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SLFP suggests to hold PC elections expeditiously under former election system

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Leader of the House Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena speaking at the Select Committee of Parliament to Identify Appropriate Reforms of the Election Laws and the Electoral System and to Recommend Necessary Amendments. Secretary to the Select Committee, Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff of Parliament Kushani Rohanadheera looks on

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has suggested that it would be appropriate to hold the Provincial Council elections expeditiously, under the former election system the least limited to this particular election alone, parliament sources said.

The suggestion was made at the Select Committee of Parliament to Identify Appropriate Reforms of the Election Laws and the Electoral System and to Recommend Necessary Amendments held on Thursday (02), Parliament Communication Department said.

State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara who testifying on behalf of the party at the committee stated that many problems have risen due to postponing of the provincial council elections for a long time. He stated that his party was of the view that the provincial council elections should be held immediately. Furthermore, local government elections should be held in the first quarter of next year. The number of local government representatives should be limited to a maximum of 5500, he said.

Minister Mahinda Amaraweera stated at the committee that it is not appropriate to extend the term of local government bodies. The Minister also pointed out that the public opinion is that the number of seats in local government bodies should be reduced.

Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva explained that after the announcement of the Local Government Elections, the powers of those institutions should be transferred to a commissioner until the election is held and the new members are sworn in.

The Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena stated that the Attorney General is of the view that the Provincial Council elections cannot be held under the existing law and that the necessary legal provisions should be brought for the purpose of the stated. He also stated that the general opinion of the Committee is that the Provincial Council elections should be held expeditiously.

The SLFP proposed to the committee that the number of members to be elected from the divisions should be 60 percent and the number of members to be elected proportionally should be 40 percent when the electoral system is amended.

Necessary legal provisions should be made to limit election expenses. The President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presentation of a Cabinet Memorandum on Limiting Election Expenditure is commendable. The party also said that women’s representation at all levels should be 25 percent of the total number of candidates.

Furthermore, the conduct of media during election period should be regulated. The SLFP also emphasized the importance of regulating social media behaviour.

Professor Sudantha Liyanage, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Chairman of the Expert Committee on the analysis of appropriate reforms of the election laws and the electoral system and to recommend necessary amendments stated if the new electoral system is adjusted to the 70:30 ratio, the existing number of seats in local government bodies could be reduced by 1,500.

He also pointed out the need to revise the electoral system so that the winning political party in the local government area gets two bonus seats.

The Secretary to the Select Committee, Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff of Parliament Kushani Rohanadheera stated that the next meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee will be held on Dec 07.

State Ministers Lasantha Alagiyawanna and Duminda Dissanayake also represented the SLFP at the committee meeting. Members of Parliament M. A. Sumanthiran, Madhura Withanage and Sagara Kariyawasam were also present as members of the Committee.

Officials representing the Election Commission and the Attorney General’s Department were also present.



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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