Patali questions move to launch 500 more projects….
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Close on the heels of the recent revelation of massive waste, corruption and irregularities at the country’s apex ICT institution, the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA), there has been a change at the helm of the institution.
The Parliamentary watchdog – COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) on Dec 08, 2020 exposed staggering losses amounting to over Rs 2.6 bn due to negligence, shortcomings and failure on the part of the ICTA. ICTA bosses had been present at the meeting along with representatives from the Auditor General’s Department.
The COPE under the leadership of SLPP (Sri Lankan Podujana Peramuna) National List lawmaker Prof. Charitha Herath dealt with projects that had been carried out since 2013. The 31-member COPE found fault with projects undertaken during the 2010-2015 Rajapaksa administration and also 2015-2020 yahapalana period.
The Communications Department of the Parliament confirmed the COPE inquiry conducted two days before the end of parliamentary session for the year.
ICTA has been authorized to implement the government’s policies and action plans in relation to ICT.
Prof. Lalith Gamage, who has been a member of the ICTA board yesterday (1), succeeded Jayantha de Silva whereas the latter received appointment as Secretary to the newly created Technology Ministry.
The current ICTA board consists of Prof. Lalith Gamage, Reshan Dewapura, the Chief Executive Officer at GSS International (Pvt) Ltd, Vimukthi Janadara, Director General, Information Technology Management Department, Oshada Senanayake, Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, Kushan S. Kodituwakku, Managing director of Orel Corporation, Mano Sekaram, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) & Co-Founder of 99X Technology Ltd and Madu Ratnayake, Group CIO and the Center Head for Virtusa Sri Lanka.
The COPE session that inquired into ICTA comprised Prof. Herath, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, State Ministers Susil Premajayantha, Indika Anuruddha and Members of Parliament Eran Wickramaratne, Jagath Pushpakumara, Premnath C. Dolawaththa, S. M. Marikkar, Patali Champika Ranawaka and Shanakiya Rasamanickam. Out of its31 members, only ten attended the session.
The COPE is empowered to report to Parliament on accounts examined, budgets and estimates, financial procedures, performance and management of Corporations and other Government Business Undertakings.
COPE sources said that the most of the projects examined had been carried out before Jayantha de Silva a former CEO and President of IFS Sri Lanka took over the apex body on Dec 19, 2019, just three days after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as the President.
Prior to the appointment of Jayantha de Silva it was chaired by Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, also a former CEO and President of IFS Sri Lanka. Prof. Samarajiva received the appointment in April 2018. Samarajiva succeeded Chitranganie Mubarak, who had been the first ICTA head under Yahapalana administration.
The ICTA board appointed immediately after the Nov 2019 presidential election consisted of Jayantha de Silva, 99X Technology CEO Mano Sekaram; founder of WSO2 Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana; CEO of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) Prof. Lalith Gamage; former ICTA CEO Reshan Dewapura; SAP India Country Sales Manager Manori Unambuwe and former Digital Secretary and ICTA Programme Director Wasantha Deshapriya.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNF Government established ICTA in terms of the Information and Communication Technology Act No. 27 of 2003, (ICT Act), was subsequently amended by the UPFA by Act No. 33 of 2008.
According to the Communications Department, a high profile ‘e-Pensions’ project launched in late Oct 2010 had been abandoned on Nov 1, 2013 after spending a staggering Rs 510 mn. At the time of the launch of the project involving ministries of Public Administration and Home Affairs, ICTA had been under the Presidential Secretariat
The then ICTA Chairman Professor P.W. Epasinghe is on record as having said that under the project the whole procedure – from computation to the payment of pension – would be changed for the benefit of the pensioner.
The abandoned project was meant to develop the required hardware and software for its implementation in the Western Province covering the District Secretariat, the Armed Forces, the Department of Prisons, the Department of Railways and the Department of Civil Defense.
The COPE asserted that ICTA performances in respect of other failed developments, too, could be compared with the disastrous ‘e-Pension’ project.
The COPE also examined Google Loon project officially announced in June 2013 but finalized in late July 2015, too had been abandoned after spending Rs 1,851, 322 mn to clear Google Loon equipment from the Customs, in addition to Rs 64 mn spent on project promotions.
COPE also revealed that another high profile project called ‘Lanka Government Network’ or LGN launched in Nov 2016 by then Minister Harin Fernando amidst much fanfare to provide internet services countrywide, too, failed to achieve desired results with the progress asserted at just 17 per cent. Of Rs 850.47 mn approved for the project, Rs 148.33 mn had been spent, the COPE bared while categorizing LGN, too, as a failed initiative.
Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Patali Champika Ranawakaka, who had been present at the COPE meeting questioned ICTA officials why the launch of 500 projects was contemplated against the backdrop of such losses.
Funds amounting to Rs 32.5 mn allocated for ‘e-NIPO’ (project undertaken for the National Intellectual Property Office) had been utilized by the I.C.T.A to pay salaries of its officials.
in a front-page report titled ‘Sheer negligence on the part of the Treasury, Parliament revealed’ carried on Dec 14th edition, pointed out how some employees received monthly salaries in the range of Rs 755,000 to Rs 245,000 outside public sector salary scales though they were paid by the taxpayers’ money.
The COPE also found fault with ICTA for not including Rs 39 mn spent on ‘e-Local Authorities’ yahapalana project in the performance reports.
The COPE also made the shocking revelation that a 2017 Corporate Plan that had been prepared at the cost of Rs. 2,737,000 mn was thrown away without seeking approval from the board. One of the challenges faced by the new Chairman is to conduct an internal inquiry as regards preparation of Corporate Plans beginning 2003-2019.
The COPE is also under fire for the recruitment of management level workers on contract basis to senior positions.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
An air of discontent prevails
7-billion-rupee diamond heist; Madush splls the beans before being shot
Unfit, unprofessional, fat Sri Lankans
The Burghers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka- Reminiscences and Anecdotes
Features6 days ago
Port City Bill Requires Referendum
news6 days ago
Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR
news3 days ago
Kanag-Isvaran PC fires opening salvo against Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill before SC
Features5 days ago
Dangerous and meticulous work copying Sigiriya frescoes in Bell era (1896)
Features5 days ago
Dudley Senanayake: some personal anecdotes
Life style5 days ago
Confessions of a global gypsy
Features4 days ago
Colombo port city economic commission bill 2021
Sports5 days ago
Sri Lanka back pace for Bangladesh Tests