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Speaker, Opposition Leader cross swords over special statements



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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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka



Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour



Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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COPF uncovers major failings in online visa procurement process



Harsha de Silva

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), chaired by Dr. Harsha de Silva, released a critical report revealing major discrepancies in the procurement process and agreement with a Consortium, comprising GBS Technology Services, IVS Global-FZCO, and VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Issuing a press release, MP de Silva said the Committee’s findings highlight significant concerns and recommend urgent corrective actions.

The COPF found that the company got the deal through an uncompetitive Procurement Process

“The Consortium was appointed without a competitive bidding process, preventing the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DOIE) from securing the best value for money.

“Proposals were submitted before finalising the System Specification Requirement (SSR), raising concerns on procedural integrity.

“Critical Issues Identified:

Unclear Fee Structure: Lack of transparency in fee components, including discrepancies in service fees and convenience fees.

“Data Breach and Termination: A significant data breach was reported by a major travel vlogger in May 2024 potentially triggering a termination clause.

“Conflicting Exclusivity: The exclusivity granted to the Consortium contradicts the presence of existing service providers and the recommendation by the evaluation committee.

“Uninvested Funds: The USD 200 million investment promised to Cabinet remains uninvested and not mentioned anywhere in the agreement.

“Terminated Service Provider: Mobitel, the previous ETA service provider since 2012, submitted multiple proposals for system improvements and a comprehensive proposal for new services was overlooked.


Comprehensive Forensic Audit: The COPF recommends that the Auditor General undertake a comprehensive forensic audit of the entire procurement process. This audit should be completed at the earliest opportunity to serve as the foundation for necessary actions, which could include abrogating or amending the Consortium Outsourcing Agreement.

“Data Protection Measures: The COPF urges the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), DOIE, and the Sri Lankan Data Protection Authority to review the KPMG report and take immediate and decisive actions to ensure the complete security and protection of all data handled through the ETA application process.

“Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of COPF, stated, “The absence of a competitive bidding process in the procurement of online visa services has likely resulted in an agreement that does not provide the best value for money. Our findings call for immediate action by the Auditor General to address these critical issues and ensure transparency and accountability, which could even mean abrogation of this agreement.”

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