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Beijing bares it in Jaffna, warms up to Tamils in Sri Lanka



Taking off their shirts and wearing traditional white veshtis, the bare-chested men, carrying trays laden with fruit and puja offerings, entered the temple. Nothing unusual because that’s the practice at the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, a temple near Jaffna in Sri Lanka. But the man who dressed as a devotee and led the others into the temple Thursday stood out — Qi Zenhong, China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka.

Days after announcing on Twitter that a Chinese solar company had found a new client in the Maldives because security concerns” of a “third party” had led to the suspension of its project on three islands off Jaffna peninsula, Ambassador Qi is touring Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated Northern Province, wooing an ethnic minority that has traditionally been close to India.

His visit to Jaffna peninsula on Wednesday and Thursday and his outreach to a community that remains cold to the Sinhalese south 12 years after the end of the ethnic war also came amid a bitter, public rough patch in Sri Lanka-China relations over Colombo’s cancellation of a fertiliser import.

In conversations with Jaffna’s civil society representatives, Qi responded to questions on the China-India rivalry in Sri Lanka, saying there was more geographical distance between India and Sri Lanka than between India and China since both countries share a border.

Dismissing the rivalry, he said both countries were continuously engaged in resolving their problems. He even said that talk of “third party” pressure on Sri Lanka to cancel the solar farm on three islands off Jaffna was “fake news”.

While this is not the first time that a Chinese diplomat has visited the Northern Province, it may be the first time that any Chinese ambassador has stayed overnight and engaged in such extensive public diplomacy in the peninsula where India takes its diplomatic and political influence for granted because of the ties of history, language, culture that have remained strong despite Delhi distancing itself from the Tamil separatist cause.

Chinese interests and its infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka have been largely focussed on the Sinhala south, particularly due to the snug relations that Beijing has with the Rajapaksas. While the Chinese have constructed roads and houses in the war-ravaged Tamil areas, Qi’s visit, which included a tour of Vavuniya and Mannar districts too, indicate a desire to expand the engagement on turf where political and people-to-people ties with India are strong.

Among his stops in the peninsula was the historic Jaffna Library which was burnt down by a mob led by Sinhalese politicians in 1983. There, he donated laptops and computers and offered assistance in the digitisation of the library. After its restoration in the 1990s, both Delhi and the Tamil Nadu government have donated thousands of books to rebuild the collection. In 2015, an “India Corner” was inaugurated in the library.

The main livelihood of people in Jaffna is fishing, and their rivalry with Tamil Nadu fishermen for scarce marine resources has eluded resolution. On Wednesday, the Chinese envoy’s outreach included donations of fishing nets and dry rations worth $100,000 to members of the Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Union Federation. Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Douglas Devananda, who is also a parliamentarian from Jaffna, accompanied Qi during the visit.

“So far, Tamil people have not had much rapport with the Chinese. The visit might have been to improve relations with the Tamils,” said Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a member of Parliament from Jaffna and leader of the former militant group PLOTE.

In recent months, Tamils have questioned signage in Sri Lanka that includes Mandarin but has left out Tamil, even though it has the status of an official language. Official sources said the Chinese wanted to be seen as making amends for this. The visit is being viewed as a message to the Tamils that they should consider China as a friend.

Some also see the visit as a signal to the Sri Lankan leadership during a downturn in ties after Colombo cancelled the import of an organic fertiliser which did not pass local tests. In retaliation, China blacklisted the Sri Lankan state-owned People’s Bank for a payment “default” which the Chinese Embassy described in a tweet as “vicious”. China’s Ministry of Commerce said the default on the Letter of Credit had caused huge losses to Chinese companies.

Sritharan Thirunavakkarasu, a former member of the EPRLF and a Jaffna resident, said Qi’s visit was “unprecedented” by a Chinese diplomat for the time the envoy spent on the peninsula, and for the range of people he met during the visit.

Qi held discussions with government officials and civil society members on how China could contribute to increasing employment opportunities in the Northern Province. Shrimp farming was among the ideas that figured in the discussions. (Indian Express)

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Professionals’ National Front opposes MILCO appointment



… questions rationale behind Basil’s actions

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Professionals’ National Front (PNF) has questioned the appointment of Renuka Perera as the Chairman of MILCO at the expense of Lasantha Wickremasinghe, a senior member of the outfit as well as an associate of the patriotic civil society outfit ‘Yuthukama’ organisation.

The ruling SLPP accommodated ‘Yuthukama’ leader Gevindu Cumaratunga on its National List whereas Anupa Pasqual also of the civil society grouping successfully contested the Kalutara district.

PNF Secretary and its spokesperson Kapila Renuka Perera told The Island that the government owed an explanation as to why Wickremasinghe who transformed the loss making public sector enterprise in spite of severe difficulties, was removed.

At the time Wickremasinghe received the appointment following the 2019 presidential election, Milco was reported to have suffered losses amounting to Rs. 2,000 million, the PNF spokesperson said. Thanks to Wickremasinghe’s interventions and the tireless efforts of the management team, MILCO earned annual profit of Rs 400 mn regardless of significant increase in the revenue received by milk farmers, Perera said.

Responding to another query, Perera pointed out that no less a person than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had also served as the Finance Minister till July last year emphasized the pivotal importance in transforming the public sector. Therefore, the recent removal of Wickremasinghe to accommodate Renuka Perera, the Administrative Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was contrary to the government position articulated by the Premier, the PNF official said.

Renuka Perera received his letter of appointment from Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on the afternoon of January 20 at the Finance Ministry.

