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Govt. response to Covid-19: JVP questions Sports Minister’s high-profile role

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Minister Namal Rajapaksa briefing State Ministers of the government’s response to Covid-19 epidemic, at Temple Trees recently (pic courtesy Sports Ministry)

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa says the government owes an explanation as regards the role played by Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa in the ongoing efforts to bring the rampaging Covid-19 epidemic under control.

Dr. Jayatissa, who represented the Kalutara District in Parliament during 2015-2020 period, failed to retain his seat at the last general election, conducted in August 2020.

The JVPer asked whether the government had created a special position for Minister Rajapaksa in the apparatus tasked with battling the epidemic.

Referring to a spate of press releases issued by the Sports Ministry in the past two weeks, Dr. Jayatissa questioned the rationale behind Minister Namal Rajapaksa chairing a meeting of State Ministers at Temple Trees where the focus was on the ongoing national inoculation project.

 The Media Unit of the Sports Ministry, in a statement issued on June 4 stated that Minister Rajapaksa had briefed State Ministers on the previous day how they could contribute to the vaccination programme. The Ministry said that a consensus has been reached as to how the resources could be pooled to carry out the vaccination project effectively.

 Dr. Jayatissa said that, in addition to Health Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi, there were three State Ministers handling various aspects of the health portfolio – namely State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana, State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle and State Minister  of Indigenous Medicine Promotion, Rural and Ayurveda Hospitals Development and Community Health Sirira Jayakody.

The ex-lawmaker asked whether the government at least bothered to seek the opinion of SLPP National List MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana widely believed to be an expert on the subject.

 Responding to another query, the former MP said that no one would question Namal Rajapaksa receiving the sports portfolio. However, Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s role in Covid-19 counter-measures was questionable, Dr. Jayatissa said.

 The JVPer said that the SLPP repeatedly assured that the cabinet would be appointed on a scientific basis.

 Dr. Jayatissa said that Minister Rajapaksa following a meeting at the Temple Trees recently assured the public of the second dose for those who have received the first Sinopharm vaccine.

 The government will commence the second round today (8).

 The Sports Ministry, in another statement issued on June 4 quoted Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa as having said that five special centres would be established for those living within the Colombo city limits but so far failed to receive the vaccination. These centres would be open till 10 pm, the Minister said, assuring that all Sri Lankans would be inoculated.

 The Sports Minister recently visited Jaffna to oversee the launch of the inoculation drive there. Minister Rajapaksa on behalf of the government received a large stock of items donated by Australia in support of Covid -19 controlling efforts. Australian Air Force delivered the consignment to the Mattala airport.

 Dr. Jayatissa said that the battle against Covid-19 was at a decisive stage with the health sector struggling to cope up with the deteriorating situation.

 Appreciating the efforts made by the government, the JVPer said that the epidemic couldn’t be defeated by propaganda efforts. The disruption of the inoculation drive caused by Moratuwa Mayor Saman Lal Fernando, Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge’s interference in directives issued by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) pertaining to Covid-19 controlling efforts in the Piliyandala area were grim reminders of the failure on the part of the government to prevent political interference, Dr. Jayatissa said.

 Dr. Jayatissa said that so far there were over 1,700 reported deaths but the actual figure could be much higher. Paying a glowing tribute to the health sector, the armed forces and the police, the former lawmaker said that the country would have been in a much better position to fight Covid-19 if the government followed proper procedures. Unfortunately, they  promoted bogus syrups and followed the advice of faith healers. “See what has happened today. There were over 205,000 positive cases and over two dozen deaths almost on a daily basis,” Dr. Jayatissa said.

 

 



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Govt. has already spent US$ 60-65mn to procure Covid-19 vaccines – Lalith Weeratunga

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By Ifham Nizam

All persons above 30 years old will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by September 15, Head of the Presidential Task Force for National Deployment and Vaccination Plan, Lalith Weeratunga said.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) on Thursday at Janadhipathi Mawatha in Colombo, he said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is keen on monitoring Covid-19 hotpots and intelligence services are doing a remarkable job in this regard.

Vaccines were distributed on the basis of the vulnerability of the areas, he noted.

He said the President has urged all Sri Lankans not be misled by the false propaganda about the vaccination drive. Everybody should come forward to receive the jab and help the government to overcome the socio-economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He expressed optimism of completing the inoculation campaign by the end of December this year with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We have so far spent US$ 60 to 65 million to procure Covid-19 vaccines”, Weeratunga further said.

He said that more than 8.2 million people have so far received the first dose of the vaccines, while the second dose has already been administered to over 1.8 million.

The government aims to vaccinate 11.5 million people above 30 years by August 31, 2021 and another four million thereafter, he added.

“Moves are underway to give the vaccine to all Sri Lankans between the ages of 12 to 30”.

At present, a mobile vaccination service for those who are ill and unable to leave their homes is in operation on the instructions of the President, he said.

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Swiss team of experts due today to study SL’s agricultural landscape

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A renowned team of experts from Switzerland will arrive today (1) to study the country’s agriculture ecosystem. During the 10-day visit, they will meet with key industry stakeholders, visit various sites and facilities, and provide comprehensive training in composting and organic farming.

The team will meet with senior members of the Ministry of Agriculture and related State Ministries, Department of Agriculture, Centre of Excellence for Organic Agriculture (CEOA), National Fertilizer Secretariat, Sri Lanka Council for Agricultural Research Policy (SLCARP), Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Peradeniya, State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research & Innovation, Coconut Research Institute (CRI), Sri Lanka Tea Board, and Tea Research Institute (TRI).

