In Sri Lankan politics, changing party colours often or making ‘U’ turns on critical policies for one’s own political convenience is not something new when the ultimate goal is securing votes and retaining your seat. It could be one of the reasons why we have had only a handful of statespersons and plentiful of run [...]


Premadasa makes ‘U’ turn on PTA


In Sri Lankan politics, changing party colours often or making ‘U’ turns on critical policies for one’s own political convenience is not something new when the ultimate goal is securing votes and retaining your seat. It could be one of the reasons why we have had only a handful of statespersons and plentiful of run of the mill politicians in our recent political history.

One such complete ‘U’ turn was witnessed this week when Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa declared in a letter to Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesperson M. A. Sumanthiran stating that the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No 48 of 1979 (PTA) should be abolished completely without tinkering with the law and only making amendments to the substantive law.

Coinciding with United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in the past few weeks and the report from the UN Human Rights chief on the continuous use of the PTA, the TNA is leading a country-wide campaign with progressive forces in the south to repeal the Act.

“We find that none of the many weaknesses of the PTA are addressed by the proposed amendments that have been placed on the Order Paper of Parliament. Therefore, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) rejects the proposed amendments in total. Our position is that the PTA cannot be tinkered with. It must be repealed, and a law that accords with international standards and effectively balances public and national security, and personal liberty must replace it”, the Opposition Leader said while stressing that this law was enacted as a temporary provisions act for six months in 1979, but has remained in statute books for 43 years and 12 years after the northern insurgency came to an end.

Not so long ago, addressing a rally in Ampara weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019, Mr. Premadasa, who was then Housing Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister reiterated that the PTA must be strengthened while suggesting that the then Yahapalanaya (Good Governance) Administration in which he was a fairly prominent member should suspend the reforming process of the law by replacing the PTA with a Counter Terrorism Act (CTA).

Instead, he said; “I believe the moves taken to put forward the Counter Terrorism Act must be halted following the April 21 terror attacks which have marked the beginning of global terrorism in the country.” He emphasised that the PTA which played a supporting role in defeating terrorism which existed for three decades in the country, must be strengthened even further.

At that time, Mr. Premadasa had his own reasons to take such a stand: “The Armed Forces and the Police were able to take swift measures against those allegedly involved in the Easter Sunday attacks, because of the PTA. We can’t expect these officers to control terrorism by tying their hands behind their backs.”

In his more recent letter, the Opposition Leader also came up with recommendations as well. He is of the view that the 2016 proposals of the Sri Lanka Law Commission, a body comprising eminent members of Sri Lanka’s legal fraternity, be adopted as the starting point to repeal and replace the current PTA.

Commenting on the ‘U’ turn by the Opposition Leader, a Jaffna based political observer said the shift is clearly a political move to secure minority votes at the next Presidential polls. Whether that will be at the expense of losing the southern votes remains to be seen.


Gammanpila: No justice, no Cabinet post, no talk

Parliament held an adjournment debate on Thursday on the “Power and Energy Crisis Prevailing in the Country.” Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, who was removed from his Cabinet portfolio as Energy Minister last week, revealed on Friday that he was supposed to make the reply speech on behalf of the Government during the debate but he had been denied the opportunity.

Mr. Gammanpila said he made a written request to the Chief Government Whip’s office on Monday seeking a time slot to speak. On Tuesday however, the office had informed him that he could not be permitted to speak, the sacked minister claimed on Twitter.

He had then spoken personally to Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando. He had replied with a “Let’s see.” Later though, his office had informed Mr. Gammanpila that he could not be permitted to speak as the list of speakers was full. This is despite Mr. Gammanpila being Energy Minister until March 3. The Parliamentarian said he had complained to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena seeking justice.

“I have been elected to Parliament on the SLPP ticket by people casting 136,331 votes. Denying my right to speak in Parliament by the SLPP means denying my voters to express their hearts and minds. I respectfully expect the Speaker to protect my right to speak in Parliament,” he said. The Speaker did not speak.

Foreign Secretary takes a break from arduous duties

Life must be tough when one is a Foreign Secretary having to travel abroad to fight the nation’s battles at world forums while at home, one’s country is in the throes of a foreign exchange crisis. Here the Foreign Secretary,  who was a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva, took time off to see the sights of the city like any other tourist. He took a long stroll around Lake Geneva and had a string of photographs taken.


Cheeseburgers and just desserts for customs officers

The new import restrictions announced on Wednesday–including a virtual ban on apples, grapes, beer, wines and chocolates–reminds us of an anecdote going back to the late 1960s when the then government imposed similar curbs due a foreign exchange crisis. At that a time we saw an exodus of people from the Burgher community leaving for a restrictions-free Australia.

A visiting Sri Lankan expatriate from the United Kingdom (UK) was reportedly having lunch in a restaurant at Chatham Street in Fort and ordered a cheeseburger he was familiar with in the fast-food outlets in London.

“Sorry”, said the waiter, “We don’t have any cheese in this country and very soon we will not have any burgers either.”

