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Speaker, Opposition Leader cross swords over special statements

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, on Saturday, asked Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa to refrain from causing an affront to the dignity of Parliament. The Speaker said so when the latter attempted to make a special statement after the former denied permission.

The Speaker said that the Opposition Leader had once made a similar statement and raised very similar questions and the Minister of Health and other ministers from the government had responded to them, and therefore it could not be permitted in the House. “In addition the same matter has been raised in various forms in the form of oral questions and as adjournment debates. The most recent instance was on Nov 13 when a debate was held on the same matter and the ministers have responded in detail.”

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Standing Order 36-O states that the same matter should not be raised again and again. I am not raising questions about COVID-19 but problems pertaining to lack of PCR machines and ventilators and antigen tests. I have never spoken about them here. So I have to state the ruling given by the Speaker is wrong. The Speaker deprives us of our right to speak. In addition the Speaker has limited the number of special statements we can make under the Standing Order 27-2 to two a week.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“The questions raised by the Opposition leader pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccines were answered by Minister Channa Jayasumana. Apart from the similar questions raised by him were responded to on Friday by Minister Namal Rajapaksa. You are trying to disregard the process and procedure in the House. I cannot let you denigrate the dignity of the House.”

The Opposition Leader:

“The Speaker’s opinion is completely wrong. This could be checked with the Secretary General. This is limiting the freedom of speech in the House. Please allow me to make the statement.”

Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena:

“The Opposition Leader should learn that a Speaker’s rule is not a matter for debate or questioning. The Speaker has given his ruling on the matter the Opposition Leader intended to raise. His actions cause the time of the House to be wasted. Therefore, I request the House should move on to the debate on the final day of the second reading of the budget 2021.”

The speaker announced that the House should commence its business for the day and Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando got up to move the House for the debate on budget proposals.

SJB Kurunegala District MP Nalin Bandara, raising a point of order, said the Opposition Leader had attempted to make a statement on a new issue. There could be many problems raised on the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only Minister Namal Rajapaksa, many other MPs in the House have paid their attention to the problem but the problem was yet to be addressed. This is an issue of national importance. If the Speaker would not allow this, it would set a wrong precedence.

SJB Ratnapura District MP Hesha Withanage:

“The number of questions for the backbenchers has been limited. The live telecast of parliamentary proceedings too has been limited purportedly for technical issues. The government has submitted a few questions while the Opposition MPs have submitted over 400 questions to be raised at the time allocated for the Oral Questions session. The number of questions per a day was 15 and now it has been brought down to eight. Today, there is no question time.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

Today is Saturday and it has been agreed not to allow questions on Saturday to give more time to the MPs to speak in the debate.”

Badulla District SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri: “

We agree with the rulings of the Speaker. There is no argument about it. But the Speaker is a senior politician and former senior minister. I hope he will consider the matter that the Opposition MPs have raised over 400 questions on behalf of their electorates and allow more time to raise those questions. The Opposition Leader’s statement too is on a matter of urgent national importance, and we hope that it would be allowed.

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“I have not raised questions pertaining to rapid antigen tests or antibody tests or injections against the virus.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“How many times have you raised these issues in this House?”

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Speaker prevents us from raising questions because the government has no answers. The speaker is making use of his power to cover the government’s inability.”

Speaker Abeywardena said that the government’s ability or inability did not concern him.

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Opposition Leader has a right to raise questions.”

Speaker Abeyewardena: “

That right is ensured.”

Opposition Leader Premadasa: “

When would I be able to make a special statement again?”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“You will be given time next Wednesday provided that your statement does not mislead the House.”

Galle District SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara:

“I demand to know whether the question raised by the Opposition leader is not legal or the government has already decided that people do not need to know the rapid antigen test and antibody treatment because a certain group has already obtained them.”

Leader of the House Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena: “

I request the Opposition Leader and his team of MPs not to disrupt the procedure of the House and respect the Chair. We regret their attempts to disrupt the process of parliament. Today, is the last day of the second reading debate. The Speaker has given a ruling on the matter and it cannot be questioned. The MPs should behave in the House responsibly. We act here in accordance with the agreement reached at the party leaders’ meeting. If the Opposition MPs have not been informed of those agreements then it is a problem of their leaders who attended the party leaders’ meeting.

