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Govt. won’t reverse decision to re-open schools on Jan 11 – GL

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris yesterday (28) said that the government was going ahead with plans to re-open schools on January 11 in areas not isolated due to the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic.

Addressing the media at the Waters Edge, Battaramulla, Prof. Peiris, flanked by SLPP National List MPs, Sagara Kariyawasam and Charitha Herath emphasized schools couldn’t be kept closed indefinitely though the pandemic posed a quite a threat.

Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP said that the decision to re-open schools wasn’t political. The veteran law academic turned politician said that the government in spite of difficulties was making every effort to gradually restore normalcy.

The Education Ministry in consultation with health authorities took the

decision as the government couldn’t allow the epidemic to disrupt countrywide schools, he said.

Based on representations received from various interested parties, Prof. Peiris said that the vast majority of parents wanted schools to re-open. Therefore, the government felt the need to go ahead with planned re-opening of schools.

 Minister Peiris said that Central Province Governor Lalith U. Gamage recently accommodated some students studying in schools situated in areas isolated due to the corona epidemic at the Manikdiwela Madya Maha Vidyalaya.

 The renowned academic here and abroad, while appreciating the Governor’s move said that the ministry, too, could explore the possibility of adopting the same approach in other affected areas.

 Prof. Peiris said that he along with Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera held consultations with medical experts over the last weekend as regards schools re-opening. One-time External Affairs Minister however said that the government wouldn’t be hasty in its decisions not only in respect of education but other sectors as well. But, the government wouldn’t hesitate to take decisions for the wider wellbeing of the population, the minister said, assuring the student population of a cohesive plan to resume schooling.

The minister said that the government was ready to make modifications, if necessary, in case shortcomings were brought to the notice of the Education Ministry.

Assuring that the public would be informed of the schools reopening plan within the next couple of days, Prof. Peiris said altogether the government allocated Rs 105 mn to provide disinfectants and other required items to schools.

 The minister also appreciated the support provided by UNICEF and the WHO for the reopening plan. The international community provided equipment required to test temperature in addition to other items, he said.

 Acknowledging that the vast majority of schools were under Provincial Councils, Prof. Peiris said that the Governors had a critically important role to play in the absence of the Provincial Councils.

 Prof. Peiris assured parents that everything possible would be done to protect the student community. Contrary to criticism, schools re-opening plan was feasible and could be implemented with the support of all stakeholders.

 He also pointed out how the government conducted Year 5 Scholarship examination and the GCE Advanced Level examination in Nov-Dec though many expressed doubts about the Education Ministry’s efforts. The ministry with the support of the health and security authorities made arrangements even for several hundred Covid-19 affected students to sit for the GCE AL examination, the minister said.

The minister urged parents and authorities of respective schools to meet during the January 4-11 period to make the required arrangements.

Underscoring the importance of reopening primary sections of schools, Prof. Peiris said that the student population could be divided into two and one allowed to attend classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the rest on Tuesday and Thursday.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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