Legislature Shaken by Corona and Conviction

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 16 2021
Ceylon Politics Legislature Shaken  by Corona and Conviction
By Gagani Weerakoon

Amidst the developing COVID-19 cluster in Parliament, last week saw at least three Parliamentarians contracting the virus, one being jailed for four years for Contempt of Court and another being acquitted from murder charges.

State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara was the first legislator to go public about contracting the coronavirus and requested all those who could have come into contact with him in the immediate past to be cautious. He was followed by SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem and Minister Vasudewa Nanayakkara. 

Prez on ECT

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assured representatives of Port Trade Unions that the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port will not be sold or leased.

The previous administration had agreed to sell the East Terminal to India. The agreement envisaged obtaining a loan from Japan after the sale and purchasing construction equipment with the loan money. 

The President pointed out that after the present Government negotiated with India on the contract, an agreement to retain 51 per cent of the ownership and control of the Terminal had been reached. The President emphasised that he would not allow any harm to befall the sovereignty or independence of the country when investments are arranged.    

The President made these remarks during a discussion on Wednesday (13) at the Presidential Secretariat on the East Terminal of the Colombo Port, upon a request by Trade Unions.

The previous Government had leased the Hambantota Port to the Government of China for 99 years. After coming to power, the present Government in consultation with China took over the responsibility of the Port’s security, the President noted.

 The President said that the East Container Terminal Development was planned after reviewing all factors including regional geopolitical concerns, sovereignty of the country, revenue and employment generation potential. President Rajapaksa explained that the Eastern Terminal will be “sustainably developed” under the investment programme. India contributes 66 per cent of the East Terminal re-export operations. Nine per cent is re-exports to Bangladesh and the rest to several other countries.  

The President further said that the plan was to develop the terminal as an investment project that is 51 per cent owned by the Government of Sri Lanka and the remaining 49 per cent as an investment by India's Adani Group and other stakeholders. The President said that there should be no doubt about the plan and asked all the trade union representatives to submit their proposals and ideas on this programme. President Rajapaksa stated that he intends to hand over the West Container Terminal’s operations to the Ports Authority and stressed the importance of submitting plans for the development of the Port, by the trade union representatives.

Basil Rajapaksa, the Head of the Presidential Task Force for Economic Revival and Poverty Alleviation, said the expansion of operations in the Eastern Terminal will create a large number of jobs. Rajapaksa further said that the present Government had completely stopped the plans mooted by the previous Government to sell the Mattala Airport and the Norochcholai Power Plant.  

Minister of Ports Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Ministry of Ports, Chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority, officials and representatives of 23 trade unions were present at the discussion.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) trade unionists, who met President Rajapaksa to discuss the matter of granting 49 per cent stake of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port to India and Japan, charged that the Government is only playing with words regarding the deal. 

After the meeting, they said although the President said this was merely an investment, they did not see any difference between an investment and a sale in this deal. 

Fourteen members representing 23 Port trade unions met the President and urged him not to award the ECT to India. 

They said the President, despite saying the Government is not going to award the terminal to India on a 35-year lease agreement or sell it to India, the bottom line is India will run the ECT and Sri Lanka will gain a part of the revenue. 

During the meeting, the President had reiterated that the Government is “not selling or leasing out” the ECT to India, but the trade unions pointed out that even Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) and the Hambantota Port were offered to China, it was said to be an economy-driven business, but it has been given on lease at the end of the day.

Chairman of the Independent Port Employees’ Union, Lal Bangamuwage, told Ceylon Today, the President had spoken to trade union members and allayed fears of protesting Port employees over giving the ECT to the Indians, and said he is also “compelled” to offer it to India and to accept the agreement.

“We said we cannot agree to it, as none had consulted the trade unions over awarding it to India, and that ‘selling’ the national asset to outsiders cannot be allowed,” added Bangamuwage.

