Parliament

‘People will decide whether Constitution should be country’s law’

The Constitution should be passed in Parliament and taken before the people for a referendum, while the people, will decide whether the Bill should become the supreme law of the country or not and one does not need a General Election for that, said TNA Leader R. Sampanthan in Parliament yesterday.

He noted that framing of a Constitution which is the supreme law of the country, is a sacred duty. A resolution was passed in Parliament converting Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly to enable a constitution to be framed, a steering committee was appointed, seven sub committees was appointed and they have deliberated and all parties have participated in the deliberations before the steering committee and the sub-committees. “Objections that had been raised today, were never raised before any one of those committees and now we have come to a stage where after almost three years of deliberations, certain reports have been submitted to the House to decide what further needs are to be done,” he said, adding that he feels this should be approached with a certain amount of sanctity and seriousness and not flippantly.

“I am sorry to observe that some of the submissions made this morning by the Opposition have been flippant, lacking in seriousness, in sanctity in keeping with the fact that we are endeavouring to promulgate a new constitution for the country which had been long called for. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual multi-religious and multi-cultural pluralistic society. Different races live in this country and have lived for centuries and generations. We need to keep them united and all the people living in the country, irrespective of who they are, be it Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslims or Burghers, must have a sense of belonging to this country and that this country belongs to them and that they are one people. There must be unity in diversity. That is the objective in framing this constitution, to unite the people and bring them together, which we have not been able to do until now. We have not been able to constitute a Sri Lankan nation. For the reason that we have been divided, we have been dis-united. This constitution is intended to unite the people, to bring them together and enable them to feel that they all belong to one country and that the country belongs to them,” he noted.

Sampanthan pointed out that there are certain other advantages, apart from unifying and bringing the people together, which can be achieved under the new constitution through power sharing arrangements. “At the regional and provincial level, governance is not visible. Governance has to be more visible because then people can see what is happening. As a result of all power being kept in Colombo, there is a great deal of waste and corruption, all of which can be eliminated if power is exercised at the regional and provincial level.

There are people in this country who think they are patriotic, but I don’t think they are patriots. They are pseudo patriots who arouse chauvinism amongst the majority people to continue to be in power. It is my view that there is a symbiotic relationship between pseudo patriotism and corruption. People who have been downright corrupt when they were in power, have swindled this country.This country has been impoverished by their actions and how can such persons be patriots? How can such persons be those who advocate something really good for the country? To them, patriotism is a shied for corruption,” he said, adding that this is another reason why power should be devolved and exercised at the provincial or regional level.

He noted that this constitution should be approved by a 2/3rd majority in Parliament and taken before the people in a referendum and they will decide whether this Bill should become the supreme law of the country or not..


Nobody wants foremost place given to Buddhism taken away:Hakeem

No one wants the foremost place given to Buddhism taken away, but there is no harm in adding a few words that would ensure that other religions too in the country, would continue to enjoy the freedom they currently enjoy which has been enunciated in our Bill of Rights Chapter, said Minister of City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education and SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem, during the Constitutional Assembly meeting in Parliament yesterday. “That is all we wish for, nothing more and nothing less.”

Noting that the government is embarking on a very solemn exercise, he added that it must be understood that amending a constitution would mean that we would have to present a Bill which in the long title would describe it as a Bill to amend or to replace a Constitution. Today, what has been placed before the house is not such a document and these are all documents to be considered by the assembly, to formulate a Bill later on to replace or amend the Constitution.

“Attempts are being made by a various parties in this House to create an impression as if we are attempting to change the constitution in a hurry. We set up this Constitutional Assembly for the solemn purpose of preparing such a Bill to replace a constitution and address issues which we have pledged to the country in a variety of manifestos by a variety of parties in this chamber as if to make out that we are in an attempt to introduce a constitution which does not accord with the basic norms of constitution making. That we must deny, as we have set up a steering committee which deliberated for several sessions and we have taken great pains to look in to various contentious issues pertaining to the structure of the state. We attempted to look at the concept of a unitary state and look at the obstacles for the development of power in a unitary state in order to enable the provincial councils to enjoy their powers in the proper manner as envisaged in the 13th Amendment. Going by history in devolving of power in this country, there is a yearning by the people living particularly in the Northern and Eastern provinces and also provinces in the South. There is a document that has been tabled which providing details of what the chief ministers in the south came and spoke before the steering committee. Each and every one of them have been asking for more powers to look at various provisions in the constitution which inhibit the devolution of power in the proper sense,” he said, adding that therefore, this is a very solemn and sincere exercise to make a truthful departure from the constitution to enable the provinces to enjoy power in a proper manner.

