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Gunaruwan: ACSA, SOFA, MCC could be part of US Indo-Pacific strategy

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US leaves Lanka out of MCC

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The much-touted Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCCC) would have undermined Sri Lanka’s status as a sovereign country, Prof. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan said yesterday (17).

Prof. Gunaruwan, an economist, who headed a four-member committee that examined the controversial agreement was responding to the US decision to terminate the offer of USD 480 mn (Rs 89 bn) development assistance against the backdrop of Sri Lanka declining the grant.

The Colombo University don whose four-member committee strongly objected to the agreement as it is, told The Island that the compact posed a threat to Sri Lanka.

He said that he wasn’t aware of negotiations between the two parties on the basis of their report handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 17, 2020 at the Presidential Secretariat.

The team consisted of Prof. Gunaruwan (Chairman), one-time Transport Secretary Dr. D. S. Jayaweera, Justice Nihal Jayawardena, PC, and architect Nalaka Jayaweera.

Responding to another query, Prof. Gunaruwan said his committee had recommended remedial measures following an in-depth study of the agreement. He acknowledged that the committee couldn’t ascertain the position taken by the Attorney General in that regard.

The Attorney General’s position has not been made public yet.

In response to The Island query as regards Sri Lanka being denied funding, the US embassy has sent us the following statement: “On December 15, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) board decided to discontinue the proposed Rs. 89 billion MCC development assistance grant to Sri Lanka due to lack of partner country engagement. The Rs. 89 billion approved for Sri Lanka will be made available to other eligible partner countries in need of grant funding to pursue their economic development priorities, reduce poverty, and grow their economies.

“Country ownership, transparency, and accountability for grant results are fundamental to MCC’s development model. MCC has successfully partnered with nearly 30 countries worldwide on 38 grant agreements, totaling nearly $13.5 billion. These grants have lifted millions of people from poverty by catalyzing local and domestic investment.

“The United States remains a friend and partner to Sri Lanka and will continue to assist Sri Lanka in responding to COVID and building its economy.”

Subsequently, The Island sought an explanation from the US mission with regard to the previous US embassy announcements pertaining to the funding made available to Sri Lanka to the tune of USD 10 mn on two occasions.

The US embassy spokesperson said the MCC grant monies had never been transferred to or spent by Sri Lanka in terms of the then proposed USD 480 mn funding. The official said that funds amounting to USD 10 mn for what the embassy called preparatory activities had been cancelled. The official said: “The government of Sri Lanka first submitted a proposal for MCC grant funding under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005. All activities in the most recent proposed grant were requested by Sri Lankan Government line ministries and departments, and the programme was negotiated in good faith after extensive consultations with Government officials, the private sector, and civil society. The MCC grant would have been the largest in Sri Lanka’s history and would have benefited more than 11 million Sri Lankans.”

During the previous administration, the US announced the disbursement of USD 7.4 mn (Rs. 1.1 bn) on July 27, 2017 and USD 2.6 mn (Rs.413) in June 13, 2018 grants for preparatory work namely (i) to develop a compact, including identification and analyzing of specific projects and (ii) to finalize compact development. The US embassy stated funds allocated to the tune of USD 10 mn were in addition to the total MCC compact funding amount.

Prof. Gunaruwan’s report has said that in spite of the US Compact being categorised as a development project, it could pose a threat along with ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). The UNP-led government finalised ACSA in the first week of August 2017. President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Defence Minister authorised the signing of the agreement. The US agreements dominated both 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls. The report says the three agreements could be part of the overall US Indo-Pacific strategy.

Well-informed sources said that the four-member committee had found fault with a decision to allow all procurement and related matters to take place. That decision clashed with a specific provision in the 19th Amendment, sources said. However, the 20th Amendment enacted by the incumbent government had done away with that provision, sources said.



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COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk

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Top medical man in North threatens lockdown

Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area

20% of IDH patients need oxygen

By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita

Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.

Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.

“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”

He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.

 

Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.

One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.

On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.

Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.

Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.

PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.

“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.

Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.

All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.

Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.

Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.

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Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.

President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”

The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.

“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”

Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.

“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”

Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.

“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”

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CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.

Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.

“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said

About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.

“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”

Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.

“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”

 

 

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