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Agro sector mess: Govt. cannot absolve itself of responsibility by sacking Secy. – Opposition

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has called for a thorough inquiry into the conduct of sacked Agriculture Secretary Senior Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe by Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne and other relevant authorities.

Matale District lawmaker Rohini Kaviratne on behalf of the SJB said that the truth couldn’t be suppressed by sacking Prof. Jayasinghe. Accusing Prof. Jayasinghe of importing liquid nano urea from India at a cost very much higher than in the Indian market in the wake of a stock of Chinese carbonic fertiliser being rejected, MP Kaviratne alleged that the sacked official was the main culprit.

Prof. Jayasinghe said that he was quite surprised by the SJB’s allegations. “I have absolutely no idea why the Opposition directed a spate of accusations at me,” Prof. Jayasinghe said, adding that he, too, wanted to know what he did wrong and why. When pointed out the SJB held him responsible for ruination of the agriculture sector, Prof. Jayasinghe said that he would like to know how he achieved that in less than six months.

Prof. Jayasinghe was appointed the Agriculture Ministry Secretary in early June this year. At the time he received the appointment, Prof. Jayasinghe served as the Vice Chancellor of the Wayamba University. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa replaced Prof. Jayasinghe with D.M.L.D. Bandaranayake this week.

The former UNPer said that the government should explain the appointment of five Secretaries to the Agriculture Ministry since the last presidential election in Nov 2019.

Making a reference to the Secretary of another ministry owning property in Australia, lawmaker Kaviratne said that the government couldn’t address the issue by sacking the Agriculture Ministry Secretary.

MP Kaviratne said that Prof. Jayasinghe questioned the role played by Ven. Atureliye Rathana and President of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya in promoting carbonic fertilizer though he was actually the main person who promoted the interests of those private companies engaged in fertilizer imports.

MP Kaviratne pointed out that having declared in May 2021 what the government called a green agriculture development strategy, the Agriculture Ministry in June 2021 called for global bidding for organic fertiliser. Subsequently, on August 11, 2021 the Agriculture Ministry named the Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co., Ltd. as the supplier of 99,000 metric tons of carbonic fertilizer to Sri Lanka, MP Kaviratne said.

Responding to another query, MP Kaviratne emphasized that the government couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the opening of a Letter of Credit and the immediate shipping of the first consignment even before the National Plant Quarantine Centre (NPQC) cleared the test samples. Referring to a statement issued by the Chinese company dated Oct 26, 2021 that dealt with the fertliser crisis, MP Kaviratne said that the supplier quite clearly acknowledged that the NPQC received product samples the same day (Sept 23, 2021) China shipped the organic fertilizer.

MP Kaviratne said that a wider investigation was required to expose all those who had profited immensely at the expense of the country. The outspoken MP said that China went to the extent of blacklisting People’s Bank in the wake of the issuance of an enjoying order by the Commercial High Court of Colombo in respect of the payment for the rejected stock of fertilizer.

The SJB MP urged those responsible to investigate why over a month after the government did away with the ban on agro-chemicals not a single product had been imported. Who got the Registrar of Pesticides removed and why, MP Kaviratne asked, warning the government that once President Gotabaya Rajapaksa opened the new session of Parliament on January 18 the Opposition intended to raise that issue.

The ruination of the agriculture sector couldn’t be blamed on the recently sacked Secretary alone, the MP said. She pointed out that the prorogation of the Parliament soon after the passage of the Budget for 2022 had been influenced by the devastation in the agriculture sector as a result of hasty abolition of agro-chemical use, the Yugadanavi betrayal, the deteriorating balance of payments crisis and the rising cost of living.

Having promised political stability and security, the incumbent dispensation had mercilessly destroyed every sector, MP Kaviratne said, the political leadership should accept the blame for the fertliser crisis.

The MP alleged that an Acting appointment had been made after the removal of the Registrar of Pesticides Dr. J.A. Sumith to pave the way for a certain company to receive the agro-chemicals tender. The SJB lawmaker urged the government to come clean on the issues at hand.

Responding to questions, MP Kaviratne said that the government couldn’t divert public attention from the CID recording statements from several persons, including the Editor of ‘Aruna’ Mahinda Illeperuma regarding the accusations directed at Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the President as regards the opening of an account at a particular branch of the People’s Bank to pave the way for nano urea imports from India. She pointed out that Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, issued a statement following various allegations made pertaining to carbonic fertiliser imports from China.

