SJB Leadership Worries of a Possible Crack as Members Evade Maiden Protest
By Gagani Weerakoon
The agitation against 20th Amendment, deforestation in Anavilundawa and Sinharaja took back stage, with a mere verbal proposal made by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to SLPP Parliamentary Group Meeting to ban cattle slaughter taking centre stage.
The Prime Minister has taken this decision in his capacity as the Minister of Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs. He explained that society is concerned about cattle slaughter and Buddhist Monks and other religious leaders have urged to ban it, on several occasions.
Premier Rajapaksa called for the support of all people to stop cattle slaughter. The Government Parliamentary Group endorsed the proposal moved by Rajapaksa to ban cattle slaughter.
While there was a barrage of criticism against this decision from some factions in the society and religious groups, the Anunayaka Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters of the Siam Sect, in a joint communiqué, pointed out that both the Government and the Opposition should equally support the decision taken by the Prime Minister to formulate necessary laws to prohibit cattle slaughter.
The Monks had explained that the Buddhist Clergy had for long voiced their vehement opposition to the wanton slaughter of cattle, but noted that such pleas had fallen on deaf ears to date.
Hence, they stressed that Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa taking the initiative to prohibit the slaughter of cattle is a timely and commendable move and a long felt need.
The communiqué had been signed by the Anunayaka of the Malwatte Chapter Ven. Dimbulkumbe Wimaladhamma Thera and the Anunayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter Ven. Wendaruwe Upali Thera.
Amidst the debate on banning cattle slaughter, Premalal Jayasekara who polled second highest votes from Ratnapaura District, was sworn in as a Member of Parliament on Tuesday.
Jayasekara was sentenced to death by the Ratnapura High Court over the shooting to death of an individual and causing injury to two others during the Presidential Election in 2015. He was given the approval to attend Parliament Sittings by the Court of Appeal. An interim order also issued by the Court stated, permission which was granted will be in effect until the petition filed by Jayasekara is taken up for hearing and a verdict is delivered.
When Tuesday’s Parliamentary Sittings commenced, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced that Jayasekara would take his oath as an MP.
At this juncture, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and SJB MPs were seen wearing ‘black satakas’ round their necks. Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella stood up and raised a Point of Order. Several other SJB MPs also started to request Points of Order as well.
Leader of the House and Minister Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out, as per the Standing Orders the MPs could not raise Points of Order when the Speaker was making an announcement.
SJB MPs Harin Fernando, Nalin Bandara and Kiriella shouted that it was illegal for Jayasekara to take oaths as an MP.
Amidst the uproar, Serjeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando accompanied Jayasekera to the Speaker’s Chair and he was sworn in. He read out his oath amidst loud protests.
After swearing in, Jayasekera was congratulated by Government MPs Vijitha Berugoda, Janaka Wakkumbura and front row members of the Government in the Chamber.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa arrived in the Chamber several minutes after Jayasekara took his oaths.
The Speaker then opened the floor for Points of Order raised by SJB MPs.
Kiriella: “A person who has been sentenced to death by the Court was sworn in as an MP. When MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was elected to this House in 2010, he was denied attending Parliamentary Sittings. When we questioned about it, Minister Professor G.L Peiris said, according to the provisions of Article 89 of the Constitution, an MP-elect would not be able to take oaths if he or she would be convicted by a Court. I will read Prof. Peiris’s statement made on that day. He said, the MP-elect would automatically lose his seat when convicted by a High Court and that such a person could not become an MP when that person was sentenced to death. He said, in such moments, the Speaker does not have jurisdiction.”
Gunawardena: “I do not think that we have room for Points of Order when a person who was elected by the people is swearing -in as an MP. The Standing Orders clearly say anyone who is sworn in before the Speaker as an MP has rights and privileges of an MP.”
Fonseka: “The Constitution says that a person sentenced to death could not become an MP and is not even entitled to cast his vote. When I was sent to jail in 2010, I had taken my oath as an MP. Even then I was not allowed to attend Parliamentary Sittings.”
When the Speaker moved the House to proceed with the day’s business, the SJB MPs got up and started to shout. Followed by Premadasa, the SJB MPs took off their ‘black satakas’ and threw them into the well and left the Chamber in protest while Jayasekara who was in the back row of the Government ranks was seen observing the protest silently.
However, other Opposition parties did not participate in the protest. After several minutes, Kiriella and MP Eran Wickramaratne were seen returning to the Chamber and taking their seats.
Jayasekara who was sworn in as an MP, later said he will be making a request to the Government to revive the four-year behavioural conduct review process accorded to prisoners.
He said he will shortly submit a proposal to this effect in Parliament.
Jayasekara, claimed that once the four-year review process is reactivated, those who are on death row would have recourse to turn the death penalty into a life-term. He further claimed that those who are serving life terms would have their term reduced to 20 years. Jayasekara opined that those who are serving a 20-year prison term would have further recourse to reduce the term to 13½ years.
He said that many inmates at the Welikada Prison had urged him to intervene on their behalf to request the Government to re-launch the four-year review process. He mentioned that on humane grounds, the Government should seriously consider restarting the said process on behalf of the prisoners.
Jayasekara also claimed that surveys conducted had revealed that some 98 prisoners who had been released to society had begun to lead decent lives without resorting to vices or acts of violence.
Criticism against 20th Amendment
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday (10) responding to comments by the Opposition and its allies on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and the court ruling on SLPP Parliamentarian Premalal Jayasekara, said the objective of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution is to remove the obstacles imposed by the 19th Amendment and move forward.
He said this during a meeting with State Ministers held at the Presidential Secretariat.