Acknowledging that public campaigns undertaken by the PNF since its inception in 2016 helped the then Joint Opposition (JO) now represented in Parliament as the SLPP, PNF Secretary Perera said they were quite horrified by the way the powers that be behaved at a time the country was experiencing severe economic difficulties. Declaring the public had lost faith in the parliamentary system, those who were skeptical of the concerns expressed by professionals should inquire into the sharp increase in the number of families, individuals, particularly the youth seeking to migrate.

Asked whether the PNF questioned the Milco appointment as Lasantha Wickremasinghe happened to be a member of the organization as there had been a number of other controversial appointments since Nov 2019 though they largely remained silent, the official pointed out their opposition to the appointment of Milinda Moragoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India. “We raised the issue with the Parliamentary High Post Committee and campaigned vigorously against the former minister given such a crucial diplomatic posting. However, the political leadership thought otherwise,” the PNF spokesperson said.

Amidst the controversy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a statement defending Moragoda’s appointment.

The PNF official said that the SLPP Administrative Secretary being appointed as the Milco Chairman should be examined against the backdrop of a failed attempt to appoint him as Chairman and the board member of Litro Gas. However, an irate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa rescinded a letter issued by the Secretary to the Finance Ministry S. R. Attygalle in respect of the top Litro appointment. Having done so, President Rajapaksa went to the extent of inspecting the Litro’s main facility at Kerawalapitiya in the company of Theshara Jayasinghe, the incumbent Chairman.

It would be pertinent to mention that Renuka Perera lost his position as Chairman, NHDA (National Housing Development Authority) last July when former lawmaker and convict Duminda Silva moved in soon after he received presidential pardon.

President Rajapaksa brought in Theshara Jayasinghe in July last year following the controversy over Litro successfully blocking government audits even after the Auditor General and the then COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) emphasized the need for state-owned Litro to undergo state audit.

Litro hired Romesh de Silva, PC and Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, who is also member of the Monetary Board to represent Litro in the controversial as well as unprecedented case, parliamentary sources told The Island.

Sources said that the government audit resumed after Theshara Jayasinghe replaced Finance Ministry appointee Anil Koswatte, who called Treasury Secretary Attygalle to inquire into allegations directed at him by Theshara Jayasinghe.

The PNF official said that during yahapalana administration the grouping strongly opposed ETCA (Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement) with India as well as SLSFTA (Sri Lanka Singapore Free Trade Agreement) and high profile US MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) project as they were inimical to Sri Lanka’s national interests.

In a statement issued on January 20, the PNF also raised the appointment of Gamini Senarath as the Secretary to the President in spite of accusations as regards his culpability over the disastrous Chinese carbonic fertiliser deal that ended up with cash-strapped Sri Lanka having to pay USD 6.7 mn regardless of the rejection of allegedly contaminated fertilizer stock. The PNF spokesperson pointed out that a close relative of Gamini Senarath managed the Chinese exporter, Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co., Ltd’s local agent Chelina Capital Corporation (CCP).

However, following allegations in this regard, both in and outside Parliament late last year, Senarath issued a statement denying his involvement whatsoever in the transaction while declaring his readiness to cooperate fully in case of an investigation.

The PNF noted that the former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, too, had allegedly interfered in liquid fertilizer imports from India and a CID investigation was underway following him complaining against the reportage of the developments.

The PNF Secretary said as many others, they, too, were disappointed with the way appointments were made under controversial circumstances at different levels. Asked whether the PNF ever contemplated moving court against unacceptable actions of the government, the spokesperson pointed out that the creation of more than 30 separate ministries in violation of the Constitution was challenged and the case was pending in court.

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Udaya sounds dire warning



Sri Lankans would have to experience daily power cuts up to four hours a day, if Sri Lanka could not secure a substantial USD loan by March 2022, Minister of Energy, Udaya Gammanpila said yesterday.

Gammanpila said that the country should brace for any eventuality and politicians should lead by making sacrifices. The country was facing a forex crisis and a lot of other sectors would have to suffer if large amounts of fuel had to be imported to generate electricity.

“Monsoons will begin in April. When that happens we may be able to reduce the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. It will be a struggle until then,” he said.

The only way for the country to have an uninterrupted supply of electricity is to secure a large foreign loan, the Minister said. If the country does not start enforcing daily power cuts now, there will be a crisis in the coming months, he said.

“Is it not better that we implement one and a half hour cuts from now itself rather than moving onto four-hour power cuts later? Should we starve for 28-days after stuffing ourselves from star-class hotels for two days? Or should we rather cook the meals at home?” the Minister asked.

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PHIs threaten to pull out of duties at BIA



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) yesterday threatened to withdraw from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) because a large number of foreigners arriving in the country do not adhere to health guidelines.

PHIs’ Union head Upul Rohana said that six of their members who were working at BIA had tested positive for coronavirus recently.

“A lot of foreigners and Sri Lankans who come from abroad seldom adhere to health guidelines. Often they do not wear masks. Thus, they are putting health workers and other staffers at risk. PHIs are compelled to communicate with almost everyone. This is a dangerous situation and we had repeatedly told health superiors about this,” he said.

Rohana said that PHIs at the BIA operated with minimal facilities. They did not have adequate restrooms and some powerful health sector unions had ensured that PHIs had to work under difficult circumstances.

“They have to stay in cramped spaces. So, if one PHI gets COVID, a lot more would be infected. This is a serious development. We again urge health officials to look into this. If nothing is done, we will leave our stations at the BIA,” he said.

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