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Govt. to develop ECT fully, remaining terminal on paper open for foreign investment



ECT: Prez accepts trade unions’ formula, crisis resolved

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has accepted a proposal by 22 port trade unions aimed at resolving a crisis over the proposed handing over of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour to India’s Adani Group.

The unions have accepted external investment in the proposed West Container Terminal (WCT) while the government undertook to fully develop the deep water ECT now in operation. 

Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, who intervened in the dispute on behalf of ‘Viyathmaga’ yesterday (31), told The Island the trade unions’ proposal was in line with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement at the last presidential election in Nov 2019.

The trade unions and the President reached consensus on this latter on Friday (29) amidst several political parties in the ruling SLPP objecting to the deal on the ECT. National Freedom

Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa spearheaded the protest by seeking a common stand on the port issue. Among those who supported the initiative were Yuthukama MP Gevindu Cumaratunga and the SLFP that had been involved in the original plan to involve the Indians at the ECT.

Responding to another query, Godahewa explained that ‘Viyathmaga’ Executive Committee member Dr. Priyath Bandu, who had served as Chairman, Sri Lanka Ports Authority during previous Rajapaksa administration, too, joined discussions with trade unions in the wake of them resorting to ‘work to rule’ as part of their strategy to discourage the incumbent government from going ahead with the tripartite agreement on the ECT finalized during the previous yahapalana administration.

 Dr. Godahewa said that ‘Viyathmaga’ intervened as the outfit felt the continuing failure or the delay on their part to address the issue at hand could cause irreparable damage. Dr. Godahewa said that only the trade union affiliated to the JVP refused to reach consensus on this matter.

Asked whether the government was really serious about accepting the trade unions’ formula, Dr. Godahewa said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa accepted workers’ call for one Cabinet paper on the ECT and the proposed WCT. There couldn’t be any further issues in this regard as no less a person than the President gave his go ahead, Dr. Godahewa said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed port minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena to take necessary action in this regard.

The State Minister explained that initially about 16 trade unions had accepted the proposals. There had been some delays as a result of some of the seven remaining trade unions

raising objects, Dr. Godahewa said, adding that finally six more trade unions declared their support. The State Minister emphasized that he along with Dr. Priyathbandu intervened after having received President Rajapaksa’s blessings. The President felt that progress couldn’t be made unless the government reached a clear understanding with port trade unions.

Dr. Godahewa said that in terms of the original ADB approved plan, three terminals at the Colombo port were to public-private partnerships. Dr. Godahewa said: “The ADB plan covered three terminals. China managed Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) is one such terminal, the partly operational ECT run by the SLPA and WCT, a facility which is only on paper.” The SLPA, according to Dr. Godahewa developed the ECT after the previous Rajapaksa administration secured ADB’s consent to develop two of three terminals with external investments whereas it retained the ECT.

Dr. Godahewa said that the previous administration finalized a Memorandum of Corporation (MoC) with India and Japan in spite of specific decision taken by the government to develop the ECT on its own.

Dr. Godahewa said that the public shouldn’t be confused with the agreement on South Asia Gateway Terminals (SAGT) in the Colombo port finalized way back in 1999. The SAGT investment partners comprised John Keells, Evergreen, A.P.Moller Group and SLPA. The SLPA owns only 15 per cent shares. In the CICT operation, too, the SLPA’s stake is 15 per cent.

Dr. Godahewa said that the government could engage those interested in investing in the proposed WTC as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the trade unions were on the same page as regards the port issue.

In the wake of successful Viyathmaga intervention several political parties met at Minister Weerawansa’s Colombo residence on Saturday (30) where they vowed to oppose Indian investment at the ECT under any circumstances. A senior NFF spokesperson told The Island that of the 14 political parties and groups in the SLPP, the participated in the discussion. Among those present were Ven Atureliye Rathana, State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, Minister Udaya Gammanpila, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, MP, State Minister Jayantha Samaraweera, Weerasumana Weerasinha, MP, Asanka Navaratne, MP and SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga.