However, he said there are several contentious issues. “They also make out as if we are trying to take away the foremost place given to Buddhism in the Constitution. The PM in his speech today, said that there was never an intention to remove the foremost place given to Buddhism in the Constitution. He also referred to history when Buddhism was accorded such a place during Dudley Senanayake’s time and that those provisions had come over a period of time.

There have been alternative formulas that have been suggested by other parties, but that does not mean that there is consensus on the issue.”

Referring to appointments to high offices, Hakeem said while certain communities view an appointment of one of their community into high office as an honour, these appointments have always governed appointments to high office and hoped that in enacting a new constitution, these postulates would be preferred, rather than very narrow and very parochial approaches to appointments to high office.

 


Ranil engaging in political revenge against union employees: MR

Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa charged that the Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNP government appointed on December 16, 2018 is engaged in taking political revenge on several union employees of certain institutions. “Political vengeance on employees of the ITN has now spread to other state institutions as well. Especially, at the Youth Services Council which is under the direct purview of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, 23 workers have been transferred to positions not suitable to their qualifications, flouting all accepted service procedures, without any concern for service requirements, disregarding all service commendations and qualifications.”

He noted that due to this political vengeance, workers and their families are facing great difficulties. Hence he urged that these irregular and politically revengeful transfers be cancelled immediately and the workers returned to their regular work places. He also requested that all irregular promotions too be cancelled.

Responding to these allegations by the Opposition Leader, Minister of Public Administration and Disaster Management Ranjith Maddumabandara, refuting the allegations made by Rajapaksa, said that his government had not initiated any transfers based on political vengeance. “Independent commissions such as the Police Commission and the State Services Commission had been established in order to strengthen the rights of the workers and safeguard the state sector. These commissions had not carried out any transfers. However, having inquired into the matter, I learnt that these are annual transfers that are usually carried out by the State Services Commission, effective from February. Unless for disciplinary reasons, no transfers would be carried out according to the government policy and the Labour ordinance.”

He requested the Opposition Leader to forward a list of such persons who he says have been transferred on political grounds, assuring him that the matter would be looked into. “Certain transfers are made based on disciplinary grounds and service requirements and the Prime Minister has given us the authority to look into any discrepancy and take appropriate measures to rectify them. Therefore, if these names are given, we will look into the matter. By January 8, 2018, the UNP Headquarters had received complaints regarding 32,000 political revenge issues. However, we will not follow their example, we would look into such matters and rectify these issues if we find that these have been politically motivated transfers,” he added.


‘Opposition Leader spreading hatred’

Former President Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, is spreading hatred and circulating misinformation about the new Constitution among the people, alleged JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday.

“Rajapaksa has now become an orb of hatred. He recently visited a temple and said that by April, a new Constitution would be introduced and the country will be separated. He said the new Constitution establishes a Federal State. What lies are these? Why spread all these false information? We wouldn’t have minded if it was someone else who went around saying such lies. But this is a Former President we are talking of. He was the President of this country for nearly ten years. He should be ashamed of such falsehoods,” Dissanayake said.

Dissanayake expressed his displeasure on the Rajapaksa led group who were depending on racism and religious animosity to gain power. He urged Rajapaksa to avoid creating unrest among the general public and to conduct himself as a responsible leader.

Dissanayake made these observations in reference to the speech delivered by Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa during the Constitutional Assembly yesterday in Parliament.

The Steering Committee had failed to present a draft Constitution to the Constitutional Assembly in the lapse of three years, Dissanayake also said. Pointing out that passing a new constitution is a lengthy and complex process, Dissanayake observed that the Steering Committee is not even at the initial stages of the process.


Poor attendence mars CA meeting

Poor attendance at the Constitutional Assembly(CA) meeting was noted yesterday, with only 56 MPs being present when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presented five reports pertaining to Constitutional reforms.

The Constitutional Assembly (CA) met at 10 am at the Parliament chamber after a hiatus of over an year. The meeting was convened to table five reports pertaining to the Constitution making process, following deliberations at the Steering Committee headed by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

Only 28 Government MPs, 17 UPFA MPs, 9 TNA MPs and 2 JVP MPs were present at the commencement of the meeting. The number of Government members increased to about 47 during the course of the debate. The CA comprises 220 MPs. The five Parliamentarians of the National Freedom Front, led by Wimal Weerawansa decided to leave the CA in 2017.

