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Parliament to the fore

Sep 18, 2011 2:30:52 PM - www.ft.lk

PARLIAMENT is at the centre point again this week as several important debates that could have far-reaching effects are set to take place. One is the debate set for Thursday where the Government is to present all its land allocation plans before the House. The other is the amendments to the money laundering and terrorism financing acts.

Many allegations have been filtering in on the disorganised way that the Government is giving land for development. Since Sri Lanka does not have a centralised land bank, it is next to impossible to keep track of all the different allocations of land and what they are intended for.
The recent road near Sinharaja forest is a prime example of this. The road was originally commissioned 22 years ago and the Government recently decided to implement it with little consultation from any stakeholders. Residents in the area would be benefited by the road, but the long-term environmental damage to the country must be considered as well. These delicate balances must be preserved within the development framework of the country.
The Government will also seek Parliament approval this week to enhance the powers in the twoActs that deal with money laundering and terrorism financing. The amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Financing Act will be taken up for debate on Wednesday as part of the Government’s counter measures against terrorism with the lapse of the Emergency regulations.
The Terrorist Financing Act is applicable in respect of Sri Lankan citizens and other nationals who, while residing in the country or overseas, provide or collect funds or property with an intention of committing an offence which constitutes an act of terrorism or provide material support or resources to terrorists. The new amendments to the Act provide for freezing of property or funds belonging to a person or groups that violate this law. They empower any Police officer above the rank of ASP to order such a freeze for up to seven days and seek an order from the High Court for an extension if necessary.
The amendments to the Act will also provide for the obligations of secrecy or restriction imposed on the disclosure of information in any other written law to be overridden in cases where it is suspected the persons have acted in contravention of this law.
Amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act also enhance the scope of the original law to forfeit to the State any account, property or investment, income or profit earned by the commission of an unlawful activity.
These are both important to the socioeconomic fabric of the country. Parliament, especially the Opposition, will have to pay strong attention to the details of both these debates so that unfair and draconian policies are not approved. The land debate in particular needs to impress the need for organised development and mitigation of the adverse effects of economic growth.

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