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Govt. assures procurement process followed to the letter



… seeks House approval for measures to ease pressure on foreign reserves

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Cabinet spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) assured that the incumbent government followed the procurement process to the letter.

Rambukwella, who is also the media minister, told the post-Cabinet media briefing at the Information Department that the government didn’t operate outside the laid down procurement process.

The minister said so when The Island asked about Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila’s proposal to finalise an agreement with Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) to procure 8,400,000 barrels of Murban crude over a period of eight months commencing Oct 1, 2020.

Rambukwella was flanked by co-cabinet spokesperson Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Director General, Information, Nalaka Kaluwewa. The other co-cabinet spokesperson Udaya Gammanpila was not present.

Acknowledging that the government shouldn’t resort to emergency purchases, Minister Rambukwella said that there were instances the government had no option but to do so under certain circumstances.

Pointing out that the government had taken a series of steps to ease growing pressure on foreign reserves and also sought international assistance at the ongoing UNHRC sessions to save the national economies of countries ruined by COVID pandemic, The Island asked how the new parliament could curb waste, corruption and irregularities as COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and PAC (Public Accounts Committee) faulted successive governments. Minister Rambukwella took up the stand that the current dispensation followed procedures.

At the commencement of the briefing, the media was informed ot a government decision to secure parliamentary approval for specific action taken in terms of Imports and Exports (Control) Act, No 1 of 1969 to ease pressure on foreign reserves. A committee appointed in line with proposals made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on April 1, 2020, the government imposed severe restrictions on imports after having categorised imports into three classes.

Minister Rambuwella said that the balance of payments was an issue as even far bigger countries struggled to tackle due to the difficulties caused by the continuing COVID pandemic.

The Cabinet at its meeting on Sept 16, 2020, decided to submit four special gazette notifications issued in terms of Imports and Exports (Control) Act, No 1 of 1969 for parliamentary approval.

Minister Rambukwella also said his proposal to print passports as well as confidential documents locally had received the attention of the Cabinet of ministers. The Cabinet had decided to undertake a comprehensive study to ascertain whether the Government Printer could handle the tasks, he added.

The media also raised the issue of the alleged liberalisation of policy to facilitate the proposed Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact. Denying such allegations, the ministers said the government decision was to provide state land to the needy in line with the President’s 2019 election manifesto.

The media sought an explanation as to how the government proceeded with land distribution on the basis of recommendation/approval provided by grama sevakas. Asked whether a deliberate attempt was being made to distribute state land in a haphazard manner against a series of wanton destruction of forest land, the ministers denied the accusations.

The ministers assured that the government wouldn’t interfere in the ongoing investigations into the destruction of Ramsar wetlands at Anavilundawa allegedly by former Chairman of Arachchikattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha Jagath Samantha. The media asked whether the suspect remained at large because of government interference as he was the elder brother of State Minister Sanath Nishantha.

The media said that in spite of a committee appointed by the government having identified Jagath Samantha as the main suspect, the police were yet to arrest him. The ministers pointed out that the government members had raised the issue in Parliament therefore there was no basis for accusations of an attempted cover up of the Anavilundawa incident.

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Majority of 300 luxury vehicles to be released



… some shipped in without opening LCs, EU wants restrictions abolished

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The majority of the luxury vehicles imported by special permit holders in contravention of the import ban imposed by the government in view of precarious economic situation caused by corona first wave are likely to be released subject to penalties.

Well informed sources said that those vehicles shipped in without even opening LCs would be released. Among the violators were many government servants.

Sources said that vehicles brought in without opening LCs were likely to be confiscated.

“We have categorised over 300 vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and Audis into two groups. Customs are now in the process of evaluating individual cases,” a high ranking state official said.

The government announced a ban on vehicle imports to arrest the depletion of foreign reserves. Sources acknowledged that at the time the vehicles

arrived in Sri Lanka the second corona wave hadn’t erupted. The situation was far worse now and further deteriorating, they said, adding that the Customs were being inundated with requests for releasing vehicles on sympathetic grounds.

Controversy surrounds the failure on the part of the government to strictly implement the import ban in view of the sharp drop in state revenue due to the pandemic.

Recently, the EU demanded that Sri Lanka immediately lift import ban or face the consequences. The EU issued the warning in talks with government representatives. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena explained the circumstances that compelled the government to impose import restrictions. The EU sought an explanation as to when the ban would be lifted. The Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Gunawardena as having explained to the EU the challenges Sri Lanka economy was facing amidst the dwindling foreign currency reserve situation due to the significant reduction in remittances and tourism revenue induced by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The minister said that the import restrictions were being reviewed.

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Nearly 74,000 persons under home quarantine



Close to 74,000 people belonging to 27,974 families had been placed under home quarantine, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said on Wednesday (25).

He said that the number of cases from the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda clusters had increased to 17,436 with 458 persons had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Two wards of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura were temporarily closed on Wednesday after two pregnant women admitted there tested COVID-19 positive.

The two women are from Atalugama, which has been declared an isolated area. During the last few days close to half of the COVID-19 patients detected in Colombo District are from Atalugama.

The two women have been sent to Neville Fernando Hospital, Malabe. The patients and staff in Wards 3 and 4 at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital are now under quarantine. Their family members too have been asked to undergone self-quarantine.

The Police had arrested 61 persons who had violated quarantine laws within the 24 hours that ended at 8 am yesterday, Police spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana said, adding that they had been arrested for not wearing masks or for not maintaining physical distancing. With those altogether 688 persons had been arrested for violating quarantine laws from October 30, he said.

Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said that apart from Welikada, the spread of COVID-19 had been controlled at other prisons. COVID-19 cases had been reported from six prisons, he added.

“We are conducting PCR tests and hope that the situation in Welikada too would be brought under control. Twenty four new cases were detected from prisons on November 24 and from October 04, we have identified 708 cases within the prison system.”

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Severity of impact of second wave on economy could be far worse than anticipated – CBSL



By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The impact of the second wave of COVID-19 could be severer on the economic growth than previously anticipated, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara said yesterday (26).

Dr. Amarasekera said so responding to a query by The Island at a CBSL media briefing. The top official said that an assessment couldn’t be made yet as the second wave was continuing.

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