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Govt. 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.

The outrage 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.

The Director 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.

Mr. Peiris 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 motive.

President Kumaratunga 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.

UNF sources 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.

The indications 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.

Mr. Morogoda 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.

President Kumaratunga 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.

The Attorney 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 department.

"I believe 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.

Interior Minister 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.

"We conveyed 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.

CBK 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 Ministers.

She accused 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.

Two ministers 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.

PM 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.

Speaking at 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.

"In such circumstances, both the President and Prime Minister must work together, otherwise a constitutional crisis like what has just arisen will keep recurring.

Problems have 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 added.

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