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JVP: Govt. trying to bribe Railway trade unions

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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.



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Govt. urged to increase nursing cadre to tackle national health crisis

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Coordinator, Training (Nursing) Pushpa Ramyani de Soysa says that against the backdrop of alarming increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases, the government needs to act swiftly and decisively to strengthen the nursing staff or face the consequences.

The top nurse insists a moment cannot be wasted as the ongoing epidemic threatens to overwhelm the entire country. The nurses’ spokesperson attached to the Accident Ward of the National Hospital, Colombo, delivered the dire warning in a live interview with Dasun Wasantha on the state-run ITN yesterday (14)

The outspoken official said that at the time Covid-19 erupted in 2020, the nursing staff consisted of approximately 38,000 representing all grades. At that time, the country experienced a staggering 50 per cent dearth of trained nursing staff, de Soysa said, urging those responsible as well as the public of the urgent need to strengthen the nursing staff.

She explained how the nursing staff worked under unbearable pressure as the entire medical staff backed by the military and the police struggled to cope up with the relentless Covid-19 onslaught.

Responding to the interviewer on live ‘Hathweni Paya’ , de Soysa said that as an immediate interim measure, those who had retired in the past few years could be brought back to lessen the pressure on the staff. When The Island sought further clarification from the National

Coordinator, the nursing veteran emphasized the Covid-19 challenge had to be tackled, in addition to the regular workload. A further deterioration of the situation could cause a catastrophe, she told The Island.

The National Coordinator told the ITN as nurses couldn’t be trained overnight the way required beds and other equipment could be supplied to hospitals, hence the urgent need to bring back the retired without further delay. She repeatedly stressed the responsibility on the part of the administration whoever in power to increase the nursing staff to meet the country’s growing requirement. Acknowledging the services rendered by the health services at an extremely difficult period, nurse de Soysa underscored the critical role played by the nursing staff in the overall effort against the epidemic.

Soysa highlighted what she called a coordinating role played by the nursing staff in the treatment of persons afflicted by Covid-19 or some other illness. In the absence of sufficient number of nurses, personnel had been re-allocated, de Soysa said, pointing out that due to Covid-19 explosion patients were being accommodated at hospitals.

Commenting on challenges faced by the nursing profession, de Soysa recalled the sacrifices made during the 30-year-war that was brought to a successful conclusion in May 2009. “Regardless of d immense difficulties, the nursing staff fulfilled their responsibilities during the conflict. We’ll do the same now,” de Soysa said, pointing out as many as 270 nurses had been tested Covid-19 positive, in addition to thousands quarantined.

The National Coordinator complained about the dearth of some critically important data relevant to the Covid-19 situation needed for evaluation purposes. Timely decisions couldn’t be taken for want of updated data at global and local level, she said.

She also discussed difficulties caused by some of those seeking treatment at hospitals not being aware of their condition, hence the need to be vigilant. However, sometimes, nursing staff served without taking into consideration the grave risks them faced. A grave looking de Soysa told the ITN interviewer they couldn’t follow health guidelines. “We cannot keep one meter distance in hospitals,” de Soysa said.

Nurse de Soysa said that she received both doses of covishields vaccine as key part of overall measures in place for the protection of the medical staff.

Without referring to any political party, de Soysa explained how the political administration over the years treated the nursing staff as slaves. Government treated nursing staff as dirt, de Soysa said, recalling with gratitude how Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda thera spearheaded a campaign that paved the way for significant improvement in the nursing service. The National Coordinator said that before the Ven. Thera’s intervention, they were assigned intolerable tasks regardless of their complains.

Responding to another ITN query, de Soysa said that successive governments hadn’t responded to their call for enhancement of the nursing service with the introduction of a system to produce qualified nurses who specializes in selected fields. Although action had been taken , the entire process was proceeding at snail pace, she alleged.

The National Instructor made reference to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 2019 presidential election manifesto that also dealt with the issue at hand. The top nurse didn’t mince her words when she pointed out that the required improvements weren’t introduced as expected, hence the need to move now.

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Coronavirus spreading fast in North

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

COVID-19 is spreading across a number of areas in the Northern province at a rapid pace, according to THE provincial health officials.

Five members of the same family in Kattakadu, Kilinochchi have contracted COVID-19 and been sent to Krishnapuram Treatment centre.

One family member is a university student, who stayed in Colombo. He returned home recently and several family members started developing Covid-19 symptoms a few days later. Health officials conducted PCR tests and found that all five family members had contracted the virus. Six other neighbouring families have been placed under quarantine.

Meanwhile, 43-year-old man was arrested by Kilinochchi Police for hoarding alcohol to be sold, at a higher price, during the current lockdown. The suspect is a resident of Kalmadukulam, Dharmapuram. He is to be produced before the Kilinochchi Magistrate’s Court.

However, most towns in the North had been deserted yesterday due to the lockdown.

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Navy nets 30 illegal migrants

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More than 30 persons were apprehended by the Sri Lanka Navy and Coast Guard in Samindugama on Thursday and Friday while they were preparing to migrate to a foreign country by boat illegally.

The owner of the house where the suspects had stayed was also arrested, together with15 others involved in human smuggling.

The suspects, residents of Jaffna, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu and Puttalam areas, were handed over to the Chilaw Police.

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