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Maithripala issues ominous warning to govt.‘2/3 majority won’t guarantee stability’



By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLFP leader and former President Maithripala Sirisena, MP, has warned the SLPP-led government that the support of coalition members shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Sirisena has warned of consequences of the SLPP’s current attitude towards its constituent partners, which he said, could even break it up.

The former President issued the warning less than a week after the presentation of Budget 2022.

The SLPP parliamentary group comprises 145 members with the SLFP accounting for 14 members. The SLPP has 117 members.

The SLPP has reached an understanding with several MPs elected on the Samagi Jana Balavegaya ticket.

In an interview with ‘Siyatha’ telecast live on 17 Nov. on the eve of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa completing two years in office, Sirisena said the fate of the previous governments which suffered defeat in spite of having 2/3 majority, could befall the incumbent administration, too, unless it coexisted with other parties in the ruling coalition. The SLFP leader said that the parliamentary strength was no guarantee stability.

The former President said the SLPP’s knee-jerk response to controversial issues and strained relations among partners was not acceptable.

‘Siyatha’ anchor Udeshan Idemegedara discussed a range of issues including the strained relations between the SLPP and its constituents, ongoing farmers’ protests, an unprecedented dispute with China over the rejection of a consignment of carbonic fertiliser, Treasury bond scams as well as sabotaging of the China-Sri Lanka Friendship Hospital in Polonnaruwa, built with a Chinese grant of $ 60 million.

Lawmaker Sirisena called the failure on the part of the current dispensation to fully operationalize the Chinese gift despicable.

The hospital specialises in treating kidney ailments, a widely prevalent and recurring concern in the region, especially among farmers. MP Sirisena questioned the rationale in depriving those diagnosed with a kidney disorder medical experts have identified as Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu), a condition for which causal factors remain unknown.

However, the much debated Easter Sunday carnage was not discussed at all in spite of the then President being named by a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) appointed by himself in late 2019. The National Thowheed Jamaat (BTJ) carried out multiple suicide attacks on April 21, 2019.

The SLPP’s stand that those who were uncomfortable with its policies could walk out of the government was nothing but a recipe for disaster, MP Sirisena said.

The SLFP has thrown its weight behind some SLPP constituents including the National Freedom Front (NFF) and the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) campaigning against a controversial energy deal with the US-based New Fortress Energy.

The ex-President indicated that the SLFP wouldn’t be hasty in response to the developing situation though there were calls for the party to quit the government and go it alone at whatever the next election. The long delayed Provincial Council polls are on the cards though no date has been fixed yet in the absence of consensus on how the polling should take place. The parliamentary and presidential elections are three years away.

Some of those who had adopted a tough posture towards smaller parties obviously didn’t realize ground realities, MP Sirisena said, pointing out President Mahinda Rajapaksa led administration collapsed in 2015 though it obtained a 2/3 majority at 2010 parliamentary election. The 2/3 majority enjoyed by the incumbent government had given the incumbent government a false sense of security, MP Sirisena warned. The SLFP leader attributed the current turmoil to the pathetic failure on the part of SLPP leadership to examine debilitating setbacks suffered by previous governments.

Responding to another query, a smiling former President acknowledged that the SLPP was not different from the SLFP at that time he quit the then Mahinda Rajapaksa led government in late 2014. “Twenty nine MPs followed me,” lawmaker Sirisena declared, asserting that the SLPP leadership seemed to be either reluctant or averse to required changes in political strategy.

The former President blamed the UNP for doing away with Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s economic as well as foreign policies. “If successive governments followed the Bandaranaike policies, the country wouldn’t have been in current predicament today.”

MP Sirisena said that since President JRJ opened up the national economy following the 1977 general election, successive governments badly mismanaged the economy and squandered foreign exchange.

Declaring that during his tenure as the President, Sri Lanka earned the respect and admiration of the international community for pursuing policies acceptable to them, lawmaker Sirisena warned that the country couldn’t overcome current challenges without the backing of the international community.

MP Sirisena declared that not even China and the United States could overcome present-day challenges without international support. However, the current dispensation seemed to be blind to external challenges and what needed to be done.

