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JVP-led trade union front issues warnings to govt.

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP trade union wing leader, K.D. Lalkantha, on Thursday, said workers would go all out to send the incumbent government home.

Addressing a rally organised by the Trade Union Coordinating Centre’s United People’s Movement (TUCCPM), at Hyde Park, Colombo, Lalkantha said: “We have united the leaders of the Galle Face struggle, the farmers’ struggle, fishers’ struggle and the members of the Hartal protest. We all are now on a single stage. We used to have several slogans. One of them was Gota Go Home. The other was to rough the thieves out. Gota has gone but the thieves are still there. Similarly, the slogans of punishing the thieves and recovering stolen wealth are still valid today. We have joined, under a single slogan – to send this government home and push for an election to get a new government. We must get the Parliament dissolved. All progressive forces are converging and joining this struggle. We call on all the people to line up with us. We assure that the new phase of the struggle, that we commence today will end in certain victory.”

Co-Convener of the TUCCM and Chairman of the All Ceylon Management Services Officers’ Union, Udeni Dissanayake, said: We had mounted a massive struggle. One of the results of that struggle was Ranil Wickremesinghe, who did not have the people’s mandate, becoming the President of the country. We, today, commence a new phase of the struggle from Hyde Park. We will carry on until we see the end of the Ranil-Rajapaksa government. We have to see the end of this government to save people living in hunger and neck-deep in taxes. There is no use of keeping a government that has no answers for the people’s problems.

Independent Port Employees’ Union President, Lal Bandamuwa, said: “Ranil Wickremeisnghe is under obligation to look after the interest of the lot who hoisted him up. Those who elected him President were the ones that had been chased away by the people several months back. They do not know the hunger of the people. Then there is Ranil’s coterie who now holds top posts. They used to call the Rajapaksa and his men thieves. Now, they are united in the same government.”

Ven. Koswatte Mahanama Thera representing the Galle Face strugglers, said: “We call on all the members of the clergy to open their eyes and see the obvious, and how people are starving, and without medicine. The members of the clergy should stand up to chase this makeshift government that has no mandate of the people.

President of the Colombo University Students’ Union, Hiruna Hettiarachchi, said: “This rally, in Hyde Park, today, is the first salvo against the Ranil-Rajapaksa government. Ranil is mistaken if he thinks that people will keep their silence forever suffering in the crisis. He must realize that the people’s power is mightier than the powers of the executive presidency.”

President of the Association of Health Professionals, Ravi Kumudesh, said: “There is no other solution for the prevailing crisis than establishing a new government. The incumbent government has neither a mandate nor solutions for the people’s problems. No other country can help us until this makeshift government, without the people’s mandate, is ousted. They do not step down, now we are left with one solution – that is to expel them. We have started that campaign today.”

Activist and lawyer Dr. Kaushalya Ariyarathne, representing Progressive Women’s Collective, said: “The majority, in this country, are women, and they know the gravity of the ongoing crisis, being unable to provide food for their children. Women are the first victims of this crisis. Time has come for them to leave the kitchen and join the struggle, to send the government home.

Ceylon Bank Employees’ Union President, Chandana Dissanayake, said: We unconditionally support this struggle to send the Ranil-Rajapaksa government home. It is time that all must come forward to join this struggle, overlooking their political differences,for the sake of the future of this country. We will not turn back until we win our goal.”

Workers’ Rights Movement’s General Secretary, Piyasiri Fernando, said: “Ranil Wickremesinghe has forgotten how he lied low for one year, after the election in which he could not muster votes for at least a single seat, in any electorate of this country. People have not forgotten that. People will chase him away, sooner than he thinks. We must continue forward with this struggle.”

Rev, Father Amila Jeewantha Peiris, representing the Galle Face strugglers, said: “I visited Convenor of the Inter-University Bhikku Federation, Galewela Siridhamma Thera, in hospital, and saw how appalling the way he is being treated. That 25-year-old monk is ill-disposed on a hospital bed fighting the dengue virus. His bed is surrounded by armed members of the security forces, as if he is a terrorist. We have seen how the Prevention of Terrorism Act is abused to persecute Tamils and Muslims, from time to time. Now it is used against all the people.”