The President reiterated it would be purely business and 66 per cent of India’s transshipment takes place at the Colombo Port, hence giving it to them would be ideal and reasonable.

The Union representatives have reiterated that they will not agree, however, the President has said as per the tripartite agreement, where the Sri Lanka Ports Authority will have 51 per cent of shares and India and Japan would share 49 per cent stake, the trade unions can suggest their proposal within that framework. 

The trade unionist further added that the President had pointed out the geopolitics involved and the presence of China on the island, which has resulted in the Government having to meet the demands of regional players like India. 

The recent Cabinet Memorandum, dated 22 October 2020, by the Ministry of Ports and Shipping, stated that it has been decided to award the ECT to India’s Adani Group and Japan, in a joint venture.

The ECT is half-constructed, spending around US$ 75 million for the construction of the quay wall of 600 metres and another US$ 30 million for three small cranes that were brought for the Jaya Container Terminal (JCT), but currently used, as it is in the ECT. What is outstanding is another 600-metre quay wall with cranes for the ECT.

The President said the ECT development was planned, after reviewing all the factors, including regional geopolitical factors, sovereignty of the country, income, and job creation. 

He had explained that the Eastern Terminal will be “sustainably developed” under the investment programme.

Ranjan gets RI

The Supreme Court sentenced actor-turned-politician Ranjan Ramanayake to four years rigorous imprisonment for Contempt of Court.

Last month, the Supreme Court Bench scheduled further clarifications on the Contempt of Court case for 12 January.

Accordingly, a three-Judge Bench comprising Justices Sisira de Abrew, Vijith Malalgoda and Preethi Padman Surasena, gave a unanimous verdict in the case.

Announcing the verdict, Justice de Abrew said the Contempt of Court charge levelled by AG Dappula de Livera against Ramanayake had been proved beyond reasonable doubt. Justice de Abrew further said the accused had at no stage withdrawn the statements he made denigrating the Judiciary in the eyes of the public. He added the convict had also failed to express remorse over the controversial remarks during the period of the trial.

Justice de Abrew, in further clarifying the verdict, told Court the remarks made by Ramanayake had clearly damaged the image of the Judiciary.

He said the trial was based on charges filed against the convict MP by the Attorney General.

The Justice stated that evidence had further proved the remarks made by the convicted MP had been made intentionally to tarnish the image of Judges and lawyers.

He noted that during the trial proceedings the convict had maintained that his remarks concerning the Judges were a mistake.

However, Justice de Abrew explained the subsequent conduct and behaviour of the respondent had clearly displayed his true motives behind the harmful comments he made with regard to Judges and the Judiciary.

He then pointed out that during the course of the trial proceedings the respondent had made various statements to the Media regarding the case and observed that through those statements the convict had stressed he has no aim of withdrawing his comments concerning the case under any circumstance.

The Justice then emphasised that the respondent had also claimed to the Media numerous times that the latter was even more than prepared to be imprisoned over the case.

Justice de Abrew then informed the Court though the respondent had said he had no intention to denigrate the conduct of Judges in the country, the convict’s subsequent behaviour outside the SC premises during the trial proceedings, when he had issued differing views to the Media, as well as the original remarks made by him outside Temple Trees on 21 August 2017, have proved otherwise.

He lastly stated the evidence submitted to the Bench against the MP concerned had proved the convict had resorted to his actions with preconceived notions.

The Justice then also dismissed the submission made by the PC appearing for the respondent who had claimed the SC was not empowered by law to preside over the case against his client.

Assistant Solicitor General Sarath Jayamanna appeared on behalf of the prosecution.

The accused MP was previously represented by TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, but as he was undergoing self-quarantine, the accused was represented by Attorney-at-Law Viran Corea.

During the course of the trial, MP Ramanayake came out of the SC premises on at least four occasions and claimed he would not withdraw his remarks under any circumstance.

Meanwhile, the SJB MP was sent to the Correctional Centre for Youth Offenders in Pallansena, for a 14-day quarantine period, said Prison Spokesman, Chandana Ekanayake.

