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HRC seeks clarification over Emergency as protesting trade unions complain

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IUSF vows to lay siege on Parliament

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, Justice Rohini Marasinghe, has sought an explanation from Defence Secretary, General Kamal Gunaratne, IGP C. D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the President, Gamini Senarath, against the backdrop of trade unions affiliated to political parties and civil society groups, challenging the government over the declaration of emergency with effect from midnight May 07,

The HRC consists of Justice Marasinghe, Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan.

Justice Marasinghe yesterday (08) told The Island that the HRC had felt the urgent need to seek a clarification on behalf of the public, of the reasons for the controversial proclamation as protests have been largely peaceful and within the domain of normal police operations. “We sincerely hope that freedom of speech and assembly, the rights associated with arrest and detention as well as other fundamental rights and freedoms, will not be affected or diminished during the period of the emergency.

Addressing a hastily-arranged media briefing on Saturday, trade union activist Ravi Kumudesh declared their intention to lay siege to Parliament when sittings resumed on May 17.

Kumudesh warned lawmakers would be allowed to enter the Parliament without hindrance but wouldn’t be permitted to leave until public grievances were addressed.

Former JVP lawmaker Wasantha Samarasinghe, former UNP MP Saman Ratnapriya and JVP trade union activists, Mahinda Jayasinghe (education) and Ranjan Jayalal (electricity) joined Kumudesh in declaring what they called a national protest week.

Top Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) spokesperson Duminda Nagamuwa told a separate media briefing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would soon regret not leaving the executive presidency when he could.

Recalling how the President recently regretted his disastrous sudden decision to change the agriculture policy and the inordinate delay in seeking the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (OMF), the breakaway JVP faction said that the government had lost its bearings. Similarly, the President would soon regret him hanging onto executive power regardless of public demands for him to resign.

Justice Marasinghe emphasised that the HRC was seriously concerned about further deterioration of the situation.

Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) Wasantha Mudalige last Friday (06) declared that they would surround Parliament on 17 May. The IUSF affiliated to the FSP involved in the ongoing Galle Face protest campaign issued the warning following two tear gas attacks on them and the public blocking the main entrance to the Parliament.

FSP’s Pubudu Jagoda said that they were quite surprised by the government’s response to the growing public discontent over the shortage of essential items and services as well as political instability. The declaration of emergency only strengthened our resolve to chase the corrupt lot out whatever the consequences be, Jagoda said, frequent disruption of traffic on major roads in Colombo and its suburbs and the provinces reflected the collapse of law and order.

Jagoda pointed out the emergency wouldn’t be a deterrent at all as the public were out on the streets in large numbers. Law enforcement authorities couldn’t cope with such a large-scale public protest campaign by declaring emergency, Jagoda said, drawing the government’s attention to the public response to imposition of the countrywide curfew on April 03 to thwart the protest campaign. People simply moved into streets, violated curfew and simply ignored the presence of the police.

By declaring an emergency, the government has now set the stage for an unprecedented showdown between the public and the police, Jagoda said. “We are in a critical stage that may influence public disobedience campaigns. There is no turning back now. The confrontation outside the Parliament on 17 May  cannot be tackled by political jugglery,” Jagoda said.



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More than 6 bn worth of substandard drugs dispensed to patients

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The Committee of Public Accounts (COPA) has disclosed that Rs. 6,259 million worth of drugs faced a quality failure from 2011 to 2020 due to improper storage. The COPA report has further revealed that 99% of such drugs had already been dispensed to patients when the condition was brought to attention. In that situation, it was not possible to recover the cost of substandard drugs from the suppliers, the Parliament said.

The Committee on Public Accounts has directed the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine to expedite the process of facilitating better storage of drugs to ensure their safety.

It has also been observed that the temperature in the warehouses, owned by the Medical Supplies Division, is maintained properly and that the medical supplies are stored in the corridors of the central drug warehouses and hospitals.

Furthermore, the Secretary to the Ministry has pointed out that if there is a system to detect the failure of drugs as soon as they are received, the loss can be recovered from the suppliers and if the quality testing of 60 drugs can be done by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, this situation can be avoided to some extent.

These concerns and observations were contained in the first report of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament on COPA, which was tabled in Parliament recently (20) by Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts.

The report contains information about the investigations of seven state institutions summoned before the Committee on Public Accounts and one Special Audit Report during the period from 04.08.2021 to 19.11.2021.

