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.
Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill
… alleges bid to turn Port City into Chinese territory
Over 12 petitioners move SC against proposed law
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday (15) alleged that the proposed Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission,’ would transform the reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green into a Chinese territory.
Addressing the media at the Abhayarama temple, under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Rajapakshe, warned of dire consequences if the government went ahead with what he termed the despicable project.
Sixteen parties had filed action against the Bill. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda thera was among the petitioners.
The ruling party had placed the Bill on the Order Paper on April 8, just 15 calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette. In terms of the Constitution a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill had to do so within one week from the Bill being placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said.
Among those who moved the SC were the General-Secretary of the UNP and the Chairman of the UNP. The Attorney-General has been named a respondent in the petition. The BASL, too, moved SC against the Attorney General. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jeran Jegatheesan also filed action.
Lawmaker Rajapakse explained how the proposed Bill, if enacted, could allow independent status to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Former Justice Minister alleged that the Colombo Port City project was far worse than the selling of the strategic Hambantota port to the Chinese by the previous administration.
The Colombo District MP said the Parliament wouldn’t have financial control over the Colombo Port City Project whereas its independent status would legally empower those managing the project to finalise agreements with external parties
Referring to the previous administration, the former UNPer alleged that China had bribed members of Parliament. MP Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind China providing computers to all members of Parliament and officials as well as jaunts to China.
Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t give in to Chinese strategies aimed at bringing Sri Lanka under its control. The former minister explained the threat posed by the growing Chinese presence including the Colombo Port City, a terminal in the Colombo harbour and at the Hambantota port.
Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander
An outfit, led by Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE), has urged the UK to take punitive measures against the Commander of the Army, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The Army headquarters told The Island that the matter had been brought to the notice of the relevant authorities. It said that it was all part of the ongoing well-funded campaign against the Sri Lankan military.
Issuing a statement from Johannesburg, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on General Shavendra Silva. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020.
“We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said the organisation’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.
The ITJP Submission details Shavendra Silva’s role in the perpetration of alleged gross human rights violations including of the right to life when he was 58 Division Commander during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in the north of Sri Lanka. It draws on searing eyewitness testimony from Tamils who survived the government shelling and bombing of hospitals and food queues in the so called No Fire Zones, many of whom now reside in the UK as refugees. The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape, which is a priority area of the UK Government’s foreign policy.
“The US State Department designated Shavendra Silva in 2020 for his alleged role in the violations at the end of the war but the remit of the UK sanctions regime works is broader and includes his role in the shelling of hospitals and other protected civilian sites during the military offensive. This is important in terms of recognising the full extent of the violations, as well as supporting the US action,” commented Ms. Sooka. “UK designation would be another significant step forward in terms of accountability and would be in line with the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed in Geneva for which Britain was the penholder,” she added.
Political will in applying the UK’s new sanctions regime to Sri Lanka was apparent in a recent parliamentary debate which saw 11 British parliamentarians ask why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.”
Ten lives snuffed out in road accidents during festive period
Road accidents had snuffed out 10 lives during the Sinhala and Tamil New year, police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said yesterday, adding that 121 accidents had been reported on April 14 alone.
Twelve of the accidents took place on the Southern Expressway.
DIG Rohana also said that 758 drunk drivers had been arrested on April 14. He added that such drivers would not be released on police bail.
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