Path to sustained peace hailed, while JO faces quagmire | Sunday Observer

Path to sustained peace hailed, while JO faces quagmire

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and the team in discussion with the President and senior officials.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and the team in discussion with the President and senior officials.

The Constitutional Council (CC) members led by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya are expected to discuss appointing officials to handle matters pertaining to missing persons in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena signing the gazette notice on the Office of Missing Persons Act. The Office will consist of seven members who will be recommended by the CC for endorsement by the President.

President Maithiripala Sirisena last week signed the Office of the Missing Persons Act. The Act was unanimously approved in August 2016,and was awaiting executive sanction until yesterday.

Parliament passed the “Office of the Mission Persons Act No. 14 of 2016” for which the objectives include “to provide for the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons; to provide for the searching and tracing of Missing Persons; to provide assistance to relatives of Missing Persons; for the setting up of a database of Missing Persons; for setting out the procedures and guidelines applicable to the powers and functions assigned to the said office; and to provide for all matters connected with or incidental to, the implementation of the provisions of this Act”.

President Sirisena confirmed the signing tweeting, “I signed the Office of Missing Persons Gazette today”. The peace makers hailed this, saying the signing of the gazette marks another step towards Sri Lanka’s drive to sustained peace.”

Foreign Affairs Minister, Ravi Karunanayake said, the Office would not be confined to those who were affected during the war. “People in Sri Lanka think we have ‘sold’ the country and people abroad think we have done nothing. There are a lot of things we have done,” he said.

“Transitional Justice has four mechanisms, and one among those is the Office of the Missing Persons. This doesn’t only look at the period of civil disobedience, it also looks into the insurrections in ‘71, and the JVP insurrection is also in that. But, nobody talks of that,” he said. Karunanayake said, the Act will now follow the “normal” process.

The normal process will follow with the Constitutional Council nominating people and the President will then decide who the Chairman should be”.

Commended

Appreciating this initiative by the government, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday commended the Government for establishing the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), a significant milestone for all Sri Lankans still searching for truth about their missing loved ones, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said in a statement.

“The United Nations stands ready to support this process and the Secretary-General looks forward to the OMP becoming operational as soon as possible, starting with the appointment of the independent commissioners.”

Co-existence

Last week also witnessed a major event that brought the leaders and the communities together when the Ministry of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages, headed by Minister Mano Ganeshan on Tuesday launched a book ‘Sri Lankawe Janathawa’ (People in Sri Lanka) which features ethnic minority communities in the island. The event was held at the BMICH.

The first copies of the book were presented to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan, Minister Mano Ganeshan, Joint Opposition Member Vasudeva Nanayakkara, several MPs, Governors and Chief Ministers participated in the event.

During the event, Minister Ganeshan commended the work done by MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who was the former Minister of his Ministry and said he (Ganeshan) would continue to implement the projects initiated by the former Minister. After the launch he would have felt a little embarrassed as he made these comments at an event where the President was the chief guest and he explained to the President why he commended Nanayakkara. The President’s response however was positive.

At least 19 communities, having roots back in China, India, Africa, the Dutch, Iran (then Persia), Pakistan and Malaysia are featured in the book, giving an in depth explanation of their culture and customs.

President Maithripala Sirisena also presented awards for the individuals who contributed to the book representing the 19 ethnic groups.

During this ceremony President Sirisena presented a memento to UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Una McCauley.

Initial report

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking at the same event said, an initial report on the proposed new Constitution is now being formulated to be presented to Parliament for discussion. “It is not a report that would divide the country. Neither is it a report of the majority or a minority. It will only be a basis for further discussion and debate, which the Constitutional Council can take into account in formulating the final draft.”

The Prime Minister added that during the period of the conflict, they first thought of finding a political solution to the communal problem through a new Constitution. That was not done because the introduction of a new Constitution would not find a solution to the problem during a time of war.

“First of all, mutual understanding had to be created among communities. Now that unity and understanding had been created among communities, they had gained an opportunity to work on a new Constitution,” he said.

The Prime Minister said for the first time after the war, they are trying to move forward with all communities under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena. Their version of politics was not based on communalism or religionism.

Instead, their objective was to govern the country with an economic, political and social vision. Their intention was to steer the country forward devoid of conflict.

Referring to Minister Mano Ganeshan, the Prime Minister said Ganeshan had always fought for communal and religious amity. As such, he had the best credentials to play a prominent role in building national unity and coexistence.

Foreign support

Last week also saw the visits of several foreign delegates. The first was the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman who stated that the UN would continue to extend its fullest support to Sri Lanka’s development process and reconciliation. He said this when he called on President Maithripala Sirisena at the President’s Official Residence in Colombo, last week.

The UN Official expressed appreciation over the progress made by Sri Lanka in many areas despite challenges of natural calamities, adverse weather conditions and small groups of political hardliners in the North and South.

President Sirisena pointed out that a few extreme elements in the North compel the poor people in displacement camps not to accept land and houses offered to them by the government and to demand lands from other areas. Similarly, some political opportunists in the South level baseless allegations against the government. But the government is determined to implement its programs for reconciliation and development, he said.

The strengthening of democratic institutions and enhancing strategic communication to make people aware of progressive development activities of the government were also discussed during the meeting.

