President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday declared that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (19A) was “a curse on the country” and should be abolished.

The President, addressing a meeting with the heads of news media institutions at the President’s House, Colombo, yesterday morning, said that abolishing the 19th Amendment should be a priority before or after the next Presidential Election as it would create instability in the country irrespective of the person who becomes the President. Stating that a Parliamentary general election would be held two months after the Presidential Elections, which was due at the end of this year, the President opined that it was better to get rid of 19A before the General Elections.

“The 19A is an NGO imposed amendment, although painted as a rosy picture at the onset. Now it has created two power houses, the President and Parliament. There are two Governments, one at the Presidential Secretariat and the other at Temple Trees. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has also said that two drivers are unable to drive one vehicle. One leader obtained a 6.2 million vote people’s mandate to drive the vehicle, but another driver sat in the driving seat obtaining a driving license from Parliament. The vehicle veers off, as he tries to manipulate it,” the President remarked.

“Both the 18th and 19th Amendments are drafted by those who are used to tinkering with the Constitution. The 19th Amendment is a requirement by the NGOs.Wickramaratne, Sumanthiran and Saravanamuttu were behind its creation. The 19th Amendment, approved by 215 MPs, was a failure. Everybody voted for it, including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s faction. Nobody can shirk their responsibility. The whole intention of the 19th Amendment was to usurp the President’s powers by Parliament. The Supreme Court rejected a good part of the draft and pointed out what they could do. Former Minister Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe tried to rectify some of its loopholes even at the eleventh hour before its passage,” he added.

The President also denied the reports that he was contemplating on holding a referendum. “Those reports were untrue. I have not taken such a decision,” he said.

The President said the independent commissions, established under the 19A, have also failed in their tasks. He observed that the entire public service cadre of 1.6 million comes under the purview of the Public Service Commission, but it has yet been unable to pass the necessary regulations.

“I admit there is political instability mainly because of the 19A. It was a mistake we did. The country should have only one leader. Either you must completely abolish the Executive Presidency and give powers to Parliament or give enough powers to the President. Some clauses had been brought into the 19A through the back door contrary to the Supreme Court ruling. We do not need a new Constitution. The Constitution will be in good shape when we get rid of both the 18th and 19th Amendments,” he argued.

“The Opposition is also in total disarray. In 4 to 5 months’ time, we will hold the Presidential Election, but no party has announced their candidate. Hence, the SLFP is also not in a hurry to do so. The Presidential Election will be a watershed in my life. My political life span is 52 years and everybody wants to know whether I would contest again. I will accept the decision of the SLFP Central Committee. We are not in a hurry to decide,” he declared.

Asked about Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya’s request to hold the Provincial Council Elections prior to the Presidential Elections, the President was non-committal.

Commenting on a recent statement by SLFP General Secretary MP Dayasiri Jayasekara that the incumbent President’s term ends only in mid 2020, the President said it was a legal argument held by some in the legal fraternity.

Responding to a question by a journalist on the recent statement by the Asgiriya Chapter Chief Prelate calling for a boycott of Muslim shops and the recent ban imposed on Muslim vendors by Wennappuwa Pradeshiya Sabha, the President downplayed them as fads.

“These things will not last long. Some time back there was a similar short-lived call to boycott Indian products. When people want to buy a product, they don’t care whether it is available in a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim owned shop. They just buy it,” he replied.

Responding to another question about the controversy over Kurunegala hospital surgeon Dr.Mohammed Shafi, the President said that the investigations on the allegations were being conducted by a panel of doctors including VOGs. He stressed the need to allow the due procedure to proceed on the matter.

The President also expressed his opposition to the proposed legislation on lands, adding that it was not suitable to a small country like Sri Lanka. “As per the Amendment, our lands can be bought by any private party. It revises the laws on land use and subdividing and these provisions are not good for a small country like ours,” he added.

Commenting on the tripartite agreement to develop Colombo Port East Terminal, the President said the agreement with India and Japan had been revised to be more favourable to Sri Lanka. “I was opposed to its initial arrangement. What was signed recently was a revised version. Sri Lanka has a 51 percent stake in the project, India gets a 15 percent stake and the rest is for Japan,” he explained.

Commenting on his recent decision to ban the import of chain saws, the President said 82,000 chain saws had been registered during the given three-week period. He said that illegal chain saws would be raided and fined.

“I suspect that about 25,000 chain saws remain unregistered. About 1 million trees are felled in the country daily. New carpentry shops will not be registered, but there will be no issue for already existing shops.We contemplate imposing a heavy tax on large scale sawmills,” he said.


