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Deal on ECT based on Sirisena’s talks with Modi and Abe – Govt.

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DEW warns foreign investments in ports and airports jeopardise national security

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former President Maithripala Sirisena has opposed the proposed Indian investment at the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port, but he himself agreed to Indian and Japanese investment during discussions with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 11, 2018 in New Delhi, and with the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on March 14, 2018, according to highly placed government sources.

President Sirisena met PM Modi on the sidelines of the First Conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). From New Delhi, President Sirisena flew to Japan on the invitation of Prime Minister Abe. President Sirisena returned to Colombo on March 17.

At the time of the tripartite agreement involving Sri Lanka, India and Japan, the SLFP was a partner of the UNP-led yahapalana administration. President Sirisena came to an understanding with two allies of the US against the backdrop of humiliating defeat at the local government polls on 10 February 2018.

Current SLPP MP Sirisena, who is the SLFP leader, recently has told the media his party is totally opposed to Indian investment at the ECT.

Dr. Harsha de Silva, MP, on behalf of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) threw his weight behind the project and the UNP remained silent.

Sources pointed out that the tripartite Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) dated May 28, 2019 specifically referred to the geo-political importance for Quad members Japan and India whose intention was to secure 49 per cent of the ECT.

The US-led defence organisation, Quad, also includes Australia, where the US maintains a permanent military presence. Japan is also a base for US forces while US-India defence cooperation is at its zenith now.

A section of the international media referred to Quad as an Asian NATO to counter the growing Chinese threat.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government on Oct 6, 2015 entered into a ‘comprehensive partnership’ that enabled a greater Japanese role in Sri Lanka.

Although the former President claims that he has always opposed the foreign investment at the ECT, the MoC reveals the absence of specific time period for the operation of the tripartite agreement. According to a copy of the agreement seen by , the proposed Terminal Operations Company (TOC) would provide the required equipment and systems and manage the ‘ECT for long periods.’

On behalf of Sri Lanka, India and Japan, Ports and Shipping Minister Sagala Ratnayake, High Commissioner Taranjith Singh Sandhu and Ambassador Akira Sugiyama signed the MoC.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently explained the difficulty in reversing the tripartite agreement Sri Lanka entered into during the previous administration.

Former Minister and General Secretary of the Communist Party Dew Gunasekera yesterday told The Island that the India-Japan move on the ECT should be examined against the backdrop of China securing a terminal on a 35-year lease in the Colombo harbour during the previous Rajapaksa administration (2010-2015) and the strategic Hambantota Port in 2017 from yahapalana regime on a 99-year-lease.

The CP veteran said that he had explained at a public meeting held in Matara on Thursday (28) why foreign investment shouldn’t be allowed at the ECT. He stressed that foreign powers should never be given control of ports and airports under any circumstances.

The former minister also made reference to the ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement) finalised in early August 2017 by Sri Lanka and the US. It paved the way for access for the US military to all Sri Lankan facilities, he added, urging the government to re-consider its policy in respect of foreign investments.

The former Minister said that the investigation into S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike assassination had revealed that the crime had been committed over an alleged bid made by the assassin Ven. Thalduwe Somarama to form a company to manage the Colombo Port under his leadership. The former CP leader said that the country was at a crossroads and the current leadership had the responsibility for ensuring a safer path. Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to take sides in the ongoing battle between the Western powers and China.

Responding to another query, the former minister pointed out that in addition to ACSA, the US sought agreement on MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact) and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) in line with its overall geo-political strategy. India was now a powerful US ally therefore Sri Lanka should be cautious in its approach, he said.

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Massive revenue loss: Eyebrows raised over delay in responding to House query

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SLPP members say sugar deal black mark on govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the delay on the part of the Finance Ministry to respond to a Finance Committee (FC) request for a comprehensive report on an alleged fraud in the controversial sugar tax revision.

Chairman of the Finance Commission Anura Priyadarshana Yapa on January 5 issued instructions to the Finance Ministry in this regard when the FC considered several special gazette notifications pertaining to the Ministry of Finance issued since October 2020.

According to the Communication Department of Parliament, MP Yapa on Feb 25 told the FC that the report called by him hadn’t been received yet. Yapa said so when State Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka and SLPP MP Nalin Fernando alleged the revision of taxes pertaining to the import of sugar hadn’t benefitted the consumers at all and only caused loss of revenue to the State. Severe criticism of the revision of sugar taxes was nothing but a black mark on the government.

