President Invoking Emergency Powers Triggers Concern

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:15 AM Sep 4 2021
Ceylon Politics President Invoking Emergency Powers Triggers Concern
By Gagani Weerakoon

Last Monday (30) witnessed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invoking Emergency powers to ‘ensure uninterrupted supply of essential food. As per the powers vested in terms of Section 2 of the Public Security Ordinance, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared emergency regulations formulated as per the Section 5 on essential food supply, by enforcing directives under Section ii of the Ordinance. 

The authorised officers will be able to take steps to provide essential food items at concessionary rate to the public by purchasing stocks of essential food items including paddy, rice and sugar, at Government guaranteed prices or based on the Customs value on imported goods to prevent market irregularities which are causing inconvenience to consumers due to concealing of stocks of essential food items including paddy, rice and sugar and to prevent selling them at higher prices.

 This will be implemented in such a way that the loans granted to purchase stocks from the State Banks could be recovered from the borrowers, President’s Media Division issuing a statement in this regard stated. Meanwhile, Major General M. D. S. P. Niwunhella was appointed as the Commissioner General of Essential Services to coordinate the supply of paddy, rice, sugar and other consumer goods that are essential to maintain the livelihood of the people. 

Opposition raises concern 

However, the gazette notification did not sit well with the Opposition lawmakers as they raised concerns over a state of emergency being declared. Main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) called on the Government to lift the Emergency Regulations and enforce the provisions of the Disaster Management Act to serve the same purpose of distribution of essential items in a pandemic.

 Issuing a statement in this regard SJB insisted that declaring an Emergency under the Public Security Ordinance highlights a threat to public security larger than a threat posed by a pandemic.

 “The Sri Lanka Disaster Management Act No. 13 of 2005 was introduced to enforce necessary action with respect to disasters, which include a pandemic situation. It’s been 18 months since the WHO declared a global pandemic, and the President is yet to make an announcement declaring a disaster situation as per the provisions of the DMC Act,” the party pointed out. 

It added that the President had also failed to install the National Council for Disaster Management (NCDM) as the lead agency on disaster risk management in the country. 

The President had resorted to establishing a task force for this purpose instead, said the SJB. “Given this backdrop, it is clear that an Emergency situation has not been declared properly, and the said announcement has been made with the intention of restricting the fundamental rights of the people and to further move towards dictatorship,” SJB said adding that the present Government’s corrupt policies have paved the way for prices of goods to increase and the foreign reserves to deplete. 

It added that if there is an obstruction in the delivery of services, the Government’s mismanagement and inefficiency need to be blamed and there is no necessity to enforce Emergency Regulations for that purpose. 

The main Opposition also requested the President to enact the National Council for Disaster Management (NCDM) as the lead agency on disaster risk management in the country as per the provisions of the DMC Act and to take action to address the pandemic situation based on the advice and expertise from professionals. 

Meanwhile, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M. A. Sumanthiran in a video statement released on his official social media platforms said, the move “spells great danger to the country”. He claimed the decision to go down the Public Security Ordinance route could lead to repression. “This is why we have been calling for a separate law for public health emergency. 

Although this Parliament has existed for over a year, this has not been done by the Government, even when a Private Member’s Bill was introduced recently. This spells great danger to the country because after this it’ll be the President’s rule by himself making Emergency Regulations under the public security ordinance, and that will surpass considerations of health or even food supplies to the community,” he said. The MP said there was no danger of food supplies being disrupted in any case. 

SLFP 70th Anniversary

 Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on Thursday celebrated its 70th anniversary. This comes in the midst where the Party, which was once considered one of the main political forces in the country is struggling to prove its mettle. Party’s former leader and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who was at loggerheads with current Party leadership for a long period, said that the SLFP cannot be destroyed by nefarious forces and she will be committed to moulding a generation who can drive the Party to victory. In a message to mark the 70th anniversary of the party she said: “The huge tree of SLFP cannot be killed by cutting off from the trunk. The roots of this huge tree that have gone deep into the earth may help bring a sapling.

 This process will take time but that will definitely take place in the future. I may not be alive by that day, she said. She said that she did not support the United National Party at the 2015 Election. We wanted to form a broader alliance and this alliance was led by me.” Party officials and supporters attended the Zoom meeting hosted by SLFP Maithripala Sirisena to mark the 70th Year.

 Sirisena commending the party for its patience and transparency over the last seven decades with a progressive vision, emphasised that challenges, criticism, vilification and temporary drawbacks are common for each political party. Drawing attention to the historic statement made in Matale back in March, which promoted the ideology of the party, he pinpointed the strengthening of the assets acquired by the party and the new set of ethics for Sri Lankan politics the SLFP hopes to introduce. 

He also said that the Central Committee, Executive Committee, Parliamentary Group and all other networks of the SLFP will be re-organised in the future. Meanwhile, SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera said that the SLFP will continue to uplift the country and the party by producing peopleoriented, humanitarian, honest, pragmatic and dedicated leaders for the country. In a message to mark the 70th anniversary of the SLFP, he said that the party’s founder late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike left an indelible imprint in the minds of the oppressed. 

He further said: “We today celebrate the 70th anniversary of the SLFP, founded under the prodigious leadership of late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1951, gifting the country a line of Presidents, Prime Ministers and many great political leaders who represented the true spirit of the Sri Lankan people. On 2 September 1951, a group of 44 people, in support of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, gathered at the Colombo New Town Hall to form a new political party, including people from different ethnic groups and from different parts of the country. At the inaugural session, the new party was named the ‘Sri Lanka Freedom Party’; until today it has lived up to its name and vision, despite much turbulence it had to face for over 70 years. 

