Press sealed as crisis deepens
By Chris Kamalendran
A constitutional wrangle over the takeover of a ministerial subject
deepened last night as President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
insisted her action was legal while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe
contended it was not.
The bone of
contention was the Development Lotteries Board (DLB) that President
Kumaratunga sought to bring under her purview through a Gazette
notification on Friday night. The move was thwarted after pro-UNF
Government mobs stormed the Government Press triggering off incidents
that led to the premises being sealed and employees ceasing work.
was caused by threats from Economic Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda,
under whom the money spinning state enterprise came, that he would
resign if the DLB was taken away. Government leaders reacted with
anger following fears that his departure from the Cabinet may come
as a further blow to the ongoing peace process with the LTTE.
General of Media at the Presidential Secretariat, Janadasa Peiris,
told The Sunday Times last night that President Kumaratunga would
write to Premier Wickremesinghe tomorrow explaining that her move
to take over the DLB was legal. "she will say that there is
no question of the move being illegal since a Gazette notification
had already been signed by her. It was due for publication when
it was stymied," he said.
added that President Kumaratunga would emphasise that it was not
an issue to quarrel about since her decision was motivated entirely
in the interest of the President's Fund. He said there was no ulterior
is to call upon Mass Communications Minister Imtiaz Bakeer Markar
to inquire why the instructions to the Government Printer to publish
the Gazette was not carried out.
claimed that any move to take over the DLB would be illegal since
it had not been gazetted. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe yesterday
called an emergency session of UNF ministers to discuss the crisis.
It was agreed
that as the Gazette had not been printed, the matter could still
be resolved amicably between the Premier and the President, but
sources close to the President said that a Gazette notification
was not required for the President to take over any subject from
a Cabinet minister.
were that President Kumaratunga would not drop her decision to take
over the DLB which feeds much of the President's Fund. Sources close
to the President said she was concerned that the DLB had given her
insufficient funds from its profits and that she feared the DLB
would either be privatized or succumb to a new electronic lottery
that the Norwegians Government was to introduce.
in charge of the UNF government’s privatization programmes
and the entry of Norwegian e-lottery was also bitterly contested
in the Cabinet by his colleague, Trade Minister Ravi Karunanayke,
whose Mahapola university student was also at the receiving end
if the DLB was to suffer.
who was away in Nuwara Eliya over the weekend is reported to have,
until last Saturday, not received the Prime Minister's letter urging
her to drop the issue. The letter had been delivered at the President's
House in Colombo late Friday night.
General was being consulted by both the President and the Prime
Minister. Sources close to the President said that Article 44 (3)
of the Constitution could be interpreted to say that there is no
legal requirement to gazette the takeover of a function by the President,
and that she could change the assignment of subjects and functions
of the ministers at any time.
The Prime Minister
quoted the same Article 44 to say that the President ought to have
consulted him before taking over a function of a Cabinet Minister.
Sources close to Prime Minister's office said the words "in
consultation with the Prime Minister" found in the constitution
in a cohabitation government would mean "with the consent"
of the premier.
They said that
the Prime Minister had heard of the President's takeover bid only
from Minister Moragoda and not from the President. Government Printer
Neville Nanayakkara told The Sunday Times he was told of intruders
in the press premises around 9 p.m. They broke glass panels and
damaged three vehicles, two belonging to the staff and one from
the main reason for the violence is the Gazette notification that
was to be printed at that time. The notice was received on Thursday
and was in the proof stage," he said.
He said the
incident disrupted work. "If the Police had not arrived, there
would have been a few deaths. Police ordered the workers to leave
the premises. I did not agree. They later brought buses and helped
them leave," Mr. Nanayakkara said.
John Amaratunga blamed opposition parliamentarian Bharatha Lakshman
Premachandra of leading a group of thugs into the Press -- a charge
strongly denied by him. Minister Amaratunga told The Sunday Times
that the Government was compelled to seal the Government Press to
avoid any damage to property.
to the Government Printer that the Department will be closed until
we get legal advice on the matter," he said amidst charges
that the opposition MP was dragged out of the Press by police and
that the printing plate of the gazette notification had been stolen
by the mob.
says UNF broke the law
President Chandrika Kumaratunga yesterday accused the UNF government
of circumventing a legal act of the Head of State (in issuing a
Government Gazette) by a high-handed and arbitrary act of some Cabinet
Mass Communications Minister Imthiyaz Bakeer Markar of illegally
instructing -- in writing -- the Government Printer to desist from
printing the President's Gazette notification.
A source close
to the President told The Sunday Times that what the President did
was a "normal administrative and executive decision" and
that the DLB ought to have been a subject under the President because
all the profits from the DLB went to the President's Fund. When
the new government was formed, the DLB was given to another minister
by an oversight, the source said.
had made several attempts to divest the DLB from the President's
Fund, he charged. "The President has discussed this with the
relevant minister and the with the Cabinet by means of correspondence
and Cabinet memos. The Prime Minister is aware of all this - therefore
it was not thought necessary to discuss once more with the Prime
Minister," the source said.
assures President: ‘Have no fears’
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday warned President Chandrika
Kumaratunga that if she was to act against the mandate given by
the people to his UNF government, his government would have to fight
against such moves.
a temple ceremony at the Bimbaraamaya at Piliyandala last afternoon,
the premier said the President should not entertain any fears of
his government either legislating to amend the Development Lottery
Board Law or handing it over to another ministry.
He said he
had written to the President saying so, and was now telling it in
public, so that the President could reverse her decision to gazette
the takeover of the DLB under her purview.
The Prime Minister
said he, however, had no intention of fighting the President and
would advise the President to take an alternate approach to the
crisis that had arisen.
He said the
President decided to take the DLB under her wing without mentioning
a word to him, and only by writing to the Minister - Milinda Moragoda.
"I wrote to her urging her not to issue the Gazette taking
over the DLB," he said. Mr. Wickremesinghe said the crisis
had arisen over one issue - i.e. that the President had been elected
by the people, and the Prime Minister as head of Parliament had
also been elected by the people.
circumstances, both the President and Prime Minister must work together,
otherwise a constitutional crisis like what has just arisen will
arisen before, but we have been able to sort these out by discussion
or by exchange of letters, but this time, she acted without consulting
me," he said. "If both the President and the Prime Minister
are unable to work together in consultation with each other, the
country will continue to face constitutional problems," he