By Rathindra Kuruwita
The government is trying to sabotage the drive to detect the Omicron COVID variant by preventing the University of Sri Jayewardenepura from conducting gene sequencing, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh alleged yesterday.
Kumudesh told The Island that one of the persons with Omicron detected in Sri Lanka was an Indian national and that he was allowed to come in and roam about the country, due to the loopholes in the systems put in place by the Ministry of Health.”When the Health Ministry makes guidelines, they don’t think about controlling the pandemic. A few people in charge of making these guidelines, act according to their whims and fancies. We have detected a few cases of Omicron but this was because of luck and dedication of lab technologists and the researchers at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura,” he said.
Kumudesh said that although, gene sequencing of the Indian was done, it was a prohibited act according to the guidelines. Technically, unless some senior officers approved it, gene sequencing of individuals leaving the country and those who had been double jabbed was not possible, he said.
“The Indian had been double jabbed and this only proved how ridiculous the guidelines are. To ensure that there will not be future embarrassments, these officials are now trying to cut the University of Sri Jayewardenepura out of the process. They have issued a circular appointing several establishments to carry out gene sequencing in the future,” he said.
Kumudesh said that they had asked health officials to start gene sequencing in state run labs for the past two years.
“We also warned that due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility of a new variant of COVID-19 entering the country. We said that even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities,” Kumudesh said.
The CMLS President said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country and spread until it is too late.”
“There are two state-of-the-art labs at the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.
Professionals’ National Front opposes MILCO appointment
… questions rationale behind Basil’s actions
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Professionals’ National Front (PNF) has questioned the appointment of Renuka Perera as the Chairman of MILCO at the expense of Lasantha Wickremasinghe, a senior member of the outfit as well as an associate of the patriotic civil society outfit ‘Yuthukama’ organisation.
The ruling SLPP accommodated ‘Yuthukama’ leader Gevindu Cumaratunga on its National List whereas Anupa Pasqual also of the civil society grouping successfully contested the Kalutara district.
PNF Secretary and its spokesperson Kapila Renuka Perera told The Island that the government owed an explanation as to why Wickremasinghe who transformed the loss making public sector enterprise in spite of severe difficulties, was removed.
At the time Wickremasinghe received the appointment following the 2019 presidential election, Milco was reported to have suffered losses amounting to Rs. 2,000 million, the PNF spokesperson said. Thanks to Wickremasinghe’s interventions and the tireless efforts of the management team, MILCO earned annual profit of Rs 400 mn regardless of significant increase in the revenue received by milk farmers, Perera said.
Responding to another query, Perera pointed out that no less a person than Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had also served as the Finance Minister till July last year emphasized the pivotal importance in transforming the public sector. Therefore, the recent removal of Wickremasinghe to accommodate Renuka Perera, the Administrative Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was contrary to the government position articulated by the Premier, the PNF official said.
Renuka Perera received his letter of appointment from Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on the afternoon of January 20 at the Finance Ministry.
Acknowledging that public campaigns undertaken by the PNF since its inception in 2016 helped the then Joint Opposition (JO) now represented in Parliament as the SLPP, PNF Secretary Perera said they were quite horrified by the way the powers that be behaved at a time the country was experiencing severe economic difficulties. Declaring the public had lost faith in the parliamentary system, those who were skeptical of the concerns expressed by professionals should inquire into the sharp increase in the number of families, individuals, particularly the youth seeking to migrate.
Asked whether the PNF questioned the Milco appointment as Lasantha Wickremasinghe happened to be a member of the organization as there had been a number of other controversial appointments since Nov 2019 though they largely remained silent, the official pointed out their opposition to the appointment of Milinda Moragoda as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India. “We raised the issue with the Parliamentary High Post Committee and campaigned vigorously against the former minister given such a crucial diplomatic posting. However, the political leadership thought otherwise,” the PNF spokesperson said.
Amidst the controversy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued a statement defending Moragoda’s appointment.
The PNF official said that the SLPP Administrative Secretary being appointed as the Milco Chairman should be examined against the backdrop of a failed attempt to appoint him as Chairman and the board member of Litro Gas. However, an irate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa rescinded a letter issued by the Secretary to the Finance Ministry S. R. Attygalle in respect of the top Litro appointment. Having done so, President Rajapaksa went to the extent of inspecting the Litro’s main facility at Kerawalapitiya in the company of Theshara Jayasinghe, the incumbent Chairman.
