’s shortsighted strategy couldn’t be resolved by resorting to police crackdowns.

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Shouting match over arrest and detention of MP

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By Saman Indrajith

Parliament was plunged into turmoil yesterday over the arrest and detention of MP Rishad Bathiudeen, while President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in the Chamber. 

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella, raising a point of order, said that MP Bathiudeen had been detained for nearly 100 days without being charged. “MP Bathiudeen has not been given a charge sheet. The police have not even informed the Speaker of this arrest and detention of the MP. His case had been postponed four times. This is against British parliamentary traditions. This amounts to the breach of privileges of the MP. We demand that the MP should be set free.”

 Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena: I have been informed of the arrest of MP Bathiudeen.

 Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: On what grounds? 

The Speaker: For an investigation.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: It cannot be accepted as a reason for the arrest. On what grounds the arrest has been made?

(MPs of government side shouts at the Chief Opposition Whip) 

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando: Time was when we too were taken into custody. No reasons were given. The then Speaker did not speak a word when we were taken into custody. Where had that tradition been then?

 Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: This is a matter of importance for each and every MP. This is applicable to all of us. This could happen to you one day. There have been several Presidents in the country, but no MP was detained under any of them in this manner. 

Leader of the House Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena: There is an investigation against MP Bathiudeen. Another probe has also been initiated by the police. Those investigations have to be conducted properly. There is no meaning in shouting here while there are investigations pending against MP Bathiudeen.

(SJB MPs shout against the government while the Speaker was trying to bring the House in order)

 MP Rishad Bathiudeen: Ninety-two days have lapsed since I was taken into custody. There were investigations only for five days. I am being detained in a dark room for 24 hours. There is no reason for my arrest. I am telling the President of this country, Sir, there is no reason for my arrest. There was an additional secretary by the name of Balasubramaniyam in my ministry. I am told that I was arrested over a telephone conversation that Balasubraniyam had with somebody.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: MP Bathiudeen mentioned one Balasubramaniyam. Balasubramaniyam has fled the country. You should know that.

 

 

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Several policemen injured as IUSF-led protesters topple police barricades

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Maharagama OIC’s fingers badly mangled

By Saman Indrajith

Several policemen had been injured on Tuesday when undergraduates, led by the Inter-University Students Federation, toppled barricades set up to prevent them from marching on the road leading to Parliament.

Among the injured is OIC of the Maharagama police, Chief Inspector H.H. Janakantha, who was operated on at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital. Three of his fingers in his hand were badly mangled. He was first taken to the Medical Centre in the parliamentary complex but later transferred to the Jayewardenepura hospital.

 The protesters wrested the barricade from policemen who were attempting to hold back the protesters.

The Maharagama OIC was among additional policemen summoned from nearby stations to strengthen the security of Parliament and the high security zone.

The protesters led by the IUSF started from several places to march towards Parliament around noon to protest against the proposed Kotelawala National Defence University Bill. The main march started from the Ayurveda Roundabout in Borella. The march created heavy traffic between the Ayurveda roundabout and Battaramulla during the lunch hour traffic.

The protesters could not be stopped at the Parliament Roundabout, and they proceeded up to the Jayanthipura entrance to the Parliament premises. They pulled down barricades but the police managed to stop them at that point. The IUSF activists set a coffin labelled ‘the death of free education’ on fire at the main entrance to Parliament. The protesters dispersed about one hour later after IUSF convener Wasantha Mudalige and Prof. Mahim Mendis of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations made speeches against the KNDU (Kotelawala National Defence Univeristy) Bill. 

 

 

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