The Speaker rules that public finance is the prerogative of Parliament.
The Speakers ruling infringes on judicial decisions says the opposition and calls upon the Speaker to act conscientiously

The dry spell prevailing in the country due to the El-Nino atmospheric conditions has its own ramifications economically and socially.

It has become a major issue as far as farmers are concerned due to the acute shortage of water for paddy cultivation.

The effects it is having on Sri Lanka and the South Asian region is causing severe economic hardship and India has banned rice exports expecting a food crisis.

El-Nino is a climate pattern that affects the ocean and atmosphere in the equatorial region and can bring extreme weather in the form of drought or flooding. This can have a severe effect on the agricultural production of the region, which is why India has taken the precautionary measure of banning rice exports to protect against a possible food crisis.

India’s ban on rice exports has pushed up the prices of Thailand and Vietnam which will trickle down to Sri Lanka if our yield also gets affected due to the dry weather patterns looming over the country.

The paddy farmers in the Walawe region have demanded water for cultivating as the Walawe basin is facing severe repercussions of the drought.

Farmers have demanded that water from the Samanala Wewa that has been stored to generate electricity to the Southern province be released for cultivation. The agitations of the farmers had political undertones which could culminate in a major struggle that the left political parties areyearning for. However, the Cabinet of President Ranil Wickremesinghe resolved to release water from the Samanala Weva reservoir for agricultural purposes.  It has virtually subdued the growing resistance towards the government.

The drought has already caused economic issues with the yield of the tea plantations taking a nosedive. As a result, the cost of living is likely to increase once again when commodity prices in the Asian markets get affected due to the prevailing drought.

Meanwhile, Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekara reassured the people that there would not be power outages owing to the prevailing weather conditions in the country. He said that the Ceylon Electricity Board had taken all necessary measures to ensure the uninterrupted supply of electricity to all parts of the country during the dry spell. He also said that they had taken preventative measures to avoid any power outages due to strong winds.

Addressing a news conference at the Presidential Secretariat, Minister Wijesekara provided reassurances to the public that the government is not prepared to encounter any instance of power shortages. He strongly advised citizens to resist the spread of false information propagated by specific political factions regarding water release for electricity generation. He emphasized that such allegations are deceptive and should be treated with skepticism.

Minister Wijesekera’s statements were delivered as part of the ‘Collective Path to a Stable Country’ news conference, during which he addressed concerns pertaining to the power supply situation. He earnestly appealed to the public not to be swayed by political campaigns that aim to instill unnecessary apprehension about potential power disruptions. In his speech, he emphasized the government’s commitment to providing an incessant power supply to the public and urged citizens to learn about the facts and progress of the power sector. He also urged the public to be conscious of the efforts taken by the government to ensure energy security.

Wijesekara further said the Cabinet has decided to ensure an uninterrupted electricity supply to all regions of the island and maximize the use of water from the Samanala Wewa Reservoir for electricity generation.

As part of this effort, the Electricity Board has already initiated the release of 3.5 million cubic meters of water from the Reservoir, starting at 3:00 am on the 08 of August, for the purpose of generating electricity.

However, it is said that power generation could only stretch up to the 15th of August and there would be blackouts in the Southern region if emergency power was not purchased. Emergency power would also come at a price since there are a number of unsettled bills for the power purchased from private power suppliers. When the government defaults, emergency power suppliers turn to influential legal consultants to get their bills settled. This has happened during the previous regime giving these legal consultants a lucrative business by exerting their political clout on the government agencies when they default and getting the State to settle the bills. Nevertheless there is a doubt whether it would be possible any longer.

Besides all the political under currents relating to the release of water for cultivation and the dry spell, a determined President Wickremesinghe wanting to implement the salient features in the 13th Amendment to the constitution, addressed Parliament on Wednesday.  He outlined his government’s proposal to enhance the powers of the Provincial Council to empower them to play an active and a critical role in the country’s development programmes.

The President pointed out the necessity to amend the constitution to bring in effective and meaningful devolution through the Provincial Councils. He also said that since the enactment of the 13th Amendment in 1987, it has been there as part of the constitution requiring corresponding legislation to make it more progressive.

He cited examples from the West where smaller countries have implemented devolution for the benefit of the people and especially to serve the needs of minority communities enabling them toproactively participate in governance. The President said that he has only three votes in Parliament and emphasised the need for all the members to take them through the portals of Parliament. He presented a number of other laws including the Land Commission Bill for the political parties represented in Parliament to study and take a decision. Once all that is enacted, the President said elections for the Provincial Councils could be held. He also said a number of other organisations including Minister Douglas Devananda have presented a set of proposals to resolve the ethnic question. The President also underlined the importance of setting up of a Truth Commission, Office of Missing Persons and mechanisms similar to that of South Africa to respond to the many queries posed by the people of the North and the East about their missing relatives and loved ones.

