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Labour Minister explains difficulties in bringing back Lankan migrant workers

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By Saman Indrajith

The government could not dispatch 10 or more aircraft and bring home Lankan migrant workers stranded overseas though it was desirous of doing so because it had to follow international procedures, Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said that flights and their crew members were required to abide by various laws, regulations and quarantine processes each airport had put in place in view of the prevailing pandemic.

“You just cannot send the required number of planes and bring them home as you wish. There are different regulations as per the different airspaces of different countries. We cannot violate those rules. In addition, there are issues pertaining to the cost of tickets and finding space for quarantine too should be taken into consideration though they are not big issues. The Lankan migrant workers would be brought home gradually as decided by the National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOPCO).”

 Answering a question raised by Badulla District SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri, the Minister said that the decisions pertaining to bringing back migrant workers home were taken by the NOPCO.

 Minister De Silva said that as at Nov 13, there had been 816,433 Lankan migrant workers, and they were provided with dry rations, face masks and sanitisers and temporary shelter with the help of Lankan Embassies and High Commissions.

Minister De Silva said that 102 Lankan migrant workers had sought the assistance of the Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB) to obtain tickets and medical assistance because of COVID-19 infections and the Insurance Corporation had so far approved 49 cheques amounting to Rs 2,388,228 for them.

 The Minister said that if a Lankan worker registered at the FEB died of COVID-19, the bureau would intervene to get compensation to the family members of the victim migrant worker. So far, 68 such registered Lankan workers had died abroad due to COVID-19 and they had been cremated in the countries where they died. In addition, six Sri Lankan migrant workers whose registration with FEB had expired had died abroad due to the pandemic and their dependents had applied for compensation. Family members of one of those six had been paid Rs 300,000 by the Employees Provident Fund. 

The Labour Minister said that as at 13 Nov. 13,181 Lankan migrant workers had returned home because of the pandemic and the FEB had computerised the records of 6,667 of them so far. Out of them 2,163 were planning to return to their work places while 1,617 intended to work in Sri Lanka; 654 would opt for self-employment, 64 had decided to undergo further training and 2,159 had decided to do various other things.

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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary

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There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran

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But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President

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The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.

 

 

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