With nearly two thirds of the MPs absent, many benches were seen to be empty throughout the CA debate yesterday.

The CA was formed, following a resolution passed unanimously in Parliament in March, 2016, to formulate a new Constitution. Initially, all 225 MPs were members in it and its first sitting was held on April 5, 2016. During its first sitting a 21-member Steering Committee was appointed to deal with core issues relating to the Constitution.

In the meantime, six sub-committees were appointed by the CA on “fundamental rights, Judiciary, finance, public service, law and order, centre-periphery,” while their reports were placed before the CA by the Prime Minister on November 19, 2016.

The Steering Committee presented an interim report on September 21, 2017. The CA held an extensive debate for five days on the interim report and sub-committee reports. The CA last met on November 8, 2017.


Govt. wrong to draft new Constitution:MR

It is not politically correct for the present Parliament to proceed to make a new Constitution as it has lost the people’s mandate, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa said.

Speaking in the Constitutional Assembly yesterday, former President Rajapaksa proposed to go before the people with the Constitutional proposals of both main parties. “We will present our draft and the UNP may present its own. Let’s hold General Elections based on the two drafts. The people will decide which side they wish to be in,” he said.

“You saw the people’s mandate at the previous Local Government Elections. You were defeated. Respect that people’s mandate and give us a General Election,” he added. The Opposition Leader, pointing at the empty seats in the Government side of the Assembly, said that there are questions as to whether the constitution making exercise at least receives the support of all Government members.

“We cannot let any ethnic group suppress another ethnic group. This applies to the Sinhala community and vice versa. However, all groups must come to a common ground if they new that the new Constitution is to proceed. If only the rights of one ethnic group were assured, then it leads to hatred. Do not create that political hatred,” Rajapaksa commented.

At this point, Government members raised objections stating that it was Rajapaksa and his followers who spread hatred. Rajapaksa denying that claim, said that it was the Government which acts with hatred towards them in and outside Parliament.

The former President went on to state that the Government earned the humiliation of the people for getting a court ruling against holding elections. “You read the Supreme Court determination carefully from page 60. What has it said about Parliament? It has said that the Clauses in the 19th Amendment were stupid. The 19A was passed in Parliament in a hurry and now it’s law. Despite the fact that it contains foolish and unnecessary clauses, the Supreme Court has to accept it as the law. That is what happened,” said Rajapaksa, also dissociating himself from the 19A stating that he was not in Parliament when it was passed.


Chief Govt. Whip wants Arjun extradited back to country

Chief Opposition Whip Mahinda Amaraweera yesterday, requested the Government to sign an agreement with Singapore under the Extradition Law to have the Former Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran extradited back to the country.

Participating in the debate on an Order made by the President under Section 3 of the Extradition Law, No. 8 of 1977 relating to the Extradition Treaty between Sri Lanka and the Republic of Turkey, Amaraweera queried if there is any plan to sign a similar agreement with Singapore.

In response to the question raised by Amaraweera, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene said that the government could sign such an agreement with Singapore at any given time.

“The government has failed to bring him back to the country. The Central Bank Treasury Bonds scam cost the country billions. Therefore, the government should sign an agreement under the Extradition Law with Singapore.

We as the Opposition, will give our fullest support for such an endeavour,” he said, adding that Mahendran is in hiding in Singapore.


Members selected for COPE named

Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri announced the names of 16 members for the Parliament Watchdog Committee (COPE – Committee of Public Enterprises) yesterday.

Accordingly, the new members are Rauff Hakim, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Ajith P Perera, Wasantha Aluvihare, Ranjan Ramanayake, Ashok Abeysinghe, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Lakshman Seneviratne, Chandrasiri Gajadheera, Mahindananada Aluthgamage, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Ravindra Samaraweera, Mavai Senathiraja, Sunil Handunnetti and Jayantha Samaraweera.

The Chairman of the COPE would be elected from one of the committee members during the first sitting day of the committee.


Debate interrupted due to lack of quorum

Debate on Order under the Extradition Law was briefly interrupted due to the lack of quorum of 20 MPs in Parliament yesterday.

However, Opposition MPs who rushed to the Chamber when the Quorum bell went off, helped to continue the debate by maintaining the quorum of 20 MPs.

 



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