Ex Prez can assist inquiry
By Shamindra Ferdinando
JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says a comprehensive multi-agency investigation is required to get to the bottom of what he called the massive Gin Nilwala scam perpetrated in 2012 and 2015.
In spite of disclosures in that regard, both in and outside Parliament, over a period of time, absolutely nothing had been done so far, lawmaker Dissanayake told The Island.
The government owed an explanation why over Rs 4 bn had been paid to a Chinese firm, in Dec 2012, and on January 7, 2015, as the project was yet to get off the ground, MP Dissanayake said.
The JVPer said that he felt the need to highlight the Gin Nilwala scam against the backdrop of the Pandora Papers exposure of former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa’s husband, Thirukumar Nadesan, as the Chinese company, allegedly involved in the Gin Nilwala project had moved money to a foreign account, in Hong Kong, held by the businessman.
Asked whether the Gin Nilwala scam, too, had been dealt by Pandora Papers, MP Dissanayake said as far as he knew Pandora Papers’ disclosure didn’t include the Gin Nilwala project.
Responding to another query, lawmaker Dissanayake said that though the then President Maithripala Sirisena questioned the Gin Nilwala project, the yahapalana government never investigated the issue properly.
MP Dissanayake said it wouldn’t be a difficult task to establish the transferring to a foreign account of Rs one bn in Dec 2012 and the over Rs. 3 bn on January 7, 2015, the day before the presidential election. Since the release of Pandora Papers, the video footage of former President Sirisena, now an SLPP MP, on the Gin Nilwala project had gone viral, the MP said.
The JVP leader said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should inquire into the matter as part of the ongoing examination of matters relating to Thirukumar Nadesan in respect of Pandora Papers.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Oct. 06 instructed CIABOC to inquire into Sri Lankans mentioned in Pandora Papers. Nadesan, too, also on the same day, asked President Rajapaksa to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations by appointing a retired Appeals Court Judge for the task. The CIABOC has recorded Nadesan’s statement in this regard.
MP Dissanayake alleged that successive governments had conveniently turned a blind eye to major cases of corruption. The very basis of parliamentary control over public finance was under threat, MP Dissanayake said, urging the government to take remedial measures or face the consequences. “Billions of rupees had been moved around, misappropriated and squandered. Those responsible for ensuring the proper practices are accused of exploiting the system. What is happening now is tragic,” MP Dissanayake said.
The JVPer said that examination of proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Finance) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) since the last general election revealed a frightening situation. The reports before the last general election were no exception, the parliamentarian said, the level of corruption in the public sector and the private-public sector joint ventures was horrifying. The national economy was being mercilessly exploited by persons holding office, the JVP leader said, the CIABOC could examine proceedings of the parliamentary watchdog committees if it was genuinely interested in stamping out corruption.
MP Dissanayake said that the national economy was in such a desperate situation thanks to decades of waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence on the part of political parties in power. “Today, we are seeking finance assistance from various countries. Recently, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris revealed he discussed ways and means to overcome financial crisis with the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary,” he said.
GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare
Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.
The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.
The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.
The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.
More gas explosions
Two women injured
By Rathindra Kuruwita
There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.
Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.
Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.
Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.
Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread
Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.
The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.
Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.
Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.
Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.
In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.
Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.
Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.
Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.
Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.
It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.
Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.
Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.
BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.
European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.
The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.
Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.
First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.
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