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Johnston: Not a single tree felled for renovating Sinharaja road

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By Saman Indrajith 

Not a single tree had been cut down when a dilapidated road leading Lankagama through a section of the Sinharaja Forest was renovated, Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando told Parliament on Wednesday (25).

“We only renovated a road which was already there. The Opposition and many others accused us of constructing a new road. It is not true. People in Lankagama have been requesting the renovation of that road.  No new road was constructed, not a single tree has been cut down . There was no harm done to the environment,” the Minister said. 

Fernando made this statement after the Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera asked for time to answer a question on the road through sections of the Sinharaja posed by Colombo District SJB MP Dr Harsha de Silva. Pointing out that his question to the Minister of Environment was listed in the Order Paper, Silva demanded an answer. The SJB MP queried whether Amaraeweera admitted that an environment impact assessment should be conducted when a road was constructed across a sensitive ecosystem. 

MP Dr de Silva:

“Why isn’t the government giving an answer? It is said that the road could be constructed within 90 days, then why does the government take more than 90 days to answer the question? Why are you evading this issue?” 

Minister Amaraweera:

“We are not evading or running away. I asked for time to give you a comprehensive answer.” 

MP Dr de Silva:

“Now a gazette expanding the area of Sinharaja, signed by former President Maithripala Sirisena, has been issued. It is backdated to November last year. As per the gazette what you have done is wrong. You should have conducted a study before commencing the work on the road. Now, you are taking time to give an answer after completing the construction.” 

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Fernando

: “The question was about an environment issue, and the relevant Minister will answer it. But since the road being constructed under the purview of my ministry, stress that no new road has been constructed. If you are constructing a new road then you need to conduct a study. Here the procedure is different because we are renovating a road that has already been there. You have been fooled by Facebook posts. I invited you to visit the area with me. You did not come. Has Dr de Silva ever been to Lankagama? You are from the Colombo District.

MP Dr de Silva:

“I will come with you to visit Lankagama and inspect the road when you go there next time. I am an MP for the Colombo District. I was elected with 83,000 votes, and as I represent the Opposition, I am entitled to ask questions about anything in between Kankesanthurai and Matara. That is my right.” 

Badulla District MP Chaminda Wijesiri:

“We thank you for the invitation. We could not come with you to visit the area because we were busy with the budget debate. We will visit the area later. Our question is about the destruction wreaked the environment. That damage is not repairable just because you win arguments here in parliament.” 

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena:

“There is no point in you fighting over this issue. It is an old road. It was constructed while I was the Chief Minister of the Southern Province. I still remember the Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman who constructed the road had to serve a jail term. There is no point in having further arguments on the issue.



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LIOC seeks to expand operations

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by Ifham Nizam

Power and Energey Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday revealed that Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) had asked for permission to set up 50 new filling stations in the country and take over a certain number of petrol sheds currenlty under the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). The government had asked the LIOC to increases the supply of fuel, in case Sri Lanka agreed to the Indian proposal,Wijesekera added.

Sri Lanka was facing daunting challenges as regards fuel distribution and it might not be able to get rid of fuel queues anytime soon, Minister Wijesekera said.Speaking to journalists yesterday, in Colombo, Wijesekera said that plans were underway to introduce a token system for fuel dispensation.He said the new scheme could come into effect from today (27) and the Police, and the armed forces will help implement it.

He also said that four separate groups from the Ministry were working on petrol, diesel, crude / furnace oil, and jet fuel imports. “We asked Lanka IOC to increase fuel supply and CEYPETCO to purchase diesel from them. But they asked for a price revision before that according to the pricing formula. That’s why we revised the price in a situation where there was no fuel in the country.”

The moves came as the government increased fuel prices with effect from the wee hours of Sunday wee hours. Petrol (Octane 92) now sells at Rs 470 per litre and Octane 95 at Rs. 550 per litre. Auto Diesel sells at Rs 460 per litre and Super Diesel at Rs 520 per litre.The Minister said they were working on 130-plus proposals for fuel delivery to Sri Lanka.

“USD 500 million is something that Sri Lanka cannot afford at this juncture. Therefore, consumption will have to be slashed, and fuel for public transport prioritized. Two ministers will fly to Russia today for discussions on fuel and related matters,” he said.The Minister said that bunker suppliers had been granted permission to deliver fuel for industries that deal in US currency.

He also said that overseas fuel companies based in countries that produce fuel, would be invited to set up business in Sri Lanka, as the CPC alone could not import fuel.

