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A daunting challenge: GL explains efforts to re-open schools

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… about 50% of 10,000 schools re-opened a few weeks ago

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (14) said that in spite of severe difficulties, the government had no other option but to explore ways and means of re-opening schools, gradually next year in line with Covid-19 health guidelines.

Minister Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP, emphasized that indefinite closure of schools could be as bad as the catastrophic Covid-19.

Fielding questions at the weekly SLPP briefing at its Nelum Mawatha Office in Battaramulla Prof. Peiris said that every effort would be made to re-open schools though they realized the risks involved.

Prof. Peiris explained measures taken by the government to improve various sectors, including education as the world battled the rampaging epidemic. He appreciated the support provided by the international community while referring to an assurance received from the WHO Representative here to supply a significant number of temperature testing equipment for the benefit of the student population.

 At the onset of the briefing, the Education Minister said that the countrywide percentage of attendance of students and teachers was 51 % and 77%, respectively though turnout in some Education Zones was really impressive. The minister provided figures in respect of provinces to back his assertion. According to Prof. Peiris, the percentages referred to in yesterday’s briefing dealt with 5,100 schools out of 10,165 countrywide and that too in respect of grades 6 to 11.

Responding to questions, Minister Peiris explained current efforts to resume primary sections of those schools that were opened a couple of weeks ago, in addition to tuition classes as well as pre-schools.

The minister expressed confidence that ongoing efforts spearheaded by the health sector and earnestly backed by the armed forces and police would ultimately succeed in bringing the situation under control.

Pressed for an assurance of a corona-free environment for students, the Minister said that decisions in that regard would be taken in consultation with health authorities.

The minister noted that the government went ahead with Year 5 Scholarship and GCE AL examination regardless of repeated attempts to discourage them. Had the government succumbed to politically motivated pressure, both examinations would have been put off, the minister said.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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