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Chief Govt. Whip confident teachers will return to work tomorrow

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Chief Government Whip and highways Minister Johnston Fernando says the government is confident that teachers will return to work on Thursday (21), despite the JVP’s efforts to sabotage the reopening of schools. The JVP has denied the allegation.

Speaking to journalists after a meeting at the Kurunegala District Secretariat on Monday to review arrangements in place for the first stage of reopening of schools shut down following the pandemic outbreak, the Minister said: “Ours is a history with teachers giving high priority to children’s education. Even during the times of JVP terror during the 1987-89 period, teachers reported for work while the JVP threatened to kill them if they did so. Some teachers and principals were shot dead by JVP death squads and some of the victims were beheaded to scare others. We hope that teachers will defy threats from the JVP and report to work on 21 Oct.”

Asked whether any disciplinary action would be taken against those who would not report to work on that day, the minister said that such actions were regular administrative procedures. “It is expected that those who draw salaries as public servants should report to work when they are asked to. Those procedures are outlined in the Establishment Code. This is the usual procedure applicable to all public servants. Responding to a query from a journalist about the soaring prices of essential commodities, the Minister said: “As I have said in many other forums, this is a temporary outcome triggered by the pandemic-related developments. In the face of the pandemic, our first priority, as a government, was to save lives. Some limits had been imposed to achieve that goal. Such limits resulted in queues and price increases. Now the situation is changing fast and an unreeling effect is seen. Limits have been removed and queues are decreasing so that the prices will settle soon. I assure you that the situation will reach its normalcy in a few weeks. Shortages are temporary, even in the UK there is a similar situation in fuel distribution. The Opposition’s attempts to capitalise on those temporary crises will not be successful. For example, UNP’s trade union leaders said that there would be fuel shortages. That created panic among the public and people rushed to fuel stations to get fuel. That created queues but soon people understood that there is no fuel shortage and queues no longer are there near fuel stations. The Opposition could resort to such tactics but we as a government would not let people suffer,” Minister Fernando said.

Asked to comment on statements by political leaders of a possible election and whether the government politicians were in a position to visit their electorates to get votes, the Minister said: “We have no problem in going to our electorates. The Opposition seems to think that we cannot. It’s their wishful thinking but not the reality. They thought the same soon after the COVID-19 outbreak. They even predicted that we would not be able to hold elections stating it would take at least three days for people to cast votes if a one meter gap was maintained between two persons in the polling booths. At the end we held the election and people gave us two-third powers. We should hold elections on time. It is the Yahapalana method of governance to delay elections. We will not delay elections because we have not been permanently marred with crimes such as the Treasury bond scams.”

Asked to comment on the possibility of the SLFP, which is an allied party of the government, going solo in politics, the minister said: “You should ask them about it.”Responding to a question whether the government does not need the SLFP support, the Minister said: “We have not told anyone that we do not need support. Yet, if anyone thinks of taking an independent stance, it is up to them to decide. We cannot make decisions for other parties. There is no point in asking us about the affairs of their party, you should ask them.”

Asked to comment on the Opposition Leader’s statement that the incumbent government which came to power promising to create a land of prosperity has created a wasteland, the minister said: “We accepted a wasteland. During the last months of the Yahapalana government they could not even get the Municipal workers to remove garbage that piled up along the road sides. We cleared them all within 48 hours of assuming office. Opposition Leader Premadasa has forgotten who imported garbage to this country.”Commenting on the fertiliser issue, the minister said that the government had recognised it as a very sensitive issue. “We have also identified who is behind the protesting farmers. The farmers are being instigated and led to the road by the JVP that set hundreds of agrarian centres on fire during the period of 1989-90. The SJB and UNP too are running after them. All those three parties had in their manifestos that the country should go for organic fertiliser. Now we have started it and they are trying to find fault with it,” the Minister said.Wayamba Province Governor Raja Collure, Chairman of the Kurungegala District Development Committee Gunapala Ratnasekera, Kuruegala District Secretary R.M.R. Ratnayake, provincial education ministry officials, education zonal and divisional officials and the police attended the meeting that focused on health and hygienic measures to be taken in view of reopening of schools.



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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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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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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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