National Council to become a part of Parliamentary system – Prime Minister | Sunday Observer

National Council to become a part of Parliamentary system – Prime Minister

25 September, 2022

The ‘National Council’ which strives for unanimously agreed upon national policies, will become a part of the parliamentary system, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Tuesday.

The Premier said that the decision on setting up the National Council was taken following three rounds of discussions with all the political parties that represent the House.

Premier Gunawardena was presenting the resolution on the National Council to the House on Tuesday. Explaining the powers and common responsibilities of the National Council, the Premier said that setting common priorities for Parliament to guide short, medium, and long-term national policy-making is one of them.

He said establishing consensus on economic stabilisation and on medium-term common programs is another responsibility of the Council, the Prime Minister said. Organising activities for special meetings attended by Cabinet Ministers, National Council, Chairpersons of Special Committees and observers of Youth Organisations is another such responsibility.

The Prime Minister said, “In particular, we believe that this committee will discuss and guide policy measures to secure and support the lives of the common people, which is the most serious national challenge in recent times, namely the economic crisis, the financial crisis, the debt repayment crisis and social issues.”

The proposal on setting up the ‘National Council’ was passed by the House without a vote on Tuesday. The proposal was presented to the House by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

The Chairmanship of the National Council will be held by the Speaker and the rest of the members include the Prime Minister, Leader of the House, Opposition Leader, Chief Organiser of the government, and 35 MPs from political parties that represent the ninth Parliament as decided by the Party Leaders.

Unique opportunity

President Ranil Wickremesinghe got a unique opportunity to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s State funeral as a son of the parents who participated in her coronation ceremony. It would undoubtedly go down in the annals of British and Sri Lankan history.

President Wickremesinghe’s parents Esmond Wickremesinghe and Nalani Wickremesinghe along with the then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake had attended Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation ceremony in February, 1952. Therefore, the name of President Wickremesinghe would go down in world history as well as in the books of British history as who got such a rare opportunity to attend the Royal funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, on an invitation from the British Government.

Along with the President, First Lady Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe, President’s Private Secretary Sandra Perera, and President’s Director of International Affairs Dinouk Colombage, two security officers and the official medical officer accompanied him to London.

Interestingly, air travel expenses of the First Lady were borne by her. A special dinner for the President and his delegation was hosted at the Sri Lankan High Commission in London by Neranjan Devaditya, Special Presidential Envoy for Western Europe.

President Wickremesinghe and his wife paid their last respects to the Queen and High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to the United Kingdom, Saroja Sirisena was also present.

After paying his last respects to the remains of the Queen, President Wickremesinghe also had the opportunity to join the dinner, hosted by King Charles III at Buckingham Palace that evening to welcome the guests. Wickremesinghe met King Charles III and King Charles inquired about the situation in Sri Lanka.

Congratulating him on his accession to the throne, the President did not forget to recall Charles’ visit to Sri Lanka as the Prince of Wales. “You came for the 50th Independence Day as the Prince of Wales. We invite the King to our 75th Independence Day celebration,” President Wickremesinghe told the King.

When Wickremesinghe was bidding his farewell, after a brief friendly exchange, King Charles said that he would provide the support to rescue Sri Lanka from the situation it is in.

“Not the solution”

Parliamentarian Dullas Alahapperuma said in Parliament the proposal to set up a National Council was not the solution to the economic crisis but a political ploy.

Independent MP Alahapperuma was participating in the debate on the proposal to establish a National Council. He said that the ‘National Government’ is not a new concept and the Constitution does not contain any details on the ‘National Council’.

The ‘National Council’ does not hold any executive powers. Therefore, as the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) independent MPs group, we do not accept this National Council.

Alahapperuma said, “Through this council, the idea of an All-Party Government is realised. However, the Government is presenting this concept after appointing a list of State Ministers. They are using this concept as a cover up.

This is only a political gimmick. Millions of students are suffering from a food crisis. The Government has failed to provide meals to them. It is misusing the economic crisis and the concept of a National Council. If the Government wants to get all the political parties together, it should have an honest approach,” he said.