The case was filed against the ex-State Minister on Contempt of Court charges, for making defamatory remarks against the Judiciary on 21 August, three years ago.

Speaking to the Media following a meeting with then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, at Temple Trees, Ramanayake had claimed a majority of Judges in the country issued biased rulings, and that they were corrupt.

Retired Air Force Officer Sunil Perera and Venerable Magalkande Sudatta Thera later filed two petitions with the SC, alleging that such defamatory comments by the MP can shatter public confidence, and provide a distorted and twisted image of the Judiciary to Sri Lankans.

Based on these complaints, the AG had later served the charges against Ramanayake before the SC.

Pillaiyan acquitted 

A day later, SLPP MP Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias ‘Pillaiyan’ was acquitted by Batticaloa High Court Judge S. Susaithasan, in the case pertaining to the murder of former TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham.

Four other suspects, who were arrested over the case, were also acquitted from charges filed against them and ordered to be released from the trial after being incarcerated since 2017.

On Monday, the Attorney General’s Department informed the Batticaloa HC that it will not proceed with the case against the former Eastern Province Chief Minister and MP Chandrakanthan over the Pararajasingham murder case.

Accordingly, the Batticaloa HC had set yesterday as the date to announce its verdict on the trial. 

Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) leader and Parliamentarian Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias ‘Pillaiyan’ was granted bail by the Court on 24 November last year after spending five years in remand custody.

Pillaiyan had been in remand custody since his arrest on 11 October six years ago when he arrived at the CID to give a statement in connection with the assassination of the late Tamil politician Joseph Pararajasingham, who was shot dead on Christmas Eve, 16 years ago.

A gunman opened fire on TNA MP Pararajasingham after he received communion at St Mary’s church in Batticaloa, killing him and injuring eight others including his spouse.

Contesting the General Election 2020, Pillaiyan had obtained the highest number of votes from the Batticaloa District and entered Parliament.

Leadership changes in UNP

The United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived at Sirikotha, The Party Headquarters, last Wednesday to join the Working Committee meeting as scheduled before. He accompanied John Amaratunga, a senior party member he met on his way to office, to his office to discuss positions. Ravi Karunanayake, Navin Dissanayake, Arjuna Ranatunga and Lakshman Wijemanne arrived at the venue while the duo was discussing filling party vacancies.

Wickremesinghe who showed them the seats asked Karunanayake if he would continue as the party’s deputy leader. “I am a senior member of the party. I do not want to be the deputy leader. Make me the General Secretary of the party so I can do something,” he urged Wickremesinghe.

“There is an issue about giving you the post of General Secretary of the party at this time. There is a party request that the post of General Secretary should be given to someone in the village. Therefore, you should be in the post of Deputy Leader at present,” he added while Amaratunga endorsed Wickremesinghe’s statement. 

Karunanayake who was unsatisfied with the statement made by Wickremesinghe said, “I do not want to be here if I am not given the post of General Secretary. I will go out and address the Media saying that injustice is taking place in the party. Is there any way of taking the party forward in this manner?” Karunanayake slammed Wickremesinghe and hurried out.

“There is no problem with the position of the National Organiser right?” Wickremesinghe then asked Dissanayake.

“I can’t say anything about that now. Give me a week’s time,” he said.

Then the leader turned towards Ranatunga and asked, “There's a proposal to offer you the Vice Presidency of the Party. There’s no question about that, is there?” Answering that question Ranatunga also said that he needed some time to think about it. On the occasion that Dissanayake and Ranatunga both left saying they needed more time, Wijemanne also left saying that it was useless for him to be there.

“We have only 200,000 votes. No one is talking about a way to increase it. Everyone is hungry to be the Leader,” Amaratunga said and Wickremesinghe just laughed at his statement. 

