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Emergency laws on essential items lapse; Office of CGES no more

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Price controls done away with, levy of Rs. 65 per kg on imported rice reduced to 25 cents

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government has allowed emergency regulations imposed several weeks ago to ensure an uniterrupted supply of essential commodities such as rice, sugar and other consumer goods, to lapse. As a result the post of Commissioner General of Essential Services held by Maj. Gen. M. D. S. P Niwunhella has been abolished.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promulgated emergency laws after having named serving officer Niwunhella, the head of his security as the Commissioner General of Essential Services. The President’s Office made the announcement as regards Maj. Gen. Niwunhella’s appointment on August 30, 2021.

As per the powers vested in terms of the section 2 of the Public Security Ordinance, President Rajapaksa declared emergency regulations formulated as per the section 5 on essential food supply, with effect from midnight August 30, 2021.

The declaration of emergency regulations triggered protests from the Opposition with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) warning the move could lead to a state of repression. The civil society, too, protested against the move.

Authoritative sources told The Island that with the change of government strategy in respect of price controls, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) had refrained from seeking parliamentary approval required to extend emergency regulations. The Parliament on Sept. 06 passed emergency regulations that authorized Maj. Gen. Niwunhella to seize food stocks, confiscate warehouses and vehicles used to transport such items.

Emergency regulations were passed by 81 majority votes with 132 lawmakers voting for and 51 against in the 225-member legislature where the SLPP enjoys a near two-thirds majority.

Sources explained that the original strategy had been for the newly appointed Commissioner General of Essential Services and Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) retired Maj. Gen. Shantha Dissanayake, to work in close coordination to seize hoarded food stocks.

Against the backdrop of ceasing of emergency regulations meant to prevent hoarding and the termination of the Office of Commissioner General of Essential Services, the government yesterday (4) removed the retail price cap on several essential commodities through a gazette notification. The retail prices of dhal, sugar, sprats, green gram, potatoes, big onions, canned fish, chickpeas, wheat flour, full cream milk powder, dried fish, coconut, chicken and maize have been removed with immediate effect.

The new gazette notification has also removed the maximum price limit of Rs. 1,500 for a 400g packet of sausages and Rs. 1,500 for a kg of mackerel. In addition to that the Special Commodity Levy of Rs.65 per kg of imported rice has been reduced to 25 cents for the next six months.

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has made these tax deductions with effect from November 2 in accordance with the powers vested in him under the Special Commodity Levy Act.

The duty on imported sugar, too, remains 25 cents a kilo since Oct 13, 2020 when the Finance Ministry slashed Rs 50 duty on a kilo of sugar.

The government brought in emergency regulations close on the heels of a spate of raids on warehouses from where authorities took 29,000 metric tonnes of sugar into custody. Having repeatedly vowed to maintain prices, the government recently allowed sharp increase of milk powder and liquefied petroleum gas. Interestingly, local producers also matched the increase in the price of imported milk powder.

Trade Ministry sources yesterday told The Island that price controls had been done away with as part of a new scheme to allow the market to decide prices. However, the government would make necessary interventions to prevent the importers from exploiting the consumers, sources said, adding that the second consignment of Nadu from India would arrive at the Colombo harbour today (5).

Since the cabinet recently authorized the importation of 100,000 metric tonnes of rice to meet the shortfall, the Trade Ministry imported 15,000 metric tonnes of Nadu from India. With the arrival of the latest stock, the total amount of Nadu imported from India would be 22,000 metric tonnes. According to the Trade Ministry, they are planning to procure about 40,000 metric tonnes of rice from India, Pakistan and Myanmar.



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NHSL narcotics mafia: DG points finger at SLFP union, blames govt. for inaction

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Director of the National Hospital, Dr. Rukshan Bellana, who had to be rescued by the police recently as an unruly minor staff laid siege to his office and threatened to cause him bodily harm, yesterday (03) alleged that he was under threat subsequent to the exposure of what he called a narcotics mafia operating in government Hospitals.

In a brief interview with The Island the beleaguered President of the Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) found fault with the government for its lethargic response to threats emanating from a trade union affiliated to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Responding to queries, Dr. Bellana alleged that a section of the minor staff was trying to force him out of the National Hospital at the behest of trade union leader Roy de Mel. “Contrary to reports and claims, I’m still here,” Dr. Bellana said, warning the government of dire consequences unless action was taken to discipline National Hospital staff.

Dr. Bellana emphasized that the SLFP trade union, under any circumstances, couldn’t be allowed to dictate terms to the health administration. The outspoken official said that the situation was so bad the National Hospital seemed to be in the hands of ruffians in the garb of trade unionists.

The Island raised Dr. Bellana’s accusations with the SLFP trade union leader De Mel who strongly defended their response to what he described as a wholly unnecessary issue caused by the Deputy Director.

