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Even after H’tota sellout, govt. didn’t take remedial measures – Arjuna

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga yesterday (20) told The Island that the ongoing deepening controversy over the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill underscored Sri Lanka’s pathetic failure to adopt a common stand in respect of matters of national importance.

 Ranatunga compared the handing over of the Hambantota port to China, under controversial circumstances on a 99-year-lease, in July 2017, with the Colombo Port City project to be managed in terms of the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Act.

 The former lawmaker said that he gave up ports and shipping ministry as he didn’t want to endorse the disputed agreement under any circumstances.

 Ranatunga contested the Gampaha district on the UNP ticket at the last general election, but couldn’t retain his seat like all other party candidates, barring for a solitary National List seat.

 Responding to another query, Ranatunga said that the Port City Project, too, had been under the purview of the ports and shipping ministry. But the yahapalana administration following consultations with him, brought the Port City project under the then Megapolis minister Patali Champika Ranawaka’s purview.

 Ranatunga was replaced as Ports and Shipping Minister by SLFP Vice President and Kalutara District MP Mahinda Samarasinghe.

 Ranatunga emphasized that he gave up the ministry after the yahapalana government rejected a proposal prepared in consultation with the ministry and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). It was discarded by those bent on pursuing an agenda inimical to Sri Lanka, he charged.

 The then SLFPer Samarasinghe finalized the agreement on July 29, 2017. However, Samarasinghe contested the last general election on the SLPP ticket. He re-entered parliament from the Kalutara district.

 Former minister Ranatunga said that he was quite surprised by rejection of his proposal as he presented a sensible solution which addressed concerns of both countries. Ranatunga said that he didn’t want to remain as the ports and shipping minister at any cost.

 Acknowledging some support provided by the then his cabinet colleague Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse PC, as he struggled to thwart a plan inimical to the country, Ranatunga claimed that the Joint Opposition (SLPP now)  backed the agreement. Ranatunga pointed out that some tend to conveniently forget both Hambantota and Port City projects were initiated during the previous Rajapaksa administration.

 The Hambantota port project was initiated in 2007 at the height of the war, whereas the Port City got underway in late 2014.

 Appreciating the investments made by China in Sri Lanka over a period of time, Ranatunga stressed that the country couldn’t afford to enter into agreements detrimental to its interests. The former minister urged lawmakers, both opposed to the project as well as those backing it to be cautious in their approach.

 Noting that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) had been among those who petitioned the Supreme Court against the proposed Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, Ranatunga said that the handling of the Hambantota port agreement exposed him to how the country was being manipulated. “In spite of the Hambantota port coming under the purview of the Ports and Shipping Ministry, it didn’t really have a say. That is the undeniable truth,” Ranatunga said.

 The former MP questioned the rationale in reclaiming land adjacent to the Galle Face Green at such a huge cost as the project could have been set up in some other suitable location.

 Ranatunga said that he was not aware of the current status of the cases filed against the Hambantota port. Among those who filed cases was the then MP Vavudeva Nanayakkara. However, none of the 19 petitioners who moved the Supreme Court against the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, including BASL, ironically failed to figure in the legal challenge thrown against the Hambantota port deal.

 Ranatunga said due to failure on the part of the parliament to take remedial measures the country seemed to be repeating mistakes. The former minister regretted the overall failure to address contentious issues, such as major foreign investment which might threaten the country’s stability. The government and the main Opposition should bear the responsibility for both Hambantota and Port City projects as they proceeded with Hambantota and port city projects.

 Meanwhile, former National Policies and Economic Affairs State Minister Niroshan Perera yesterday (20) told The Island that some government lawmakers simply pursued a political agenda regardless of the consequences. Obviously, they ignored the possible consequences in case the government went ahead with the project, he claimed.

 



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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament

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Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.

 

 

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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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