The MP pointed out that the government had so far refrained from giving any specific reasons for Prof. Jayasinghe’s removal.



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Endure daily power-cuts or face countrywide indefinite blackouts, warns Minister Gammanpila

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‘Electricity supply cannot be maintained at the expense of transport sector’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila yesterday (18) said that the foreign currency crisis was so acute the country had no option but to implement daily 90-minute power cut until the hydro power generation increased with the onset of rains.

Minister Gammanpila, who is also the leader of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) has advised the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to impose daily 90-minute power-cuts or face the consequences.

Gammanpila said that the entire country would face indefinite blackouts if the CEB tried to avoid 90-minute power cuts. The warning was issued at a media briefing called by Minister Gammanpila at the Power Ministry where he stressed that power cuts were inevitable in view of the foreign exchange crisis.

The cash-strapped government was able to pay for stock of diesel on Tuesday (18). In spite of vessels carrying diesel entering Sri Lankan waters nine days ago the government had to struggle to pay them, the lawmaker said.

At the onset of the briefing, Minister Gammanpila flayed the CEB for blaming the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) for the rapidly developing crisis.

MP Gammanpila said: “About 60 percent of the electricity requirement was met by hydro-power till end of Dec 2021. By then, hydro-power generation was down to 38 percent. Struggling to cope up with the situation, the CEB on January 11 asked us to provide additional fuel with effect from January 13. The CPC was not prepared to meet their requirement for obvious reasons. We were told they needed additional supplies at the end of January.”

Minister Gammanpila asked as to how the CPC could supply 1,500 metric tonnes beginning January 13 as it didn’t have the required stocks. The Energy Minister emphasised that the cash-strapped government couldn’t maintain extra stocks.

Lawmaker Gammanpila emphasised that his ministry had no option but to refuse to provide diesel to the CEB at the expense of the transport sector. The lawmaker pointed out that the country couldn’t afford to allow the disruption of transport by releasing sparse stocks available to them.

The Energy Minister asserted that disruption in public and private transport would be far worse than being subjected to daily 90-minute power cut.

Advising the CEB to be mindful of the current situation, Minister Gammanpila said that of the 37,000 tonnes of diesel the government paid for on Tuesday, 10,000 tons would be made available to the CEB. Declaring that would be sufficient for just eight days, Minister Gammanpila said that the CPC would also provide 2,200 tons of furnace oil and 700 tons of diesel to a privately-owned power station that supplied electricity to the government.

Minister Gammanpila said that it would be better to experience daily 90-minute power cuts than facing the prospect of three-hour disruption after having uninterrupted supply for a short period.

The outspoken lawmaker said that there was no point in denying the fact that the country was in severe difficulty due to the foreign currency crisis.

Pointing out that Sri Lanka received USD 750-800 mn a month, the Energy Minister asked how banks coped up with the situation as the government sought 2/3 of that amount for oil imports.

Minister Gammanpila told The Island that the public should be taken into confidence. The current crisis would cause further problems, the lawmaker said, urging the decision makers to be responsible to those who elected them.

The MP warned the failure on the part of the powers that be to realise the actual ground situation and take tangible measures to cut down the fuel bill would plunge the country into an unprecedented crisis.

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Sri Lanka disputes Canadian Travel Advisory

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… immediate steps taken to apprise Ottawa

Sri Lanka has challenged a Canadian bid to undermine ongoing efforts to attract tourists. In the wake of the latest Canadian Travel Advisory on Sri Lanka issued on January 13, 2022, the Foreign Ministry has stated that the communique contained erroneous and outdated information that did not reflect the actual situation in Sri Lanka. As such, the Ministry has taken steps to apprise the Canadian authorities of ground realities.

The following is the text of the statement: “There are flawed references to the economic and security situation in the country as well as inaccurate information with regard to the safety and security of female travelers and harassment of foreigners.

Sri Lanka has successfully overcome the immediate challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now in a state of normalcy with all public service, corporate and business, and education activities functioning normally without interruption, in accordance with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. The nationwide inoculation programme has been commended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and almost 90% of the eligible population has received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. A campaign has been launched to provide the booster dose to the population above 20 years of age.

