By Shamindra Ferdinando
A section of Railway trade unions and the Transport Ministry are on a collision course over the latter’s plans to obtain further financial assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
All Ceylon Railway Employees’ General Union General Secretary S.P. Vithanage yesterday (18) told The Island that the Transport Ministry was trying to secure the support of Railway trade unions for its projects.
“We are aware of an attempt to obtain significant funding from the ADB,” Vithanage said, referring to a recent workshop held at Sri Lanka German Railway Technical Centre, Ratmalana to promote the ADB-funded projects.
Vithanage claimed that a three-day residential workshop was being planned by those interested in the ADB funding. The proposed residential workshop was likely to be held at a hotel, Vithanage alleged.
Speaking to The Island in the wake of Railway strike spearheaded by locomotive engine drivers’ union, JVPer Vithanage said that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lacked at least a basic plan to develop Railways.
The railway strike was called off yesterday.
Responding to another query, Vithanage said that his union affiliated to the JVP wanted a consensus with other railway trade unions regarding an effective plan.
Contrary to pledges made by the SLPP leadership in the run-up to 2019 presidential and 2020 general elections, those in power today proved they were as inept as the previous yahapalana lot, Vithanage said, adding that with every sector in deepening turmoil, the crisis in the railway sector was no exception.
Vithanage said that the failure on the part of the Transport Ministry to appoint a General Manager following the retirement of Dilantha Fernando on March 4 reflected the lethargic attitude of the ministry. The ministry accommodated the retired GMR as a well-paid advisor at the ministry whereas a ministry official was appointed GMR on an acting capacity, Vithanage said.
The trade union leader said that as the Transport Ministry knew Fernando was to retire having reached 60 their failure to decide on a permanent successor couldn’t be justified under any circumstances. Vithanage alleged that several senior retired Railway employees had been accommodated in the Transport ministry. However, it would be pertinent to mention that there hadn’t been a proper assessment of those accommodated as advisors and consultants not only in the Transport Ministry but in other ministries and institutions as well, Vithanage said.
The JVP railway union leader alleged that Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge lacked knowledge or interest in Railways. In spite of Railways being one of the most important sectors, the SLPP administration seemed to be struggling to cope up with the situation, the trade unionist said. In the absence of effective policing, accusations as regards waste and corruption, indiscipline and financial mismanagement were rampant, the JVPer alleged.
Vithanage also questioned the conduct of some of those trade union leaders affiliated to the incumbent administration and the Transport Ministry turning a blind eye to corruption accusations directed at some ministry officials.
Vithanage asked whether the much publicized SLPP’s 2019 presidential election manifesto had facilitated various racketeers and was detrimental to the Railways and overall national economy as well. Instead of improving Railways, successive governments seemed only interested in pursuing their agendas regardless of consequences.
Commenting on the previous government reaching an agreement with India to procure 160 stainless steel passenger coaches from there, Vithanage said that Sri Lanka ordered 100 coaches from China during A H M Fowzie’s tenure as the transport minister. Those coaches were received during Dallas Alahapperuma’s tenure, Vithanage said, alleging that they weren’t properly used. “Now we are acquiring coaches from India,” he said.
Railways took delivery of the first lot of 10 coaches out of 160 stainless steel passenger coaches supplied by RITES Ltd. on March 9, 2021 in terms of an agreement implemented by New Delhi through the EXIM Bank of India. The agreement governing has been finalized in September 2019 in the run-up to the presidential election.
Vithanage urged the government to undertake a comprehensive study with the involvement of trade unions. Governments considered trade unions as enemies, Vithanage said, adding that attempts were made either to suppress them or silence them through various inducements.
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam
The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.
Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.
A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.
The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.
According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.
The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.
DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.
PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners
By Norman Palihawadane
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.
Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.
The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”
Thilo Hoffman remembered
A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.
Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.
The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.
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