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Kumudesh accuses Health Ministry officials of sabotaging state-owned lab at BIA

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The government laboratory service was prevented from testing passengers arriving in Sri Lanka by a group of Health Ministry specialists who made large amounts of money from private laboratories and quarantine centres, President of the College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS), Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday.

Kumudesh levelled this allegation responding to a statement made by Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath that the health sector was not equipped to test all those who arrived from overseas.

“This is a false claim. Actually, there are four options available for the government to test all tourists. All of these options are blocked by the Health Ministry. If we are given a free hand, we can use these options to test everyone who comes into and leaves Sri Lanka and issue results within two hours,” Kumudesh said.

The first option was to use the PCR lab established at the BIA in mid-2020, the CMLS President said. “At this time, even the most advanced nations have just started establishing such facilities at airports. However, there was a lot of resistance from certain officials of the Health Ministry and doctors who worked at private labs and got money from quarantine centres”, he alleged.

“However, private labs were entrusted with the task of conducting PCR tests on all tourists arriving in Sri Lanka. The state-run lab did not receive a single sample. This is unfortunate because we can test 4,500 people a day and issue reports within 90 minutes,” Kumudesh said.

The second option was to use the state of the art lab at the BIA premises built by the Airport and Aviation Authority. However, the Health Ministry had not authorised the lab to start operations, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh added that the Health Ministry allowed private individuals to set up labs and test people for COVID with little oversight, but a lab that could be compared to the one at the Dubai Airport and run by a state institution was prevented from operating a PCR lab.

“They are finding faults with the lab. The government has taken a risk by opening up the airports, given the importance of the tourism sector. However, some state institutions are preventing the mitigation of this risk,” he said.

The third option was to expand rapid PCR tests, Kumudesh said. Sixteen 16 Sri Lankan hospitals already do rapid PCRs. They include the Embilipitiya Hospital, which is in the former Health Minister’s electoral district, he said.

The lab technologists’ union leader said that all 16 machines had been received by the country as donations and the Health Ministry officials had continuously undermined President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had instructed the Ministry to buy 30 rapid PCR machines.

The CMLS President said that the President had issued the order after they had written to him on eight separate occasions.

“However, the Health Ministry officials reduced the number by half and although the tenders were called in June, nothing came of it. We wrote to philanthropists and they responded. For example, the rapid PCR machine at the Embilipitiya Hospital was donated by Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera, the machine at Lady Ridgeway Hospital was donated by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardane,” he said. Kumudesh said that if the Health Ministry went ahead with the tender and imported rapid PCR machines, all those who arrived in the country could be checked within 90 minutes.

The fourth option was to use the five Mobile Molecular Labs donated by an Indian company. Those labs could be taken anywhere and PCR tests could be conducted at half the cost of a regular lab test. Those labs were also not used for testing. Kumudesh said.

“The Health Ministry has four options to test people arriving in and leaving Sri Lanka. However, senior officials insist that the government doesn’t have the capacity to test these people. These senior officials also formulate guidelines that prevent government labs from testing people. They do this because they are part time practitioners in private labs and they make money by sending people to private quarantine centres. There is a clear conflict of interest here,” Kumudesh said.



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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