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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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Fuel crisis: Key CPC facility opened for VIPs, friends as public transport shrinks

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya trade unionist Ananda Palitha yesterday (01) alleged that members of Parliament, Chairmen of various government institutions, and other politically connected persons, continued to obtain unlimited petrol and diesel from the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) facility at Kolonnawa.

The former CPC employee declared that the powers that be had transformed the Kolonnawa depot into a special facility to cater to the needs of the politically influential.

Those who touted the ‘One Country, One Law’ concept had created a special category while almost the entire nation suffered due to the unprecedented disruption of fuel supplies, Palitha said.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera and CPC Chairman Sumith Wijesinha didn’t answer their phones.

Ananda Palitha said that none of those who had been given access to the Kolonnawa depot came under essential services. “Why should lawmakers, whatever their status in society, be given access to the special facility when they aren’t included among essential services,”

Ananda Palitha asked.The SJB activist said that the government was struggling to maintain public transport after having repeatedly promised to sustain.

The trade unionist alleged that though they brought the clandestine operation at Kolonnawa to the attention of the government, it continued unabated. Barrels full of fuel had been taken from Kolonnawa, he said, among the beneficiaries were owners of V8 and other super luxury vehicles.

Ananda Palitha said that the Opposition should have taken up this issue vigorously.

Responding to another query, Ananda Palitha said that according to information available to them, Ceypetco had approximately 3,000 mt of diesel, 2,500 mt of petrol 95,600-700 mt of petrol 92 and was not in a position at least to meet the requirement of the essential services.

“The government is yet to come up with a plan to obtain petrol and diesel,” Ananda Palitha said, urging the government to take the public into confidence.

Palitha pointed out that the police had carried out numerous raids, targeting those who hoarded diesel and petrol, whereas a primary fuel depot that was not supposed to pump fuel for outsiders, engaged in business. The government should be ashamed of this situation, the trade union leader said, pointing out the country was heading for chaos.

The Island yesterday afternoon brought Ananada Palitha’s allegations to the notice of Lalith Weeratunga, Senior Advisor to the President,Gotabaya Rajapaksa

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Energy cooperation sought from Saudi Arabia on urgent basis

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Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has requested Charge d’ Affaires of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Abdulelah A. A. Orkobi, to facilitate Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed to visit Saudi Arabia from July 02-05 as Special Envoy of the President of Sri Lanka.The request was made when the envoy called on Prof Peiris at the Foreign Ministry on Thursday (30).

At the meeting, Foreign Minister Peiris briefed the Saudi envoy on the current economic situation, including fuel shortage and its negative impact on all sectors in Sri Lanka. Prof. Peiris sought avenues for energy cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as an utmost urgent matter.

Charge d’ Affaires of Saudi Embassy Orkobi, emphasized the importance attached to the Sri Lanka – Saudi bilateral relationship and assured all possible support to Sri Lanka, at this juncture.

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‘Halting assistance’: Japanese envoy reassures Prez

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Japanese Ambassador Hideaki Mizukoshi yesterday (01) met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa against the backdrop of reports that Japan wouldn’t provide financial assistance due to the possibility of such being mismanaged.A section of the media quoted the Japanese envoy having said so at a meeting with a group of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members during a recent visit to the north.

Subsequent to the meeting at the President’s House, the President’s Office said that the Japanese envoy reassured the President of their support to the proposed IMF programme with Sri Lanka and bilateral development assistance.

However, the Japanese embassy didn’t issue a statement on the meeting though it regularly issued statements on a range of issues.

Recently Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Japan Sanjiv Gunasekera suddenly quit the top diplomatic posting. The government has nominated former Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage as Gunasekera’s successor.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office has sought a clarification from the Japanese embassy regarding the controversial declaration and received an assurance that the envoy didn’t say so at the meeting with the TNA (SF)

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