Kiriella: Why should we go to reinvent the wheel?
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Chief Opposition Whip and senior Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Lakshman Kiriella yesterday (20) said that his party wouldn’t make representations to the government appointed Expert Committee engaged in formulating constitutional proposals.
The Cabinet appointed the committee in early Sept, less than a month after the general election in Aug 2020. Lawmaker Kiriella said so in response to The Island query whether the SJB would make representations to the nine-member committee chaired by Romesh de Silva, PC. The deadline for submission of proposals is Dec 31, 2020.
The top SJB spokesperson dismissed the committee as a government body engaged in a propaganda exercise. When The Island pointed out that as the Justice Ministry had called for public proposals in that regard therefore the breakaway UNP faction could take advantage of the opportunity, lawmaker Kiriella said that the previous parliament comprehensively dealt with the issue. The then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe spearheaded the process.
“Why should we reinvent the wheel”, MP Kiriella asked, urging what he called the SLPP appointed committee to examine the constitution making process undertaken by the previous parliament. Those who now identified themselves as the SLPP fully participated in the process though that grouping was then called the Joint Opposition, MP Kiriella said. The incumbent government couldn’t simply ignore what had been agreed in the previous parliament, the Kandy District SJB leader said.
“Of course, we reached consensus on some issues though there were differences. But, political parties represented in parliament largely agreed on the proposals. Therefore, the work undertaken by the previous parliament could be quite useful and should be the basis for the ongoing effort,” lawmaker Kiriella asserted.
The Justice Ministry recently called for submissions from the public pertaining to 11 subjects namely (1) nature of the State (2) fundamental rights (3) language (4) directive principles of State policy (5) the executive (President/cabinet of ministers/the Public service) (6) the legislature (7) franchise and elections, including referenda (8) decentralization/devolution of power/power sharing (9) the judiciary (10) public finance and (11) public security. The Justice Ministry also welcomed any other proposals specifically not referred to above.
Asked whether the UNP pushed for early Provincial Council polls, lawmaker Kiriella said that the government, in the run-up to 2019 presidential and August 2020 parliamentary polls repeatedly pledged introduce a new Constitution. So instead rushing to hold PC polls, the government should unveil its constitutional proposals as soon as possible, Kiriella said.
“Let us see how the incumbent administration intended to address the national problem. The UNP introduced 13th Amendment to the Constitution to address the grievances of the minorities. Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the war winning President offered 13 plus. Explain what the President, the Prime Minister envisaged in terms of the proposed 13th Amendment,” the former UNPer said.
Kiriella said that the national question couldn’t be settled without sufficient devolution of powers to ensure the minorities felt comfortable and confident living among the majority community. Kiriella, who had served both SLFP and UNP led cabinets, said that during their constitution making process during the previous administration, Chief Ministers representing provinces other than the North and East, pushed for greater powers.
Responding to another query, MP Kiriella said that there hadn’t been a previous instance since JRJ introduced 1978 Constitution, where all political parties participated in a common agenda meant to bring in a new law.
The MP alleged having wasted several months in a high profile bid to secure the passage of the 20 Amendment with a 2/3 majority, the government wasn’t really sure of its strategy.
“Obviously, SLPP is divided over the new constitution making proposals,” MP Kiriella said, pointing out that the SLPP was yet to submit its proposals to its own committee.
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.”
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