Asked whether the report had been received since the issue at hand was taken up on Feb 25, the former Minister said that the FC answered in the negative.

Yapa told the last FC meeting that the Department of Import Control should be able to submit analytical comments with data on the relevant gazette amendments. Having approved the regulations issued on that day in respect of the issuance of licenses for the import of brown sugar, the FC recommended that a full explanation be given on March 09 with the participation of all relevant Ministries and Institutions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 9.

Yapa is on record as having told the FC on January 5 though the tax on imported sugar was revised downwards to 25 cents from Rs. 50.00 per kilogram through the Gazette Notification No. 2197/12 issued by the Ministry of Finance on 13th October 2020, the move did not benefit the consumers at all.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake lambasted the government over what he called a massive sugar scam that caused losses amounting to Rs 10 bn. In addition to the JVP, the SJB and UNP flayed the government over the corrupt deal. Dissanayake questioned the rationale in increasing the tax on sugar from Rs 33 to Rs 50 on May 23, 2020 and then bringing it down steeply to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. Dissanayake said that at that time the tax was brought down to 25 cents, there had been 90,000 metric tonnes of imported sugar in the country. Having reduced the sugar tax to 25 cents, the government directed that a kilo of sugar be sold at Rs 85, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer alleged that subsequently, when the government wanted to increase the sugar tax by Rs 40, Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that once imposed tax couldn’t be altered for a month, hence the decision to continue with 25 cents tax till Nov 13, 2020.

MP Dissanayake on Dec 12, 2020 named all those involved in the sugar scam.

Lawmaker Dissanayake said that the country suffered massive losses due to corrupt sugar deals. Those who suspended imports claiming the country faced severe foreign exchange crisis allowed massive corruption at the expense of the national economy.

Dissanayake said that last year alone at least 73,000 metric tonnes were imported at 25 cents tax.

He pointed out that the Treasury was responsible for facilitating sweet deals at the expense of the national economy. The revenue which should have been received by the government ended up with racketeers, Dissanayake lambasted the government for allowing its cronies to flourish.

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JVP expresses solidarity with Black Sunday campaign

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The JVP-led NPP yesterday expressed solidarity with the Black Sunday campaign seeking justice for the Easter Sunday carnage victims.

A statement issued by the party said that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage had released its report but the general consensus was that the inquiry had failed to bring justice. The PCoI report had only made the matter complex by creating some more puzzles instead of identifying the masterminds of the terror strikes.

The JVP has said Sri Lankans will never forget the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019 where nearly 300 perished and more than 500 others were wounded and became disabled for the rest of their lives. It is no secret that it was the failure on the part of the previous government to prevent the attacks that led to the destruction of lives and properties. The appointment of the commissions to investigate the incident was the only response of the former and incumbent governments. It is now clear that the commission has failed to identify the masterminds, owing to political reasons. Demanding justice is a human right. The Catholic Church has called on people to mark the coming Sunday as a day of agitation, demanding justice. We, of the NPP, extend our fullest support for the campaign and urge the law enforcing agencies to take action without further delay to bring about the masterminds and offenders of the crime, the statement has said.

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Iranaitivu islanders protest against burying of coronavirus victims there

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Residents of Iranaitivu Island yesterday forcibly filled up the burial sites prepared for those who had died from COVID-19 and held a demonstration against burying coronavirus victims on the island.

The protesters claimed that the media had reported those who died from COVID-19 would be buried on the island and that some group had already prepared a burial site. However, the residents of the island had not been consulted, they said.

They claimed that even during the war they had fought for the right to live on the island and they were opposed to the decision taken by the government to bury COVID-19 victims on the island.

 The protesters claimed that it was a cunning plan by the government to drive in a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the area. The government should have earmarked a deserted island for that purpose, they said. The protest was led by Christian religious leaders and local politicians. 

Iranaitivu is situated 10 km from Mannar and can only be accessed by boat. Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said that it was not a political decision and that health experts had taken it after careful consideration. He added that a vehicle especially made for this would be used to transport bodies to the island. This vehicle would include a freezer and the driver would be isolated from the bodies. Two family members would also be allowed to attend the funeral.

 

 

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