Wijeyadasa’s revelation: How a Bill to ‘abolish and repeal’ H’tota port agreement stymied
Posted on July 7th, 2020

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

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SLPP Colombo District candidate Wijeyadasa Rajapakse leaving Presidential Commission on ‘Political Victimization’ at the BMICH recently (pic by Sujatha Jayartne)

One-time Justice Minister, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, recently questioned serious shortcomings in the parliamentary as well as political party system to address contentious issues which may have major security implications.

Against the backdrop of recent trouble, at the Colombo port, over the handing over of the East Container Terminal (ECT) to India, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Colombo district candidate Wijeyadasa Rajapakse discussed the controversial and highly dangerous deal with China over the Hambantota port. The outspoken politician emphasized the responsibility on the part of the next parliament to inquire into those inadequacies and take remedial measures.

Alleging that the country’s security is at stake, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) PC Rajapakse called for a thorough public discussion on what he referred to as a matter that may cause further instability due to external interventions. The Easter Sunday carnage should be thoroughly investigated, taking into consideration a possible external role in the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) terror project now being examined by a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI).

The former Justice Minister asserted that debilitating Western interventions would continue as long as the Hambantota port remained in the hands of the Chinese. Having realized further threats posed by powerful enemies, the then UNP lawmaker sought to introduce a Private Members’ Bill to abolish the agreement on the Hambantota port. Rajapakse told the writer: “Several months after I handed over the Bill to the Office of the Secretary General of Parliament, I was informed of the Attorney General Department’s decision with regard to my Bill. It is certainly an unfortunate situation.”

AG on Wijeyadasa’s Bill

The SLPP candidate made available a copy of a letter he received from Tikiri K. Jayathilake, Assistant Secretary General (Legislative Services).

The following is the text of Jathilake’s letter dated Feb 27, 2020: A Bill to abolish and repeal the concession agreement for the establishment of a Public-Private Partnership for Hambantota Port by and among Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Government of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited, Hambantota International Port Group (Private) Limited and Hambantota International Port Services Company (Private) Limited.

This has reference to the request made by you to introduce the above Private Members’ Bill in Parliament. The above Bill had been referred to Hon. Attorney General on 2nd Oct 2019 to obtain his opinion under Standing Order No 52 (3). As per the opinion of the Hon. Attorney General, repealing of the Concession Agreement will have an impact on the funds of the Republic, thus it attracts the provisions of Article 152 of the Constitution. In terms of the said Article such a Bill can only be introduced by a Minister unless such Bill or motion has been approved either by the Cabinet of Ministers or in such manner as the Cabinet of Ministers may authorize.

Therefore, I would like to inform you that a Private Member could not introduce a Bill in parliament, which attracts the provisions of Article 152 of the Constitution (end of letter).

Wijeyadasa Rajapakse handed over the Bill to Parliament on July 30, 2019. Rajapakse wanted to abolish and repeal the Concession Agreement entered into on July 29, 2017. The former minister cited four reasons for his decision to move a Private Members’ Bill against the Concession Agreement (1) The agreement hadn’t been endorsed by two thirds majority in parliament (11) in terms of Sri Lanka Ports Authority Act, the ownership, control and operation of all Sri Lankan ports are vested with SLPA, therefore the Concession Agreement is illegal (iii) the Concession Agreement has exposed Sri Lanka to severe danger and (iv) foreign powers continuously interfered and threatened Sri Lanka’s defence thereby exposing the country and its people to grave danger.

In case the parliament endorsed a Bill to abolish and repeal the Concession Agreement, gazette bearing No 2044/20 dated 66.11.2017 and gazette No 2048/32 dated 66.11.2017, too, would be abolished and void in law.

