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Douglas Wickramaratne – the warrior who defended SL amidst LTTE threats to his life

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by Sujeeva Nivunhella in London

There was a time Douglas Wickramaratne, President of the Sinhala Association in the UK, had to be given protection by Scotland Yard after he came under threat for exposing the blatant falsehoods propagated by the LTTE to win the support of the international community.

Despite the machinations of the powerful pro-LTTE lobby at the time, the warrior that he was, Wickramaratne held his ground and pushed ahead with his concerted campaign to lay bare the atrocities of the terrorists and expose to the world the campaign of brutal terror perpetrated by the Tigers.

Many were the times he traveled to Geneva to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions to help safeguard the interests of Sri Lanka in the face of Tamil diaspora inspired allegations leveled against the government.

This time around, Wickramaratne won’t be able to make his annual journey to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva to stand up and fight for the rights of the Sinhalese.

“For 40 years, I stood by my country and fought for what was right. Many people ask why I am silent now. I cannot continue any longer as my health is not too good”, he says.

He said that over the years, he was the only Sinhalese to address the UNHRC Assembly on time allocated to NGOs. On one such visit, a LTTE leader had greeted him and asked ‘Douglas why are you doing this to us?’

“I continue to receive invitations to visit Geneva to address the UNHRC sessions, but I cannot travel now due to my poor health condition”, he explained.

Recalling the time his life was under threat by LTTE supporters in London and Geneva, Wickramaratne said Scotland Yard ensured his security. At one time, Interpol was alerted about threats on his life in Geneva.

Since 1983, after his TV debate with a LTTE supporter on BBC Newsnight, he was invited by almost every British TV channel, and Al Jazeera and Press TV to participate in regular debates and discussions on Sri Lanka. In addition, he also took part in many radio programs.

Traversing down memory lane, the octogenarian recalled the famous Oxford Union Debate in 1984, where he and Bradman Weerakoon faced Prof. A. J. Wilson, S. Sivasithamparam and Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam.

“After that, I was invited to deliver many talks and take part in seminars at Oxford University, Cambridge University, London School of Economics, Bath University among others. In addition, I also participated in debates with LTTE activists in France, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Italy, USA and Canada”, he remarked.

Referring to his 1984 visits to Toronto and the USA at the invitation of Sri Lankans there, Wickramaratne highlighted how the World Federation of Sri Lankan Associations was formed. In 1985, the second convention of the Federation was held at London Hilton attended by delegates from USA, Canada, Australia and France. Among the eminent guest speakers were Minister Lalith Atulathmudali, Anura Bandaranaika and Miss. Betty Boothroyd.

“I was elected President of the Federation and the following year I handed over the presidency to Prof. Christie Weeramantry”, he noted.

Wickramaratne is a product of Ananda College, Colombo, where he led the English debating team. He was a keen cricketer from his childhood days and was instrumental in forming the Dehiwala Sports Club at the age of 10 years, which he captained for 11 years since its inception.

He migrated to the UK in the early 1960s and joined the Savings Bank and later a Clearing Bank. At both institutions, he continued with his addiction to cricket and was elected captain, a rare privilege at the time to head an all white team.

“A Guyanese friend invited me to play for the famous West Indian Wanderers CC. Frank Worrel, Garfield Sobers, Conrad Hunte and many West Indian test cricketers had played for the Wanderers formed by Sir Leary Constantine. I was the only non-West Indian in a team from all Caribbean Islands, and we bonded well together”, he reflected with a smile.

Asked what prompted him to form the Sinhala Association in the UK, he recalled an incident he witnessed during a Sri Lanka versus England cricket match at the Colombo Oval in 1975, where about 50 Tamil youths attacked and injured a small group of cheering Sinhala students.

“On my intervention, police arrested some of the attackers. This episode made me realize the need to form a Sinhala Association. With the help of a group of dedicated patriots, the Association was formed in 1976”, Wickramaratne recalled.

He said the Association organized variety entertainment programs, concerts and meetings to bring people together, and more importantly, to educate the youth of the true situation in Sri Lanka and counter the false claims made by the LTTE.

“We have organized well attended meetings with the participation of Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, Prof. Nalin de Silva, Dinesh Gunawardena, the late Gen. Lucky Algama and Cyril Mathew and many others”, he noted.

He further said the Association afforded an opportunity to Sri Lankan artistes to perform in the UK and other European countries by organizing concerts.

Among those who performed were Amaradeva, Nanda Malini, Sisira and Indrani, H. R. Jothipala, Latha Walpola, Victor Ratnayake, Sunil Edirisinghe, T. M. Jayaratne, M. S. Fernando, Malini Bulathsinhala, Clarence Wijewardena and Mariazelle, Angeline Gunatilaka, Ivor Dennis, Gypsies, Desmond Silva and musicians like Stanley Peiris, Wijeratna Ranatunga, Rohana Weerasinghe.