Despite the pandemic, Sri Lanka has received several international accolades in the tourism industry including CNN’s “Where to Travel in 2022”; the Global Wellness Institute; Conde Nast Traveler 2021 Reader’s Choice Awards as well as other endorsements received previously in 2019 by Lonely Planet and the National Geographic Travel. GoSL looks forward to more tourists visiting Sri Lanka from Canada and elsewhere with the gradual normalization of travel globally.

It is important to note that even though Sri Lanka’s economy has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is making every endeavor to reinvigorate its economy this year, through the implementation of prudent policies. Food security and law & order are the topmost priorities of the Government, and the availability of all essentials is considered as a vital part of the Government’s functions. As such high priority is given to ensuring that all essential items continue to be available to the public at all time and there are sufficient stocks of food items.

With regard to the security situation, the GoSL maintains minimum presence of military in the North and the East to ensure security and stability in keeping with national security imperatives and this is similar to such presence elsewhere in the country. There is no arbitrary arrest and detention of persons by the police or security forces. Since the end of the terrorist conflict in 2009, security forces have conducted a comprehensive demining operation in the North and East, with technical support of several foreign Governments and international agencies. As at December 2014, 94% of the de-mining had been completed, while presently, the figure has risen to 98.7%. The Advisory states, that ‘there is a threat of terrorism’ and that ‘further attacks cannot be ruled out’. It is notable that since the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019 the GoSL has taken all necessary measures to ensure public safety and national security throughout the country, to prevent any resurgence of terrorism. It is noteworthy that during this period, there has not been even a single terrorist related incident in Sri Lanka, due to the enhanced vigilance and proactive measures taken by the relevant security authorities.

Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country with a rich, cosmopolitan heritage where different communities have peacefully co-existed over centuries. There is no civil unrest in the country. Sri Lanka has a long democratic tradition with strong institutions, and a vibrant civil society. Freedom of association and assembly are safeguarded with peaceful demonstrations occurring in Sri Lanka as in any other country where liberal democratic norms and traditions prevail. The police have allowed and continue to allow such peaceful demonstrations to take place unimpeded. These demonstrations do not in any way hinder the comfort, movement, safety or activities of tourists.

Specific attention is being paid to the safety and security of women tourists with measures taken to strengthen the presence of police, including tourism police, island-wide in all regions. Under this programme, police presence is being increased in all popular tourist destinations of the country with greater presence of women police officers in police stations. Emergency numbers of tourist police regional units, local police, and other emergency units such as hospitals, are available online to be accessed by travelers to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is an island nation with friendly people with a high level of education, knowledge of English and literacy, and incidents of harassment or violence against tourists or foreigners are extremely rare.”

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Speaker: MPs borrowed only 330 books from Parliamentary library in 2021

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122 of them are novels!

By Saman Indrajith

The MPs’s poor reading habit had led to deterioration of their conduct in the House and made their speeches full of unparliamentary language, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena told Parliament yesterday.

The Speaker said that it was very embarrassing to note that all 225 MPs had borrowed only 330 books from the House library during the whole of last year.

Making a special statement at the commencement of the sittings, the Speaker said that the Members of the House should take note of their conduct during the debates. “Once you have crossed the bar of the House you are considered honourable members of the House of Parliament. The honourable title demands that you speak and behave accordingly in a respectable manner which in turn reflects back on the House. When I first spoke in Parliament I did so after weeks of preparation. Today, very few members prepare before their speeches. According to the information furnished to me by the library only 330 books have been borrowed by the MPs during the year 2021, and 122 of them were fictions. Ninety-four of the books borrowed were on political science and 27 on sociology, only 11 books on economics. Five books on science, four books on law and three books on technology, one book on education, and one book on Sinhala literature among those books borrowed by the MPs.

“For a House of 225 members this is embarrassing. This lack of knowledge and preparation on subjects have led us to insufficient awareness, false allegations, in speeches. Most of the speeches are to score political points. This has led to shameful, unparliamentary conduct. As the Speaker it is my duty to conduct the House affairs productively and ensure the rights of all its members.

“The members must understand that it is their sacred duty to uphold the dignity of this institution. If people lose faith in this House that means they lose faith in democracy. Repercussions of such a situation would be a grave danger for all political parties and citizens of this country. People expect the members of the government and Opposition to act responsibly.”

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