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  Politics  


 

 
Govt. juggernaut carries Bill through Parliament
The controversial `Revival of Underperforming Enterprises and Underutilized Assets Bill’ which was taken up as an urgent Bill was passed in Parliament by a majority of 76 votes on Wednesday. The UNP, TNA and the Democratic National Alliance led by the JVP voted against the Bill. Earlier the Supreme Court had informed the Speaker of its ruling that the Bill is not inconsistent with the Constitution and that it be passed as an ordinary Bill. However, the Bill was passed by a two thirds majority though it required passage by a simple majority.

Despite the government being able to pass the Bill with a two thirds majority, it had caused a fissure in the government which became apparent when the members of two constituents of the ruling coalition, JHU and the National Freedom Front were conspicuous by their absence at the time the Bill was put to the vote. The National Freedom Front led by Minister Wimal Weerawansa had made no comment on the Bill in public. However, the Bill had prominently figured at a discussion of the JHU’s Politburo. Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka had told this meeting that he was not present at the Cabinet meeting which had discussed the controversial Bill.

The JHU Politburo decided to articulate the party’s strong objection to the move to have the Bill passed in Parliament on an urgent basis. In pursuance of this decision, the JHU at a media briefing conducted by party’s Parliamentary group leader Ven. Atureliye Ratana Thera and Western PC member Udaya Gammanpila expressed their objection to the government’s move to introduce the Bill as an urgent one. The two spokesmen said that their party was opposed to the annexing to the Bill a schedule giving a list of enterprises to be acquired by the government and also to the manner in which the Bill was to be presented. They said they would either vote against the Bill or abstained from voting if the government failed to withdraw the annexure referred to. Gammanpila also made an appeal to the government to defer the presentation of Bill.

JHU openly opposes
The JHU took up the position that the citizens had been denied the right to challenge the proposed legislation in a court of law by presenting it as an urgent Bill in Parliament and the legislature by this move has taken over the functions of the Judiciary and the Executive as well. Gammanpila said: “Government today faces no challenge from the Opposition. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has got a mandate like Mahathir Mohammed in Malaysia and Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore did to rule this country for a long period. The President appears to have got enemies within the government itself. He should be wary of stupid advisors (Kevatta upadeshkayin) who set pitfalls for him.”

How will President react?
However, the government had obviously attached much importance to getting their Bill passed in Parliament. In this backdrop there is much speculation in political circles about how President Rajapaksa would deal with the two coalition partners for defying the government. Incidentally, at the time the vote was taken on the controversial Bill JHU stalwart Minister Champika Ranawaka was away in the Maldives attending the SAARC Summit as a member of the Presidential delegation.
Partners of the ruling coalition like the LSSP, CP, SLMC and CWC had articulated their opposition to certain Bills introduced by the government in Parliament in the past. However, though their objections had been confined to verbal protests and they had voted with the government when the Bills they opposed were presented in Parliament. For example, they fiercely opposed the 18th Amendment but voted for it when a division was called.

Government is to take over 36 one time government-owned undertakings which had been privatised by the UNP governments. The UNP fiercely opposed the Revival of Underperforming Enterprises and Underutilized Assets Bill mainly because one of the enterprises identified for acquisition is Sevenagala Sugar Industries belonging to Eastern PC opposition leader Daya Gamage and his wife UNP MP Anoma Gamage. Daya Gamage is a leading financial supporter of the UNP who often meets the logistical needs of party leaders. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe may have considered the financial support extended by Gamages to the party when he nominated Anoma as a National List MP.

The Acquisition Bill figured as the main topic at the UNP Parliamentary Group when it met at the parliamentary complex last week. Ranil Wickremesinghe took up the position that the UNP need not oppose the Bill if the Sevanagala Sugar Industries, Pelwatte Sugar Industries and Lanka Tractors were excluded from the list of the enterprises to be acquired. However, Sajith Premadasa vehemently opposed the position taken up by Ranil Wickremesinghe, saying that they should oppose the Take over Bill in its entirety.
Ranil Wickremesinghe had held a lengthy discussion with President Rajapaksa at Temple Trees on the Take over Bill last week. Wickremesinghe at this discussion had reportedly asked the President to suspend the acquisition of Sevanagala Sugar Industries, Pelwatte Sugar Industries owned by Harry Jayawardena and the Lanka Tractors Limited belonging to Ravi Wettasinghe. The President had replied that he would take a decision on the matter after a discussion with the officials of Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce. \

Strategy planned at dinner
New City mayor A.J.M. Muzammil on November 4 hosted a dinner to UNP leaders and party supporters at his official residence. Sajith Premadasa and other members of the rebel group were conspicuous by their absence at this dinner. While the dinner was on, a group of UNP stalwarts including Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya, John Amaratunga, Kabir Hashim, Daya Gamage and Ravi Karunanayake retreated to the privacy of an inner chamber of the mayoral residence to discuss on the steps to be taken against the Acquisition Bill; Creating an awareness about the contents of the proposed law among the business community; Apprising the heads of foreign missions of the possible its repercussions; and enlisting the support of bhikkhus for the campaign against the proposed legislation are among the measures decided on to be carried. They also decided that Ranil Wickremesinghe and Dr Jayalath Jayawardena should make representations to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and UN Human Rights Commission. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe now on a visit to London has already apprised the International Democratic Union of The Expropriation Act already passed in Parliament.

