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Wednesday February 28th, 2024

Constitutional Crisis looms as poll date goes beyond three months of dissolution

ECONOMYNEXT – Constitutional experts are saying that because the President is accountable to Parliament it is vital that the House be reconvened to deal with the COVID 19 crisis.

The executive arm of the government has deployed the armed forces, enforced police curfews and taken action to distribute essentials, all justified in order to combat the COVID 19 epidemic but these actions need to have legal cover from Parliament they point out.

Also the money being spent by the government to fight COVID 19 has to be drawn from the Consolidated Fund, but only for a fixed period.

The Executive can run the government and respond to emergencies only for a three-month period after the dissolution of the parliament. Because of the current situation obviously the period could not be adhered to.

Academic Dr Asanga Welikala and Attorney Suren Fernando point out that the “Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act allow both the date of the election and the date for the first meeting to be varied. But they do not, under any circumstances, permit such rescheduled dates to be set beyond three months from the date of the original proclamation of dissolution.”

But now the election date has been fixed for June 20, 18 days after the 3-month period is over prompting the opposition to say that the original dissolution is invalid.

Addressing the Media today, Cabinet Spokesman Media Minister Bandula Gunewardene said that all the “talk about a Constitutional Crisis comes from overseas sources.”

He said that the President has the powers to spend government money on the needs of the country, even three months after a new Parliament is elected.

“Anyway President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not be reconvening Parliament under any circumstances,” he said.

Responding to reports circulating on social media former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said he too would not recall Parliament on his own. However if the courts ordered him to do so he would, he said on Twitter.

Academic and President’s Counsel Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne says the simplest solution is for the President to rescind the dissolution order and extend the life of Parliament until September which would have given the country the breathing space to get over the COVID 19 hurdle.

Elections then could have been postponed to December if necessary.

Parliament could “agree to meet for two days a month and pass the budget for the COVID 19 issue,” he said.

“The President should stop being stubborn and reconvene Parliament,” he said.

Many notable people, including Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith the Catholic Bishop of Colombo have said that the virus should be the priority for the country and not the elections.

The Opposition, led by the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) have said that an election campaign conducted with restrictions on the movement of people and a ban on gatherings will not be free and fair. SJB leader Sajith Premadasa has gone a step further saying that the poll cannot be conducted “until the last patient is cured.” That is unrealistic as COVID 19 is probably here to stay.

The United National Party also weighed in today, April 23, with General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam also calling for Parliament to be reconvened adding that the Opposition is prepared to assist the Government “to pass essential laws and funds necessary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.”

“This is not the time to move away from democracy for narrow political gains, it could create serious implications for the future. We need to be farsighted in this hour and now work as a country, not as political parties or groups, which will endanger public lives,” he stated.

He also asked why a poll date was set without proper consultations and “assurances from health experts and other key stakeholders, arguing that priority should be given to public safety and health during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Wickremeratne also warned against various civic and political leaders saying that it would be better for the government to run for a few years “without Parliament.”

“That is a very dangerous idea, as it is the Parliament that oversees the Executive. The government is a three-legged stool, the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary are the three legs and the Court is the weakest,” he said.

The stool cannot stand on two legs, he says.

Welikala and Fernando in their article sounded a warning at the state of affairs.

They wrote “the extent to which we can see the Government acting efficiently while remaining within the clear authority and rules established by the Constitution and other relevant laws, is the measure of success. If the appropriate balance is not struck, then we risk harming our democracy and encouraging authoritarianism.”

“Several weeks into the coronavirus crisis, it does not appear that the Government is getting this balance right,” they concluded. (Colombo, April 23, 2020)

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Sri Lanka’s religious leaders need to cultivate harmony: Prez

ECONOMYNEXT – The responsibility of cultivating harmony rests significantly on the shoulders of religious leaders, Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said.

“While politicians often pursue power, religious leaders strive to maintain their positions, frequently resorting to the perilous avenues of racism and bigotry. This unfortunate trend has plagued our country since the 1930s, yielding disastrous outcomes,” Wickremesinghe was quoted by his media division as saying at the ‘Religions to Reconcile’ national inter-religious symposium, organized by the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, held today (28) at the Bandaranaike International Conference Hall (BMICH).

“Our nation has endured the bitter consequences of racism and religious extremism, culminating in a devastating conflict.

“With the military conflict resolved, Sri Lanka’s political challenges are now receiving attention, necessitating a renewed focus on coexistence,” Wickremesinghe said, adding that steps are being taken to resolve land disputes, address the issue of missing persons, release certain individuals, and initiate a delimitation of powers.

The President’s speech:

Having acknowledged the intrinsic connection between religion and reconciliation, our nation has endured the bitter consequences of racism and religious extremism, culminating in a devastating conflict. Following the cessation of hostilities, our main objective has been to foster coexistence among all communities.

The responsibility of cultivating harmony rests significantly on the shoulders of religious leaders. It is imperative that we remain mindful of our intentions. While politicians often pursue power, religious leaders strive to maintain their positions, frequently resorting to the perilous avenues of racism and bigotry. This unfortunate trend has plagued our country since the 1930s, yielding disastrous outcomes that require no further explanation.

Take Singapore, for example, where the absence of racism and bigotry has contributed to its rapid development despite its diverse linguistic landscape. With the military conflict resolved, Sri Lanka’s political challenges are now receiving attention, necessitating a renewed focus on coexistence, a topic also being deliberated in Parliament.

