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Indo-Lanka talks: Trinco issue, foreign reserve crisis on agenda

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Prof. Peiris with Indian FS Harsh Vardhan Shringla (Pic courtesy FM)

Why was the Minister tasked by Prez to settle the ‘oil tank farm’ problem not involved …

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris says that although the further development of Trincomalee oil tank farm was on the agenda during the recently concluded three-day visit undertaken by Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, it has not been decided how to proceed with the project.

Declaring that India hadn’t pressured the government over the issue at hand, Prof. Peiris said a consensus could be reached on the Trincomalee project in a way beneficial to both countries.

The Minister said so when The Island sought his response to the growing criticism of the incumbent government’s handling of the controversial Trincomalee oil tanks project and recent heated exchanges in Parliament between Energy Minister Attorney-at-Law Udaya Gammanpila and members of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

Shringla, who last served as India’s top diplomat in Washington, recently succeeded Vijay Keshav Gokhale.

Referring to a series of meetings, Shringla had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and himself during the Oct 2-5 period, Prof. Peiris emphasised that the Trincomalee oil tank farm was subject to two agreements finalised in the 80’s during President JRJ’s tenure and in 2003.

Shringla also met Foreign Secretary Admiral (retd). Prof. Jayanath Colombage and Defence Secretary General (retd.) G.D.H. Kamal Gunaratne.

Prof. Peiris had served the UNP Cabinet at the time the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration entered into the second agreement. Prof. Peiris stressed that the further development of the project would be discussed taking into consideration two existing agreements.

Eldos Mathew Punnoose, Head – Press, Information and Development Cooperation at the Indian High Commission in Colombo, dealt with a range of issues taken up during the high profile visit. Referring to Shringla’s visits to Kandy, Trincomalee and Jaffna, signifying their cultural, economic and historical importance, respectively, the Indian HC spokesperson said: “In Kandy, the visiting Foreign Secretary offered prayers at Sri Dalada Maligawa. In Trincomalee, the Foreign Secretary visited the Oil Tank Farms, a symbol of the potential and strong energy partnership between the two countries, where LIOC briefed him about the development undertaken by it at the Lower Tank Farms and its advantages to Sri Lanka’s economy. During his visit to Jaffna, the Foreign Secretary inspected the Jaffna Cultural Centre and interacted with the Governor of the Northern Province, several Members of Parliament, academicians and business leaders.”

Prof. Peiris said that various interested parties deceived the public as regards newly appointed Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit to Colombo. The FM strongly denied accusations that the visit was meant to finalise a deal on the Trincomalee oil tank farm. “Instead, the entire gamut of issues was taken up,” Prof. Peiris said, asserting the possible amendments to existing agreements.

Reference was made to such amendments when Prof. Peiris addressed the media at the SLPP office, Battaramulla early this week.

Prof. Peiris, who succeeded SLPP’s first Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, on Aug 16, declared that the recently concluded talks dealt with a range of issues, including strengthening of Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves. Prof. Peiris said that the matter received special attention with various alternatives discussed in line with overall objectives.

He was of the opinion that India was ready to make major investments here, with the primary focus on producing medicine and the computer industry.

The Indian HC spokesperson said that at the meeting with the Finance Minister both sides agreed to proceed with joint projects, including those under the loan and grant assistance extended by India.

“The Foreign Secretary held wide-ranging and comprehensive discussions with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his counterpart on all areas of mutual interest, including on the need to face the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic together to mitigate its economic impact,” the spokesperson said.

Prof. Peiris said that Indian Ocean security, counter-terrorism and training for Sri Lankan armed forces, too, had been on the agenda. Interestingly, a statement issued by the President’s Media Division (PMD), following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s meet with Shringla referred to two issues that hadn’t been touched by the Foreign Ministry here and the Indian High Commission, in its press release issued on Oct 5.

The PMD quoted President Rajapaksa as having told Shringla that Sri Lanka wouldn’t allow the use of its territory in any way that threatened India’s security. The assurance has been given having explained the country’s relationship with China.

The PMD also quoted President Rajapaksa as having said that the responsibility for resolving the Trincomalee oil tank farm issue had been given to the Minister in charge of the subject.

