News

SC flooded with petitions against Port City Bill

  • 5 Judge bench to hear case

  • Petitioners include Wijeyadasa, Muruttettuwe Ananda Thero, BASL, TUs, JVP, UNP, CPA

  • Cite violation of sovereignty, creation of separate State, impact on Judiciary, timing of Bill  

 

Multiple petitions were filed before the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday (15) by various stakeholders and members of the civil society challenging the “Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill” on several grounds, including that the Bill affects the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

The petitioners included Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Parliamentarian, President’s Counsel (PC) Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Chief Incumbent of the Abhayarama Temple in Narahenpita, Ven. Muruttettuwe Ananda Thero, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Trade Unions, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the United National Party (UNP), and the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).

Following these series of petitions, a five Judge bench of the SC is set to hear these petitions. The bench will comprise Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya PC, Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare PC, Priyantha Jayawardena PC, Murdu N.B. Fernando PC, and Janak De Silva.

The “Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill”, seeking to establish a Special Economic Zone called the Port City Economic Zone, was published in the Government gazette on 24 March. It was placed on the Order Paper of the Parliament on 8 April.

Speaking at a press conference held yesterday, Dr. Rajapakshe said that the Bill directly violates the Constitution and harms the sovereignty of the country.

“This Bill fulfills all four conditions set out in the Montevideo Convention of 1933 on the Rights and Duties of States to create a separate State: it has a population which is within a set boundary, and there are separate rulers, although not elected, and it can enter into agreements with other States. We are essentially making this a Chinese colony,” said Dr. Rajapakshe.

He further said that the creation of the Port City added new land onto the Sri Lankan map which is not yet included in our Constitution.

“The Constitution must be changed to include the new land. Bills brought in about it remain unconstitutional otherwise,” added Dr. Rajapakshe.

Chief Incumbent of the Abhayarama Temple in Narahenpita, Ven. Muruttettuwe Ananda Thero, expressed similar concerns at the same press conference.

“The ‘Rata Rakina Jana Hada’ organisation helped elect this Government. We went from Point Pedro to Dondra Head to raise awareness to bring this Government into power. We did not give them the power to destroy this country. We want this country to be sovereign and united. We do not oppose the Port City or foreign investors. But it is going to be a Chinese colony. We appointed rulers to build the country, not to sell the country, rent it or make regulations that harm the country,” said Ananda Thero.

The monk added that while they do not oppose the Government, they are merely looking for a solution to the problems that the Bill has given rise to.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Saliya Pieris PC, and Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya also challenged the Bill. In a statement released yesterday, the BASL also expressed its concerns about the time during which the Bill was placed on the Order Paper of the Parliament.

“The Executive Committee of the BASL is extremely concerned about the limited time given for the scrutiny and discussion of this important Bill, as well as the timing of the placing of the Bill on the Order Paper of the Parliament, which was after the suspension of sittings of the SC, a time when many members of the legal profession are unavailable. Furthermore, the period of one week within which such a Bill could be challenged before the SC to determine its constitutionality, included not only the weekend but also three public holidays. Thus, the members of the public have been deprived of a meaningful opportunity to scrutinise the Bill and to discuss its merits,” the statement said.

Thus, the BASL has requested the Government to halt further action on the Bill, until the views of all public stakeholders are given due consideration. The BASL Executive Committee has also noted that the Bill directly affects the Judiciary and violates the principle of the “equality of parties before the law” and may violate Articles 3 and 4 (on sovereignty and its exercise), 12 (right to equality) and 14 (fundamental rights) of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers (CMU) Union General Secretary Sylvester Jayakody told The Morning that the CMU, along with four other organisations, have filed a petition with the SC against the Bill.

“We also hope to take action against this during the May Day rallies,” added Jayakody.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) also filed a petition with the SC yesterday, naming the Secretary General of the Parliament and the Attorney General as its respondents.  

The United National Party (UNP) has also filed two petitions challenging the Bill, while also questioning as to why a Bill of such importance has been presented on the eve of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu has also challenged the Bill in the SC.

“We are urging the Government to hold a country wide referendum on the matter,” said Dr. Saravanamuttu.