Heated exchange over keeping two choppers at President’s disposal
Ministries, Prez Secretariat owed SLAF nearly Rs 1 bn
By Saman Indrajith
The government and the Opposition had a heated exchange yesterday in Parliament over the state-owned helicopters placed at the disposal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and an allegation that the Presidential Secretariat had not paid the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) for chopper rides.
SJB MP Hesha Withanage asked why the Air Force continued to provide chopper rides to the President and his office at a time it has not been able to recover as much as Rs. 1 billion from several state institutions. He asked what those institutions were and how much they owed the SLAF.
Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said that the 10 state institutions were Ministry of Upcountry New Villages, Estate Infrastructure & Community Development (Rs 595,570), Housing and Construction Ministry (Rs 836,165), Megapolis and Western Development Ministry (Rs 542,454), Ministry of Labour and Labour Relations (Rs 720,225), Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Ministry (Rs 75,690), Ports and Civil Aviation Ministry (Rs 416,002), Foreign Affairs Ministry (Rs 1,621,254), Presidential Secretariat (Rs 2,398,099), National Policies and Economic Affairs Ministry (Rs 1,314,166) and Prime Minister’s Office (Rs 541,777).
Some of the dues could not be recovered as their documents do not exist in ministries because the statutory bodies had been shifted and changed from ministry to ministry several times. Therefore an investigation conducted into those expenses had recommended that some of them be written off from the books.
The SJB MP questioned why two helicopters had been placed at the disposal of the President.
He said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had promised during the Presidential election to curtail the use of state properties, and questioned if the President had made any such changes during his tenure thus far.
MP Withanage inquired if this practice would continue in the future, at the expense of the SLAF.
Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said the President had been provided with two helicopters for security reasons. “The President has actually pruned down many expenses. He lives in his own home and used only three vehicles in his escort, the Minister said.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena then called on MP Vithanage to wear his face mask when addressing Parliament.
SJB MP Manusha Nanayakara, raising a point of order, thereafter called out the Speaker for acting in a partial manner.
He said the speaker allowed MP Chamal Rajapaksa to respond to questions without a mask and had at the same time instructed the Opposition MP to wear a mask.
MP Nanayakkara said it was the responsibility of the Speaker to remain impartial during Parliament sessions.
SF claims thousands of police and military personnel leaving
By Saman Indrajith
Thousands of police and military personnel had left the services recently as they did not want to carry out illegal orders, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka told Parliament yesterday. According to the war-winning army commander 200 policemen have resigned during the past two months and 25,000 soldiers have left the army during the last two years.
“We urged the law enforcement and military officials not to follow illegal orders. We will reinstate them with back pay,” he said.
Fonseka also urged the President and the government MPs not to take people for fools.
“Sri Lanka owes 55 billion dollars to the world. Ranil’s plan is to borrow another seven billion during the next four years. So, in four years we will owe 62 billion to the world.
Ranil and his ministers ask us what the alternative to borrowing is. These are the people who destroyed the economy and society. They must leave. Then, we will find an alternative and develop the country,” he said, adding that the IMF loans had made crises in other nations worse.
“Ranil says that by 2025, we will have a budget surplus as in Japan, Germany and South Korea. These countries are economic power houses, and this comparison is ludicrous.”
CEB hit by exodus of technical staff
By Shiran Ranasinghe
At least five technical personnel of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) resigned daily for overseas employment, a senior CEB official said.They included electrical engineers, electricians and foremen, he added.
“Most of them are quitting due to the economic crisis while others are simply disillusioned. Trained and experienced technical staff are in high demand in many countries,” he said.
CEB United Trade Union Alliance President Ranjan Jayalal said that the CEB had lost about 2,000 employees in recent times due to the above reasons.
“We had about 24,000 such personnel a few months ago. Now the number has come down to 22,000. A number of people had to retire on 31 December, 2022.
Sajith questions sudden decision to charge Rs. 225,000 from students following NDES
By Saman Indrajith
The government had decided to charge Rs 225,000 from those enrolling at the Institute of Engineering Technology, Katunayake under the National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA), Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said yesterday in Parliament.
Premadasa said that the institute awards the National Diploma in Engineering Sciences (NDES) and no fee was charged from students until 2023.The IET awards the National Diploma in Engineering Sciences under the three major fields of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, and eight sub-fields.
“This is an institute that has created over ten thousand tier two engineers. NDES is a four year programme,” he said.
The opposition leader said that the sudden decision to charge 225,000 rupees from students at a time when the average Sri Lankan family is facing significant economic challenges is unfair.
“This institute offered free tuition. We should continue this tradition. A large number of engineers are leaving the country and we need to ensure that we have a continuous supply of engineers to ensure we can maintain our essential technical services,” he said.
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