President Sirisena said Sri Lanka is committed to the United Nations Charter as a long standing member nation. Feltmen expressed appreciation over Sri Lanka’s contribution to the United Nations in the past and assured continuous support. He also referred to Sri Lanka’s contribution to the UN Peace Keeping Force. The President urged the UN to increase the intake of Sri Lankan soldiers to the UN Peace Keeping Force.

Feltman said that when he flew to Trincomalee he could see the devastation due to droughts in the East. President Sirisena said that he travelled to Kantale today and some areas had not received rains for nearly a year and many cultivations were destroyed. He assured that assistance would be provided under the UN Development Program.

This is the Under-Secretary-General’s third visit to Sri Lanka and is a follow up to his 2015 visit after the change of government. He also accompanied the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon to Sri Lanka.

Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Secretary to the President, Austin Fernando, Foreign Secretary Esala Weerakoon and UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Una McCauley were also present on this occasion.

During his visit Feltman also met with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan and other party members and held discussions with the party leaders on the progress of peace building in Sri Lanka.

Australia

The next foreign delegate to visit Sri Lanka last week was Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. She visited the island at a crucial moment when Sri Lanka is facing a severe dengue epidemic. Her country has successfully mitigated the epidemic and has found scientific methods to eradicate dengue.

In Colombo, Bishop announced a major Australian assistance to combat dengue fever in Sri Lanka when she met with the President. Recalling that President Sirisena made special mention about the spreading of dengue and Chronic Kidney Disease in Sri Lanka during his recent State visit to Australia, Bishop expressed happiness that Australia could announce two programs to assist dengue prevention. Foreign Minister Bishop said Australia would immediately provide Australian $ 475,000 (Rs. 58 million) to the World Health Organization to implement immediate dengue prevention, management and eradication programs in Sri Lanka. She said Australia would provide an additional Aus. $ 1 million (Rs. 118 million) for a research partnership between Australia’s Monash University and Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry to test the introduction of naturally occurring Wolbachia bacteria to eradicate dengue fever from Sri Lanka.

Divided

News also broke last week that the Joint Opposition (JO) is divided over the Constitution making process with one group insisting on immediate withdrawal from the Constitutional Assembly (CA) and the other adamant on remaining in it.

The Federation of National Organisations led by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara at a media conference on Thursday lashed out at the Joint Opposition for deciding to remain in the CA.

This was after the five Parliamentarians from the National Freedom Front, led by Wimal Weerawansa decided to leave the assembly. It was reported that Wimal Weerawansa met Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in his office in Parliament and informed him with a written letter that he and the other four NFF MPs are leaving the Assembly.

The CA was formed following a resolution passed unanimously in Parliament in March last year to formulate a new Constitution.

All 225 MPs are members in it and its first sitting was held on April 5 and appointed a 21-member Steering Committee headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to deal with the core issues relating to the Constitution.

Sub-committees

In the meantime, six sub-committees were appointed by the CA on “fundamental rights, Judiciary, finance, public service, law and order, centre-periphery” and their reports were placed before the CA by the Prime Minister on November 19, 2016. The CA has so far conducted four sittings.

Dr. Amarasekara, speaking to the media in Rajagiriya in the wake of the National Freedom Front (NFF) led by MP Wimal Weerawansa pulling out of the CA, made a scathing remark on the other JO members for not following suit.

“We condemn the JO’s decision to continue in the CA. The JO is acting against the advice of the Chief Prelates. The people will stand against the JO and reject them at the next election,” he warned.

Responding to Wimal Weerawansa’s act, on July 19 Mano Ganeshan tweeted, “Wimal Weerawansa aims to sabotage the whole country by sabotaging the constitutional process.” Meanwhile, Minister Ajith P. Perera speaking on behalf of the United National Party has said that it is a joke, to say that they are leaving the constitutional process, as all 225 members in Parliament are bound by law to represent the Constitutional Board. “No MP can leave that institution, unless someone wants to resign as an MP.”

Inflation drops

On the economic side, the inflation has dropped in June this year; the year-on-year inflation based on the National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) for the month of June 2017 has decreased to 6.3% from 7.1% in May 2017. Contributions to inflation from the food group and non-food group in June 2017 are 3.9% and 2.4%, whereas contributions of these two groups to inflation in June 2016 were 3.4% and 3.1% respectively.

When comparing month-on-month changes, the NCPI in June 2017 had increased to 123.4 from the 121.8 reported for May 2017. This shows an increase of 1.6 index points or 1.3 percentage points in June 2017, compared to the previous month May 2017. This month-on-month change was due to increases in expenditure value of food items by 1.30% and non-food items by 0.03% respectively.

The increase in expenditure value of food items was due to the price increases in rice, vegetables, fresh fish, dried fish, chicken, red onions, green chilies, tea, lime and garlic. However, decreases in expenditure value in index were reported for coconuts, coconut oil, eggs, big onions, banana, papaw, and tamarind, the Central bank said in a statement.

The government pledged to take steps to boost local livestock production, encourage dairy farming and livestock breeding to further strengthen the industry with the engagement of private sector investors. Inaugurating Lanka Livestock 2017, the country’s biggest international feed, livestock production and animal health exhibition and conference, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said uplifting the livestock industry was a critical factor for rural economic development.

Wickremesinghe said efforts should also be made to bring down the cost of production without depending fully on imports of what could be produced locally and to consider suitable options to address the phenomenon of soaring prices of staple commodities.

He further said the Government is in discussions with countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and India for expertise in methods to enhance livestock productivity that could make a visible and tangible impact on the entire sector. 

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