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Govt. has given first priority to roads and bridges at a time of economic crisis – Kiriella

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BUDGET DEBATE

by Saman Indrajith

People hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to an economic crisis, did not expect the government to consider roads and bridges as its first priority in the budget proposals. What the masses looked forward to were relief measures to regain their livelihoods, Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District MP, Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament.

Speaking during the second reading stage debate on budget 2021 proposals, MP Kiriella said: People in all strata of life have common expectations from any budget – that’s relief and pay hikes. They do not wait till the budget comes to see how many roads or bridges the government is planning to build. Their hope is to see what the government would do to help them solve their day-to-day problems.

The government cannot say that it is not possible to give relief to the people. Soon after it came to power, it granted Rs. 600 billion in tax concessions to its friendly businessmen. By doing so, such a colossal amount was lost as government revenue. Now, what are those companies saying in return? They have taken up the position that due to the pandemic crisis this year, they will not be able to pay taxes next year as well. If the government could help the rich in that manner, why can’t it help the poor to survive?, he asked.

Kiriella said that if the government did not give Rs 600 billion relief to the big companies, they could have used the money to help the people. What do you intend to tell the people when you go to villages? Around 200,000 persons have lost their jobs during the past several months. Every public institution has lost around 40 percent of their revenue.

“Just like every government in the world talking about the indigenous economy when they have lost everything, this government too now talks of promoting the indigenous economy.

We remember that the United Front Government also talked about the indigenous economy during 1970-77. The government starts talking of indigenous medicine when it does not have foreign exchange”, he said.

“The government lost a huge sum of money by helping its friends. Now it does not have money to do business with the international community. The day would not be far when we see long queues lining up in front of shops because there is bound to be shortage of goods. Cooperatives are already empty. I heard that the Bokkawela cooperative shop in Kandy was closed because there were no goods. This is the reality in the country”, he further said.

“The government should not forget that people have been hard hit by the pandemic and they deserve relief. Since the first budget after we came to power, we offered immense relief to the people. We brought down the prices of sugar, milk powder, Sustagen, bread, sprats, canned fish, Maldive fish, rice and chillies. We increased Samurdhi payments. We increased the Mahapola bursary. We gave a seven perch plot of land to estate workers. We increased the salaries of public servants. We reduced the price of gas. There is nothing of that sort in this budget,” MP Kiriella said.

“We increased the salaries of each public servant by Rs. 10,000. What are you going to give? You are proposing them to do another job after their regular work. From 9 am to 4 pm they work in their offices and could people have the energy to do another job? Who would be at home then? When will these people have time to rest? We call on the government not to play with the lives of people”, the Kandy district parliamentarian added.

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Sajith blames ‘Viyathmaga doc’

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Cause of Mahara Prison riot:

By Saman Indrajith

The recent Mahara Prison riot erupted as 120 inmates afflicted with COVID-19 had been taken there from the Welikada prison at the behest of a Director in charge of prisoners’ health, who was a Viyathmaga member, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday.

“Many explanations have been given by ministers about the riot at Mahara Prison. The number of deaths is not yet known and around 120 are wounded. One minister said that there was an invisible hand behind the clashes. Another said the motive was to bring the government into disrepute internationally. A theory was concocted that prisoners had taken some narcotic tablets called Reverse and they and fought because they wanted to see blood. But the truth is otherwise. The real cause is that 120 inmates infected with coronavirus were transferred to Mahara from the Welikada prison at the behest of a director in charge of prisoners’ health. That director is a member of the Viyathmaga. Those who were transferred to Mahara prison caused a cluster of 183 persons. As the infection spread fast there was unrest and tension. That was the reason for Mahara riots.”

He said that ministers had their own theories, but one day the truth would surface. “I hope that the ministerial committee appointed to probe the riots will conduct an impartial investigation and they will reveal the truth.”

“Prisoners have rights. I do not wish that this country would permit the perpetuation of the killing culture and state terrorism. The government members should keep in mind that there is a concept called rule of law and we all are expected to uphold it. So, we should dump those theories of Reverse tablets and strive to find the truth.”

Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera: The health officer in charge of Mahara Prison is not a member of Viyathmaga.

Opposition Leader Premadasa: I did not say so. What I said was that 120 inmates were transferred from Welikada prison to the Mahara prison violating COVID-19 protocols. That order to transfer those had been given by a doctor who is a member of Viyathmaga. I do not mention his name. You can easily find it.

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said that the Opposition leader talked of lofty ideals of prisoners’ welfare but the yahapalana government had failed to construct at least a single prison to ease the congestion in the prisons. “When I was incarcerated by your government, I was in a cell with 51 other inmates. There was no place to sleep. In the Kegalle prison, they put 225 in a hall enough for 50 inmates. The former government pre-occupied with the task of constructing new courts to imprison its political enemies but did not build a single prison for the benefit of inmates.”

Opposition Leader Premadasa: We did not want to build prisons, we built schools. Mahatma Gandhi has once said that when you open a single school, thousand prisons could be closed. We followed that.

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‘It will take four years to ensure quality of drinking water from small projects’

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By Saman Indrajith

The safety of drinking water from small scale community drinking water projects could guaranteed only after the implementation of a project to check the quality of water and that would take four years, Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara told Parliament yesterday.

The Minister said so, when Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana pointed out that although the safety of drinking water from the National Water Supply and Drainage Board was guaranteed the same could not be said of water from small scale projects.

“There are many harmful elements in water such as lead, cadmium and mercury. We know that Water Board supplied water is purified, but water from small scale project could be contaminated with them. It is said that mercury in a CFL bulb has the potential to pollute around 6,000 litres of ground water and causing kidney diseases. This is a dangerous situation. One trillion rupees have been allocated for the Water Supply ministry. Apart from the COVID-19 threat, the biggest threat to the lives of people in this country is from non-communicable diseases. Can the ministry introduce a mechanism to provide each district with at least a single testing unit to ensure the safety of drinking water supplied by the small scale community drinking water projects.”

Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara said that safety of water from the Water Board was guaranteed owing to sophisticated purification methods employed by treatment plants. He said that it would take at least four years to provide testing units to ensure drinking water from the small scale community drinking water projects countrywide too is safe from harmful elements.

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Teachers’ Union boss Stalin accuses govt of attempting Akila’s failed stunt

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was an attempt to create a new post, Director General – Sports, at the Ministry of Education and to appoint a political henchman, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) General Secretary, Joseph Stalin told The Island yesterday.

“According to the Education Administrative Service minute, any appointment has to be made through a competitive exam. However, this post has been created through a Cabinet paper and an SLPP henchman is to be appointed to it.”

The CTU General Secretary said that during the yahapalanaya administration, then Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam had tried to appoint a UNP henchman to the post of Director – Sports at the Ministry. Kariyawasam had been compelled to back off due to the stiff opposition of the education sector unions, Stalin said.

“The court has also ruled that people should be appointed in keeping with the Education Administrative Service Minute. The President came into power promising to uphold the rule of law, but this government, too, is attempting to undermine the education system by appointing unqualified people to high posts.”

The post of Director General – Sports would have the same perks of an Assistant Secretary and the person to be appointed was a person representing a government affiliated union, Stalin said.

“95% of unions of the education sector will oppose if the government creates this post for the benefit of a henchman. We will resort to trade union and legal action.”

Minister of Education, Prof. G. L. Peiris was not immediately available for comment.

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