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Controversial Hiru interview with SLSI DG: Unedited YouTube video self-explanatory

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MP Alagiyawanna says absence of coordination among govt. institutions pathetic

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Hiru journalist Panuka Rajapaksa yesterday (30) told The Island that he had been quite surprised when the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) recorded his statement on April 28 in respect of an interview telecast on April 3 with Director General, Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI), Dr. Siddhika G. Senaratne, who acknowledged the SLSI suppressed the identities of those selling contaminated food items.

Stating that Hiru had fully cooperated with the police investigation, Rajapaksa said that when he inquired from those sent to record his statement and that of cameraman Vajira Hansa Mahesen whether the CID questioned Dr. Senaratne, they said ‘No.’

Subsequently, Hiru team accosted Dr. Senaratne outside her office where she said the police had visited her office to record a statement later.

The unedited video of the interview with Dr Senaratne was available on YouTube. At one point Dr. Senaratne asks the interviewer to delete her response to a particular question.

According to Rajapaksa, they conducted the interview on April 1 following the detection of high aflatoxins levels in imported stocks of coconut oil. A section of the media took up the issue after All Ceylon Traditional Coconut Oil Producers’ Association (ACTCOPA) claimed unbridled corruption in the import of coconut oil.

Rajapaksa explained that during the interview Dr. Senaratne had declared that though it was not compulsory for those who market coconut oil to obtain SLSI approval, only one of them had secured the SLSI certification. Now, that particular product had been declared toxic and unsafe for human consumption, Rajapaksa said.

The Information Department on Thursday (29) said that the sale of coconut oil sold under N-joy brand had been prohibited and the company warehouse at Grandpass had been sealed.

Rajapaksa said that Hiru had handed over the unedited version of the interview to the police. Dr. Senaratne is on record as having said that the SLSI had detected the aflatoxins in imported coconut oil even before the Health Ministry but chose to keep quiet as disclosure of such information would be detrimental to the interests of some companies. Dr. Senaratne also revealed that there was a list of others selling harmful food items to consumers, Rajapaksa said, adding that the media should take a common stand on the issue at hand.

There couldn’t be any issue with information revealed as Dr. Senaratne herself had voluntarily made the shocking disclosure in her capacity as the DG, SLSI, Rajapaksa said. She asked for a little time to take remedial measures as regards those marketing contaminated food though she was at the helm of that institute since January 2019, the interviewer told The Island.

The SLSI comes under the purview of the newly formed Technology Ministry. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa holds the technology portfolio. The SLSI is among 13 public sector institutes coming under the purview of the Technology Ministry. Former head of ICTA Jayantha de Silva serves as the Technology Secretary.

The Island, in terms of the Right to Information Act sought information from Dr. Mrs. Siddhika G. Senaratne and Senior Deputy Director W.W.L.P.P. Wanigasinghe, SLSI where they provided a list of contaminated food items to Secretary to the Technology Ministry? And whether they were aware of a civil society organization on Thursday (29) moving Court of Appeal in respect of the failure on the part of the SLSI to protect consumers?

The Island also asked whether Secretary to the Technology Ministry sought an explanation from DG as regards her controversial statement to ‘Hiru’.

Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) in early April directed the Health Ministry to undertake a comprehensive study on contaminated food imports as the responsibility lay with it. The Communications Department of the Parliament quoted COPA Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana as having emphasized the urgent need to enhance testing facilities. Former COPA Chairman Lasantha Alagiyawanna, MP asserted that the situation deteriorated due to the absence of proper coordination among various facilities tasked with testing food items.

The issue at hand was discussed when COPA summoned Health Ministry for examination of 2017 and 2018 Auditor General reports as well as the current situation.

Customs spokesperson Sudantha Silva didn’t respond to out calls yesterday. The Island wanted to seek clarification as regards procedures adopted in releasing imported unrefined coconut oil pending safety tests conducted by relevant authorities.



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Full implementation of 13A: NFF vows to torpedo Ranil’s move, asks Dinesh, Mahinda to disclose their stance

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent member of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya (NJS), has declared that it would oppose President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s bid to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The patriotic people were ready to defeat such plans, even at the expense of their lives, the party has vowed.

The breakaway JVP faction consists of six MPs, including former minister Wimal Weerawansa. The NJS is contesting the Local Government polls, scheduled for March 09, under the ‘Helicopter’ symbol.

NFF spokesperson, MP Jayantha Samaraweera, on Monday (30), told the media that his party was ready to lead a campaign against the UNP leader’s move to do away with constitutional safeguards meant to ensure Sri Lanka’s unitary status. The Lawmaker addressed the media at the NFF main office, at Pitakotte.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the controversial constitutional amendment at the Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15, President Wickremesinghe reiterated his commitment to the Eelam project during the party leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, the former State Minister said.

Lawmaker Samaraweera asked Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had flanked President Wickremesinghe, at the party leaders’ meeting, to disclose their stand on 13th Amendment.

The Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya, consisting of NFF, Democratic Left Front, Communist Party, Lanka Samasamaja Pakshaya, Pivuthuru Hela Urumaya, Vijayadharani Jathika Sabhawa, Yuthukama, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, Jana Jaya Peramuna, Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya and Nidahas Janatha Peramuna, has yet to disclose its position on this issue.

MP Samaraweera attacked the President, close on the heels of NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, who is also the Chairman of the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya (ULS), questioning the legitimacy of the move. Lawmaker Weerawansa addressed this issue at a meeting held at the BMICH, on January 26, to discuss ways and means to thwart the move to privatize the CEB.

The ULS consisting of seven political parties, and groups, is aligned with the NJS.

Referring to the circumstances UNP leader Wickremesinghe re-entered Parliament, through the National List, nearly a year after the last General Election, former Minister Weerawansa emphasized the President didn’t have a mandate to fully implement the 13th Amendment. How could the UNP leader abolish Sri Lanka’s unitary status, having received an opportunity to complete Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remainder of five-year term, won at the Nov. 2019 Presidential Election.

The MP challenged their erstwhile comrades, in the JVP, to state their position on the 13th Amendment. Alleging that the JVP had been conveniently silent on the issue at hand, MP Samaraweera asked whether the current leadership would take up Wickremesinghe’s challenge.

In addition to Weerawansa and Samaraweera, Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga, MP, has declared opposition to the President’s move, at the party leaders’ meeting.

Of the SLPP parliamentary group, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera is the only MP to publicly oppose Wickremesinghe’s proposal.

Political sources said that the NJS, as a group contesting the forthcoming LG polls, was yet to deliberate this issue and take a stand. They said that consensus was required without further delay as the President’s proposal would be a major issue at the forthcoming election.

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PHU, too, opposes land, police powers to PCs

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A lawyers’ group, aligned with Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), yesterday (31) said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe couldn’t unilaterally decide on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Attorneys-at-Law Pasan Gunasekera and Bhupathi Kahathuduwa, in a statement issued, explained why police and land powers, in terms of the controversial amendment, shouldn’t be granted to Provincial Councils. Abolition of current constitutional safeguard would undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status thereby paved the way for a new conflict.

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Bangladesh FM to deliver LK memorial lecture

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Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, will deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture at Block 3, Jasmine Hall, BMICH, on February 03, at 6 pm.

The LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister, Kadirgamar, on Aug. 12, 2005.

FM Momen will deliver the annual lecture on the invitation of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies.

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