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Govt. ready to have dialogue with expat Tamils- Prez tells UN Chief

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…Rules out re-emergence of separatism but warns of religious extremism

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has declared in New York his readiness to have a dialogue with Tamil expatriates on a domestic mechanism to address post-war reconciliation efforts.

The declaration was made when he met UNSG Antonio Guterres at the UN headquarters in New York on Sunday (19). The President’s Office quoted Gotabaya Rajapaksa as having told the UN Chief that internal issues should be addressed through local mechanism.

Having assured that there was no room for separatism to re-emerge in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa said all governments should be vigilant about religious extremism.

The following is the text of the President’s Office statement: “The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the UN will provide its full support to Sri Lanka in moving forward to promote unity among different communities. The UN Secretary-General made these remarks during the meeting he held with the President at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, yesterday (19).

Mr. Guterres warmly welcomed President Rajapaksa when he arrived at the United Nations Headquarters and reminisced about his visits to Sri Lanka in 1978 representing the Inter-Parliamentary Union and his visits to Kandy, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee. Mr. Guterres also recalled his dealings with Sri Lanka during his tenure as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and his meeting with then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006.

The Secretary-General noted that Sri Lanka, as a country which plays a more active role in social and economic spheres in the Indian Ocean region, the UN is expected that Sri Lanka would continue to do so in the future too, despite the crisis that has plagued it for nearly 30 years.

President Rajapaksa said that he was pleased to have the opportunity to hold a bilateral discussion with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and congratulated him on leading the United Nations during a difficult period facing the world as well as on his re-election as the Secretary-General.

President Rajapaksa briefed the UN Secretary-General on the challenges facing a country like Sri Lanka with a small economy in the face of the COVID pandemic. President Rajapaksa spoke at length on the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on education and the economy of Sri Lanka and thanked the World Health Organization for its support to overcome the pandemic. The President pointed out that more than half of the total population has been fully vaccinated and that all arrangements have been made to fully vaccinate all those over the age of 15 before the end of November, by showing the statistics. The Secretary-General commended the progress made by Sri Lanka in the vaccination drive.

The President pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic was a major obstacle to fulfilling the pledges made to the people when he became the President in 2019. Even amidst this situation, the President elaborated on the steps taken to address the issues that arose in the aftermath of defeating terrorism that lasted for 30 years. The President explained the compensation paid to the victims, the transfer of lands back to the owners and the massive development carried out in the North and East Provinces since 2009 under the guidance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the opportunity given to democratically elect the representatives to the Northern Provincial Council. The President informed the Secretary-General that the government would take immediate action with regard to missing persons and expedite the efforts such as issuance of death certificates.

The President pointed out that many youths who were arrested as suspects over terrorist activities were released after he came to power. The President informed the Secretary-General that legal action would be expedited with regard to rest of the personnel who could not be released, and that he would not hesitate to grant a presidential pardon to the Tamil youths who have been in custody for a long time, taking into account their long-term detention and after the legal process was completed. The President stated that his objective is to strengthen the democracy in Sri Lanka and accordingly, there are no baton attacks or use of water cannons on protesters under his government, and that a separate area has been set aside for protesters near his office.

President Rajapaksa also explained the engagement with civil society organizations to bring about development and reconciliation in the country. The President said that the internal issues of Sri Lanka should be resolved through an internal mechanism of the country and said the Tamil Diaspora would be invited for discussions in this regard. President Rajapaksa said that he was always ready to work closely with the United Nations and added that though he could assure that there is no room for separatism to re-emerge in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka as a government as well as other states should be vigilant about religious extremism.



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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka

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Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour

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Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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COPF uncovers major failings in online visa procurement process

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Harsha de Silva

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), chaired by Dr. Harsha de Silva, released a critical report revealing major discrepancies in the procurement process and agreement with a Consortium, comprising GBS Technology Services, IVS Global-FZCO, and VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Issuing a press release, MP de Silva said the Committee’s findings highlight significant concerns and recommend urgent corrective actions.

The COPF found that the company got the deal through an uncompetitive Procurement Process

“The Consortium was appointed without a competitive bidding process, preventing the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DOIE) from securing the best value for money.

“Proposals were submitted before finalising the System Specification Requirement (SSR), raising concerns on procedural integrity.

“Critical Issues Identified:

Unclear Fee Structure: Lack of transparency in fee components, including discrepancies in service fees and convenience fees.

“Data Breach and Termination: A significant data breach was reported by a major travel vlogger in May 2024 potentially triggering a termination clause.

“Conflicting Exclusivity: The exclusivity granted to the Consortium contradicts the presence of existing service providers and the recommendation by the evaluation committee.

“Uninvested Funds: The USD 200 million investment promised to Cabinet remains uninvested and not mentioned anywhere in the agreement.

“Terminated Service Provider: Mobitel, the previous ETA service provider since 2012, submitted multiple proposals for system improvements and a comprehensive proposal for new services was overlooked.

“Recommendations:

Comprehensive Forensic Audit: The COPF recommends that the Auditor General undertake a comprehensive forensic audit of the entire procurement process. This audit should be completed at the earliest opportunity to serve as the foundation for necessary actions, which could include abrogating or amending the Consortium Outsourcing Agreement.

“Data Protection Measures: The COPF urges the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), DOIE, and the Sri Lankan Data Protection Authority to review the KPMG report and take immediate and decisive actions to ensure the complete security and protection of all data handled through the ETA application process.

“Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of COPF, stated, “The absence of a competitive bidding process in the procurement of online visa services has likely resulted in an agreement that does not provide the best value for money. Our findings call for immediate action by the Auditor General to address these critical issues and ensure transparency and accountability, which could even mean abrogation of this agreement.”

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