However, the President skipped the crucial question of granting Police powers to the provinces, described by the Tamil parties as the most critical demand and mandatory. There is skepticism whether the TNA and other Tamil parties would ever participate in the parliamentary process to pass the relevant legislation including an amendment to the constitution sans police powers to the provinces. The centre nevertheless would consider minimal police powers to the provinces such as traffic duties and crowd control that had been rejected with contempt by the Tamil parties.

The centre has apprehensions about granting police powers to the provinces since there could be an element of risk involved in doing so. Even in the South, it is reluctant to grant such powers since most of the elected members would be novices in the political realm. In the North and the East, even after fourteen years following the end of the civil strife, the trust built among the communities is dwindling and is creating a wide gap as far as the mutual trust among the communities is concerned. After one year of the popular uprising against the establishment (Aragalaya) the unity among the communities that was demonstrated during the time has gradually diminished. At the end of a year nearly 60 percent of the people have said that it (Aragalaya) had not delivered the desired result.

During the Parliamentary proceedings on Wednesday, the Chief opposition whip Prassana Ranatunga toed a conciliatory line to the president’s proposals, saying that his party leader former President Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to grant 13+ and was even ready to allow the Chief Ministers of the provinces to take part in Cabinet meetings. He purportedly discounted the SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam’s view on the matter.

Contradicitng the position taken by Kariyawasam who said that a stand-in President has no mandate to do anything outside the parameters of his predecessor President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s political trajectory for which he received the mandate of the people. In other words Kariyawasam implied that devolution and resolving the ethnic question through political means was alien to their political project that had its roots based on the majority Sinhalese thinking.  

Dayasiri Jayasekara speaking on the occasion said that the President’s proposal had a number of positive steps but needed a wider discussion with all parliamentarians in the North and the East for the sake of inclusivity.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa offering his point of view said that the people’s mandate is entrenched in the system and it was crucial in a vibrant democracy. He invited the President to embark on the project to strengthen the provincial council system by holding elections, which are essential, to the now defunct councils.

He said it is imperative to have a functioning democracy in the provinces and stressed that the crucial factor of all is to hold the Provincial Council elections first and move from there.

He underscored the fact that the opposition does not oppose all the time for the sake of opposing but it is done in a constructive manner. “We have supported the government in all its progressive steps and the Anti-Corruption Bill is one such occasion where opposition support was forthcoming unreservedly”

Premadasa in his innate disposition of characterquoted US President Abraham Lincoln and said the government is for the people, by the people and for the people.

The President seemingly jolted said he did not say that elections would be denied but would be held accordingly once Parliament fulfils its obligations of enacting the necessary legislation. He also took swipes at Sajith Premadasa saying how President Lincoln dissolved councils in Maryland and West Virginia without constitutional power to do so but arrogating judicial power and said “if you want me to do that I will do it”

Sajith replied that breaking away from a confederation is a different story and here there was nobody who wanted to break away. He said that the President was trying to take the House on a different flight that has no bearing on the Sri Lankan situation.

Former Minister Rauf Hakeem, Minister Douglas Devananda, and several others contributed stressing on what their line of thinking is in the resolution of the 13th Amendment to the constitution.

The government has started taking positive steps to devise a National Policy and Action Plan on Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism.

Accordingly, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal presented by the President, as the Minister of Finance, to implement the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism National Policy for 2023-2028 in order to ensure the situation in Sri Lanka and to implement action plans that include the tasks to be performed by the respective institutions as a solution to the identified weaknesses in preventing money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism.

The government under the Financial Intelligence Unit established as per the provisions of the Financial Transactions Reporting Act, No. 6 of 2006 has set up a department of the Central Bank that enforces provisions of the act to prevent money laundering, financing of terrorism and other illegal activities as defined in the Act.

At the same time, a national policy on the matter has been necessary to implement the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force, which is the inter-governmental body that sets international standards to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.

The 3rd mutual evaluation of Sri Lanka conducted by the Asia Pacific Regional Group on Money Laundering is scheduled to start in March. Hence as a prerequisite, the government will introduce a national action plan against money laundering and terrorist financing, which is an essential international requirement to prevent terrorism financing.

The latest controversy relates to a ruling by the Speaker that the Judiciary should not issue directions relating to public finance since it is the prerogative of Parliament. There were howls of protest from the opposition benches against the ruling. The opposition called upon the Speaker to take an independent stance without being a pawn of the President. The Speaker said that his decision was following proper legal advice, but the opposition said the Speaker should not infringe on the decisions of the judiciary nor trample on the rights of the citizen.

Professor G.L. Pereis said that the ruling would trigger a constitutional crisis, while opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said that equal treatment for every citizen is what is expected by the drafters of the constitution. While the government is heaping a heavy burden on the superannuation funds of poor workers, it has opted to give a windfall to the primary bond holders. That itself creates a dichotomy and imbalance, which is material for a Fundamental Rights violation case against the state, he said.