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Govt. in fresh bid to improve education in North



Japanese Ambassador joins GL in Kilinochchi

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (3) said that he was undertaking a three-day visit to the North this week to explore ways and means of developing the education sector.

Prof. Peiris said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was keen to develop the education sector as part of the overall efforts to improve the living standards of the people in the North.

Japanese Ambassador Akira Sugiyama is scheduled to join Prof. Peiris in Kilinochchi, where the Agriculture Faculty of the Jaffna University is situated.

Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP, said that Covid-19 caused a severe setback to the national economy, though the government was determined to implement planned projects. A boost for the Northern Province education was a necessity, Prof. Peiris said, adding that the government wanted to reach out to the people.

Responding to another query, Prof. Peiris said: “We are looking at education sector reforms. Decision makers cannot ignore the need for reforms required to prepare youth for jobs, particularly in the private sector.”

The Education Minister’s visit takes place in the wake of the recent removal of a war memorial within the Jaffna University. The issue is likely to figure in the Education Minister’s discussions with Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University S. Srisatkunarajah.

Prof. Peiris confirmed the scheduled meeting with the VC and Deans of faculties. Asked whether lawmakers representing the people of the Northern region would be participating in any of the events attended by him, Prof. Peiris welcomed the opportunity.

India sought Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s intervention over the sudden removal of the memorial by the University authorities.

There couldn’t be any issue in the government working closely with Opposition political parties for the benefit of the public though differences remained on other matters, such as constitutional reforms.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Prof. Peiris who served as the first post-war Minister in charge of External Affairs said that the country couldn’t achieve real reconciliation though progress was made. The education sector could be one field where all stakeholders could work together.

Prof. Peiris expressed concern over the participation of some primary school students in a demonstration in Kilinochchi on Monday (1). Prof. Peiris said that such actions couldn’t be condoned in any manner and he had quite forcefully condemned it.

A section of the media reported some civil society groups, demanding the immediate release of LTTE convicts and suspects in custody, brought out some students. Prof. Peiris said that the previous Rajapaksa government ended the heinous practice of using children as cannon fodder and also as tools in propaganda efforts.

Prof. Peiris said that he would definitely look into the matter. The international community, too, wouldn’t want various interested parties to exploit children in support of politically motivated agendas. The Minister appreciated the reportage of the children’s participation in the Kilinochchi protest.

Minister recalled how children were used during the conflict. Successive governments tried in vain to stop the exploitation of children for ‘military purposes.’ During President Kumaratunga’s tenure, Sri Lanka even secured the support of the UN to bring an end to forcible recruitment of children as child soldiers.

Prof. Peiris said that the government was contemplating far reaching education sector reforms meant to address challenges. The renowned law academic said that the government was confident of conducting the GCE Ordinary Level examination in March though some continued to express concern over the Covid-19 getting out of control. Acknowledging the need to follow health guidelines in spite of the recent launch of the vaccination programme, Prof. Peiris said that the situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces continued to improve with schools recording much improved attendance.

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Massive revenue loss: Eyebrows raised over delay in responding to House query



SLPP members say sugar deal black mark on govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the delay on the part of the Finance Ministry to respond to a Finance Committee (FC) request for a comprehensive report on an alleged fraud in the controversial sugar tax revision.

Chairman of the Finance Commission Anura Priyadarshana Yapa on January 5 issued instructions to the Finance Ministry in this regard when the FC considered several special gazette notifications pertaining to the Ministry of Finance issued since October 2020.

According to the Communication Department of Parliament, MP Yapa on Feb 25 told the FC that the report called by him hadn’t been received yet. Yapa said so when State Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka and SLPP MP Nalin Fernando alleged the revision of taxes pertaining to the import of sugar hadn’t benefitted the consumers at all and only caused loss of revenue to the State. Severe criticism of the revision of sugar taxes was nothing but a black mark on the government.

Asked whether the report had been received since the issue at hand was taken up on Feb 25, the former Minister said that the FC answered in the negative.

