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Chief whips of govt and opposition go at each other over central expressway

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Whips of government and Opposition locked horns in Parliament yesterday, trading accusations of corruption, waste and impotence.

A heated argument ensused after Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella asked the government to open the Mirigama-Kurunegala stretch of the Central Expressway as vehicles could not move via Pahala Kadugannwa area, due to a road closure.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: After the closure of Colombo-Kandy Road near Pahala Kadugannwa I made inquiries with engineers working at the Central Expressway. They told me that Mirigama-Kurunegala Section of the expressway could be opened. I urge the government to open it so that people inconvenienced by the closure of Colombo-Kandy road could use it. I asked a question from the Prime Minister January 2020 about this expressway. I table the response given by the Prime Minister. In it he said that this section would be opened in August 2020. It has not been done yet.

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando: I am very happy because you spoke to engineers and inquired about the progress. We intend to open this section of the expressway within this month. This could have been opened last year if it was not for the sabotage by some contractors who had been given the contract by your government. That company belongs to one of the ministers in the yahapalana government. Now, you and others in the opposition make various statements that you had almost completed the construction of the expressway except for two kilometers and we cannot even construct those two kilometers. You could not even repair and develop the roads in Kandy district. It is after I assumed duties that work has been started.

This expressway was started by laying the foundation stone when Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President. The yahapalana government of yours canceled the contract and gave it to a new contractor with additional one billion rupees. You gave the contract at a new rate of additional Rs 110,000 per km. So, do not ask us now of the progress. We have acted in a fair and transparent manner always. You should be in jail for what you did during that time. Your government did nothing but sling mud at us and lodged false complaints and cooked up evidence to put us in jails. That was what you did instead of developing the country. The roads you built did not have a starting point and an ending point. Remember that we will complete all the work we started. We will complete the expressway from Colombo to Kandy within two years. We will open this section.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: We are ready to debate what you said. The COPE conducted an investigation on this expressway and reported that there had been no corruption. When we came to power in 2015 not a single inch of the expressway had been measured at least. While I was the minister of highways we surveyed and measured 20,000 plots of lands. We gave the contracts to local contractors. They had completed 90 percent of the work at the time we handed over the government. That is the truth. Even the Prime Minister has admitted to that. You mentioned that the contract had been given to a company belonging to a cabinet minister of our government. My question is whether you have not given contracts to the same company under your government?

Chief Government Whip Minister Fernando: I will reveal the way you gave contracts if you come for a debate. I will explain how you paid additional Rs 110,000 per kilometers. You should be ashamed. I do not know how you come to parliament without shame. Tell me what you did for five years in constructing the section from Kadawatha to Mirigama.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: I am not a person who distill liquor or moonshine. We are ready to debate. We did not hurl Bibles and chairs in this House. You resort to derogate others when you cannot face an argument. I asked only for the opening of the road. Is it a problem for you to open the road?

Chief Government Whip Minister Fernando: I am a good Catholic. I am a person who have utmost respect for Buddhism too. Do not denigrate Catholicism. What you are referring to is not a Bible but another book. This House does not have Bibles here. You are a cheap politician.

Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella: None of those allegations you levelled in the report of the COPE that investigated this expressway project. Your allegations are baseless. I repeat that we do not distill liquor or moonshine. This government lost 800 million rupees in its first budget. That is the origin of all problems in the economy. You lost 800 million rupees by giving a VAT concession. When we took over as the Yahapalana government the government revenue was only one thousand million rupees.



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Countrywide power outage act of sabotage, claim TU, officials

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Unions suspect sinister attempt to call in military

Engineers say technical fault caused power failure

CEBEU suspends work-to-rule protest

By Ifham Nizam

The government was trying to pin the blame for yesterday’s countrywide power outage on the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) trade unions in a bid to call in the military, Joint Trade Union Alliance Convener Ranjan Jayalal said yesterday.

Jayalal told The Island the government’s attempt would tarnish the image of the military and that of the country, but such intimidatory tactics would not deter the CEB unions from continuing with their action against the questionable agreement between the government and the US energy firm, New Fortress, which has been allowed to acquire a 40% stake in the Yugadanavi power plant. “The government is trying to derail our trade union action, scheduled for December 08. Definitely the power outage was an act of sabotage. Two units of the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant and the one at Sapugaskanda had failed,” he added, insisting that the trade unions had nothing do with the power outage. He said union activists had sprung into action to restore power despite their work-to-rule, for the sake of the country and its people.

