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Minister sees opportunity for lawmakers to repair tarnished image

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Each MP to receive Rs 100 mn

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In spite of the ongoing financial crisis taking a turn for the worse, the SLPP government intends to allocate Rs 100 mn to each Member of Parliament, Rs 20 mn to each former Provincial Council member and Rs 4 mn each to Local Government members through Budget 2022.

SLPP Chairman and Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, who is also the Gampaha District SLPP leader recently, announced plans to release funds, at separate meetings.

Addressing the media, at the SLPP office, at Battaramulla, Prof. Peiris explained that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa would allocate Rs 2 mn to each Grama Sevaka division, Rs 3 mn to each Local Government ward area, Rs 20 mn to each Deputy Chairman of a District Coordinating Committee and Rs 100 mn to each Chairman of a District Coordinating Committee.

Prof. Peiris emphasised that allocation of funds would be made notwithstanding the sharp drop in VAT collection, Customs revenue, Excise duty and sharp drop in tourism as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic. The Foreign Minister pointed out that the country earned as much as USD 4.2 billion annually from the tourism industry before Covid-19 struck. According to the former top law academic, approximately 40% of the total funding would be utilised to provide employment opportunities, 40% for infrastructure development and the remaining on environmental projects and social welfare, 10 % each.

Addressing a gathering at the auditorium of the Minuwangoda Pradeshiya Sabha, Minister Ranatunga said that the funding would give parliamentarians an opportunity to fulfill their responsibilities in a way at a time their reputation had been tarnished. Minister Ranatunga reiterated the SLPP’s commitment to their programmes of action though the Opposition continued efforts to derail the government. Minister Ranatunga compared the Opposition project directed at the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election and the current challenge faced by the SLPP administration.

In addition to the budget funding for people’s representatives, Prof. Peiris dealt with a range of issues, including the ongoing debate on the conducting of the much delayed Provincial Council polls. Responding to media queries, Prof. Peiris stressed that Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who had been here recently, didn’t pressure the government over PC polls. The Minister said so when the media sought an explanation why the media statements issued by the government as regards FS Shringla’s visit conveniently refrained from mentioning the PC polls and the need to implement the 13 Amendment to the Constitution whereas the comprehensive Indian High Commission statement did refer to the issues at hand among the high profile agenda.

Prof. Peiris explained that the parliamentary process undertaken by the government under the leadership of Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena to conduct PC polls by March next year. Prof. Peiris said: “Parliamentary Select Committee under the chairmanship of Education Minister Gunawardena, is meeting regularly. The PSC will decide whether to introduce legislation to bring in a new mixed system or conduct PC elections under the old system.”

Declaring his participation in the PSC process Prof. Peiris emphasised one of their priorities was reaching consensus on a common system for parliamentary, Provincial Councils and Local Government polls. Prof. Peiris expressed confidence the process could be finalised within the next two to three months. He alleged that the previous government sabotaged the PC polls by doing away with the old system without introducing a replacement.

Minister Gunawardena recently said that he received a communication from the Attorney General that PC polls couldn’t even be held under the old system unless Parliament adopted a new Act in that regard. Minister Gunawardena has also explained the situation to members of the PSC at a meeting held in Parliament on Oct 08.

Prof. Peiris said that some believed the PC polls should be held under the old system for the last time. Commenting on the challenges faced by the government, Prof. Peiris said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wanted an appraisal of the situation, self-criticism and decide on future plans. According to him, both the Cabinet and the vast majority of people wanted a new Constitution. Therefore, a nine-member expert committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, had been appointed to produce a draft Constitution and that process should come to a successful conclusion before the end of this year, he said.



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Countrywide power outage act of sabotage, claim TU, officials

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Unions suspect sinister attempt to call in military

Engineers say technical fault caused power failure

CEBEU suspends work-to-rule protest

By Ifham Nizam

The government was trying to pin the blame for yesterday’s countrywide power outage on the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) trade unions in a bid to call in the military, Joint Trade Union Alliance Convener Ranjan Jayalal said yesterday.

Jayalal told The Island the government’s attempt would tarnish the image of the military and that of the country, but such intimidatory tactics would not deter the CEB unions from continuing with their action against the questionable agreement between the government and the US energy firm, New Fortress, which has been allowed to acquire a 40% stake in the Yugadanavi power plant. “The government is trying to derail our trade union action, scheduled for December 08. Definitely the power outage was an act of sabotage. Two units of the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant and the one at Sapugaskanda had failed,” he added, insisting that the trade unions had nothing do with the power outage. He said union activists had sprung into action to restore power despite their work-to-rule, for the sake of the country and its people.

