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The death knell of Democracy



The 19th Amendment to the Constitution is the desire and goal of Pohottuva politics today. It is now more important that the economic crisis faced by the country and people, especially in the Covid19 situation.

The strongest voice against 19A today is that of the highly learned Professor Gamini Lakshman Peiris, the GL swinger in governing politics in Sri Lanka; whose leaps to and from political parties and policies is a display of political manoeuvre with hardly any matching.

The two-thirds majority the Pohottuva government obtained, thanks largely to the UNPs disastrous leadership and party breakup, stands against the 19A, which is shown by GL and anti-19A players as the biggest threat to democracy today.

Let’s take a look at how the parliament at the time – in April 2015 – voted for 19A. In a 225-member parliament, it was passed by 215 voting for.  One voted against, One abstained, and seven members were absent. That shows a huge parliamentary majority, much more than the small and shaky majority the UNP-SLFP – Maithri-Ranil – government of the day had.

The 19A was a constitutional amendment that obtained the huge support of the then opposition, who are now the leading and even hanging on members of the current Pohottuva regime, the hurray and hosanna ranks of the Rajavasala.

The principle purpose of the 19A was the dilution of many powers of the Executive Presidency, which were available since 1978 under the JR Jayewardene drafter and adopted constitution. Isn’t it strange that shouts against the 19A today, which was ranged against the Executive Presidency, come from the Rajapaksa rankers, especially GLP and players, who were all for the total abolition of the Executive Presidency and  the 1978 JRJ Constitution? The election manifestos of Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa – fully supported by GLP- were for the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

The GL players are wholly against Independent Commissions that got new life under 19A. They see it as a threat to democracy, easily forgetting the threats to democracy that came from the Mahinda Rajapaksa  bred 18th Amendment, when ‘independent commissions’ were all brought directly under the President. 

Do these anti-19A forces realize that the two-thirds power they have is because of the wholly free and fair election we had this year, organized by the Election Commission? There were many attacks of the EC, mainly against its single Tamil member, but the three-member team performed their role by and for the people, and saw what was the most peaceful and fair election in recent history. 

But the call today is against such Independent Commissions, which is very learned GL thinking.

The other threat to Democracy and the sovereignty of the people  as seen by the GL players is the Constitutional Council, tasked with maintaining and monitoring independent commissions. The goal at the time it was passed was depoliticizing the public service.

If that is what the 19A did, which has earned so much dislike today, let’s look at what the earlier 18A brought by President Mahinda Rajapaksa – with a ministerial position held by GLP – did.

The 18A   introduced the Parliamentary Council, moving away from the 17A, which had powers only to recommend persons to the independent committees, and sole authority of appointing members of the independent committees was vested with the President of Sri Lanka, and while he is needed to seek the observations of the council, its decisions are not binding. What a wonderful display of democracy!

It is also necessary to remember that the 10-member Constitutional Council under 19A, has a majority of MPs – mainly because the call for such MP presence in the Council was what the then UPFA and now Pohottuva players in Parliament. The necessity of larger parliamentary representation was called for  by none other than the present Speaker of Parliament, the leaders of the MEP and Democratic Left Front – Dinesh Gunawardene and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, among so many other opposition MPs.  That was their view of Democracy in April 2015, but the power of a two-third majority has given them cause for new thinking, and agree with the GL punditry that such Commissions were not divine to be worshiped as some portray them to be.

We must also understand what the Pohottuva punditry of today was wholly supportive of way back, when Mahinda Rajapaksa acquired – promised/purchased.promoted – the two-third majority in Parliament.  They saw a ‘democratic’ necessity for the Executive President to have more than two terms in the presidency. It was not a move to three or four terms, but to any number. The most desirable goal of Dictatorial Democracy, still seen in some parts of Africa that are escaping Democracy.

It is the perfect Rajavasala desire to keep in line with our 2,500 year history of regal power.

They did not want to remove the Executive President’s power to dissolve a people-elected, sovereign parliament at any time just one year after its (then) term of six years. 

The GL punditry of the Pohottuva is now all in favour of the dominant power  of the Executive Presidency. Even the currently powerless Maithripala Sirisena who promised the people in the 2015 presidential election to repeal the 18A has forgotten the pledge to reinforce democracy in the country.

