Parliament | Daily News


‘Country is moving forward’

“We have to think of national policies along one line irrespective of the party we work for. Exports have increased to $17 billion under this government. The country is now moving forward slowly but steadily,” Roads and Road Development Minister Kabir Hashim said in Parliament yesterday. He was speaking on the export sector when two regulations were taken up.

“We introduced the open market policy in 1977 under former President J.R. Jayewardene and his was called an era of trade liberalisation. By 1993, we revised the country’s duty structure and formed a three-band tariff structure as 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 35 per cent to simplify it. In 1994, the government changed under President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and thereafter under Mahinda Rajapaksa. At that time, they criticised the UNP’s effort. They promised to abolish the Executive Presidency and rip the J.R. Jayewardene’s 1978 Constitution and also pledged to do away with our economic policies and introduce a new economic policy. They gave the country great hope.

Unfortunately, none of these pledges were fulfilled. From 1994 to 2014, thanks to the UNP, the country has the same economic and social structure,” he said. But it went from bad to worse because there was no proper economic policy,” he said.

He said those who talk so much about patriotism and sense of national pride should first have a clear policy. If there is a clear policy anything could be done within its scope. “As a small country, we need to identify our agenda. From 1995 to 2001, the average commodity tariff had reduced by 50 per cent. The overall tarrif at 20 per cent was reduced to 9.4 per cent during the UPFA government. The effective rate of protection, which protects local businesses was at 70 per cent in 1994, had reduced to 56 per cent by 2001,” he said.

Minister Hashim said persons who are sitting in the opposition and talking about protecting domestic production should look back on how had they acted while they were in power.

“Then during the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s era after 2005 to 2014, the tariff at 70 per cent had reduced to 63 per cent clearly indicating that by discarding the open economic policy, the previous government had done more damage to the domestic industry. “They very cleverly allowed their family members and friends to import whatever they wanted by exempting them from all tarrifes.

At one point they imported ethanol and at another they imported dog food. This is how they governed this country during their time without any proper policy. This lack of proper policy affected out local production and industry,” the Minister said.

“We trusted the open economic and the open market policies. If benefits are to be derived, we need to follow a certain economic policy. Although we took certain decisions, we always made sure they were tailored to suit our country,” he said.

He said the post war growth was very impressive, but just for a year or two and fter the war ended in 2009, it was an ideal opportunity to change this country.

“Up until 2012, our development rate improved. By 2010, there was an 8 per cent economic growth and by 2012 it dropped to 6.4 per cent and by 2013-14 it had further dropped to 4 per cent. That was mainly because we did not have a definite production base. There were two areas for growth post war - one was construction and the other was services. These areas are import based and has no benefit for domestic production,” he said.

IGP implemented NPC recommendations - Speaker

The implementation of the recommendations of the National Police Commission have been duly completed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) within the given two weeks, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said.

The Speaker was responding yesterday to queries raised by Joint Opposition Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena.

The Speaker summoned IGP Pujith Jayasundara and the National Police Commission members for a special meeting of the Constitutional Council (CC) on September 7. During the meeting, the IGP was instructed to report to the CC within 14 days on the progress of the implementation of the recommendations of the Police Commission. “MP Gunawardena alleged that the Police Commission’s recommendations were not implemented. I would like to correct him that all the recommendations were duly implemented now. The IGP and the Police Commission reported this to me,” the Speaker said.

Heated argument over CC appointments

A heated argument erupted in Parliament yesterday over the criteria followed in making appointments to the high rank positions and independent commissions by the Constitutional Council (CC).

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, after listening to the opinions of the Government and Opposition members, said he would initiate a discussion to come to an agreement on rectifying loopholes of the CC and independent commissions.

Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said Parliament should make a policy decision on the composition of the independent commissions and said he personally believe that those commissions must not comprise retired persons.

“We have not formulated a set of basic criteria that must be adhered to when making appointments. We have responsibility to come up with such a set of criteria with the consent of all in the House.

The members appointed to independent commissions are mostly retired persons. The appointed persons must have a sense of duty.

I am of the opinion that there is no point in appointing retired persons to some commissions as we do not get the expected service from them.

Those who are in the public service must be appointed to the commissions. They can be police officers, officers in the Attorney General’s Department, officers in the judicial service or civil administrative officers. They are bound by the Establishment Code and receive punishment if they do any wrong. The Judicial Service Commission functions very well because it comprises judges who are serving now. Though we appoint pensioners thinking that they are independent, they are accountable to none. Let us take a policy decision in the future on the composition of commissions, especially the Police Commission,” he said.

The Joint Opposition agreeing with Dr. Rajapakshe thanked him for his views.

“There is no set of guidelines for the CC to be followed when recommending persons to independent commissions and high rank positions.

Under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, we did not approve this kind of conduct of the CC. The confidence on the CC has been lost due to the conduct of certain individuals appointed by the CC,”JO Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena said.

Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella said the CC functions independently today and it has the power to even reject the name proposed by the President for any high rank position.

“When the appointments were discussed at the Party Leaders’ Meeting on Wednesday, MP Gunawardena did not object. It is against the Parliament tradition to go against them now. During the period of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, all the appointments to high rank positions were directly made by him and he got such powers by way of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

The President does not have such arbitrary powers now. Those who shout today over the appointments of the CC were under the iron feet of the then President. We liberated them,” he said.

Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said Parliament should collectively accept the responsibility for any shortcoming on the part of the CC.

“We passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to fulfill the people’s aspirations for democracy. We were grateful that all the parties supported it despite that there was a minority Government.

We accept that there can be loopholes and that not all decisions made by the CC were proven to be correct. We can sort them out at a party leaders’ meeting.

Let us approve the names of three civil society members collectively as the matters now we discuss are not related to those members.

Otherwise those distinguished individuals may not accept those appointments. We are not undermining your views on the CC. Let us discuss and resolve them,” he said.

Deputy Minister Ajith P. Perera and MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara said that there is no way Parliament can oversee the work of the independent commissions. “While saying that those commissions are independent, we must also clearly state as to how they become accountable to Parliament,” Deputy Minister Ajith P. Perera noted.

UPFA MP Dayasiri Jayasekara raised concerns that Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala serving in the CC amounts to a conflict of interest as the CC decides on the appointments of the Chief Justice and superior court judges.

The Speaker rejected that argument stating that Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe served in the CC while he was holding the Justice Ministerial portfolio.

Minister Rajapakshe too rejected the argument stating that the ministerial portfolio one holds is irrelevant to the role he or she plays in the CC.

New CC meets today

The newly appointed Constitutional Council (CC) will conduct its first meeting at 12pm today at the Parliament complex to discuss the appointment of new Chief Justice, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said.

Parliament yesterday approved former Sri Lankan diplomat Dr. Jayantha Danapala, Attorney-at-Law Ahmad Javid Yusuf and Colombo University Law Faculty Senior Lecturer Naganathan Selvakkumaran as the three civil society representatives of the CC.

Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorala and former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa were appointed to the CC with the agreement between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

JVP MP Bimal Rathnayake was appointed as the minor party representative who is due from a political party outside of the parties to which the PM and the Opposition Leader belong (UNP and TNA). Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe was appointed as the President’s representative to the CC.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya (Chairman), Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Opposition Leader R Sampanthan are ex-officio members of the CC.

Speaker Jayasuriya said the appointment letters to all the new members of the CC would be issued within yesterday.

The CC will meet today to decide on the successor to Chief Justice Priyasath Dep, who is to retire today. The 10-member CC is the apex decision making body that recommends the appointments to the Independent Commissions and high ranking positions such as the Attorney General, Auditor General, Parliament Secretary General, IGP, Chief Justice and superior court judges etc.

‘Adverse weather affects over 69,583 persons’

Over 69,583 persons in 17,303 families have been affected with the adverse weather. Twelve persons have died, while 18 persons had sustained injuries, Irrigation and Water Resources and Disaster Management State Minister Palitha Range Bandara said in Parliament yesterday.

“Rs.100,000 is paid as compensation for adeath and cooked foods and other essential items is distributed using funds released to the District Secretaries.

An advance of Rs.10,000 is paid per family to repair their damaged houses under a part of the insurance scheme. A damage assessment committee was appointed to look into the damage and Rs. 2.5 million will be paid per a damaged house.

Small and medium scale businesses with a turnover of less than Rs.10 million will receive Rs.2.5 million for damaged stocks and Rs.100,000 for machines damaged. These are the ceilings set for compensation, “ he said.

The Minister said that several reservoirs are under construction in key river basins to retain flood waters for agriculture.

He said the government commenced building reservoirs and dams in key river valleys as a long term measure to control the floods. The water collected from each of these irrigation projects will be channeled to dry zones for agriculture and other purposes, he said.

“A key study was carried out on the Kelani River and discussions were held with the Japanese government for a project.

We will use the expert knowledge and recommendations from local and foreign experts. The Malwathu Oya project, the third largest reservoir project in the country, will be set up in Thanthirimale,” the Minister said.

He cautioned that the average temperature is projected to increase by 2 degrees by 2020 and longer and more frequent droughts and high winds will hit the country. That will result in a water scarcity in 2050, he said.

All sectors must unite to eradicate drug menace - Gayantha

Over 4,399 kg and 967 grams of Kerala cannabis, 1,631 kg and 747 grams of heroin, and 1,913 kg and 175 grams of cocaine were seized from 2010 to 2018, Lands and Parliamentary Reforms and Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunatileka said.

He was responding to JVP-MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa in Parliament yesterday.

Minister Karunatileka said 202,777 persons were arrested for drug offences. He said the drug menace has escalated to new levels calling on all sectors of society to pitch in the effort to eradicate the drug scourge from the country.