“Everything cannot be changed overnight. It takes a long time. Various views have been expressed. We want to retain some of the features of the 19th Amendment. The primary objective is to keep the tenure of the President unchanged and to move forward,” President explained.
Responding to the accusations made by the Opposition regarding MP Jayasekera, President Rajapaksa emphasised that neither he nor the Prime Minister did intervene in the procedures of the Court.
“If the intention was to influence in this regard it should have been done at the High Court stage. Something of this nature never occurred. The verdict was given by the judge who was appointed by the Constitutional Council. Members of the Constitutional Council included personnel from Opposition such as Karu Jayasuriya, Sajith Premadasa and Thalatha Atukorala. One decision is acceptable for the Opposition while the other is not,” the President said.
The President observed that President of the Court of Appeal was also appointed by the Constitutional Council itself and added that the Opposition is running a false propaganda campaign in this regard.
Meanwhile, the Government Party Leaders’ meeting convened by Prime Minister Rajapaksa decided to form a seven-member committee to examine the draft proposal for the 20th Amendment.
This committee which is headed by Minister of Education, Professor G.L. Peiris, consists of Minister of Labour Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Industries Wimal Weerawansa, Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila, Minister of Justice and President’s Counsel M.U.M. Ali Sabry, State Minister of Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion Susil Premjayantha and Parliamentarian, Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolewatta.
The main task entrusted to the committee is to have a wide dialogue with the society ahead of submitting its proposals aimed at formulating the 20th Amendment.
The committee will also be responsible for seeking the views of all political parties represented in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Government in Parliament.
Future of 20th Amendment
The report compiled by the Ministerial committee, formed to examine the merits and demerits of the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution, is to be submitted to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during the coming week.
When contacted, Minister of Justice, President’s Counsel M.U.M. Ali Sabry said the committee would decide whether any amendments would need to be included or not in the proposed draft.
He remarked that though some had claimed that before the ratification of the 20th Amendment, a referendum would have to be held, the Government had not included any clauses to the proposed Amendment which would warrant the conduct of a referendum.
Ali Sabry PC opined that both the 18th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution had been ratified in Parliament with a majority of two-thirds vote.
Hence, he argued, the majority vote in the House would be sufficient for the ratification of the said Amendment rather than the incurring of additional expenses for the staging of an unwarranted referendum.
The committee formed by Prime Minister Rajapaksa to study the pros and cons of the draft proposal for the 20th Amendment is set to convene on 14 September in Colombo and the final report of this committee is to be handed over to the Premier during the course of the coming week.
Meanwhile, a top Cabinet minister revealed at least 10 Opposition Parliamentarians have expressed willingness to support the proposed draft of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
The group had affirmed that they were ready to back the Government in two ways, the Minister added.
He averred that some of the Opposition MPs would cross over to the Government ranks when the vote will be taken. The Minister noted that a sizeable lot from the Opposition would still continue to back the Government with regard to democratic and progressive Bills that are tabled, while remaining in the Opposition benches in Parliament. These MPs who would be supporting from the Opposition without crossing over are mostly from two political parties representing an ethnic minority.
This comes in the wake there was a secret meeting of five members of the SLMC and its Leader Rauff Hakeem taking place in the Parliament Library.
He remarked that talks which are presently proceeding with Opposition MPs in this connection have been positive. He pointed out that in order to carry out expeditious development work in the country, the support of the Opposition would be most welcome and insisted that a sizeable number of MPs from the Opposition had already expressed their willingness towards this.
Meanwhile, Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage revealed in Parliament on 10 September that some 10 to 15 MPs from the Opposition were ready to support the draft 20th Amendment mooted by the Government.
In the meantime, some of the Opposition MPs had not taken part in some of the recent anti-Government protests organised by the main Opposition SJB, and this has now become a heated topic of discussion in local political circles. It is claimed that some of the MPs belonging to smaller parties in the SJB coalition had not attended these anti-Government protests.
These anti-Government protests had been held against the 20th Amendment, opposite the statue of the late monk Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thera. The sporting of black shawls (satakayas) within Parliament too took place recently.
Political analysts had further opined that the internal tension in the SJB had been underscored with All Ceylon Makkal Congress MP S.M. Musharaf speaking in favour of the conduct of the present regime when the House had convened on 10 September.
Instructions to bulldoze Ramsar Wetland given by State Minister’s brother
The five-member committee report compiled on the destruction caused to the Anawilundawa International Ramsar Wetland has revealed that Jagath Samantha, the brother of State Minister Sanath Nishantha, had given the orders to clear the land for a Prawn farm.
The report was tabled in Parliament by Minister of Wildlife C.B. Rathnayake on Wednesday (9). It revealed details of the statements given by Warnakulasooriya Nishantha Fernando, the owner of the bulldozer which was used for the destruction.
The report states:
“The statement given by Warnakulasooriya Nishantha Fernando shows that he carried out the destruction following the instructions given by Jagath Samantha, former Chairman of Arachchikattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha.”
It was observed that Samantha had annual licences for five prawn farms of 1 acre, two prawn farms of 2 acres and one prawn farm of 3 acres until 2015. Those licences had been granted by National Aquaculture Development Authority. There had been a licence for the land in question which was issued for a prawn farm before 2015. However, that licence had not been renewed since 2015 as the land is a Ramsar Wetland despite requests for establishing prawn farms and housing projects, the report stated.
“Therefore, it can be observed that this land in question which was not used for any activity since 2015 has been tried to be used for establishing a prawn farm again without an authorisation and in an illegal manner,” the report said.