The Party Leaders’ meeting on Friday has decided to debate the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Parliament on October 21 and 22. Heated arguments had arisen between Government and Opposition lawmakers regarding the 20A debate at the Party Leaders’ meeting chaired by the Speaker at his Parliament office on Friday.
Finally, it had been decided to hold a two-day debate on 20A in Parliament on October 21 and 22 from 10.00am to 7.30pm. However, the Opposition’s request for a three-day debate had been rejected by Government lawmakers. Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando had said that two dates can be allocated for the debate on the 20A.
Minister Gunawardena said, “only two days had been given even to debate the 19th Amendment in Parliament.” Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said, “The 19th Amendment was brought with the consent of all political parties. The UNP had only 42 MPs, but all other MPs extended their support to pass the 19th Amendment. The 19A was discussed six or seven times at parliamentary committees. However, there is no consensus on the 20A and the Opposition is opposed to it. The Government even deprived the opportunity to discuss 20A in parliamentary committees. In a situation where coronavirus is spreading in the country, it is against the tradition to debate an issue, such as 20A in Parliament.”
SJB Parliamentarian Ranjith Madduma Bandara also endorsed the point raised by MP Kiriella. This had led to a heated exchange of words between Minister Gunawardena and MP Kiriella.
Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara told the media that he will soon meet Attorney General Dappula de Livera to inform him of the lethargy displayed by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) and its failure to probe complaints, pertaining to acts of large scale fraud and corruption, lodged by the then Joint Opposition (JO) against 10 Ministers of the previous United National Front-led regime.
He said that he was still perturbed as to why the Commission had not probed the complaints lodged with it by the then JO Parliamentarians regarding 10 Ministers of the previous Yahapalana Government. He said that certain officers of the Commission and Police had engaged in a witch hunt against the former JO MPs who had lodged the complaints, rather than investigating the complaints.
Nanayakkara said that there was no positive response from the Commission when he asked the Commission about the complaints lodged by the former JO MPs. The Minister added that if the Commission continues to adopt a lukewarm attitude towards the complaints, the Government would need to think about the formation of a body, such as the Criminal Justice Commission to inquire into complaints. He said that he will soon brief the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers on the situation at the CIABOC.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena said on October 12 at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was a political devil and the former Yahapalana Government was akin to a mismatched nuptial knot. He told the Commission that disputes arose between him and Wickremesinghe within the first week of establishing the Yahapalana Government. The former President said within the first week, Wickremesinghe wanted to appoint Arjuna Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank.
“I wasn’t happy because Mahendran was a citizen of Singapore. Wickremesinghe insisted that Mahendran was the ideal person. Since I also did not want to create a conflict within a week of coming to power, I let it happen,” Sirisena said. The ex-President said that the relationship further deteriorated after he appointed the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Central Bank Treasury Bond Scam. Sirisena said that he prevented several officials, including former IGP Pujith Jayasundara, from attending the National Security Council (NSC) due to issues in their conduct.
Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon said that once a Government is formed and portfolios are obtained, some forget the past. “We should not fall to such a level,” he said. The Minister told a meeting at Dambulla that the Government is moving forward despite issues. “As there are many people’s expectations, no room should be given to shatter them,” he said. The Minister said, “We should act according to the hopes and aspirations of the people who voted and elected us. We should move forward by understanding the pulse of the people.”
UNP senior John Amaratunga has said that if he is not given the UNP National list slot, he is getting ready to quit politics. Amaratunga had informed UNP Leader Wickremesinghe that it is not the tradition of the UNP to appoint defeated candidates from its National List. Amaratunga’s name is listed first in the UNP National List. The UNP, which faced a humiliating defeat at the last General Election, secured only one National List slot. Even though two months have elapsed following the election, UNP Leader Wickremesinghe has failed to nominate a representative to the UNP National List slot.
There are media speculations that Minister Mahinda Amaraweera will soon be elected as the new Leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) with the blessings of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the ruling party. Amaraweera serves as the Senior Vice President of the SLFP. The goodwill between the SLPP and the SLFP is being maintained through Amaraweera, with his efforts to keep balance against disagreements. He also favours the recently proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that the Government should offer relief packages to workers and families in the areas affected by the second wave of Covid-19 which has struck over 1,600 people. Premadasa, in a statement on October 15, said that the second wave is due to the negligence of the Government. He said large swathes of the populated Gampaha district are under Police or quarantine curfew, while factories and businesses are closed and many people’s livelihoods have been affected.
“The Government is not taking measures to help those affected economically by this wave. It is only interested in increasing its power,” Premadasa said. He said that daily wage earners were the worst affected. The Government must provide relief in the form of cash grants and dry rations, he said.
