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Sumanthiran while conceding snags in 19A says that is no reason to throw away its positives



By Saman Indrajith

Some of the powers that had been vested with Parliament and judiciary by the 19th Amendment are being transferred to the hold of the executive presidency by the 20th Amendment paving the way for an autocracy, Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran told Parliament yesterday.

Participating in the second reading stage debate on the 20th amendment, MP Sumanthiran said: A sense of deja vu comes to my mind as I stand up. Ten years back on Sept 8, 2010, when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution moved in this House, I spoke at length and I expressed my dismay. In April, 2015 when the 19th Amendment was brought up I stated that I did not expect to dismantle the 18th Amendment by the very same Parliament which had passed it. Now, today before us is the 20th Amendment and the process has completed its full circle. We are trying to remove the 19th Amendment and going back to the 18th amendment effectively.

“I register my opposition to the bill before us because this is in the wrong direction. Out of the 20 amendments that came to this House and affected the Constitution, there are two amendments that had more than 200 members voting for them. That was the 17th amendment which was passed here with one member abstaining and the 19th amendment that had been passed with only one member voting against it. Sarath Weerasekera voted against it. Although I do not agree with his standpoint then and today, I should respect Sarath Weerasekera for his consistency he had shown in opposing the 19th Amendment then and now. The others cut very sorry figures here today, having raised their hands for propositions that are diametrically opposite, in opposite directions. That is the vicissitudes of politics, they might say, but it is not an honourable conduct. When the 17th and 19th Amendments were passed, why did almost the whole House vote for them. It did not happen with any other amendments. Because those amendments had the total approval of people of this country and their opinion that this country must remain democratic. Messy as it is, democracy was chosen. But that was the right path. Democracy is messy, costly and time consuming in its deliberations but that is the path that we should take. I vividly remember that discussions we had in and outside the Chamber and how the committee stage dragged till midnight with the then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe led us through explaining the content of that bill. So many amendments were moved from the opposition side by Dinesh Gunawardena, Prof Tissa Vitarana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara. All but one got together and agreed to those amendments. I agree that the incumbent Justice Minister quoted me as saying that I conceded that there were problems with the 19th amendment. Yes, I agree that the 19th Amendment has some snags. It was the first step in the process towards abolishing the executive presidency. There has been a consensus in this country since the mid-1990s to abolish the executive presidency. For a quarter of a century the country had repeatedly granted mandates to remove the executive presidency. The 19th Amendment created two centres of power as it reduced some powers of the executive presidency. But that was only a temporary measure because it was meant to move forward towards democracy.

This country did not give a mandate to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to strengthen the executive presidency. The mandate was given to do away with the 19th Amendment which had problems. Those problems have to be identified, and those ought to have been corrected. You do not have to go in reverse gear; you do not have to travel in the opposite direction of democracy towards autocracy. That is wrong and that wrong is done by this amendment. That is why we oppose it.”

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There’s nothing prescribed as Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court — Sumanthiran



TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran, in an intervention in Parliament, said he was privileged to appear for Ranjan Ramanayake, a clean, honest politician in the Supreme Court and he was proud of that.

Nevertheless, Ranjan Ramanayake was convicted and sentenced. The sentence of four years’ rigorous imprisonment was unprecedented and exceptionally severe, and Parliament has a responsibility in this regard because we have not enacted a law for contempt of court, the MP noted.

At the outset, he said, “I want to flag one or two issues concerning the responsibility of the Parliament in this regard. But before I do that I am bound by law and tradition to disclose my interest in the matter. I am the counsel who appeared for Hon. Ranjan Ramanayake in the Supreme Court”.

This has an implication to the article in the constitution that the Hon. Leader of the Opposition just mentioned because it says for an offense for which the prescribed punishment is two years or more. But there’s nothing prescribed, nothing prescribed in the law because for long Parliament has failed to enact legislation for contempt of court, the TNA MP said.

Although there had been in the public as well, a lot of instances where drafts have been made, we have not done that – that is one. And by failing to do that, it has been like the freedom of the wild ass; anything can be given as a sentence and that is not a good thing.  I don’t want to go into the merits of the case or anything like that, but in this case Parliament has to take steps, to enact a law, he further said.

