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JJB MP questions voters’ responsibility in deterioration of parliamentary system



…the Executive bane of the country

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) lawmaker Dr. Harini Amarasuriya says the Parliament has to be reformed. The Parliament is necessary and the urgent need is to make it stronger, the civil society activist asserts.

Dr. Amarasuriya said so in response to The Island query how she felt about the failure on the part of the Parliament to guarantee financial discipline, as a first time entrant into parliamentary politics and a member of the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA).

Dr. Amarasuriya recently chaired COPA proceedings temporarily in the absence of its Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana.

Whatever the inadequacies, the country couldn’t do away with the Parliamentary system, Dr. Amarasuriya said, underscoring the need to reform the Parliament with a view to meeting the aspirations of the people.

The JVP contested the last general election in August 2000 under JJB symbol. The JJB secured three seats, including one National List seat. The JVP deviated from the controversial practice of appointing wholesale its defeated candidates through the National List, by accommodating Dr. Amarasuriya on the single NL seat it won.

When The Island sought Dr. Amarasuriya views on the bleak picture depicted by statements issued as regards proceedings of three watchdog committees, namely COPA, COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and PFC (Public Finance Committee), the academic said the electorate couldn’t under any circumstance absolve themselves of the responsibility for the current turmoil caused by those who exercised political power.

Was it fair to parliament when the electorate repeatedly elected the same lot? Dr. Amarasuriya asked. Those who exercised their franchise to elect questionable members should accept the consequences, too, the lawmaker said, pointing out the responsibility on the part of the print and electronic media to educate the public.

When The Island pointed out that the electorate first picked a political party before choosing candidates, Dr. Amarasuriya reiterated the fact that voters should accept the responsibility for their choices.

Of the 225-member Parliament, 196 are elected whereas 29 entered on the National Lists of various parties. Of the 29 NL members in the current parliament, the ruling SLPP  and the SJB won 17 and 07, respectively, and the remaining six were shared one each by the ITAK, JJB, AITC (Ahila Illankai Thamil Congress), UNP and OPPP( Our Power of People Party).

Dr. Amarasuriya pointed out the absurdity in those complaining about successive governments they themselves voted in. She emphasized that her stand as regards the issue at hand applied for those who raised the issue on behalf of the media. The JJB lawmaker asserted that the Parliament would have been in a much better position to address the grievances of the public if the electorate voted prudently.

MP Amarasuriya warned of dire consequences in depicting the Parliament as a useless and failed institution at a time when efforts were being made to weaken the parliamentary democracy.

In addition to the electorate irresponsibly voting for the same lot over and over again, the weakening of the Parliament by way of such despicable Amendments as the 20th, too, contributed to the overall deterioration of the systems in place.

The SLPP enacted the 20th Amendment last October at the expense of the 19th brought in early 2015 with over 200 lawmakers voting for it, MP Amarasuriya said. The 20th received a two-thirds majority with over a half a dozen Opposition MPs voting with the SLPP. All JJB lawmakers voted against the 20th Amendment which JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake called a dictatorial project.

MP Amarasuriya said that the electorate should take their responsibilities seriously. They should recognize the danger in repeatedly empowering the same political parties and their representatives. The Island pointed out the people today blamed the executive, legislature and the judiciary for the current state of affairs. The Island also raised the confusion caused by those who represented the parliament as accusations and counter-accusations as regards negligence and the responsibility pertaining to the Easter Sunday attacks and the father of two Easter Sunday suicide cadres ending up in the JVP National List for the 2015 general elections. And after having got elected many more members, the JVP shamelessly cavorted with the UNP in abusing political opponents using the law enforcers and particularly the police for the purpose even after two bond robberies staged in broad daylight by the yahapalana government.

 Dr. Amarasuriya emphasized the need to strengthen the parliament and stop efforts to dilute the parliamentary powers for the benefit of the executive. The MP claimed that the executive presidency was the bane of the democracy. Reforming the parliament would be the remedial measure, the country needed now, the MP said.

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Was six-week delay in using Chinese vaccine deliberate asks State Minister



‘Who accepts responsibility for deaths due to delay in inoculation’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness State Minister Dr Nalaka Godahewa yesterday (13) questioned the failure on their part to administer 600,000 Chinese Sinopharm vaccines while the ground situation deteriorated.

Addressing the media at his ministry, Dr. Godahewa said that delaying the use of the stock donated by China was an unfortunate lapse.

Sri Lanka received the stock on March 31 whereas the government finally gave the go ahead to use it only on May 8.

Responding to media queries, Dr. Godahewa said that stakeholders had been engaged in a debate without using the available vaccines. The State Minister questioned the rationale in delaying tactics while asking whether the delay was deliberate.

The State Minister asked who would accept the responsibility for the deaths of people who were deprived of available vaccines with the government. If those responsible for the entire vaccination process used Sinopharm, the country could have secured additional stocks from China. The State Minister addressed the media in the wake of the country recording cumulative death toll of nearly 900 with over 2000 new cases being reported on a daily basis.

AstraZeneca and Sputnik procured from India and Russia, respectively, were administered within 24 hours after receiving them whereas the Chinese vaccine stock was held up for six weeks.

Acknowledging the delay on the part of the government, Dr. Godahewa said that the vaccination drive was underway.

Blaming the delay on those who found fault with the Chinese vaccines, Dr. Godahewa claimed that strong critic and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Harin Fernando was among the recipients of Chinese vaccine. According to the State Minister over 280mn doses of Chinese vaccine had been used so far as the world struggled to cope up with the raging pandemic.

