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Indo-Lanka agreement on ECT:

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* Govt. sticking to yahapalana commitment says SJB MP

* JVP asks whether selling national assets panacea for all our ills

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya lawmaker Dr. Harsha de Silva yesterday (15) said that the SLPP government had adopted the previous administration’s strategy in respect of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port having repeatedly decried what it earlier called the sale of the facility to India.

MP de Silva, who also played a big role in the previous administration said that the SLPP earlier strongly opposed the involvement of India and Japan in the proposed Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to develop the ECT.

The former UNP State Minister de Silva said that the government certainly owed an explanation as regards the SLPP’s turnaround having had exploited the ECT issue to the hilt in the run-up to 2019 Nov presidential election as well as 2020 parliamentary election.

Responding to another query, the senior SJB member emphasized that the SLPP’s stand had always been that the ECT would be under the exclusive control of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). Therefore, the Presidential Secretariat statement that the incumbent administration negotiated the ECT agreement afresh with the SLPA having 51 percent of shares and the rest for the foreign investor, MP de Silva said.

Having repeatedly promised the ECT would only be developed by the SLPA, no less a person than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at a hastily arranged meeting at the Presidential Secretariat on January 13 announced the 51:49 basis between the SLPA and the foreign investor.

The Colombo District lawmaker said: “The Terminal Operating Company was always a 51:49 joint venture with the majority of shares with the SLPA.”

Minister of Ports Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, Secretary to the Ministry of Ports, Chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority and other officials and representatives of 23 trade unions had been present at the discussion.

The presidential declaration meant that the SLPP went back on one of its major promises. What had really happened was the SLPP endorsed the previous government strategy on the ECT, MP de Silva said, urging the people to be mindful of their strategies.

The SJB MP stressed that the then Opposition deceived the country with its high profile campaigns in the run-up to national polls in 2019 and 2020. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told port unions the ECT would be developed with 51 per cent owned by the government and the remaining 49% as an investment by India’s Adani Group and other stakeholders

One-time Ports and Shipping Minister and SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, now a constituent of the SJB told The Island that the Indian investment therein was nothing but a foregone conclusion. The lawmaker who is afflicted with Covid-19 threw his weight behind the project.

MP de Silva said that Sri Lanka entered into a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) with India and Japan in May 2019 on the ECT. The then Ports and Shipping Minister Sagala Ratnayake signed the MOC on behalf of the yahapalana government. Dr. de Silva said that he responded to The Island queries as a parliamentarian of the SJB as the party was yet to take a stand officially.

The agreement on the ECT was the first major investment on ports and shipping sector since China secured strategic Hambantota port on a 99-year lease for USD1.1 bn in 2017.

Trade union sources told The Island that major political parties represented in parliament seemed to be on one page on the ECT issue. The SLPP and the SJB parliamentary groups consisted of 145 and 54 members, respectively. The JVP with just three MPs is alone in campaigning against the agreement on the ECT though port trade unions affiliated to major political parties opposed foreign investment therein.

Former JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa alleged that successive governments were bent on parting with critically important national assets. The JVPer asked whether selling national assets was the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills. If such a strategy paid off, Sri Lanka would have been in a much better position today, the former lawmaker said.

 

 



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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?

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… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.

 

 

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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others

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The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.

 

 

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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area

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Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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