Dr. Godahewa emphasized that their decision not to accept foreign investment at the ECT shouldn’t be misconstrued as opposition to external funding of local projects.


An alleged bid to replace SLFP leader Sirisena thwarted



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The SLFP parliamentary group has been divided over an abortive bid to replace the Chairman of the party, Maithripala Sirisena, MP, and its General Secretary State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, MP.

Sources said that several lawmakers had been involved in the alleged conspiracy, apparently taking into consideration the fact that the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks was likely to affect the political future of Sirisena.

The SLFP parliamentary group consists of 14 members.

The SLFP is on a collision course with the SLPP over the PCoI report on the Easter Sunday carnage. Sources said that the party had swiftly responded to the threat posed by conspirators by having the Executive Committee re-electing the incumbent Chairman and the General Secretary. However, those seeking to oust Sirisena and Dayasiri were still active, they added.

The SLFP, the second largest party in the ruling coalition, is determined to retain its identity though its offshoot, the SLPP emerged as the leading party with its impressive performance at the 2018 local government election, the 2019 presidential and the 2020 parliamentary polls.

Contacted for comment, one of the SLFP rebels said Sirisena had himself brought about the virtual downfall of the SLFP, whilst being its long serving General Secretary, by joining forces with the UNP to contest the presidential election in January 2015 and reclaiming the party leadership after securing the presidency.

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Electricity for all: Rambukwella urges all officials, politicians not to slap roadblocks




 KANDY – Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said last Friday (5) at a meeting of the Thumpane Pradeshiya Sabha at Galagedara, that every Sri Lankan household will have electricity come next Sinhala and Tamil New Year, 

 Minister Rambukwella said that everyone in Galagedara would also have electricity for the Sinahala and Tamil New Year celebrations.

The government hoped that the relevant public sector officials would do their best to supply power connections to every house in the Galagedara Pradeshiya Sabha Division without any delay, the Minister said.

At the meeting held to discuss the implementation of the development plans of the Pradeshiya Sabha for the year, Rambukwella stressed that the people’s representatives and the public servants should not try to prevent implementation of the development plans under the policies of the government.

The people’s representatives and the government servants should work together when development programmes were being implemented. If not, the people would not benefit from the plans for development drawn up by the government.

 Chairman of the Galagedara Pradeshiya Sabha S.M.R.B. Sanarakoon also spoke.

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Rescue plan will enable US to outcompete rest of the world, especially China – Biden



US President Joe Biden, on Saturday, said he was happy about the Senate passage of his American Rescue Plan (1.9 trillion dollars). He said it would reinvigorate the US economy and put it in a potion to outcompete the rest of the world, especially China. “This plan puts us on the path to beating the virus.  This plan gives those families who are struggling the most the help and the breathing room they need to get through this moment.  This plan gives small businesses in this country a fighting chance to survive.”

Excerpts of President Biden’s speech:

For over a year, the American people were told they were on their own.  They were seeing — we’ve seen how hard that has been on so many Americans.  As of last night, 519,064 lives lost to the virus.  That many empty chairs this morning — the breakfast table — gone.  More than four hundred [thousand] small businesses closed unnecessarily.  Millions of people out of work through no fault of their own.  I want to emphasize that: through no fault of their own.  Food bank lines stretching for miles.  Did any of you ever you’d see that in America, in cities all across this country?  Families facing the threat of eviction.

This nation has suffered too much for much too long.  And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation and put us in a better position to prevail, starting with beating this virus and vaccinating the country. 

The resources in this plan will be used to expand and speed up manufacturing and distribution of vaccines so we can get every single American vaccinated sooner than later.  I believe by — we’ll have enough by the end of — by the middle of May to vaccinate.  It’s going to take longer to take longer to get it in their arm, but that’s how much vaccine we’ll have.

Because of all the funding, we’ll be able to hire more vaccinators, set up more vaccination sites to get the country in a place to get back to normal.  This plan will get checks out the door, starting this month, to the American people who so desperately need the help, many of whom are lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, “Will I lose my job, if I haven’t already?  Will I lose my insurance?  Will I lose my home?”

