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   No point of having CC if only seniority is counted for appointments - Speaker     There is no point in having the Constitutional Council (CC) if seniority is the only criterion to select individuals for higher ranks and judges to superior courts, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said.  The Speaker, making a special announcement in Parliament yesterday, made a lengthy statement countering the allegations made against the CC by President Maithripala Sirisena.  The Speaker said the President’s allegation that the CC
No point of having CC if only seniority is counted for appointments - Speaker There is no point in having the Constitutional Council (CC) if seniority is the only criterion to select individuals for higher ranks and judges to superior courts, Speak

No point of having CC if only seniority is counted for appointments - Speaker

There is no point in having the Constitutional Council (CC) if seniority is the only criterion to select individuals for higher ranks and judges to superior courts, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said.

The Speaker, making a special announcement in Parliament yesterday, made a lengthy statement countering the allegations made against the CC by President Maithripala Sirisena.

The Speaker said the President’s allegation that the CC rejected 12 names of judges proposed by the President to superior courts was incorrect. “When the President sends three, four names for one vacancy, we only approve one. It is unfair to mention such instances as ‘rejections,” he said.

The Speaker said the CC considers the “integrity, independence and impartiality” of the candidates in addition to their seniority when making appointments to independent commissions and other higher ranks. While reminding that he tabled the criteria followed by the CC on December 8, 2016, he said that he would table it again today for the information of MPs.

The Speaker said the CC did not approve the names of nominees who had bribery or any other allegation against them. He said the CC also rejected the nominations when the Chief Justice’s recommendation was not there.

Commenting on the composition of the 10-member CC, the Speaker said that no party has a majority in it. He said the CC comprises now two UNP MPs, three UPFA MPs, one JVP MP and three civil society members. “It represents the views of all parties,” he said.

“The CC has not approved any name arbitrarily or without the President’s nomination. All the names the CC approved so far were in the lists of names sent by the President to the CC. There had been no irregularity in the selection,” he said.

“There had been instances where the President also made appointments without solely depending on the seniority. We do not wish to argue by mentioning them one by one. Under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, it is the duty of the CC to select eligible persons without giving way to undue pressure, and we believe we performed it well. In the CC, all members can express their views freely, and there had been no pressure to approve any name. All the decisions the CC had hitherto made were unanimous, and except few, the CC had approved many of the names proposed by the President,” the Speaker said.

Observing that some had accused the CC over appointments of judges to Magistrate’s and District Courts, the Speaker said the CC only oversees the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.

“The Judicial Service Commission has the responsibility on the appointments to other courts,” he said.

“The country has earned credit with setting up of independent commissions by the CC. Our judiciary has also been commended internationally. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) was commended by the UN as an excellent independent body. Our Right to Information Law has also received international recognition. The progress made in the areas adds plus points to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC session in Geneva in March. I have repeatedly expressed my willingness to meet the President and explain the matters pertaining to the CC if that is needed. Criticizing the independent commissions without doing so is a long lasting damage to the country,” the Speaker said.

The Speaker countered a few allegations by the President on the HRCSL. “We asked the Commission to make a statement with regard to those allegations by the President, but the CC wishes to clarify two points here.

The HRCSL informed the CC that it requested a detailed report on deploying STF to the Angunakolapelessa prison because various parties made representations to Commission in that regard. After receiving the report, the HCRSL did not raise any objections.

The delay in recalling Sri Lankan soldiers in Mali who were engaged in UN peacekeeping mission was due to a collective decision made by the UNO, Sri Lanka’s tri-forces, Foreign Ministry and the HRCSL.

The responsibility to appoint officers for the UN Peacekeeping Mission lies only with the HRCSL. This proves the confidence of the international community on the HRCSL. Therefore, any accusation or criticism against it must be substantial,” the Speaker said.