Responding to another probing query, the former President stressed that the international community wouldn’t help a country without taking into consideration major issues such as fundamental rights, corruption and media freedom. Referring to recent talks between Chinese and US leaders in the wake of an extremely dicey situation over possible Chinese military threat directed at Taiwan, the MP said that the international reaction to a particular situation would depend on the concerned country’s leaders.

The SLFP leader strongly criticized the top SLPP leadership for causing an utterly chaotic situation and an unprecedented tragedy by banning agro-chemicals overnight. Having realized the government lacked proper strategy to implement the transfer from agro-chemicals to carbonic fertilizer, MP Sirisena had offered to share his experience with those in charge of the project. The former President said that he called his successor and offered help and soon received a call from Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage requesting his involvement. The MP said that he never received an invitation.

He urged the government to explain the situation at least before the next Yala season as now Maha season was underway. The SLFP leader pointed out that the resignation of the Agriculture Secretary as well as some other senior officials in that sector underscored the simmering crisis.

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Collective Cabinet responsibility won’t be at country’s expense




Udaya: We are ready to face consequences of revolting against backdoor Yugadanavi deal

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila says that in spite of being members of the Cabinet, he along with National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa and Democratic Left Front (DLF) leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara, have supported the petitions filed against the government entering into a framework agreement with US-based New Fortress Energy in respect of Yugadanavi Power Plant, etc., as they strongly felt that collective Cabinet responsibility should not be at the expense of national security.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila emphasised they had challenged the Cabinet over the controversial agreement following careful examination of what he called a politically charged situation.

The Colombo District MP said that they were ready to face the consequences of legal measures they had resorted to. Minister Gammanpila said so in response to The Island query whether they could continue as members of the Cabinet after having objected to an international agreement, finalised by the government.

Gammanpila said that they had never tried to hide their intentions and they felt embarrassed by the way some in the government manipulated the very process that was meant to ensure transparency and accountability.

Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle, on behalf of the government, entered into an agreement with New Fortress Energy, a company listed in the NASDAQ, on July 7, 2021, two days after Cabinet decided on the matter.

Gammanpila said they had tried to settle the issue at the Cabinet level and at the government parliamentary group. “Finally, we were left with no alternative but to denounce the New

Fortress deal and then throw our weight behind those who moved the Supreme Court against it,” Minister Gammanpila said.
The SLPP repeatedly demanded that whatever the issue the constituents should settle it within the government parliamentary group and the Cabinet.
Minister Weerawansa told Parliament on 11 November that an Attorney-at-Law would represent the trio at the Supreme Court proceedings.
Responding to another query, Minister Gammanpila questioned the rationale behind bringing in a company that hadn’t been involved in the tender process in respect of a high profile project involving the West Coast Power Limited (WCPL). The minister said that the US firm had spurned the tender process as it received an assurance as regards the contract.

The US government pushed for the deal meant to secure 40 percent shares of the WCPL at a cost of USD 250 mn, Minister Gammanpila said.
The Cabinet memorandum as regards the sale of WCPL shares, in addition to the floating storage regasification unit, mooring system and the pipelines and the supply of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) is dated 06 Sept., 2021, months after Sri Lanka entered into FA with New Fortress Energy.

Asked whether the NFF, PHU and DLF would receive the support of other parties including the SLFP, Minister Gammanpila said that those who had pledged support for their cause remained committed and confident.

In addition to the NFF, PHU and DLF with a combined strength of eight MPs, the grouping against the New Fortress deal included the SLFP (14 members), CP (1 MP), Yuthukama (2 members) and Tiran Alles. Over two dozen elected and appointed members of the SLPP are against the New Fortress deal.

Of the smaller constituents in the government, the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna) has distanced itself from the campaign against the energy deal.
Minister Gammanpila said that in his current capacity as the energy minister he had been compelled to struggle against the energy project as it posed a threat to the country. Referring to the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa sacking ministers, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayaka and G.M. Premachandra in 1991, Minister Gammanpila said that the UNPers sought the Supreme Court intervention. The SC ruled that in case ministers had been deprived of an opportunity to discuss some matter at the cabinet, they could do so with the public, Gammanpila said, adding that they pursued a strategy based on that SC position.

Minister Gammanpila said that Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to create a foreign monopoly in the gas supply to the country. The situation would be far worse as the proposed monopoly would be American, Gammanpila said, noting that in spite of entering into a spate of other agreements with foreign partners under controversial circumstances, the incumbent government seemed to have perpetrated an unpardonable act.