PCoI on Easter carnage proceeds

The police, attached to the PCoI inquiring into the Easter Sunday carnage, recently recorded a statement from the writer as regards several articles on NTJ operations published in The Island in 2019. The former UNP lawmaker’s unsuccessful move to take up the Hambantota port matter in parliament, in 2019, was brought to the notice of the PCoI by the writer. Copies of the Bill, in Sinhala and English, too, were handed over to the PCoI, along with a copy of the letter received by the former minister from Parliament Assistant Secretary General (Legislative Services) Tikiri K. Jayathilake.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakse entered parliament following the 2004 parliamentary polls during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President. Kumaratunga accommodated Rajapakse on the National List. The new entrant received the appointment as the Chairman of the parliamentary watchdog committee COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises). Rajapakse took the COPE to new heights. The newcomer to parliament was soon on a collision course with the top SLFP leadership, following moves to accommodate a group of dissident UNPers in the government parliamentary group. Trouble began in the wake of UPFA moves in this regard, following the 2005 November presidential polls. The SLFP-led coalition went ahead with the questionable move, in spite of Wijeyadasa’s objectives. The MP declared his intention to function as an independent candidate in Nov., 2007, as some of those accommodated happened to be the ones exposed by Wijeyadasa’s COPE report. Wijeyadasa contested from the Colombo District at the 2010 parliamentary polls on the UNP ticket. The high profile politician was re-elected at the 2015 parliamentary polls. The former SLFPer received the Justice and Buddha Sasana portfolios. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse earned the wrath of the top UNP leadership for strongly opposing the politically motivated project directed at the wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and similar investigations, as well as challenging the controversial Hambantota port deal.

The SLPP candidate told The Island: “The Concession Agreement violated the Constitution. In terms of Article 157 of the Constitution, such a pact cannot be finalized without having two-thirds parliamentary approval. The cabinet collectively violated the Constitution by handing over the strategically located port on a 99-year-lease to China, the emerging Super Power. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against China or any other country. My constant stand that angered an influential section of the UNP is the opposition to privatization of state assets.”

Wijeyadasa sacked

Interestingly, the UNP found fault with Wijeyadasa Rajapakse for breaching the collective responsibility as a member of the cabinet. On the UNP’s request, the then President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wijeyadasa Rajapakse in August 2017. The candid parliamentarian caused quite an uproar in the previous year (2016 Nov.) by openly declaring that Sri Lanka faced a serious Muslim extremist threat, with some in the UNF government even accusing him of having a tribal mentality. The yahapalana lot simply ignored the then Justice Minister’s timely warning. In May 2017, the UNP, in consultation with President Sirisena, brought in SLFPer Mahinda Samarasinghe as Ports and Shipping Minister. Samarasinghe replaced Arjuna Ranatunga, who rejected the Hambantota port deal. Ranatunga took a stand very much similar to that of Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. Minister Samarasinghe finalized the obviously illegal port deal prompting Rajapakse to go on the offensive. The then government brought in UNPer Thalatha Atukorale as the Justice Minister.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakse said that the port deal should be examined taking into consideration the entire range of issues – NTJ attacks, possible external links to that heinous project and regional and global political-economic and security aspects. “We should seek a thorough inquiry,” the former minister said, appreciating efforts made by the incumbent government to ascertain the truth.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, on July 30, 2019, explained the threats faced by the country. Addressing the media, at the Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF), the President’s Counsel declared that the Attorney General’s Department owed an explanation as to why it sat on hardcore NTJ member Zahran Hashim’s file for nearly two years. The AG’s Department lapse was revealed during the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) proceedings from May 2019-Oct 2019. The PSC consisted of Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri (Chairman), Ravi Karunanayake, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Rauff Hakeem, M.A. Sumanthiran, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Ashu Marasinghe and Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa.

