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Former Gen. Secy says party faced Herculean task in rebuilding

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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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Toxic coconut oil scare trigger public wave of fear over aflatoxins in foodstuffs

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People now wary of buying certain products

By Suresh Perera

In the backdrop of a top official of Sri Lanka’s key standards body coming under heavy flak over her controversial claim that several other consumer commodities also contain toxic substances, public apprehension has shifted to many other products in the market following a wave of fear triggered over cancer-causing free radicals in foodstuffs, industry players said.

The Trade Ministry has already initiated a disciplinary inquiry into the assertion by Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), that aflatoxins are also found in certain other food items sold to the public.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops.

As the SLSI scientist’s remarks during a television talk show ignited an uproar following the seizure of imported stocks of contaminated coconut oil, industry officials said that customers are now wary of purchasing certain food products as the social media, rightly or wrongly, painted a frightening picture, they said.

A committee will be appointed to examine Dr. Senaratne’s statement to ascertain the validity or otherwise of her claim of the presence of aflatoxins in some food products in the marketplace, authoritative sources said.

Though the Director-General didn’t identify any of the “toxic products” she claimed were being sold to consumers, her statement unleashed a cycle of fear and uncertainty as consumers, influenced largely by social media reports and hearsay, viewed many brands with suspicion, the sources noted.

However, there has been no credible scientific evidence so far to prove that products identified on social media contain carcinogenic properties, they said.

Dr. Senaratne’s contention was that identifying products with toxic substances could lead to the collapse of some local industries. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has been informed to take up the issue with the relevant manufacturers for remedial action, she said.

It is no secret that many mills use copra with fungus to extract coconut oil. The perishable copra is dried outdoors but there is no proper cleaning of the fungi, which are common under tropical and sub-tropical conditions, before the oil is extracted, industry officials said.

Has it been established whether the shiny wax coating used on apples as an oxygen barrier to preserve freshness, particularly in consignments imported from China, belong to the safe food grade material?, they asked.

In the case of apples imported to Sri Lanka from the USA, the whole process of orchard to point of landing take many weeks. It is true that fruits are stored in cold rooms to preserve quality and slow the aging process by regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the question arises whether there are accredited processes to monitor the agro chemical and other toxic levels in imported apples and other varieties of fruits before permitting the stocks to be released to the local market, they noted.

Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, but it’s common knowledge that many wayside eateries introduce plaster of paris (a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder known as calcium sulfate hemihydrate) to the batter to keep them fresh and crispy, the officials asserted.

“This is because customers insist on freshly baked hoppers and as a result, those that have gone flat cannot be sold”, they said.

Cleanliness of eateries is being monitored to some extent, but are there any quality checks for toxicity on the food served to customers?, they queried.

After the contaminated coconut oil scandal surfaced, people are reluctant to even buy traditional oil-based sweetmeats from the marketplace, they further said.

Unlike earlier years, there is a slump in sweetmeat sales, a supermarket official said. “Customers are wary about toxic coconut oil in the market”.

 

 

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Ceyleon Solutions launch Sparetime App to turn spare time into income

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Ceyleon Solutions, a leading mobile app solution provider, launched Sparetime (www.sparetime.lk), a special mobile app to make easy money using one’s spare time. This app helps to search for people providing domestic, official or personal services or earn an extra income by providing a wide range of services.

Services such as masonry, plumbing, computer related services, wholesale, distribution, medical & healthcare, teaching, legal, beauticians, cleaning, helping, babysitting and car wash can be either searched or provided using this app as it creates an online platform for such service providers and those who seek their services.

There are two apps compatible to android and apple phones, ‘Sparetime Provider’ for those who provide services and ‘Sparetime User’ for those who seek such services.

“This is an ideal option for those who find it difficult to make ends meet with their salaries. Using this app, they can make use of their spare time effectively to earn extra money. This creates a comprehensive service hub. For an example, a vegetable farmer can find both a whole seller and a transport service provider to transport his goods with just a click. Even students can find part time work for their financial needs”, said Chaminda De Silva, creator and owner of the Sparetime app.