Minister Gammanpila said that the US energy deal would deliver a knockout blow to Sri Lanka’s efforts to tap gas in the Mannar seas. The consequence of this arrangement would be far reaching and devastating as far as Sri Lanka was concerned, the minister said. If the New Fortress deal was carried pit. Sri Lanka wouldn’t be able to bring in other investors to extract gas from the Mannar basin, the minister said.

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State and private sector union members on sick leave demanding Rs 10,000 pay hike




Protesting workers blocking the entrance to the Presidential Secretariat yesterday morning (pic by Nishan S. Priyantha)

Members of several state, semi-government and private sector trade unions took sick leave yesterday (08) as part of their trade union struggle to win a number of demands including a 10,000-rupee pay hike and the cancellation of the questionable New Fortresss deal.

Unions of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the Ports Authority and Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) have pledged solidarity with the protesting workers.
The unions held demonstrations near the Parliament Roundabout and the Fort Railway Station.

They opposed the government decision to raise the retirement age to 65.
“There are over 25,000 postal workers and about 80% of them have joined the union action. This is the case in other sectors too,” President of Sri Lanka Postal Services Union Chinthaka Bandara said.

He demanded that the government increase their salaries through the budget 2022. “Otherwise, we will resort to sterner trade union action. The cost of living has gone through the roof and the Central Bank has admitted that inflation has risen sharply. Most companies in the private sector have reduced the salaries of employees and the allowances in the government sector too have been slashed. People will have to starve at this rate, “Bandara said. (RK)

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Contaminated fertiliser: Case to be taken up on May 09




By Ifham Nizam and Chitra Weerarathne

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ)’s lawsuit to stop unloading here of allegedly contaminated organic fertiliser, CA WRIT 476/2 was taken up yesterday before Court of Appeal Justices Achala Wengappuli and Dhammika Ganepola.

Taking the facts into account the Court ordered that the case be recalled on May 9, 2021.

At a previous hearing the court questioned the Attorney General whether the Government was in a position to assure that they would not allow the controversial load of fertiliser to be unloaded. In response to that request Deputy Solicitor General Nirmalan Wigneswaran, who appeared on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture informed the Court yesterday that the vessel carrying the controversial fertilizer belonging to the Chinese company has left Sri Lankan maritime space.

Senior Counsel Ravindranath Dabare, Ms Nilmal Wickramasinghe (AAL) and Ms Thushini Jayasekara (AAL) appeared for the petitioners on the instructions of Ms. Samadhi Hansani Premasiri (AAL).

In the petition. CEJ argued that organic fertiliser from any country could not be imported into Sri Lanka, under any circumstance, according to the regulations of the Plant Protection Ordinance imposed in 1981 and Plant Protection Act No. 35 of 1999 as it prohibit the import of soil particles, living organisms, any virus, bacteria or fungus cultures into the country, given that organic manure/compost is made of decomposing animal and plant parts, which could consist of pathogens.
However, when the samples collected from this controversial shipment were tested Sri Lankan authorities found harmful organisms. As a result, National Plant Quarantine Service did not issue any import permit particularly for this bulk stock of so called “Organic Fertilizer”, the petitioner pointed out.

It also said that based on those facts the Director General of Agriculture had issued a letter dated 22.10.2021, addressing the Chairman, Sri Lanka Port Authority, requesting him to prevent the berth of the vessel carrying this stock of Fertilizer at the Colombo Port and not to discharge any of its organic fertilizer into the Sri Lankan territory claiming it carried a huge phytosanitary risk to Sri Lanka.

In addition to this Ceylon Fertilizer Company also obtained an enjoining order (on 22.10.2021) from the Commercial High Court of Colombo against Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd; the supplier and the People’s Bank, preventing the latter from making any payment under the Letter of Credit opened in favour of Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd which has entered into a contract with Ceylon Fertilizer Company.

However, in spite of all these Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd officially informed The Director General of Agriculture that its consignment of fertilizer which was shipped from China on 29th September 2021 would reach Sri Lanka as scheduled.

The Center for Environmental Justice therefore had to file an urgent motion CA WRIT 476/21 on (25.10.2021) to prevent the stock of fertilizer from entering the country owing to political or public pressure.

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