The writer, in his statement to the police unit, assisting the PCoI, pointed out the inclusion of the President’s Counsel in the PSC as he, just a week after the Easter Sunday carnage, at an event at the BMICH (where the PCol sits), publicly justified the NTJ operation. Later, Hakeem meeting Zahran Hashim and visiting the latter’s brother, in hospital, while receiving treatment for a bomb blast injury, transpired. The inclusion of two Easter Sunday bombers’ father in the JVP National List, at the 2015 parliamentary, didn’t discourage the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya from accommodating the JVP in the PSC (Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa represented the JVP).

Nearly 270 perished in seven separate suicide blasts, and another 500 were wounded with the Colombo Shangri-La targeted by two persons, including Zahran. And quite a number of the wounded are maimed for life.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakse said that the AG’s Department couldn’t remain silent in the wake of shocking revelations made before the PSC.

Pointing out that the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) had sought the AG’s approval, in June 2017, to take action against Zahran Hashim, in terms of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), Rajapakse said the then AG Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, had handed over Zahran’s file to Deputy Solicitor General Azad Navavi and then to State Counsel Malik Aziz.

Referring to the incumbent AG Dappula de Livera moving court against suspended IGP Pujith Jayasundera and the then Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando over their failure to thwart the Easter Sunday attacks, Rajapakse asked who would indict AG’s Department officers.

He underscored the importance of ascertaining why those who were authorized to decide whether Zahran could be arrested, as he posed a grave threat to the society, had refrained from doing so.

Rajapakse acknowledged that the PSC was quite useful, though he had written a letter to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya requesting him not to constitute it.

He, at the same time, however, insisted that the PSC was meant to clear All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen, in addition to saving Pujith Jayasundera et al and placing the blame squarely on President Maithripala Sirisena.

AG’s Department role questioned

At the onset of his briefing, Rajapakse alleged that western powers had undertaken a high profile destabilization project here, consequent to the incumbent government handing over the Hambantota port on a 99-year-lease to China. The former Justice Minister alleged that the Muslim community and the Islamic State were used by interested parties (Easter Sunday attacks: UNP MP blames AG, H’tota port deal – The Island, July 31, 2019).

Wijeyadasa Rajapakse should seek an explanation from parliament regarding the delay in seeking Attorney General’s advice. Having received the then MP’s Bill, on July 30, 2019, why did parliament refer Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s Bill to the Attorney General, only on Oct 2, 2019? When did the Secretary General’s Office receive the Attorney General’s Office response to the query from parliament? By the time Wijeyadasa Rajapakse was informed, by Assistant Secretary General Tikiri K. Jayathilake, about the Attorney General’s Department decision, there was consensus among all stakeholders, regarding the dissolution of Parliament on March 2.

The process took seven months. Parliament owed an explanation as to how such matters of public interest are conveniently ignored at the expense of the country’s well-being. Interested parties seemed hell-bent on subverting the parliamentary system of governance, though the former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, is on record as having claimed that Sri Lanka’s parliament rated among some top 170 Parliaments.

The previous government seemed to have pathetically failed in its responsibilities, in spite of boasting of a mega US-funded project, implemented during 2016-2019, to improve state standards at a cost of staggering Rs 1.92 billion (USD 13 mn) .

Wijeyadasa Rajapakse questioned the dismissal of his Bill on the basis of the provisions of Article 152 of the Constitution that the repealing of the Concession Agreement would have an impact on the funds of the government. The former Justice Minister emphasized the pivotal importance of establishing the truth. Perhaps, the SLPP Colombo District candidate should seek a copy of the Attorney General’s opinion on the Hambantota port deal, in terms of the Right to Information Act, without delay. Did the Attorney General endorse the Hambantota transaction?

Did AG grant approval to MCC Compact?

It would be pertinent to mention that the Finance Ministry, on Oct 31, 2019, claimed to have received the Attorney General’s consent for the implementation of the MCC agreement. There is absolutely no reason to question the validity of the Finance Ministry’s statement as it was issued rather emphatically, just the day after Wickremesinghe declared his intention, at a Temple Trees briefing, to sign the MCC agreement in a rather cavalier fashion, in the run up to the last presidential election. Minister Samaraweera, in a statement, titled ‘MCC agreement drafted with the consent of AG will be presented in Parliament’, justified the project.

