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Fresh appeal to President to have rape of Dahaiyagala sanctuary halted

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By Ifham Nizam

Nearly 20 leading environmental/wildlife organisations have teamed up to make an appeal to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to ensure the environmental security and rights of future generations of Sri Lanka by immediately putting an end to the ongoing forest destruction in the Dahaiyagala sanctuary.

Environmental Scientist Hemantha Withanage yesterday said environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts countrywide urged the government to end the ongoing environmental destruction in the country, allegedly being undertaken in the name of chena cultivation, agriculture expansion and lands for housing, etc.

“We are greatly concerned about your apparent endorsement of land grabbing, and encroachment on forests, thereby destroying precious wildlife habitats and water catchment areas,” the team has said in a letter to President Rajapaksa.

Withanage said Sri Lanka had less than 17% of true forests remaining; the rest being degraded lands or tree plantations. The remaining forest habitats were home to over 7, 500 species of flora and over 15,000 species of fauna – much of this was endemic to Sri Lanka.

Small forest corridors such as the Dahaiyagala sanctuary, the Flood Plains Reserve, etc., were very important for all wildlife and especially for elephant migration, he said.

The ongoing forest destruction was an issue the country had to deal with as it was working towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets, senior environmentalist Dr. Jagath Gunawardena said, adding that Sri Lanka had to go for foreign loans based on the performance of the17 SDGs.

There was no such thing as other forests. “Sri Lanka laws do not provide for utilising lands coming under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance Act for other purposes”.

Gunawardena, who is a lawyer, said the President, Prime Minister, Wildlife Minister or the Director General had no right to go beyond the existing laws.

Gunawardena also expressed concern about experts and professionals keeping quiet about the distribution of forest lands.

Representing Lak Sobha Sanrakshanaya (Senior Group of YZA), Samantha Gunasekera said the current development move would not eradicate poverty here, but further aggravate the existing economic problems.

Citing examples, he said the country should focus on tapping natural resources, citing examples, a mere 10 grammes on bio resources would fetch USD 3,300.

He said that Pulmuddai was full of natural resources and if nano technology was used in exploiting them in an environmentally friendly manner, Sri Lanka could be on par with Singapore economically.

The former Customs Department, Biodiversity Head also warned that forest land distribution would lead to floods and drought.

Environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella, who returned from Dahaiyagala, yesterday, said 14 groups were carrying out forest clearance and most of them were outsiders.

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be held responsible for this forest rape. We urge President Rajapaksa not to do a Donald Trump. I remember what happened to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 and what happened to the disastrous combination President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.”.

The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL), Federation of Environmental Organizations (FEO), Movement for National Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR), Protect Wilpattu, Wildlife Conservation Forum (WCF), Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Climate and Forest Action Network (SLCFAN) , Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle, Center for Conservation and Research (CCR), Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust (BECT) , Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle (BCRC), Friends of Wilpattu (FOW), Elephant Forest and Environment Conservation Trust (EFECT) and Young Zoologists Association of Sri Lanka have jointly launched a public signature campaign in protest against the destruction of forests.



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DG Information ignorant of basic election laws and regulations: ECSL

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by PRIYAN DE SILVA

The Election Commission (EC) has expressed its disappointment at controversial statements made by some public officials about elections. It says some top government official, including the Director General of Government Information, are not familiar with the basic election laws and regulations laid down in the Constitution.

The EC says it may be due to his ignorance that the Director General of Government Information has issued the Special News Release, on 29 January, claiming that ‘the gazette notification, with the signatures of the Chairman, and other members of the Election Commission, required for the commencement of the Local Government Election process, has not yet been sent to the Government Press for printing’. The EC has said such notices have to be signed and sent by the relevant Returning Officers in accordance with section 38 of the Local Authorities Election (Amendment Act) No 16 of 2017, and not by the members of the EC.

The EC has confirmed that the notices from the Returning Officers were sent to the Government Press on Monday (30).

The EC’s Media release also points out that the DGI may be unaware that Article 104GG of the Constitution states that if any public official refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to comply with the Commission he or she has committed an offence.