A senior independent electrical engineer said the power failure was an act of sabotage or attempt at sabotage. “It could have been a rehearsal that misfired,” he added.

Electricity supply in several areas in Colombo and its suburbs were restored around 2.00 p.m. Subsequently, the power supply on Anuradhapura-Habarana, Laxapana-Athurugiriya and Kotmale-Biyagama transmission lines was restored. However, even at 5.30 p.m. most parts of the Gamapaha District experiencing power failures.

CEB General Manager, Eng. M R Ranatunga sand disruptions to the power supply could be considered sabotage. He said CEBEU activists had been dragging their feet on power restoration.

State Minister of National Security & Disaster Management Chamal Rajapaksa said necessary action would be taken against the CEB engineers if it was revealed that the power outage was an act of sabotage.

Major disruptions to the electricity supply were reported across the country around 11.30 a.m. yesterday owing to a breakdown in transmission lines.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) said the water supply in several areas of Colombo and suburbs had been disrupted due to the breakdown in the power supply as the NWS&D is dependent on the national grid for pumping purposes.

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) last night said it had received a favourable response from the government to its demands and therefore decided to suspend its work-to-rule campaign.

The Island learns that President’s Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundara will meet a CEBEU delegation, next week.

A senior electrical engineer expressed concern about CEB General Manager’s statement that the power outage was an act of sabotage by the engineers’ union. He denied as baseless the official’s claim.

CEBEU Secretary Dhammike Wimalarathne confirmed that his union had decided to suspend trade union action following an undertaking given by the government to have talks with them.

Meanwhile, CEBEU President Saumya Kumarawadu, addressing the media, yesterday, insisted that the power outage had been due to a technical problem.

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Chamal tells Parliament if power failure is due to sabotage, culprits will be dealt with severely

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By Saman Indrajith

Minister of Irrigation and State Minister of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management, Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament yesterday that the government was investigating the causes of yesterday’s countrywide power outage and if it was due to sabotage those responsible would be severely dealt with.

Responding to a question by Anuradhapura District SJB MP Rohana Bandara Dissanayake during the third reading stage debate on Budget 2022 under the expenditure heads of the Ministry of Defence, the Minister said that the government would not tolerate sabotage.

MP Rohana Bandara Dissanayake said that while the national security was being debated in Parliament the entire country was experiencing a power outage which could be considered a serious threat to national security.

He said all reservoirs were brimful and there was sufficient water to generate hydro power.

Colombo District SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said that the entire country was in dark and Parliament was sitting thanks to power supplied by generators.

Minister Rajapaksa said that the government had already called for an investigation and it would not hesitate to take necessary action on the findings of the probe.

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Committee on Public Finance meeting: one-third drop in next Yala harvest predicted

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Members of the Committee on Public Finance recently recommended that if the import ban on rice, which was imposed last April, is to be lifted, it should be done only after a proper forecast of the coming Yala harvest.

The Chairman of the Committee on Finance Anura Priyadharshana Yapa pointed out that under the prevailing circumstances, the interest of the paddy farmers and consumers had to be taken into consideration.

In response to MP Yapa’s comment, the Imports and Exports Controller General revealed that, according to the available data, the expected Yala harvest is likely to be only 2/3 as compared to last year.

MP Nalin Fernando pointed out that if businessmen were allowed to import rice freely, the business community would be tempted to import more rice than necessary, driving the paddy prices down and affecting the farming community badly. Hence, the Ministry of Finance should intervene to prevent the local farmer from facing difficulties. MP Fernando also pointed out to the officials of the Ministry of Finance that it was important to make rice freely available at reasonable prices. Sri Lankans did not like rice imported from neighbouring countries, he said.

The Committee on Public Finance was urged to obtain approval for an Extraordinary Gazette Notification permitting the importation of Kekulu, Nadu, Samba and other types of rice as per the order of the Minister of Finance. MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said officials had to investigate the macro economic impact of such orders given without a proper procedural or logical assessment.

The committee members inquired from the officials of the Ministry of Finance who were present at the Committee meeting whether the 2021 Budget forecasts could be fulfilled. According to the statistics and data submitted by the officials of the Ministry of Finance, the committee observed that if only local funds were used to repay all debts, there would be an increase in interest rates in the near future and that would adversely affect the local private sector, (Dr.) Harsha de Silva said.

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