NPP will not join National Council

National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka said that the NPP will not join the National Council. Dissanayaka said that the Government has planned to set up a National Council only to convince the international community that all the political parties are working with the Government.

Dissanayaka was speaking at the debate on the proposal to set up a National Council in Parliament on Tuesday. He said that the Government has no genuine intention to find a solution to the economic crisis. Dissanayake said, “The Government is now trying to alleviate local and international pressure by setting up a national council and showing international organisations that the Government is working with all political parties. It is of no use joining such a council. So, we will not join it.”

He said, “The National Council proposed by the Opposition called for an Interim Government. However, no such Government was set up. It was proposed to appoint key positions including the Prime Minister, Cabinet with the agreement of the political party leaders in the National Council. However, all those positions have already been filled.”

Four State Ministers under Bandula

Following the recent appointment of 38 States Ministers by the President, four State Ministers come under the purview of Minister Bandula Gunawardana.

Lasantha Alagiyawanna has been appointed as the State Minister of Transport, Shantha Bandara as State Minister of Media, Siripala Gamlath as State Minister of Highways and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan as the State Minister of Rural Development.

Except for Siripala Gamlath, other three State Ministers assumed duties when Minister Gunawardana was in Russia. State Minister Chandrakanthan also assumed duties at Minister Gunawardana’s office as he had not been reserved an office.

When Minister Gunawardana returned to the country, his Media Secretary had informed him of the issue requesting him to provide an immediate solution. Then Minister Gunawardana had phoned Chandrakanthan and asked him to use his office at Sethsiripaya building for his official activities.

Foreign Minister at UNGA

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry who is leading the Sri Lanka delegation to the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (77th UNGA) has met a number of leaders of delegations of the UN member states and addressed several high-level events in New York.

Minister Sabry met the President of the United States of America Joseph Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden at a dinner hosted by the US President. He also met the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina.

Bilateral discussions were also held with the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the US Victoria Nuland, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Somalia Abshir Omar Jama, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of Namibia Jenelly Matundu, Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Vladimir Norov and the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Faisal bin Farhan and the Foreign Minister of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan.

Foreign Minister Sabry addressed the Ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, Ministerial meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia and the Ministerial meeting of the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative hosted by China.

The Minister also met the Assistant Secretary General and Regional Director for the Asia Pacific of the UNDP Kanni Wignarajah for a discussion on future UNDP projects in Sri Lanka. Foreign Minister Sabry was scheduled to address the 77th session of UNGA yesterday.

SLFP gets tough

SLFP General Secretary MP Dayasiri Jayasekera said the SLFP has decided to expel the Parliamentarians who went against the Party decision and obtained Ministerial posts in the Government from their Party positions. He said that SLFP Chairman and former President Maithripala Sirisena has sent letters to six Parliamentarians informing them of their removal from the positions they held in the SLFP.

Jayasekera said that positions held by MPs Nimal Siripala De Silva and Mahinda Amaraweera, who accepted Cabinet ministerial portfolios in the Government have been abolished.

He said that Party Treasurer Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Deputy Secretaries Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, Chamara Sampath Dasanayake, Jagath Pushpakumara will also lose their positions in the party.

However he said that no decision has been taken regarding their party membership. Earlier the Party abolished the positions held by MPs Shantha Bandara and Suren Raghavan after they joined the Government without the SLFP’s consent.

No threat to SLPP

SLPP General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam said the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) will appoint a new Chairman to the Party replacing the current Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris in line with the party’s constitution at the next Executive Committee.

He told the media at the party headquarters in Battaramulla on Tuesday that the incumbent Chairman Prof. Peiris choosing a different political path for his future will not have an impact on the SLPP.

Kariyawasam said the SLPP respects the service rendered by Prof. Peiris as the chairman and therefore, he would not be expelled from the position in an ad hoc manner. Although there are several suggestions to fill this position, the final decision will be taken by the party’s executive committee in accordance with the Party’s constitution, he said.

