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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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Parliament prorogued

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by Saman Indrajith

Parliament has been prorogued with effect from midnight yesterday (27) by President Ranil Wickremeisnghe under Article 70 of the Constitution. The Department of Government Printing issued the Gazette notification annoucing the presidential order yesterday evening.The new Parliament session is scheduled to commence on Feb. 08.

A prorogation, which is a temporary recess of Parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning Parliament may be advanced by another Presidential Proclamation, provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

When Parliament is prorogued, the Proclamation should notify the date for the commencement of the new Session of Parliament, under Paragraph (3) of Article 70 of the Constitution.

During the prorogation the Speaker continues to function and the Members retain their membership, even though they do not attend meetings of Parliament.The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current Business before the House, and all proceedings, pending at the time, are quashed, except impeachments.

A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same Session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent Session, after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before Parliament, and have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation of Parliament, may be proceeded with during the next Session,” states the Paragraph (4) of Article 70 of the Constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not put an end to pending Business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new Session. At the beginning of a new Session, all items of Business which were in the Order Paper of Parliament, need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.

At the end of a prorogation, a new Session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the President. He is empowered, under the Constitution, to make a Statement of Government Policy in Parliament, at the commencement of each Session of Parliament, and to preside at ceremonial sittings of Parliament, in terms of the provisions stipulated in Paragraph (2) of Article 33 of the Constitution.

The President is empowered to make a statement of Government Policy at the commencement of each new Session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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LG elections may turn violent – CPA

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By PRIYAN DE SILVA

Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and co-convener of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu has warned that the March 9 LG polls (if held) may turn violent as political parties are fighting for their survival as the results of the election may be considered as a referendum. He said it was doubtful whether the election would be held.

Dr. Saravanamuttu sounded this warning at the conference on Campaign Finance Regulations, convened by the CMEV, and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), which was held last Thursday (26). He recalled that once when he asked former President Mahinda Rajapaksa about campaign and party finances, the latter’s reply had been as follows: “I am not going to tell you the whole story, I cannot tell you the whole story and I will not tell you the whole story”

The Campaign Finance Regulation Act became law last Tuesday (24) and Dr. Saravanamuttu pointed out that the former President’s quip highlighted the challenges of collecting information on exactly how much is actually being used. “It is important that the public should know, whether it be cash or kind, from where the money comes from. And the information be made available to the public.”

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President: Cabinet has agreed to implement 13A fully

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Thursday, informed the All Party Leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the Cabinet was agreeable to fully implementing the 13th Amendment.Issuing a statement on Friday, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said the President is bound to implement the laws of the land and the 13th Amendment is a part of the Constitution.

“The 13th Amendment has been in existence for over 30 years. I must implement it. If anyone is opposed, they can bring in a constitutional amendment to change it, or abolish it,” he said.

The President said that the country has to decide whether to fully implement the 13th Amendment or abolish it. “We can’t decide to do neither. Any MP can bring a private members motion to abolish the 13A. What happens when most people don’t support the motion? We will have to fully implement it,” he said.

The President said that he is working, according to a Supreme Court decision, on 13A. “We have to look, especially at the decision given by Chief Justice Palinda Ranasinghe. We are still in the bounds of a unitary state. I am against a Federal state but I support the devolution of power to provinces. The provincial councils don’t even have the powers enjoyed by the City of London. So we can’t call this a federal state,” he said.

Wickremesinghe added that former President J.R. Jayawardane and his lawyers took great pains to prevent the 13A from leading to a federal state. He added that at the end of the war, against the LTTE, a large number of lands in the North and the East, that belonged to private owners, were under the control of the Army. However, most of it had been returned to the people, under presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena.

“Only about 3000 acres are under the security forces. The forces must be given the opportunity to release these lands, without hindering national security. The Land Commission, too, must be immediately established. The draft on that can be presented by March. The Commission will have nine members, from each province ,and 12 will be appointed by the President. The we can come up with a national land policy and the Commission can implement the land policy,” he said.

The President said that 30 percent of the land will be allocated for forests. Large swaths of forests, in the upcountry, and in the catchment areas, for rivers, have been destroyed.

“We must increase the forest cover and the Land Commission must be entrusted with this,” he said.

The President added that he will provide further information, on February 08, on how the amendment will be implemented. He urged political parties to submit their proposals by February 04, the Independence Day of the country.

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