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Foreign funding for ‘environmental projects’ sans Treasury approval rife

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Environment Ministry officials appearing before the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) on Nov 19 in Parliament.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Treasury Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga said the Environment Ministry had routinely received foreign funds for projects that had been implemented without prior approval from the External Resources Department (ERD) of the Treasury.

Dr. Samaratunga said so when The Island sought his response to the Auditor General’s disclosure that the Environment Ministry had implemented projects to the tune of USD 9.96 mn and one project worth Euro 1.86 mn in 2017, 2018 and 2019 during his tenure as the Secretary to the Treasury.

The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has taken up this issue at a meeting on Nov 19, chaired by Prof. Tissa Vitharana, at the Parliamentary Complex.

Dr. Samaratunga emphasised that other ministries, too, had utilised such funding, sans proper approval and contrary to specific laid down procedures.

According to Dr. Samaratunga who served as Secretary to the Treasury during Ravi Karunanayake and Mangala Samarawee’s tenure as Finance Minister, the funds originated from both governments and INGOs.

Jathika Jana Balavegaya National List MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya and Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Niroshan Perera who had been present at the meeting presided over by Prof. Vithana underscored the responsibility on the part of ministries and government institutions to adhere with specific instructions pertaining to foreign funding. Lawmaker Niroshan Perera said that the failure on the part of the Environment Ministry to secure approval of the External Resources Department was unacceptable.

During yahapalana administration, President Maithripala Sirisena held the environment portfolio. Former General Secretary of the Communist Party Dew Gunasekera, who had served as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) told The Island that the Treasury should take tangible measures in consultation with relevant authorities to prevent utilization of foreign funds without proper scrutiny.

The former Minister pointed out that the External Resources Department, too, should be on alert and make necessary interventions when required.

Parliamentary watchdog committees have highlighted waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence in public sector enterprises though the government was yet to take action on their findings, Gunasekera said.



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Speaker blasts ministers who often skip sittings

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Yapa

‘They are here only when Prez visits Parliament’

By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena expressed his displeasure over ministers skipping Parliament sessions while there were questions that they should be answering.

Following a heated argument between government MPs and their Opposition counterparts over explosions caused by defective domestic gas cylinders, the Speaker said that it was highly regrettable that there were no front-row ministers to respond to queries from the Opposition.

“I have noticed that all the ministers are present on the days the President visits Parliament. The ministers come and stay in the Chamber to mark their presence and show the President that they attend Parliament proceedings. Therefore, very soon I will have to request the President to come to Parliament everyday so that the ministers, too, would be here,” the Speaker said.

The Speaker pointed out that not a single minister was present in the front row either to the right or left of the seat of the Chief Government Whip.

The Speaker said that whenever a problem of national importance was raised by the Opposition, the government should respond to its questions. All ministers are duty bound to respond to questions from the Opposition and none should shirk their collective responsibility, the Speaker said.

Speaker Abeywardena said that he would summon a special consultative committee today (01) to discuss the gas cylinder explosions.

“Everyone including party leaders, officials of CAA and representatives of Litro and Laugfs Gas must be present at the special meeting,” he said.

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Fresh troops leave for overseas deployment

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SLAF personnel assigned for forthcoming mission under UN command

The annual change of personnel of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Aviation Unit, under the United Nations helicopter deployment in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) left the country during the early hours yesterday (30, November 2021).

The 7th contingent of 110 personnel, comprised 20 Officers and 90 Airmen, departed to Central Africa from the Bandaranaike International Airport. Wing Commander Sampath Liyanarachchi will lead this Contingent as the Contingent Commander. This contingent includes a female Officer, for the first time in the history of SLAF UN Deployments. This female Officer is one of the Medical Officers deployed with this Contingent.

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More gas explosions

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Several more explosive incidents connected to gas cylinders were reported from across the country in the 24 hours that ended yesterday noon.

A canteen at the Samurdhi Bank at Lidakumbura, Bibile, was damaged when a fire and explosion took place after the person who manages the place switched on the gas cooker yesterday morning.

A fire had occurred at a house at Thilinagama, Meerigama, on Monday night when the cooker there was turned on, police said,

In separate incidents at Meegoda and Lollegoda, Mawanella residents found that their gas cylinders were leaking and informed officials.

State Minister of Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, said that CAA had collected 12 samples of gas cylinders from the Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Gampaha, Galle, Kalutara, and Colombo areas to be tested. The lab reports had now been sent to the Moratuwa University and the university had appointed four experts to study the lab reports. The report was expected to be submitted in the next few days.

Co-Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Dullas Alahapperumam yesterday said that the Moratuwa University, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, the Government Analyst’s Department and the relevant institution would work together to determine the causes of explosions.

“Hopefully, we will be able to uncover what’s going on in the coming 24 to 48 hours. Everyone including my wife is scared,” he said.

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