He said the CPC would become a more service-provider-based institution to facilitate fuel imports, and it had 9000 MT of diesel and the IOC 10,000 MT while the CPC had about 6000 MT of Petrol and the IOC about 8000 MT, of petrol.He said the IOC was issuing about 300 MT a day and their next shipment was due only after 10 July.

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Economic crisis: Govt. MPs slam Cabinet, Finance Ministry

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‘How come SLPA paid to Treasury just a faction of massive revenue earned in six years?’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

T wo SLPP MPs, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Madura Vithanage have, at different forums, lashed out at the government for the rapidly deteriorating status of the public sector finance. Godahewa has warned that economic recovery will not be possible unless the government restructured nearly 400 loss making public sector enterprises or at least take tangible measures to cut down on recurring losses.The former Media Minister, who represents the Gampaha District, said so addressing a group of Gampaha-based professionals and entrepreneurs recently.

Alleging that the failure, on the part of the government to establish an all-party government, contributed to the further deterioration of the situation, Dr. Godahewa emphasized the urgent need to curb, what he called, unbridled corruption as part of the efforts to revive the economy.The Gampaha District MP asked whether the current dispensation has addressed the issues at hand with a sense of responsibility.The MP questioned the composition of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, especially the appointment of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier, in spite of his party having just one seat in Parliament, against the backdrop of even the government parliamentary group not being properly represented.

Dr. Godahewa warned that SriLankan Airlines, the Ceylon Electricity Board, and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) would deny the country an opportunity to recover as they remained a massive burden on taxpayers. The One-time top level private sector executive said that the Cabinet-of-Ministers lacked the strength to take crucial decisions. But, the situation would have been different if the Cabinet-of-Ministers included representatives of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other political parties. Dr. Godahewa declared that the government couldn’t take decisions on sensitive matters as long as it didn’t command political power.

Meanwhile, Colombo District MP Vithanage has questioned the responsibility, on the part of the Finance Ministry, in the overall deterioration of public sector finance with the focus on the handling of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) at a recent meeting of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). The lawmaker alleged that the Finance Ministry had conveniently failed to make required intervention on behalf of the government, thereby deprived the opportunity to utilize SLPA profits.

Prof. Charitha Herath chaired the meeting. Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne attended the meeting whereas Ports and Shipping Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra led the SLPA team.Both MP Vithanage and Prof. Herath asserted that the Finance Ministry should have intervened on behalf of the people. The COPE examined how the SLPA continuously refrained from paying the Treasury at least the minimum amounts in spite of receiving massive profits over the years.  The Director General Public Enterprises, who has received that position recently, struggled to explain their failure to take up the non-transfer of SLPA profits to the Treasury. The COPE was told of Rs 69,686 mn revenue earned from 2016 to 2021, only 600 mn had been transferred to the Treasury.

Lawmaker Vithanage yesterday told The Island that the recent examinations of various enterprises and the Central Bank, by the COPE, as well as other watchdog committees, disclosed how the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and the Monetary Board contributed to the developing crisis. MP Vithanage pointed out even after the Covid-19 eruption devastated the economy, the SLPA had been able to withhold funds required by the Treasury for want of Finance Ministry intervention.Responding to queries, MP Vithanage said that the Parliament should act without further delay to ensure the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board acted responsibly.

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Ceylon Chamber distributes dry rations

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The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Diwiyata Diriyak’ social initiative provided emergency relief, in the form of 10,000 essential dry ration packs, to vulnerable families in the Kegalle and Colombo districts.

A press release from the Chamber said: Mobilising the Chamber’s Membership to assist low-income families that are struggling to survive the current crisis, the initial distribution, which took place at the Kegalle District Secretariat, was the first phase of Diwiyata Diriyak, which aims to provide 5,000 relief packs.

Containing essential items such as rice, lentils, sugar, wheat flour, canned fish, etc., costing Rs. 5,000 each, vulnerable families, identified by the respective District Secretaries in the Warakapola, Galigamuwa, Mawanella and Rambukkana DS divisions, were among the initial beneficiaries.

CEO and Secretary General of the Ceylon Chamber Manjula de Silva said that the Chamber was committed to supporting the public during this immensely challenging time, and would always strive to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.

Home Garden Starter Packs, sponsored by the CIC Group, were also distributed among the families, in order to assist and encourage home garden cultivation as a viable option to address the rapidly rising costs and predicted shortage of food items, the release said.

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