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20A: SLPP rejects criticism, plans to secure its passage next month



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dismissing criticism of the proposed 20th Amendment that it would pave the way for a dictatorship, Education Minister Prof. Peiris yesterday (7) told the media at the SLPP office, Battaramulla, that it would be presented to Parliament next October ahead of the presentation of Budget 2021.

Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP, said that the government wasn’t worried about the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) moving the Supreme Court against the 20th Amendment as it was gazetted having secured the Attorney General’s approval.

Flanked by Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena and SLPP General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam, Prof. Peiris indicated that they didn’t see a requirement to make any changes to the 20th Amendment at the committee stage.

The minister said that the government enjoyed the required parliamentary support necessary for the passage of the 20th Amendment. The SLPP on its own secured 145 seats whereas its allies obtained half a dozen seats to ensure the required two-thirds.

Responding to a query, a smiling Prof. Peiris said SJB’s Lakshman Kiriella or any other party could seek legal recourse against the 20th Amendment. “We are confident the 20th Amendment can be adopted without any hassle,” Prof. Peiris said, pointing out that finding fault with the 20th Amendment seemed ridiculous after the AG endorsed it without subjecting any of its provisions to a referendum.

Prof. Peiris said that the 19th Amendment enacted in the wake of 2015 presidential election, was meant among other things to deprive Namal Rajapaksa an opportunity to contest the presidency, disqualify Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa from contesting either presidency or parliamentary election on the basis of them being dual citizens of US and Sri Lanka and Mahinda Rajapaksa from seeking a third term.

The 20th Amendment has proposed the eligibility of a 30 year –old to contest the presidency in addition to dual citizens the opportunity to contest national level elections.

Prof. Peiris said that those who had been critical of the 20th Amendment had conveniently forgotten it didn’t touch two of the most important features in the 19th Amendment. He emphasized that the two term limit on a President as well as both presidential and parliamentary terms being restricted to five years from the earlier six would remain intact under the 20th Amendment.

Asked why much desired constitutional bar to restrict the number of ministers to 30 and non-cabinet ministers to 40 had been proposed to be abolished, Prof. Peiris pointed out there was provision in the 19th Amendment to make ministerial and other appointments regardless of the restriction by simply forming a National Government. The UNP and the SLFP did form such a government and made appointments beyond the prescribed 30 cabinet and 40 non-cabinet limits, Prof. Peiris said.

Responding to another query, Prof. Peiris side-stepped the issue by pointing out that the SLPP, too, could have finalized such an arrangement by entering into an agreement with the EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party). The EPDP won two seats in the Northern Province at the recently concluded general election.

Prof. Peiris also welcomed the Court of Appeal granting MP elect Premalal Jayasekera an opportunity to attend parliamentary sittings tomorrow (8).

Jayasekera is held at Welikada prison after being found guilty by Ratnapura High Court over a 2015 killing in the Kahawatte police area in the run up to the presidential election of that year. Prof. Peiris said that Jayasekera enjoyed the right to move both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court challenging the ruling given against him.

The Education Minister said that the SLPP received two mandates to do away with the 19th Amendment. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the SLPP candidate won the presidential election by a staggering 1.4 mn votes whereas the SLPP secured a near two-thirds majority at the general election. Therefore, there couldn’t be any issue as regards the SLPP taking tangible measures to drastically alter the 19th Amendment before introducing a new Constitution.

Recently, the government announced a 9-member group led by Romesh de Silva, PC, to formulate the new draft Constitution.

The former Law Professor strongly defended the controversial decision to re-introduce emergency Bills while guaranteeing full immunity to the President. Referring to a Supreme Court case, Prof. Peiris emphasized that the country’s apex court had accepted the right of the President to receive immunity. Prof. Peiris said that emergency Bills were necessary in times of emergency such as the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks which plunged the entire country into crisis.

Prof. Peiris dealt with the continuing controversy over the 20th Amendment proposing a five-member Parliamentary Council in place of the Constitutional Council comprising ten. Of course the method of appointments to seven Commissions as well as key posts had been changed to give the President power to exercise his mandate, Prof. Peiris said, dismissing claims that the Commissions were being abolished. The proposed system reflected the will of the people whereas the 19A empowered the Constitutional Council at the expense of the President elected by the people of the whole country.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the Election Commission member Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole and Constitutional Council member Javid Yusuf were two persons who abused their positions in the respective outfits to undermine the SLPP. Prof. Hoole once declared in Jaffna not to vote for the SLPP whereas attorney-at-law Yusuf openly campaigned against the SLPP’s push for a two-thirds majority to do away with the 19th Amendment, Prof. Peiris said.

Prof. Peiris said that their plans were on track though nearly ten months were wasted due to the inability on the part of the President to dissolve parliament immediately after winning the presidential election last November due to the shackles placed by the 19A and the subsequent crisis caused by the corona epidemic.

Prof. Peiris emphasized that the people’s President would exercise powers for their betterment.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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