15 Petitions Before SC
By Methmalie Dissanayake and Treshan Fernando
Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya will head a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court that will take up the 15 petitions challenging the Port City Economic Commission Bill.
The Bench which was selected yesterday (15), includes Justices Buwaneka P. Aluwihare, Priyantha Jayawardena, Murdu N.B. Fernando and Janak de Silva. The petitions are to be heard on 19 April.
President of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP), Engineer Kapila Renuka Perera filed a petition challenging the Bill, claiming that it was a threat to National Security and the economy.
Perera prayed the Supreme Court to issue an order requiring it to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and a referendum.
The UNP filed two petitions challenging the Bill. According to the Party spokesperson, the petitions have been filed on behalf of UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena and UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara. The Attorney General is named as the respondent.
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has instructed the Party’s legal division to take all possible legal action against the Bill, which would hurt Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
The UNP questioned why such an important Bill was being rushed through Parliament with little transparency. The Paper stated the Bill being presented to Parliament on the eve of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year restricts the ability to analyse it effectively.
The UNP alleged that large tax concessions to entrepreneurs starting businesses in the Port City, implementation of tax free salaries, offshore finance centres, financing of money laundering, leasing of tax exemptions up to 40 years and the establishment of a separate administrative structure outside the country are a few examples of the contents of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill.
Furthermore, the UNP claimed that the Bill was inconsistent with the Constitution and is in violation of Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution in regard to the Legislative, Judicial and Executive powers of the citizens of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
Listing these facts, and noting that this Bill would drastically affect the sovereignty of the country, the UNP are planning further legal action in Court.
Meanwhile, on behalf of General Secretary of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Ranjith Maddumabandara, Attorney Varuna Mallawaarachchi, also filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Bill, asking for a declaration that the Bill should be referred and approved by the Provincial Councils, passed in Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by a referendum.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) also challenged the Bill yesterday (15).
The BASL, in a statement, said its Executive Committee directed the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris and Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya to challenge the Bill under Article 120 of the Constitution. The petitioners are represented by Attorney-at-Law G.G. Arulpragasam.
After the Bill was gazetted the BASL appointed a Committee to study the provisions of the Bill and to make recommendations on 31 March. The Committee headed by Past President of the BASL President’s Counsel Ikram Mohamed comprised President’s Counsel Uditha Egalahewa, President’s Counsel Chandaka Jayasundera, Eraj de Silva, Manjuka Fernandopulle and Dhanya Gunewardena while Shivan Cooray and Yoshani Demuni served as the co-Convenors of the Committee.
In the statement, the BASL noted that they were extremely concerned about the limited time given for scrutiny and discussion of this important Bill, as well as the timing of placing the Bill on the Order Paper of Parliament, which was after the suspension of sittings of the Supreme Court, a time when many members of the legal profession are unavailable.
“Furthermore, the period of one week within which such a Bill could be challenged before the Supreme Court, to determine its constitutionality, included not only the weekend but also three public holidays. Thus, the members of the public have been deprived of a meaningful opportunity to scrutinise the Bill and to discuss its merits.”
The committee appointed to study the Bill has pointed out that although the Bill is of national importance and has the potential to generate significant economic benefits to the country, there is a lack of consultative process, transparency and sufficient time granted to stakeholders to examine the Bill.
The Centre for Policy Alternatives, a leading public policy research and advocacy think tank in Sri Lanka, also filed a petition challenging the Bill on the same day.
Another petition was filed by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), highlighting three key corruption concerns.
TISL urged that the Bill is in violation of several key articles of the Constitution and that it creates pathways for corruption, by facilitating or enabling illicit financial flows, and money laundering.
Rata Rakina Jana Handa organisation filed a petition against the Bill, claiming that the Bill violates certain Provisions of the Constitution.
The Port City Economic Commission Bill, which was published in the Government Gazette on 24 March was presented to Parliament on 8 April by Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena.
It would provide for the establishment of a Special Economic Zone; to establish a Commission empowered to grant registrations, licences, authorisations and other approvals to carry on businesses and other activities in and from such Zone.
It will also provide for the identification of a Single Window Investment facilitator for the promotion of ease of doing business within such Zone; to determine and grant incentives and other exemptions for the promotion of businesses of strategic importance within such Zone; to enter into transactions as provided, of Government marketable land and project company marketable land and premises and condominium parcels standing thereon within such Zone.
Furthermore, the Bill will promote and facilitate international trade, shipping logistic operations, offshore banking and financial services, information technology and business process outsourcing, corporate headquarters operations, regional distribution operations, tourism, and other ancillary services within such Zone; to establish an international Dispute Resolution Centre within such Zone; to promote urban amenity operations and the settlement of a presidential community within such Zone.