Statement that milk powder contains pork fat is baseless – Rajitha

The statement made by Deputy Minister Buddhika Pathira that milk powder contains pork fat is false, Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister was responding to United National Party (UNP) MP S.M. Marikkar, who said in Parliament that the public, specially the Muslim community and those who do not consume pork, are now in a quandary not knowing the brands that contain pork fat and the brands that do not contain pork fat.

Therefore, the Minister called for a comprehensive investigation and to reveal the names of the milk powder brands that contain pork fat for those who do not consume food items that contain pork fats. “I urge the Speaker to understand the gravity of this matter and to appoint a select committee to thoroughly investigate the issue and reveal the truth.”

“Tests were conducted on this issue. The Food Safety section has conducted tests and they showed me the reports yesterday. I will table them in Parliament tomorrow. There are reports from the research conducted in New Zealand. These reports have confirmed that except for dairy fats, there are no other fats added or found in these milk powders. This information is false and has been gathered from some unreliable source.”

UPFA MP Ranjith Zoysa said Deputy Minister Pathirana is not here today and it is unfair that the Health Minister is alleging that his statement is completely false.”I think this issue should be raised when Pathirana and Senaratne are in the house. A Select Committee could be appointed to reveal the truth as Marikkar said. It is no secret that these milk powder companies have been bribing officials.”

UPFA MP Wimal Weerawansa said he had earlier requested a Select Committee on this issue and the Speaker said that it can be decided during a Party Leaders’ Meeting.

“The Mawbima Lanka Foundation had sent samples of imported milk powder to England to check the ingredients in them. That report says that some imported milk powder varieties contain harmful ingredients. After the Foundation published that report, several multinational companies sued them. That Case is still going on,” he said.

He said the Health Minister cannot dismiss these concerns by merely referring the reports provided by his staff. “That is wrong. Pathirana said that when milk powder samples were sent to local laboratories to examine, they refuse to do that. There are suspicions that these companies have bribed such laboratories not to carry out tests on their milk powder samples. We have suspicions that the reports Senaratne got from his officials are also those that have been deliberately done to safeguard these milk powder importers. So do not try to dismiss these concerns so lightly. Just launch an investigation and reveal the truth.”

The UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena said it is better to appoint a Select Committee to probe the matter.

UPFA MP Jayantha Samaraweera said Senaratne can table the reports he has tomorrow. “One of your former Secretaries of the Health Ministry holds a post at a company which imports milk powder. His monthly salary is Rs. 2 million. If people like this are given to prepare reports, how can we trust them?” Samaraweera asked.

Minister Senaratne said the Health Ministry has a special team of specialists under a Deputy Commissioner General and they conduct the researches.

“They gave me the reports. Our food safety section investigates thoroughly and maintains stringent food safety measures,” he said.

Twelve MPs including Dinesh, Wimal stuck in parliament lift: Wimal raises matter in House

Joint Opposition MP Wimal Weerawansa said in Parliament yesterday raising a point of order that 12 MPs including Dinesh Gunawardena and himself were stuck in an elevator at the parliament complex for over 15 minutes.

“Having given several emergency calls following instructions placed in the lift, it took over 15 minutes for those in charge to respond. There is no point in that authorities apologizing now; those stuck in the lift almost suffocated,” he said.

In response, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya assured that he would look into the matter.

MP Dinesh Gunawardena said that several attempts to obtain help via the emergency phone in the lift had failed.

“I came to Parliament in 1983, but never had to face such a situation. We were stuck in the lift for 23 minutes. Deputy Minister Ranjith Aluvihare, Chairman of the House Committee, who is responsible for such matters, was also in the lift. Even he could not take any action. We pass hundreds of thousands of rupees from Parliament and at least these lifts in the parliament complex cannot be maintained properly, the lives of these MPs are at risk. I urge the Speaker to look into this issue,” he said.

Several other MPs made jokes about their plight on a lighter vein, much to the annoyance of the victims.

“Would a new elevator be fixed and would it be maintained properly? If not, you should post a notice for those who do not want to risk their lives in using the lift. We are public representatives and without putting our lives at risk, you should address this issue,” MP Gunawardena told the Speaker.

