Govt accused of rushing Port City Bill

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM May 21 2021
Ceylon Politics Govt accused of rushing Port City Bill
By Gagani Weerakoon


The 12th National War Heroes Celebration was held on Wednesday (19) evening at the Parliament grounds under the patronage of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

During the ceremony, the fallen Soldiers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police and Civil Defence Force, especially those who died in Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism, were honoured for their courage and service to the nation.

The next-of-kin of soldiers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police and Civil Defence Force, who were lost due to Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism, also paid their respects during the ceremony.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Former President Maithripala Sirisena, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence General Kamal Gunaratne and the Acting Chairperson for the Ranaviru Seva Authority Sonia Kottegoda laid floral wreaths at the war monument to pay their respects to the fallen war heroes.

Acting Chairperson for the Ranaviru Seva Authority Sonia Kottegoda, who spoke at the event, highlighted the noble efforts of the Soldiers of the military and some who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the protection of the people and the country’s sovereignty.

She noted the endeavours of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Rajapaksa along with the military officials and soldiers who fought in Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism and defeated the LTTE.

Kottegoda recognised the families of those soldiers who lost their lives and the pain they suffered as a result. She asked each household to light a candle or grow a plant in remembrance and honour of Sri Lanka’s fallen war heroes.

In addition, Army Commander Shavendra Silva, Navy Commander Nishantha Ulugetenne, Air Force Commander Sudarshana Pathirana, Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda and Marshall of the Air Force Roshan Goonetileke were also in attendance and paid tribute to the soldiers who were killed in the war.

Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara, Minister of Irrigation and State Minister of National Security & Disaster Management and State Minister of Home Affairs Chamal Rajapaksa and State Minister of Vehicle Regulation, Bus Transport Services and Train Compartments and Motor Car Industry and the State Minister of Community Police Services Dilum Amunugama also laid floral wreaths in remembrance of the fallen.

Unprecedented commemoration

Meanwhile, in an unprecedented event, a group of Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) MPs on Tuesday (18) took 'an arbitrary' measure to hold a commemorative event for those killed in Mulliwaikkal during the final phase of war in the Parliament complex.

The event took place in the backdrop of the Government imposing isolation orders in the areas of Pudukuduirippu, Mulaitivu and Mulliyawli Police areas since Monday (17) night.

MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam had posted the pictures of the commemorative event on his social media accounts.

According to the pictures, apart from Rasamanikkam, MPs M.A. Sumanthitan, Selvam Adaikalanathan, Dharmalingam Siddharthan, Govindan Kanakarathnam, Thavarasa Kalairasan, Sivagnam Shritharan and Charles Nirmalanathan participated in the commemorative event.

The MPs had worn black and they lit candles around a piece of red and yellow cloth.

Pledging that the country will always come first, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, on the same day, said in Parliament that the victory secured by sacrificing thousands of lives would not be betrayed under any circumstance.

Making a special statement in Parliament, to mark the 12th anniversary of the war victory, he said a decision has been taken to waive off interest on the property loans obtained by soldiers injured in humanitarian operation.

The Premier said, “Today is a special day. Twelve years have passed since we wiped out 30 years of terrorism from this country. 12 years ago Sri Lankan forces released more than 400,000 hostages who were used by the terrorists as human shields. We ended the era when our people in the North and East were displaced as refugees. Not only that, war victory is a great victory for Parliament, as during the war time, MPs had to attend Parliament amidst the fear of bombs and assassination attempts. A large number of public representatives from Duraiappah to Amirthalingam to Thambimuttu lost their lives. R. Premadasa who represented this House, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, D.M. Dasanayaka, C.V. Gunaratne were among those assassinated by terrorists.”

Speaking further, Rajapaksa said that no one, who went to war in those days, went there to commit genocide.

“Former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, Former Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoda, and Former Air Force Commander Roshan Goonetileke never commanded their forces to commit genocide but to save the lives of the innocent people in the North who were used as human shields by terrorists. To protect the war heroes we withdrew from the traitorous UNHRC Co-sponsored resolution tabled against them,” he noted.