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando: “

No limit has been imposed on the questions. The number of questions has been reduced only during the budget debate and that has been done as per the request of party leaders to allocate more time for the speeches of all MPs. They wanted to give time to each MP to speak in the debate. It was agreed by all party leaders. The Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella is well aware of this agreement. It is not a problem for the government whether the opposition has raised 400 or more than that number of questions.

SJB MP Ranjith Maddumabandara:

The Speaker is a senior MP. He should not be swayed by his party politics or his personal opinions but give the rulings in accordance with the Standing Orders.

Speaker Abeywardena said that he had already given a ruling on the matter and had no intention of changing it.



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Delisting of Tamil Diaspora groups irks some; explanation sought

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Decision based on GoSL assurance given in Geneva last June

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera yesterday (14) said President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government should explain the rationale behind delisting several Tamil Diaspora groups and individuals.

“The timing of the government announcement really worries us,” Dr. Amarasekera said on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO). He said such moves couldn’t be simply justified on the basis of the forthcoming sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. The next UNHRC sessions are scheduled for September.

Recalling that he too strongly backed the stand taken by President Wickremesinghe with regard to US Ambassador Julie Chung’s opposition to measures the government adopted to counter violent protests, Dr. Amarasekera emphasised national security couldn’t be jeopardised by politically-motivated decisions.  The Defence and Foreign Ministries owed the public an explanation as regards the procedure adopted in delisting some Tamil diaspora groups and individuals.

The UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the British Tamil Forum (BTF) and the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) had been among those delisted, through an Extraordinary Gazette issued by the Ministry of Defence.National Freedom Front (NFF) spokesperson Mohammed Muzammil, MP, too, echoed Dr. Amarasekera’s concerns. Addressing a hastily arranged media briefing at NFF’s Pita Kotte party office, lawmaker Muzammil asked whether the government had received an undertaking from those delisted groups, and individuals, whether they would abandon the separatist agenda. Lawmaker Muzammil said President Wickremesinghe, who holds the defence portfolio, should address the concerns of those who felt betrayed by the disputed de-listing of those who propagated separatist ideology though the armed forces eradicated the LTTE in 2009.

Both Dr. Amarasekera and MP Muzammil pointed out that Tamil Makkal Theshiya Kutani leader C.V. Vignewaran, following a recent meeting with President Wickremesinghe, had declared that he received an assurance with regard to several of their demands.  They asked whether the de-listing of these organizations, and individuals, had been part of the agreement between Tamil political parties and President Wickremesinghe.

The Island

sought the views of Suren Surendiran of the GTF, who is among those delisted. The UK-based GTF spokesperson alleged that the entire process of designation of groups and individuals was arbitrary, irrational, and an outright abuse of the United Nations Regulations – aimed at suppressing freedom of speech and dissent, not just within Sri Lanka but also across the borders.

 “GTF and I were listed in 2014, delisted in 2015, re-listed in 2021 and re-delisted in 2022,” Surendiran said, declaring they remained committed to their original ideals meant to achieve justifiable aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people, and implementation of the 2015 accountability resolution.

Surendiran has sent us the following response:   “Every time when a resolution is passed at the UNHRC, calling for Accountability and Reconciliation, the Rajapaksas, be it Mahinda or Gotabaya, will proscribe us as an angry reaction and then realise that no other government or international institution, including progressive Sri Lankans of all communities, and the wider media, recognise these proscriptions and just before another UNHRC session, the sitting government will de-proscribe us. This has been the case since 2014.”

“GTF is grateful that the international community and many Sri Lankan stakeholders (including the media) ignored this listing for what it truly was.

“We did an estimation on the loss of foreign currency inward flow into Sri Lanka directly related to these proscriptions of 2014 and 2021, at least per annum the loss has been USD 300 mn to   half a billion dollars.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary of Defence Kamal Gunaratne, Former Foreign Minister G L Peiris and the notorious so called “terrorism expert” Rohan Gunaratna must explain these losses to the Sri Lankan people and held accountable for their arbitrary decisions and explain what benefits these proscriptions achieved.”

Authoritative sources said that contrary to concerns expressed by various iparties as regards the delisting of organizations and certain individuals, the decision to do so was announced by the former Foreign Affairs Minister Prof GL Peiris in mid-June this year at the 50th Geneva sessions. The Foreign Ministry quoted Prof. Peiris as having said: “The list of designated individuals, groups and entities under the United Nations Regulation No. 1 of 2012 is being reviewed. As of now 318 individuals and 04 entitles are proposed to be delisted. This is a continuing exercise.”