He said the seized narcotics is sent to the Government Analyst for analysis and confirmation.

“Based on the report of the Government Analyst, legal action is initiated and the narcotics are destroyed under the observation of a Magistrate. In addition to the 202,777 arrests of locals, we have arrested 230 foreigners for involving in Kerala cannabis, heroin, and cocaine deals,” the Minister said.

JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, while commending the government for efforts taken so far to curb the drug menace, called on the government to intensify the drug operations. He said Sri Lanka has gained reputation as a regional narcotics hub. He warned that it has been in society for some time to the extent that drugs are circulated among schoolchildren as well.

Minister Karunatillaka said the issue is serious and assured a detailed response on measures taken at another date.

Ananthan and Sumanthiran lock horns

TNA MPs Sivasakthy Ananthan and M. A. Sumanthiran clashed in Parliament yesterday over a privilege issue raised by the former over depriving him of his chance to speak.

The Joint Opposition (JO) too tangled with MP Sumanthiran over the same issue. JO Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena said the JO will allocate time for MP Ananthan if the TNA continues to deprive him of the chance to speak in Parliament.

MP Ananthan complained that he was not given chance to speak in Parliament for the past 10 months despite his repeated requests. He said the Opposition Leader deliberately blocks his freedom of expression by not allocating time for him. He said his fundamental rights and Parliamentary privileges were breached.

“I have complained the matter to the Speaker in writing about three times. I have personally met him and requested his intervention. So far he had not taken necessary steps to resolve the problem. There are ample instances in the past where MPs who decided to be independent were given time to speak. I request to allocate time to me at least during the upcoming budget debate,” he said.

TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran, replying to MP Ananthan in the absence of Opposition Leader R Sampanthan, said the MP will not be allocated time from the ITAK (TNA) until he abides by the party decisions.

“If a member functions independently, that member must have the right to speak in Parliament.

If he declared himself as an independent MP, then the Speaker can allocate him time.

That has been the tradition. As long as he remains a member of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), he must obey it. If not, he will not be allocated any time.

I say this on behalf of all the members of the ITAK,” he said.

Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri said he would bring this matter to the notice of the Speaker.

JO Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena speaking in support of MP Ananthan said that there were previous instances that MPs’ right to speech were recognised in the House at times their parties refused to give them time.

Crisis at Rajarata University Medical Faculty

‘Ministries in talks to resolve issue’

The Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Ministry is in talks with the Finance and Mass Media Ministry to find a solution to the crisis at the Rajarata University Medical Faculty.

The crisis has resulted in the staff of the faculty resigning from their posts in protest of withholding their monthly retention allowance, Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to a question by Chief Opposition Whip and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumar Dissanayake. Rajapakshe said that neither the Higher Education Ministry nor the University Grants Commission (UGC) had any hand in the decision of withholding the retention allowance. He said it was not easy to find lecturers and professors for rural universities without offering them some benefits.

“A retention allowance was introduced as an incentive for these lecturers and professors. It is not a decision made by the Ministry or the UGC, but the Senate Council and the Vice Chancellor of the Rajarata University made the decision. A professor at the Medical Faculty was paid Rs. 100,000 per month.

A Senior Lecturer and other lecturers were paid Rs. 80,000 and 50,000 monthly retention allowance respectively,” he said.

When the university authorities were summoned before the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) on March 21, they were reprimanded for payment of this allowance as it does not comply with State monetary regulations. Even the National Audit Commission (NAC) criticised the paying of this allowance to the lecturers by the university authorities.

“Thereafter, the Finance Ministry issued a circular on July18 banning the payment of allowances not approved by the Treasury. The Senate Council of the University withheld the retention allowance for lecturers of the Medical Faculty,” Rajapakshe said.

He said that his ministry and he had no hand in this decision. .

Ekanayake makes jumbo proposal

MP and former Minister T. B. Ekanayake proposed to gift elephants to foreign countries to resolve the human-elephant conflict.

The MP, in the SLFP Group of 15, yesterday in Parliament said the President and the Prime Minister could gift elephants to foreign State leaders instead of gifting them wooden or glass ornaments of elephants.

The MP said the North Korean leader recently gifted two puppies to the South Korean leader as a gesture of goodwill.

“The aggravated human-elephant conflict is a serious problem in the dry zone. About 8,000 wild elephants encroach villages in the dry zones. We can docile them and send to other countries as gifts,” the former minister said.

Expert panel report to CA on Nov. 9

The Steering Committee yesterday decided to present the Expert Panel report that contains a draft of the new Constitution to the Constitutional Assembly on November 9.

The Tamil and English translations of the report had been extensively discussed at the meeting yesterday and several Steering Committee members have requested time to study and compare the translated copies of the report.

Several members have raised questions whether the term “Orumiththa Nadu” means exactly the same as “Aekiya Raajya,” sources said. “There were discussions whether it is the correct translation. Various views were expressed but there was no final decision,” the Committee sources said.











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