Intense argument

Chief Opposition Whip MP Lakshman Kiriella urged the Government to table the agreement between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Government of Sri Lanka. MP Kiriella said that it is a dishonour to the House if the Speaker needs to inquire as to why the document has not yet been submitted to the House.

An intense argument followed in the Chamber as Opposition MPs questioned the Government as to why the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was not yet presented to the House. MP Kiriella said the Opposition demands a debate on the agreement, however, it cannot proceed with it as they are unaware of the content of the said agreement.

He said, “I request that the agreement with the International Monetary Fund to Parliament. Although the Government said there is no agreement, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Sabry told the UNHRC that there is an agreement, if the information of the agreement is not given to Parliament, do not expect our support.”

Kiriella asked whether the Government was hiding the agreement from the House and the people.

PM meets SLPJA members

On Thursday Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena met the members of the Sri Lanka Parliamentary Journalists Association (SLPJA) at the Parliament complex.

Journalists representing print, electronic and websites participated by representing all the media institutions. This is the first time Premier Gunawardena met a group of journalists after he assumed duties as the Prime Minister.

The President of the Association senior journalist Prageeth Perea commenced his conversation with the Prime Minister once he entered the conference room. Minister of Mass Media Dr. Bandula Gunawardana, State Minister of Mass Media Shantha Bandara and Parliamentarian Yadamini Gunawardena had also joined the Prime Minister. Premier Gunawardena who went to each table exchanged pleasantries with all parliamentary journalists.

“Violation of privileges”

The 13 SLPP independent MPs led by MP Dullas Alahapperuma held a press conference in the Parliament premises on Wednesday as a protest against not allocating time for them to speak in the House. Parliamentarians Dullas Alahapperuma, Prof. G.L. Peiris, Prof. Charitha Herath, Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Prof. Gunapala Rathnasekara, Udayana Kirindigoda and Dr. Thilak Rajapakshe were at the press briefing. Prof. G.L. Peiris said that the Government is calling on all political parties to work together and form a National Council; however, it is not even ensuring the freedom of expression of Parliamentarians.

He said that it is a violation of the powers and privileges of the Parliamentarians as well. Prof.Peiris said that the Government is using repression not just outside the Parliament, but inside the Chamber as well. He also said that they will take the matter to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the SAARC regional organisation.

President’s visit to Japan

UNP Chairman MP Wajira Abeywardena said President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to Japan next week is important to rebuild the country’s economy.

He told the media in Galle, that the President is taking great pains to arrive at a consensus with Sri Lankan’s creditors and donors. Abeywardena said, “President Wickremesinghe is the only contemporary leader in Sri Lanka who has the international recognition to proceed on this task. All public representatives in Parliament and the public have a responsibility to support his endeavours to rebuild the economy,” he said.

Commenting on President Wickremesinghe’s visit to the UK to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, MP Abeywardena said that Wickremesinghe’s father Esmond Wickremesinghe and mother Nalini Wickremesinghe had attended the coronation ceremony of the Queen back in 1953.

The MP said that the media should cease inciting hatred and anger among the public and adopt a self-regulatory mechanism.

ADB meeting

The 55th session of the ADB Annual Meeting will be conducted in the Philippines from September 26 to 30. Earlier, it had been planned to conduct the sessions in Sri Lanka. However, later it was changed due to economic hardships and political instability in the country.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is due to attend the ADB Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors. The Finance Ministers, Central Bank Governors and Finance Ministry officials of the member countries of the ADB will attend the meeting.

This time the annual chairmanship of the ADB will be offered to Sri Lanka and President Wickremesinghe who is also the Minister of Finance will chair the meeting. This time the President has been elected to the ADB chairmanship following a request made by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in 2016.

However, permission had been granted to Karunanayake’s request by the heads of the ADB in 2017. Former Minister Karunanayake said the ADB meeting which is held biannually would have been turned into a good opportunity to bring dollars to Sri Lanka. However that opportunity was lost due to the acts of the former Government.

The ADB meeting concludes on September 30 and the ADB chairmanship will be given to Sri Lanka and President Wickremesinghe will hold the chairmanship for two years.