Moreover, the war heroes have now become health sector heroes and they fight to save the people from the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

SC Determination

Multiple Articles of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill are inconsistent with the Constitution, and it can only be passed with a Special Majority and a Referendum, the Speaker informed Parliament on Tuesday (18).

The Speaker received the Supreme Court determination on the Bill last week and he said he would inform the contents of the determination to the House on Tuesday (18).

The Bill was challenged in the Supreme Court in terms of Article 121 (1) of the Constitution.

Accordingly, the provisions of clauses 3(6), 30 (3) second proviso, 55(2) and 58 (1) of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 12 (1) of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the Special Majority provided for in Article 84 (2) of the Constitution.

“The provisions of clauses 3 (5) proviso, 3 (7), 6 (1) (b), 30 (3) first proviso, 71 (1), and 74 (Interpretation ‘Regulatory Authority”) of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 12 (1) of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the Special Majority provided for in Article 84 (2) of the Constitution.

The provisions of clauses 3 (4), 6 (1) (u), 68 (1) (f) and 68)3) are inconsistent with Article 76 read with Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the Special Majority provided for in Article 84 (2) of the Constitution and approved by the People at a Referendum by virtue of the provisions of Article 83.

The provisions of Clause 52 (3) read with clauses 52 (5) and 71 (2) (p) of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 148 of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the Special Majority provided for in Article 84 (2) of the Constitution and approved by the People at a Referendum by virtue of the provisions of Article 83.

The provisions of Clauses 30 (1), 33 (1), 40 (2), and 71 (2) (l) of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 14 (1) (h) of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the Special Majority provided for in Article 84 (2) of the Constitution.

The provisions of clauses 53 (2) (b) read with clause 53 (3) (b) of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 76 of the Constitution read with Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the Special Majority provided for in Article 84 (2) of the Constitution and approved by the People at a Referendum by virtue of the provisions of Article 83.

However, the said inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as mentioned in the determination of the Supreme Court.

The provisions of clauses 60 (c) and clause 60 (f) of the Bill is inconsistent with Article 148 of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the Special Majority provided for in Article 84 (2).

The provisions of clause 37 of the Bill is inconsistent with Article 12 (1) and 14 (1) (g) of the Constitution and could be validly passed only with the Special Majority provided for in Article 84 (2).

However, the said inconsistency will cease if a new sub-clause is added to clause 37 of the Bill restraining such authorised person making use of any exemptions or incentives granted under this Bill when conducting business outside the area of authority of the Colombo Port City to the detriment of similar businesses conducted outside such area of authority by within the territory of Sri Lanka.

The Supreme Court had determined that the rest of the clauses of the Bill are not inconsistent with the Constitution.

It is said these inconsistencies will cease if the clauses are amended as mentioned in the determination of the Supreme Court.

The Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCEC) Bill will be amended, allowing for 75 per cent of the jobs created by the Port City to be reserved for Sri Lankans, and the Port City Economic Commission will relax the conditions of employment when Sri Lankans who do not possess the required special skills, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said in Parliament on  Wednesday (19).

 The Prime Minister made these remarks while making a special statement at the commencement of the Parliamentary debate on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill. Stating that the Government will accept all the orders of the Supreme Court and hopes to include those amendments at the committee stage, PM Rajapaksa said that the proposal to have a majority of Sri Lankans in the composition of the economic commission, alongside a Sri Lankan Chairman should be confirmed by the Port City Act itself.

“It is estimated that the construction of the Colombo Port City will provide employment to nearly 200,000 in the first five years, and is expected to attract at least USD 15 billion in investments over the next five years. It is imperative to reduce the unfair hurdles, wastage of time, unforeseen expenses, bureaucratic delays, sudden policy changes, which plague many investors preventing them from investing in the country. Therefore, the Government has proposed to provide all the services and facilities required for foreign investors entering the city through a single window and to create a conducive environment for their investment to flow into the country,” the PM noted.

UNP Welcomes SC ruling

The United National Party welcomed the determination by the Supreme Court in regards the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill.