D.M.P. Abeyratne, of the Railway Unions’ Alliance, said: “We emphasize to Ranil, his coterie, and his newly-found SLPP friends, that they are nothing for the united unions’ power. Their power is not for that long. We will certainly win this struggle and see them off.”

President of the Inter-Company Employees Union (JVP), Wasantha Samarasinghe, said: “The government must step down because it has no solutions for the people’s problems. It is unable to deliver solutions and the day is not long when people will drag the Ranil-Rajapaksa gang by the ear and dump them in the Beira Lake.”

Other trade union leaders, who addressed the rally, were the All Ceylon Medical Officers’ Association President Dr. Jayantha Bandara, General Secretary of the Samagi Workers’ Union Subash Perera, Socialist Youth Union National Organizer Eranga Gunasekera, National Programme Coordinator of Da-Bindu Collective Chamila Thushari, All Ceylon Nurses’ Union Chairman Amila Ratnayake, National Organizer of the All Ceylon Fisheries Federation Ratna Gamage, Secretary of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation branch of the Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya Nishantha Ranaweera, National Water Supply and Drainage Board Workers’ Union President SGN Liyanarachchi, All Ceylon Farmers’ Federation Secretary T.B. Sarath, National Trade UInion Front Organizer Tamara Gayani Hettipola, Harbour Workers’ Union Alliance’s Roshan Perera, Sri Lanka Postal and Telecommunication Workers’ Union Chairman Chinthaka Bandara, Attorney-at-Law Manoj Nanayakkara representing the Galle Face strugglers, Jagath Manuwarna of the Aluth Parapura, President of the Moratuwa University Students’ Union Nishan Kavinda, and Priyantha Prabhath of the CEB United Trade Unions Alliance.



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SLPP dissidents ask govt. to bring back USD 35 bn ‘parked’ overseas

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underscore need to amend Exchange Control Act

By Shamindra Ferdinando

MP Gevindu Cumaratunga, who represents the SLPP dissidents, yesterday (27) alleged that the incumbent government was yet to bring enough pressure to bear on those who had parked as much as USD 36 billion overseas to bring the money back.Cumaratunga said the government’s failure to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017 should be examined against the backdrop of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Budget proposal to draw more loans in 2023.

The leader of the civil society group Yuthukama, Cumaratunga, who represents the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, one of the breakaway factions of the ruling SLPP, said that two of his colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa, had, during the ongoing Budget debate, had raised the issue of forex stashed away overseas.

Cumaratunga said that he couldn’t comprehend why the government delayed making it mandatory for exporters to bring back much required foreign exchange.Responding to The Island queries, lawmaker Cumaratunga emphasised that though the vote on the Second Reading of the Budget was approved on Nov. 22, with a majority of 37 votes, it failed to address even the basic issues. Cumaratunga was among 84 MPs who voted against the Budget whereas it received the backing of 121 lawmakers.

The other Yuthukama MP in Parliament Anupa Pasqual, now a State Minister, voted for the Budget.The parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for taking immediate measures to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017, the MP said, pointing out in terms of Article 148 that dealt with public finance this issue should have been addressed long ago.

Cumaratunga was not an MP at the time the Yahapalana administration introduced that controversial legislation.The first-time entrant to Parliament said that the government was on its knees before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for USD 2.9 bn spread over a period of four years, whereas exporters deliberately denied the country more than 10 times that amount in much needed forex.

Addressing the Parliament during the debate on the Budget, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the role played by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in introducing the questionable piece of legislation.  Cumaratunga slammed Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, who previously held the Finance portfolio for ignoring the contentious issue of massive amount of money ‘parked’ overseas by exporters.

Declaring that Sabry hadn’t been involved with the then Joint Opposition following the 2015 change of government, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the circumstances under which the prominent President’s Counsel entered politics. The activist asked whether it was fair to accommodate Sabry on the SLPP National List in return for his role as leading lawyer for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his current role.

During two speeches in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga dealt with several contentious issues, including an alleged move to deprive farmers of their land. The outspoken MP warned the government of dire consequences of a decision regarding state land that was to be taken soon, while appealing for Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s intervention.

