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Socialist Alliance asks Prime Minister to call for early PC elections

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The Socialist Alliance has urged Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to hold the Provincial Council (PC) polls without further delay.

The Uva and Southern PC elections have been delayed by more than a year. The Northern and North Western PC polls should have been held two years ago, while elections to the Eastern, North Central & Sabaragamuwa PCs are overdue by three years, leaders of the Socialist Alliance, Prof. Tissa Vitarana (LSSP), Dr. G. Weerasinghe (SLCP), Vasudewa Nanayakkara (DLF), Asanka Nawarathne (SLMP) and D. Kalansooriya (DVJP) said in representations made to the premier.

These are a blatant violation of the conditions laid down for the conduct of the PC elections by the Election Commission in terms of the gazette notification dated January 29, 1988 (Provincial Councils Elections Act, No. 2 of 1988). According to the Act, it is mandatory that the process of holding the PC election should start within one week of the dissolution of any PC and be concluded in about two months, the Alliance said in a letter to the Prime Minister.

This gross violation of the Provincial Council Election Act was deliberately committed by the UNP led ‘Yahapalana’ government. In 2017, the previous government moved an amendment to the Provincial Council Act to enable them to delay the holding of the PC election. The active support of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was received for this ‘undemocratic act’, it said.

With the victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the November 2019 Presidential Election and the near two-third majority secured soon after by the SLPP to form a government, the expectation was that steps would be taken to have the PC elections soon. This was especially after the safe manner in which the General Election was conducted. However, there appears to be reluctance to hold the PC elections despite the fact that there has been considerable delay after they were dissolved, it further said.

On the basis of the Dinesh Gunawardena Committee Report, one of the reasons given for the delay was the introduction of the mixed electoral system where 70% of the elected representatives were to be chosen on an individual electorate basis, while the balance 30% would be selected on a proportional basis. Some people claim there would be a delay in the process due to delimitation problems, it noted.

But a large number of political parties and the public, including the organization of former representatives of the PCs, have been strongly agitating for early elections to be held. This delay on the part of the government has led to much distraction and criticism by all these organizations, it added.

The letter further said: “Many of these organizations have demanded that the elections should go ahead, if delays are due to the new laws, even on the basis of the earlier proportional representation system, which will have to be re-introduced. There are others who do not want the PC elections to be held until after the introduction of the new Constitution. This is in spite of the legal requirement that the elections have to be held early, within about two months after dissolution.

“There are also some concerns regarding the nature of the new Constitution and the possibility of not holding PC elections or even getting rid of the system altogether. The Left parties, grouped together as the Socialist Alliance, oppose these arguments and takes a firm stand for the holding of the PC election as soon as possible. Even at the time when the JVP threatened to kill the first five voters and the candidates who participated in the first PC election, the parties of the Socialist Alliance defied these threats and went ahead and contested and also voted.

“The members of the Socialist Alliance have stood firm behind the demand for holding PC elections since then as an important step towards protecting the democratic rights of the people.

“The Socialist Alliance wanted the democratic process at the provincial level to be extended by holding elections not only at the level of local government, but also by restoring the Village Council (Grama Sabha) system. Further, the establishment of the PC system with the devolution of power also satisfied the people of the North and the East. This has reduced their movement for separation. The movement within the Tamil-speaking people to have adequate devolution within a unitary state has gathered momentum. Extremist views have fallen to some extent. These satisfactory trends have helped to remove the false notion that devolution would pave the way for separation.

“Another reason given by some for postponing the PC election is the Covid-19 pandemic. This view has been repudiated by the Election Commission. The successful holding of the General Election too has supported this point of view. The government has also called for a return to near normalcy and named it “New normal situation”. The people in general are unhappy with the dominance of the bureaucracy in the public sector due to the non-functioning of the PCs.

“Some bureaucrats not only neglect the people but also abuse the uncontrolled power they have acquired. The claim that bringing back the PCs would add to the economic burden to the country is without any foundation as the expenditure incurred by the elected representatives is estimated to add only about 1% to the total cost. Some members of the Central government try to gain an advantage by not having PCs so that they could abuse those powers as well.