UNP Chairman and former Minister, Vajira Abeywardena, stated that the UNP was the only political party to challenge the legislation in the Supreme Court. “The UNP believed that this bill had weakened the sovereignty of Parliament, the Commission would have not been answerable to either Parliament or the Cabinet of Ministers. The amendments proposed by the Supreme Court have addressed these concerns, and the Commission is once again answerable to Parliament.”

He further added that it was the UNP’s legal team that ensured that the policy of “One Country, One Law” was applicable to Sri Lanka. “According to the Bill, Sri Lankans would have been treated as second class citizens when visiting the Port City. We would have required permission when entering the region. We would have been subject to laws which were enacted by a Commission which comprised unelected officials. We have ensured that this will not happen. Any laws that will be in effect in the Port City will have to be approved by Parliament.”

JVP questions the rush

The Government’s attempts to pass a Bill in Parliament, which they knew was unconstitutional, has been thwarted by the Supreme Court, claimed JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

“We suspect that there is an agreement between China and the higher-ups of the Sri Lankan Government, which is why the Government is so eager to pass this Bill quickly,” Dissanayake went on to say.

Dissanayake said the Government has clearly presented the Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCEC) Bill following legal recommendation from experts. He added that this shows the Government had intentionally tried to trick the Parliament into passing an unconstitutional Bill.

The Party alleged that the Government had purposely presented this Bill in Parliament at a time when there was only one day for citizens to file a petition against this Bill in the Supreme Court. Despite this, Dissanayake noted that not just the JVP, but several organisations filed cases in Supreme Court despite the time constraints.

If not for these groups, Dissanayake said the Bill would have been passed in Parliament. He added that the Supreme Court had decided that out of the 74 clauses in the Bill, 25 were in violation of the Constitution. Ten clauses need two-thirds majority in Parliament to be passed and nine require the Bill to be taken for a referendum, Dissanayake said.

 He said the Supreme Court found the special laws and privileges granted to the Port City were in violation of Article 12(1) of the Constitution, which states that all persons should be treated equally under the law. Among others, Article 3 and Article 4 of the Constitution, which focus on the sovereignty of the country have also been found to be violated by the CPCEC Bill, Dissanayake went on to say. The Supreme Court has stated that if the sovereignty of the country is to be impeded, then a referendum should be conducted.

The JVP also added that whilst the Supreme Court has decided that the Bill is in violation of the Constitution, it does not consider the political and economic impacts of the Bill. He said this could align Sri Lanka with one country and place Sri Lanka in the centre of a global power struggle. The Port City is being built for China’s political needs, not for Sri Lanka’s economic needs, he further added. Dissanayake urged the Government to give time for the public to have a discussion on this Bill, without trying to sail it through Parliament. 

 Religious leaders concerned

Claiming the Government's attempts to pass the Colombo Port City Bill in a speedy manner is raising some suspicions, Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera and Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith called on the Government to postpone it.

They pointed out that there is no need for the Bill to be passed in such a manner, especially in the face of the situation faced by the people with the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

Ven. Thera said that there is some suspicion that such an attempt is being made to pass the Bill in a situation where even two people cannot speak together in the current situation.

He also said that a Bill that directly affects the country and the people should not be passed suddenly and action should be taken to obtain the views of the people.

"As the people, we are not aware of the amendments suggested by the Supreme Court to this Bill. We need to create a dialogue among the people, get ideas and then pass it,” he said. He further mentioned that the Government should take steps to explain the benefits to the people through this Bill.

Speaking further, Ven. Thera pointed out that the Government was given the power to rule the country for only five years and the Government was not given the ownership of the country.

He warned that if the Government does not listen to the views of the people in this connection, the public will have to rally against it. "We do not want to overthrow Governments.  We are also within the 69 lakhs who voted for this Government. Do not pass a Bill like this all of a sudden,", he said.

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said that the people should be consulted before passing a Bill that affects the public.

He also said that there was a problem with the transparency in trying to pass this in a speedy manner and added that a situation similar to the MCC agreement is seen with regard to this Bill.

"Why caanot the amendments proposed by the Supreme Court be shown to the people. Fulfill the promises made when the Government came to power. We ask these politicians to give us back the country we handed over to you," he stated

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM May 21 2021

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