Cabinet Ministers Lakshman Kiriella and Arjuna Ranatunga contradicted each other in Parliament yesterday (24), when the Joint Opposition questioned them about obtaining Cabinet approval for the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA).
During the Oral Question Round, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Parliamentarian, Bandula Gunawardena Minister asked Petroleum Resources Development Arjuna Ranatunga to object to the liberalization of the petroleum sector under the FTA and save the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) from privatization.
Responding to this, Ranatunga said that he had not seen the Agreement in question because the full document had not been presented to the Cabinet yet.
Ranatunga admitted that he lacked knowledge about the SLSFTA’s impact on the petroleum sector. “There is no proposal to privatize the CPC thus far, and I won’t let the CPC be privatized as long as I act as the responsible subject Minister,” he assured.
At this juncture, UPFA MP Wimal Weerawansa, raising a Point of Order queried as to why Ranatunga did not study the SLSFTA before it was passed by the Cabinet.
“Are you telling us that this Agreement was signed by certain Cabinet Ministers while keeping the other Cabinet Members in the dark?” he queried.
Leader of the House Kiriella then said that the SLSFTA was presented to the Cabinet. “We held thorough discussions on this before approving,” Kiriella said.
Former Cabinet Minister, UPFA Parliamentarian S.B. Dissanayake joining in the debate said that what Ranatunga had said was true.
“The Agreement did not receive the Cabinet approval and what was agreed at the Cabinet was to re-present it after a thorough discussion with the experts and other relevant groups. Therefore, Kiriella is wrong,” Dissanayake asserted.
Minister of Town Planning and Water Management, Rauff Hakeem alleged that the JO is misleading the general public.
“It is wrong to claim that the SLSFTA was signed secretly. FTAs are not signed overnight. It is a long process,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Government and the JO clashed on the same day over the SLSFTA as to whether the Agreement needs to be approved with a two- thirds majority in Parliament.
Article 157 of the Constitution states, “Where Parliament by resolution passed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of MPs (including those not present) voting in its favour, approves as being 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, such Treaty or Agreement shall have the force of law in Sri Lanka and otherwise 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.”
Responding, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama said that he had sought the legal opinion of the Attorney General (AG) prior to signing the Agreement. “I acted following the AG’s advice.
If Bandula Gunawardena and Dinesh Gunawardena cannot accept it they can go to the Supreme Court and challenge that,” Samarawickrama added.
UNP’s Chaminda Wijesiri said, “What these people want is to say their Government is very clean. But they did not present the Pakistan-Sri Lanka FTA in Parliament prior to signing. Now they act as if they cannot remember any of that.”
Minister of Sports, Provincial Councils and Local Government Faiszer Musthapha, then quoted the Article of the Constitution, the JO had mentioned earlier.
He elaborated, “The Constitution says that if an agreement obtained the sanction of two-thirds, no written law can be published in contravention of the treaty except in the interest of national security.
This is distinct from the position taken by MP Dinesh Gunawardena that every international law should be tabled in the Parliament.”
Elsewhere, Ranatunga addressing the gold awarding ceremony of the CPC and the Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Limited, had stated that the CPC is the only institution which gives the highest revenue to the Treasury.
“In 2016 that amount was Rs 148 billion, in 2017 also Rs 148 billion.
Within the first six months of this year that amount was Rs 68 billion,” he added.
“We have heard that State workers have been highly paid. No one understands the risk taken by CPC workers. As a result of their dedication, our Institutions were able to gives the highest revenue to the Treasury. A lot of people are expecting to sell these institutions if they are not making profits,” the Minister further stated.