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Speaker: PCoI cannot summon COPE Chairman or members over probes they undertake

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday told Parliament that a presidential investigation commission could not summon a chairman or members of parliamentary watchdog committee – COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and question them on matters pertaining to investigations undertaken by it.

 He said so in response to a privilege matter raised by JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake on Presidential Commission investigating Batticaloa Campus Ltd summoning former COPE Chairman Sunil Handunnetti before it.

 MP Dissanayake

said: “I draw your attention to the Section 17 of the Parliament Powers and Privileges Act. The Section states that no member or officer of Parliament and no shorthand Writer employed to take minutes of evidence before the House or any committee shall give evidence elsewhere in respect of the contents of such evidence or of the contents of any manuscript or document laid before Parliament or any committee or in respect of any proceedings or examination had at the Bar or before any committee of Parliament without the special leave of Parliament first had and obtained. Now, former President of the COPE, Sunil Handunnetti has been summoned by a letter dated Aug 21, 2020 to appear before the Presidential Investigation Commission. He has been ordered to appear before the commission to give evidence on his functions as President of the COPE which investigated the Batticaloa Campus Pvt Ltd and the matters pertaining to that. I want to know whether the Presidential Investigation Commission has obtained your permission to summon Handunnetti. The commission cannot question anyone involved in the COPE investigation without prior approval of the Speaker or Parliament.

 Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena: We will look into the matter and inform the House of that. I have not been informed of this yet.

 Anura Kumara Dissanayake: Handunnetti has written to the Speaker on this matter. He has sent a letter to you.

Speaker Abeywardena:

We’ll send our response to the Commission.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake:

What sort of letter of response. We want to know its content.

 Speaker Abeywardena:

If privileges are breached we would inform that to the commission.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake:

Let’s put aside the specific issue of Handunnetti. I want to know whether a Presidential Commission could summon COPE chairman or its members before the commission to question on what transpired during the COPE investigations.

 Speaker Abeywardena: No, that cannot be done.

 Anura Kumara Dissanayake: Then, do you accept that this letter sent by the presidential commission is wrong?

Speaker Abeywardena:

That I have to look into. I have not seen the letter yet so do not know its content. I have to go through it first before giving my ruling.

 

 

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EC member Hoole moves SC against 20A

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Petitions challenging 20A before five-judge bench of SC today 

By Chitra Weerarathne

Petitions filed in the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, will be called before a five-judge bench today.

These petitions have said that people’s approval at a referendum as well as a two-thirds majority in Parliament will be needed to enact the Bill.

All the petitions have basically said that the Bill has a section, which says a dual citizen can contest to enter the Parliament of Sri Lanka and run for President threatened national security.

The petitions challenge the powers vested in the President. The President could sack the Prime Minister and the Ministers. Once the Bill becomes law, fundamental rights petitions could not be filed to challenge an act of the President, the petitions have pointed out.

The investigating powers of the Auditor General have been curtailed. The powers vested in the Elections Commission when an election is on is also limited, the petitioners have argued.

The petitions have requested the Supreme Court to declare that a two-thirds majority in Parliament and people’s approval at a referendum will be needed to enact the proposed amendment.

Among the petitioners are Elections Commission member Ratnajeevan Hoole, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya, Attorney-at-Law Indika Gallage, Mayantha Dissanayake, S. J. B. Member of Parliament for the Kandy District and also the President of the Youth League of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya.

The Supreme Court bench will comprise the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare, Justice Sisira de Abrew, Justice S. Thurairajah and Justice Vijith K. Malalgoda.

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Senasinghe announces quitting politics

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By Akitha Perera

Former non-cabinet minister of the yahapalana government Sujeewa Senasinghe announced yesterday that he would quit politics. 

He had also stepped down as the SJB Deputy Secretary, Senasinghe said. 

Senasinghe said that he intended to focus on his business in the future and that he would commence work on his PhD from January 2021. 

He unsuccessfully contested the Aug 05 general election from the Colombo district on SJB ticket.

Senasinghe commenced his political career as a member of the Western Provincial Council of the UNP. He was elected to Parliament twice from the same party. 

He earned notoriety by publishing a book denying the bond scam ever took place.

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Pujith insists his hands were tied during crucial period 

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

He had been aware that the activities and preaching of Islamists would have an impact on reconciliation, but those in higher positions were convinced otherwise, former IGP Pujith Jayasundara, yesterday, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

The ex-IGP said that although he too had received information about activities of Islamic extremists by late 2018, he had been barred from the National Security Council (NSC) by then.

“I couldn’t share the information I had and I didn’t know what was discussed there. I couldn’t even assign a senior officer to represent me there.”

Jayasundara added that after he had received, on April 09, a report from State Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Nilantha Jayawardena about a possible terrorist attack, he forwarded the report to SDIG of Western Province, Nandana Munasinghe, SDIG crimes and STF M.R. Latheef, DIG special protection range Priyalal Dasanayake and Director of the Terrorism Investigation Division, Waruna Jayasundara and spoke to them over the phone.

Jayasundara said that he had also phoned all SDIGs in charge of provinces. The witness added that he had wanted to ensure that there would not be a leak, causing unnecessary problems in society.

“For example, the letter I sent to the Special Protection Range (SPR) was leaked to the media after the attacks.”

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