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SLPP constituent proposes recognition of dissidents, stricter controls on lawmakers et al

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The civil society group Yuthukama, represented in parliament, having been elected on the SLPP ticket, has proposed that dissident lawmakers be constitutionally empowered to function independently.

The Speaker’s recognition should recognise them if 25 per cent of members elected from a particular party or over 5 per cent of the 225-member parliament take a common stand contrary to that of the position taken by a political party.

This is one of the constitutional proposals, Yuthukama recently handed over to the 9-member Expert Committee tasked with formulating a new Constitution subject to parliamentary approval. Eminent President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva heads the committee formed by Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC.

Yuthukama Chairman and SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga told The Island that they initially handed over their proposals to the Maha Sangha and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in February last year. “We subsequently, developed the proposals, in consultations with those interested in the formulation of a new constitution and handed them over recently,” lawmaker Cumaratunga said.

In addition to the prominent civil society activist Cumaratunga, Anupa Pasquel (Kalutara district) represents Yuthukama in parliament. Responding to another query, MP Cumaratunga said that they would like an opportunity to make further representations before the Expert Committee.

Yuthukama made a spate of proposals meant to improve what Cumaratunga called genuine public representation in parliament. Main among them were (1) 70 elected on first past the post system, 20 per cent elected from among the best losers in proportional representation and 10 per cent through the National List on the basis of countrywide votes (2) Elected members will lose parliamentary seats in case the party removed them or they themselves quit. In such a scenario, Yuthukama has proposed holding of a by-election whereas those accommodated on the National List or categorized as best losers enjoy an opportunity to move the court on the basis they adhered to party manifestos (3) a member should at least serve two terms to earn the pension right (4) The candidate securing the largest block of electoral seats should be elected the President instead of the highest number of votes (5) Local Government system should be revamped with 75 per cent of members elected directly and the rest picked from the best losers in terms of the proportional representation and (6) Transformation of Provincial Councils to efficient mechanisms with the participation of members of parliament.

Of political parties and civil society groups represented in the SLPP only the National Freedom Party and Yuthukama submitted constitutional proposals before the expiry of the deadline on Dec 31, 2020.

The two major parties in the parliament the SLPP (145 seats) and the SJB (54 seats) and the JVP (3) refrained from handing over their proposals. Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella told The Island that the SJB was of the view that the Expert Committee should examine the constitutional proposals on which consensus was reached during the previous administration.

The Expert Committee is expected to finalize the process before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech delivered at the last Independence Day, lawmaker Cumaratunga pointed out the need to ensure equality among the Office of the President, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Recollecting the crises caused due to inequality during previous presidencies, Cumaratunga proposed the (1) restriction of the number of cabinet ministers to 30, including the PM who should earn the support of the majority of members and the appointment of ministers on the agreement/recommendation of the PM (2) the number of Deputy Ministers 50 also on the agreement/recommendation of the PM (3) The President should be empowered to remove any minister or deputy minister on the completion of one year since the last election (4) constitutional provision to prevent the appointment of State Ministers, a move Yuthukama alleged is meant to allow them to enjoy ministerial perks at the taxpayers’ expense.

Yuthukama also proposed a wider Constitutional Council instead of the five-member Parliamentary Council established in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. In a move that may raise eyebrows of government members, Yuthukama endorsed the appointment of five members of the previous Constitutional Council in agreement between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

However, Yuthukama found fault with the way the previous administration accommodated the TNA leader as the Opposition Leader at the expense of the Joint Opposition thereby undermining the very basis of the Constitutional Council. Taking into consideration how the yahapalana administration manipulated the parliamentary process, Yuthukama proposed (1) Opposition Leader should be elected on the basis of majority support among Opposition members. Those who represented political parties that received cabinet or Deputy portfolios shouldn’t be considered Opposition members under any circumstances (2) Speaker, Prime Minister and Opposition Leader should be ex-officio members of the Constitutional Council (3) Civil society should be represented by four persons.

Yuthukama also reiterated its commitment for unitary status of the country.

In another proposal contrary to the 20th Amendment, Yuthukama proposed that the appointment of judges to higher courts, Attorney General, IGP and members of Independent Commissions by the President should be subjected to the approval of the Constitutional Council.



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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