The learned and learn-lacking thinkers and movers  of the Pohottuva today – ranging from GLP to Maithripala and the power crazy supporters of an Executive Presidency – with much more power than Donald Trump – are singing the song for the burial of Democracy.

In the weeks ahead as the drum beats of a “Democratic Dictatorship” gets louder, and the learned like GL join the politically ignorant and crooked, we will hear many more calls for the restoration of Democracy, without the evil of the 19A. It won’t be long till we hear the knell and toll of the Death of Democracy through 20A and a whole new Constitution. Will we sing praises to the deities with Haro-Hara, for this restoration of the Rajavasala Balakeliya?    

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Right to travel



A.G. Noorani

VERY few would dispute that travel broadens the mind. But in the developing nations of this world, the state asserts that it can determine whether its citizen has the right to go abroad or not. The supreme court may take its own time to decide whether or not a citizen — even if he or she lives in a country that claims itself to be a democracy — has the right to possess a passport. Even if that is allowed as an essential travel document, the authorities might decide who can use it or who cannot. The government of India, regardless of which party is in power, seems to have assumed the right to decide whether or not to let a chief minister travel abroad.

The victim is the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who was to speak at the World Cities Summit in Singapore. But the BJP-ruled government, headed by Narendra Modi, felt that he could not go and did not give him clearance. Its approach was nonsensical.

By now, most of the countries of the Third World have ratified the United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). This is an international treaty in law while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is, in law, just a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. Article 12(2) of the covenant provides that “Everyone shall be free to leave any county including his own” — in other words, there should be no restrictions on travelling abroad.

The covenant sets up a human rights committee of distinguished persons who are not representatives of the government but are individuals of note who have “high moral character” and are elected by the states, who have ratified the covenant.Parties to the covenant have to file reports to the committee on their observance of the stipulations contained within. States send mostly their attorney general to defend their reports. Members of the committee grill representative of the states. They do not publicise much of the report within their own countries or the contents of their reports. Both err on the side of exaggeration.

Unfortunately, civil liberties movements in the Third World are generally not articulate nor well-equipped. The exception that stands out is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan based in Lahore whose prominent chairperson, the late Mr I.A. Rehman, never failed to stand up for civil rights.

In India, following Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the election in 1977, a liberal government came to power which ratified the UN covenant in March 1979. They ratified it only with certain conditions but these did not concern Article 21 of the constitution of India that says very clearly that “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

The Indian supreme court has ruled that fundamental rights can be exercised outside the country. In 1978, the apex court had to deal with Maneka Gandhi’s case concerning the impounding of her passport. The supreme court held:

“…[F]reedom to go abroad is one of such rights, for the nature of man as a free agent necessarily involves free movement on his part. There can be no doubt that if the purpose and the sense of state is to protect personality and its development, as indeed it should be of any liberal democratic state, freedom to go abroad must be given its due place amongst the basic rights.

“This right is an important basic human right for it nourishes independent and self-determining creative character of the individual, not only by extending his freedoms of action, but also by extending the scope of his experience. It is a right which gives intellectual and creative workers in particular the opportunity of extending their spiritual and intellectual horizon through study at foreign universities, through contact with foreign colleagues and through participation in discussions and conferences.

“The right also extends to private life; marriage, family and friendship are humanities which can be rarely affected through refusal of freedom to go abroad and clearly show that this freedom is a genuine human right.

“Moreover, this freedom would be a highly valuable right where man finds himself obliged to flee: (a) because he is unable to serve his God as he wished at the previous place of residence, (b) because his personal freedom is threatened for reasons which do not constitute a crime in the usual meaning of the word and many were such cases during the emergency, or (c) because his life is threatened either for religious or political reasons or through the threat to the maintenance of minimum standard of living compatible with human dignity.” This ruling has stood the test of time.