They will visit and observe conventional and organic farmers in Kalpitiya, Thambuttegama, Weliweriya, Radawana, Belihuloya, and Nuwara Eliya. They will also tour markets, poultry farms, dairy farms, tea factories, tea estates and garbage collection centres, where garbage is collected from hotels to process organic manure.

This entire initiative is by A. Baur & Co. (Pvt.) Ltd (Baurs), a leading diversified business group and a name synonymous with pioneering scientific manuring in Sri Lanka, in partnership with two of the world’s leading institutions in organic agriculture based in Switzerland, a country that has the sixth highest penetration of organic farming in the world, with 16.5% of agriculture land being organic farmland.

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is one of world’s leading organic farming research and technology transfer centres dedicated towards sustainable agriculture. The School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL) of Bern University of Applied Sciences offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees including continuing education programs.

HAFL uses applied research to address contemporary issues and futuristic challenges and provides tailored consultancy across Switzerland and globally.

Further, these experts will also conduct two training sessions; one to various teams at the Baurs Fertilizer Factory (CMW) in Kelaniya and the other to Baurs’ staff, agents, dealers, key farmers and compost producers at the Baurs’ site in Anuradhapura. These will be with strict adherence to prevailing Covid-19 health guidelines.

The expert team brings with them years of both academic as well as practical experience, and includes Dr. Christoph Studer, professor of natural resources management at HAFL and Dr. Gurbir S Bhullar, senior scientist in tropical agroecosystems at HAFL, Paul van den Berge, senior consultant at FiBL and Dr. Jacques G. Fuchs, senior scientist in plant pathology and soil quality at FiBL.

With Sri Lanka’s transition to organic agriculture, this is a timely initiative and a need of the hour. The expert team will put together a detailed, practical and scientific plan that will help support Sri Lanka to successfully identify issues and constraints and overcome future challenges.

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CEB engineers ask President to allow completion of coal-fired power plant extension project

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‘Before the next power shortage in the country’

By Ifham Nizam

Perturbed by reports that the government will terminate the ongoing 300MW Lakvijaya coal-fired power plant extension project, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) has appealed to the President to allow the completion of this project of national importance.

“We are certain that your Excellency will provide the Ministry of Power and the CEB the necessary directions and assistance to complete the extension project within the shortest possible time”, the Union’s President Eng. Saumya Kumarawadu, says in a letter to the President.

The President earlier decided to implement the 300MW coal power extension project considering the fact that the country is facing an imminent power shortage as a result of not constructing a single large low-cost power plant since 2014, he said.

However, officials at the plant complex said they have not been officially informed so far to halt work on the plant.

The Sri Lankan government has already saved more than USD 2 billion due to the three coal-fired power plants at the Lakvijaya Power Plant Complex in Norochcholai, officials said.

The extension project is now underway with the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) investing USD 4 million, while the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has injected USD 1 million, they said.

The proposed plant, the fourth to be built at Norochcholai will translate into an annual saving of more than Rs. 27 billion to the government, former CEB, Chairman Eng. Vijitha Herath said.

Last year, Cabinet endorsed the fourth unit should given to CMEC considering the substantial revenue already saved due to the contribution from coal-fired plants under operation.

Kumarawadu said the proposed 300MW extension project will generate nearly two billion units of electricity per year. The fuel cost per unit of the existing coal plant is Rs.10 less than the next lowest thermal option available, furnace oil power plants. Hence, the average annual saving to the country by this plant will be around Rs. 20 billion.

 The savings compared to costly emergency power will be in the range of Rs. 30 to 40 billion per year. The price of LNG is also rapidly increasing compared to coal and even LNG. The cost difference between coal and LNG will be around of Rs. 3 to 6 per unit and savings will be in the range of Rs. 6-12 billion or more annually. So, it is evident that this extension plant will immensely help to overcome the financial crisis both in CEB and CPC and will also provide immense relief to the Treasury as well, he pointed out.

 He further said the investment for the new extension unit was comparatively low. All other power projects in the pipeline, including large-scale renewables, demand enormous investments for infrastructure development with long time span for implementation.

“This should be seriously considered by the government in a situation where the country is facing severe financial hardships due to Covid-19 pandemic,” the CEBEU President stressed.

 All preliminary work related to the project such as comprehensive feasibility studies, finalizing technical requirements, comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, commercial agreements are completed now, he said.

It is just a matter of beginning construction work at site and completing the project before the next power shortage in the country, he added.

The CEBEU also said that there is a massive propaganda campaign against coal and one of the false ideologies promoted by these forces is that many countries are moving away from coal. While agreeing that coal power development is on a declining phase in wealthy developed countries, developing countries have not stopped constructing new coal plants mainly to ease the financial burden on their national economies.

 Citing examples, he said there are new coal development plans earmarked in countries like India, Bangladesh and Vietnam in the range from 22,000MW to 66,000 MW the next 10-12 years. Germany, one of the leading wealthy countries in renewable energy development, commissioned the 1100MW Datteln 4 coal power plant in May 2020. Dubai, another country with a very strong economy is constructing the 2,400MW Hassyan coal plant. The initial 600MW unit of the plant is to be commissioned in 2023, Kumarawadu explained.

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