Four to hang for drug trafficking - President

President Maithripala Sirisena has sanctioned the Death Penalty for four prisoners on death row convicted for drug trafficking and their executions will take place shortly.

“I have decided the date, but it will not be announced till the last moment,” the President said at yesterday’s meeting with heads of news media. The President said the four convicts for whom he has signed the death warrants and, their family members, were yet to be informed of the decision.

“There is legal provision for those prisoners to make an appeal from the President,” he added.

The President also briefed the media heads about the Government’s anti-narcotics drive. “Social media has created a bad precedent by organising social media parties to establish networks among unknown people.Women, knowingly or unknowingly, get entangled into this web. Universities have become heroin dens.There are about 300,000 persons on drugs in the country. Our prisons have capacity to house only 11,000 prisoners, but our total prison population has increased to 24,000. Sixty percent of them are languishing in jail for narcotic related offences,” the President remarked. (DM)


‘Malalgoda Report will not go to Parliament’ : President: ‘Won’t go before PSC’

President Maithripala Sirisena declared yesterday that he will refrain from going before the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) probing the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.

Responding to a question during a meeting with heads of news media institutions at the President’s House, the President said that he had not been invited to appear before the PSC and hence the question did not arise.

“I won’t go. The PSC cannot summon the President. If it does, it will be a joke,” he said.

Elaborating, the President said that “the PSC drama” was practiced in the evenings at Temple Trees and performed in the Parliament complex next morning. “There have been several inquiries into the Easter Sunday massacre. Foremost is the three-member committee headed by former Supreme Court Judge Vijith Malalgoda that has produced three reports. Depending on that, there is a seven-judge Bench appointed by the Supreme Court at the request of the Attorney General to inquire into the matter,” he pointed out.

The President asked: “What will the people accept - is it the Supreme Court decision or the PSC? What is the point in appointing a PSC when there are so many investigations going on?”

“The PSC has caused irreparable damage to the country and it definitely has a political motive behind it,” he added.

The President said the Attorney General had instructed him not to hand over the Malalgoda report to Parliament, contrary to the request by Parliament. (DM)


‘Against SOFA agreement with America’: Emergency will be lifted after current extension - President

“The situation is extremely good. Most of the countries have withdrawn their travel bans on travel to Sri Lanka and this shows that the country’s security situation has improved. The internal Islamic radicalisation began in 2012 and it has existed for at least seven years in Sri Lanka. All the main suspects have now been arrested. The emergency law is required to detain those arrested.

“Foreign embassies and diplomats have requested security and we can deploy the security forces for this purpose only under the Emergency regulations.The new laws, especially those banning extremist organizations and the full-face cover, are yet to be passed in Parliament.Those are now being drafted by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, the Justice Ministry and the Attorney General’s Department and will be presented to Parliament shortly. We can lift the emergency regulations once these are done,” he explained.

Commenting on Indian Premier Narendra Modi’s brief visit to Sri Lanka, the President said it helped boost Sri Lanka’s image following the terror attacks and helped to promote tourism.

“It was a priceless gesture from the Indian PM. He asked me as to what we want from India. Then I made a request that he visit Sri Lanka for at least for five minutes. He readily accepted it,” he noted.

The President pointed out that China also signalled its support to Sri Lanka by donating 100 jeeps and funds to improve the security system.Commenting on his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the conference in Tajikistan earlier this month, President Sirisena said he discussed the problems faced by Sri Lanka due to the US sanctions on Russia.

“Six months ago, the US gave us a list of names of Russian firms from which we should not buy anything. I told President Putin that if we defy those sanctions, the ADB, IMF and the World Bank will cause immeasurable amount of problems for Sri Lanka. We have been buying vessels and military equipment from Russia under a Russian credit line. These purchases with Russia had been there for about 50 to 60 years,” he said.

The President also stressed that he was firmly against the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US. “I am against the renewal of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) as many new clauses have been added to it. I expressed my opposition at the Cabinet meeting,” he said. (DM)


President flays Human Rights Commission over torture report

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has sent reports on domestic problems to the United Nations in Geneva without his prior knowledge, President Maithripala Sirisena has complained.

The President criticised the HRCSL for sending a report to the UN Human Rights body concerning allegations of torture during police custody in 2017.

“The HRCSL,in its report, stated that there had been about 300 complaints of torture during Police custody. One can complain, but it has to be proven by an investigation.These allegations have not been proved. I questioned this report. The HRCSL too admitted that what they did was wrong,” he said. (DM)




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