By Saman Indrajith
The decision to have deferred telecasts of the proceedings of parliamentary committees including the COPE and the COPA was not aimed at protecting ‘tie-coat thieves of Colombo 07’, the Chief Government Whip told Parliament yesterday.
Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said categorizing the thieves of the former government (2015-2019) into two groups––the ‘tie-coat’ and ‘Colombo 07’ was a task for the SJB.
“We have nothing to do with these thieves. Our objective is to expose those who ruined this country. The SJB needs to highlight only one set of thieves.”
Fernando said so in response to some questions raised by Opposition MPs with regard to a decision to change the live telecast of committee sessions to delayed transmission.
SJB Colombo District MP S.M. Marikkar said that the government had decided to have deferred telecasts of the committee proceedings. “The COPE and other committees are going to investigate the malpractices of the previous government during the
period of 2015 to 2019. Various corrupt deals will be exposed and their thieves would be identified. We have no problem with that. The government is going for a delayed transmission to edit the content so that it could spare the names of tie-coat thieves from Colombo 07 in the former government. That is not done.”
Assistant Government Whip Jagath Pushpakumara said MP Marikkar was misleading the House. “The idea of the delayed transmission was discussed at the first COPE meeting. The new chairman asked members to express their opinions. Some Opposition members are asking for the post of Chairman of COPE and COPA. They say that the COPE chairmanship was given to the Opposition in the past. That is wrong. It was given to Sunil Handunnetti of JVP, which was an appendage of the yahapalana government. The JVP was there to protect the interests of the then government. So, the COPE chairmanship was in fact retained by that government.
Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella:
The decision to telecast was approved by parliament. I myself as the Leader of the House presented the motion to the effect in this House.
Kurunegala District SJB MP Nalin Bandara:
I am a member of the COPE. The government is trying the stop the live telecast. The decision should come from the COPE Chairman. It is not a decision that could be made by others.
Chief Government Whip Minister Fernando:
That decision was discussed at the Business Committee where MP Kiriella too was present. MP Bandara was not a member of that committee so he does not know. The decision was made at the party leaders’ meeting. It has to be implemented now.
Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa:
The Opposition is putting on a show wasting public funds. This is not an issue at all. The decision has been made at the party leaders’ meeting. After that, the Opposition MPs come here and shout to attract media attention. This is a waste of the House time and public funds.
SLPP MP Jayantha Ketagoda:
MP Kiriella says that their government made that decision so that we should continue it. That cannot be. We did not come here to implement your decisions. We are a new government and we do things the way we want.
Chief Government Whip Minister Fernando said the previous government had introduced the live telecast as party of its political witch-hunt. The previous government used this live transmission to cast some people in a poor light. “We can also use this live telecast as a political means to an end. But there is something called moral values. What do most TV channels do using these telecasts? They take specific cuts from this telecast and use them for political campaigns. (Referring to MP Marikkar) Yes, channels that represent people like you. We are not letting any public officials lose their self-respect. This government is not putting on media shows. Your government did that. People overwhelmingly rejected what your government did. That is why they gave us a two-thirds majority. We are not doing what your government did.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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