However, Shringla hadn’t met Minister Gammanpila during his three day stay here. The Energy Minister on a number of occasions said that efforts were meant to address the issue at hand in a way not inimical to Sri Lanka.

A trade union grouping has declared what it has termed a sellout, an accusation strongly countered by Foreign Minister Prof. Peiris. Those who had been opposed to foreign investment in vital sectors continue to hinder the much required progress on the economic front, Prof. Peiris said, urging the critics to be mindful of politically motivated campaigns.

Prof. Peiris, who had been present when Shringla met Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa on Oct 4 at Temple Trees, said that the relations with India would be further strengthened with the signing of an inter-governmental MoU for the USD 15 mn ‘Buddhism grant.’

Prof. Peiris said that India also agreed to support the maintenance of the India built Jaffna Cultural Centre. Foreign Minister Peiris described the inaugural flight on Oct 20 from Sri Lanka to Kushinagar which would further bolster cultural links between the two countries a significant. Shringla also held political talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation led by Member of Parliament and Leader of TNA R. Sampanthan; Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) delegation led by Member of Parliament Mano Ganesan and Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) delegation led by State Minister for Estate Housing and Community Infrastructure Jeevan Thondaman.

The Indian spokesperson quoted Foreign Secretary as having reiterated India’s longstanding support for the reconciliation that addresses aspirations of the Tamil community for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka and in accordance with the 13th Amendment.

Prof. Peiris also appreciated the inauguration/handing over of four development cooperation projects implemented by India. The projects had been implemented at the Vadamaradchi Central Ladies College and Saraswathi Central College in Pussellwa, Kandy, handing over of 1235 houses built under Indian Housing Project Phase III and handing over of houses built under the Model Village Housing Project in Vavuniya District.



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JVP, too, moves court against deal with US company

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By Chitra Weerarathne and A.J.A. Abeynayake

The JVP yesterday (26) filed a writ application in the Court of Appeal requesting it to declare null and void a Cabinet decision to transfer 40 percent of the Yugadanavi Power Plant to US Company, New Fortress Energy Inc.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, the Ceylon Electricity Board, West Coast Power (Pvt) Ltd, Lakdanavi Limited, the Monetary Board of the Central Bank, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation have been named as respondents among 43 others.

The JVP’s petition has come in the way of Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven Elle Gunawansa, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya and the Federation of National Organisations (FNO) moving the court against the controversial deal with US energy company,The application has also sought a writ of mandamus on the respondents preventing them from taking any action with regard to the matter until the application is taken up and its examination is concluded.

Former JVP MPs Sunil Handunnetti and Wasantha Samarasinghe are the petitioners.

The petitioners state that the Cabinet decisions undermine the rule of law, the Constitution and democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and several other statutes, and conventions of democratic governance and Cabinet of Ministers exercising executive powers.

The petitioners state that LTL Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., is the largest power sector engineering company in the country. It was first incorporated in the 1980s as a joint venture of the Ceylon Electricity Board and a multinational group – ABB of Norway.

The Petitioners state that Lakdanavi (Pvt) Ltd., is a fully owned subsidiary of LTL Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., and is a company specialised in engineering, procurement and construction and operations and maintenance in the energy and power generation sector.

They assert that the government has not properly explained particulars of the deal even to the Cabinet of Ministers when transferring the shares of the power plant to the American company.

They have also alleged that the government has not obtained the approval of Parliament for the agreement in question and that the relevant share transfer process has not been carried out in accordance with a formal tender procedure.

They have sought the Appeals Court to issue an order rescinding the decision taken to transfer the shares to the American company and the agreement signed by the government.

In addition, the General Secretary of the SJB MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara filed a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court on 21 Oct., challenging the government decision to transfer 40 per cent of the Kerawalapitiya Power Plant to the US firm.

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Ex-Indian HC in Colombo during turbulent 1989-90 will be featured in next Pathfinder “In Conversation” webinar

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Ambassador Lakhan Mehrotra, former High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, will be featured in the next Pathfinder “In Conversation” webinar scheduled at 2.30 p.m. IST/SLST on Thursday 28th October.

