Parliament meets for 24 minutes to observe two-minute silence


President Ranil Wickremesinghe last Saturday (3) went to the Bambalapitiya Police Field Force Headquarters to attend the ceremony held to mark Sri Lanka’s 156th Police Day.

Addressing the gathering, President Wickremesinghe emphasised that the rule of law cannot be preserved without the Police and an independent Judiciary, and that the two institutions should be protected while moving forward.

He also pointed out that the country’s democracy and the rule of law must be established in order to succeed in the country’s economic recovery programme.

He was received at the ceremony with a Police Guard of Honour. The President also presented the ‘Presidential Police Valour Medal’ for Officer Jayantha Gunawardena, who died while on duty, and symbolically presented certificates of appreciation to 30 Police officers who were on parliamentary security duty.

He also said; “I saw the parade on the right and the parade on the left, and in the middle, I saw only the media photographers. Anyway, no matter how much some media accuses the Police and say that they attacked their photographers; I can see that there is a good friendship between the two groups.

“From today’s Police Day activities and Police services, it is clear that today’s Police force is quite different from when it commenced. There are more complex issues. The Police are organised today to face those complex problems and to solve those problems. Therefore, I offer my praise to all the Police officers, including the Inspector General of Police, who are working to maintain the efficiency of this Police force.

“I also praise the Minister for giving full support and guidance to the Police to carry out their duties.

“The Police are an important institution in the State machinery. Especially, in a democratic country, the law is made by representatives elected by the people. “The Executive that implements it is the representatives elected by Parliament and in some cases the Executive heads elected by the people.

“In that case, the law is passed by Parliament, and the law is made by Parliament. It has to be implemented by the Executive. If that law is violated, Parliament and Cabinet will not function.

“That is the rule of law in democracy. We must respect the law and act according to the law. When the law is violated, the rule of law is broken. If the rule of law is broken, democracy will be undermined.

“When the law is violated, there are two institutions to act on it. First of all, it is the duty of the Police to find out who is responsible for it, file a case against them and if necessary, keep them in remand custody.

“It is not a violation of private law, but a violation of public law. After that, an independent Court will decide whether those people have broken the law or not. Therefore, a country cannot function without these two institutions. Without Police, there is no rule of law.

“And without an independent judiciary, there is no rule of law. Hence, we are committed to protect these two institutions.

“Among these laws, the most important law is the basic law of the country. We must work in accordance with the Constitution. If they do not work in accordance with the Constitution, action should be taken against them. If the powers of the Parliament are violated, not only the Judiciary, the Speaker and the Parliament should also act on it.

“The Police work to protect the Constitution and the law. We must remember that if democracy is to be preserved in this country, the Constitution of the country must be preserved.

“In the Constitution, the Prime Minister and Ministers are elected by a Parliament elected by the people. That is what the Cabinet is all about. They are the ones who declare the law of this country and lead the country. They can act only if they have the trust of the Parliament.

If someone tries to remove the Prime Minister and remove Cabinet without Parliament, then it will be a violation of the Constitution. It cannot be called a heroic act.”

Party Conventions

The SLFP celebrated its 71st Anniversary under the auspices of SLFP Chairman, former President Maithripala Sirisena on 2 September at the National Youth Services Council in Maharagama.

A majority of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) are against the establishing of an All-Party Government. Thus, 42 MPs who represented the SLPP sat with the Opposition and became independent, he said. He also opined that according to the current situation in the country, an alliance led by the SLFP will have the greatest advantage in forming the next Government.

The proposed amendments to the Party’s Constitution were unanimously agreed on by the party’s all-island working committee on 2 September.

The SLFP working committee met before the 71st Anniversary festivities began and Dayasiri Jayasekara, the party’s General Secretary, submitted the proposed amendments to the SLFP constitution.

Before the vote, Sirisena addressed the crowd and urged the all-island working committee of the party to support the suggested changes to strengthen the party. According to Sirisena, he has recently been inundated with complaints about the party’s lack of discipline.

He added that while he accepts these complaints, amendments have now been put and made to address the problems. Some have even accused him of being spineless and weak, which has resulted in the party splitting up.

“According to the stipulations in the SLFP’s previous constitution, if anybody has breached party discipline, it can often take more than two years to investigate and take appropriate action. Therefore, I am not responsible for inaction,” he said.

The theme chosen for this year’s party anniversary celebration was ‘Let us revitalise our character – Let us take up the challenge – Let us carry the mission of the age’.

Meanwhile, The United National Party’s 76th Convention was held on 6 September, at Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo, under the patronage of President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

 ‘Let’s Build Together’ was the theme of this year’s Convention. This is the first time after 28 years that the UNP has celebrated its Anniversary under State leadership.

