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GMOA takes strong stand, urges Defence Consultative Committee to re-examine project

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National Defence University Bill:

‘Uni outside purview of UGC, SLMC, etc., inimical to education system’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top Government Medical Officers’ Association  (GMOA) spokesperson Dr. Prasad Colambage says the enactment of the General Sir John Kotelawela National Defence University Bill will create an institution outside the purview of the University Grants Commission (UGC) as well as the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC). The proposed University wouldn’t be subject to regulatory bodies of engineering, law and public administration, Dr. Colambage asserts.

 In a brief interview with The Island the GMOA official said that the controversial move was contrary to much touted assurances given by the Joint Opposition (JO)/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the run-up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliament elections. Referring to the failed bid to enact the Bill during the previous yahapalana administration, Dr. Colombage said that they were quite disappointed at the way the incumbent dispensation handled the issue at hand.

 He strongly denied accusations that the GMOA was pursuing an agenda inimical to government efforts to expand higher education opportunities.

 Responding to another query, Dr. Colambage attributed a last minute decision not to present the Bill in Parliament on July 08 to an obvious split in the ruling party. The Consultative Committee on Defence at a meeting chaired by State Minister of National Security and Disaster Management and State Minister of Home Affairs Chamal Rajapaksa was earlier scheduled to table the Bill in Parliament, Dr. Colambage said. Appreciating the decision not to present the Bill for the second reading , Dr. Colombage said that under the leadership of Vice President of the GMOA Dr. Chandika Epitakaduwa a committee was examining the Bill as well as the one prepared by the previous administration.

When The Island questioned the rationale in the GMOA’s opposition to the Bill against the backdrop of it being sanctioned by the Legal Draftsman and the Attorney General, Dr. Colambage said that the whole process in the enactment of laws was dubious. The GMOA official alleged that various interested parties had been pursuing agendas in that regard under the very noses of those who were supposed to ensure national interest. The possibility of some lawmakers being aparty to projects disadvantageous to the country couldn’t be ruled out, Dr. Colambage said.

“Yes, it is certainly a very unfortunate situation. A key issue is whether the Parliament can be exploited by those pursuing agendas for personal benefit,” Dr. Colombage said.

The GMOA official emphasised that the Bill in its present form was not acceptable under any circumstances. How could those in authority seek to establish an institution through parliamentary Act contrary to the Universities Act No 16 of 1978? Dr. Colombage asked.

 The Communications Department of the Parliament on July 7 quoted Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne as having told Consultative Committee on Defence chaired by State Minister Chamal Rajapaksa the then President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Defence Minister made an attempt to enact the Bill. SLFP leader and Polonnaruwa District MP Sirisena according to the Communications Department had been present at the meeting along with Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Tiran Alles and Jayantha Weerasinghe, PC.

 Dr. Colambage urged all political parties represented in Parliament to state their stand on the proposed Bill. The Parliament comprises 15 political parties with the SLPP being the largest with 145 seats followed by the SJB 54 and the TNA 10. Of the political parties in Parliament, nine are represented by one MP each.

Asked whether the GMOA intended to discuss the issue at hand with political parties, Dr. Colambage said that once Dr. Epitakaduwa made his report available within the next few days, stakeholders could be briefed. Parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility to thwart calculated attempts to deteriorate higher education sector, Dr Colambage alleged. The official stressed that their objections to the proposed Bill was not political. The primary issues here were that the Bill would result in the creation of a University managed by the military and selection of students outside the Z score, the GMOA spokesperson said.

Dr. Colambage was of the opinion that an independent University would cause deterioration of the entire higher education system and open the country for all sorts of external interventions. It could be a long term objective of interested parties to weaken the once proud University system at a time other countries were bent on tightening laws.

Outspoken GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando in a statement issued on Monday (12) speculated that the proposed Bill would pave the way for militarisation of the higher education system.

Dr. Colambage said that the GMOA received the backing of student groups and trade unions though the government sought to discourage ongoing protests against the Bill. According to him, a major fault in the proposed Bill was that it would allow admission of students without minimum qualifications. The Bill should be examined against the backdrop of reports that those without basic qualifications had been accommodated in Universities over the years, Dr. Colambage said.

