By Ifham Nizam
Plans are underway to give priority to the issue of sand mining permits to families living in the Trincomalee District to alleviate poverty, the Environment Ministry said yesterday.
Residents of the Trincomalee district have not yet been given priority in the issuance of sand mining permits. Therefore, the Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera has instructed the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau to give priority to the people living in sand mining villages in Trincomalee in the future when issuing permits for sand mining.
The Minister recently paid an official visit to Trincomalee to inquire into sand mining and other environmental issues. A discussion on sand mining was held at the District Secretariat.
The Minister said that he had been to Neelapola village, where he witnessed large scale sand mining being carried out.
“I met the licensees who were doing that. They were wearing thick gold chains. Some businessmen also sported gold bracelets. But the innocent people, born in the village of Neelapola, did not have even copper amulets,” Minister Amaraweera revealed.
Amaraweera said villagers watched outsiders plunger the resources of their villages. In order to eradicate poverty in such villages, the benefits of the natural resources available there should be given to the villagers.
The Minister said priority should be given to the permanent residents of the villages, especially in the Trincomalee District, in issuing sand permits.
The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau should take necessary action in that regard, he told officials.
The Environment Minister also said media reports that environmental destruction was rampant in the district were true.
He said that the situation was very serious. “Lagoon filling is also done in other areas. This work is done using soil removed from the tanks. Legal action must be taken against the culprits.
“Some of our officials are also promoting these activities. We have information about that. So, we want to punish such officers who help to destroy the environment regardless of their positions. Take action now. I would like to remind you that natural resources should be used sparingly. Environmental resources are limited. Therefore, the available resources should be managed, the Minister said.
Secretary to the Ministry Dr. Anil Jasinghe and officials from the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau were also present on the occasion.
Gymnastics Ireland ‘deeply sorry’ to Black girl ignored at medal ceremony
Ireland’s gymnastics federation has apologised for the allegedly racist treatment of a young Black gymnast who was skipped by an official handing out medals to a row of girls last year.
Footage posted on social media last week of an event in Dublin in 2022 showed the official appearing to snub the girl, the only Black gymnast in the lineup, who looked bewildered.
“We would like to unreservedly apologise to the gymnast and her family for the upset that has been caused by the incident,” Gymnastics Ireland (GI) said in a statement posted on its website on Monday.
“What happened on the day should not have happened and for that we are deeply sorry,” said the statement. “We would like to make it absolutely clear that [GI] condemns any form of racism whatsoever,” it added.
The video posted on Friday soon went viral and drew widespread condemnation of the girl’s treatment, including from star United States gymnast Simone Biles, who said she sent the girl a private video message of support.
“It broke my heart to see the video. There is no room for racism in any sport or at all,” Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist, said Saturday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Biles’s US teammate Jordan Chiles described the incident as “beyond hurtful on so many levels”.
In an earlier statement, GI defended the official who it said had made an “honest error” but acknowledged it received a complaint from the parents of the girl alleging racist behaviour in March 2022.
GI said an independent mediation had led to a “resolution agreed by both parties in August 2023”, that the official had written an apology and that the girl had received her medal after the ceremony.
However, the Irish Independent on Sunday anonymously quoted the girl’s mother as saying GI had failed to publicly apologise and that she would take the issue to the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation in Switzerland.
Welcome to Ireland where people get away with racism! This little black girl broke my heart. Don’t skip this post without leaving a million heart for her. Make her famous… pic.twitter.com/YYMIP1IALZ
— Mohamad Safa (@mhdksafa) September 22, 2023
SJB: State audit vindicates no-faith motion against Keheliya, remedial measures urgently required
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Opposition MP Harshana Rajakaruna yesterday (25) said those who had defeated the no-confidence motion (NCM) against Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella should peruse the latest State audit report on the Health Ministry.
The Gampaha District SJB MP said the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) at a recent meeting chaired by State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna had strongly criticised the Health Ministry over the continuing waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement exposed by the National Audit Office (NAO). The Parliamentary Watchdog Committee emphasised that Health Ministry explanations/responses to the issues at hand were not acceptable.