It is also noteworthy that this party convention is being held under a UNP leader who is also the Head of State – an occurrence after 28 years.  

Signifying all alliances aimed at rebuilding the country, all leaders representing political parties in Parliament and others were invited to join the UNP Convention and many of these invitees, including Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena attended the event. 

EPDP Leader Fisheries and Water Resources Minister Douglas Devananda, Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna General Secretary Parliamentarian Sagara Kariyawasam, Muslim Congress leader SJB Parliamentarian Rauf Hakeem, All Ceylon Muslim Congress Leader and SJB MP Rishad Bathiudeen, Ali Sabri Rahim of the National Muslim Alliance, Member of Parliament for Badulla District of SJB Member Arvind Kumar, Leader of the People’s Congress A.L.M. Ataullah and several others representing other parties joined the celebrations at the Sugathadasa Stadium. 

Minister of Lands and Tourism Harin Fernando, Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara, were also present at the UNP Convention.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe garlanded the statue of the party’s Founder D.S. Senanayake, kicking off the Convention while floral tribute was paid to the statue of Dudly Senanayake by the Party Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardena. Floral tributes were also paid to the statues of Sir John Kotalawala by Assistant Leader Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, J.R. Jayewardene by the United National Party General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, R. Premadasa by MP Vajira Abeywardena and D.B. Wijetunga by Senior Adviser to the President Sagala Ratnayake.

President Wickremesinghe said, he has been planning to establish Gam Sabhas covering 14,000 Grama Niladhari divisions across the country to resolve the economic and other issues prevailing at village level.

President Wickremesinghe said he has to move with the SLPP and other political parties in Parliament as he has been vested with a bankrupt economy.

“We are confronting a tragedy that has never been seen before. The economy has collapsed and a solution has to be found to overcome this issue. I have come here amidst these issues. I am not in a capacity to give positions to anyone like former Presidents who represented the UNP did in the past. Some people in this county are suffering without food and have no means of having three square meals a day. Unemployment is skyrocketing. All I can give you is to tell you to work hard and bear with the criticism. I express without hesitation that this would rebuild the country. When everyone rallies round and works in unison, this could be achieved,” he said.

“The people of this country are looking for politics with a policy and yearn for modern politics. None of us followed this mechanism. As pressure was mounting, the youth of this country engaged in the ‘April struggle’. Using their abilities and knowledge they made several requests. The young men and women of this country carried out a ‘struggle’ in a non-violent and peaceful way. We must admire and recognise that ability. The entrance of violent elements totally changed the peaceful struggle into a violent one,” Wickremesinghe said.

We are looking to enact a new law replacing the Prevention to Terrorism Act (PTA). A new Law in connection with gender equality while formulating an Act to empower women is also in the pipeline. A new Law will also be passed with regard to Flats, while giving permanent Deeds to lands, Wickremesinghe said.

“We will provide fertiliser and fuel for the coming Maha season, in addition to providing the required amount of seed paddy. This time around, I am looking for a bumper harvest from our farmers. Let’s join and work together. We must work together to develop the country. We can’t always beg from others. When our development goals are achieved there would be no need to borrow from others. Whoever it may be, no one likes to beg from others.

Our parents have taught us to pay off loans that have been borrowed. Let’s pay off these loans and let’s work towards a debt-free economy. Lord Buddha has also preached the same thing,” President Wickremesinghe added.

New Parties enter 

The 13 SLPP MPs who became independent of their party, including MPs Prof. G. L. Peiris and Dullas Alahapperuma, last Friday launched a new political movement identified as the ‘Nidahasa’ People’s Council.

The new office premise of the Freedom People’s Congress was opened in Koswatte, Nawala where the inaugural media briefing also took place.

MP Charitha Herath, speaking at the press conference following the event, said that it is important to free the country of corruption and nepotism. MP Prof. G. L. Peiris too, speaking at the event said, “we live during times when State repression is high, and the PTA is being misused.”

MP Dullas Alahapperuma said that the event signifies a new beginning, as the Government has become fearful of them.

“All our representatives were removed from Parliament Committees, Secondly, some of us were taken off the Speaker’s List. Thirdly, yesterday, during the interim budget debate which is of paramount importance, we were banned from the parliamentary debate area,” he said.

He further stated that although the power of the executive is visible, the power of the legislature remains invisible. Pointing out that this was a situation which was previously faced during the last Presidential Election, MP Alahapperuma said that the latest crisis facing Sri Lankan democracy has become taking control of the legislature.

“It should not happen in a democratic society anywhere in the world. In fact, the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of the House should all be ashamed. Shame on you for remaining blind and mute when the legislature is being controlled by invisible forces,” Alahapperuma said.