Over 85 percent of American households will get direct payments of $1,400 per person.  For a typical middle-class family of four — husband and wife working, making $100,000 a year total, with three kids — they’ll get $5,600 — I mean, with two kids — will get $5,600, and it’ll be on the way soon.

That means the mortgage can get paid.  That means the child can stay in community college.  That means maintaining the health insurance you have.  It’s going to make a big difference in so many of lives in this country.

     Unemployment benefits will be extended for 11 million Americans who have lost their jobs and who, last night, again were lying in bed, just thinking, “My lord, I’m going to lose my unemployment insurance in a week or so.”  It was about to expire.

     Schools are going to have the resources they need to open safely.  States and local governments that have lost tens of thousands of essential workers will be — have the resources they need available to them, to those laid-off police officers, firefighters, teachers, and nurses they can rehire.  These are essential personnel.

Look, the American Rescue Plan lowers healthcare premiums.  Food and nutrition assistance.  It’s hard to believe that 24 million adults and 11 million children, as I speak, in the United States suffer from food insecurity.  That means, simply, they don’t have enough food to eat.  Did you ever imagine in the United States of America, you’d see lines, literally miles long — kids — folks in their automobiles, waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk.  I stood in line, handing out food.  The people coming up never, ever, ever thought they’d be in that position. 

This helps families who are behind on their rent and their mortgage payments so they aren’t thrown out of their homes. 

Look, the bottom line is this:  This plan puts us on the path to beating the virus.  This plan gives those families who are struggling the most the help and the breathing room they need to get through this moment.  This plan gives small businesses in this country a fighting chance to survive.

And one more thing: This plan is historic.  Taken altogether, this plan is going to make it possible to cut child poverty in half.  Let me say that again — it’s significant, historic: It will cut child poverty in half.

There’s much more to this bill, but, for now, let me make one final point.  When I was elected, I said we were going to get the government out of the business of battling on Twitter and back in the business of delivering for the American people, of making a difference in their lives, giving everyone a chance — a fighting chance, of showing the American people that their government can work for them.  And passing the American Rescue Plan will do that.

And, you know, it may sound strange, but a lot of senators and congressmen I want to thank, but I really want to thank the American people for making all of this possible.  You say, “Well, how do they make it possible?”  Well, quite frankly, without the overwhelming bipartisan support of the American people, this would not have happened.  Your elected officials heard you.  Overwhelming public support — every public opinion poll shows overwhelming support for this plan.  And for the last weeks, it’s shown that.  Every public opinion poll shows the people want this, they believe it’s needed, and they believe it’s urgent. 

And now this bill returns to the House of Representatives, which has done a great job from the beginning, where I hope it will find quick passage so it can be sent to my desk to be signed into law.

By passing the American Rescue Plan, we’ll have heeded the voice of the American people, not ignored their voices.  By passing this plan, we will have delivered real, tangible results for the American people and their families, and they’ll be able to see and know and feel the change in their own lives.  And by passing this plan, we’ll have proved that this government, this democracy can still work.  What has to be done — it’ll improve people’s lives.  

And one more thing: The vast majority of economists — left, right, and center — from Wall Street to the — to the private — private economic polling initiatives — the economists — as I’ve said, left, right, and center — say, “In addition to the needs the people have, we need this to grow the economy.”  That if we haven’t spent this money and recreated the kind of incentive for people to be able to make a good living, that we’d be in real trouble. 

This will create millions of new jobs — it’s estimated over 6 million new jobs by itself; increase the Gross Domestic Product by a trillion dollars; put our nation in a position to out-compete the rest of the world — because the rest of the world is moving, particularly China; and to know that as tough as this moment is, there are brighter days ahead.  There really are. 

As I’ve said before, it’s never a good bet to bet against America.  It’s never been a good bet to bet against the American people.  We are America.  We’re going to get there.  We’re going to remain the leading economy in the world and going to be the most successful economy in the world because of you, the American people.

Thank you, and God bless you all.  May God protect our troops. 

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