Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 1 July 2012





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Government Gazette

University of Politics

President keen on testing people's pulse:

Elections not to Opposition liking!

The local political arena heated up with the dissolution of North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provincial Councils last week.

While the ruling UPFA looked confident of another landslide victory, it was not a welcome news for most of the parties in the Opposition. The two main parties the UNP and the JVP are greatly perturbed by the news as the leaders of those parties seem to be having no time for canvassing, already saddled with inside power struggles.

The most disturbed by the news was none other than the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Opposition of any democracy would welcome a decision by a ruling party to hold any type of election. However, it turned out to be a jolt for Wickremesinghe, who has been struggling to retain his position in the UNP.

The extent to which Wickremesinghe got panic after hearing the dissolution of the three Provincial Councils was quite evident in the manner in which he reacted initially by comparing the Government to the LTTE. Could ever right-thinking person with at least some intelligence ever, compare with the then world’s most dangerous and barbaric terrorist outfit which has killed thousands of people with a responsible and people-friendly Government which has saved over a half a million people from the jaws of terrorism?

It will now be another acid test for the political parties in the Opposition, if they are to throw any challenge to the ruling UPFA. The nominations from recognised political parties and independent groups for the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial Council election will be accepted from July 12 to 19 noon at the District Secretariats, the Elections Department announced yesterday.

The Department made this announcement few hours after the notice of dissolution of the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial Councils was published in the Gazette. The exact date of the election is to be announced after considering the number of nomination papers received during the period of accepting nominations from political parties and independent groups.

The deposits from political parties and independent groups are accepted till July 18 noon, the day prior to the last date of accepting nominations.

The Department sources said another period to accept nominations will be declared if no nomination paper is received during this period. According to Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, if one nomination paper is received and accepted by Department officials, that political party or independent group that submitted the list would be declared elected to the Provincial Council uncontested.

However, its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, who has been challenging the UNP leadership, vowed to do his utmost to put his party on the winning track. But it appears to be a gigantic task for Premadasa Junior who has often demonstrated his political immaturity.

The JVP politburo members too had a hurried meeting to plan their initial strategy. But with the JVP suffering another blow with the emergence of a second breakaway group after Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s initial move, its leader Somawansa Amarasinghe is struggling hard even to sustain the little vote base it had.

It seems that Sarath Fonseka, the defeated candidate at the last Presidential election and released recently from jail on a special presidential pardon, has now understood his true political strength and ability. That is perhaps why Fonseka declared immediately that his newly-formed political party would keep away from the upcoming Provincial Council elections – a smarter way to evade another election defeat!

Speaking at a news conference last week, Fonseka said that the Democratic Party, the new political party he formed recently, will skip the elections to North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provincial Councils.

Prior to the dissolution of the three Provincial Councils, President Mahinda Rajapaksa summoned a special meeting of the Governors, Chief Ministers, Provincial Council Ministers and Government officials of the three provinces. When he declared the Government is planning to dissolve the three Provincial Councils, many suggested that this is not the most suitable period as the farmers in these areas were severely affected by the drought.

But a determined President said that they would go ahead with the dissolution as this is the most suitable period to find out the affection of the rural masses towards the Government and “how sensitive the people are”.

Demand for garments

When the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus trade facility was withdrawn a few years ago, many people here thought that it would be the end of road for Sri Lanka’s garment industry. But President Rajapaksa firmly believed that Sri Lanka could face the challenge and that the country should now bow down to the strings attached with human rights.

In fact, the GSP plus was initially granted to Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami devastation and some in the local garment industry took things for granted. When the European Union threatened to withdraw the GSP facility enjoyed by Sri Lanka during the battle against terrorism, citing human rights allegations, Sri Lanka Government quite rightly thought that the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is much more important that a few hundred extra Euros earned through GSP plus trade facility.

Thanks to a fearless leader who firmly believed in our ability and put the country before self, the quality of Sri Lanka’s garments was good enough for the country to remain in international markets and none of the garment industry employees lost their jobs after the EU withdrew the GSP plus. In fact, it was the retail stores in London, at which there is a big demand for quality garments produced in Sri Lanka, which protested over the EU’s decision.

But the US was not influenced by the EU’s decision and extended its GSP plus facility to Sri Lanka, probably considering the quality and the demand for Sri Lanka’s garments.

The US, while declaring that Sri Lanka would continue to enjoy the US GSP concession, said yesterday that Sri Lanka has taken significant steps to improve the worker rights environment in the country. “United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that USTR has closed the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) country practice review on worker rights in Sri Lanka without any change to Sri Lanka’s GSP trade benefits.” the US embassy in Colombo said in a statement.