‘Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya’, the new movement of the unity of independent parties, was launched on Sunday (4) at the National Youth Services Council, Maharagama and office-bearers were announced during the occasion.

Accordingly, National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader MP Wimal Weerawansa was elected Chairman while General Secretary of Sri Lanka Communist Party MP Dr. G. Weerasinghe was appointed Secretary of the movement.

Democratic Left Front (DLF) Leader MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara was appointed National Organiser and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) Leader MP Udaya Gammanpila and General Secretary of Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) MP Prof. Tissa Vitarana were elected Deputy Chairmen.

MP Gevindu Cumaratunga; Chairman of Yuthukama National Organisation was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya.

Wijaya Dharani National Council Chairman MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera will act as Adviser to the movement.

In addition, Executive Office Bearers were appointed representing all independent parties. Among them are National Organiser of the NFF MP Jayantha Samaraweera, NFF Propaganda Secretary Mohomad Muzammil and Deputy Chairman of Sri Lanka Communist Party MP Weerasumana Weerasinghe.

MP Weerasinghe welcomed those who participated. Party leaders signed the manifesto of the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya. The theme song of the movement ‘Siththula pipena sajjana neluma’ (the pure lotus that blooms in the hearts) was unveiled and several cultural performances were also held.

Chairman Weerawansa, Dr. G. Weerasinghe, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Udaya Gammanpila, Prof. TissaVitharana, Gevindu Cumaratunga and Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera addressed the gathering.

MP Dullas Alahapperuma participated with the wishes from the ‘Nidahasa’ People’s Council and Deputy Chairman of the SLFP Thilanga Sumathipala participated.

Officials of the Chinese, Russian, Iran and Vietnam Embassies and Indian High Commission also participated.

Confusion on IMF agreement

The staff level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has not been presented to the Cabinet so far, Leader of the House Susil Premayanatha said in Parliament on Tuesday (6).

Premajayantha made this remark in response to a query by MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

Yapa asked whether the agreement was presented to Cabinet before it was signed. He said that there should have been at least a nominal approval from the Cabinet before the agreement was signed with IMF.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa also said that the agreement should be presented to the House.

Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) said, the CBSL Governor has stated that the agreement could not be presented to the House. He stressed that officials who do not have people’s mandate from an election cannot make such decisions as Parliament has the full control over State Finance.

MP Dr. Charitha Herath noted that at least a framework of the agreement should have been presented to Parliament according to the Standing Orders.

On Thursday (8) Premajayantha told the House that the Government has only reached an understanding with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff and no agreement has been signed so far.

Premajayantha made this remark in response to a question raised by Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake under the Standing Order 27/2.

Dissanayake urged the Government to immediately table the agreement reached with the IMF in Parliament as concerns have been raised in society.

“It was announced that the Government reached an agreement with the IMF to provide USD 2.9 billion loan. The agreements with the IMF impact the people’s lives to a great extent. Therefore, the Government should reveal the contents of the IMF agreement to ensure transparency,” he stressed.

Dissanayake demanded the Government table the agreement immediately or show cause if they are unable to do so.

Premajayantha replied that the agreement would be published when it is approved by the IMF Executive Board.

Backing Dissanayake’s statement, MP Prof. G.L. Peiris said, the agreements with IMF will influence the Budget 2023 and public life will be affected by it. Therefore, the agreement should be publicised before obtaining approval from the IMF Executive Board.

The Opposition Leader too said that the agreement should be publicised because the public has right to know the contents.

However, on Friday (9), Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena informed the House that details on the IMF staff level agreement cannot be given to Parliament as it contains some sensitive matters with regard to taxes.  

The Speaker said he spoke about the concerns raised by the MPs with Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe.

“Dr. Weerasinghe said he is not against presenting it to Parliament. However, he said that there are some sensitive information about taxes in that agreement,” he said.

Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said, the SJB wants a debate on the agreement; therefore, it has to be tabled in the House before the debate.

Leader of the House Susil Premajayantha said the agreement could be presented to the National Council which comprises all parties as well once it is established

SJB MP Hesha Withanage said, sensitive information in agreement could be left out while the other details should be presented to the House.

Two-minute silence observed in Parliament

Parliament observed two-minute silence on Friday (9) to pay tribute to the late Monarch of Britain and Head of Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena proposed the observing of two minutes silence. Guanwardena also requested for a special condolence vote in the House on another day.

On behalf of the Opposition, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella expressed condolences.

However there were only ten members present when the condolences were paid.

The Sitting was limited to 24 minutes and the House was adjourned until 20 September.