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COPE asks SLBFE to repatriate stranded Lankan workers with its cash pile

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The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has instructed the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) to explore the possibility of repatriating migrant workers affected by COVID-19 by using its own funds.

COPE Chairman MP Dr. Charitha Herath made the suggestion when the Committee met to discuss the special audit report on the current situation in the field of foreign employment.

The Committee inquired whether there were any legal impediments to the repatriation of Sri Lankan workers from various countries by using the funds of the SLBFE, amounting to Rs. 14 billion.

SLBFE Chairman Kamal Ratwatte said that there was no obstacle to repatriating foreign workers registered with the Bureau at its expense.

Approximately 34,721 workers who lost their jobs due to the fall of oil prices in the Middle East (ME) and the COVID-19 pandemic have already requested the SLBFE to repatriate them. The COPE Chairman said the Bureau needed to have a strategy for the repatriation of migrant workers as the airport was already open.

 It was revealed that Rs. 800 million had been spent in 2019 on welfare officers attached to Sri Lankan embassies abroad, and the Committee informed the officials that they should look into whether the expected services were being rendered by the welfare officers.

The COPE also focused on the training courses required for those leaving for foreign employment. These training courses are conducted by the National Apprenticeship and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA), the National Vocational Training Authority (VTA) and the Sri Lanka Youth Corps and the SLBFE.

The COPE said a formal methodology for identifying training needs should be developed in line with the current job market and that an action plan for the next five years should be prepared and submitted.

It stressed the need to enter into agreements with the relevant parties and the importance of an insurance scheme that would ensure their safety and job security when sending Sri Lankan workers abroad. The COPE further stressed that the SLBFE should work together with the Foreign Ministry ensure the security and welfare of workers sent for foreign employment. 

The COPE directed that a formal procedure should be followed in recruiting officers to work in Sri Lankan embassies abroad and stressed that various irregularities had taken place in the past due to noncompliance. It also directed the Ministry Secretary to obtain a suitable recruitment procedure from the Department of Management Services for the purpose.

 Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera, State Ministers Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Indika Anuruddha, Members of Parliament Patali Champika Ranawaka, Nalin Bandara, Eran Wickramaratne, officials of State Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotions and Market Diversification, officials of State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovations, and officials of the SLBFE were also present at the meeting.



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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