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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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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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