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SL-S’pore FTA comes under fresh spotlight in Parliament

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 27 August 2018 01:05

By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent

UPFA Joint Opposition MPs, disagreeing to let go of the Free Trade Agreement signed between Sri Lanka and Singapore, were on Friday seen asking for Sinhala and Tamil translations of the agreement in Parliament soon after the House commenced.

Claiming the Unity Government entered into an agreement in discreet violation of the Constitution and other laws of the country, Joint Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardena said: “Facts of the Singapore FTA cannot be concluded with an adjournment debate. It is an ongoing matter valid for generations. In par with Article 157 of the Constitution, an agreement that binds two nations should be passed in the Parliament with a 2/3 majority. The Attorney General’s opinion is not the holy word. The Supreme Court should have given a determination on the validity of Article 157. This is where we pass laws. Even the Kandyan Declaration has only eight clauses, and this agreement has been over 1,000 pages, which poses a clear threat to our national security.”

According to the provisions of Article 157, which outlines the International Treaties and Agreements, by resolution Parliament may pass by no less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members of Parliament (including those not present) voting in its favour.As it is essential for the development of the national economy, any treaty or agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Government of any foreign State for the promotion and protection of the investments in Sri Lanka of such foreign State, its nationals, or of corporations, companies and other associations incorporated or constituted under its laws shall have the force of law in Sri Lanka, and other than in the interests of national security, no written law shall be enacted or made, and no executive or administrative action shall be taken in contravention of the provisions of such treaty or agreement.”

Rejecting the JO charges of a threat to national security, and also of moving a treaty while keeping the country in darkness, the Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama said: “The Singapore FTA translations have already been sent to the Parliament. Prior to inking this agreement, we requested the opinion of the Attorney General, who held that it is not required to be passed in the Parliament. I need not go to the Supreme Court, but I have to get the Attorney General’s advice. I had invited your leaders to take part in the discussion in drafting this agreement as well, but none came forward for the discussions. If you have an issue, take it at the Supreme Court.”

Supporting his JO colleague, who was trying his best to criticise the Government efforts to bring in more trade and investments to Sri Lanka through the FTA, the JO group leader Dinesh Gunawardena said: “Agreements with importance to national economic development should be tabled in the Parliament as per Article 157. You need two-thirds approval to give legality. The Attorney General would tell you to sign, but unless this is tabled in Parliament,we are unable to take it to the Supreme Court.”

Despite the heavy attack by the JO on the Unity Government and the Singapore FTA, UNP backbencher Chaminda Wijesirireminded the House about how things took place under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime where neither important documents nor any international agreements were tabled in Parliament.

“Prior examples exist with regards to tabling international agreements signed between two countries in the Parliament. The agreement with Pakistan was not tabled in Parliament. Knowing such things took place under the previous Government, it is pathetic to mislead the House by doing comparisons of then and now. However, if this is a violation of the Constitution, any member could go to the Supreme Court,” said MP Wijesiri.

Trying his best to explain the legality behind Article 157, which the JO is leveraging to criticise the Government in its development efforts, Minister of Provincial Councils, Local Government and Sports Faiszer Musthapha said: “According to Article 157, if a treaty is submitted to Parliament and has obtained the two-thirds majority, no law in contravention can be passed. That is distinct from the position taken by MP Dinesh Gunawardena because the pith and substance of Article 157 is that, if an agreement obtains a sanction of two-thirds, no written law can be published in contravention except in the interest of national security. With regards to the agreement in particular, every international treaty has to be tabled in Parliament,and that is distinct from Article 157.”

Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees J.M. Ananda Kumarasiri, who was presiding yesterday’s sitting, commended both the UNP MP Chaminda Wijesiri and Minister Faiszer Musthapha for explaining the matter. “MP Dinesh Gunawardena, I recommend you read Article 157 of the Constitution. It clearly gives the outline to what the Minister has explained. On the other hand, the Minister will reply to you within two weeks.” (AH)


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