By Shamindra Ferdinando
Opposition spokesperson Prof. G. L. Peiris has alleged that two new laws that dealt with terrorism and corruption were meant to consolidate the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa regime.
The former External Affairs Minister discussed the government’s agenda pertaining to the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill and Anti-Corruption Bill. He said the Anti-Corruption Bill was actually meant to protect those who had robbed the country, and thereby create a safer environment for them. On the other hand, the new law discouraged whistle blowers by warning of punitive action in case information provided by them didn’t yield expected results, the National List MP said. Those who risked their lives to expose corruption faced a 10-year prison term or Rs 1 mn penalty, the ex-minister said. How that could be acceptable, the Prof. asked.
Referring to the recent heavy deployment of the military, targeting the University of Colombo, Prof. Peiris, a former Vice Chancellor of the same university, said the government’s response to unverified possible threats indicated the developing situation and what could happen in case the government succeeded in enacting a new anti-terrorism law.
Prof. Peiris declared that the government was compelled to put off the vote on the Anti-Terrorism Bill due to growing protests, both in and outside Parliament. “Having perused the so-called anti-corruption bill, I could say it was a farce,” Prof. Peiris said, alleging the government quite conveniently had forgotten to deal with stolen money.
A group of 13 MPs including Prof. Peiris broke ranks with the ruling party over its decision to vote for UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the vote to elect a President, from among the MPs, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term.
Prof. Peiris dismissed as ridiculous the government’s much-touted slogan ‘developed country by 2048’. “We have to overcome the current political-economic-social crisis. It would be impractical to make plans for 2048 when we are not sure whether the country can surmount still developing country,” Prof. Peiris said.
Prof. Peiris said that the government agenda was clear. While promising a new anti-corruption law, the government, for all intents and purposes, had crippled the Committee on Public Finance (CoPF). Contrary to Standing Orders, the government continued to deprive the Opposition of the chairmanship of the watchdog committee, Prof. Peiris said, drawing the attention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to what he called actions contrary to the assurances given to them.
He, however, expressed confidence that the IMF delegation currently here, would look into all aspects as it was their responsibility, too, to ensure Sri Lanka subject itself to course correction.
During the course of the briefing, Prof. Peiris also pointed out how irresponsible the government had been, pertaining to a Bill, titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka,’ and misinterpretation of the Supreme Court ruling. What could you expect when the SC found one-third of the Bill unconstitutional and the Attorney General was compelled to propose several dozens of amendments to make the Bill compatible with the Constitution, Prof. Peiris said, adding that due to Opposition protests the government put off the vote on that particular Bill. It was originally to be debated and vote on last week.
Declaring that a new wave of public protests was in the offing, Prof. Peiris said that that would be the result of economic difficulties caused by ill-fated and reckless decisions. Domestic debt restructuring would make matters worse, Prof. Peiris said, adding that during a recent meeting trade union representatives had with the visiting IMF delegation, they were told in no uncertain terms that it was a must. They were told that there wouldn’t be restructuring of external debt unless Sri Lanka undertook a local process, the former minister said.