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Domestic debt restructuring and pension funds : JJB alleges Prez trying to influence judiciary

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Flanked by Upul Kumarapperuma (left) and Sunil Watagala, J.M. Wijebandara addresses the media (pic courtesy JJB) 

BASL urged to take a stand

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) has accused President Ranil Wickremesinghe of seeking to influence the judicial process in respect of a petition against domestic debt restructuring at the expense of the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and the Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF).

Addressing the media at the JJB office in Colombo, Attorneys-at-Law Sunil Watagala, Upul Kumarapperuma and J. M. Wijebandara said President Wickremesinghe had intervened in a matter before the Supreme Court.

The JJB lawyers found fault with the President’s declaration that he wouldn’t, under any circumstances, accept advice, or directives, from anyone, other than Parliament, regarding the domestic debt-restructuring.

President Wickremesinghe said so at the 29th AGM of the Coconut Growers’ Association. Watagala described the President’s declaration as an attempt to browbeat the judiciary.

The Supreme Court on 27 July announced that the JJB petition would be considered on 27 Aug. Watagala filed the petition on behalf of the Inter-Company Employees’ Union, its President former MP Wasantha Samarasinghe, and six others.

Wickremesinghe had misinterpreted the relevant sections of the Constitution to pursue an agenda taking advantage of a particular section that dealt with how legislative power of people should be exercised through Parliament, Watagala claimed, stressing that the people’s sovereignty was exercised by the executive, legislature and judiciary.

Commenting on the domestic debt-restructuring process implemented in terms of an agreement with the IMF, Watagala alleged the whole process was contrary to parliamentary Acts pertaining to EPF and ETF as well as violation of fundamental rights, enshrined in the Constitution.

Watagala said that during the JRJ administration, ruffians pelted stones at some judges’ residences. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had caused Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake to be impeached, he said, pointing out that such acts never helped the executive to attain the desired power, the JVPer said.

The JVP-led JJB parliamentary group consists of three MPs, including one appointed on the National List.Declaring that the UNP leader hadn’t received public mandate at a national level election, Watagala urged the judiciary to discard the President’s warning with contempt.

Lawyer Kumarapperuma explained how the courts had dealt with certain high-profile cases pertaining to decisions taken by the executive and legislature in a manner that proved the capacity of the judiciary. He referred to the landmark judgment on the illegal transfer of land meant for a public purpose to a private golf course, aka Waters Edge, by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The former President was fined Rs 3 mn.

The JVP lawyer alleged that President Wickremesinghe had directly intervened in cases now being heard in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court at the expense of judges’ right to address issues at hand the way they felt was best.

Reference was made to the late Vivian Gunawardena’s case during the JRJ presidency. When the court ordered a senior police officer to pay compensation to Gunawardena, President Jayewardene ordered that it be paid from government funds and ordered an attack on the residence of the judges concerned.

Attorney-at-Law Wijebandara said that in terms of Article 118 only the judiciary could interpret the Constitution. Therefore, domestic debt-restructuring, policy decisions on other economic matters, arrest of persons or violation of fundamental rights could be examined only by the judiciary, Wijebandara said, while warning of dire consequences if the executive, legislature and judiciary resorted to unilateral actions.

Expressing concern over the reaction of the President and parliament to the chaotic political situation, the JVPer recalled how Wickremesinghe had behaved at an event organized by the BASL in Nuwara Eliya.

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