Dismissing Opposition allegations of political interference in Covid-19 strategy, Dr Godahewa emphasized that the health authorities should take final decisions. The government wouldn’t interfere with health authorities, the Minister said, alleging that the Opposition played politics with the Chinese vaccine.

Dr Godahewa said that Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa sought meetings with representatives of countries soon after he received information on the government of Sri Lanka receiving assistance from those countries.

The State Minister explained how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a significant role in the overall government effort to procure much needed assistance from overseas.

Acknowledging shortcomings in the government response to the daunting Covid-19 challenge, Dr. Godahewa questioned the Opposition strategy. Challenging the Opposition response to the pandemic, Dr Godahewa asked whether they built up public opinion against the vaccination programme.

Dr. Godahewa said that in spite of the setback suffered by the vaccination project, the government was able to secure vaccines from China and Russia.

The State Minister said that the fast spreading epidemic was quite a challenge and efforts were being made to bring the situation under control.

The State Minister said that countrywide lockdowns would help control the situation. However, there was no consensus on the matter. Those who earned daily wages opposed lockdowns, the State Minister said, adding that whatever the outcome the final decision on such matters should be taken by health authorities.

Authoritative sources said that while Chinese vaccine stock remained unused, the government administered 927,000 of 1,264,000 covishield (500,000 doses free, 500,000 paid for and the rest through UN’s covax facility) till April 6. Sources pointed out if the Chinese vaccine was used, the country wouldn’t have to experience a shortfall of over 600,000 covishield doses for those who received the first jab.

The National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) is the authority for approving the use of medicine.

Controversy surrounds the government decision not to administer Sputnik V and Sinopharm for those over 60 though covishield was made available without any age-related restrictions.

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Customs seize 200 mn sticks of foreign cigarettes hidden in 21 containers



By Prabhath Withana

Customs officials had seized over 200 million sticks of foreign cigarettes worth over nine billion rupees hidden in 21 containers, Customs Department sources said.

The Compliance and Facilitation Division of the Customs Departments investigated the 21 containers that had been marked as ‘Ceylon Black Tea’ and sent from the United Arab Emirates. The containers had been marked for re-exporting to countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, customs sources said, adding that the investigators found that forged shipping documents had been made for the containers. A name and address of a Sri Lankan tea company had been mentioned in the documents as the re-exporter.

It has also found that 12 other containers had been re-routed using similar documents from Colombo Port to countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Bangladesh, the customs sources said.

The Customs officials had contacted the names of foreign companies included in the documents but found that they were not aware of the fact that their names had been forged. The customs officials are planning to further investigate the matter with the assistance of international customs officials.

Further investigations are in progress under the guidance of Customs Director General Maj Gen (retd) G.V. Ravipriya by Customs Director Harsha Jayatilake, Deputy Customs Directors Dappula Arewatte and Wijearatne Bandara.

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Kiriella calls for suspending development projects and channeling funds to buy vaccines



By Saman Indrajith

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella yesterday called on the government to accelerate procuring Covid-preventing vaccines, and if the latter could not find money it had to channel funds allocated for development projects by suspending them for six months.

Addressing the media, at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo MP Kiriella said that the pandemic situation in the country was worsening by the day, and the health experts had issued warnings that Sri Lanka found find itself in the same predicament as India.

“Bodies are floating in the Ganges. The bodies are salvaged and dragged ashore using fishing nets there. We hope and pray that such a calamity may not befall this nation. We are ready to support the government to come out of this crisis and save the country from catastrophe. Yet, the government is not ready to listen. For example, our leader Sajith Premadasa who issued the first warning in Parliament and asked the government to take actions against the pandemic. The government did not listen to him but sough to ridicule us.

“We are telling the government to accelerate the inoculation process. That is the best way out. The government did not take the vaccination process seriously. Instead, it turned to alternatives such as throwing pots into the rivers, drinking herbal concoctions and ritualistic ceremonies such as Bali and Thovil. Even the Speaker in Parliament drank the Dhammika Peniya (syrup) in front of the media and recommended it as the medicine for the coronavirus. We must learn from such mistakes. We must expedite the procurement of vaccines. The government purchased only 500,000 doses. It received a donation of 900,000 vaccines. We have 22 million people. Suppose we use only the vaccines that require double doses, then we need 44 million vaccines. We still have only 1.3 million. The government should make purchases now. If it does not have funds, it should suspend the development projects for six months and use the funds so saved to buy vaccines. We know that the government has no funds. The same happened for the fertiliser relief. The government did not have funds to make purchases so it could not give the fertilisers to farmers and their solution was to ban chemical fertilisers and promote alternatives.

“We call on the government to permit the private sector to import vaccines under a regulated mechanism without letting the importers earn unreasonable profits capitalizing on the misery of people.

“At a discussion the President had with a group of villagers, he was requested to provide a PCR machine to their hospital. The president then said that the PCRs would not be needed as the vaccination had started and all people would be vaccinated. Now, three months have lapsed, and the people are without either a PCR machine or the vaccine. People in the Kandy District have not got the vaccine yet. There is only a single PCR for the entire Central Province – that is the one at the Kandy Hospital. We do not know what has been done with the funds allocated for the health sector procurement. We repeat that vaccination is the only solution.

“There was a presidential task force to formulate a strategy to tackle the pandemic. Its chief went overseas two days ago. Are these the examples set by the rulers to people? Now, it is said that he went abroad for treatment. What about the doctors in this country? What’s wrong with them? When Lalith Athulathmudali was wounded severely by a bomb attack the then government offered to take him to the US and made arrangements to treat him there. Yet, Lalith rejected that offer and said that he trusted Lankan doctors.”

Matale SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne also addressed the press.

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