(The Dawn/ANN)
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

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If visitors pay USD at airport, no fuel queues for them



The above statement was made by Manusha Nanayakkara our Labour & Foreign Employment Minister. How the Minister is going to do it is not known.I wish to make a few suggestions to the Minister for his consideration to implement his proposal. Tourists, migrant workers and the dual citizens were the people whom the Minister referred to in his proposal. Many expat Sri Lankans of whom some could be dual citizens visit home once a year to spend their holidays with their families. Since Covid this might have slowed down.

With the Covid jabs even though one could catch Covid people have started to travel. Travelling to Colombo again will slow down due to the pathetic situation that exist with a shortage of everything, particularly fuel, gas and medicines. The Minister’s statement is some encouragement, but he must place his plan for the consideration of the prospective travellers and shoe by action.

The Bank Of Ceylon Branch at the Airport can sell a Dollar debit card to expats, migrant workers and tourists or in other words those who arrive with a return ticket. The minimum value can be USD 500 with provision to put more dollars attending any BOC Branch. When selling the card, a separate certificate in a little booklet format can be given with the Passport details of the traveller entered. The registration details of the vehicle the traveller intends to use can be entered in the booklet by any BOC branch after the traveller finds the vehicle, that is hired or owned by a relation. If the traveller changes the vehicle the new vehicle details can be entered only after 3 days of the first registration. This will help to prevent misusing the debit card.

The traveller must be able to purchase fuel and other rare commodities on production of the certificate to pay by the debit card referred to in the certificate.

Expats and the tourists visit to travel, and fuel must be available at petrol stations, at least one station ear marked in every town with stock always available for this category. Purchase of fuel can be restricted to at least 15 litres per day that will be good to run about 150kms approximately.

I have suggested the above as a base for the Minster to work out a reasonable plan. Once it is made and implemented whether it works smoothly or with hiccups will be known to prospective travellers through the newspapers. If the system works well, the travellers will have confidence in visiting Sri Lanka and there will be many wanting to visit in the near future.

Hemal Perera

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‘CEB restructure must be apolitical says CEBEU’ – a reply



The above captioned news item appearing in your Sunday issue quotes CEBEU mentions that Cabinet approval has been granted to commence restructuring of Ceylon Electricity Board [C EB] and a committee has been appointed to submit its recommendations within a month; a very important and urgent action indeed seeing and learning the mismanagement and conflicting views and action taken to serve two masters viz, the Ministry for Power and Energy and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka [PUCSL] and also political interferences as correctly stated by CEB engineers –”The engineers stressed that political non-interferences is of paramount importance”. The interference of the Minister to award a tender for the construction pf 350 Mw LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya to a Chinese construction Company as against the recommendation of the Tender Board, causing a delay of over four years, and the cabinet approval for a wind farm in the north by an Indian company without consulting CEB are a couple worthy of mentioning. It should be emphatically stated, CEB has knowledgeable expert electrical engineers and I believe there are none outside, other than those retired CEB engineers who have set up lucrative consultancy firms, internationally recognized. During my time serving this sector for nearly two decades, with directives by the Ministry, in electrical engineering, administrative and financial matters, the CEB ran to the satisfaction of consumers and also invested elsewhere which made the Treasury to compel CEB to invest on Treasury Bills. The interferences in the administration and matters were directly settled by CEB and also directives of the Ministry have now to obtain the approval of PUCSL.

I remember that the PUCSL called for tenders to remove electric poles, a minor job done by area engineers. There was an instance where the PUCSL sought legal action against CEB for not consulting the PUCSL on a certain matter. Recently, the PUCSL has reduced the tariff worked out by expert proposed by the CEB. What does this mean, the CEB will have to cut down or cancel certain items which it had, to accommodate PUCSL reduction. For efficient running of the CEB, the committee should recommend an end to PUCSL interference with CEB. Do not forget consumers of electricity, commuters etc., could directly place their grievances to the authorities or through organizations, associations concerned and Trade Union, to get redress. The interference I mentioned is not my not my view alone. This was a request made by former Ministry for Power and Energy, Dallas Alahapperuma to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa; it was approved but overruled by the then Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mahinda Rajapaksa. For reasons perhaps ut ab ordine – chaos from order.

It is hoped the Committee appointed will look into what is stated above and make recommendations accordingly.

G. A. D.S irimal
Former Assistant Secretary, SLAS, Ministry P&E.

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