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Mahapola Scholarship Trust Fund suffers staggering losses due to irregularities

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COPE Chairman Charitha Herath, MP (second from left) is flanked by officials (pic courtesy Parliament)

COPE PROBE

By Saman Indrajith

A probe conducted by the parliament watchdog Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has found that the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust fund incurred a loss of Rs. 673 million from an online lottery, Parliament sources said yesterday.

 It was revealed that Rs 673 million had been earned by an intermediary, who sold the lotteries but did not return the proceeds to the Mahapola Trust Fund.

 In addition, due to insufficient capital gains on securities transactions of companies under the Mahapola Trust Fund, in 2015 and 2016 Rs. 18 million and Rs. 102 million were lost respectively. It was also revealed that a loss of Rs. 13 million had been incurred during the repurchases made using investments in National Wealth Corporation in 2017. The COPE stressed that these irregularities had caused huge losses to the Fund.

COPE Chairman Prof Charitha Herath instructed Secretary to the Ministry of Trade JM Bhadrani Jayawardena to inform the Attorney General of the losses and irregularities and lodge a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department.

The COPE investigation conducted at the Parliamentary complex last week was attended by State Ministers Susil Premajayanth, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, MPs Eran Wickramaratne, Nalin Bandara Jayamaha, Premnath C.Dolawatta and S. M. Marikkar.

The committee also recommended a proper study on the irregularities with regard to the National Wealth Corporation and the National Wealth Securities Corporation, under the Mahapola Trust Fund and ordered that the heads of the institutions be summoned before the COPE forthwith.

The officials who attended the investigation told the committee that the Cabinet had approved the liquidation of those institutions as they were running at a loss. Commenting on this, COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath said that although it would not be a problem to liquidate after punishing the culprits, it would not be appropriate to liquidate those institutions without proper investigation into frauds.

COPE Chairman Herath said that the liquidation should be delayed until those irregularities were properly investigated.

The current situation of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) was also discussed. The committee expressed its displeasure at the fact that even though the SLIIT had been summoned before the Committee it had informed the COPE through Julius & Creasy law firm that it had not been legally bound to do so. Thus, the COPE decided that law firm Julius & Creasy should be summoned to resolve the matter.

The COPE Committee further recommended that as SLIIT was an institution of national importance, after preparing an internal report as an extension of the discussion on that institution and reporting it to Parliament, it would be appropriate to decide on the action to be taken in that regard.

Further, it was revealed that the institution did not have an internal auditor and an accountant. The COPE Committee recommended that action be taken to fill the vacancy as soon as possible, according to sources.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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