Article 104GG of the Constitution says: (1) Any public officer, any employee of any public corporation, business or other undertaking vested in the Government under any other written law and any company registered or deemed to be registered under the Companies Act, No. 7 of 2007, in which the Government or any public corporation or local authority holds fifty percent or more of the shares of that company, who – (a) refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to cooperate with the Commission, to secure the enforcement of any law relating to the holding of an election or the conduct of a Referendum; or (b) fails without a reasonable cause to comply with any directions or guidelines issued by the Commission under sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (4) or sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (5), respectively, of Article 104B, shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand rupees or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

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AKD says no improvement at Sapugaskanda oil refinery since it went into production in 1969

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The capacity of the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery (SOR) has not increased since it was established in 1969, National People’s Power (NPP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says.

Speaking at a public rally recently he that in 1969, the SOR used the most advanced technology available at the time.

“CPC started construction in 1968 and SOR started operations, refining oil, on August 5th, 1969. During that time, the CPC could refine 50,000 MT of crude oil. 55 years later, the capacity remains the same. In 1969, the CPC started with the most advanced technology available at the time. Technology has improved now. We are still refining oil with 1969 technology,” he said.

Dissanayake said that Sri Lanka built a fertiliser factory to use the byproducts of the refinery and, in 1982, a newspaper reported that 5000 MT of urea, produced by that factory, was exported to Pakistan. Today, that factory is closed.

“The CPC also had a nylon factory, as a subsidiary. We built our own nylon thread fish nets. By-products of the refinery were used as pesticides and insecticides for our pineapple and flower production. Those factories were closed, too. We had a candle industry from the by-products, we produced lubricant oil. It was sold to American Caltex. Refinery produced fuel for airplanes. It has the capacity to sell USD 1.4 million worth airplane fuel per day. We can buy crude oil, refine, and sell to ships. These are opportunities we must use to earn foreign currency. Recently this section of the CPC was privatized,” he said.

The ruling class has failed to secure even the most important assets, he said. Agriculture, land, gems, ilmenite, our natural resources, so will these rulers protect what is left, he asked.

“They have absolutely no plan to build this country. Selling our resources, closing down factories and selling valuable machinery is what they know. Every government has taken part in the destruction of the refinery. This is why we need a change in the economy. We need to transform our economy. Only NPP can do that,” he said.

The NPP leader said that the existing constitution concentrates too much power in the hands of the executive president. Sri Lanka has had this executive presidential system for 40 years and executive power was used against the people, repressing them.

“Our economy was destroyed. It has done no good to this country. One man cannot develop the country. Individuals have capacities and limitations. We need to unite our capabilities to govern this country. It’s a collective effort and the NPP is the only party to undertake it. That’s the point of difference. There are talented people from all fields like history, economy, mathematics, law and so on. There are lawyers, university academics and professionals. The government has to unite these capacities and talents to bring optimum results for the country. NPP will do that. For that we have to abolish executive presidency and rewrite the constitution vesting more powers in the Parliament. We will bring about this change,” he said.

Dissanayake said an NPP administration will limit the number of Ministers to 18. He added that crossovers have distorted the democratic system and corrupted the political culture.

“People vote for them in one party but for money and positions they change political allegiance. This has become a public nuisance. Some MPs demand ransom to stay in the party. We will add a provision to the Constitution to ban crossing over,” he said.

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JVP: Where are President’s influential foreign friends?

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By Rathindra Kuruwita 

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who assumed duties, claiming that he had very influential friends overseas, now claims he can hardly afford to pay government servants, National People’s Power (NPP) MP Vijitha Herath says.

“If anything, things are worse than before. The government is afraid of the people and is trying to postpone elections,” Herath said, adding that the March 09 local council election would mark the beginning of the end for the Ranil-Rajapaksa administration.

Herath said so addressing an NPP election rally recently.

 “They will no longer be able to pretend that the people are with them. Not that they have any legitimacy, locally or internationally, but the level of their unpopularity will be seen on 10 March,, when the poll results are announced” he said.

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