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Former Gen. Secy says party faced Herculean task in rebuilding



SLFP 69 today

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time SLFP General Secretary Prof. Rohana Lakshman said yesterday that in spite of setbacks suffered over the past couple of years, the party was determined to re-organize ahead of future elections.

In an interview with The Island, on the eve of the SLFP’s 69 anniversary on Sept. 2, Prof. Lakshman said that they faced daunting challenges amidst continuing turmoil.

Pointing out that the SLFP had 126 elected members in the 144-member UPFA parliamentary group in 2010, The Island asked Prof. Lakshman to explain the deterioration of the party to such an extent within five years.

Prof. Lakshman said that political parties always rallied around the SLFP at every presidential election during the conflict and the after the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009. “For the first time, we had to accept the leadership of another party, the SLPP, at the 2019 presidential election,” Prof. Lakshman said, asserting that what befell the SLFP couldn’t be blamed on one specific reason.

The academic said that an explosive mixture of reasons contributed to the crisis in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena accepting the leadership of the SLFP close on the heels of his victory at the presidential election. Prof. Lakshman said that in the aftermath of the 2915 August general election the party struggled to cope up with an influential section loyal to former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa deciding to operate independently. Identifying themselves as the Joint Opposition, the group played the role of the main Opposition at the expense of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), with a much lesser number of MPs, though accepted as the Opposition, Prof. Lakshman said.

“A part of the UPFA/SLFP joined the UNP led government whereas the JO formed the SLPP in 2016 and by early 2018 was a formidable force that threatened both major political parties at times.”

Referring to the first Treasury bond scam perpetrated in late Feb 2015, Prof. Lakshman alleged that the coalition never recovered from the massive daylight robbery. The second scam in March in the following year simply overwhelmed the government, Prof. Lakshman said, adding that debilitating setback suffered by both the UNP and the SLFP at the 2018 Feb Local Government polls weakened them beyond measure.

The failed bid to move a no-faith motion against Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in April 2018 sharply divided the party with a section of the parliamentary group challenging the leadership, Prof. Lakshman said.

The dissident group called the ‘Group of 16’ caused irreparable damage to the party, Prof. Lakshman said, adding that their move further weakened the party struggling to overcome the Local Government polls defeat amidst the emergence of the SLPP.

Responding to another query, Prof. Lakshman said that President Sirisena made a last ditch effort to take control of the situation by appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister having sacked Wickremesinghe.

Had that operation succeeded, President Sirisena could have turned around the situation as the general election was scheduled to take place on January 5, 2019, Prof. Lakshman said. If not for the UNP-TNA-JVP successfully moving the Supreme Court against the formation of the new government, the general election would have taken place before the presidential election, Prof. Lakshman said.

The academic said that the SLFP today was in a much better position than the UNP. “We won 14 seats, including one on our own in Jaffna, whereas the UNP ended up with one National List slot. We were forced to contest Jaffna, Nuwara Eliya and Kalutara on our own because the SLPP violated an electoral pact. We were to receive one third of the nominations. But, we received 33 nominations and two National List slots.”

 Prof. Lakshman alleged that the SLPP had been unfair by the SLFP but the SLFP was confident they could work together though some members of the dominant party caused quite a disturbance in the run-up to the parliamentary election.

The then President brought in Prof. Lakshman as the General Secretary of the party in the wake of ‘Group of 16’ causing a split. Prof. Lakshman was brought in at the expense of Duminda Dissanayake. However, about six months later, President Sirisena brought in Dayasiri Jayasekera as the General Secretary, while Prof. Lakshman functioned as the Acting President of the SLFP during the presidential poll campaign.

Asked whether party leader Sirisena would step down as promised in the run-up to the general election, Prof. Lakshman said that the former President would state his position. Prof. Lakshman said that he couldn’t comment on the former President’s pledge therefore a clearer picture would emerge at various party forums.

The academic acknowledged that the SLFP was facing an uphill task. There was no point in denying the herculean challenge faced by the party in the aftermath of losing the leadership to the SLPP and sharp reduction of its parliamentary representation.

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Special COVID-19 probe crippled by infections among CCD sleuths: AG calls for new police team



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Brandix Apparel Limited yesterday (29) said that the company would fully cooperate with relevant authorities in the investigation ordered by the Attorney General (AG). A spokesperson for the company said so when The Island sought a clarification with regard to AG Dappula de Livera, PC, directing the police to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged lapses on the part of the company as well as those officials leading to the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

The Minuwangoda eruption, which happened in the first week of October is widely believed to be the cause of the fast expanding Peliyagoda cluster.

Asked whether the police had contacted the Brandix management as regards the investigation and sought access to Brandix management and workers at its Minuwangoda apparel manufacturing facility as well as records at the Minuwangoda facility, the spokesperson said: “We will work with the relevant authorities in this regard”.

The Colombo Crime Division (CCD) tasked with the probe has suffered a serious setback due to a section of its officers being tested positive for COVID-19. Authoritative sources said that the CCD lacked sufficient strength to carry out the investigation.

AG de Livera early this week told DIG Ajith Rohana that a progress report should be submitted to him by or before Nov. 13.

Sources said that the badly depleted CCD was not in a position to conduct the high-profile investigation, in addition to other ongoing inquiries. The AG has directed the Acting IGP to constitute a special team of law enforcement officers to conduct the investigation. Sources acknowledged the urgent need for a thorough inquiry into the far worse second corona wave. Sources said that the AG issued fresh instructions in that regard after the crisis in the CCD was brought to his notice.

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Most garment workers under self-quarantine left to fend for themselves



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of garment workers who were undergoing self-quarantine in Minuwangoda did not receive any assistance, Chamila Thushari of the Dabindu Collective, a labour organisation that works with garment workers, told The Island yesterday.

She said that those who were under self-quarantine did not have money to purchase food and even those who were willing to help could not reach them.

“Some of them have received food parcels from their work places but that is not adequate. Most others have not received any assistance. Matters will only get worse after curfew is imposed throughout the Western Province,” Thushari said.

Most of these workers are undergoing self-quarantine at their boarding places, which also house individuals who still work in garment factories. “Although there is a curfew, they can go to work. These are perfect incubators for the virus,” she said.

Thushari said that every day between 20-30 workers under self-quarantine, tested positive for COVID-19.

There were no public health inspectors to monitor the boarding houses of garment workers to ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures were being followed, she said.

“Not even Grama Niladaris visit them,” Chamila said.

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SJB requests separate seats for its dissidents



Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella has written to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena requesting him to make arrangements to provide separate seats to the nine MPs who had voted with the government for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution recently.

The letter dated yesterday said that the SJB parliamentary group had decided to expel MPs Diana Gamage, A. Aravind Kumar, Ishak Rahuman, Faisal Cassim, H. M. M. Haris, M.S. Thowfeeq, Nazeer Ahmed, A.A.S.M. Raheem and S.M.M. Musharaf and it requests the Speaker to make separate seating arrangements for these MPs in the Chamber.

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