Appeal in person
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Sevanagala Sugar Industries Daya Gamage, Chairman, Pelwatte Sugar Industries Harry Jayawardena and Lanka Tractors Limited Chairman Ravi Wettasinghe had separately called on President Rajapaksa last Saturday and appealed that their enterprises not be acquired. Harry Jayawardena is the Chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Ravi Wettasinghe is a close relative of the President. However, the President had told them he was not prepared to change his decision. The President also had pointed out that according to reports he had received the Sugar companies had been producing more molasses than sugar and the companies had breached the agreements signed with the government.

Support of Maha Sangha
The main slogan used by those who opposed the Acquisition Bill was that the government was going to take over profit making undertakings owned by Sinhala Buddhists. Daya Gamage and others fighting against the Bill had made representations to Buddhist prelates like Ven. Tibbotuwawe Sri Sumangala Maha Nayake Thera of Malwatte chapter and Naga Viharadhipati Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhita Thera. Thereafter, the Malwatte prelate issued a press statement critical of the Take over Bill.
Meanwhile, Ven. Sobhita Thera expressed his opposition to the Bill at a media briefing.
Several eminent personalities like former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva and Nihal Sri Amarasekere, five Chambers of Commerce and several organisations had issued statements criticising the move to introduce the Bill. The JHU being a political party drawing sustenance mainly from the Sinhala Buddhist business community was not in a position to support the Bill. The JHU being unable to take a confrontational posture like opposing the Bill outright, has taken the easy way out of the difficult situation by saying that there was no necessity to present the Bill as an urgent one.

Meeting foreign diplomats
Daya Gamage and Anoma Gamage had met the Japanese Ambassador, American Ambassador, German Ambassador and the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo to make representations about the Acquisition Act. Karu Jayasuriya had been instrumental in arranging the meeting with the German Ambassador.
It is obvious that the propaganda campaign carried out by the UNP here and abroad against the Acquisition Bill has caused considerable damage to the image of the government. The government introduced the Bill in pursuance of a proposal included in the 2011 Budget. This Budget proposal said that the government would take over all privatised one time government-owned undertakings now running at a loss. One year after presenting the proposal, the government wanted to rush the proposed legislation through Parliament ahead of unveiling of the 2012 Budget on November 21.
However, the government had not foreseen the need to create awareness about the Bill among the business community and the general public well before introducing it in Parliament. The failure on the part of the government to allow a public discourse on the Private Sector Employees’ Pension Bill led to a furore when it wanted to get it passed as an urgent Bill. The government has committed the same mistake for the second time by getting the Acquisition Bill passed as well in haste.
The UNP’s propaganda campaign mainly based on the slogan that the government is planning to take over profit making enterprises owned by Sinhala Buddhist businessmen has gone home to people in the absence of any timely effort on the part of the government to justify its move.

Basil’s bold defence
However, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa in a 95-minute speech in Parliament during the debate in Parliament explained at length the reasons that led to the presentation of the Bill. He pointed out that Sevanagala Sugar Industries had reduced the sugar production to make way for increasing the production of molasses to enhance profits. Quoting from the annual report of the Excise Commissioner, Basil Rajapaksa said that the company had also imported molasses for manufacture of liquor. He also said the company had, not only breached the agreements signed with the government and the BOI, but had also defaulted on income tax payments. “If the company is making profits, why has it not paid income tax?” he asked.

Sampur project
Signing of the agreement on the implementation of the Sampur Coal Power Project between the Indian and Sri Lankan authorities had been initially scheduled for November 8. India’s Union Minister of Power was due here in this connection. However, Sri Lanka Government took a sudden decision to postpone the event. President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was in the Maldives attending 17th SAARC had exchanged views on the proposed Sampur Power Project with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Summit. According to reports, the two leaders have agreed to sign the stalled agreement on the project in February next year.
The two leaders had also discussed the perennial issues linked with the alleged poaching by Indian fishermen in the Sri Lankan territorial waters off the Jaffna peninsula.

Ranil creates yet another issue
Beleaguered UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe created yet uproar in the party when he appointed Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga to act as the Opposition Leader before leaving for London to attend the annual general meeting of the International Democratic Union (IDU) - a departure from the usual practice. This issue had generated much heat at the meeting of the UNP Parliamentary Group held last Tuesday. Dayasiri Jayasekera who questioned the propriety of appointing John Amaratunga as the acting opposition leader had charged that the leader had violated both the Party constitution and a Working Committee decision by making this appointment.
He recalled that on the occasion the Working Committee decided to appoint Sajith Premadasa as a Deputy leader, the Committee also decided to appoint him as the Deputy Opposition leader. Wickremesinghe in reply had said that he appointed John Amaratunga as the acting opposition leader to enable the latter only to issue statements to media on behalf of the party. Wickremesinghe had also failed to appoint anyone to act as the party leader during his stay abroad.
In previous instances of his absence from the island Wickremesinghe had always appointed Karu Jayasuriya as the acting party leader. Dayasiri Jayasekera had pointed out that the leader had on previous occasions had appointed Karu Jayasuriya and asked Wickremesinghe whom he proposed to appoint to act for him in this instance. Wickremesinghe had replied: “I am the party leader whether I am here or abroad. Therefore, there is no need to appoint an acting leader.”

