GL heads team to advise PM on disputed amendment: Report due tomorrow
By Shamindra Ferdinando
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assured civil society groups, the National Joint Committee (NJC) and Yuthukama that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution would be rescinded to pave the way for a new draft.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave this assurance at a meeting with Manohara de Silva, PC and lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga last Friday (11) evening at the Presidential Secretariat. Manohara de Silva is also a member of a special committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, to formulate a new Constitution.
The meeting took place close on the heels of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO) urging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to alter the 20th Amendment.
Earlier, the SLPP said that changes, if necessary, could be made at the Committee Stage in Parliament.
The SLPP also dismissed the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) threat to move the Supreme Court against the 20th Amendment on the basis the Attorney General cleared the 20th Amendment draft.
Also on the same day, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa named a nine-member group headed by SLPP Chairman and Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris to study the proposed 20th Amendment in the wake of growing protests by even those who backed the SLPP at both 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls. The Premier’s committee includes putative chief architect of the hotly disputed 20th Amendment Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC as well as Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, who represents the SLFP. With 13 elected on the SLPP ticket and one on the SLFP ticket, the latter is the second largest in the government parliamentary group.
The Premier has called for their report by Tuesday (15) according to a statement issued by the Premier’s Office under the hand of his Media Secretary Rohan Weliwita.
Addressing the media at Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandiraya yesterday (13), SLPP National List member Gevindu Cumaratunga appreciated swift response of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa to concerns expressed by them. In spite of the SLPP having a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the means to ensure the 20th passage, the top leadership responded to public concerns. Lawmaker Cumaratunga said.
Cumaratunga said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had declared his readiness to withdraw the present draft 20th Amendment and re-submit a rectified draft. The lawmaker said that in spite of the 20th being a temporary measure to remove obstacles placed by the treacherous 19th Amendment, they were determined to take remedial measures.
In response to a query by The Island, the MP said that the public shouldn’t mix concerns expressed by them with those who still believed the 19th was the panacea for all our ills.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), too, last Friday named a special 14-member group headed by Nihal Jayamanne, PC, to examine the 20th Amendment. The Executive Committee of the BASL and the Bar Council will make recommendations in respect of the 20th Amendment once Jayamanne handed over his report.
Cumaratunga asserted that the decision to submit a fresh draft wouldn’t cause a delay in the process. “We are determined to remove serious hindrance caused by the 19th. It launched a debilitating blow to the presidential system of governance by diluting his/her powers as part of an overall strategy to weaken the state,” Cumaratunga said.
Dr. Amarasekera too appreciated the President’s decision.
Political sources told The Island that the government parliamentary group last Tuesday (8) discussed the urgent need to address issues caused by the proposed 20th Amendment. Members had pointed out shortcomings/mistakes at the meeting chaired by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa though decision to appoint a team led by Prof. Peiris had been taken on Friday, sources said. A section of the parliamentary group had been seriously concerned and disappointed over the way the government expedited the process at the expense of transparency, sources said.
Meanwhile, Industry and Commerce Minister Wimal Weerawansa, addressing a public gathering at Avissawella on Saturday (12), explained Premier Rajapaksa’s decision to table an altered 20th Amendment soon in parliament. According to Weerawansa, who is also a member of Prof. Peiris’s team, said that the leaders of political parties in the SLPP-led coalition decided to submit a fresh draft at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister. The minister said that examination of the 20th Amendment would begin tomorrow (15).
Minister Weerawansa pointed out that the 20th Amendment in its present form once approved in parliament couldn’t be challenged in the Supreme Court. The National Freedom Front (NFF) leader said such a measure was unfair by the people. The minister pointed out that when changes made in the Committee stage couldn’t be challenged in court. The previous government denied the public chance to challenge 19th Amendment by incorporating changes in Committee stage, the minister said, underscoring the need to allow the public an opportunity to move court even against Amendment/law if they felt a particular Amendment/law violated their rights. There were countries which allowed such public challenge, the minister said. The minister emphasized the need to introduce a new Constitution.
Lawmaker Cumaratunga said that they couldn’t take the issue lightly especially in the backdrop of the previous administration causing debilitating damage to the existing governance structure. The readiness on the part of the President and the Prime Minister marked the beginning of a new era where the top leadership swiftly and decisively acted on public concerns.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.