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Inoculation drive: Armed forces’ contribution immeasurable; Belittling tremendous achievements regretable – CDS

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Of 2.7mn fully vaccinated, 23 who had comorbidity succumb to Covid-19

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Army Commander, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff General Shavendra Silva, says the overall contribution made by the armed forces in Sri Lanka’s battle against Covid-19 is immeasurable.

In a brief interview with The Island, General Silva explained their contribution to the ongoing countrywide vaccination drive as Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena declared that the survival of the public depended on full vaccination.

Appearing on Derana ‘360’ Monday night, Dr. Gunawardena warned of dire consequences unless the people received both jabs.

Responding to interviewer Sanka Amarjith, Dr. Gunawardena said that of 4,132 Covid-19 deaths, only 23 died after having both vaccines. Of 14 mn who had received vaccines, 2.7 were so far given the second jab, Dr. Gunawardena said, adding that 177 succumbed having received one jab.

State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana told The Island that almost all of them had been over 60 and simultaneously affected by two or more medical conditions.

The CDS said that in addition to Narahenpita Military Hospital where selected groups, including teachers had been inoculated the Army managed countrywide makeshift vaccination facilities in support of health authorities. Gen. Silva regretted that the armed forces role in fighting the epidemic as well as formation of the Covid Task Force had become political issues both in and outside Parliament.

The former Commanding Officer of the much celebrated frontline fighting formation Task Force I /58 Division said that the deployment of the armed forces helped achieve vaccination targets. Gen. Silva emphasized that joint civil-military effort made it possible to inoculate over 14 mn people with 2.7 mn of them receiving both jabs.

Pointing out that vaccine roll-out began on January 29, within 24 hours after Sri Lanka received half a million Covishield (AstraZeneca) doses courtesy India, Gen. Silva said that the military was engaged in the inoculation process from the very beginning. Gen. Silva said that as the country continuously received stocks of AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Pfizer, Sputnik, Moderna vaccines from different sources, the military gradually stepped up their efforts.

The government brought in the SLAF and the SLN in May and July respectively as the military expanded its role in the vaccination drive. The CDS said that the deployment of the armed forces streamlined the entire inoculation process. SLAF spokesman Wing Commander Dushan Wijesinghe and SLN spokesman Capt. Indika de Silva explained the initial deployment in support of the overall efforts before they undertook inoculation on their own.

Responding to another query, Gen. Silva pointed out that the military lessened the heavy burden on the civilian apparatus tasked with inoculation drive.

Responding to UNP leader and National List MP Ranil Wickremesinghe criticism of the Covid Task Force as well as the accusation that Parliament had been denied control over the operation undertaken by them, Gen. Silva said that the former Prime Minister received the first jab at Narahenpita Military Hospital in Feb. At the time the UNP leader had received first and the second jabs he hadn’t re-entered Parliament. Wickremesinghe re-entered parliament in late July.

Gen. Silva said that at the task undertaken by the armed forces stretched them to the maximum though officers and men met the challenging task. “Running vaccination centres 24 hours a day certainly not an easy task,” Gen. Silva said, pointing out that the public really appreciated their role.

Gen. Silva said that the military remained committed to take the ongoing vaccination drive to a successful conclusion. Referring to a statement made by Chairman of State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) Dr. Prasanna Gunasena on Monday, Gen. Silva said that the country could be proud of that 96 percent of those above 30 had been inoculated. However, only 25 percent had been fully vaccinated, Dr. Gunasena told the media at the Information Department urging the public to be patient as they would receive the required protection two weeks after the second jab. Dr. Gunasena said that they intended to give the second jab to the remaining group this month.

Gen. Silva said that the government had announced the vaccination of those under 30 once the ongoing drive was brought to a successful conclusion.

The Army Commander said that some had conveniently forgotten how the eradication of terrorism allowed the government to fully concentrate on battling Covid-19.



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‘Ratwatte’s boorish actions unbecoming of a Minister’

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DEW alleges cover-up, warns of dire consequences

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Prisons Minister Dew Gunasekera yesterday (16) called for an immediate police investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s recent wild behaviour inside the Anuradhapura prison, where he issued death threats to two LTTEers incarcerated there.

Gunasekera pointed out that the minister had forcibly entered the Anuradhapura prison on 12 Sept. around 5.30 pm in the wake of the government turning a blind eye to his earlier drunken raid on Welikada prison on 06 Sept. Gunasekera served as the Prisons Minister after the end of the war in May 2009. The former minister stressed that on both occasions the State Minister in a state of inebriation had been armed with a pistol and was accompanied by several others. Law enforcement authorities couldn’t afford not to investigate the incident, the ex-minister said, referring to the presence of a woman among the crowd that entered Welikada and they went onto visit the gallows.

Prison sources said that Ratwatte had arrived at the Anuradhapura prison after being to week-long Sathi Pirith chanting ceremony at Anuradhapura sacred Mirisawetiya compound in order to invoke spiritual blessings for eradication of COVID-19 epidemic from Sri Lanka and the world. The pirith chanting culminated on the following day evening after conducting a special Buddha Pooja.

“Conduct a proper investigation or face the consequences,” the former General Secretary of the Communist Party told The Island, pointing out the responsibility on the part of the ruling SLPP to conduct its own inquiry.

SLPP General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam said that the matter could be taken up with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Chairman of the party on his return from an overseas visit. Lawmaker Kariyawasam said so when The Island asked him whether the party would initiate disciplinary action against Ratwatte.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, also a member of the SLPP, should brief the Parliament how he intended to address this issue, Gunasekera said. The outspoken political veteran said that the Police Headquarters should make a public statement on those incidents.