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CBSL Chief: Economy could be stabilised in year or so if …

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By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The prevailing Balance of Payments (BoP) crisis could lead to a major social crisis as the available foreign reserves were only sufficient for a few weeks’ imports, Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe warned on Monday.

“The economy can be stabilised in the next 12 month if the IMF negotiations and debt restructuring are finalised within the next seven to eight months. Until then we have to support the poor people,” Dr. Weerasinghe said, addressing a seminar on the “State of the Economy and Talks with the IMF”. It was organised by the Press Club, together with the Press Institute, at Colombo Hilton.

The CB Governor said the current BoP crisis would worsen and, therefore the economic pain could only be minimised if essential policies and measures were implemented in an expeditious manner. But “IMF technical level virtual meetings are likely to conclude this week, and thereafter further discussion will take place to finalise everything,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.

Dr. Weerasinghe suggested that the monetary and fiscal authorities tighten the monetary policy by higher margins and fiscal policy by restoring tax rates to pre-2020 levels.

The Governor said, “We have three categories of creditors namely International Sovereign Bonds, which raise short term funds from global markets, which account for 35 percent of the government debt, while other two creditors are Paris Club and non-Paris Club (India and China).

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the country’s debt needed to be brought to a sustainable level. “For that purpose a debt sustainability analysis needs to be drafted with a fiscal policy for the IMF bailout”, he said.

Speaking about the country’s worsening economic fundamentals, Dr. Weerasinghe said: “The nation is currently experiencing a historically low economic growth and falling trend of per capita GDP since 2017 with rising levels of poverty. It is also running the highest fiscal deficits since 1988 with the lowest ever government revenue as a percent of GDP.

“Amid those developments Sri Lanka’ poverty level will increase, unemployment level soar and local industries will have to shut down due to restriction of importation of raw material. Therefore, we have to seek humanitarian assistance from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other bilateral and multilateral agencies”, the Governor said.

“We are seeking short-term bridging facilities from official creditors until an agreement is reached with creditors on restructuring,” he said.

In his presentation, Dr. Weerasinghe analysed the links between banking and the currency crises. He pointed out that the problems in the banking sector typically precede a currency crisis with the currency crisis deepening the banking crisis, thus activating a vicious spiral.

Sri Lanka also had the highest-ever government debt which was unsustainable at the moment. Debt dynamics might be worsening in the next few years unless the debt was restructured, he said.

Sri Lanka also recorded the highest rate of inflation in 12 years which was increasing sharply and was experiencing the highest-ever levels of money printing by the CBSL, he added

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Dragonfly thought to be extinct found again

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By Ifham Nizam

Scientists have rediscovered Sri Lankan Clubtail (Anisogomphus ceylonicus), one of the rarest species of dragonflies in the country. The team that made the discovery comprised Amila Sumanapala of the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, University of Colombo, T. Ranasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, and D. Sumanapala of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. According to lead scientist Amila Sumanapala Sri Lankan Clubtail is one of the rarest species of dragonflies.

First collected in 1859, it was only known from the original collection and another collection record made a century after in 1962. This species had not been found anywhere in Sri Lanka for close to 60 years until the team encountered a larva during a survey conducted in 2021.

Anisogomphus ceylonicus is one of the few Odonates of Sri Lanka with no photographic records of a living specimen available hitherto.

The present observation provides the first photographs of a live A. ceylonicus larva and the most recent documentation of the species. These observations, coupled with previous work (Lieftinck 1971, Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013), provide an improved understanding of the species, which might enable further targeted surveys to be made

It was first discovered from Ramboda over 140 years ago based on a female specimen, which was originally described as Gomphus ceylonicus and later assigned to the genus Heliogomphus by F.C. Fraser (Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013). Almost a century later, Lieftinck (1971) collected an immature male and its exuvia of a clubtail dragonfly from Rambukpath Oya, 10 miles northwest of Hatton in 1962 and described it as Anisogomphus solitaris. However, Bedjanič & van der Poorten (2013) recognized that H. ceylonicus is conspecific with A. solitaris, and thus reassigned it to the genus Anisogomphus. Since the discovery of the species, only these two records have ever been documented (Bedjanič et al. 2014), despite odonatological surveys and numerous biodiversity explorations conducted countrywide.

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