“Under the circumstances, the Socialist Alliance strongly supports the holding of early elections to the PCs and demand that the government respects both the democratic rights as well as the welfare needs of the people. The Alliance favors the rapid introduction of the mixed system of elections, but if this is bound to get delayed, we would even support the introduction of the proportional representation voting system”.



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Parliament rejected two anti-corruption proposals

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Ex-COPE Chairman makes another revelation:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Parliament has blocked two specific proposals made by MP Prof. Charitha Herath in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) to enable the Parliamentary Watchdog Committee to engage the Attorney General in high profile corruption cases, directly.

SLPP National List MP Herath lost the COPE Chairmanship with the prorogation of the Parliament on 28 July by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The prorogation results in suspension of all business before the House and quashed all proceedings pending at the time, except impeachments.

Prof. Herath told The Island yesterday (25) that in consultation with Auditor General W. P. C. Wickremaratne, he had requested for the modification of Standing Orders 120, several months back, to permit the COPE to call for Attorney General’s interventions as and when necessary. If that was not acceptable, Parliament should approve specific requests made by him on behalf of the COPE, he suggested.

Prof. Herath said that the alternative, too, has been rejected. Responding to another query, he said that he had submitted the proposals to the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders. The Committee consists of nine members, including the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Standing Orders, Prof. Herath also suggested that if proposals submitted in writing weren’t acceptable then at least a representative of the Attorney General should be allowed to participate in the COPE proceedings. That proposal too was turned down.

Prof. Herath said that the rejection of specific measures to address corruption accusations should be examined against the backdrop of the economic fallout of waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement of the national economy as well as the unprecedented recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.

Prof. Herath alleged that the Parliament should be seriously concerned over the Geneva intervention especially because the country was seeking immediate assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Asserting that the situation was so grave that even USD 2.9 bn loan facility spread over a period of four years couldn’t revive the national economy, Prof. Herath emphasised that streamlining of public sector enterprises was a prerequisite for the economic recovery process. Therefore, corruption had to be curtailed by taking tangible measures, he said.

Prof. Herath said that though the particular Standing Order had been amended it didn’t meet their aspirations. What has been approved by the Parliament was inadequate to meet the growing threat posed by influential racketeers, the outspoken MP said. Prof. Herath has closed ranks with the dissident SLPP group, led by Party Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, and Dullas Alahapperuma. Other members of the group are Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dilan Perera, Dr. Upali Galappatti, Dr. Thilak Rajapaksa, Lalith Ellawala, K.P. S. Kumarasiri, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Gunapala Ratnasekera and Udayana Kiridigoda.

Prof. Herath said that as the SLPP declined to allocate time for members of the rebel group, he was compelled to obtain five minutes from the Opposition to take up the issue in Parliament.Appreciating Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella for giving him the opportunity, Prof. Herath pointed out how a carefully prepared set of proposals to strengthen the COPE had been rejected.

Prof. Herath stressed that the intervention of the COPE was required as the Secretaries to the Ministries often failed to proceed with the instructions issued to them. The MP found fault with section 3 and 4 of Standing Orders 120. Declaring that though the Parliament was routinely blamed for its failure to arrest corruption, MP Herath said that Members of Parliament weren’t aware of what was going on. He also called for the strengthening of Standing Orders 119, 120 and 121 that dealt with the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), COPE and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF), respectively.

MP Herath declared in Parliament that the crux of the matter was that those appointed members of the Cabinet represented the interests of the Executive and thereby undermined the very basis of the responsibilities of the House. The undeniable truth was that the Cabinet ministers didn’t represent the interests of the Parliament. “In other words, they worked against the collective responsibility as members of Parliament to ensure financial discipline,” MP Herath said, pointing out that in some countries the lawmakers were not entrusted with the task of decision-making.

Referring to Executive Sub-Committees to be established, Prof. Herath emphasized the pivotal importance of recognizing their responsibilities. If they were answerable to the Executive there would be serious consequences pertaining to the parliamentary system. Executive Sub-Committees shouldn’t be at the expense of the Parliament, the MP said, underscoring the responsibility of the part of all political parties represented in Parliament to take immediate remedial measures.