Later, Acting General Secretary Shamal Senarath reminded Amaratunga that it is time to convene the Working Committee meeting and Wickremesinghe with Amaratunga went to the Working Committee meeting room.

According to the UNP constitution, all the posts except the post of the Leader expire on 31 December.

The constitution also allows appointments to be made until 31 December; if it is difficult to make appointments before 31 December, the constitution also gives power to postpone it until March 31. The leader, who did not postpone the appointments, said appointments would be made at the next working committee meeting.

 Therefore, on the next day of the Working Committee meeting, all posts except the post of the Leader will be abolished and new appointments will be made.

The Leader went to the Working Committee meeting with the intention of filling the vacancies. At the meeting Wickremesinghe addressed the gathering and agreed to appoint Vajira Abeywardena as the Party Chairman, Palitha Range Bandara as the General Secretary and Misbah Satharru as the Treasurer, in accordance with the powers vested in him by the party constitution. Their appointments were unanimously approved as there were no objections.

Wickremesinghe said that Wijewardene will be re-appointed as the Party Deputy Leader, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam as the Assistant Leader and then D.M. Swaminathan, Daya Gamage, Sagala Ratnayake and Sunethra Ranasinghe were appointed as the Vice Presidents of the party.  Anoma Gamage will be appointed as the party’s Administrative Secretary and Nalaka Kolonne was also appointed as the Deputy General Secretary to the party.

The Leader proposed the establishment of a Research and Policy Development Division and it was decided to appoint Dr. Karunasena Kodithuwakku as its Secretary.

Wickremesinghe said that everyone should work together with the new General Secretary and that everyone should work according to a new plan. Ratnayake and Gamage were instructed to make plans from the party headquarters and work together to rebuild the party.

Then the speech made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at a public meeting came to up and Wickremesinghe made a lengthy speech, raising three issues, including the President violating the Constitution. He also instructed to issue a press release and prepare a resolution against the threat made to MP Harin Fernando.

It is noteworthy that the UNP was the only party to prepare such a resolution. The meeting ended after the Working Committee agreed to discuss the post of National List Member next time they convene.

The day after the Working Committee meeting, as usual, a number of new office-bearers as well as party activists attended Wickremesinghe’s residence. “People are happy with the new party’s bureaucracy. It would be good to give the post of General Secretary to someone from the village. We have to go on a journey like how late J.R Jayewardene came to power in 1977,” said Sandith Samarasinghe starting his speech as usual.

“Not everyone who was with Jayewardene was a Member of Parliament. Not everyone who was close to President JR was a Member of Parliament. There were leaders as N.G.P. Panditharatne, my father (Esmond Wickremesinghe) and officials from the administrative service like G.B.C. Samarasinghe who was a former Defence Secretary. On the other hand, Cyril Mathew, R.P. Madasa, Paul Perera, E.L. Senanayake, Vincent Perera and a group of regional leaders like Gamini and Lalith were present at that time. All of them worked outside the Parliament. It was with these people that Jayewardene launched great actions in 1977. Today the situation is different, but we have to plan a journey exactly like that,” he said. 

“With the verdict against MP Ranjan Ramanayake, he has become a hero among the people. It is learnt that the Leader also spoke to Ramanayake after the verdict,” Bandara drew the concentration of the people for another angle. 

“Yes. I called a lawyer who works for us to find out what the verdict was. He called me and said that Ramanayake was there at that time. I spoke at that time to strengthen his mind. I told him that we would do everything that we could,” Wickremesinghe said, explaining what had happened.

“The COVID-19 menace still continues. The Government is now finding it difficult to get the vaccine from the World Health Organisation because they did not have a plan to bring the vaccine in the first place,” Wijewardene said.

“I also want to make a statement on this. According to the news, the World Health Organisation’s COVAX organisation will dispatch only three per cent in the first round, and that too will have to be given to health workers.

“However, the Parliament Cluster stopped because many MPs refused to undergo PCR tests and then they stayed at home for quarantine purposes,” Abeywardene said and everyone left the premises agreeing to meet later.