Mehrotra will be interviewed by Bernard Goonetilleke, Chairman, Pathfinder Foundation. They will discuss the guest speaker’s publication ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’, which features his experience during the period 1989-1990, when he served as High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, during a politically turbulent era coupled with the separatist war in the north-east and an insurrection in the south.

His book, ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ touches on the beginnings of the conflict, briefly follows on its evolution until it reached its peak in the early 1990s, and then takes the reader in detail through the author’s own experience in the country, nearly two years after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement was signed and the Indian Peace Keeping Force had been inducted at the invitation of President J. R. Jayewardene, while President Premadasa, who succeeded President Jayewardene considered the presence of an Indian military contingent on his nation’s soil as an affront to its sovereignty. Soon after his election, the President issued an ultimatum for the IPKF to leave its shores by 29th July 1989 and threatened military action against it if it failed to do so, which brought the two nations to the brink of a military confrontation.

The High Commissioner’s intensive consultations and tireless interaction with the political leaders of Sri Lanka, the warring factions in the country’s north-east, and the governments in New Delhi and Colombo helped signing of the joint communique on 28th July 1989 on arrangements for phased withdrawal of the IPKF in March 1990 with due recognition of its contribution and sacrifices made to preserve the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country. ‘My Days in Sri Lanka’ provides information that has never been divulged before. The “In Conversation” webinar will delve into these experiences of the High Commissioner; whose rather brief assignment was from April 1989 to June 1990.

Following his assignment that covered the most turbulent period of Sri Lanka in modern times, Ambassador Mehrotra served as Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs and as Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Africa before his retirement in 1992. Later, he served as UN Secretary General’s Personal Representative in Cambodia from 1997 to 2000 and as Head of the UN Diplomatic Mission in Jakarta for Peace Talks between Indonesia and East Timor.

Those who are interested in retracing the history of Sri Lanka should register in advance for this webinar through the link below:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_0nxJI2dPR8SCKK7k4hqDpg

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Cardinal lashes out at Minister known as Ten Percent

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His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith visits Sarakkuwa in the Pamunugama area where clearing of X-Press Pearl debris continuinues.Pic by Nishan S .Priyantha

By Norman Palihawadane and Nishan S. Priyantha

Monies taken in the form of commissions by forfeiting people’s welfare will never do any good to those who take them, says His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

“The biggest malady our society is afflicted with is the commissions earned by politicians through various deals. They take commissions from companies by depriving the people of their dues. Such money has blood on them and they would not do any good to those who take them,” the Cardinal said yesterday.

Speaking to journalists at the Sarakkuwa beach in Pamunugama during an inspection tour to witness the progress of cleaning work of the MV X-Press Pearl wreck the Cardinal said: “We have a Cabinet minister who is notoriously known as Mr. Ten Percent. Imagine the shame on this nation when there is such a minister taking ten percent of commission from every project he passes. The monies collected in that way would never bring out any good.”

The Cardinal said that the President, the Prime Minister and government institutions including the Ministry of Fisheries, coast conservation department, marine environment protection authority and urban development authority were duty bound to remove the wreck, clean the beach and the ocean. “In doing so, the government should be concerned about the interests of people, and not about the shipping company, its local agents or agents of the insurance companies. We demand that the government take this case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and get full compensation for the people. We have information that the agents of companies have come down and are staying in Colombo exerting influence on various political leaders and officials. Their objective is getting out of this by paying a paltry sum. If the politicians and officials permit that we will take to the streets with people.”

The Cardinal said that there was information that Urban Development Authority officials were making plans to give away Muthurajawela to foreign companies. “Muthurajawela is a national asset and belongs to the people. The politicians have no right to sell them off to Korean or Chinese companies. We would not let that happen,” he said.

Associated with the Cardinal were Ven. Pahiyangala Ananada Thera, Chairperson of Marine Environment Protection Chairperson, bishops and other religious leaders.

The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl caught fire off the coast of Colombo in May and sank while transporting 1,486 chemical containers from the Middle East with stops in India and Sri Lanka during its voyage to Singapore.

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