Sources said that it wouldn’t be fair to seek explanation from the incumbent government for a decision taken by the previous administration.

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Govt. trying to impress UNHRC – Vigneswaran

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Tamil Peoples’ National Alliance (TPNA) leader MP C. V. Vigneswaran says President Ranil Wickremesinghe is in a hurry to rope in Tamil MPs w,ith an eye to the upcoming UNHRC session.

In a statement after meeting President Wickremesinghe the MP says: “He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1. Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems.”

Full text of Wigneswaran’s statement: At the invitation of the President, I met his Excellency, along with our Party senior member Mr. S. Selvendra, at 4.30 PM, on 10th August 2022 at the Presidential Secretariat. The Prime Minister was also present.

The President explained to us at length his plan of governance which included a Parliamentary governance committee giving a greater role for the Provincial Governors. His idea was that all MPs from the Provinces must govern the respective Provinces under the Chairmanship of the Governors in terms of a National Agenda. He referred to Austria as an example. (His example was inappropriate. Austria is a Federal Country).

Further discussing grabbing of lands in Provinces by Central Government Ministries he agreed that there should be no forestry land that should be grabbed by Ministries and that we should focus on preserving the environment in each Province. He said, if need be a maximum of 2 acres could be taken over by the Government. I said no land should be appropriated by the Central Government in the Provinces except with the consent and concurrence of the respective Provincial Government. There was no response from His Excellency.

Regarding National Schools, he said 50 National Schools were enough for the Country not 1000 National Schools. I pointed out that no Provincial Schools could be taken over by the State and that our Alliance has already filed action in this regard.He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1.

He wanted me to share a document which outlines the proposal on how money could be channeled into the Country from the Diaspora.It became apparent to us while discussing with him that his plan was to strengthen the central administrative control of the entire country, totally ignoring the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

I pointed out to the President that the Tamil people in this country expect the government to take speedy action to attend to their requests, submitted by all Tamil National party leaders which included the release of political prisoners; action to trace the missing persons; stop the activities of various government departments to grab Tamil lands and stop persons trying to build Buddhist temples in Tamil homeland with the help of the Military and so on.

It was also pointed out that in order to enable the Tamils to give political leadership and governance over their Provinces, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented in full as a temporary measure until satisfactory constitutional reforms are made. We told the President that until this process is started in earnest satisfying the Tamil people, we will support the Government from the Opposition. There was no question of our becoming a part of the Government.

Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems.Nevertheless, we promised to forward the document he called for and took our leave to depart.

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 Arms, drug seizure from Lankan boat: Accused raised funds to revive LTTE, says NIA

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KOCHI: In a major revelation in a case pertaining to the seizure of a huge quantity of narcotic drugs along with five AK-47 rifles and 9mm ammunition numbering 1,000 from Sri Lankan fishing boats, the NIA has stated that an accused had been involved in activities of proscribed terrorist organisation LTTE within India and abroad.

The accused had also plotted to procure prohibited arms and ammunition, besides contraband articles. The NIA filed the report in the Kerala High Court in response to the bail plea filed by Ramesh, a Sri Lankan native and eighth accused in the case.

The Coast Guard intercepted the boat, ‘Ravihansi’, near Minicoy Island, Lakshadweep, on March 18, 2021. There were no proper documents and six Sri Lankan nationals found on board were arrested by the Kochi sub zone of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on their arrival at Vizhinjam port in Thiruvananthapuram.The Central government directed the NIA to take over the probe and later the seventh and his brother and eighth accused were taken into custody, allegedly for being members of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Ramesh revealed that he had stayed in India without a visa violating the provisions of the Foreigners Act.

According to NIA, Ramesh and the other accused, including his brother being a core cadre of the LTTE, held secret meetings and conspired to carry out illegal activities of trafficking in drugs and also arms and ammunition with the intention of raising funds to revive and further the activities of the LTTE, both in India and Sri Lanka, They formed a terrorist gang and transferred money through hawala channels for the procurement of drugs, arms and ammunition.

A witness in the case also spoke of the drug and hawala business carried out by the brothers and specifically referred to Ramesh having collected hawala money from a person named Faseel Bhai. While dismissing Ramesh’s bail plea, the court noted that the statements of the witnesses show not only his inextricable connection with the illegal activities but also his definite link with LTTE, with full knowledge and complicity in the attempt to smuggle heroin, arms and ammunition in the boat, intercepted before its entry into the port.

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