Subsequently, several more rounds of discussions on party reorganisation were held at Abeywardena’s residence in Colombo on Thursday evening. Former MP Mangala Samaraweera, as well as a group of civil society activists were present at the event. The discussion started in the evening and continued till night and continued even after Wickremesinghe left. Then the group had left after enjoying dinner as well.

CBK writes to Maithri

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who strongly criticised incumbent Chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Maithripala Sirisena and its current members at the 122nd birthday commemoration of the slain Prime Minister and founder of the SLFP S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on 8 January at Galle Face Green in Colombo, has come back to the fore with a letter addressed to Sirisena on 11 January.

Kumaratunga, in the letter to Sirisena, has reiterated that she has not been expelled or has resigned from the SLFP in any way. During a recent interview with ‘The Hindu’ newspaper in India, Sirisena had said that Kumaratunga was no longer a member of the SLFP and she had sent the letter in response.

She pointed out that according to the constitution of the SLFP; she is officially a member of the Executive Council and the Central Committee of the party. Recalling that Sirisena has been the SLFP Secretary for the longest time since its establishment, Kumaratunga said it was unfortunate to know that he was unaware of constitution of the party. 

“If I am not an SLFP member, either I should have resigned or have been expelled from the party. But, none of these two has happened and what you had said during the interview with ‘The Hindu’, is completely false,” she said in the letter. 

Kumaratunga also said that she was legally able to attend the Central Committee meetings of the SLFP even uninvited. She, however, said she would not attend them since she did not want to cause conflicts within the SLFP, which has already been weakened due to Sirisena’s actions. 

During the interview, Sirisena had also mentioned that Kumaratunga had attended a meeting in November, 2019, in support of the then Presidential candidate and the current Opposition Leader, Sajith Premadasa. In reply to that statement, Kumaratunga has informed Sirisena, in the letter, that she attended a meeting which was organised by the SLFP supporters, and that it was, by any means, not promoting Premadasa or any other candidate.

She also questioned Sirisena if what she said at that time, that the SLFP would not get a proper place in the current government, was not true when considering what is happening now. I, at that time, insisted that the SLFP should field a candidate for the Presidential elections. I also said that the party should be rebuilt by fielding an SLFP candidate for the elections. This is all what I mentioned during that meeting at Sugathadasa Stadium and nothing beyond that happened there. Recently, there were reports that the SLFP is not getting a proper place in the current government. All these matters affirm that what I said at that time was true, she further said.

Meanwhile, she said that the bombing of Easter Sunday, 21 April, 2019, could have been prevented if someone other than Sirisena, had held the presidency at that time. Considering the Supreme Court's decision regarding Sirisena's decision to dissolve Parliament in 2018, in violation of the Constitution, shows that it was a serious offence, she pointed out.

Meanwhile, a post made by former President Kumaratunga, on her official Facebook page, about MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who was sentenced to four years rigorous imprisonment for contempt of Court, has also caused lots of talks.

In the post, Kumaratunga said that she was shocked and saddened to hear of the unfortunate incident Ramanayake had to face. She said Ramanayake is in this situation as he had boldly spoken out against the corrupt regime in the country.

“While thieves, murderers and racketeers who have committed large scale frauds are in a comfortable status, you had to be imprisoned today for your sincere efforts to clean up the highly corrupt political and State apparatus,” she mentioned in the post.

She also said when she was the President; she too played an extremely difficult and challenging role in stopping all corruption and irregularities in the country by following a different approach, than the one Ramanayake followed. “Unfortunately, in the era after me, all those efforts went in vain,” she noted.

Concluding the post, Kumaratunga said “Never be discouraged. Face it all strongly because all the people who value justice are with you (Ramanayake). Whatever the challenges and obstacles we have to face, we must work with great dedication for the betterment of the country.”

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 16 2021

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