“This app works as a platform for social workers to get together and mobilize people for tasks that they wish to perform. This is a very user friendly app. However, operating instructions can be obtained by calling our hotline 0706355450 or 0706355452. An instructor will come to help you if necessary”, he noted.

Regardless of being a service provider or a user, this app will be ideal. It will also pave the way to gradually reduce the unemployment rate in Sri Lanka and will subsequently contribute to the gross domestic product accelerating economic growth of Sri Lanka.

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“Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims; they hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes’

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Rishad Bathiudeen tells Parliament

The Muslims never called for separatism. The Muslims have been on the side of the nation for over 1,000 years in Sri Lanka as documented in the book of Dr. Lorna Devaraja titled, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony’. Even when the Muslims were threatened with eviction or death from the North, they risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to be on the side of the State, Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, said.

Speaking in English during the fifth day of the debate on the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Attacks in Parliament on April 7, he said: “Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims. They hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes. The report in Page 94 confirms that Zahran wanted to build tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim Communities of Sri Lanka”.

The MP’s speech contained many points and references to matters in the report and events that transpired thereafter.

Some of the points raised by the MP were:

* The State is antagonizing the Muslim community in the manner that Zahran had wanted them to act. The State should not play to the tunes of Zahran. The State should not act in a way that would jeopardize national security. The State has already commenced the process of State sponsored oppression by prohibiting the import of Muslim books and are making plans to ban Niqabs/Burkas and Madrasas.

* The PCoI has exonerated Rishad Bathiudeen from all charges in connection with the Easter attacks. Only two charges remain to be investigated. First one is in relation to the phone call placed by Bathiudeen to then Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, concerning Ihsan Moinudeen. Secondly, the sale of scrap metal by the Industrial Development Board to Colossus (Pvt) Ltd. Rishad Bathiudeen visited the Bribery Commission on 8th of April, 2021 to request them to investigate the allegation in the report.

 

* The weight placed on the phone call made by Rishad Bathiudeen to General Mahesh Senanayake, was given far higher significance in the report in comparison to the actions of Dayasiri Jayasekara who released six persons from the Hettipola Police Station who were involved in torching and destroying Muslim owned shops and Muslim places of worship. The Commission Report had recommended investigation into the phone call but had not charged Dayasiri on any matter.

 

* The Government cannot have a law banning the Niqab and Burka without also banning medical masks, helmets, sunglasses, etc.

* Restriction of Islamic books being brought into the country is a violation of the Constitution.

* Bathiudeen quoted Page 331 of the Report:‘Reciprocal radicalization is the cycle of radicalization which promotes each other’s radicalized ideologies’. If the Government can keep politicians like Wimal Weerawansa in check, the de-radicalization program will be half completed. He also said that inciting racism will only provoke and radicalize more Muslims.

 * Killing of Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Salley in Kottramulla before his children in the aftermath of the Easter Attacks, was Genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, and all persons who were inciting racism could be charged for incitement to genocide. Subsequent charges of oppression too can have a detrimental effect on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must be careful as Sri Lanka is now a party to the Rome Statute and can be held accountable by the International Criminal Court.

 

* It was Azath Salley who indicated during a press conference concerning the criminal activities of Zahran Hashim in 2017, but he is alleged to have connections to the Easter Attacks. This is not fair. The Government is politically victimizing Muslims who are speaking up against the oppressive tactics of the Government.

* The One Country One Law Policy does not mean that Muslim Personal Laws alone should be targeted. Most people believe that Customary Laws should be removed. However, that logic would require the Government to abolish Provincial legislation too, as Provincial legislation is also territorially implemented and not countrywide. Several laws will have to be struck down. However, the right way of interpreting the One Country One Law policy would be to maintain all laws that are consistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

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