Once bitten twice shy
When Ranil Wickremesinghe left the island the last time, the Sajith group had called on Karu Jayasuriya and asked him to accept the party leadership. Karu Jayasuriya’s response had been that he was prepared to accept the party leadership if it was the collective wish of the party membership. Perturbed over Jayasuriya’s statement, Ranil Wickremesinghe immediately on his return to the country had sent for Jayasuriya and had asked him to withdraw the statement. Karu had pointblank refused to retract his statement. “Ranil now has no faith in Karu,” a Ranil loyalist told this columnist. Karu Jayasuriya has also incurred the displeasure of Ranil Wickremesinghe because of his close rapport with the Sajith group.

Bhikkhu organisation to oust Ranil
Ven. Meetiyagoda Gunaratana Thera and other bhikkhus who were summarily displaced from the Eksath Bhikshu Peramuna affiliated to the UNP by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe are now reportedly canvassing the support of pro-UNP bhikkhus in the country for a move to oust Wickremesinghe from the party leadership. A bhikkhu delegation led by Ven. Meetiyagoda Gunaratana had met UNP Deputy Leaders Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa at a temple in Narahenpita last Tuesday and complained about the shabby treatment meted out to the bhikkhus by the party leadership. The two leaders had had assured the bhikkhu delegates that they would take the necessary remedial measures.

TNA visit to US
A delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recently visited the United States on an invitation extended by the US State Department. The delegation, which consisted of its parliamentary Group Leader R. Sampanthan, General Secretary Mavai Senathirajah, Suresh Premachandran and M.A. Sumanthiran, met with several officials of the State Department including Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robert Blake, Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp and Wendy Sherman of the State Department.
Sumanthiran said that the TNA had stated their position in respect of the political solution and shared their views on the issues of accountability and the functioning of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
The delegation was to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki -moon on November 1 but the meeting was cancelled as the UN Chief could not make himself available. The delegation instead met with Under Secretary General, Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe.
“Their concerns were with regard to the non-fulfillment of the undertaking given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Ban Ki -moon when he was in Sri Lanka in May 2009 with regard to a political solution, the resettlement of all the people back in their homes and setting up an accountability mechanism,” he had said.

TELO unhappy
The TNA visit to the US had created a friction within the alliance with certain members of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) expressing disappointment over its exclusion from the delegation.
K. Sivajilingam who rejoined the TNA as the TELO leader said that the TNA had not included its members in its delegation and had not considered the necessity of their participation in the ongoing talks with the government. He warned that this step motherly treatment could snowball into a bigger issue if the TNA leadership continued to ignore their requests.
Sumanthiran, however, brushed aside these allegations and said that the matter was explained to the TELO leadership before the delegation left for the US.

Fight over Town Hall rooms
Many expected sparks to fly at the inaugural sittings of the Colombo MC last Tuesday as the fight between Mayor AJ.M.Muzammil and the UPFA group over the acquisition of two rooms had generated much heat among the councilors involved. Contrary to expectations by many, opposition leader Milinda Moragoda accorded a warm reception to Mayor Muzammil at the inaugural session and Muzammil in turn appealed for the co-operation of the opposition in the MC and the government to carry out the development in the city. Moragoda assured the co-operation of the opposition for the effective and efficient running of the MC administration.

Mano to support UNP
Clouds over the stability of the UNP administration in the Colombo MC have cleared with Democratic People’s Front (DPF) leader Mano Ganesan assuring the UNP leader the support of the six party councilors.
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had earlier rejected several demands made by Mano Ganesan in exchange for the party’s support to Mayor Muzammil. The main demand was that Mano Ganesan be nominated to parliament from the UNP National List. However, in the face of the uncertainty that marked the future of the UNP administration in the city, Ranil Wickrmesinghe had relented and sent a letter to Mano Ganesan expressing his consent to meet some of the demands made by the latter. The DPF which agreed to support the UNP administration is now leading four Standing Committees of the Council.
The present indications are that Mano Ganesan will shortly enter Parliament from the UNP’s National List. UNP National List MP D.M. Swaminathan is widely expected to resign to make way for Mano Ganesan. However, earlier Swaminathan had told media that he has no intention of resigning from Parliament.
SL loses bid to host CW games
Reports from the Caribbean island St.Kitts said yesterday that Australia’s Gold Coast won the bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth games at a vote taken at a meeting of the 71-member Commonwealth Games Federation held at St. Kitts yesterday morning. Gold Coast had received 43 votes against Sri Lanka’s 27 to win the coveted opportunity. Commonwealth Games President Michael Fennell of Jamaica was not required to exercise his casting vote.
Australia got the opportunity to host the event for the fifth time disappointing Sri Lanka which made the bid for the first time.