Samaraweera insisted: “The whole process and the final Agreements were done under the guidance of the Attorney General and well within the legal framework. The Attorney General is in the opinion that the Agreements are in order and there exists no legal impediment to execute same”. The agreements, referred to therein, were the Compact Agreement and the Programme Implementation Agreement.

Responding to The Island queries, Wijeyadasa Rajapakse asserted that his Bill needed to be endorsed by a simple majority in parliament. As the quorum was 20, the Bill could have been approved with just 11 votes if taken at a time only 20 members were present. But, obviously there was probably a wider agenda, the President’s Counsel charged, pointing out that the police didn’t file a ‘B’ report in court as regards the Easter Sunday carnage, carried out by a group of Islamic extremists, a minority among a minority in this predominantly Buddhist country, with sizeable Hindu and Christian populations, till April 28 – a good seven days after near simultaneous suicide attacks sent shock waves through the country, and even the world. The UNF government sacked Justice Minister, for being forthright, pointed out that the ‘B’ report referred to his complaint as the cause for the police to bring the Easter mayhem to the attention of the court. The police should at least now explain the inordinate delay in initiating investigations, the former Justice Minister said. The PSC as well as the on-going PCoI revealed the staggering extent of the law enforcement establishment’s failure, leading to the worst ever single coordinated attack carried out in Sri Lanka.

Alleging that the parliament lacked authority to inquire into the Easter Sunday attacks, against the backdrop of judicial process, Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa asserted that the external angle needed to be thoroughly investigated. At the time of the attacks, President Sirisena held both Defence and Law and Order portfolios, following the Oct 26, 2018 short-lived constitutional coup perpetrated by the SLFP-Joint Opposition combine.

ECT controversy

The continuing controversy over the Colombo Port’s East Container Terminal cannot be ignored. Hope the government remembers the battle between President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe over the UNP’s agreement with New Delhi to handover the ECT to the nuclear armed neighbour that has been behaving often like a bully towards our country, from the time of the JRJ’s regime. May be Mrs. Indira Gandhi was justified in her behaviour at the time as Junius Richard Jayewardene, dubbed Yankie Dicky, because of his open admiration and support for the USA, having even wanting to give Trincomalee to Washington, while India, at the time, was firmly in the Non-Alignment Camp, but seen by the West as being more pro- Soviet Union

Subsequently, Japan was also brought into the ECT agreement. Recent protests at the Colombo harbour revealed discontent and suspicions among various trade unions over the incumbent government’s intentions. The crisis at the Colombo port should naturally be discussed, taking into consideration the rushed ‘illegal’ agreement between Sri Lanka and China as there’ll be no further discussions on the 99-year agreement, finalized in 2017.

With China aiming high, the US-India-Japan coalition is likely to pursue what can be described as their containment or ganging up policy against Beijing in respect of Sri Lanka and elsewhere in Asia. Finalized ACSA (Access and Cross-Servicing Agreement) as well as MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) sought by the US are grim reminders of entanglements waiting to happen that could prove to be extremely beyond the country’s capacity to handle in the days to come for want of consensus among political parties, represented in parliament, without the government having a sound majority there. National security and foreign policy shouldn’t be part of the political agenda as the government and the Opposition battled for control of parliament, which the former Justice Minister once called the most corrupt institution in the country and to this day he has not retracted one bit.

One Response to “Wijeyadasa’s revelation: How a Bill to ‘abolish and repeal’ H’tota port agreement stymied”

  1. aloy Says:

    Former Prez stated publicly that he sacked RW as PM because he tried to give away ECT to India. Now GOSL says an agreement has been signed. And they need to handle it diplomatically. Shouldn’t the government revealed who actually signed it before the election?.

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