…discusses merits, demerits et al
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLPP National List lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga says the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted last month is required to rectify weakening of the State by the 19th Amendment. Alleging that the 19th Amendment had been introduced in 2015 with an overwhelming majority primarily to achieve three objectives namely (I) remove the Rajapaksas from politics (II) provide executive powers to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and (III) weaken the Sri Lankan State by depriving the executive of the previously enjoyed power.
In a brief interview with The Island, MP Cumaratunga, who is also the leader of the civil society organization Yuthukama, said that the despicable political project had been largely defeated. Those who had conspired to provide executive powers to the Premier at the expense of the President through the 19th Amendment were politically irrelevant today, the lawmaker pointed out.
Having reversed the UNP spearheaded strategy with the successful conclusion of 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, the government had now done away with measures to weaken the State, the MP said.
Cumaratunga said that he discussed those issues on the second day of the debate on the 20th Amendment on Oct 22. The parliament provided the required 2/3 majority for the Amendment. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena signed it into law on Oct 29.
Cumaratunga underscored the pivotal importance of correctly recognizing the objectives of the 19th Amendment and the challenges faced by the 20th Amendment.
“The 19th Amendment was brought into achieve sinister external objectives. The 20th Amendment was proposed to defeat that project jointly implemented by foreign powers and their local agents. If they succeeded in their high profile project to introduce a new constitution to their liking spearheaded by UNP leader Wickremesinghe, we would have ended up in total chaos with permanent foreign military presence and the country being a supply base for Western powers.”
The 19th Amendment was nothing but a dangerous constitutional tool that could have caused anarchy at every level, the newcomer to parliamentary politics alleged. In addition to NL member Cumaratunga, another key Yuthukama activist Anupa Pasquel was elected from the Kalutara district on the SLPP ticket at the August poll.
Cumaratunga explained how the conspirators included worthy sections to hide their real intentions. The MP alleged that their strategy had been quite efficient and useful from their point of view as the public were largely deceived. Cumaratunga said that nationalist groups, including Yuthukama wholeheartedly accepted many clauses which they sincerely believed were in the public interests.
Cumaratunga appreciated the restriction of the number of cabinet ministers and non-cabinet ministers to prevent political horse trading. This thwarted political parties from exploiting instability in parliament for their advantage, the MP said. “We also accepted the provision in the 19th Amendment to prevent the party in power to bring in emergency Bills, constitutional changes,” Cumaratunga said, recalling how the then President JRJ brought in the 13th Amendment to appease India and the 15 Amendment introduced by slain President Ranasinghe Premadasa to placate religious minorities. MP Cumaratunga alleged that the 19th Amendment included a clause prohibiting emergency amendments/Bills in a bid to hide their sinister intentions. The right of the public to challenge new laws in the Supreme Court should not be interfered with in any way, lawmaker Cumaratunga said.
Chief alleged that additional measures were introduced by way of the 19th Amendment to strengthen the State auditing process in a cunning bid to divert the attention from selling vital state assets. While strengthening the hands of the Auditor General, the yahapalana administration perpetrated Treasury bond scams twice, the second in March 2016 far bigger than the first in late Feb 2015, MP Cumaratunga said. Responding to another query, Cumaratunga asserted that the handing over of Hambantota port on a 99-year-lease to China in 2017 exposed the previous government.
Cumaratunga appreciated President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa effecting a spate of changes following representations made by the Maha Sangha and them once the 20 th Amendment was unveiled.
Cumaratunga said that the 20th Amendment faced the daunting challenge of reversing the 19th but the entire 78 Constitution as well as a series of amendments meant to protect the interests of political parties and their leaders.
Commenting on Manohara de Silva’s examination of strategies adopted by separatist elements, lawmaker Cumaratunga pointed out almost all amendments introduced after the 13th Amendment sought to pacify those promoting separatist ideology. The MP explained a campaign undertaken by Yuthukama soon after the enactment of the 19th Amendment in 2015 and the need to bring in 20th Amendment until consensus could be reached on a new Constitution.
A 9-member committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, is formulating a new Constitution.
Lawmaker Cumaratunga, in his speech delivered in parliament on Oct 22 pointed out the absurdity in following the Indian ‘system’ in introducing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Cumaratunga highlighted the introduction of a term (Railway Areas) in keeping with the Indian Constitution regardless of no such designated area in Sri Lanka.
Commending the government decision to expand the number of members of the Election Commission from present three to five, MP Cumaratunga said that their earnest wish is to bring in a new Constitution before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa begins his second year in Nov 2021. Cumaratunga said that Yuuthukama found seven sections in the original 20th Amendment wholly unacceptable. Among them was a bid to promote separatist ideology as well as to do away with the provision to subject the Office of the President and the Prime Minister to the State auditing process.
leader acknowledged that all their proposals hadn’t been accepted including the one in respect of checks and balances among the President, the Prime Minister and the Parliament though the required was met to a certain extent by the President receiving the constitution right to dissolve parliament two and half years after the first sitting.
Appreciating the formulation of a Parliamentary Council in respect of the appointment of judges to higher courts, members of Commissions, including their chairmen, Attorney General and IGP instead of the previous Constitution Council that followed the NGO agenda, MP Cumaratunga said that the President’s prerogative regarding the appointment of the AG and the IGP was important. However, the MP acknowledged that the Parliamentary Council role in merely making observations needs to be resolved. Cumaratunga appealed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to make appointments taking into consideration recommendations/observations of the Parliamentary Council. The lawmaker also emphasized the importance of the Speaker’s role in the proposed mechanism for the President to receive recommendations/observations of the five-member Parliamentary Council. Cumaratunga said that the proposed mechanisms should be subjected to the Speaker’s approval; as such a decision should be made available to the parliament as it would ensure the intervention of the House in the matter.
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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.