Yapa told the last FC meeting that the Department of Import Control should be able to submit analytical comments with data on the relevant gazette amendments. Having approved the regulations issued on that day in respect of the issuance of licenses for the import of brown sugar, the FC recommended that a full explanation be given on March 09 with the participation of all relevant Ministries and Institutions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 9.

Yapa is on record as having told the FC on January 5 though the tax on imported sugar was revised downwards to 25 cents from Rs. 50.00 per kilogram through the Gazette Notification No. 2197/12 issued by the Ministry of Finance on 13th October 2020, the move did not benefit the consumers at all.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake lambasted the government over what he called a massive sugar scam that caused losses amounting to Rs 10 bn. In addition to the JVP, the SJB and UNP flayed the government over the corrupt deal. Dissanayake questioned the rationale in increasing the tax on sugar from Rs 33 to Rs 50 on May 23, 2020 and then bringing it down steeply to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. Dissanayake said that at that time the tax was brought down to 25 cents, there had been 90,000 metric tonnes of imported sugar in the country. Having reduced the sugar tax to 25 cents, the government directed that a kilo of sugar be sold at Rs 85, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer alleged that subsequently, when the government wanted to increase the sugar tax by Rs 40, Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that once imposed tax couldn’t be altered for a month, hence the decision to continue with 25 cents tax till Nov 13, 2020.

MP Dissanayake on Dec 12, 2020 named all those involved in the sugar scam.

Lawmaker Dissanayake said that the country suffered massive losses due to corrupt sugar deals. Those who suspended imports claiming the country faced severe foreign exchange crisis allowed massive corruption at the expense of the national economy.

Dissanayake said that last year alone at least 73,000 metric tonnes were imported at 25 cents tax.

He pointed out that the Treasury was responsible for facilitating sweet deals at the expense of the national economy. The revenue which should have been received by the government ended up with racketeers, Dissanayake lambasted the government for allowing its cronies to flourish.

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JVP expresses solidarity with Black Sunday campaign



The JVP-led NPP yesterday expressed solidarity with the Black Sunday campaign seeking justice for the Easter Sunday carnage victims.

A statement issued by the party said that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage had released its report but the general consensus was that the inquiry had failed to bring justice. The PCoI report had only made the matter complex by creating some more puzzles instead of identifying the masterminds of the terror strikes.

The JVP has said Sri Lankans will never forget the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019 where nearly 300 perished and more than 500 others were wounded and became disabled for the rest of their lives. It is no secret that it was the failure on the part of the previous government to prevent the attacks that led to the destruction of lives and properties. The appointment of the commissions to investigate the incident was the only response of the former and incumbent governments. It is now clear that the commission has failed to identify the masterminds, owing to political reasons. Demanding justice is a human right. The Catholic Church has called on people to mark the coming Sunday as a day of agitation, demanding justice. We, of the NPP, extend our fullest support for the campaign and urge the law enforcing agencies to take action without further delay to bring about the masterminds and offenders of the crime, the statement has said.

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Iranaitivu islanders protest against burying of coronavirus victims there



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Residents of Iranaitivu Island yesterday forcibly filled up the burial sites prepared for those who had died from COVID-19 and held a demonstration against burying coronavirus victims on the island.

The protesters claimed that the media had reported those who died from COVID-19 would be buried on the island and that some group had already prepared a burial site. However, the residents of the island had not been consulted, they said.

They claimed that even during the war they had fought for the right to live on the island and they were opposed to the decision taken by the government to bury COVID-19 victims on the island.

 The protesters claimed that it was a cunning plan by the government to drive in a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the area. The government should have earmarked a deserted island for that purpose, they said. The protest was led by Christian religious leaders and local politicians. 

Iranaitivu is situated 10 km from Mannar and can only be accessed by boat. Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said that it was not a political decision and that health experts had taken it after careful consideration. He added that a vehicle especially made for this would be used to transport bodies to the island. This vehicle would include a freezer and the driver would be isolated from the bodies. Two family members would also be allowed to attend the funeral.



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