English law is supposed to be the substantive law because we don’t have a statute law now, and in English law itself scandalizing the court is no longer an offence of contempt of court. But unfortunately the court disregarded that, and has misdirected itself – that’s my position, Sumanthiran continued.

“But I want to bring to your notice a serious lacuna in the law with regard to a statue for contempt of court that has resulted in this unprecedented injustice to an honest Member of Parliament”, he added.

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Colombo share market gallops to all time highs



The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) galloped last week with the benchmark All Share Price Index (ASPI) hitting an all time high on Monday and improving on that performance on subsequent trading days to close the week at 8,463 points on Friday. The more liquid S&P Index that normally trails the ASPI also gained sharply though less so than the benchmark index.

Brokers and analysts attributed the surge to prevailing low interest rates and said that people holding funds in fixed interest instruments have seen greater potential in the stock market and have so far not been proved wrong.

“Take the case of vehicle importers,” said one businessman. “With imports disallowed, cash that would have been once used to replenish inventory becomes available for investment elsewhere. The stock market is a magnet for such funds.”

Also, many companies have resorted to a share split strategy to make their shares both more liquid and more affordable on the market.

“Take the example of a fifty-rupee share split into two. Theoretically, it should then trade at Rs. 25 a share after the split. But often it does better than that at no cost to the company that had split the share because its stated capital remains what it was,” explained and analyst.

“It’s different in the case of bonus shares or scrip issues as they are called where reserves are capitalized to pay for the new shares priced at realistic values.”

Last week the Hayleys conglomerate announced share splits in over a dozen group companies. These ranged from each share being split into ten in the parent company (Hayleys) and thriving subsidiaries like Haycarb and Dipped Products while other companies like Kingsbury split a share into two.

Brokers and analysts said that the current market surge was largely driven by the Dhammika Perera controlled Hayleys and the Ishara Nanayakkara controlled LOLC groups.

Last week Hayleys announced over a dozen share splits including in its recently acquired Singer Group companies. The majority of these involved dividing each share into two though at Singer Sri Lanka each share will be split into three.

The biggest share split ever proposed is one that is pending at EB Creasy (EBC) where each share is to be split into 100. The seldom traded EBC share is quoted at the top end of the CSE sharelist. Analysts said the massive split is intended to pump liquidity into the share and make it more affordable.

“There’s a lot of retail play in the market right now with new investors who recently took some risk doing very nicely in this bull run,” a broker said.

The CSE hit rock bottom after a seven-week closure in March last year.



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Covid-19 has now spread geographically across SL



In small numbers to an extensive region

Pandemic situation in Western Province improves

by Suresh Perera

Though there are no big Covid-19 clusters at present, the dreaded virus has spread geographically across the country due to the unrestricted movement of people, a senior medical official said.

“The transmission of the contagion in small numbers to an extensive region was inevitable in a society which remains ‘open’ with inter-provincial travel happening on a daily basis”, says Dr. Hemantha Herath, Deputy Director of Public Health Services.

He said the spillover from the Western province was expected as there was an outflow of people to other districts particularly during the festive season.

“I am not blaming anybody, but a lockdown was not viable when taking into account the economic consequences and the livelihoods of the people. We could have imposed a curfew to restrict travel during the New Year, but we have to consider the fallout of such a measure”, he noted.

It true that geographically numbers have increased within a wide area, but the numbers are small and there are no big clusters as seen at Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda, the senior medical official explained.

Asked whether the pandemic has translated into a community spread as considerable positive cases continue to emerge on a daily basis, Dr. Herath replied, “no, that has not happened. If the Covid-19 situation was beyond control, we would have made a social and community transmission declaration”.

He said the pandemic situation in the Western province has improved with a dip in positive cases. However, the spillover is evident by the jump in figures at provincial level.

“We knew there was a risk, but we had to take it as locking down the country was not the solution

For example, if a Covid-19 patient infects two persons per day, there will be 200 positive cases within 100 days and one can imagine the critical situation that will emerge if the trend is allowed to continue, Dr. Herath continued.

“We are now managing under 1,000 cases per day”, he said, while assuring that the right mechanism is in place to identify positive cases through PCR and rapid antigen screening and place them under medical treatment, isolate and quarantine first contacts of patients”, he further said.

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