A senior independent electrical engineer said the power failure was an act of sabotage or attempt at sabotage. “It could have been a rehearsal that misfired,” he added.

Electricity supply in several areas in Colombo and its suburbs were restored around 2.00 p.m. Subsequently, the power supply on Anuradhapura-Habarana, Laxapana-Athurugiriya and Kotmale-Biyagama transmission lines was restored. However, even at 5.30 p.m. most parts of the Gamapaha District experiencing power failures.

CEB General Manager, Eng. M R Ranatunga sand disruptions to the power supply could be considered sabotage. He said CEBEU activists had been dragging their feet on power restoration.

State Minister of National Security & Disaster Management Chamal Rajapaksa said necessary action would be taken against the CEB engineers if it was revealed that the power outage was an act of sabotage.

Major disruptions to the electricity supply were reported across the country around 11.30 a.m. yesterday owing to a breakdown in transmission lines.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) said the water supply in several areas of Colombo and suburbs had been disrupted due to the breakdown in the power supply as the NWS&D is dependent on the national grid for pumping purposes.

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) last night said it had received a favourable response from the government to its demands and therefore decided to suspend its work-to-rule campaign.

The Island learns that President’s Secretary Dr. P. B. Jayasundara will meet a CEBEU delegation, next week.

A senior electrical engineer expressed concern about CEB General Manager’s statement that the power outage was an act of sabotage by the engineers’ union. He denied as baseless the official’s claim.

CEBEU Secretary Dhammike Wimalarathne confirmed that his union had decided to suspend trade union action following an undertaking given by the government to have talks with them.

Meanwhile, CEBEU President Saumya Kumarawadu, addressing the media, yesterday, insisted that the power outage had been due to a technical problem.

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Chamal tells Parliament if power failure is due to sabotage, culprits will be dealt with severely

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By Saman Indrajith

Minister of Irrigation and State Minister of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management, Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament yesterday that the government was investigating the causes of yesterday’s countrywide power outage and if it was due to sabotage those responsible would be severely dealt with.

Responding to a question by Anuradhapura District SJB MP Rohana Bandara Dissanayake during the third reading stage debate on Budget 2022 under the expenditure heads of the Ministry of Defence, the Minister said that the government would not tolerate sabotage.

MP Rohana Bandara Dissanayake said that while the national security was being debated in Parliament the entire country was experiencing a power outage which could be considered a serious threat to national security.

He said all reservoirs were brimful and there was sufficient water to generate hydro power.

Colombo District SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said that the entire country was in dark and Parliament was sitting thanks to power supplied by generators.

Minister Rajapaksa said that the government had already called for an investigation and it would not hesitate to take necessary action on the findings of the probe.

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Committee on Public Finance meeting: one-third drop in next Yala harvest predicted

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Members of the Committee on Public Finance recently recommended that if the import ban on rice, which was imposed last April, is to be lifted, it should be done only after a proper forecast of the coming Yala harvest.

The Chairman of the Committee on Finance Anura Priyadharshana Yapa pointed out that under the prevailing circumstances, the interest of the paddy farmers and consumers had to be taken into consideration.

In response to MP Yapa’s comment, the Imports and Exports Controller General revealed that, according to the available data, the expected Yala harvest is likely to be only 2/3 as compared to last year.

MP Nalin Fernando pointed out that if businessmen were allowed to import rice freely, the business community would be tempted to import more rice than necessary, driving the paddy prices down and affecting the farming community badly. Hence, the Ministry of Finance should intervene to prevent the local farmer from facing difficulties. MP Fernando also pointed out to the officials of the Ministry of Finance that it was important to make rice freely available at reasonable prices. Sri Lankans did not like rice imported from neighbouring countries, he said.

The Committee on Public Finance was urged to obtain approval for an Extraordinary Gazette Notification permitting the importation of Kekulu, Nadu, Samba and other types of rice as per the order of the Minister of Finance. MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said officials had to investigate the macro economic impact of such orders given without a proper procedural or logical assessment.

The committee members inquired from the officials of the Ministry of Finance who were present at the Committee meeting whether the 2021 Budget forecasts could be fulfilled. According to the statistics and data submitted by the officials of the Ministry of Finance, the committee observed that if only local funds were used to repay all debts, there would be an increase in interest rates in the near future and that would adversely affect the local private sector, (Dr.) Harsha de Silva said.

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