Gunasekera emphasiSed that the Anuradhapura incident could have been averted if the government took tangible measures in the wake of Ratwatte’s raid on Welikada prison several days before.

Alleging that the Prisons Department suppressed both Welikada and Anuradhapura incidents, Gunasekera questioned the rationale in Ratwatte being allowed to avoid a proper investigation by giving up Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation portfolio and also queried how Ratwatte could be allowed to continue as the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related Industries as if nothing had happened.

“I’m really disappointed and disgusted with the way the government handled Anuradhapura and Welikada affairs,” Gunasekera said.

Responding to queries, Gunasekera pointed out that the incidents placed Sri Lanka at an extremely embarrassing position at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) ongoing 48th sessions.

Pointing out that UN Resident Representative in Colombo Hanaa Singer as well as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) roundly condemned Ratwatte’s actions; Gunasekera said the government would have to face grave consequences unless a proper investigation was conducted. The government should inquire into those incidents taking into consideration the ongoing Geneva confab and the forthcoming UNGA.

The former minister pointed out that the Prisons Media Spokesman and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayaka denied any knowledge of the incident.

Gunasekera welcomed the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) launching an investigation into the incidents. Nihal Chandrasiri, HRCSL’s Acting Director – Research & Monitoring told The Island that the outfit initiated an inquiry on its own into the incidents that had taken place in Prisons. “Three Regional Coordinating Officers of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka visited Anuradhapura Prison on 15th September 2021 to investigate the incidents that took place on 12th September 2021. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka will summon all the responsible parties connected to these incidents as early as possible.”

The CP heavyweight recalled how thousands of LTTE cadres and suspects brought under the military and the Prisons system at the conclusion of the war in May 2009 were protected. Those who had been campaigning against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC and the UN would exploit Ratwatte’s actions, the former lawmaker said, adding that the ruling party seemed bent on causing its own destruction.

Gunasekera said that recently Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and IGP C.D. Wickremaratne explained measures taken by the government to eradicate the underworld especially those directing the narcotics trade from within prisons. They assured the public of safety and security. However, Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons underscored the reality, Gunasekera said and called on the Prisons Chief to explain his failure to address the Welikada incident.

Police headquarters hasn’t so far issued an official statement on incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura.

Ratwatte was sworn in as the Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Minister in the wake of the Mahara Prison riot in late Nov 2020. Ratwatte succeeded Dr. Sudarshini Fernandoplle.

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CTU: ‘Grant demands of principals and teachers before school reopening’

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The demands of principals and teachers should be granted before the government re-opens the schools, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) says.

CTU General Secretary Joseph Stalin told The Island yesterday that the Secretary to the Ministry of Education had said the ministry would use alternative methods to collect GCE AL applications. Usually, it was the principals who sent applications to the Ministry of Education, but principals had refused to be involved until their salary anomalies were rectified. “The answer to this problem is simple. Just solve our issues. The government can easily do it.”

Stalin said that principals and teachers unions had held several discussions with ministers but without success.

On Wednesday (15) the Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said that Grades one to six would reopen after two weeks.

Rambukwella said the government had decided to reopen the schools with fewer than 200 students first. There were around 5,000 such schools he said.

The Minister said so during a meeting with Health Ministry Secretary Major General Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, Education Ministry Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera, Director-General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena, high-level officials of the two ministries and several representatives of the GMOA including its President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya.

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SL – India economic and democratic cooperation extensive – Speaker

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday said that the economic and democratic cooperation between Sri Lanka and India, both now and in the past, was significant.

Addressing the All India Presiding Officers Conference (AIPOC), organised by the Indian Lok Sabha through video technology, the Speaker said: “Parliament of Sri Lanka is the oldest parliament elected by universal adult franchise in Asia. As the largest democracy in the world how India’s legislature functions in a multi- religious, multi-ethnic society offers many valuable lessons for not only us as neighbours, but even to the scholars of democratic governance”.

The conference was held under the theme “The Role of Legislature in Fostering Effective and Meaningful Democracy” to mark the Centennial year of the AIPOC as well as the International Day of Democracy which is celebrated on Sept 15 every year.

The conference chaired by the Hon Speaker of the Indian Lok Sabha Shri Om Birla was attended by the President of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Duarte Pacheco. Hon. Speakers from national legislatures including Austria, Guyana, Maldives, Zimbabwe, Mongolia and Namibia also addressed the virtual conference. Presiding officers of state legislatures in India joined via video technology. The Secretary General of Parliament of Sri Lanka Dhammika Dassanayake was also in attendance at the conference.

Addressing the conference, the Speaker said that Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India addressed the Parliament of Sri Lanka in 2015 during his historical visit, which strengthened the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

The Speaker said that the Parliament of Sri Lanka has adopted a policy of open parliament with the intention of enhancing citizen participation and engagement in the parliamentary process.

He said that Parliament has taken steps recently to reach the public through the newly established Department of Communications. “It is expected to expand the knowledge on Parliamentary process and uphold democracy amongst the population particularly targeting the school children who are the future flag bearers of democracy,” he said.

The speaker said: “After the enactment of the Right to Information Bill, the Parliament of Sri Lanka took a decision to open the sessions of the committees to the media and this was a significant step towards strengthening the parliamentary democratic system that will pave the way for greater transparency and accountability. The Parliament of Sri Lanka has a vibrant committee system which plays a key role in creating a forum for the Parliamentarians and the Ministers of the Cabinet to interact directly in addressing many relevant issues which fall within their respective portfolios”.

He said despite the Covid -19 challenge Parliament has continued with its usual sittings even though the number of sittings days were curtailed to minimize the risk.

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