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Constitutional reforms process should be sustained regardless of corona epidemic – Gevindu

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List MP and Convenor of civil society group Yuthukama, Gevindu Cumaratunga yesterday (7) told The Island that the sudden eruption of corona cases compelled them to indefinitely postpone planned series of seminars to discuss the proposed 20th Amendment as well as the need for a new Constitution.

 The first seminar was previously scheduled to be held on Friday, Oct 9 from 3 pm at the Public Library, Colombo.

 Lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the proposed Yuthukama initiative was meant to enhance awareness among the public about proposed constitutional reforms against the backdrop of diverse views, including within the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). In addition to Cumaratunga, Kalutara District MP Anupa Pasquel represents Yuthukama.

 Assuring that the project would be launched once the epidemic was brought under control, MP Cumaratunga said that Yuthukama invited the Most Ven Medagama Dhammananda, of the Asgiriya Chapter, SLPP MP attorney-at-law Udayana Kiridigoda, Kushan de Alwis PC, Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya and Prime Minister of Youth Parliament Pathum Ranasinghe.

MP Cumaratunga was also scheduled to address the Colombo Public library gathering.

 Acknowledging the growing challenge faced by the government in the face of the pandemic eruption, MP Cumaratunga emphasized the pivotal importance of maintaining the momentum on constitutional reforms. The epidemic couldn’t be allowed to derail the SLPP’s primary objective to bring in the 20th Amendment as a temporary measure before a new Constitution could be introduced.

 Responding to a query, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that he was among those members of the government parliamentary group, who suggested changes to the proposed 20th Amendment. Acknowledging the need for speedy consensus on the 20th Amendment, lawmaker Cumaratunga underscored the importance of finalizing the now disputed piece of legislation ahead of the budget 2021 presentation in November.

 Asked whether he submitted recommendations in writing in respect of the 20th Amendment, MP Cumaratunga said that he on behalf of Yuthukama handed a set of proposals. According to the newcomer to parliament, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at a meeting of the SLPP parliamentary group on Sept 21 advised them to submit proposals, if they were really necessary. The President according to MP Cumaratunga pointed out that as their primary task was a new Constitution, those proposals made in respect of the 20th Amendment should be most essential.

 The SLPP parliamentary group is expected to meet at Temple Trees on Friday (9) to further discuss the matter. At their last meeting on Oct. 5, State Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera emphasized the need to address contentious matters.

 Cumaratunga alleged that some interested parties made despicable attempts to discourage them from pushing for improvements to the 20th Amendment. The National List MP said that among those who had called for changes to the 20th Amendment were Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, Manohara de Silva, PC, and Dr. Anula Wijesundera on behalf of the National Joint Committee, Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya on behalf of the National Professionals Front and several leading Buddhist monks.

 As part of a strategy to silence them, attempts had been made to confuse the public by describing those critical of some aspects of the 20th Amendment as NGO operatives, he charged.

 Responding to another query, Cumaratunga said that President’s Counsel Manohara de Silva was not included in the list of speakers as he represented 9 member committee tasked with formulating a new Constitution. Romesh de Silva, PC heads the committee.

 In addition to Yuthukama, the National Freedom Front with six members in current parliament and SLPP Colombo District MP Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa called for alterations to the 20th Amendment.

 Cumaratunga assured that they were committed to bringing in a new Constitution and realized the 20th was meant to neutralize the 19th until a permanent solution could be found. The lawmaker insisted that the public shouldn’t link their initiative whatsoever with those who introduced the 19th aimed at weakening the Sri Lankan state. 

With nearly a two-thirds majority in parliament, the SLPP had the wherewithal to bring the new constitution making process to a successful conclusion.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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