By Saman Indrajith
Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama informed Parliament that the Attorney General had said that there was no need to present the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement to Parliament.
The Minister said so when Ministers Lakshman Kiriella and Arjuna Ranatunga contradicted each other in Parliament yesterday while speaking on Cabinet approval for the Sri Lanka-Singapore FTA.
Petroleum Resources Development Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, in response to a supplementary question by UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena, said that he had not seen the FTA with Singapore yet. MP Gunawardena requested the minister to oppose the liberalisation of petroleum sector under the agreement and save the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation from privatisation.
The minister replied that he was not aware of the agreement’s impact on the petroleum sector, but added that he would not let the CPC to be privatised as long as he was the subject minister.
He said so far there had been no proposal to privatise the CPC.
NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa at this point asked why Minister Ranatunga had not studied the FTA before it had been approved by the Cabinet. “Does the minister’s response mean that the agreement was signed without the knowledge of other Cabinet ministers?’’
At this point Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella stressed that the FTA with Singapore had been discussed by the Cabinet.
Former Minister and SLFP ‘Group of 16’ MP S. B. Dissanayake said the agreement had not received Cabinet approval and what was agreed at the Cabinet was to resubmit it after a thorough discussion with experts and other relevant groups.
Minister Rauf Hakeem, intervening at this point, said it was wrong to claim the FTA had been signed keeping the Cabinet and the House in dark as discussions on it had been going on for years. “The FTAs are not signed overnight. It is a long process,” he noted.
A question was raised whether the FTA needed to be approved with a two-thirds majority in Parliament. MPs Bandula Gunawardena and Dinesh Gunawardena argued that the Constitution required the FTA to be passed with a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama said that he had sought legal opinion of the Attorney General prior to signing the agreement. He asked the JO MPs to go before the Supreme Court if they had any doubt over the legality of the procedure taken.
UNP MP Chaminda Wijesiri observed that the former government had not presented the Pakistan-Sri Lanka FTA to Parliament prior to signing.
Minister Faiszer Musthapha, quoting the relevant section of the Constitution, said, “What the Constitution says is that if an agreement gets 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 different from the position taken by MP Dinesh Gunawardena that every international pact should be tabled in Parliament”