There could be some drug addicts as well as drug pushers among the minor staff of the National Hospital, De Mel said, while referring to the recent reportage of the arrest of a minor female employee carrying heroin with a street value of Rs. 250,000 by the Katunayake police. However, Dr. Bellana for some reason only known to him had repeatedly slandered the entire minor staff, de Mel claimed, challenging the Deputy Director to prove his accusations.

Both Dr. Bellana and De Mel accused the Health Ministry of failing to address the issues at hand. Dr. Bellana said that for want of clear instructions from the Health Ministry, the SLFP union was trying to terrorize him. The official demanded that the ministry initiate a no holds barred investigation into the conduct of the SLFP union.

De Mel said that the Health Ministry owed an explanation as to how Dr. Bellana repeatedly exploited mainstream and social media to propagate his accusations whereas other doctors faced disciplinary measures. Reference was made to cases involving doctors at Kataragama and Karapitiya hospitals.

The trade union leader said that it wouldn’t be fair to declare the entire minor staff of the National Hospital drug addicts on the basis of a few cases or unsubstantiated allegations. De Mel pointed out that there had been cases of security forces and police personnel, including an SSP being arrested with narcotics. But such arrests didn’t justify calling the services and police drug addicts, de Mel said, urging the Health Ministry and law enforcement authorities to investigate Dr. Bellana’s accusations.

“We are ready to face investigations, at any level,” De Mel said, claiming that actually he took up the alleged drug issue among minor staff before Dr. Bellana went public with it. De Mel claimed that he appealed not only to minor staff at the National Hospital but other health sector institutions as well.

Dr. Bellana said that de Mel commanded about 200 minor employees whereas the total strength of National Hospital minor staff was approximately 3,200. The total staff consisted of 11,500 including 1,500 doctors and 3,000 nurses.

Referring to a recent appeal made by Public Security Minister Tiran Alles to police officers not to accept hampers from drug dealers, Dr. Bellana said that he expected law enforcement authorities to restore normalcy at the National Hospital. The police seemed to be hesitant to rein in unruly minor staff against the backdrop of a weary political response, Dr. Bellana said, adding that he briefed Minister Alles of the developing situation.

Dr. Bellana said that workers shouldn’t be allowed to threaten disruption of services. Alleging that some minor staff went to the extent of disrupting surgeries, Dr. Bellana said that the Health Ministry couldn’t turn a blind eye to the developing situation.De Mel claimed Dr. Bellana was practicing what he knows best. “He is causing chaos as he did under previous administrations.”

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Seven million Lankans in need of humanitarian assistance:UNICEF

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UNICEF has said seven million people in Sri Lanka are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the economic crisis.In its Sri Lanka Humanitarian Situation Report, issued on 02 February, the UN agency said essential services for children such as health, nutrition, and education have been severely impacted by shortages of medicine, food insecurity, lack of fuel and long power cuts.

In 2022, UNICEF reached over 1.3 million people, including 750,000 children with humanitarian assistance through humanitarian interventions.Over 800,000 people in urban areas have access to safe drinking water, 285,403 children in rural and estate areas were provided with educational materials, and 205,000 adolescents benefited from mental health and psychosocial support services in communities and in schools through UNICEF initiatives, the report said.

UNICEF also piloted a humanitarian cash transfers program which reached 3,010 mothers with young children for three months in the Colombo municipal area in 2022.

This is to be further scaled up to reach 110,000 mothers and caregivers in 2023, the report said.It said that in 2022, UNICEF appealed for 25 million U.S. dollars to provide life-saving humanitarian services to nearly 2.8 million Sri Lankans, including 1.7 million children affected by the economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

UNICEF received USD 34 million, however there is uneven distribution of funding received, it said.

UNICEF said: “Some sectors (Education, WASH and Child Protection) remain significantly underfunded, while others (Nutrition and Social Protection) have received almost triple the asked amount. This situation highlights the need for fresh funding into 2023 particularly for the underfunded sectors. In addition, the generous contribution to the cash-based programming was only made available in the fall.

UNICEF Sri Lanka Country Office launched its Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) on 10 June 2022 aligned with the UN inter-agency Humanitarian Needs and Priorities (HNP) appeal for Sri Lanka. The HAC has been funded thanks to the generous contributions of bilateral, public, and private donors. UNICEF expresses its sincere gratitude to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, USAID, the Central Emergency Response Fund, UNICEF USA, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (UK) and Global Thematic Humanitarian Funds and many others for their generous contributions, without which UNICEF could not meet the most pressing needs of woman, children, and most vulnerable populations affected by the worst economic crisis the country has experienced since independence. While the HNP expired in December 2022, the need for continued funding to sustain prevailing humanitarian needs post-HNP is critical.”

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Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis passes away

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Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis passed away yesterday, while being treated at a private hospital. He was 90. He received his primary education at St. Bendict’s College, Kotahena, and at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. He was ordained in 1958 and was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo, in 1968. He was appointed as the Bishop of Anuradhapura and as Archbishop of Colombo in 2002.

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