Referring to a steep increase in the allocation made to the President at the 2023 Budget, MP Cumaratunga said that the President received Rs 2,467 bn last year, Rs 3,044 bn this year and a staggering Rs 7,888 bn next year.

Appreciating a significant drop in the allocation made for the Premier, MP Cumaratunga said that the ministerial staff received Rs 132 bn last year, Rs 217 bn this year and Rs 263 bn next year. Such allocations should be studied taking into consideration the state of the national economy, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, alleging that the Budget didn’t reflect the actual situation.

The MP said that having received the executive presidency, through a vote in Parliament on July 20, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, the UNP leader was pursuing an agenda contrary to what he preached as Premier (May 12-July 13, 2022).

Referring to statements made by Wickremesinghe during that period pertaining to the then proposed 21st Amendment to the Constitution, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in the President holding onto the Finance portfolio. The MP said as Premier Wickremesinghe continuously expressed the view that the President shouldn’t hold any Cabinet portfolio. The MP said that they were of the view that the President should hold the Defence portfolio. Having vowed to strengthen Parliament, President Wickremesinghe could justify his role as the Finance Minister. The President holds several other ministerial portfolios for want of an agreement with the SLPP pertaining to sharing of portfolios.

Referring to the Budget declaration that the government intended to procure Rs 1,000 bn in loans and settle loans amounting to Rs 440 bn, MP Cumaratunga said that the bottom line is the increase in debt. “Aren’t we getting further embroiled in a debt trap?” he asked.

MP Cumaratunga strongly criticized the government for planning to open Mahaweli lands to outsiders. The declaration that profit-making Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance would be privatized, on the pretext of restructuring, came under fire by the MP, who also expressed serious concerns over the proposed privatization of Hilton as well as profit-making sections of SriLankan Airlines.

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Security stickers on bottles of liquor: The corrupt make a killing – Buddhika

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More than 100,000 bottles of liquor with fake security stickers are currently in the market, says SJB Matara District MP Buddhika Pathirana. Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo, recently, Pathirana said the security sticker racket has deprived the state coffers of billions of rupees in taxes.

“Leading liquor manufacturers are carrying out this racket with the help of some corrupt Excise officials. The business of counterfeit security stickers is far more lucrative than producing dud notes.  The QR codes printed on the so-called security stickers cannot be read by QR reader apps in mobile phones. Now, a lot of people know how to use mobile phones to scan QR codes to access information contained therein. Many software companies as well as open sources offer QR reader apps free of charge to be downloaded to the mobile phones.

“We have been warning of this security sticker project since inception. We have also warned that the company selected for printing QR code stickers for liquor is under a cloud.”

Pathirana said that State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya too had admitted that artificial toddy is for manufacturing arrack. “Minister Siyambalapitiya has stated that the country’s liquor industry needs at least 150,000 liters of toddy a day but only 45,000 litres can be produced from the coconut palms in the country, and the shortfall is met with artificial toddy. I know that he too is now in a position where he cannot fight against the racketeers because the Finance Ministry officials do not support him,” Pathirana said.

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Channa sees Ranil as night watchman playing ‘Dil Scoop’

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SLPP MP Prof Channa Jayasumana yesterday said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe should try to realise the task entrusted to him and must pave the way for an election.Addressing a public rally in Meerigama, Prof Jayasumana said that Wickremesinghe had been given the presidency for an interim period to stabilise the economy and political crisis. “He was brought in as the night watchman to stay put until the crisis was over. Instead of doing that job, he is now playing Dil Scoop.”

Prof. Jayasumana said that he would bring a Private Member’s Bill before Parliament shortly to provide for a snap presidential election. Prof Jayasumana said the Bill would propose a constitutional amendment requiring a presidential election to be held within one year after the appointment of an Acting President.

“According to the Constitution, a President can call for a presidential election after four years, but it is unclear whether a successive President is entitled to it. Therefore, the opinion of the Supreme Court must be sought in this regard,” the MP said.

“We hope to get it passed so that it will apply to Wickremesinghe as well. This would allow for a presidential election to be held in July 2023. If he wins this election, he can implement the political, economic and defence reforms he is planning,” Prof. Jayasumana said.

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