It would be pertinent to mention that Renuka Perera lost his position as Chairman, NHDA (National Housing Development Authority) last July when former lawmaker and convict Duminda Silva moved in soon after he received presidential pardon.
President Rajapaksa brought in Theshara Jayasinghe in July last year following the controversy over Litro successfully blocking government audits even after the Auditor General and the then COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) emphasized the need for state-owned Litro to undergo state audit.
Litro hired Romesh de Silva, PC and Sanjeeva Jayawardena, PC, who is also member of the Monetary Board to represent Litro in the controversial as well as unprecedented case, parliamentary sources told The Island.
Sources said that the government audit resumed after Theshara Jayasinghe replaced Finance Ministry appointee Anil Koswatte, who called Treasury Secretary Attygalle to inquire into allegations directed at him by Theshara Jayasinghe.
The PNF official said that during yahapalana administration the grouping strongly opposed ETCA (Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement) with India as well as SLSFTA (Sri Lanka Singapore Free Trade Agreement) and high profile US MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) project as they were inimical to Sri Lanka’s national interests.
In a statement issued on January 20, the PNF also raised the appointment of Gamini Senarath as the Secretary to the President in spite of accusations as regards his culpability over the disastrous Chinese carbonic fertiliser deal that ended up with cash-strapped Sri Lanka having to pay USD 6.7 mn regardless of the rejection of allegedly contaminated fertilizer stock. The PNF spokesperson pointed out that a close relative of Gamini Senarath managed the Chinese exporter, Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co., Ltd’s local agent Chelina Capital Corporation (CCP).
However, following allegations in this regard, both in and outside Parliament late last year, Senarath issued a statement denying his involvement whatsoever in the transaction while declaring his readiness to cooperate fully in case of an investigation.
The PNF noted that the former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, too, had allegedly interfered in liquid fertilizer imports from India and a CID investigation was underway following him complaining against the reportage of the developments.
The PNF Secretary said as many others, they, too, were disappointed with the way appointments were made under controversial circumstances at different levels. Asked whether the PNF ever contemplated moving court against unacceptable actions of the government, the spokesperson pointed out that the creation of more than 30 separate ministries in violation of the Constitution was challenged and the case was pending in court.
Udaya sounds dire warning
Sri Lankans would have to experience daily power cuts up to four hours a day, if Sri Lanka could not secure a substantial USD loan by March 2022, Minister of Energy, Udaya Gammanpila said yesterday.
Gammanpila said that the country should brace for any eventuality and politicians should lead by making sacrifices. The country was facing a forex crisis and a lot of other sectors would have to suffer if large amounts of fuel had to be imported to generate electricity.
“Monsoons will begin in April. When that happens we may be able to reduce the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. It will be a struggle until then,” he said.
The only way for the country to have an uninterrupted supply of electricity is to secure a large foreign loan, the Minister said. If the country does not start enforcing daily power cuts now, there will be a crisis in the coming months, he said.
“Is it not better that we implement one and a half hour cuts from now itself rather than moving onto four-hour power cuts later? Should we starve for 28-days after stuffing ourselves from star-class hotels for two days? Or should we rather cook the meals at home?” the Minister asked.
PHIs threaten to pull out of duties at BIA
By Rathindra Kuruwita
Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) yesterday threatened to withdraw from the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) because a large number of foreigners arriving in the country do not adhere to health guidelines.
PHIs’ Union head Upul Rohana said that six of their members who were working at BIA had tested positive for coronavirus recently.
“A lot of foreigners and Sri Lankans who come from abroad seldom adhere to health guidelines. Often they do not wear masks. Thus, they are putting health workers and other staffers at risk. PHIs are compelled to communicate with almost everyone. This is a dangerous situation and we had repeatedly told health superiors about this,” he said.
Rohana said that PHIs at the BIA operated with minimal facilities. They did not have adequate restrooms and some powerful health sector unions had ensured that PHIs had to work under difficult circumstances.
“They have to stay in cramped spaces. So, if one PHI gets COVID, a lot more would be infected. This is a serious development. We again urge health officials to look into this. If nothing is done, we will leave our stations at the BIA,” he said.
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