Mr. Karu Jayasuriya, served as the Chairman of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Religious Affairs and Co-Existence when he was serving as the Speaker. This committee was established in response to conflicts involving Muslims in March 2018, as well as incidents in Galle in 2017 and Beruwela in 2014. Various proposals were put forth by these committees to address these issues, and consensus was reached on their implementation. It’s crucial that we uphold this agreement and continue working collaboratively to resolve these challenges.

Towards the close of last year, numerous Buddhist monks and Tamil leaders presented the Himalaya Declaration, a document we are currently adhering to. As we move forward, the final phase entails fostering synergy, particularly through discussions with Tamil political parties and MPs, aimed at addressing lingering issues. Steps have been initiated to resolve the matter of missing persons, with further updates forthcoming in the near future. Additionally, arrangements have been made for the release of certain individuals held in connection with these matters.

The primary concern at present revolves around the fate of the missing persons. To address this issue, we’ve presented and successfully passed a bill in Parliament to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Numerous reports from Disappearance Commissions have been reviewed, and one report authored by Judge A.H.M.D.Nawaz was selected.

Following the approval of the draft for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged his support for these initiatives. Similar assistance is being extended by other nations as well, enabling us to advance these critical endeavours.

Addressing the on-going political challenges, our attention is directed towards resolving land disputes, particularly in regions like Jaffna where tensions persist between villagers and the Wildlife Department. Similar conflicts also arise in areas such as Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa, and Mahianganaya. We aim to address these issues through inclusive dialogue, involving all concerned parties. Furthermore, I have instructed to proceed in accordance with the 1985 map. Additionally, I anticipate meeting with Tamil MPs in Parliament next week to discuss these matters further. Following consultations with the security forces, agreements have been reached to release more land, providing a pathway forward in our efforts.

Another pressing issue is the delimitation of powers. A key demand is the empowerment of the 3rd list of devolution, with an emphasis on not interfering with police powers at present, leaving them open for future consideration. The Land Act is slated for presentation, and there are no objections to the delegation of other subjects in the 3rd list. However, securing the necessary consensus with other parties in Parliament to achieve a two-thirds majority remains crucial.

Simultaneously, discussions are underway regarding the implementation of the Provincial Board of Education. Proposals have been made to establish provincial professional training institutes in each province. Additionally, plans are underway to appoint provincial-level committees to lead the modernization of agriculture, establish a tourism board, and undertake related initiatives.

Additionally, the work of five provincial ministries is expected to be distributed among twenty ministries. This restructuring cannot simply resemble a general ministry, so officials are currently deliberating on adjusting their structure accordingly.

I eagerly anticipate addressing the final aspect of this matter, the decentralized budget, once all parties have convened. There’s also a call for a secondary board, akin to a Senate, which the government does not oppose. However, such an initiative would need to coincide with the framing of a constitution, potentially requiring a referendum. I also intend to engage in discussions on this topic with other party leaders.

These measures aim to lay the groundwork for a new era in our country. Religious leaders have been entrusted with significant responsibilities in this endeavour. I am confident that further discussions on these matters will yield fruitful outcomes.

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.00/15 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.00/15 to the US dollar Wednesday, from 310.25/50 on Tuesday, dealers said.

Bond yields were broadly steady.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed at 10.60/80 percent from 10.60/75 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.90/12.00 percent up from 11.80/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed stable at 12.00/15 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/50 percent from 12.25/50 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed stable at 12.25/40 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.55/75 percent down from 12.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent down from 12.55/13.00 percent. (Colombo/Feb28/2024)

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Sri Lanka Treasuries yields edge up after steep fall

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Treasury bill yields edged up across maturities at Wednesday’s auction with the 3-month yield up 09 basis points to 9.87 percent, data from state debt office showed.

The debt office sold 27.5 billion rupees of 3-month bills after offering 35 billion rupees.

The 6-month yield rose 09 basis points to 9.95 percent with 37.23 billion rupees of bills sold, after offering 47.5 billion rupees.

The 12-month yield went up 03 bis points to 10.05 percent, with 39.5 billion rupees of bills sold and 40 billion rupees offered.

Sri Lanka’s Treasuries yield have come down sharply in recent weeks.

The trend was partly helped by some banks which were earlier not buying into bills, starting to buy them.

Deposit in the central banks overnight window (private sector sterilization) has come down from around 200 billion to around 130 billion rupees in recent weeks.

Sri Lanka’s central bank in the past have triggered currency crises and eventual high corrective rates by not allowing Treasury bill yields to move when up private credit picks up and buying them into the balance sheet.

The resulting forex problems are then blamed on budget deficits (politicians) and current account deficits (mainly imports of the public usually petroleum, gold or cars).

The central bank can still buy Treasury bills outright from banks, term or overnight to inject money, alter rupee reserves of banks and encourage them to overtrade and trigger forex shortages, confidence shocks, capital flight and a second default, critics say.

The central bank recently lifted counterparty limits of standing facilities, which are given at the policy rate without a penalty unlike in countries with greater monetary stability.

In recent weeks the central bank has oversold bills outright and injected money long term and short term, though so far overall net injections have been deflationary. (Colombo/Feb28/2024)

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