The rejection of the COPE proposals meant that the Parliament,as an institution hadn’t been sensitive to the recent public upheaval that forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected with a staggering 6.9 mn votes to give up the presidency and literally flee for his life.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had been elected by Parliament to complete the remainder of the five-year term secured by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and the SLPP, hadn’t realised the need to introduce urgent reforms, the MP alleged.Prof. Herath also questioned the rationale behind setting up of the National Council when the powers that be deprived the existing mechanisms required power to achieve their objectives.

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AHP asks President RW to be wise gazette-wise

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The Academy of Health Professionals (AHP) has called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and refrain from issuing gazettes, one after the other, and then reverse them in order to prevent worsening of the crisis situation prevailing in the country’s health sector.

AHP President Ravi Kumudesh, has, in a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, said that the country’s health sector is in the present situation as the former President and the Health Minister allowed themselves to be manipulated by a coterie of officials. “We call on the President not to become another ruler who reverses gazettes and to assess the practicality of the proposals put forward by his advisors before gazzetting them. One such cause for the downfall of the health sector was former Health Ministers playing with the retirement age. As a result, there are many senior officials holding top offices of the health sector despite the fact that all of them are above the age of 60 years. If any official is given a service extension for an office in a health sector position, then it should be given only for a six-month period with the specific objective of training one of his qualified subordinates for that particular position.

 During that period, the official who is given the service extension should not be sent abroad for training or further education. Many officials, who are over 60 years of age, had been given service extensions and were found given foreign trips for capacity building. The irresponsible human resource management in the public sector is one of the main concerns that has been raised by the International Monetary Fund when assisting this country,” Kumudesh has said in his letter.

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BASL contemplates legal action against HSZ gazette

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has threatened legal action against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reintroduction of war-time high security zones (HSZs).

“The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured,” the BASL has said in a statement.

The BASL has said it is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act.

Full text of the statement: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is deeply concerned at the declaration of certain areas in Colombo as High Security Zones under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 by President and Minister of Defence Ranil Wickremesinghe.The said order appears to cover several areas in the Colombo District including the areas in Colombo ordinarily used by the members of the public. It also covers several areas in Hulftsdorp in the vicinity of the Court premises.

The said order by the President purports to prohibit public gatherings or processions whatsoever on a road, ground, shore, or other open area situated within such High Security Zones without the permission of the Inspector General of Police or a Senior Deputy Inspector General. It also prohibits the parking of vehicles within the zone unless reserved for parking by the Competent Authority or under a permit issued by him, such Competent Authority being the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.The scope of the Official Secrets Act is clearly set out in Section 2 of the said Act which can be read at: https://www.lawnet.gov.lk/official-secrets.4/

What Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act enables the Minister, is to declare any land, building, ship, or aircraft as a prohibited place. The Act does not empower the Minister to declare large areas as High Security Zones.The objective of making an order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is to better safeguard information relating to the defences of Sri Lanka and to the equipment, establishments, organisations, and institutions intended to be or capable of being used for the purposes of defence. Orders under Section 2 cannot be made for any other purpose.

The BASL is concerned that the purported order of the President also seeks to create offences under the said order which are not found in the Principal Act. It is also of utmost concern that the purported order imposes stringent provisions in respect of bail by stating that a person taken into custody in connection with an offence under the said orders shall not be granted bail except by a High Court. The Official Secrets Act contains no such provisions, and in fact Section 22 of the Act empowers a Magistrate to release a suspect on Bail. As such the purported order seeks to significantly curtail the liberty of the citizen, without any reasonable or legal basis.

The BASL is deeply concerned that under the cover of the purported order under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act that there is the imposition of draconian provisions for the detention of persons who violate such orders thus violating the freedom of expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of movement all of which are important aspects of the right of the people to dissent in Sri Lanka

The BASL will be carefully studying the provisions of the said Order and take appropriate legal action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights of the people are secured.We continue to remind the authorities including the President of the wisdom found in the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the ‘Jana Ghosha’ case of Amaratunge v Sirimal and others (1993) 1 SLR 264 which states as follows:

“Stifling the peaceful expression of legitimate dissent today can only result, inexorably, in the catastrophic explosion of violence some other day.”

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