If the Opposition is right in what it says, then the first of the unconstitutional acts by the Government is now in motion, i.e. the Vote on Account that allowed state funds to be utilised lapsed on April 30 (last Thursday). There is no provision in law for the Government to draw more funds from [...]


Constitutional governance: Clarity required


If the Opposition is right in what it says, then the first of the unconstitutional acts by the Government is now in motion, i.e. the Vote on Account that allowed state funds to be utilised lapsed on April 30 (last Thursday). There is no provision in law for the Government to draw more funds from the public purse without Parliamentary approval.

The Opposition has asked for the recall of Parliament to rectify this anomaly, but the Government remains steadfast in refusing to do so. The Government argues that the Constitution provides for the President to draw monies in a political vacuum that prevails today with delayed elections. Not always is the Opposition right, not always is the Government right.

The President has shown no interest in either recalling the Parliament he dissolved on March 2 or in seeking an opinion from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of all of this. The former Speaker is in no mood to create a constitutional crisis by summoning the old Parliament, and advisedly so. In this backdrop it is the Prime Minister who has now invited the Members of the old Parliament for a meeting tomorrow (May 4). Not all want to attend. Already, his party colleagues have set the groundwork for this meeting by pooh-poohing the need to recall Parliament.

The Election Commission is passing the ball around hoping someone will seek an opinion from the Supreme Court and the Opposition is vacillating without taking the matter to court. The Supreme Court itself is in lockdown mode and probably waiting for a party to come before it as it does not have suo moto jurisdiction to intervene on its own.

That the Government will be toppled with a no-confidence motion is far-fetched. The former Government voluntarily ceded office once the Presidential election was over, but unless the Government is edgy that reconvening Parliament may open the door for fresh nominations and thereby squander the advantage of having caught the Opposition flat-footed in March. However, “what if what the Government is doing is in fact unconstitutional?” A non-political Head of State might well have done what the Constitution provides for him to do to resolve a knotty question of constitutional law, i.e. consult the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, political issues have surfaced when the entire focus of the nation ought to be on overcoming a virus that is not abating and which has thrown the country’s economy topsy-turvy.

Fears that the country is being run for too long without a Parliament and Courts — i.e. the Legislature and the Judiciary — and only by the Executive under an undeclared state of emergency with the military, are not unfounded. There is a certain shadow over the democratic process and these are not matters that can be adjudicated over TV talk shows or via media statements.

It seems that someone needs to go before the Supreme Court very soon and get an authoritative determination either way and settle this unsettling constitutional quagmire.

Probe on origin of the Covid virus

There is a growing call worldwide for a thorough investigation into the origin of COVID-19. And why not?

It is a virus that has turned the whole world on its head. It has caused tens of thousands of deaths, infected millions and ruined the livelihood of several millions. And still, nobody can say with certainty how it all began.

What is an established fact so far is that the virus emerged from Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province. But China was quick to spread some early disinformation that the virus may have been introduced by the United States and thereby triggered a slanging match between the two countries. This debate over whether the virus really emerged from the disgusting meat markets of Wuhan or was man-made has only helped create a fog blurring the real picture.

The US President, partly because he wants to deflect attention from his own mishandling of the crisis at home was quick to label the virus “the China virus”. A Washington Post article says the man shaping the US President’s hardline on China is a onetime journalist who faced intimidation while reporting from China. Now the deputy national security adviser at the White House, his view is that China’s handling of the virus has been “catastrophic” and the whole world is the collateral damage of China’s internal governance problems.

The US tried to get the G-7 nations to sign a statement with the phrase “Wuhan virus”, which those countries refused to do saying it was racist. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is under fire though for bending to Chinese pressure and naming the virus – COVID-19.

Now with the US withdrawing funds from the WHO, China has stepped in with a fat cheque to the UN agency. As the big power politics plays out on the world stage over the virus, the WHO has probably lost the moral right to hold any such investigation contemplated.

The Chinese are touchy, very touchy, over any call for an investigation of this nature maintaining that their response to the crisis has always been ‘open, transparent and responsible’, and that they have been supportive of professional visits and exchanges between their experts and international scientists. One would think they should welcome an investigation if they feel it will help clear the country of worldwide condemnation.

Recently, China’s ambassador in Canberra threatened Australia with cuts in the import of wines and beef and suggested Chinese students may not want to enrol in Australian universities in the future if Australia wished to back the US call for an investigation. Beijing has clearly instructed its embassies around the world to be proactive in challenging anti-Chinese rhetoric based on COVID-19 casting all diplomatic norms aside. Such is its sensitivity to what it sees as ‘unfounded charges’. The China stance is that the international investigation, if there is any, should have a solid basis; they query why it is only targeted at China without any medical professional evidence but accusations from politicians.

It all depends, however, on what an “independent international” inquiry is. Sri Lanka has faced, and faces, so-called ‘independent international’ witch-hunts and knows only too well how utterly partisan they can be. Nor can such an investigation be like the Nuremberg trials after World War II to apportion blame and sentence culprits to the hangman for ‘crimes against humanity’.

Many countries hard done by the outbreak of COVID-19 still feel this may not be the time for an investigation as the focus remains on the expeditious eradication of the deadly virus. Given Sri Lanka’s own dependence on China, it would not want to damage its relations with Beijing’s all powerful Communist Party. In the scheme of things Lanka’s voice on the international stage would anyway be negligible.

And yet, at some stage soon, the world will have to know what happened and how it happened. And how COVID-19 knocked the world to the floor in such quick time and is likely to keep it there for a long time more.


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