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Health crisis: GMOA calls for WHO intervention

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Alleging the government has failed to address the developing crisis caused by grave shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has called for WHO’s intervention.In a letter dated January 26, 2023, addressed to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge has raised concerns about shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, escalating prices of medicines and allegations of malpractices and corruption in procurement procedures.

The GMOA has released its letter to the media along with what it called a 10 fold plan formulated by an expert committee set up by the GMOA.

The following are the GMOA’s proposals:

1. To appoint a high-level coordinating committee within the Ministry of Health to ensure effective communications and coordination between following institutions, identified as responsible for the whole exercise. (a) Ministry of Health focal points (b) Medical Supplies Division (MSD) (c) State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) d. State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) e. National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Monthly progress review meetings of aforementioned committees are to be ensured, with Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Health or his representative. Quarterly review with Minister of Health to facilitate arriving at essential policy decisions.

2. To ensure Transparent Procurement Procedures, where every interested citizen should be entitled to know the true facts.

3. To upgrade the available computer software programme to match the current needs and to ensure more efficiency in procurement procedures.

4. To appoint a technical committee to study Auditor General Reports with regard to procurement Procedures of last 5 years and actions to be declared with specific time frame to implement recommendations of the Auditor General.

5. Review the recent Presidential Investigation Commission reports and initiate urgent actions to file legal action against the respondents. Remove all those officials who are accused through these reports of malpractices, from their current posts, until the verdicts are delivered.

6. To minimise emergency purchases of Medicinal drugs and ensure the transparency of that process through progress reports on emergency purchases, which is to be published on a monthly basis.

7. To identify alternative modes for distribution of pharmaceutical drugs to peripheral stations (e.g.: Public Transport services with identified modifications)

8. To open an “Information Desk” at the Ministry of Health to effectively communicate with and guide the donors of pharmaceutical items.

9. To fill the existing vacancies at National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), following stipulated acceptable pathways and activating all the sub committees within NMRA.

10. To declare a relief package to reduce the prices of essential medicinal drugs, through the upcoming interim budget.

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CEB says suspension of power cuts not possible

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By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) says it is not in a position to discontinue power cuts despite an assurance from some quarters that there will be no power cuts till the end of the G C E Advanced Level examination on 17 February.

CEB Chairman Nalinda Illangakoon, contacted for comment, told The Island that they had not taken any decision to halt power cuts, especially at night. He however stressed that during the examination hours there would be no power cuts.

“We have not agreed with anyone to do away with power cuts,” he said, adding that they had clearly pointed out that Rs. 4.1 billion was required to continue power supply without power cuts until 17 February.

He also said that the CEB could not do business on credit. “I am responsible for my institution. Anybody can say anything but I have to run it,” he added.The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) yesterday said that the power sector stakeholders had agreed not to impose power cuts from yesterday until the end of the GCE A/L examination.

The HRCSL said in a statement that there will be no power cuts until February 17.They also said that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had come to an agreement with the PUCSL to provide continuous fuel supply for electricity generation during the A/L examination.

Covering the cost required for power generation must be identified as a priority in the proposed tariff revision, PUCSL instructed the CEB. Accordingly, the two parties agreed to pay the relevant expenses incurred within 60 days, the statement said.

The HRCSL also said the Power and Energy Ministry should intervene to provide coordination facilities for the agreement.Accordingly, an agreement was made not to continue with power cuts during the exam period starting today.This agreement will be included as a recommendation of the HRCSL, and the PUCSL agreed to implement the recommendations.

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PM’s Office: IMF impressed with progress made by govt.

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Director Dr. Krishnamurthy Subramanian has said the political will displayed by the Sri Lankan leadership to speed up reforms and implement difficult tax increases in order to revive the economy is highly appreciable, according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s Office yesterday (26)

Dr Subramanian, who called on Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the PM’s Office in Colombo yesterday (26) was quoted as having said almost all the requirements for the IMF relief package for Sri Lanka have been completed and the moment the final assurances from major lending countries is completed, the process would be finalised.

“We will bat for you,” IMF Executive Director said using cricket jargon. “We play forward with a straight drive for you and whenever necessary, we play cover drives too,” said Dr Subramanian who was the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India from 2018 to 2021.

The Prime Minister briefed the IMF delegation about steps taken by the government to face the unprecedented economic challenges faced by the country and to enhance agricultural produce to meet local demand and also for export.

While elaborating the measures taken to reduce non-essential imports and increase export production, he stressed the need for welfare for the poorest segments of the society. Dr Subramanian said that as the Prime Minister pointed out a safety net for economically vulnerable groups is an essential requirement when plans are formulated to restructure debt and revive the economy.

However, he emphasised that the public sector should be ready to make sacrifices as they are at least assured of salaries, while many others have lost their avenues of income.

Secretary to the Prime Minister, Anura Dissanayake, Deputy Governor of Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara, who is IMF Alternate Executive Director, Dr. P.K.G. Harischandra, Director and Dr. V D Wickramarachchi, Deputy Director of Economic Research Department of Central Bank also took part in the discussion.

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