The Cabinet meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was held at the Presidential Secretariat on October 12 at 5.00pm. It had laid emphasis on the third wave of Covid-19 in the country. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi had briefed the Cabinet of Ministers on the Covid-19 situation in the country. The Minister had told the Cabinet that the health authorities have taken all possible measures to take the Covid-19 situation under control. The President had said that health authorities and security forces are trying their level best to control the third wave of Covid-19. The President said, “I am confident that we would be able to control this third wave in a similar way we managed to control the first and second Covid-19 waves. We need the support of the people in this regard.”
Minister Prasanna Ranatunga has told the President that the majority of the people who live in curfew imposed divisional secretariat areas in the Gampaha district have faced economic hardships. Minister Ranatunga said, “It would be more appropriate if Rs.5000 allowance could be given to them.”
Members of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have criticised SLPP Parliamentarian Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s remarks on the 20th amendment. Maharagama Urban Council SLPP member Kanthi Kodikara told the media, “I feel he made these statements as a result of not receiving a position that he hoped to receive.”
She said the leaders of the country must be given strength instead of being pulled backwards. SLPP Avissawella organiser Attorney-at-Law Ravindra Jayasinghe said that people, such as Rajapakshe do not have the right to comment on such matters. “Some persons did not witness how the SLPP was built at the grassroots,” Jayasinghe said. Moratuwa Mayor Saman Lal Fernando has said that he hoped Rajapakshe to be at the forefront in bringing the 20th amendment.
Letter to President
Three prominent Bhikkhus have written a five-page letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa raising concerns about the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The letter has been jointly written by Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thera, Ven. Muruttettuwe Ananda Thera and Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera. Three Bhikkhus in their letter submitted to the President have urged him to reconsider the decision to ratify the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution, introducing amendments before passing it. They have stated that the 20th Amendment to the Constitution creates an arbitrary executive and a weak Cabinet. The three Bhikkhus had said if the new Bill is enacted, it would prevent the masses from legally challenging any unconstitutional move by the Government.
SJB Parliamentarian Rajitha Senaratne said that the attempts to arrest Rishad Bathiudeen and his brother are politically motivated. “We can clearly see what’s going on here. Riyaj Bathiudeen was released and 100 Government MPs filed a petition against it. He was released after an investigation. Has even one of those MPs read the investigation reports?” Senaratne asked.
He said, “The Government is using this situation for their political gain. Some religious leaders made remarks on the suspect being released and then 100 Government Ministers filed a petition. Now, the suspect who was released after an investigation is again deemed a suspect. The Police Spokesman who spoke about evidence against Riyaj Bathiudeen was transferred to Kankasanthurai and the Director of the CID was also transferred. This is playing to a political audience.”
India-Sri Lanka ties
Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees on Thursday and discussed several projects and possible cooperation in new sectors. The primary purpose of the High Commissioner’s visit was to follow-up on the virtual summit that was held between Prime Minister Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month. Both leaders have expressed satisfaction on the virtual summit, which was the first virtual engagement of Rajapaksa since resumption of office as the Prime Minister. One priority sector for Prime Minister Rajapaksa is water and sanitation. The High Commissioner noted several areas on which the two countries could collaborate, including water requirements in schools, sanitation, rainwater harvesting, building of toilets in underdeveloped areas and a project that could convert sewage into fertiliser.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa said that the lack of safe drinking water in certain parts of the country is the main concern, including the role it plays in chronic kidney diseases. This is a key priority for the Government, he said.
High Commissioner Baglay spoke of the possibility to collaborate with Prime Minister Modi’s “Jal Jeevan Mission” (Water for Life Mission), which is the Indian Government’s program that aims to provide potable water for every household.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa said that the lack of drinking water is a serious problem in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. The Prime Minister also requested Indian assistance for the pharmaceutical sector.
SJB Parliamentarian Kabir Hashim on Thursday told the PCoI probing the Easter Sunday attacks that Muslim Ministers who served in the former Yahapalana Government resigned without supporting the no-confidence motion brought against Rishad Bathiudeen after the Easter Sunday attack, not to protect him, but to protect the UNP Government.
The former Minister, testifying before the Commission, said that he did not support Rishad Bathiudeen during the no-confidence motion realising that if he had supported him, he would have not been able to return to his native area. MP Hashim said so in response to a question raised by the representative from the Attorney General’s Department as to why all Muslim Ministers in the former Yahapalana Government resigned together, after the Easter Sunday attack. He said, “At that time, I was the Chairman of the UNP. The Opposition brought a no-confidence motion in Parliament against Rishad Bathiudeen alleging his involvement in the Easter Sunday attack, but it was against the Government.” He said if the UNP Ministers voted in favour of the no-confidence motion, it would have affected the Government and the stability of the country at that time.