 “Our systems are fallible. There is no point in denying that fact,” Dr. Colambage said, alleging unscrupulous elements had proved over and over again systems at any level could be manipulated regardless of catastrophic consequences.  “The ongoing high profile project to provide special status to KDU is case in point,” Dr. Colambage said, underscoring how influential persons sustained the operation in spite of the change of government in 2019. The role played by the Consultative Committee on Defence and the stand taken by different political parties on the KDU issue reflected the present crisis, Dr. Colombage said.

According to Dr. Colambage the KDU project could easily secure the support of those willing to exploit an opportunity to make gains at the expense of the national interest. The GMOA official said that the media should seriously cover the developments regarding the KDU matter.

Referring to the controversial circumstances under which Sri Lanka entered into Singapore-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (2018), Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) (2017), Geneva Resolution (2015) and the way attempts were made to finalize Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact as well as Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Dr. Colambage said that the country lacked overall strategy in that regard. Those in authority seemed to be disinterested in working out a common agenda, Dr. Colambage said, urging the government to review contentious KDU Bill.

 The GMOA official asserted that the decision to hold back the Bill which was to be presented for the second reading was certainly a victory. They wouldn’t have done that lightly therefore it would be the responsibility of the Consultative Committee on Defence to consult all relevant parties in that regard. The incumbent government wouldn’t want to go down in history as the dispensation responsible for the ruination of the University system. The powerful doctors’ union said that deterioration of higher education standards couldn’t be permitted for the benefit of corrupt elements whose success largely depended on the failure of the political party system.

Dr. Colambage said that the crisis could be easily resolved by accommodating the KDU with 11 faculties within the University system. The controversial Bill had been there for 12 years and first major attempt to operationalise it was made in 2018. 



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Shocking 17,500 video clips of Lankan children being sexually abused

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By Norman Palihawadane

There were over 17,500 video clips of Sri Lankan children being sexually abused, on the Internet and action had been taken to arrest those responsible, Police Spokesman Senior DIG Ajith Rohana said yesterday. The Sri Lanka Police had sought the assistance of international law enforcement agencies and the Internet service providers to track down the persons involved in uploading those video clips and child sex trafficking via internet, the SDIG said.

Crimes against children in Sri Lanka were rising at an alarming speed, the SDIG said.

The police would conduct a special awareness programme together with the National Child Protection Authority to curb the alarming trend, he said.

The first programme was held recently in Nuwara Eliya where it especially focused apprising police officers attached to that Division.

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Private buses to insist that inter-provincial commuters carry proof of vaccination?

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A limited number of Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and National Transport Commission (NTC) buses and trains would maintain limited inter- provincial operation from 01 August, State Minister of Transport, Dilum Amunugma said.

The State Minister said that certified documents issued by the respective depot superintendents and the letters of approval by the NTC were mandatory, he added.

“The buses and trains will be permitted to operate only in the morning and in the evening for office workers,” Amunugma said.

The State Minister added that passengers should behave responsibly when using the inter-provincial transport services and understand that those services were only for commuters engaged in essential services.

“The Delta variant is spreading rapidly. If one infected passenger travels in a bus, all other commuters will contract it” he warned.

The Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) has decided to make proof of vaccination compulsory for inter provincial travel from 01 August

LPBOA President Gemunu Wijeratne said they had written to the President and Transport Minister asking for permission to enforce it.

Wijeratne said that all bus operators in the Western Province should ensure they were inoculated by August 15.

 

 

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TNA Leader complains against appointing Sinhala officers to Tamil areas

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader, R. Sampanthan had written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, objecting to the appointment of Sinhala government officers to the Northern Province, former TNA MP Mavai Senathirajah told journalists on Wednesday (28.)

The President and the Prime Minister are appointing officials violating democratic principles, Senathirajah said after a meeting of party activists at Karachchi Divisional Secretariat Office, Kilinochchi.

“A lot of Sinhalese are appointed to the North and the East. They must appoint Tamils. These appointments undermine our struggle for a just language policy,” he said.

Senathirajah said that it was customary to appoint Tamil officers to Tamil majority areas. However, this tradition was being violated increasingly in recent times, the former MP said.

“The TNA has nothing against Sinhala government officers. However, appointing Sinhala state officers to majority Tamil areas is a great injustice to the people. So, our leader has written to the President and the Prime Minister asking them to stop this practice,” he said.

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