And then there was a group of high school students from the UK on a holiday in Sri Lanka–with apples in their hand-carrying baggage. The Customs officers wanted to confiscate the apples. But the students circumvented the law by eating all the apples before they went through the customs and immigration lines.

The moral of the story: The Customs officers were deprived of their apples for dessert. They had to do with their just desserts.


Marriage Laws: Saudi’s new draft bill more progressive than Lanka’s

This week, the Saudi government announced it is rolling out personal law reforms on marriage rules according to Islamic principles after a review by its Shoura Council.

It is far more progressive than Sri Lanka’s Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) which still denies Muslim women from placing their own signature in marriage registration certificates and legalises child marriage at the age of 12.

A quick view of Saudi’s new draft law suggests that girls under the age of 18 cannot be married. They can file lawsuits and review their marriage contracts.

Currently, the Justice Ministry is pursuing reforms into the MMDA by bringing amendments to abolish polygamous and child marriages. Recently, the subject Minister submitted a Cabinet paper on these issues but it was withdrawn later after concerns were raised in the Cabinet. On this occasion, though, the Minister did not offer his resignation.

There have been calls for Parliamentarians, influential clergy and civil society representatives of the community to get involved in the process to reform the century-old legislation. Unless, these reforms will be introduced by a Presidential committee studying the “one country; one law” principles.


Teachers Union chief gets chalk for his cheese

During recent trade union action initiated by teachers demanding to resolve their salary anomalies which forced the Government to give them relief in the last Budget, Ceylon Teachers’ Union General Secretary Joseph Stalin emerged as a key negotiator.

These days, he is struggling with a new challenge. He has received a significant amount of messages from retired teachers who claim they had not been included in the recent Government pay hike and pending salary arrears.

One affected retired teacher came up with a model form in which, at the bottom, it was mentioned to forward the duly completed form to the private WhatsApp number of the trade union leader.

As the letter circulated widely among the retired teachers, the amount of messages Mr. Stalin received on a daily basis also increased. Taken aback by the responses coming from across the country, he told his union colleagues that he does not want to delete those messages, but asked for assistance from his office to collect the data for record purposes.

Power cuts: CEB officials pour cold water on new Minister’s proposal

The newly appointed Power Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi has now been entrusted with taking care of millions of electricity consumers.

Obviously one of her priorities is to ensure as soon as possible that power cuts do not take place.

At one of the recent meetings with Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) officials she came up with her own proposal. That was to make maximum use of the remaining water supplies to generate hydro-power so that the power cuts are lifted.

The response from the officials was prompt. They said it can be done, but thereafter the nation will have to be ready for 20 hour power cuts. The minister had gone silent after that response.

Intellectual Property Act: MP suggests patent for kottu, but will we have gas to make it?

When the Parliamentary debate on amendments to the Intellectual Property Act-2003 was underway on Tuesday, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian Charitha Herath came up with a rare example to make his point clearer.

The former academic stressed that Sri Lanka should file a patent for the local delicacy kottu, similar to what Italy holds for pizza or the United States for the hamburger.

The timing of the comparison cannot be more relevant as of now, since the country’s people are struggling to put staple food on the table amid skyrocketing inflation and a shortage of supplies. Many poverty stricken people could afford to consume only two meals a day.

Hearing the learned academic’s example, one journalist in the reporters’ gallery in Parliament asked his colleague what would happen if an Easterner went ahead and registered the patent for the delicacy since it originated in Batticaloa. Another butted in to wise-crack saying “we will end up with only the patent and no kottu as there is no gas to cook it.”

While prices soar, no top economists in the economic council

As the country is witnessing the worst economic crisis since Independence, the Government is still struggling to get its act together to face reality or seek options to reduce its impact on the long suffering people.

Early this week, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed an economic council to accelerate the country’s economic growth through economic management.

What matters was who constitutes the council: While the economic council is chaired by President Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, Basil Rajapaksa, Johnston Fernando, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, President’s Secretary Gamini Senarath, Treasury Secretary S. R. Attygalle and Central Bank Deputy Governor Dhammika Nanayakkara are members of the council.

The economic council is scheduled to meet every week and is tasked to provide relevant advice to the ministries and government departments on handling finances.

As many pointed out, what the council lacks are economists and independent thinkers since it consists of the same faces from the Cabinet and senior Government officials.

Many on social media platforms ridiculed the new council to resolve the economic crisis while drawing an example from the neighbouring regional state of Tamil Nadu.

Last June, the Tamil Nadu state government appointed a five member economic advisory council which comprised world-renowned economists including Nobel Prize-winning US economist Esther Duflo.

The other members are: Former Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan, the Central Government former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramaniam, Prof. Jean Dries from the Delhi School of Economics and former Union Government Finance Secretary S. Narayan.

One social media user commented: “Those same individuals dispensed their valuable inputs in the recent past when we witnessed the country going through difficult times. What can they achieve now except to gather around in an air conditioned room and wonder about ways to save a sinking economy?”


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