Wimal Weerawansa said that almost all the Colombo MPs were stuck in the list except Gammanpila. “This might be a joke to many, but it’s not a joke, people’s lives are at risk. Even you, who might be the next presidential candidate, someone might try to have you stuck in the lift.”

Leader of the House, Minister Lakshman Kiriella said this issue is not a joke but a serious matter. “These issues should be investigated properly because when something goes wrong in Parliament, there is no one to take responsibility. Those responsible pass the ball. If the emergency call was answered as soon as the lift got stuck, the issue would have been resolved,” he said.

Kiriella raised the issue of insurance for the MPs in the event they face a mishap. “This insurance of Rs. 200,000 is insufficient. I think we need to get a new lift. During Ravi Karunanayake’s tenure, he proposed that we get a new lift. I ask the Speaker to look into this issue and punish those responsible.”

MP Bandula Gunawardena, one of those stuck in the lift, said that in his 30-year parliamentary career, this is the first time he got stuck in a lift. “This incident could have happened to even the leaders. After being stuck in it a few minutes, we realised the gravity of the situation because we were sweating and soon we would be out of air.”

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said he would look into the issue seriously and the relevant company representatives would be summoned tomorrow and see if a new elevator needs to be installed.

MP Chaminda Wijesiri said this lift had got stuck the first time during the commotions in Parliament in November last year and that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was stuck in the same lift.

“This is a conspiracy and Speaker, you should look onto this matter. This is a situation where they have fallen into the same pit they dug for others.”

Minister Ravi Karunanayake said a few months back, a similar mishap happened and a person died.

“The President and the Prime Minister stated that there should be a mechanism to get those responsible for such situations. The country has 25,800 unregistered lifts. We will bring a proposal to Parliament to make maintaining these lifts mandatory once a year and display the certification near the lift. Let’s start it from Parliament,” he said.

Tense situation in House over CC; parliament suspended

A tense situation erupted in Parliament yesterday as the UPFA MPs agitated demanding a debate on the controversies surrounding the Constitutional Council (CC).

Following Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s statement on the CC responding to the allegations made by President Maithripala Sirisena, the UPFA MPs demanded a debate on the topic.

Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella said that it was agreed at the Party Leaders’ Meeting to facilitate a debate on the CC in the next Parliamentary sittings’ week. The Speaker, explaining that he made the statement because it was his duty as the Chairman of the CC to respond to the allegations of the President, said that he could not allow an immediate debate on it.

Chief Opposition Whip Mahinda Amaraweera immediately after the Speaker’s speech said that his party is not satisfied with the Speaker’s statement.

“The CC’s conduct has led to a deeper crisis in the judicial sector. There is vagueness over the selection process of the CC. The CC must explain the other aspects it considers other than the seniority. If there are no disciplinary actions or bribery allegations against a candidate, the CC’s rejection of nomination is problematic,” he said.

Kiriella at this point threatened that the debate scheduled for the next week would be cancelled if the UPFA MPs did not stop agitating in the Chamber.

UPFA MP Dinesh Gunawardena, however, demanded the debate be facilitated immediately as it was the Speaker who started the conversation. “You cannot criticise the President without a substantive motion. But now the Speaker replied to the President and we must be allowed to speak too,” he said.

The Speaker, however, said he has a right to reply the President as the Chairman of the CC. “I won’t keep my mouth shut. I will not hesitate to point out if there is any mistake,” he said.

Debate on National Government postponed

The proposal to form a National Government was postponed to the next Parliamentary sittings’ week as per the request of President Maithripala Sirisena, Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella said.

Kiriella told Parliament yesterday that the objections by various opposition parties were discussed at a meeting with the President after the Party Leaders’ Meeting on Wednesday and that a decision was made to postpone the motion.

UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena, however, accused that the Government hesitated to present the motion since the Government lacked the majority.


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