The SLFP was the pioneer of the “Common Man’s Era” adopting “Social Democracy” as a key policy, bringing the people together at a single political platform, which had hitherto been restricted to the elites of the upper echelons of society.

 In the 1956 Parliamentary Elections, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party formed an alliance the “Mahajana Eksath Peramuna”, with the other parties the Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Pakshaya and the Sinhala Bhasha Peramuna joining, along with the support of five great forces of monks, doctors, teachers, farmers and workers. 

Thus becoming the fourth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s influence on the political, economic and social development of Sri Lanka was a profound one, the legacy he left behind, following his untimely demise, is forever remembered, and it continues to inspire the core direction of the SLFP.

 Following the demise of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, his beloved wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on 21 July 1960, setting an international record as the world’s first woman Prime Minister. At that time, while some countries were following the socialist economy and other countries were pursuing the capitalist economy, Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s policy was to follow a middle path between the two. She had a great economic, political and social vision that no other politician in Sri Lanka had ever pursued. 

Sirimavo’s dedication towards strengthening the domestic economy, conserving local resources, encouraging local industries and agriculture envisioned an independent nation, which up to date the country is yearning for. If the nationalistic economic policies pursued by Sirimavo Bandaranaike at that time were followed for at least another two or three years, Sri Lanka would have been one of the leading developed countries in the world by now. When the SLFP lost control of the Government in 1977, the obstacles it faced as a party were innumerable. 

However, due to the genuine connection between the SLFP and the people of this country, it regained power in 1994 by defeating the UNP Government and making Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga the Executive President of Sri Lanka in 1994. There has never been a political party that loved the country as the SLFP did and no other party has produced leaders who have loved the nation as much as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. 

In 1994, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took over a country that had fallen into the dark shadows of war. She gallantly led the nation towards economic success and it almost cost her life for the great leadership she gave to strengthen the Tri-Forces to win the war against the LTTE. 

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, taking over the leadership from Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga following a landslide victory in 2005, led the nation, finally putting an end to the long lasting war, which has been dragging the country towards an economic and social tragedy during the last three decades. In the ensuing period, the SLFP faced the challenge of developing the country devastated by the 30 Year War. 

After the Mahinda Rajapaksa era, the SLFP produced another exceptional leadership, Maithripala Sirisena, to head the country during one of the most trying times the country has ever befallen. Despite facing various political setbacks, SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena never lost his love for the party or for the people and he is always committed for the betterment of the nation.” 

Pushing for dictatorship 

Although Parliament did not convene last week, the SJB Parliamentary Group meeting was held to draw attention on the situation in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group of parliamentarians focused on the President’s decision to impose a state of emergency and to appoint a retired army officer as the Commissioner General of Essential Services. “The Government has not been able to control the cost of living” Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa started the meeting by explaining his position. “It is now clear what the Government is going through. 

One by one gazettes have been issued to suppress the people,” said party General Secretary Ranjith Maddumabandara. “What are these people doing? Even during the war no Army Officer was appointed as the Commissioner of Essential Services. Divaratne, who was an Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Finance at that time, had been appointed as the Commissioner General of Essential Services.

 Food was sent to Jaffna through his intervention. What are these Army Officers trying to do now? ” MP Rajitha Senaratne questioned. “The failed President is trying to defeat the Army as well. Earlier, an Army Officer came and informed us of the location of the warehouses and said that the warehouses would be filled with paddy. After that when the price of rice goes up that official is nowhere to be found. 

Then the retired Army Officer who heads the Consumer Affairs Authority went to give rice for Rs 98. Eventually Samba price went up to Rs 200. Now an Army Officer has been appointed as the Commissioner General of Essential Services. These will only end up projecting the Army as a failed establishment,” MP Manusha Nanayakkara explained. “This is an attempt to push this country into a dictatorship and violate human rights,” Hesha Vithanage said. 

“The Government needs to understand that there is no shortage of corona patients and no vaccines in return for the state of Emergency. The Government is trying to create a lot of big problems on a global scale,” Premadasa said. 

A proposal made by S.M. Marikkar to commemorate those who died due to coronavirus disease and to provide relief to their families was approved by all. “Suggest a programme for that,” Sajith said. Then Marikkar said that a lamp should be lit in every house and prayers should be made to seek divine blessings to get rid of this COVID-19 devil. “That’s a good idea. 

Do the job well,” Premadasa approved. At the same time, attention was drawn to the racket of importing antigen test kits. “It costs Rs 2,000 to do an antigen test at a hospital in Sri Lanka. But there are kits in the world that can test antigens for Rs 600.

 The Government will not allow them to be imported because they want to allow their cronies to carry on this business,” Premadasa pointed out. “Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara revealed how big this racket was. Now he will be hunted down,” said Gayantha Karunatilake. Jayaruwan Bandara was summoned by the CID for questioning after revealing facts about the antigen test kits. As soon as he heard this, Maddumabandara informed Premadasa about latest developments over the phone. 

“This can happen to anyone who tells the truth for the sake of the people of the country. That is Government repression. Therefore, we need to provide them with legal assistance,” Sajith said, adding that the disappearance of the National Medical Regulatory Authority’s database should also be investigated.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:15 AM Sep 4 2021

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