It said that the Government, over the last few years, has taken significant steps to improve the worker rights environment in the country - progress in initiating, investigating and resolving unfair labour practices cases; the establishment of trade union facilitation centers in each of the three largest Economic Processing Zones; improved procedures for conducting union certifications; and enactment of legislation to increase the fines for labour practices violations. The observation by the US is a great setback to local trade union leaders, especially those in the JVP who have been exploiting innocent factory workers to fulfill their political agenda. The JVP trade unionists, headed by K.D. Lalkantha, who was rejected by people at the last parliamentary general elections and lost his seat in the Parliament, should at least desist from exploiting ignorance of workers to put their political agendas in motion.

Opposition allegations

Over the past few weeks, the opportunist Opposition politicians went to town alleging that the Government has a secret pact with the US and that the Ministry of External Affairs has submitted a document relating to the implementation of proposals made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

However, all attempts to get petty political mileage were shortlived as the Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga on Monday dismissed such reports that neither he nor External Affairs Minister Prof G. L. Peiris had submitted a document relating to the implementation of the LLRC proposals to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during their official visit to Washington in May.

Minister Prof Peiris has repeatedly denied he had submitted any document or secret plan regarding the implementation of the recommendations made in the LLRC report since his return to the island after his meeting with Clinton.

“We are yet to determine the potentiality of recommendations in the LLRC report and which recommendations can be implemented,” said Secretary Weeratunga, who is also the head of the Cabinet-appointed Task Force overlooking the implementation of the LLRC report.

Asked to explain if it was or was not the document which came to be published by an English newspaper under the headline ‘GL- Clinton deal on LLRC implementation revealed’ that was submitted by them to Clinton, the Secretary to the President has said that the article was speculative and misleading. “ It was a guideline document prepared by me for the use of our team in Washington. It was never meant to be submitted or submitted to the US Secretary of State by us,” he said.

However, it had got to the hands of this newspaper. According to Secretary Weeratunga, the so-called document was a reference paper used among them, during the meetings with US officials. It was used for ease in making presentations. There was no submission of this paper to the US Secretary of State, he added.

As President Rajapaksa has quite rightly pointed out before, the implementation of the LLRC is entirely a matter of the Government and no outside element which pontificate us what Sri Lanka should do. Commenting on the progress of LLRC implementation, the Secretary to the President said the Task Force is studying the recommendations. “We will announce what recommendations could be implemented in due course. We plan to announce the short-term strategy of implementation by mid July,” Secretary Weeratunga said.

Relief for affected farmers

The severe drought in many parts of the country has threatened the livelihood of thousands of farmers, with 150,000 acres of paddy lands in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Puttalam districts at risk of being destroyed.

Lack of education in water management among farmers and the people in the dry zone has aggravated this situation. Authorities stressed the importance of educating farmers on proper water management methods to be adopted in times of drought. The situation has a serious impact on hydro power generation, leaving the energy sector to depend on fuel guzzling thermal power as water levels continue to recede in the main reservoirs.

The farmer community played a key role in bringing the UPFA Government to power and strengthening the mandate given to the President. Understanding the pulse of the people who depend on cultivation, the President has ordered immediate relief for farmers affected by the drought.

President Rajapaksa has said that farmers who provide rice to the nation.

Accordingly, Agrarian Services and Wildlife Minister S M Chandrasena instructed relevant officials to collect data related to the drought to provide relief to those affected. The President had appointed a committee to provide all the assistance to the drought hit farmers as soon as possible and to provide subsidies to those affected by the drought. The President has also given a directive to offer relief to farmers who had obtained bank loans.

President returns

President Rajapaksa returned to the country last Sunday after a successful official visits to Cuba and Brazil during which he participated in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro. In Cuba prior to the Rio+20 summit, the President met Cuban leader Raul Castro and held discussions to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.

The President addressing the Rio+20 Summit, the UN’s largest conference on green economy and sustainable development, called for developed countries, which largely contribute to the environmental crisis, to take the responsibility of saving the environment and not leave it to the developing nations at the cost of their development. The President noted in Sri Lanka, development was not at the expense of nature and pointed out that both protecting nature and development go hand in hand.

The Rio+20 Summit was attended by a number of world leaders, members of both government and non-governmental organisations and members of private sector organisations. On the sidelines of the green summit, President Rajapaksa met several world leaders to apprise them of the present situation in Sri Lanka and encourage them to enhance bilateral ties in various sectors, including trade, technology and agriculture.



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