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Lanka on verge of becoming failed state, say bishops

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Prelates call for unity among politicians as the country faces its worst economic crisis since independence

(UCAN) Catholic bishops have called for unity among politicians to save Sri Lanka from becoming a failed state.

Bishop Winston S. Fernando, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, said successive governments were responsible to varying degrees for the present state of affairs.

“The country is fast approaching the precipice of a failed state that will in its wake inflict irreversible injuries on the people,” the prelate said in a statement on behalf of bishops.

The South Asian nation of 22 million people is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 after its foreign reserves hit a record low.

The dollar shortage has caused power shortages affecting all sectors while skyrocketing prices of essential goods have disrupted life across the country.

Bishops have urged all Catholic institutions, parishes and private institutions as well as men and women of goodwill to organize assistance to help those severely affected by the economic crisis.

“The rulers are under obligation to serve all the citizens by putting the country first and not act out of political expediency but principle,” said Bishop Fernando.

“What the country needs is an immediate solution to remedy the critical situation and to work on short-term and long-term solutions to put the country on a solid foundation of sustainable development.”

Sri Lanka needs nearly US$7 billion to service its external debt this year.

Thousands of people gathered near the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on March 31 to protest against rising prices and demand his resignation. The police fired tear gas and imposed a curfew for a few hours. Nearly 50 people were injured.

There were strict roadblocks and the police and army were deployed to prevent protesters entering the president’s house.

The crisis has caused massive public anger, with people unable to find gas for cooking, medicines, fuel and basic items of food such as milk powder because the country has run out of foreign currency to pay for imported goods.

Hundreds of people chanted for Rajapaksa and the entire cabinet to resign over the crisis. Videos circulating on social media showed protesters shouting “Lunatic go home”.

With no air conditioners or fans, people are sweltering during the 10-12 hour power cuts. The government does not have the money to pay for the fuel needed by power plants.

People with serious medical conditions are struggling to find medicines and hospitals have cancelled operations as they have no diesel to operate generators during blackouts.

The government has switched off street lighting to save electricity. Mobile phones have been affected because the standby generators used at the phone base stations have run out of diesel.

The government’s decision to adopt organic farming last year turned out to be disastrous. The ban on all chemical fertilizers led to a surge in prices and food shortages. Although the policy was partially reversed later, the damage had been done

Activist Nuwani De Silva said people have to queue from morning until evening to buy essential items.

“How do we manage our daily work with a 12-hour power cut? People are in an aggressive mood everywhere in the country,” she said. “Wherever government ministers are seen on streets, the public protest against them.”

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo recently called for a national transformation to tackle the crisis.

“The country today is in a hopeless situation and it is the result of a series of wrong choices made not only by politicians but also by citizens who have allowed themselves to be exploited by the political and cultural forces that handed down our destiny,” Cardinal Ranjith said at Colombo’s Anglican Cathedral on March 27.



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Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code

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by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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