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JVP: Govt. trying to bribe Railway trade unions



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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U.S. Ambassador to UN Agencies in Rome Cindy McCain to visit Lanka



Colombo, September 23, 2022: United States Permanent Representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome Ambassador Cindy McCain will visit Sri Lanka from September 25-28 to highlight U.S. food assistance programs in Sri Lanka and reinforce the U.S. commitment and lasting partnership with the island nation.

In addition to meeting with senior government officials and aid organizations in Colombo, Ambassador McCain will join U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung to travel to Central Province to visit schools, agricultural research facilities, and community organizations and meet with recipients and implementers of relief provided through U.S. government-funded humanitarian assistance programs.

The United States is the single largest country donor to the three United Nations food and agriculture agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Program (WFP).  U.S.-funded UN projects showcase how the U.S. government, the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies, and the government of Sri Lanka collaborate to reduce food insecurity and advance humanitarian relief, livelihood protection, and agriculture-led economic growth, especially at this critical time of increased global hunger.

The United States has provided partnership and assistance to the people and government of Sri Lanka for more than 70 years.  Since June, Ambassador Chung has overseen the announcement of nearly $240 million in new U.S. government assistance to Sri Lanka, including U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power’s September 2022 announcements of an additional $40 million to provide Sri Lankan farmers with fertilizer and $20 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs in the country.

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President urges SL diaspora in the UK to invest in their motherland



By Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

President Ranil Wickremesinghe last week urged the Sri Lanka diaspora in the United Kingdom to invest in Sri Lanka projects to revive the economy. Addressing a gathering at the Sri Lanka High Commission in London, he said that he is proud that the British Sri Lankan community for making a mark in every field of the UK economy such as trading, services, business, and requested them to come together as Sri Lankans and people of Sri Lankan origin to help build the motherland.

The President added that Sri Lanka is looking at transforming its economy to a competitive export-oriented one to meet the current challenges and build social systems and modernize the education system.

He remarked on the special affection Queen Elizabeth II had towards Sri Lanka as the Head of the Commonwealth and the longest serving Head of State of Ceylon for 20 years prior to the nation becoming a Republic and stated that her passing is the end of an era.

The president, first lady and party arrived in London on Sept. 17 via Dubai by an Emirates flight to attend the State Funeral Service of Queen Elizabeth II.They were received at the Heathrow airport by High Commissioner Saroja Sirisena and were driven to the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane, London where they stayed.

On Sunday (Sept. 18), the President accompanied by the First Lady and High Commissioner attended the Lying-in-State of the late Queen at the Palace of Westminster which was followed by a Reception hosted by His Majesty King Charles III at Buckingham Palace.The President and the First Lady attended the State Funeral Service held at the Westminster Abbey on Monday (Sept. 19).  On the same day, he signed the Book of Condolence. The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly MP hosted a reception for the visiting world leaders at Church House.

On 20th September, the President met the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland QC. They discussed Sri Lanka’s engagement with the Commonwealth Secretariat and matters of mutual interest. He also visited the London Buddhist Vihara during which Ven Dr Bogoda Seelawimala, Chief Incumbent of the Vihara and the Chief Sanga Nayaka of Great Britain invoked blessings on the President and the people of Sri Lanka.

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Families countrywide facing malnutrition, says Cardinal



By Norman Palihawadane

Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has warned that the prevailing economic crisis and increasing unemployment and food prices are accelerating malnutrition among hundred thousands of families countrywide.

Addressing a ceremony at the annual get-together of the Archdiocesan Family Apostolate Service held at St Peter’s College Auditorium in Colombo, the Archbishop said that it was a shame that responsible local officials keep denying the prevailing status quo when world humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF continue to warn of the increasing malnutrition levels among children.

Many international organizations have pointed out that malnutrition in Sri Lanka was increasing at an alarming rate but the authorities responsible are hiding the truth and go to the extent of rejecting such reports.

“If they reject the reports of international organizations, then it is their paramount duty of conduct proper surveys to understand the situation. It is no secret that large numbers of Lankan families are starving due to the high prices of food. According to the UNICEF more than six million people consume only a single meal a day. It is so unfortunate that Health Ministry officials who spend their times in the air conditioned rooms in Colombo do not know the plight of the poor in rural areas,” the Cardinal said.He said that 225 MPs were concerned only of their well-being while continuing to ignore the actual and pressing issues of people.

“This country is in dire situation today mainly due to inefficient and corrupt political leaders. It is sad that these so-called people’s representatives are not concerned of the situation of people who are experiencing the worst ever economic and political crisis this country has ever faced,” the Cardinal said.

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