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DEW issues warning over cremation of COVID-19 victims, stresses need to take public into confidence



Govt. party leaders’ meeting:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Minister and Communist Party veteran D.E.W. Gunasekera has urged the SLPP government to address the simmering crisis over its policy of cremating the Muslims who die of COVID-19. He cautioned that Western powers could exploit the issue to undermine the country as in the past.

The former lawmaker issued the warning at party leaders’ meeting chaired by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat recently. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was also present.

Political sources said that the discussion had lasted for about three hours and was the first such since November 2019 presidential election.

Gunasekera said that the government couldn’t afford to turn a blind eye to geo-political realities against the backdrop of China-US confrontation and Sri Lanka’s strategic importance.

Gunasekara underscored the importance of responding to situations swiftly and decisively. The former General Secretary of the CP said that over 6.9 mn people had voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa because they had faith in him.

Gunasekera warned that if the dispute over the cremation of all corona victims got out of control, extremists would take advantage of the situation. He also found fault with members of parliament for failing in their responsibilities both in and outside parliament. None of those present responded to Ginasekera’s criticism.

During the lengthy discussion, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pointed out that the SLPP MPs hadn’t at least visited areas affected by recurrent armyworm (Sena caterpillar) invasion. The President recently toured Anuradhapura, where significant crop losses had been caused by insects.

Gunasekera also took exception to a recent article written by Asanga Abeygoonesekera in his capacity as a civilian attached to the Defence Ministry, a subject coming under the purview of the President. Gunasekera said Abeygoonesekera shouldn’t have taken a hostile stand towards China, which was a friend of Sri Lanka.

Gunasekera said that such a stand would cause irreparable damage to the bonds between the two nations. He said the writer in his capacity as a Defence Ministry official had called for a common front against China.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa raised the apparent government decision to go ahead with the handover of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour to India’s Adani Group.

Weerawansa alleged that the deal on ECT would be detrimental to the country. The previous yahapalana government in late May 2019 entered into an MOC (Memorandum of Cooperation) with India and Japan in respect of the ECT although the latter is no longer part of it.

The proposed deal on ECT has sharply divided the government with trade unions vowing to scuttle it.

Gunasekera said that interested parties could take advantage of the recent developments, particularly the cremation of bodies of Covid-19 victims, a sensitive issue for the Muslim community.

Gunasekera last served the Cabinet in 2011. President Maithripala Sirisena left Gunasekera out of the National List following 2015 parliamentary polls.


SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn



By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report



by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies



By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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