Dr. G. Wijesuriya, Deputy Director General (Medical Services 11) at the Health Ministry had cut a pathetic figure by trying to defend politicians and officials responsible for the sorry state of affairs in the health sector, MP Rajakaruna said, adding that Dr. Wijesuriya failed to explain how 97 doctors had been allowed to serve in the Health Ministry though the cadre was only 37.
The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government acted as if the defeat of the NCM by a majority of 40 votes had been an endorsement of Health Minister Rambukwella’s actions, MP Rajakaruna said.
A total of 113 MPs voted against the NCM while 73 MPs voted in favour. Thirty-eight lawmakers skipped the vote taken on 08 September.
The NAO report should be examined against the backdrop of the dismissal of Opposition concerns over the continuing deterioration of the public health sector, the former UNPer said. That report was nothing but an indictment of a vital ministry, lawmaker Rajakaruna said, pointing out massive waste particularly at a time of unprecedented financial crisis was an unpardonable crime.
Minister Rambukwella, Health Secretary Janaka Sri Chandragupta and Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Asela Gunawardena owed an explanation how they allowed such waste and corruption as the government struggled to maintain basic and essential services. Referring to the damning NAO report, MP Rajakaruna said that Rs 349,025,664 worth medicine, equipment and other items had been discarded during 2022 due to low quality while all state hospitals experienced severe shortage of drugs. According to the report, the use of medicine, equipment and other items worth Rs 31,751,024 had been temporarily stopped due to concerns over quality but by the time the Health Ministry took a decision in this regard, such medicines were already issued to patients.
During COPA proceedings, SJB MP Hector Appuhamy questioned the Health Ministry top management why the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) continued to make emergency purchases thereby wasting precious public funds.
COPA Chairman Alagiyawanna and Attorney General W.P.C. Wickremaratne, who is also the ex-officio Chairman of the Audit Service Commission (ASC), appointed after the change of government, censured the top management of the Health Ministry for its failures at all levels, MP Rajakaruna said.
The Opposition lawmaker said that the ACS should vigorously pursue this investigation. The ASC consists of W.P.C. Wickramaratne, retired Justice Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, Mrs. Nandaseeli Godakanda, Gnananantharajah Thevagnanan and A M Dharmajith Nayanakantha.
MP Rajakaruna said that the Health Ministry also admitted before COPA that 957 doctors had left the country between the period of August 2022 and August 2023. Of them, 526 had taken long leave, 163 resigned and 197 vacated their posts, the lawmaker said, adding that instead of addressing the issues at hand taking tangible measures to reassure medical professionals, the government played politics with the developing crisis.
The SJB spokesperson recalled how Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, during the three-day debate on the NCM, stressed that the Opposition accusations directed at Minister Rambukwella were unsubstantiated. The Premier had no qualms in declaring that there was no basis for the NCM and the Opposition was making an effort to deceive the public, MP Rajakaruna said, urging MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena to examine the NAO report. President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Premier Gunawardena should deal with the crisis in the health sector without further delay, the MP said, warning the failure to do so would result in a catastrophe.
MP Rajakaruna asked Premier Gunawardena to read his declarations during the debate. The NAO report has endorsed the NCM regardless of the outcome of the vote, MP Rajakaruna said.
Bishop Valence Mendis accuses govt. of playing games
By Norman Paliahawadane
Kandy Diocese Bishop and Chilaw Apostolic Administrator Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis says it is ludicrous that the government has chosen to appoint more committees to probe the Easter Sunday terror attacks instead of implementing the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which probed the carnage. Delivering his sermon at the Holy Mass offered at the Holy Cross, National Shrine, Marawila last week, Bishop Valence Mendis said the government authorities for the past four and half years had engaged in futile exercises wasting time and public funds in the name of probing the Easter Sunday attacks. Now, it was very clear that the government had no genuine desire to find the truth or deliver justice to the victims and their family members. Just another committee was the latest joke of a series of such gags. “If they are genuinely concerned about delivering justice then they should implement the recommendations of the PCoI. We are sure that authorities did nothing about more than 80 percent of recommendations of the PCoI to ensure justice,” the Bishop said.
Treasurer of the Kandy Diocese Rev. Fr. Nelson Samantha, Rev. Fr. Peter Charles, and Administrator of the Shrine Rev. Fr. Niranjan Dayalal were present.
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